The New Me

Yes. That’s me.


Whaddya talkin’ about?!? Of course, that’s not me. It’s a stalk of corn!

I would never be mistaken for a stalk of corn. Although I have, truth be told, been accused of being corny on more than one occasion. I know…shocking.

This little guy, however, represents me. He is a metaphor.

(note: at this time, I might be tempted to pose the ages-old question, “What’s a metaphor?” And then blurt, “For cows to graze in!” Only to laugh hysterically at my obvious wit. You will, I pray, note my restraint)

I’ve named him, appropriately, Corny. And behind him is his little brother, the runt of the litter, Jiminy.

Over my recent b-day, I put a patio in our back yard. The idea was to create a little “bistro” area where Robbye and I could enjoy our morning coffee this summer without frying like eggs on our deck. It’s a shady paradise from noon on (I am, in fact, relaxing there now), but its easterly facing station means that in the mornings it “gets a little sun.” Anywho, so I laid this patio, and then I put up some lattice panels. Robbye refurbished some bistro chairs she and her mom rescued on a “junk run” during April’s curbside clean-up free-for-all, and we picked up the table (the most expensive part of the whole proposition, as it turns out) at Menards. Transplant some morning glories and a little white nancy, toss a little vase of daisies on the tabletop, and viola!

Suddenly, our back yard has a “feature”.


Cool, huh?

That Robbye and me, we make a helluva team.

But you weren’t talking about a bistro patio, you say. You were talking about a stalk of corn. What of Corny? And little Jiminy?

Ah, yes… I digress. Again…shocking.

So a few days after the patio is laid and the dirt settles in, thanks to three days’ solid drenching that commenced no more than one hour after I set the last paver in place, I notice this little grass-like sliver poking out of the soil. Just barely.

I had a feeling about it. The Universe spake, a whisper in my ear: this was something more than your everyday (no pun intended–okay…maybe a little one) garden variety blade of grass.

I turned to Robbye and asked the usual. “Is that a plant?”

She always laughs at that one. As opposed to what? A truck? A pint beer glass? An exotic dancer? A bag of jelly beans?

Because she loves me, and because she’s a patient teacher, she mostly stifles any smartassed quips. At least she keeps them to herself.

What I mean is, “Is it something we’re intentionally growing, or is it a weed?”

Things become even more complicated due to Robbye’s somewhat capacious definition of “weed.” It’s all about placement, honey. Yet, unless I’m pointing to something like clover, which can be either plant or weed depending on its location–or even suddenly find its designation changed at the aesthetic whims of the gardener–we generally don’t stumble over that little darling anymore. I know what clover looks like. Except that I keep mixing it up with wood sorrel. Oy…

In Corny’s case, I was about to pluck him clean out of the ground, when Robbye suddenly announced, “It’s corn.”


How’d that get there?

Once, years ago, when I thought mowing was a semi-annual event, I found a stalk of corn growing in the corner of the yard where our veggie garden now stands. I thought it was funny, but the laughable kind instead of the strange and unlikely kind. I mean, hell, considering how badly the place was ignored, I’m surprised there wasn’t a whole field of corn out there. Our plot is, after all, part of a rehabilitated cornfield. It’s the burbs. It’s Minnesota. ‘Nuff said.

Crap. I’m shocked I didn’t find weed growing out there. And by that I mean the Cheech and Chong variety. “Placement” has no defining power over that stuff.

That corn–the corn of yore–I mowed without reservation. This little guy, though… I couldn’t bring myself to snuff him out. I don’t know how he got there (Robbye thought maybe via bird crap…how auspicious! Our little Corny is well-traveled!), and it didn’t matter. He was there, poking out of the dirt. Quite improbably, against all odds, where he had absolutely no business being, much less thriving. Oh, could I relate to my tiny green wisp of a friend.

So I did what I have always hoped people would do for me. I followed the Golden Rule. I gave him a chance. I left him alone to see what he would do. And I encouraged him every day–even gave him a little drink every once in awhile when he looked thirsty. And whaddya think happened? Not only did he grow, but by Jiminy! You gotta be kidding! It’s a twofer! Little Jiminy sprouted up a week or so later.

This past weekend was when Robbye and I put the finishing touched on the bistro project. I added the two smaller side panels, and Rob finished painting and assembling the chairs. There was a lot of activity around ye old patio area, and I knew that no matter how careful I tried to be it was a perilous proposition for my diminutive Zea mays. I decided that I had to let the chips fall where they may. If, at the end of the day, the plants were standing, I would move them to a safe spot where they could prosper. If not, I would stand on the patio, sing Circle of Life, and wipe away a tear in their honor.

When the project was finished, there was Corny, a little worse for wear, but still standing. But Jiminy? Sweet, cute little Jiminy? My heart sank. He was MIA.

I delivered the bittersweet news to Robbye, who lovingly called me a freak (“But you’re my freak, Sugar.”) then gave me a hug. I said that Corny deserved a place somewhere he could grow strong and proud and tall. She called me a freak again, but she smiled as she did so. She was not only on board, she’d rescue all the Cornys and Jiminys of the world, if she could. But it was one of those–God knows why she thinks this–“You’re being really cute” moments. She gave me a little smooch, then suggested we put Corny in the vegetable garden.

Wow! I didn’t even think of that! I was gonna put him…heck! I don’t know where! I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me.

I told Rob that I was going to move him the next morning. And when I awoke, and when I went outside to ready our little bistro for its maiden voyage upon the caffeine seas, whadya think I saw? Oh. My. God.

Remember that moment in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey when Chance the dog and Sassy the cat suddenly appear and run into their respective masters’–a little boy and girl, whose names escape me at the moment–wide open arms. But then there was the oldest boy, Jamie. Ah, Jamie… Forlorn, forsaken, forgotten Jamie. Forever hopeful, forever disappointed. Disillusioned Jamie. He looks out over the glen. Maybe, just maybe.

“Shadow was old, Jamie,” his dad tells him. “He…” The dad trails off, his voice breaking. They turn to head into the house. Not every story can end happily–especially if you’re a resident of Jamieville, population: one.

Yet..? What’s that? Jamie turns. Something bobbing over the hill? A head. Fur…It’s…It’s… Bark! Bark! Bark! (with V.O. courtesy of Don Ameche, “Jamie! Jamie! Jamie!”). Jamie bolts into the field, laughing, crying, calling… “Shadow!”

Now picture me…blubbering. “Jiminy! Brave, scrappy little Jiminy!”

Yeah…it was one of those moments. Robbye rolled her eyes, too.

Okay, okay. Enough of the dramatics already, huh? I know, I’m doing that thing. You know, the thing that makes people scratch their heads and wonder what the hell I’m talking about. And makes me amazed that anyone reads this far only to be sorely disappointed in the end. For there is no Shadow on the horizon for them.

I transplanted both Corny and Jiminy, and I am proud and happy to say that both (though they still looked a little peeked and feeble when I took this picture) are doing great. Jiminy is small, but now standing proud. Corny is shooting up every day, and I wouldn’t be surprised if before long he overtakes the other corn stalks in the garden. In any event, I am quite confident he will defy all odds once again and graze our knees by the Fourth of July.

So that’s me. Apparently, I am now the kind of guy now that rescues stray plants and fusses and obsesses over them like a Jewish grandmother. Every morning I visit them. Every morning I pour the coffee grounds on them, so they get all the nutrients they need for healthy growth. To catch up. Eat! Eat! Who knew? Certainly not me.

Oh well, there are worse things to obsess over. My next target, by the way, is a cute little maple that somehow took root among the sunflowers. We haven’t named him yet, but the adoption process is already in full swing. I don’t know where he’s bound for yet. Someplace he can grow strong and tall and call out, “Hey, world! Don’t count me out, ’cause I’m still here. And I’m shootin’ for the sky.”

Hell, yeah! That’s my boy.

That’s me.

The Gospel of St. Billy (part I)

Every day I hear Billy Joel in my head.

You’re havin’ a hard time, and lately you don’t feel so good/You’re
gettin’ a bad reputation in the neighborhood.”

I run through the lyrics of the song, Second Wind, like a mantra.
It’s either supremely important or supremely insane. I’ve yet to
figure out which.

“It’s alright, it’s alright/Sometimes that’s what it takes”

More often than not lately, I sit in front of my trusty iBook and
feel quite un-trusty, myself. I stare at the blank window. It
stares back, unblinking. Empty space. Waiting for a Universe.
Big. But no bang.

“You’re only human/You’re allowed to make your share of mistakes.”

It’s something between my shoulders. A…something. In me, but not
of me. I can feel throughout tissue and bone. Wrapped around,
engulfing each individual cell. Squeezing. And yet…emanating?
Like it can’t decide what to do next. Implode or explode? …That
is the question.

“You better believe there will be times in your life/When you’ll be
feel like a stumbling fool.”

It’s a parasite, it is. Uninvited, unwanted. There nonetheless. No
picture of cooperative symbiosis here. No happy little yellow bird
merrily cleaning the big croc’s choppers sans concern. I wish it was
a little yellow bird. At least that would be cute. This thing is
black. No…it’s negative color. Beyond black. Black hole color.
Nothing cute about it. It sucks in light. It feeds off my color.
My light. It leaves me exhausted and, more often than not,

“So take it from me you’ll learn more from your accidents/Than
anything that you could ever learn in school.”

I wake up each morning praying it’s gone. Sometimes I think it is.
I lay in bed, still. I feel like myself. Like the morning of my
worst hangover ever. Open my eyes. No problem. All is well in the
world. Eventuality, however, is the winner and still champion. Give
it a minute, and…hmmm… “Why is my arm screwed around like that?
Why is my face jammed against the wall? Why am I sleeping in my
pants? Why am I missing one sock?” Apologies to Mr. Joel, it is at
this time the words of Peter Gabriel are most profound: “Here comes
the flood.”

“Don’t forget your second wind/Sooner or later you’ll get your second

Functionally, it blocks impulses from my brain to my fingers.
Experientially, it stops me dead in my tracks. Makes every day
exponentially more difficult than it should be. And when I try to
push through in spite of it, you better believe, baby, the empire
truly does strike back. Forget whatever shit Darth Vader pulled on
Han or Chewie. That’s got nothing on that which I have come to term
“fuzz and fog mode.” Oh, yeah? Think you’re tricky, eh? Well, how
about I block every coherent thought in your pathetic head? How’s
that work for you?
I put one foot in front of the other for as long
as I can stand it. Sometimes, though, the mud is simply too deep.
My legs get tired. I thought so.

“It’s not always easy living in this world of pain/You’re gonna be
crashing into stone walls again and again.”

When I’m not directly impacted by it (read: when I’m performing one
of the few impressive feats of which I am currently capable, which
include guessing the ending on Law & Order: SVU reruns and clicking
through craigslist), I think about it. Worry about it. Obsess over
it. “What is it? How did it get there? Why is it there?” And the
most pressing question: “When will I be free of it?”

“It’s alright, it’s alright/Though you feel your heart break.”

Even worse, there are times, like when I’m running, when suddenly
it’s gone. Thoughts and ideas and insights and to dos come flooding
into my conscious mind. Okay…they’re tentative at first. Little
Munchkins, poking their heads gingerly out from behind oversized
daisies and gingerbread houses. But as soon as they sense the all
clear, they break out into song. They party like it’s 1999. It’s
overwhelming and euphoric all at once. And for those precious
minutes, I am once again on my game. I can feel the zone. I party
with them. Too bad I just can’t keep running. Again…my legs get

“You’re only human/You’re gonna have to deal with heartache.”