I am no longer doing a podcast… BUT (as in hole) … I still have things to say. So….
Ladies and Gentlemen…. THE WRITTEN WORD.
There’s Always A Crow
By: S. Scott Bullock
As I sit here, the sun so warm on the top of my bald head, a crow is having its way with my ears. Apparently she is angry about something because her caws are loud and repetitive. All other sounds in this beautiful, wooded park are mere background orchestration for her angry aria. I made the dreadful error of looking up at the tree she was perched in and that seemed to infuriate her even more. Her caws tripled in frequency and she began a fanatic back and forth dance on the limb she perched herself on. I suppose that she is not particularly angry at me, personally, but that she is unhappy to share the park with anyone or anything else at all. But it certainly seems that she is taking her angst out on me. Me, this skinny, bald, old/young man sitting alone on a splintering park bench, in a stunning creek side country park.
There’s always a crow, isn’t there?
Twenty-three years ago, when I was ten-years old, I got my first bicycle. It was my birthday and I got the Huffy dirt bike, with knobby tires and flame red/yellow handle grips that I had always wanted. Well, not exactly the one that I always wanted. This one, the one my parents got me, was the wrong color. I wanted iridescent green, but I got plain old, regular green instead. Everything else about the bike was perfect and my dad even did a little extra and got me a headlights and generator package. The bike was almost perfect. Except for the dumb color. And every time I looked at my bike, all through the five years I rode it, I didn’t see the cool knobby tires or the way-cool flame red/yellow handle grips. I didn’t see the headlights and bitchin’ generator. I only saw the color. The wrong color.
The crow just stopped for a minute and the sound of the running creek has taken over. I hear a child shouting at a dog and a dog barking back at a child. And now. Now, just the creek. An amazingly peaceful sound. A breeze just caressed my face and on it I can smell cut grass, lavender and pine. I think the crow might be done. Oh, wait. Nope. She isn’t. There she goes again. Madder this time. Well, maybe not madder, but certainly louder. Actually, I should really use the word angrier, not madder. Madder, as Sandy always used to tell me, meant more insane, not more angry.
I met Sandy when I was twenty-five. I was the new night manager at Dagel’s Grocery Mart, and she was starting her first night shift. When she walked into my tiny office my heart stopped and then took off running at highway speed. Even the ugly florescent lighting couldn’t ugly her. She was a ginger-haired angel with tucked wings and hidden halo. I asked her to marry me after knowing her for only two months. She said yes.
The wedding was small but elaborate. All planned by Sandy and her mother, Jackie. Sandy gave me a say-so in all the planning, but I really didn’t have too much to say. That is until the event was over. Then I told Sandy about all the things that I felt didn’t go quite right. The things that disappointed me. The band didn’t play all the songs we requested. I mean the band was good and all that, but they skipped several songs. My favorite Uncle, Uncle Tommy, came and surprised me. But he left early. Before the reception was over. There were only two bartenders instead of the three that were suggested, and the tiny white lights which covered all the trees and foliage in the backyard, thousands of them, while stunning, didn’t twinkle. They just burned steady. There was more, and Sandy heard all of it.
The crow, I just named her Morticia, has paused again. I want to take a sneak peak to see what she’s up to, but I don’t want to piss her off again. The breeze has picked up a bit but it is still gentle and so filled with incredible smells. Every inhale is laced with new magic and wonder. The sun is warm on me, but I chill easily of late, so I’ve pulled on my coat. I love this old coat, frayed sleeves, missing button and all.
A little toe-headed boy, maybe six or seven, came up to me about an hour ago. He had a melting red-white-and-blue ‘Bomb-Pop’ Popsicle in his dirty-finger-nailed hand. He stood in front of me for a minute without speaking, holding the ‘Bomb-Pop’ over my knee and dripping it all over my khaki pants. I think he may have been wondering about my shiny bald head. When he finally spoke, he asked me if I’d seen his goose. His GOOSE of all things! I told him no, but that I’d keep an eye out. He took off running then, heading for his mom. Made me chuckle though. Poor thing lost his goose. Now, looking at the Popsicle juice on the leg of my pants, I just have to smile. I sure hope he finds his goose.
Oops! There goes Morticia again. I wonder if she knows where the wayward goose is. Maybe that’s what she’s been shouting about. She’s trying to tell the poor little boy were his goose is.
As I shift my weight on this old bench, (my boney left butt-cheek has fallen totally asleep), I can feel the texture of my coat brushing against the back of my hand. I do love this ancient coat. It was an anniversary present. Sandy gave it to me on our second anniversary.
Two years into our marriage we had settled into a life of medium-low-income happiness. Well, truth be told, Sandy was the happy one. I was… what? Disgruntled. I was disgruntled. I really loved our apartment. Except where it was located. Too far from work and in a ‘not upscale enough’ neighborhood. Our car was a gift from Sandy’s father. I liked it alright. It was brand new. But you know… it wasn’t what I would have bought for myself.
I first saw the full length camel hair coat in a GQ magazine at my hair cutter’s salon and noted that, while I really liked it, it was WAY too expensive for me. I mentioned it to Sandy and she agreed. Way too pricey.
Our anniversary night came and as we were getting ready to go to dinner, (at the restaurant where we had our first date), Sandy asked me for her present. She was laughing, but deadly serious. I couldn’t figure out HOW she figured it out. She knew that I had bought her those damn makeup brushes that she was lusting after. She knew it and she wanted them now so she could use them to put on her makeup for the special night.
I told her that I didn’t get her anything. She laughed and said, ‘bullshit’. And then, ‘hand it over’. So I did. And she smiled that smile that melted my heart and tingled my special part.
We had one of what we called our ‘very quick sessions’ then. Sex with Sandy was something that simple words can’t describe. So I won’t even try. But even in all its carnal majesty I still found fault. Not long enough doing this, too much of doing that.
I gave her the makeup brushes after that and she hugged me and kissed the side of my face. I always got goose bumps when she did that and that time was no exception.
Then I asked her where MY present was and she said I’d have to wait.
It was October and cold for California, so I went to the closet to get my coat before we left the apartment. I pulled on the old pea coat that my father had handed me down when I was in high school and Sandy yelled ‘oh my god stop’ at the top of her lungs.
I dropped the pea-coat and looked at Sandy, stunned at her shout. I asked her what the hell was wrong and she smiled and began guffawing. Sandy’s guffaw sounded like a wounded horse and always started me into laughing too. I asked her, still laughing, why she’d shouted like that, and she pointed to the the hall closet. She told me, through more guffaws, that my present was on the top shelf. I pulled down the large beautifully wrapped box, went to the couch, sat down and opened it. It was the coat. The coat I had yearned for in the magazine. She had somehow managed to scrimp and save and put enough aside to buy it for me. I actually wept a little then. Wept at the love I felt for her. Wept at the thought of her giving up some of the things she needed in order to save the money to buy me this ridiculously frivolous and expensive present. It wasn’t until two weeks later that I realized it wasn’t the EXACT same coat. I was back at my hair cutters again and looking through the old GQ magazine where I had first seen the wonderful coat. That’s when I saw that the buttons were different on this one. This one, the one I had first seen and lusted after, had bigger buttons. And the buttons were darker and gold rimmed. These buttons were different from mine. So, even though the coat was from the same maker and equally expensive, from that moment on I only saw the buttons. I kept my disappointment from Sandy, but she sensed something was up.
Morticia has quieted again, and I’m just sitting here looking at the space left by the missing button on my wonderful coat. The missing ‘wrong’ button. A beautiful butterfly just fluttered by. It lighted for a second on the arm of my bench. It wings were iridescent. Iridescent green. That makes me smile. The universe poking fun at me. The sun is lowering slightly and the long shadows it is creating are like charcoal sketches of trees on a green grass canvas. The light is magical right now. Pre-Gloaming I’d call it. It is bathing everything in a golden-yellow wash. The lake, off in the distance, has bright-yellow diamonds dancing atop each tiny ripple and the creek next to me is covered in gold doubloons of light. The quiet has started begging for relief, and Morticia has just obliged. CAW CAW CAW! she keeps telling me. CAW CAW CAW! I think I know what it means. I’ll tell you in a minute or two. Right now I just want to sit here and take in the unbounded beauty of this moment. The cool, scent-ladened air. The shadows. The light. And Morticia. The crow.
Sandy and I divorced five years ago. It was amicable. Or as amicable as a divorce can be. There is something very un-amicable about hurting another person, and that’s what divorce does. It hurts people. In the settlement I gave her everything but my clothes and my vinyl collection. She gave me a kiss on the side of my face when I left our apartment for the last time. And that last kiss, just as the very first, gave me goosebumps. That simple kiss on the side of my face.
I had worn her out, she had told me. I was so negative. Nothing ever good enough or right enough. I had worn her out and her love for me could no longer recharge her. So we divorced. And I took my clothes and my two-hundred and six LP record collection and moved away. I landed here. In Bonny Doon, California. It was a nice place to land. Or so I thought five years ago. Today, and for the past two years, I have realized that it was not only a nice place, but a land of magic and majesty the likes of which many have never seen.
I got a job at a local health food market in nearby Boulder Creek. I started as produce manager and worked my way up to manager of the northwest sector. That sounds much more impressive than it really was. The “northwest sector” consisted of three stores. But it payed really well and allowed me to find a nice apartment in a nice neighborhood. I didn’t know it then, but I was only two blocks away from this very park. The first three years I lived here I never saw it or even knew it existed. I discovered it two years ago. I was wandering the streets of town after hearing some particularly bad news, and just as if providence had planned it, I came across ‘Mariu Park’. I have no idea what Mariu means, but I think I heard that it’s from a New Zealand aboriginal language. But whatever it means or meant, I found it that dark, sad Tuesday and since then have spent more time in Mariu Park than I have in my own apartment.
Three years ago, a full year before the real poop hit the propeller, I was fully settled into my job. I was okay with it. It just wasn’t perfect. I’d wished for easier hours and better pay and I hated my boss. Well, more precisely, I hated my bosses wife. The woman behind the man was a royal pain in the general behind. She kept making suggestions on how I could improve our stores. Where to put the carts. How to rearrange the fruit and produce. The colors for the store aprons and outdoor awnings. I only had one suggestion for her. I wanted her to keep her big mouth shut. When I made that suggestion, I was shown the door. I walked through it, but much to my astonishment, got a call from my boss two weeks later asking me to come back. I did so with the caveat that Mrs. Boss would have little to no interaction with me. My boss told me that Mrs. Boss would longer be a problem for me OR for him. They were divorcing.
That year was amazing for me, though I didn’t see it that way. I got a large raise, still just a little too little in my opinion, and an assistant that took a lot of the grunt work away from me. In a small twist of fate, my assistant, hired by my boss, was a ginger-haired young lady named Sandy of all names. So once again I had a ruby-roofed Sandy in my life. This one, however, was ten years younger and about a hundred pounds heavier. She was fine though and worked twice as hard as everyone else in the room.
I worked on curating my vinyl collection during that year. Filling in the missing albums of a particular genre, selling off superfluous ones in another. I dated a little, but found the women to be either vacuous beyond description or dull to the point of suicide-inducing. If they weren’t over beautified Kardashian-Wanna-Be’s, they were farmer-tanned hippies that spoke of hemp cultivation and the myriad uses for cow dung.
I was just ‘okay’ with everything in my life. Just ‘okay’. Never ‘happy’. There was always something wrong. Always something less-than. Nothing was ever ‘just right’, and that fact gnawed at my psyche and drove me mad with dis-ease. I walked through life, clutching a half-empty glass in a death grip.
January of the next year brought a special gift. And I’m being REALLY sarcastic here. Yet, maybe not, when I come to think of it. Maybe it was a gift.
It was time for my yearly job physical. Normally I sailed through these with flying, healthy colors, so I was not in the least bit concerned. Of course I complained about the inconvenience of the appointment and the distance to the GP’s office. Typically, the results of all the tests are sent to the head office and filed away in one’s personnel file. But not this time. This time the doctor’s office called my office and a nurse told me that I needed to come back in and speak with the doctor. I asked her why, but she said that that was all she knew and she was just following the doctor’s orders. So, still not really concerned, I made an appointment for the next morning and went about my day.
I am going to spare you the ugly details here. Life is too short for ugly details. But I will tell you this. Cancer had come to live inside me. It was a bad cancer, but it was still at a treatable stage. So treat it we did. Aggressively. Months of radiation followed by months of chemotherapy. I lost every hair on my body from that combination. And none of it every grew back. Anywhere. I’m embarrassed to say.
When Sandy, my ex-wife not my assistant, heard of my battle, she came to stay with me on weekends. She hadn’t had any serious relationships since we split up so she had her weekends free to help her embattled ex-husband. During the week I had nursing care provided by my company and my incredible boss, who, by the way, was seriously dating the sister of the bitch that he was originally married to. The one that drove us both crazy. Go figure.
Again, sparing you the very gory details, the chemotherapy and radiation worked and after a year long battle I was pronounced ‘cancer-free’. Completely hairless, but cancer-free. It seems that 99% of chemo patients grow their hair back. I was one of the unlucky one percent. But I truly didn’t care. I was pronounced CANCER-FREE! I was also pronounced something else, probably for the first time in my whole life. I was pronounced grateful. I was grateful. I was grateful to the doctors who treated me. I was grateful to the nurses who cared for me. I was grateful to the chemists and scientists who created my therapies. And I was grateful to Sandy, my precious ex-wife, who sacrificed so much to make my suffering less and my joy for life more. I was grateful to be alive and able to enjoy eating good food and listening to great music and going to bathroom like a regular person. I was grateful and dare I say this? I was HAPPY. Happy to be alive.
CAW CAW CAW! Morticia is saying to me again. CAW! I know what it means. And I’m going to tell you now. But first I have to tell you this, with the biggest smile on my face I have had in weeks. I am, at this very moment, looking across the park and seeing a woman walking toward the park exit. She is being followed by a little toe-headed boy. And the boy is being followed, I kid you not, by a large Canadian Goose! I’m not kidding you! A GOOSE! The little boy found his goose.
CAW CAW CAW!!!!! Yes Morticia. Yes, I know.
I saw my oncologist last week. Just a check up. I talked to him on the phone this morning. It’s back. And we both knew that if it came back, it would not go away again. But I’m really okay with that. I really am. I have learned a joy for living that I never thought possible in these past two years. Because of ‘IT’ not in spite of ‘IT’. I have lived an entire lifetime of amazing gratitude and joy in these past seven-hundred-thirty or so days. I have learned to see the beauty in the mundane and the sublime in the silly. I have learned to appreciate every inhale and exhale and I have learned to look past the dirty window to the pristine flower-filled meadow beyond. I have learned that there is always going to be a something ‘not quite perfect’. There is always a noise that you can let obliterate the music, IF you allow it to. I have learned that in every circumstance YOU have the choice of what you focus on. You can wait for the quiet moments and listen to the creek next to you or you can focus on the loud caw of the angry bird in the branches above you. You can raise your fist in anger and rail against the bird, or you can embrace her as part of the beautiful package that is life. The loud, the quiet, the hard, the soft, the terrible, the tremendous. Because no matter how you look at it, no matter how you think about it, no matter what you do about it, in every single circumstance… there’s always a crow.