Christmas Blessings


















DearYolanda,


Thanks for the candle. You said you made it yourself?

I lit it last night after turning off the television, watching the flickering flame spark and dance so beautifully in the darkened room as I lay on the couch, slipping into that place between wakefulness and sleep where the angels whisper. As I listened, saying my prayers, mesmerized by the candlelight, I dropped off to sleep.

The next thing I heard was the plaintive wail of fire engine sirens as I startled awake to the smell of burning curtains. I'd left your beautiful candle too close to the window and the entire south wall of my house was engulfed in flames.

I shook my wife awake. We hastily grabbed a few things and rushed from the house. The firemen worked hard, knocking down the flaming wall to reduce the spread of the fire, but unfortunately the attic was also on fire. We have so many boxes of flammable stuff packed away up there the flames erupted like a thousand angry torches.

There was very little the firemen could do at this point, other than try and protect our neighbors' homes. The house closest to us (the east side) which belongs to the wonderful blind couple, did suffer some roof damage, but fortunately the firemen put it out quickly. After talking to our neighbors this morning, we learned they unfortunately suffered considerable damage to their carpet and furniture from the fire hose water and rain. Though we've known and loved this elderly couple for nearly 20 years, they said they can no longer talk to us, on advice from their attorney who we will be hearing from shortly.

Cheryl and I are now living at the Howard Johnson's in Pomona. It's not like home, and the people in the next room seem to be continually fighting and shouting, but it's the cheapest motel in the area. We found a few empty syringes in the bathroom, the carpet has quite a few nasty-looking stains and the wallpaper in this room is peeling, but we are just grateful to have a roof over our heads at this point.

I managed to get my laptop computer out of the house and I have internet access here, but it's hard to concentrate on this e-mail, what with the terror of last night continually replaying in my mind. This room smells like smoke, although it's probably coming from our own skin. My wife inhaled so much smoke she has to wear a breathing mask with a portable oxygen tank because of her chronic respiratory problems. We haven't had any sleep since the fire and we don't have any clean clothing.

I called the insurance company this morning and for some reason I had not received my renewal notice, so unfortunately I find that my homeowner's insurance has lapsed. I'm afraid this means our house and possessions are a total loss. We lost our cars in the fire as well. Because the electric garage door motor was wearing out and would not open in cold weather, we did not have time to get our cars out of the garage. The Mercedes was a few years old, so at least I got some fun out of that car, but it is unfortunate that Cheryl had recently purchased her beautiful new Lexus -- full payment in cash. We're hoping the discount insurance coverage for the car will cover part of the loss, but I do worry about doing business with a company based in Bolivia.

I'll have to take out a loan to have the debris of our once beautiful home removed so I can try and sell the vacant lot to a developer, but in these hard times for real estate, it will be practically impossible to get any money out of this property to make much of a dent in the amount I still owe on the home. I'm not sure if I can even get a loan at this point. Bankruptcy may be the best option for us. Unfortunately, we are still locked into a flexible-rate mortgage and our interest rate has risen to slightly more than 12 percent. We were barely able to keep up with the payments as things were.

I wish I'd made a backup copy of my book! I was really counting on this book to move my career forward. The only copies were on computer discs and paper -- all reduced to ashes. The main copy was stored on my desktop computer which was also destroyed. It's not the sheer length of the work that bothers me (about 280,000 words) as much as the length of time it took to do the research, what with all that travel to foreign countries that I'm still paying off on my Visa card. I'd never put this much work into a book before, and I'm afraid I'm too old to repeat what has been a 12-year labor of love.

We were hoping to sell some of the antique furniture and paintings we recently inherited from my family's estate that we'd stored in the house, but nothing is salvageable. And so many things accumulated from 35 years of marriage and from both of our families can, of course, never be replaced. I hate to think about all the wonderful photographs we'll never see again. At least we have our memories!

Unfortunately, our two cats died in the fire, and of course, my wife is devastated. One of them was the cat my son Christopher (who is coming to stay with us for Christmas) grew up with. He was so looking forward to seeing his precious little kitty, Mr. Toodles, again. We'll have to call Chris today and break the news.

After reviewing my current financial situation, I've decided the best thing to do is to try and rent a decent trailer home for the holidays, as there are a few mobile home parks in the area that are not as dangerous as some. We're going to try and find a mobile home with an extra bedroom for Christopher who is due to arrive in a few days. I'm afraid all his presents also burned in the fire, but we know he will understand. I suppose I should not have put all that cash in his stocking! It was a surprise down payment for a condominium. I foolishly thought it would be fun for him to see what $80,000 in cash looked like! I was surprised that I qualified for that home equity loan, although I suppose it was because of the high interest rate I'm being charged.

It certainly will be an unusual Christmas for us, what with all of our carefully picked, expensive presents destroyed by the fire. We will just have to focus on the blessings of life itself and be grateful that we did not die in the fire -- only a few second-degree burns and smoke inhalation, although I'm afraid I may have broken my ankle while rushing to get out of the house. It is quite sore! The paramedics bandaged it last night but I refused to be taken to the hospital. I just could not face an emergency room after all I'd been through. Cheryl and I will take the bus to the clinic today. I'm using an old umbrella for a crutch.

We will simply have to learn to be grateful for what we have left, even though it probably means total financial disaster. Cheryl and I now realize we will have to give up the idea of retirement and return to the workforce to try and rebuild our lives. I've already contacted Wal-Mart and they say they are hiring! A light in the storm!

So, once again, dear Yolanda, thanks so much for the candle! It was so beautiful and sweet-smelling, and, in fact, it was one of the few things I managed to salvage from the fire. I have it lit now, near the window of our motel room that overlooks the laundry area. It casts such beautiful shadows against the curtains.

Merry Christmas,

Russ




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Photo courtesy of the Bend Weekly
© All Rights Reserved




Twenty Dollars
















I wanted to ask her to marry me, but I needed twenty dollars, bad. So I asked her for the twenty, figuring I’d see how that went, then maybe I’d ask her to marry me, later, after I’d paid her back.
“You don’t have twenty dollars?” she opined inquisitively.
“Well, not on me,” I rejoined affirmatively.
I began to think this exchange did not bode well for my chances of matrimony. At least not with her, the exotic gothic office receptionist with an Iron Cross tattooed on her left shoulder.
I needed the Andy Jackson because I had to eat some barbecued ribs for lunch, and the twenty would cover it. Normally, I bring my lunch to the office in a brown paper bag, and, actually, I had brought my lunch. But every once in a while the hunger for meat on a bone overwhelms my senses.
Were this an earlier age and were I your run-of-the-mill Cro-Magnon, then I would have taken my Magnon minions on a hunt and laid low a big beefy bison or perhaps a wily warthog or two. It’s a guy thing.
“What do you need twenty dollars for?” she Spanish inquisitioned.
“Meat.”
“Ha! Right!” she obtused, laughing mockingly as she pretended to answer the phone suddenly.
“Well, if you can’t spare the twenty, how about marrying me?” I said to her mentally.
Perhaps it was all for the best. Perhaps she would not make the ideal mate. Perhaps I was moving a little too fast, considering this was her first day on the job. But it’s like my great-great grandfather used to tell my great-grandfather, who passed this ancient wisdom on to my grandfather, who, in turn, passed it on to me, over and over again: “Take your aim and stake your claim.”
Then I remembered the killer asteroid. In a movie I’d watched the night before, this killer asteroid came careening into Earth and made a terrible mess, dooming nearly everyone except those who were unusually photogenic.
There is no killer asteroid, I appreciated spontaneously. Not yet. No killer asteroid. No end of the world. Just day after day of waking up and slicing hair off my face with sharpened steel and scraping away dead skin cells with a lathered loofah. Yes, everything is OK, even when it’s boring.
I looked down upon my small self and laughed. My petty concerns. Ha! Ha! Ha! How petty. How very petty. This momentary illumination subsided and I refocused on the immediate task at hand: trying to satisfy my most animalistic, procreational desires, i.e., meat and sex.
Near the end of the working day I returned to the desk of the new receptionist and asked her if she’d like to go out to dinner.
“You’re kidding,” she ridiculed.
“Not at all. I think I love you,” I extravaganzized. “At least I am interested enough in you to eat food in your company.”
“I thought you needed twenty dollars,” she rationalized perplexingly. “I thought you were broke.”
“I just remembered,” I announced in an orgasmic burst of self-realization. “I have a credit card.”
Later, after dinner, we went to her apartment and made love for two hours while she insulted me. It was great.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




Holding On




















What can we hold onto?
When everything changes,
When everything passes,
When the years recreate who we are,
Sometimes lifting us,
Sometimes tearing us apart.

O love,
The clichéd word so easily pronounced,
The greeting card verse
Spoken without feeling,
O love,
If kept alive and breathing . . .

There is so much to love in this world.
Even when you are old and confined
You can love a memory.
Even when memories fall away
You can love an idea.
Even when cognition falters,
When fear invades,
When the dark idea of godless death threatens,
Believe!

Hold onto love,
However untranslatable it may seem.
Love will persist.
You will be saved.






~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Photo by Sharon Pruitt ~ Pink Sherbet Photography
© All Rights Reserved




Heh, Heh, Heh




















L aura was breathing harder now, her head resting against George’s shoulder as they sat in his pickup truck at the drive-in movie. It was a long movie and she had been up since the crack of dawn. She was asleep.

"Looks like you managed to cut off our only escape route,” Princess Leia tongue-lashed the handsomely handsome Han Solo.

“Maybe you’d like it back in your cell, your highness!” Han rhetoricated mockingly.

“Aaagh!” Laura screamed, awakening to the sound of laser fire pontooning from the small metal speaker box hooked on the passenger side window.

“Laura, what’s wrong?”

“Oh George, I just had the most frightening dream of my life. I dreamed you were president and I was First Lady and a band of bearded evildoers blew up New York City!”

“Heh, heh, heh,” George spontaneously chuckled, draining his fourth Budweiser. “Heh, heh, heh. That’ll be the day.”




~ Story & photo morph by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




Suburban Twilight

















Suburban twilight,
Punctuated by porch lights
Welcoming weary workers home.

“Hello darling,”
She says,
“I missed you,”
Her bare shoulders
Framed by the thin straps,
Too loose,
Of her tiny, translucent dress.

This never happened to me.

A bunch of soccer ball boys,
Too young to go on a date,
Stand together in a jagged circle
On a grass-dirt field
While their parents lie to each other
About nothing in particular,
Waiting for the game to begin.

Back on the boulevard
Commuters swim upstream,
Fighting their way back
To the suburban spawning grounds
For a few hours of fun
Before it all shuts down in sleep,
And regret.





~ Poem and photograph by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




Leaving Home


















It's not the holding of his hand,
but the pulling of his arm that makes a boy leave home.





~ Words and photograph by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




Guru






"Where is the doorway to eternity? Where do you enter? Think on these things and we will continue our discussion next time,” the self-proclaimed self-help guru said at the end of the two-hour class: “Finding What You Never Lost,” held at the community senior center.

The guru climbed into his car and as he was backing out of the parking space he heard a familiar scraping sound and knew his front bumper had again caught on a parking lot bumper.

He shifted into park and climbed out of his car to push the left end of his ragged plastic bumper back into place. He’d done this many times before. “I ought to get it fixed,” he thought, but his income as a local guru and Social Security recipient was of a temporal nature.

“I am but a humble creature of the Earth,” he thought as he tried to open the car door. The car was still running and somehow, he’d locked himself out. “This is going to be embarrassing,” he contemplated.




~ Story & photo painting by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




A Worried Man




















He was such a worried man, so sure something
was about to go wrong, every time the clock
struck the hour, he counted the strikes, fearing
the clock would make a mistake.


~ Text and photo by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




Youth Has An Expiration Date


It is somewhat amusing to older folks to hear pop song lyrics and see pop song videos in which handsome young men worship at the altar of beautiful young women. Oh those words of eternal passion, pledged by the young. How quickly terms and conditions come into play as familiarity grows, as obligations mount, as the marriage ties that bind, bind.

And what of the aging process, that chronological decay of flesh that robs us all of youth’s bounty? Can you visualize a wrinkled old man and woman in a pop song video, singing:

Almost paradise
We're knockin' on heaven's door
Almost paradise
How could we ask for more?
I swear that I can see forever in your eyes
Paradise*


Herman, Marjorie & Bess Allison ~ Redondo Beach, California 1917

No, me either. Youth passes, passion passes and we move on. Yet I remember spending the night at my grandparents’ house many years ago when they were in their seventies. I woke up early the next morning and peeked into their bedroom to see if they were still sleeping. I just happened to see them waking up. My old, wrinkled grandfather gave my old, wrinkled grandmother a kiss and said “Good morning.”

Almost paradise.



*From the song “Almost Paradise” written by Eric Carmen and Dean Pitchford



~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




The Universal Question


You have to make an effort to not do something, much less not do anything. Perhaps more properly “not doing” should be called “pre-doing.” This suggests a possible answer to the universal question: “What is the universal question?” The answer, of course, is the question.

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Everyone and everything.
Everyone and everything who?
Yes!


So before the universe there was nothing. So what came before nothing? Once again we are faced with the contradictions of logic, which suggest the answer: Nothing. Perhaps then “nothing” should be called “pre-something.” Whatever created the universe, aka, something, was, I suppose, not in existence during the time of “pre-something.” So, once again we return to the question: “Where did the universe (something) come from?” Some quantum physicists may tell you that coming and going, that time itself may only exist in certain selective states. This may be true, for I was in Utah once. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in the company of a quantum physicist, whatever you do, don’t ask what time it is!

Now what I want to know is, what came before nothing, aka pre-something. (I cannot discard my sense of linear time, my sense of here and there, of before and after.) If something indeed came before nothing, then did that which created the something before “pre-something” make a conscious decision to eventually extinguish something and start over again? (There is Biblical precedent for this.) So doing must eventually extinguish not-doing in order to not do nothing.

{Blues riff into with harmonica}

I ain’t gonna do
What I’m not gonna do
Cuz I’m already doing
It
.




~ Writing and Artwork by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




Enchanted Princess



She is glowing
And her light penetrates me,
Fills me with unexplainable joy.

She dances playfully around my soul
And I am awakened,
Enchanted.
All is love beyond love.

She has placed a diamond in my heart.

I do not understand the blind
Who cannot see her,
Who see only another pretty girl,
An object to possess,
To label and put into some convenient category.

It weighs on her fragile heart
That anyone should expect her to live
An ordinary life,
This enchanted princess,
Surrounded by so much that is ordinary,
This enchanted princess,
So ready for the magic to begin.



~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Artwork by Cy Brinson
© All Rights Reserved




Filling

















When at last the lover leaves intensive care,
All is a fragile balance on the edge of relapse.
One must re-learn the enjoyment of simple things:

The bitter spark from a cup of coffee,
The sweetness of sugar on the tip of the tongue,
The penetrating warmth of the sun
Shimmering through the crisp afternoon breeze,
The pleasure of another hour,
Another day,
Filling, filling, filling
That dark and dangerous place
Where love was.





~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Artwork by Maxine (aka: Maxxximpact)
© All Rights Reserved




Despair
















"Don’t do it!” I implored as the old lizard who had lost most of his tail stared wistfully into the frothy, swirling waters of the Jacuzzi.



~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Lizard painting by Robert Lennon
© All Rights Reserved




Tuesday


















I found a piece of paper in a parking lot.

It had been run over numerous times, torn and trampled, faded by the sun and still damp from a light morning mist.

Because I was not in a hurry; because I was not wearing earbuds and distracted by music; because I was not staring at a cell phone screen; because I was not talking to anyone; because everything has design, color, shape and texture, I picked up the square piece of paper.

It had been some kind of glossy, card-stock advertisement for a nightclub, probably stuck under the windshield wiper of a parked car long ago.

Looking closer, I saw the face of my lost love, a strand of her curly long auburn hair falling across her bare thin shoulder and finely sculpted collar bone.

She was smiling and looking skyward, as if she could see all the way to heaven.

That was Tuesday.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Artwork by a parking lot
© All Rights Reserved





You Are Here



You are here.

I am here.

I am writing this for you to read. How do you like it so far? Not too interesting, eh? Well, you see, there’s a very important theory behind this rather unorthodox way of beginning
a . . . of beginning a . . . of beginning this.

You see, blah, blah, blah, and et cetera ad infinitum. (Imagine a long-winded, deeply serious lecture, punctuated with those very special words that immediately give you the impression that the speaker is indeed much more learned and insightful than you, the humble reader, could ever be.)

Excuse me for a minute, I have to go get something.

[Time passes.]

Back again.

Thanks for waiting.

I had to go look for this book on various schools of literary criticism, because I was going to look up a suitable word to use as an example of the kind of word that would be used repeatedly in the abovementioned discussion on the theory of just what in the hell it is I’m doing here. But it seems I’ve brought down the wrong book. You see, I keep all my books on literary criticism packed in boxes up in my attic. I find it more relaxing that way.

Anyway, the word I was looking for was mimetic — an all-time favorite with those who would rather discuss reading than read — but I’ve got the wrong book. Please excuse me for another moment because I must take this book back to the attic, for in browsing through the index, I stumbled upon the entry: “Neo-Platonism, in Plotinus,” and it’s making me queasy. I’ll be right back.

[More time passes.]

Back again.

Sorry I took so long, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for, and because I am a bit obsessive-compulsive, I nearly got sucked into cleaning my carpets, because the steam cleaner is also in the attic, near my box of books on literary theory.

I do get distracted by the ephemera of everyday life.

In fact, I’ve spent the last five years on preparations alone, laying the groundwork for some really serious and incredibly important writing. First, I had to buy a new computer, because the primordial computer I purchased shortly after the dawn of time simply would not do. Then there was the moving. I had to move to a more literary city. And you know what a time-consuming task moving can be. It was. Only last week did I finally finish decorating my den slash office. Then, there were those photo albums I’d always meant to reorganize. And so forth.

You get the idea.

So anyway, I was about to explain that this rather freeform manner in which I am writing is actually based on my experiences in graduate school, which taught me that you can invent a plausible literary theory for anything. For example, Hamlet is really a dog who is afraid to bite his master. Bad Hamlet! Bad, bad Hamlet!

It’s not that I believe that storytelling is really that passé. I love a good story, especially when it has the word “that” in it a lot. I have many ideas for stories, like the one about how Mozart is reincarnated into the 1970s as a slovenly piano player in a suburban steak house. He can play pretty well, but this time around, he attracts more flies than attention.

But the minute you (I) start writing a story like that, you’re just (I’m just) chained into this traditional structure of character and plot development and so on and so forth, until you just think (I just think), “Why bother?” Because in the end, it’s just another gimmicky story of the type that one sells to the movies (make me an offer). And where’s the fun in that?

Huh?

[Insert interjection here.]

So if one (don’t worry, I’m not going to do this anymore, after this one last time) does not engage in storytelling, then what is the point? And there (here) we have arrived at the crux of the issue (sorry, I could not resist one last parenthetical aside).

Was it not some philosopher employed by Hallmark Greeting Cards who once wrote, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey”? Or is this just my way of employing the use of punctuation outside quotation marks, since the question mark in question would alter the original intention of the quoted material if placed within the close-quotation marks?

Which reminds me of a story:

Once upon a time, there was a little brown mouse with tiny black eyes who was very, very hungry. He was searching for something to eat in old Mr. Shimelplatzer’s house when he happened upon a bottle of Minoxidil. Old Mr. Shimelplatzer was trying to grow some new hair. The little brown mouse with the tiny black eyes pushed the plastic bottle off the bathroom counter falling to the floor cap flying contents oozing puddle.

The little brown mouse with the tiny black eyes scampered over to the towel rack, lowered himself paw-over-paw down the bath towel and tiptoed across the throw rug, leaping over the bathroom scale to inspect the strange-smelling pool of liquid. After the little brown mouse with the tiny black eyes licked it all up, he awakened the next morning to find himself transformed into a super-steroid, red-eyed, 23-foot monster mouse. He subsequently killed a lot of slow-moving senior citizens before being blown up with microwave radiation by the National Guard.

Excuse me for just a moment.

[A brief interlude, passes.]

I had to open the door of my den slash office for Inky, my swaybellied black cat who spends many long hours in the faded adobe-colored recliner where I once spent many long hours writing something I called poetry. Inky will not stop meowing at my door until I let her in, then she meows at me for a minute or two before settling in on the seat of the well-worn recliner, where I once spent many long hours writing something I called poetry.

Ah yes, sigh, those heady, ennui-filled days of youth. Now, I sit wearily on this adjustable office chair and type assorted letters into this computer that appear before me on this screen where they line up to become words and sentences, where they all gather together to do this funny little dance called, “Pretending To Matter.”





~ Text and artwork by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved