Free for All

My first winter in Boston, I spent evenings trudging door-to-door, canvassing money and signatures for good causes. All these years later I’m still amazed anyone would open their door in the freezing wind and dark, my height and size bulked up further by my parka. Boston is known for its cold, both in temperature and in people, yet many folks seemed happy to talk to me. Often they would let me in to warm a bit while we chatted about toxic waste and such.

I hated the job and was lousy at the fundraising, but it was endlessly fascinating to go to each house or apartment, wait for the door to open, and peer inside people’s little world bubbles. Every street or building was full of dozens of small, weird, parallel universes where I could see, and sometimes even smell, the hopes and aspirations. Tchotchkes, photo collections, pots on the stove, tables set for dinner or homework, kids yelling, grandparents kvetching, friends in t-shirts smoking cigarettes, flocked velvet paintings of Elvis, brocade couches and seashell lamps, TV shows or radios or records playing, crosses and menorahs, rich and poor. It was the joy of people watching with a deeper view into the question “I wonder what that person’s life is like?”

What was most amazing – and I value still – is I began to realize my own life was also only a weird little bubble. I lived in merely another, very small, and arbitrary parallel universe. Just another snow globe. What I imagined as the Truth of my life was cut a bit down to size. Certainly, we are all permitted our truth, but none of us has The Truth. We are odd and hopeful creatures, you and I, burrowed into our nests for the winter along with the shiny pennies and pins and strings we collect like crows, praying we make it through to Spring.

I am a leaf
before the fall

For dVerse Haibun Monday

Haibun – 白夜 (“Midnight Sun”)

“At four in the morning my body bumped against the ceiling”
– Jim Harrison


Svenn taught me how to get coffee ready for when we were pulling on our boots to go milk the cows. First, start water boiling in the kettle, then tear open a bag of grounds and dump them in the rolling water. Wait a bit and pour, grounds and all, into a cup. “Kokekaffe” or cooked coffee is what he called it, as best as I could make out. We’d drink it hot and black along with a thick slice of bread spread with butter and salmon roe.

On the islands of Lofoton Norway, like anywhere above the Arctic circle, light is a season, not a daily thump and bump of day into night into day again. The summer sun rolls around the horizon like an infinitely slow roulette marble. Or the electron of a halo, shutter stopped.

At first, I thought I was forever done with night, that darkness was something I could shed and never regret. But after a bit, the constant light started making the cows and the dogs and even the humans a bit crazy. I had to tie a rag around my eyes to try and sleep, since light leaked in through the window blinds despite my best efforts. Eventually, even just knowing it was light outside was enough to keep me awake, sanity slowly leaching out the corners of my eyes. In the end, the only handhold to full blackout was to drink more and more of the Everclear we made in a still behind the barn. Svenn taught me how to do that too.

Who knew how much we crave darkness? How necessary for our shadows to lengthen, dissolve, and fill the sky.

Calls for light season
Hints of crazy spices gin –
Distilled summer sun



Day 27, 28 Days of Unreason
dVerse Poets Pub, Haibun Monday

Haibun – Setting a Hook

In Colorado the license plates used to say “God’s Country”, back when that sort of thing didn’t raise eyebrows. Not because anybody was particularly religious, but because the mountains were so beautiful most days it almost hurt just to look outside. To be honest though, now when I get off the plane at DIA for maybe another funeral, I don’t feel a thing for the place. I could be anywhere. No rush of “Home!” in the chest.

After the most recent said funeral, my cousin and I decided for old time’s sake to go fly fishing. We went to the local sporting goods store to top up our gear, and I realized I’d need a fishing license. The kid behind the counter asked if that was for “Resident” or “Non-Resident”. Without thinking, I said “Resident”. He asked for my driver’s license.

I paused for a long moment. Then I replied carefully that a driver’s license wasn’t going to be necessary. I was born and raised here, that should cover it. The kid didn’t seem to catch on, and pressed me again. I am not a small man at 6’4″, and my cousin goes by “Stork”, at 6’6″. To my surprise as much as the clerk’s, I leaned over him and asked how long he’d been living in the state. 2-3 years, like most of the other ski bum, rock climbing, hippie arrivistes I’d dealt with growing up. Then in a slow drawl, my eyes locked on his, “Son, my family came here in covered wagons. Five generations are buried in the shadow of this mountain. I said, give me a resident license.”

Stork grabbed my arm. “Randy! Cut the shit! You don’t live here anymore. Give him the money.” I wouldn’t break my gaze with the clerk, and I said I wanted a resident license. Stork threw some money on the counter, got the license, put it in his pocket, and pulled me out of the store, still staring at the clerk.

Such are matters of blood and dust.

Grandfather trout waits
Mayflies hatch within the hour –
Time for catch and kill



Late Entry for dVerse’s  Hometown Haibun

Haibun – Christmas, 1980

After college, I spent a few years traveling around Europe, picking up work here and there. In one such adventure, I worked in a shelter for homeless East End London youths. This was back when Docklands still had bombed out buildings from the Blitz and Cockney was what you heard in the streets.

I volunteered for the Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day shifts. It would just be me and about a dozen teenagers who were runaways or who had been tossed out by their parents. They had been living under bridges or worse, and the shelter gave them a place to stay until we could “get them sorted.”

Breakfast and dinner both were beans and toast. Every day, day after day. There was one smallish gas oven/stove, and one pan to heat the beans. You can guess where this is going… Correct!  With no cooking experience whatsoever, I went out and bought a huge turkey and all the fixings so I could make the kids a proper Christmas dinner.

My ability to grossly underestimate a situation is a hallmark of my life, and one of the things my friends and family say makes me so endearing.

Dinner a bit late
Turkey rolling on the floor –
Hilarious stuff



For Frank’s Haikai Challenge