On Friday I Went for a Walk

A year ago at this time, Mark had been walking for a week (actually, he was on Day 008), and had been posting videos that we were all watching, as his following grew larger. He was in New Haven, CT, and had just stayed with friends. The day was rainy, but per usual, this didn’t bring Mark down. He’d later walking into a Taco Bell and yell, “I’ve got the hook-up,” hoping to win 100 bean tacos. He didn’t.

As I’ve been watching his daily videos a year out from when they were made, it feels similar to last fall. I’m still learning things (as we all were) and his life and actions make me want to be a better person.

Last Friday, we were at Brown, as colleagues from the library and the school’s literary arts department remembered Mark and touched on his legacy at the school. One of the speakers (I don’t recall which one) talked about Mark and his walk and I jotted down a note to myself, “start walking every week.” What I was telling myself is that I needed to do a walk weekly where I left my house and walked out a certain distance. My intention was to think about Mark and his own walking practice during my own walks.

The past week has been a hectic one. I had two articles to write for the auto trade magazine that I write for. I am also selling Medicare Advantage insurance this fall during Medicare’s Annual Open Enrollment Period (AEP) and have two seminars planned for early next week. I’m also tutoring at a private school four to five evenings a week. Still, I didn’t want to miss the chance to get out and do a walk and think about Mark and what he was doing like I’d planned to do a week ago.

Today was the day. I was up early, doing my final edits on my articles and had them done by 8:30. I changed into my walking clothes, grabbed my water sling and fanny pack, and I was out the door a little after 9:00. My plan was to walk out and back for a total distance of six miles.

The first 35 minutes were uneventful. I even did a video of my own. Compared to Mark’s, it’s pretty pathetic. I apologize for sounding so out of shape and out of breath. I was walking uphill while doing it. Again, I don’t recall Mark ever sounding out of breath.

When I got to the intersection of Coombs Road and Route 24 (known as Harpswell Road), a truck heading south made a left-hand turn onto Board Road in front of me as I was waiting to cross. A Prius following close behind the truck swerved to the right and came right at me. I had to jump back or I would have been hit. The woman continued on like nothing had happened.

This pissed me off. But I’d read a book this week by Tom Rath that talked about “assuming good intent,” and being “80 percent positive,” so I had to find a way to turn my attitude around after I made my way across Harpswell Road and began walking east on Board Road. I was struggling and swearing aloud when I realized why this woman nearly hit me.

Driving a car causes all of us (myself included) to lose our humanity and our ability to be humane. We become an extension of a machine that we know has lethal capabilities. Only by consciously getting outside of our cars literally are we able to break free of this and reconnect with our humanity and our humane capabilities.

This woman wasn’t trying to hit me, but simply doing what drivers often do—focus intently on what’s directly in front of them (the truck turning left)—while in probably 95 percent of the cases with drivers, being oblivious to pedestrians or anything else that’s not a vehicle.

Don’t misunderstand me, here. I am not absolving this woman of her responsibility. If she had hit me and seriously injured, or even killed me, she would have been at-fault. But, I was able to “talk myself down” and recognize what had just happened.

I completed my walk. The remaining hour and fifteen minutes was meaningful as I zoned back in on why I was doing my little six-mile walk.

When I was close to home, I removed my shoes and walked about ¼ mile barefoot. My feet felt pretty good, although rocks hurt the soles of my feet from time-to-time. When I got back to Route 24, I put my shoes back on and walked the rest of the way back to the house with shoes on my feet.

I marvel that Mark was able to accomplish so many things on his two walks. He didn’t get to complete the second one, but it wasn’t due to any short-comings on his part.

Taking time to go out and walk and remember him also offers a shade of meaning and helps temper the pain and loss.

Walking and Remembering

I’ve been thinking about walking. Admittedly, thoughts like these have their origins in reflections backward to this time one year ago. Mark said “goodbye” to his house at 38 Pleasant Street, and walked down the hill on his one-way street commencing yet another cross-country journey into the unknown. He’d done a similar one in 2010, but this one was different in a host of ways.

He let readers know some of the reasons why he was making this trek. I knew the road had been calling out to him across the expanse of the previous six years since he stepped into the Pacific after wearily making his way across the sands of Santa Monica Beach at the end of that epic march.

Mark wasn’t the first writer who’d been drawn to the realm of walking. Perhaps the obvious name that crops up when talking about writers who valued the walking experience would be Thoreau. There have been a host of others. There seems to have been some deeper, intuitive connection between walking, thinking, and then, writing. We of course have by-and-large lost this. I’m sure part of this stems from being immersed completely in our American version of Happy Motoring.

I found an older article in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik. He details how at one point in the mid-19th century, walking was actually “the dominant spectator sport in America.” Could be that if enough fervently patriotic football fans abandon the NFL, then walking might make a comeback? That would be a shame because if there was a figure who could captivate fans of professional walking, it would have been Mark. Continue reading

The Kindness of Strangers

I met Richard one morning early in 2016 at the Bath Y. He was a regular and I’d see him per my routine early swims, usually Tuesdays and Fridays (or sometimes Thursday, if I couldn’t swim on Friday).

The Y is similar to other places where I’ve worked out in the past (like Auburn’s Planet Fitness)—the early AM workout crowd tend to be creatures of habit and generally, a little older. We’re there to get our reps/laps/miles done and then, it’s off to whatever the day throws at us. Across the context of two strangers’ paths crossing, a bond sometimes develops. You see the same person week after week. Unless you’re a misanthrope, you’ll have a conversation or two. Before long, seeing that person becomes part of the routine.

Richard’s 14 years older than me. That means he fought in Vietnam, is nearing retirement, and has accumulated a bit more life experience translating into wisdom. He’s solidly middle-class, probably a tad more conservative than I am, but I know he didn’t vote for Trump, either based the accumulation of our AM conversations.

There was something inherently likable about him. He was a no BS type of guy, and I have always had an affinity for males of that stripe. As the months passed, I found out he was working part-time at The Home Depot in Topsham. He’s “retired,” but like many seniors, retirement now means holding a job to supplement retirement savings—Americans are living longer and longer and staying topside costs slightly more than chump-change. Continue reading

Invasive Prayer

Prayer’s been all around us since Mark was killed in January. People have forced prayer on us, even though none of us (including Mark) held out any hope that petitioning a deity would alter the universe in any way. I’m still curious where God might have been back on January 21. Perhaps he doesn’t travel Highway 90 in Florida.

Every time a tragedy occurs, Facebook lights up with “prayer” and a host of other religiously-draped sentiments. While some of those directly affected might find comfort knowing that there are a legion of warriors out there “wrestling with their God,” directing His/Her “comfort and healing” earthward, lives remain forever altered.

I’m not telling anyone what to believe. If you want to talk to your conception of a deity, have at it. However, to impose those ideas that have no actual basis in science and reality seems invasive at the very least.

Here’s what I think about the platitudes and prayers offered to those of us who’ve had our lives turned upside down by tragedy. Prayer and words that may or may not be infused with anything more than a sentiment help make you feel better and even heroic. But for us living with loss each and every moment of every day, it changes nothing. In fact, when I’m forced to endure another round of this happy horseshit, it just makes me tune it out. Continue reading

Validation

How often do you affirm other people? I mean, honestly recognizing qualities and positive traits—some amazing skill or ability they have. I’m guessing not very often.

Yesterday, I spoke to two friends. One of them I’ve known since 1988 when we were both new meter readers at our local power company. The other one, I met in February, the weekend we held Mark’s Celebration of Life at Brown.

The former knew Mark from the age of five and saw him grow into his teenage years. We’d lost touch as Mark got into college. But with true friends, a sabbatical isn’t a deal breaker.

My old friend was crushed when he learned Mark was killed. I’d called him the next day because I knew he’d find out and I wanted him to hear from me. He’s been there for me over the past eight months.

My newer friend and Mark were colleagues at Brown. Both navigated the school’s Literary Arts program together, earning MFAs. They are also poets.

We’ve been calling every other week and have deep and meaningful conversations about life. Yesterday, we were talking about how rare it is in this life to receive validation.

It’s interesting that our current president is a man who has made his way to the top by doing the opposite—tearing down others and seeking to destroy them. That says a great deal about the value that Americans place on catching others doing good and authentically recognizing that. Continue reading

Is It Possible to Slow Down?

You probably know my story—but if you don’t, click here, here, and here.

Last night, I was supposed to be meeting my musical comrade in arms. The two of us have a history that dates back to Lisbon High School and him patrolling the outfield behind me during our championship baseball season in 1979, when I was flinging the baseball real fast towards home plate. We also experienced two basketball seasons where we posted identical 1-17 seasons back-to-back.

Of all my friends from this era, Dave has remained as fixated (if not more so) about music (mainly rock) as I am. He listens to it, stays current, and since February, he’s been getting me out to shows more frequently.

Speaking of back-to-back, we saw The War on Drugs at Portland’s State Theater Monday night and last night, it was X. Dave almost didn’t make it, however.

Driving home from work in South Portland, he was rear-ended in Falmouth, along what’s become a notoriously dangerous stretch of I-295. The state has even lowered speed limits there as a way to prevent accidents.

The affected vehicle, a 1997 Saab convertible he calls Bambi II, was a nod to Dave’s penchant and vehicle preference. He had another similar vintage that he was planning to use as a parts car. However, last night’s crash means Bambi II is headed to the scrapyard.

Dave’s okay. He could have been killed. In fact, there was a fatality not long after an SUV plowed into the back of him, sending car and driver into the median and up against the guardrail on the opposite, southbound side.

I received his message just as I was parking in downtown Portland. He said he was fine and would be “riding in with Leo, meeting up at Port City in time for the show.

We know that ever-increasing speeds lead to accidents. Yet, some states are promoting driving faster.

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Could You Be The One?

Back when life was simpler and a lot less sad, I went out to see bands because I thought music might save my life. Music as a life saver? Please do tell.

Lot’s been written about Mark by me and others. In death, there is a tendency to enlarge one’s life, or attribute qualities to people in the dead person’s life that may or may not have been present. In Mark’s case, he was the real deal. I did my best as a dad and things turned out pretty well until last January.

In 1986, I was simply a father and husband with a three-year-old son. We were living on a dead-end street in Chesterton, Indiana.

Mark had a tricycle and was making a few friends in the neighborhood. I worked at a prison and Mary had just started working breakfast at Wendy’s prior to me heading off to the med room at Westville Correctional Facility.

Mark and dad playing in the snow [1986]

Things were looking up for our little family, trying to scrape together enough money to return to Maine. I also had aspirations of being something more than an hourly wage slave. It would take me another 15 years to recognize that the writing muse was calling. Unable to recognize its beckoning however, caused considerable frustration and angst in my mid-20s. Continue reading

Cycle of Life

Last November we sold our house in Durham where we’d lived for 26 years. This felt like the start of a new chapter. It was, but the narrative soon turned dark.

Landing in Brunswick on a beautiful tidal cove was exciting at the time. Being new to town, I envisioned capturing elements of our new home with a series of post based on weekend forays about the place. Then tragedy intervened. Life along the cove became framed by abundant morning light that simply permitted holding on.

A mile and a half from our house there is an older cemetery. I knew nothing about it until passing while running one morning in December. My new route took me westward from our new place, out Coombs Road. I immediately knew the road to be an ideal alternative providing a side loop away from busy Route 24, where I could enjoy my surroundings and not worry about dodging cars and trucks roaring along at highway speeds.

Purington Road, which abuts the cemetery, also dead ends at a gate on the east side of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station. The road, like much of this area, is bordered by chain link fence and warning signs left behind when the town answered the military’s every beck and call.

From RootsWeb, I found this description of the cemetery, known as New Meadows Cemetery:

New Meadows Cemetery is located on Purinton Road and borders the Naval Air Station. This part of Brunswick was farming country known as New Meadows before the Naval Air Station occupied the area. Old records describe it as located on the North side of the road to Great Island, about three miles from Brunswick village. This road is now part of the Naval Air Station.

Doing a minimal amount of digging revealed that the area around Purington and Coombs Roads was once a thousand-acre town commons that was once the New Meadows neighborhood. There are historical records that show there were four homesteads dating back to 1739. What locals know about the area if they know anything is that it’s framed by the recent past following the Navy’s encroachment (and significant contamination) of 90 percent of this section of the community that formerly consisted of farms, grist mills, and brick and carriage makers.

Father and son, forever.

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The Unbearable Whiteness of Lasagna

Becoming a plant-based vegan offered another connection point between Mark and his dad. We had baseball and sports (for much of our relationship), books and writing, and then, just prior to his leaving on his walk, I decided I’d see if I could go two weeks without consuming dairy or animal-based food products (namely meat). During his trip, we kept a dialogue going about plant-based eating and associated food-related topics.

This re-ordering of diet and food might seem drastic. It really wasn’t. I just stopped eating some foods–eggs, cheese, yogurt, and meat. I replaced them with mainly plants—fruits and vegetable that I already liked and was eating. A new attentiveness ensued, searching for meals and recipes that fit with that.

In August when the three of us were together in Omaha, Yelp directed us across the city to a nondescript eatery in a converted gas station. I found out later that the chef was none other than vegan cook and cookbook goddess, Isa Chandra Moskowitz. The food on the menu was amazing. “So this is veganism,” I thought at the time. Afterwards, it made sense to seek out her books.

Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook is a book written with Terry Hope Romero for people like me (and Mary); those coming to veganism who want to learn to cook vegan, and not rely on others to cook for them.  The authors bring their unique, DIY-informed approach to food, billing it as “the essential guide to mastering the art of vegan cooking.”

Vegan cooking 101

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When Disaster Strikes

When loss hits you, your world is turned upside down. Whether the loss involves death, or in places hit by hurricanes and other kinds of disasters where people are displaced from their homes, stress and the subsequent emotional and physical effects target the victims.

A key element in ensuring health and harboring the hope for longevity requires learning to manage and mitigate stress. That’s easier said when you are observing stress from a distance. When you are in the midst of swirling waters either literally or figuratively, remaining detached and free from roiling emotions and a knot (or pain) in your gut is nearly impossible.

Disasters bring out the best and worst in humans. While now personally acquainted with the personal variety, natural (and national) ones are often magnified by the media. They serve an important function for programmers—ready-made stories that fill hours of air time, with advertisers happy to fork out marketing capital to capture fixated eyeballs.

Speaking of capitalizing on disaster, our sitting president is someone who has done well capitalizing and exploiting the misfortunes of others. I’ve mentioned Sarah Kendzior before. She nails it in this article by Nancy LeTourneau on our Exploiter in Chief being our “ultimate disaster capitalist,” a master at reveling (and profiting, handsomely) when others are in the midst of chaos and suffering. Make sure you click on the links provided in the quoted snippet, too. This isn’t false (or “fake”) propaganda, but a telling measure of the man we elected as our 45th president. He’ll surely find a way to profit from the fates of those in Houston like he has throughout his business career. That’s the Trump MO.

Trump spent his business career eagerly anticipating both social and economic disasters. “I sort of hope that happens because then people like me would go in and buy,” Trump said of the housing crash in 2006. Before that, Trump spent decades exploiting the damaged economies of towns like Gary, Indiana and Atlantic City, leaving them as bad or worse off than when he arrived.

America’s 4th largest city, underwater. [Aaron Cohan photo]

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