Cuyahoga Falls

Cuyahoga Falls: (n) a city in Northeast Ohio, near Akron

 The reason essays are often long is because the author feels compelled to place the reader in the exact moment and space of a given time.

Suffice it to say, today I am talking about a season in our history when boys were dying in Vietnam, hippies were walking the streets and young lads and lasses from the Midwest were desperately trying to be neither.

I grew up in Ohio.

Ohio insists it’s a single state, but anyone who lives there knows differently.

If you lived in Columbus, you might as well be from Iowa, or any other Midwest hold-out to social progress.

If you lived in Cincinnati, you were more like Dixie, with grits in your teeth.

And to the far north was Cleveland, which desperately tried to imitate New York City, complete with crime and a filthy Lake Erie to mirror the polluted Hudson.

I lived right in the center.

No, it’s true. My hometown was exactly ten miles from the geographical center of Ohio. That in itself should have afforded me great honor, but I was stuck, like everyone else, trying to prove myself and do the best with the talent shoveled in my direction.

Mine was music.

But my music was not quite suited to the genre that was rattling and reeling in the time capsule of hippies and soldiers.

So one day, I wiggled my way into scheduling a coffee house in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio—very near Akron. I didn’t know much about the place and they didn’t know much about me.

So my little band, excited about actually going somewhere to play a road gig, dressed up.

For the guys, that was pants and a long-sleeved shirt with a tie.

And for the ladies—well, they basically wore their prom dresses.

We arrived at the coffee house, which was called Avalon, and everybody there was in bell-bottom blue jeans, t-shirts, with long hair and sneers.

It was a long night.

Every song we tried was met with chuckles and everything we said was ignored, as they turned to one another and carried on conversations.

I became angry, mainly because I was young, foolish and felt it was my right to be offended.

I told them they were a bunch of snobs. I also told them they didn’t have the wardrobe for it.

This was my first and only laugh of the night.

The proprietor of the coffeehouse stood to his feet and said, “Be cool, fool. You just don’t fit in here.”

He was right—while simultaneously being wrong.

Because if we’re waiting for everyone to mature or expand to be welcomed into our little utopia, we’ve missed the whole point of having one.

A utopia is meant to be a place where anyone is welcome without fear.

 

funny wisdom on words that begin with a C

Contract

Contract: (n) an agreement between two or more parties for the doing or not doing of something specified.

Two hours after I wrote my very first song, I was already thinking I needed a contract.

I had visions of Grammy Awards, fame and thousands of record sales to reinforce my sheer joy of being a musician and simply composing songs.

Nothing happened after my first song, but along about my fifth or sixth tune, opportunities did float my way.funny wisdom on words that begin with a C

What I learned very quickly, in my Midwest innocence, was that life and death lie in the wording of a contract. Someone saying they want to “sign your song” or “promote your music” does not mean your song is actually signed or that your music will be promoted. Sometimes it’s just means they’re securing that song, in case they want to use it, making sure nobody else can get it.

On occasion, it’s a deal where they plan to use the song but want to give you the lowest possible percentage of remuneration.

But one word always came to the forefront: exclusive.

What that meant was they wanted me to sign a contract saying I would not work with anybody else, while they determined how much they really wanted to work with me.

I grew up quickly.

Even today, when I hear someone utter the phrase, “Well, we need to draft a contract,” I immediately know there’s something they don’t want to say to me—that they want to hide in a contract, in a very small point size and a near-unreadable font.depressed, angry adolescents.


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Congress

Congress: (n) a legislative body

I grew up in the Midwest–not bold enough to “go West, young man,” and not near enough for ‘East of Eden.’

One autumn, a farmer in a nearby town planted too many pumpkins. They were rotting in his field, and released a nasty odor. Since it was nearly deer hunting season, he invited hunters out to his farm, to shoot the pumpkins, to just enjoy the hell out of doing it, so the pumpkins would fly into pieces and be absorbed into the soil.

I don’t know if it was a great idea or not, but everyone was thrilled with pumpkin slaying.

I feel a similar sensation in this day and age as our government–our legislature–our Congress, if you will, has become the token pumpkin that the American funny wisdom on words that begin with a C
people are encouraged to shoot, hoping to eliminate some of its stink.

There is certainly plenty to criticize.

For instance, I once ate a chocolate eclair, and a friend commented to me that the crust was “a little bit dry.” I repeat–IT WAS A CHOCOLATE ECLAIR. But some people complain about the weight of the gold they have to carry to the bank.

Likewise, with the red, white and blue, I’m not so sure any of us are terribly concerned about the progress of our nation. We seem to be empowered by the notion that we can bitch at will while never being criticized for it, or anyone demanding that we explain in detail what our real complaint might be.

The government of the United States has successfully progressed for nearly 250 years. Some hard times. Many decisions.

But we have survived.

We need to isolate the dead parts of the system and surgically remove them without feeling the need to attack the entire frame of Uncle Sam.

That would be an intelligent discussion. That would be valuable.

I will not criticize Congress, nor will I pray for it. Neither profile is productive.

But I will participate in meaningful discussions about why things don’t work–and rather than holding onto tradition, finding ways to make our Congress an actual congress of the mind of the American people.

 


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Mr. Kringle's Tales...26 Stories 'Til Christmas

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Coast

Coast: (n) the part of the land near the sea; the edge of the land.

It was a Thursday afternoon. (Actually it probably wasn’t a Thursday afternoon, but I needed someplace to start this essay.)

I was twenty years old, had a music group and was gradually starving my way to success. The definition of that process, by the way, is that there may be visible signs of progress in your career, but you’re also about ready to be evicted.

I had spent all of my youth and the beginnings of my adult life living in the midwest and visiting the mid-south. I had no complaints about the region–just felt deprived of the opportunity to go to the coast and see the ocean. Any coast would have been fine, although I did not favor Northern Canada and the Arctic Ocean.

No opportunity came my way to go and view the glorious blue. So finally I just decided to make an opportunity. I scheduled a little coffee-house gig for us in Sarasota, Florida. Matter of fact, I ended up being able to procure three such opportunities on our way down there. This trifecta of bookings was certainly not going to be enough to cover expenses. I didn’t care. I was going to the coast to see the ocean.

Our vehicle was in terrible shape, so on the way there we broke down–once mechanically and twice from bald tires, which finally exhaled all air.

Yet we finally arrived in Sarasota. Breathlessly, with my hand shaking on the steering wheel, I headed off to see the beauty of the ocean, the waves crashing onto the shore.

It was mind-altering, as all new experiences should be. I just sat there with the members of my group, and we stared at it for two hours. I was so excited that I went to a nearby cafe to order some lunch, which considering our budget, consisted of sharing a muffin, a hot dog and a cup of coffee among three people.

All of us were bubbling over with enthusiasm, as we shared with our waitress that we had come all the way from Ohio to Sarasota to see the ocean. Each one of us had a brief testimonial of how much the experience had impacted our life.

The waitress stood and listened patiently, and when we finally fell silent, having completed all of our praise, she quietly deadpanned, “That’s not the ocean. That’s the Gulf of Mexico.”

She walked away, confident of her geography.

I looked at my two comrades. They were just as distressed as I.

Staring out in the distance at the waves, it suddenly seemed meaningless.

Me wept.

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Cistern

Cistern: (n) an underground reservoir for rainwater.

Until I was twelve years old, I thought a cistern was the female version of brethren. (Well, I probably didn’t, but it seems funny,)

I’ve had one encounter with a cistern. My grandfather lived about two miles outside town in a small home which most dignified citizens would call a shack.

It had no inside toilet, but offered an “outlander” version for brave souls who didn’t mind. Also, right outside the door of this humble domicile was a pump, sitting on top of a cistern.

For years, my grandpa asked me to go out and pump it until I got water to come out of the spout, and bring him what he called “the good drinkin’ stuff.” Matter of fact, he purposely attached his indoor sink to the cistern, so when he turned on the tap he received the superior fluid.

I didn’t think much about it.

One day I was sitting with my grandfather in the front room as he was chewing his tobacco, and trying, with his fading eyesight, to spit in his ‘toon. He offered me a glass of water, and I poured myself a cup. I was just about to drink it when my mother raced into the room as if she were saving me from a burning building, knocked the glass from my hand and scared me to the point of eunuch.

My grandpa laughed. He turned to me and said, “Your Mama thinks the water’s bad. No accountin’ for taste.”

Two weeks later we stayed overnight at the house, and my mother drew a bucket of water from the cistern and set it out on the porch. She left it there for about five minutes and then called me out in the moonlight to look into the bucket.

I had never seen water in a bucket moving around.

It was filled with tiny, tiny little worm-like creatures, swimming like it was their weekend at the Riviera.

I nearly threw up.

I don’t know why the water didn’t make my grandpa sick.

I suppose after you chew tobacco for enough years, it just might be difficult to find anything else that would kill you.

 

 

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Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis: (n) a chronic disease of the liver

I do not remember his real name, but I know it wasn’t Hank. So for the sake of the story and his anonymity, we shall call him Hank.

Hank was married to Barbara.

Barbara owned an antique shop which was really just an extension of her home in the basement. She was a nice woman. Of course, when
you’re a kid, adults tend to blur.

But I remember that once every two years or so, Barbara came to our house and spent a few days with us because “Hank was on a binge.”

Now, I did not know what a binge was. When I asked about it the first time, I received a frown, so didn’t feel it was a good idea to pursue.

But hanging out behind doors and listening to conversations, what I gathered was this: sometimes Hank decided to just go down to the town tavern and drink until he got “good and mean” and for some reason, blamed Barbara for all the problems in his life and started hitting her.

Eventually he would pass out, wake the next morning–apologetic–but still head off to the tavern again. Apparently this process was repeated for a week every couple of years, until Barbara would finally call the sheriff and have Hank put in jail until he could dry out, come home and act normal for a while.

The interesting thing was, in the process of Hank going in and out of rehabilitation, he developed liver disease.

Cirrhosis. It’s what happens when you choose to pickle your internal organs instead of your beets.

So at the age of fifty-two (which I thought was ancient) Hank died.

Barbara was a mess; as they say in the Midwest, “fit to be tied.”

She sold her business, left town and was never heard from again. I remember the last thing she said to my mother: “I just don’t understand why God took Hank.”

Fascinating.

You see, God didn’t understand why Hank took himself.

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Chosen

Chosen: (adj) having been selected as the best or most appropriate.

Without spraying dark, sticky thoughts into the air, I must admit that if I knew what I know now, I might not have chosen to be born.

I don’t think I would have chosen Mary and Russell as my parents. Considering my youthful antics, they might not have chosen me.

I certainly would not have chosen to be raised in the Midwest of the United States during a season when prejudice, bigotry and self-righteousness were considered to be “American values.”

I wouldn’t have chosen to be fat. Even though some people try to gain their self-esteem while encased in blubber, the excess poundage does take its toll.

I don’t know exactly what I would have chosen–I mean, I could continue this list and probably offend everyone I know.

But I certainly would have chosen Jesus.

This is not because I’m a religious person. Matter of fact, I have been known to doze off immediately at the mention of prayer.

It’s the practicality.

It’s the humanity.

It’s the responsibility that Jesus of Nazareth placed on himself and his followers that lets me understand that he “gets it.”

He gets what it means to be a human being on this planet called Earth. I don’t know if his manifesto would work on other planets. I don’t know anything about habitation in other galaxies.

But Earth requires a certain payload to launch your rocket.

I’ve chosen that.

I fail at it, and as long as I realize it’s a failure on my part and not a master plot against my happiness, I’m usually just fine.

I don’t know what else specifically I would have chosen.

I would not have chosen a career as a writer, because criticism and obscurity are your only friends.

Would I have chosen to pen this essay? Probably not.

I got up in a rather relaxed, lazy mood, and your interest just didn’t interest me that much.

So I’ve chosen, at times, to persevere–even though the immediate benefit does not scream its worth.

 

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