The Ring

The thing to him was much like the golden band was to Golum in the movie, ‘Lord of The Rings.’

The man gazed into its beauty, and it wasn’t its power that drew him so much as its promise of satisfaction, its offer of security, happiness and even ecstasy—these, held out to him, just out of reach, beckoning and daring him to grab them.

The man knew it would be his destruction…knew it as he knew mathematical certainty.

Yet the promise was described in detail on the canvas of his mind, with texture, color, movement and even the acrid smell of freshly mixed paint—laid on the neglected blank by a hand trained in the arts of opportunity and counterfeit, a customized picture that had no inherent value other than its ability to deceive, its mastery lying in its perfect replacement of the original.

photo: Kintzertorium

Between them

A man walked with his female lover north on Broadway, passing Victoria’s Secret on 85th Street, its Amazon-sized window photos of women in lace garments daring him and coaxing her.

He was on her right as they walked and had his arm around her neck. With that arm his lifted his hand and pointed to a poster and, smiling, said something to her—she turning briefly and then facing north once again. He looked past her and at the poster for a beat, having found his excuse to gaze.

photo: mariolo

For the kids:

I wrote the following as part of the TwitterMoms and Nanny McPhee Returns blogging program, making me eligible to get a $50 gift card to Fandango.

I encourage you to check it out, but only after the contest ends on September 15, so that my competition is less stiff. After all, I’m in this thing to win and you’ll just make it more difficult.

They asked us to share five important lessons every kid should learn. Here goes:

1. Play. Kids now entering the Kindergarten at my alma mater in New York City—a prestigious private school—are trained at an early age (usually 2 or 3, if not in utero) to succeed. A whole cottage industry is built around doing and learning in order to [fill in the blank listing something that the parents wished they did at a young age but didn’t; a.k.a vicarious existence]. Sometimes kids need to have unstructured and meaningless playtime to simply build imaginary worlds that might someday exist. Or not.

2. Honor your parents. Respecting your parents—and not just being a friend with them, which is the modern trend—is vital to being willing and able to respect and follow authority of all kinds. This isn’t a warm and fuzzy lesson, but it is crucial in life as one gets to school and needs to follow a teacher, coach or music instructor, a college professor or social club regulations, 55 MPH on most highways (oops…this is a “fail” for most of us who DO honor our parents), a tough boss’s instructions, or a religion’s mandates. Independent thinking and entrepreneurialism are beautiful things, but obeying authority figures imbues both parents and kids with dignity and builds trust. It leads to love borne of serving one another.

And, even if my paragraph above was nonsense after the first three words, honor your parents anyway, my son, since we pay the bills and change your diapers and feed you and buy you an Xbox for your birthday and, someday, might do it all again when you have grandkids. (See? It’s in your self-interest!)

3. Be there for your friends, and love your enemies. Friends should be there for each other, always. Friends truly should be able to call each other at two in the morning for help or—in case the case of adolescence—sometime after 10 but before 11 p.m. and preferably not with too many strings of consecutive capital letters in text messages, which only serves to drive up my bills. (See #2 above.)  If you are there for your friends, it’s not just that “your friends will be there for you.”  It’s that you’ll have friends, which is good enough on its own.

Few people love their enemies. Great people do, however, and are remembered through the ages. Even if everyone forgets—because eventually we all will be forgotten by humanity; read Keats—the enemy doesn’t forget during his lifetime, and the act of being loved by an enemy can transform both parties. It is for some people their only hope for transformation. So do it.

4. Live within your means.  My son, I didn’t do this for many years. If more people did this in the U.S., our country wouldn’t have an average debt-to-income ratio of 110%. If you want to know if this works, just look at the population explosion in majority-world countries where living within one’s means is not a good idea but rather a necessity. It is ironically sad but is a lesson that a billion people find ways to survive each day on less than what we spend on a newspaper that we throw in the trash after 30 minutes and ends up in a landfill that those billion people pick through for their subsistence. If more people in the U.S. lived within their means, more of us might have the hearts to do the next thing.

5. Find something you think you can’t live without and give it away. One tangible thing that I hold dear is this blog. I started it at the suggestion of my wife in early 2006 and then it morphed into another blog a couple years later. I have written 500+ posts and from them produced a collection of essays that I self-published. I don’t post on “just anything,” and—having becoming increasingly snobby and dainty about what I write on (delving more recently into cinquains and haiku on only the most haute topics) I somewhat eschew posts like this or words like “nanny” and “mcphee” appearing in them. Nevertheless, I am doing this for my kids. (We love to see movies, and I want to win this gift certificate, which I’ll use with them to go see the next film that all five of us can see. Having seen the trailer recently for the movie named above, I just might take my boys to see it—WILL do it if it in any way increases my changes to win that $50 gift certificate.)

Others hold different things dear. Their children, for example. Will my three sons be willing to send their sons and daughters off to war to fight for what they hold dearest? Will I, for that matter? Will they defend their own family in the face of an attacker, or will they risk their life or the life of a family member to save a stranger?

I would like to think that the best lesson of all is to be willing to die for someone who you don’t agree with or whom you don’t even know, but that you would do it because it’s who you are that motivates you to do it, that it’s the person I’ve raised you to be and that it doesn’t even make sense not to do it, even when you have a viable option and no one would blame you.

The lesson you will learn from all of these is that it was not I—but someone greater than I—who taught you.

I wrote this blog post while participating in the TwitterMoms and Nanny McPhee Returns blogging program, making me eligible to get a $50 gift card. For more information on how you can participate, click here: http://nannymcphee.twittermoms.com/about

The Cardinals

Granddaddy pointed out correctly yesterday that one of the morning doves may have figured out how to get birdseed from the feeder.

By design, the feeder is supposed to limit these larger and more aggressive birds from perching on the 1.5-inch side pegs and extracting all the food from two cylindrical tubes. There are actually two feeders. One, hung in a crape myrtle, enjoys the regular dining company of three or four finches. The other one, larger and erected on an aluminum pole painted green, with a round, hollow guard dangling below two separate tubes to protect them from squirrels or raccoons who might try to scale the pole, entertains the doves (officially unwelcome), finches, sparrows and a cardinal couple. Memaw says that the cardinal male has only recently ceased pecking at the dining room window, where he saw his reflection and thought it a challenger. Memaw would be inside, banging pans and waving at him and making all kinds of gestures and noises, to no avail.

“It’s been three seasons now, I think,” she says. “He would get worried I guess that this other male bird was going to steal his sweetie-pie. Then after a time, he figured he wasn’t going to lose her.” She thought for a moment. “He just doesn’t stand up as much.”

The female is at the smaller of the two feeders, on the crape myrtle. Her red-brown tail feathers are fanned out like a hoop skirt. Memaw tells me more. “She’ll come over to the feeder, and he’ll follow her over. He’ll help her with the nesting. They mate for life, you know.” In fact, during courtship, he will sing to her, and feed her seed beak-to-beak.

This summer Granddaddy says is one of the greenest he can recall. Sure enough, the lawn out back is succulent, the grass this morning still enjoying its dew, the sun’s rays catching the tip of each blade’s moisture and transforming the lawn into an emerald tablecloth covered with tiny diamonds. The crickets are still singing though it’s already eight o’clock. The colors are vibrant and stark—sky blue, cardinal red, grass green, crape myrtle fuscia. Patches of light and dark boast distinct borders and, for the moment, they remain unmoved, as if the sun decided to pause for this very moment, for this observation, and allow these diurnal nomads to settle. The rays—invisible, not the yellow crayon approximation of a child’s drawing—are what brings out these colors and patches. The sun is a both a creator and a reflector. It is both that which empowers and teaches color to the student, and also that which serves those same colors, as attendants do with a queen, announcing her arrival.

As the crickets sing on, one dove—not the one who figured out how to get food—makes a plaintive moan as it flies between the live oak and the top of the green feeder. It flies now to the roof, over my head, unable to satisfy its craving.

photo: mosippy

Not exactly calf fries

Dining at The Lakehouse in Kerrville last night, 7-year-old Teak stared down at my freshly delivered plate of fried catfish. Five pieces of light beige deliciousness.

Always curious at his age about anatomy, human and otherwise, and not knowing much about fish, he pointed to two round objects next to the catfish, both about one inch in diameter.

“Are those the balls?” he asked.

“No, Teak. Those are hush puppies.”

photo: mobtownblues