Seeing Pink

His coach always said, “You make your best strides in sand, not on the track.”

As often as possible, Ben’s training included runs at Pine Island. The area just off the ocean provided him the softest, whitest sun-bleached sand to run on; challenging him with steep, wind-carved dunes that beat any stadium steps. The sand wasn’t easy to run on — well, “in” — since it’s softened dryness swallowed every footstep. His feet sank deep, forcing his weary legs to burn lactic acid as he sought to yank them free for another step.

It wasn’t just the great workouts that Pine Island provided. The location gave him the solitude he needed ever since his mother had died. Breast cancer. Amy’s struggle to fight the disease for nearly a year had both tortured and inspired Ben. His mother had been his training partner and coach after he’d left college to take up ultra-distance racing. He watched her retch in agony as chemicals decimated her athletic body. Heard her softly crying at night, in her recliner, blanket wrapped tightly about a body that was crumbling under the weight of treatments, lost income, and ebbing hope.

That was the torture.

The inspiration was gleaned from those rare days when she pulled on her pink running shoes, refusing to allow cancer to steal every instance of good from her life, and ran beside him. They knew those short loops, at a pace microseconds faster than a walk, meant nothing to Ben’s training. But those runs filled him with a resolve, to be as good … no better … than what Amy dreamed for him. She never set outlandish goals for him, nor criticized race results, and not even once did a negative word emerge from her mouth. She filled him with positive reality.

So after Amy had died, Ben took her pink running shoes with him to every workout. If he set out from home, they sat neatly paired on his front steps. When his training took him from home, the brilliant pink shoes hung, or sat, in a spot he knew he would be passing, or returning to. Those months running the Blue Ridge Mountains, the shoes hung from a tree somewhere along his circuitous routes. And in the last two months, as he trained on the sands of Pine Island, the shoes hung on the weathered snow fence. In most cases, no matter where he was – the steep white dunes or sprinting the shoreline – he could see the shoes.

Those pink shoes were a beacon of strength and confidence for Ben. Every time he reached the pinnacle of another dune, he would turn to the shoes and raise his arms in triumph. If he felt his resolve waning, his body growing painfully weary, he would peek at the shoes and mutter in between gulps of sea air, “Okay Mom, I can do more.”

It wasn’t that he needed those shoes to go on, to feel motivation. His mother’s death had certainly hurt, and he thought of her often. But she had stressed, during numerous talks they’d had traveling to and from races, “Ben, I don’t have to be here, beside you, to be with you.”

At times, Ben just shook his head at the simplicity of her rationale. Yeah, I know, Mom,” he mumbled once.

“Ben!” his mother snapped. “When you are out there on the race course, miles from the start or finish line, am I beside you? Huh? Am I?”

“Well no,” he said, “but I know you’re back there, waiting for me to come back.”

“But I’m not there telling you to keep going, to dismiss the negativity, or even to get your butt moving,” she stated. “So if this cancer gets me – and it probably will – I won’t be there.

“But I’ll be here,” she said poking at his head and chest. “There’s nothing I haven’t told you or said to you that’ll need to be said the day after I die. Nothing!”

“You are you because of you,” she added. “You know all I’ve taught you, but you’re great because of you and your strength. Be you and you will succeed.”

The shoes reminded him of that conversation; of his mother’s will to live; her gift of confidence and inspiration. So they went with him; a subtle reminder.

As he stood atop that hill of sand, grinning, he looked toward the fence where brilliant pink flashed in the late-day sun. “Yeah Mom. I’m moving my butt.”

The Keys To Her Heart

“Key To Her Heart”

“Uh ma’am. You dropped your keys.”

Elsa saw a ripple of fear cross the face of a woman standing near her. She turned her head, didn’t make eye contact, and stammered, “No … no I didn’t.”

“Pretty sure they’re yours,” Elsa replied, glancing down to catch another look at the keys lying on the sidewalk outside the doorway of a small café. Darkness inside told her the eatery was closed. A sign of brilliant colors above the door said, “Bea’s Hive.”

Elsa looked at the front of the café again, then snapped her view to where the woman stood. She spun and began walking away. Unsure what to do, Elsa glanced at the keys, then looked at the woman, now a good 30 yards away. In seconds, she vanished into a thick crowd.

Quickly, Elsa bent, reached a gloved hand toward the key ring. Just as her fingers touched it, a shot rang out. Sparked by a jolt of surprise, Elsa yanked her hand back! But before standing up, she looked down again, and reached.

The delay may have saved her life.

As she grabbed the keys, the door of “Bea’s Hive” exploded in an eruption of glass and shards of wood. Confetti of shrapnel cascaded. Elsa ducked; too far. Her forehead smacked the concrete with a resounding thud.

Before she could even feel for blood, a hand reached through the shattered door, grabbed her leg, and roughly hauled her inside the café. Whoever had her continued to pull her deeper into the darkness.

Confused, Elsa managed to remain calm and limp. Though her head was spinning, she somehow rationalized she was better off being dragged into the closed café than lying on the sidewalk with bullets flying. With a crash, her body slipped through metal swinging doors. She felt the chill of tile, and assumed “kitchen.”

Suddenly the person dropped her legs, and stepped over her, back to the doors. Elsa watched a head carefully rise to the small doorway window. A man! Her hero was a man. He chanced a look through the window. In a hazy light, she saw toussled long brown hair. Catching a glimpse of his rugged face, she had a feeling of familiarity; as though she should know him.

Wobbly, Elsa raised her head off the floor. Hands coarsed with grit of dirty floors, she felt for something to grab so she could stand. A table. She started to rise, but the man turned and signaled her to stay down. Head spinning more, she sat back in agreement.

After what seemed like an eternity, the man slid from the window, and moved toward Elsa. As he moved from the light, she couldn’t make out his features, his face fading fast into the dark.

“You okay,” he asked in a hushed, deep voice. “Sorry it got kinda hairy.”

That voice. Again, Elsa couldn’t shake the idea she knew this man.

“But I know you’re into that,” he added.

How? Into what? Who? Elsa struggled to understand why a complete stranger would know what she was “into.” Oh God, she thought, I’ve escaped from one horrific situation to get into another. This guy thinks ….

And then a flashlight popped on, the beam pointed straight at her eyes. She turned from the brilliance of the white LED.

“Get that outta my eyes,” she barked, her fear replaced by anger. “Who are you?”

As laughter erupted from her hero-turned-apparent-assailant, Elsa knew.

“Clint?” she queried.

“How’s that for a little excitement,” her husband chirped. “Feelin’ the ol’ romance?”

“Wha …. I don’t underst …. Oh my God!” Elsa answered. “Don’t tell me it’s because I said I wanted to do something …”

“… exciting for our anniversary,” Cliff noted wryly.

“Good Lord, I was thinking carriage ride in a park, a rock concert, or maybe just dancing.”

“I know. But when you said ‘exciting,’ my mind just took off, and well … got your heart racing, huh.”

“But the woman? The keys? Who …”

“Greta. Glad you didn’t recognize her.

“Your secretary? But the gun shot? The café? You’re lucky I didn’t get hit!”

“Blanks and a little pyrotechnics, from work, on the door. The hardest part: making sure you’d show up and see those keys. Sorry about your head. When you duck for cover, you go low!”

“All because I said …”

“Yes my love. Now let’s go get cleaned up. We have a night of dining and dancing. Yessiree, it’s going to be an exciting night, my love.”

Help!

Now these days are gone …. and I do appreciate your being ’round.

My independence seems to vanished in the haze.

Won’t you please, please help me!

…. I’m not so self assured.

We said our goodbye … ahhh, the night before.

When I held you near, you were so sincere.

When I think of things we did, it makes me want to cry.

Love was in your eyes.

… turn my face to the wall.

Everywhere people stare, each and every day.

Hey …

… in the state I’m in.

How could she say to me, love will find a way.

Love you all the time and never leave you.

I’m lonely as can be.

I didn’t realize, as I looked in your eyes.

You don’t want my lovin’ anymore.

So come on back and see, just what you mean to me.

But as from today, I’ve got somebody like you.

And so I’m telling this time, you better stop.

Through thick and thin she will always be my friend.

I ain’t no fool, and I don’t take what I don’t want.

If you don’t take her out tonight, she’s gonna change her mind.

Cuz I will treat her right my friend.

I’ll make a point of taking her away from you.

You’re gonna lose that girl.

I think it’s today.

And she don’t care.

Said she would never be free when I was around.

Before she gets to sayin’ goodbye.

But she don’t care.

My baby don’t care.

They’re gonna make a big star outta me.

Cuz I can play the part so well.

Then I’ll know that you will plainly see.

… about a man who is sad and lonely.

The biggest fool who ever hit the big-time.

Help!

Bird Buddies

I enjoy feeding birds. However, I have found (so far) that in my small-town urban setting, I only attract a few types of birds. Not complaining — I just think there are more species around the region I could be seeing.

I’ve not yet graduated to a heated waterer, like my father and brother have. They also live in rural settings, near forested areas. But we agree that having water for the birds, especially in winter, is a real attractant. Those guys get birds that normally don’t even stick around in the winter. They have tons of Bluebirds that stay around their houses all year. They discovered that putting mealworms in their heated waterers provides the Bluebirds with ample food (and water). Obviously the Bluebirds, who would normally migrate south, to warmer locales, must be able to keep themselves warm enough to survive the icy-cold winters on the upper Midwest — if they are provided with ample food and water.

So I believe I need to convince my wife to let me hook up a heated waterer. She doesn’t want the “unsightly” electric cord crossing our deck, so I need to figure out how to run the wire under our deck (it is a low-to-the-ground deck, not one raised up on ‘stilted’ legs). I could even bury the cord or hide it in our flower garden where my feeders are. So this will be a dual-pathed project: convincing my wife, and getting power in an unobtrusive fashion to where I will set the waterer.

Below are some photos I have snapped of my birds and squirrels that stop by to feed from my two feeders and suet feeder.

Downy Woodpecker grabbing bites from the suet feeder.

Downy Woodpecker grabbing bites from the suet feeder.

A Purple Finch snacking on seeds during a February snowstorm.

A Purple Finch snacking on seeds during a February snowstorm.

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Squirrel cleans up on the spilled seeds (many of which he gets to spill by climbing up the feeder pole and tipping the feeder).

Squirrel cleans up on the spilled seeds (many of which he gets to spill by climbing up the feeder pole and tipping the feeder).

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High-wire act by a Yellow Finch.

High-wire act by a Yellow Finch.

Age + Experience = No Job

Me2015

I do not consider myself old.

I do, however, consider myself elderly. My joints creak and hurt sometimes. My hair and beard are a nice shade of white. I occasionally forget things (like walking from one room to another and not recalling why I made that move).

But all of those things were happening to me by the time I was 35.

My hair greyed, and eventually turned white, very early in life; it happened a lot on my mother’s side of the family so I pretty much expected it would happen to me. Shortly after I turned 23, I developed a spot of white hair near the forefront of my head. By 30 I was turning grey, and by 35 I was pretty well on my way to being a white-haired man. My mother’s hair turned white fairly early, as did her uncle’s, her grandfather’s. I suspect that if her parents had lived beyond 40, they would have seen heads of white hair. Thankfully, I dod have a reasonably thick head of hair — it’s just white.

The joints in my body, especially my legs and feet, ache; but that was anticipated since I ran thousands of miles while participating in cross country and track in high school and college. In high school, I averaged 50-75 miles of more training and racing a week. By the time I was running in college, my mileage was higher than that and I was running marathons and ultra-marathons. In college, I ran the entire season of cross country, my freshman year, with a hairline fracture in my ankle. After that season, a doctor told me, after examining the ankle shortly after I’d spent 8 weeks in a cast, “You’re going to pay for all the miles on these legs.” I am … and paying dearly.

I know I am not alone with being occasionally forgetful. It’s not so much that humans are forgetful as they simply don’t focus and listen very well. Even when the old, “A man walked into a room — and forgot why he was there,” thing happens to me when I am all alone. We’ve all done it.

I am 61 years old. As a youngster, I would have categorized someone that age as “old.” Aging has never bothered me, as far as my attitude is concerned. Adding a year to our age every 365 days is just a part of life. I truly believe each person in this world is “only as old as you feel.” Some days I feel really old. Some days I feel pretty young. Most days, I feel 61.

But in this past year, I felt more and more “older” — but in a way different than standard aging.

In January 2014, I sold the two weekly newspapers I’d owned and operated for 37 years. I’d gotten married a couple months prior to the sale, and moved in with my new wife in a town new to me. My initial intent was to be semi-retired. I was only 60 at the time I made the move, too young to actually retire, so I decided I would substitute teach as a means of income. I thought about doing some freelance writing, too. But I wasn’t planning on working full-time.

Well …. I got bored.

The substitute teaching kept me marginally busy. I picked up a few freelance writing gigs, but to be honest, my heart wasn’t into writing. I needed some time away from journalism, so I pretty much stopped writing except for an occasional blog.

Last summer, I picked up a seasonal job as a grounds maintenance person at a research farm near my new home town. I enjoyed working at the farm. I did a lot of mowing, trimming, and tree pruning, but I also did a decent amount of general farm work. I learned a tremendous amount about farming and experimental farming.

In the fall of 2014, I went back to the substitute teaching gig, opening the school year with a long-term sub job for the first eight weeks of the school year. Once that was done, I returned to the farm for a month to help with the harvest. Once that job ended, I got another long-term sub job that took me until the end of the first semester.

But from mid-spring 2014 to the present, I was and have been applying for full-time jobs. Not just any jobs, mind you, but jobs I felt were in my field of expertise — writing, editing, marketing, public relations, and photography. I should mention, in the 1980s and 90s, while operating my newspapers, I took on other full-time jobs. For five years I was the sports editor for an area daily newspaper, then for six years, I worked for a local hospital in their public relations and marketing department. So when I say I have experience and expertise in areas mentioned above, I speak the truth.

To date, I have applied for 30 jobs. Some of the jobs I admit were perhaps a bit of a reach when talking about my “fit” for the position, but in each case, I felt I had the ability and/or experience to do the job. And to date, I have been called in for one interview; and that was for a job I was probably the least qualified. And I got TWO interviews for that job before being told they were “going in another direction.” Well actually, they never contacted me after the second interview (rather tacky if you ask me).

Now I can’t say my age has worked against me — I have no proof. Perhaps some of those potential employers looked at my resume and felt I was either over-qualified, or my vast experience would place me in a salary range too high for their budgets. I have no proof I was discriminated against either because of my age or experience.

But I was never invited to come in to discuss the jobs!

In one situation, a marketing job for a winery that was opening an office in a second location, the job description nearly screamed my name. They wanted good writing and editing skills. Journalism or English degree was preferred, not to mention experience in advertising and/or marketing. Didn’t even get an email back telling me they were or weren’t interested. Nothing. I did, however, see a Facebook post a couple months later (I had “liked” their Facebook site because I was familiar with their wine, and liked it), with a photo of a group of people with the caption, “Meet our new (office location) staff.” No one in the photo was over the age of 30. I’m no rocket scientist, but the photo told me I had been too old to be considered.

With each letter or email rejecting my candidacy for a job that I felt I was qualified to do, my self-esteem slipped a notch. Sometimes I got no reply at all (that just seems tacky to me; at the very least tell me you’ve dropped me from consideration). I try not to let it bother me; the degree of “bother” is usually affixed to my desire/interest in the job. Sometimes I feel I am quite qualified for the job, or it seems like it would be a position I would really enjoy; those hurt the most.

My wife keeps saying one of two things: (1) “If they would just visit with you, they would see what kind of person you are,” and (2) “Don’t worry, something is going to pop up.”

The thing is, if they would call me in for an interview, I would have the chance not only to show them my outgoing, friendly personality, but I could allay whatever fears they might have that I am either looking for a monstrous salary or will retire in 3-5 years, or both. I could tell them my plans, which include working until my wife reaches retirement age (8-9 years from now) and that, while I don’t want to devalue myself nor literally give my skills away, I am willing to work for a reasonable salary, one that would allow me to pay household bills and pad my retirement savings.

I feel I am quite reasonable in both my years of work and pay desire.

But without an interview, I have no opportunity to address those concerns.

The last two job applications I submitted, I decided to throw caution to the wind. I included a paragraph in my letter of application, telling about my work plans and my salary desires. I figured what have I got to lose; perhaps that paragraph will inspire an interview. We’ll see; those letters went out in the last week.

However, while I have no way of proving my suspicions have any validity, it seems rather obvious that potential employers are ignoring my skills in favor of hiring younger candidates whom they can pay less money or who is, unlike me, not under 61 and doesn’t have a bevy of experience.

In school, my forte was not math. But I am pretty sure I know what age + experience adds up to. Nothing.

One-Way Trip. Would You Go?

It’s a one-way trip to death.

Well, death is not the true destination. The one-way ticket will have “Mars” stamped on it.

The Mars One project, a brainchild of exploration/entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, of the Netherlands. A few years ago, he announced the Mars One project, and began taking applications from people around the world who’d be interested and willing to climb aboard a spaceship and take off for Mars. The idea of the project is to begin colonization of the “red planet.” Mars is our closest neighbor in the solar system, and it has always held a certain mystique regarding whether or not it could (or does) sustain life.

After getting over 202,000 applications from would-be space pioneers, Lansdorp and his Mars One team pared the list down. The group was quickly reduced to just over 1,000 in the first round of cuts, then to 660, and now the third round. The latest list of finalists includes 50 men and 50 women (39 from the Americas (including 33 from the US), plus 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, 7 from Africa, and 7 from Oceania). One of the finalists is a 38-year-old Polish man who goes by the name “M1-K0.” He claims to be a Martian sent to Earth who says he would be happy to help us explore his home planet.

The 100 finalists are going to begin training and testing as Mars One officials trim those candidates down to the final 24; those who would actually go. The selected space adventurers will be broken into six crews of four. The first quartet will take off for Mars in 2024, and the remaining groups will be launched every two years until all 24 are on Mars, getting a colony going.

I first read about the Mars One project a few months ago in Popular Science magazine. In that article, a number of the 100 finalists were interviewed. The article pieced together a variety of statements made by the potential space explorers; answers from all kinds of questions, such as: “Why go?” “Won’t you miss life on Earth?” “Do you truly understand the risk?” The Mars One website (mars-one.com) has a large list of frequently asked questions, with answers. It’s interesting to peruse the site and learn about their plans.

Obviously every one of the finalists understand the risks involved in the trip. But from the statements made by the various members of the 100-finalists group, they are looking beyond the risk. They are focused on what the success of the project could mean for humankind. They appreciate the greater good over their mortality. But as one potential Mars explorer stated, “We are all going to die, but it’s important what you do before you die.”

Could you make that trip?

I couldn’t.

May as well be honest about it. Don’t misunderstand, I have always been adventurous. Growing up, my parents taught us there is something wonderful beyond the horizon. They took us places and allowed us to explore; to ask questions; to always wonder about this world we live in (not to mention the worlds that lie well beyond us, in the sky). While I know there were times our “adventures” filled my parents with fear for our safety, they rarely quelled our exploratory spirit.

And that part of me would let me go in a heartbeat. It sounds exciting! Yes, I know I would die sometime within the confines of the trip. The spaceship could explode during launch. It might not hold together through the journey (the Mars One website says it will take roughly seven to eight months to travel from Earth to Mars; precise lengths of time for each trek will vary depending on the positions of Mars and Earth in their orbits). The ship may crash on Mars. Once landed, the planet may not have an inkling of capacity to sustain life. Or if everything goes well, I would die from old age (unless the Mars atmosphere holds some life-lengthening chemistry). But no question about it, once aboard the spaceship, those explorers will definitely die at some point during the project.

A view of the Mars surface from then Curiosity rover.

A view of the Mars surface from then Curiosity rover.

My application to the Mars One project was never filled out (okay, I confess, I didn’t learn about the project until after the application time was well underway), simply because I love my family too much to leave them forever. It doesn’t embarrass me to confess this. I’d guess a whopping percentage of people on Earth would turn down the chance to participate for the same reason. I know, it’s a rather blasé reason for not going, but it’s honest. It’s truthful. It’s real.

I do think the idea of being a space traveler is exciting, and I hope I am not only alive by the time the first ship launches, but I hope technology has advanced so we can keep in constant contact with the explorers. It will be one of the most exciting times in the history of our world. I see myself, if technology were so advanced, following their progress daily.

It is purely hypothetical, but if you were given the opportunity to make such a trek, would you go? Of course, since it is a hypothetical question, people won’t take an honest, realistic look at it, so they’d give unrealistic answers. But think about it. Be honest with yourself.

Would you take that one-way trip?

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