One Giant Leap


The other night I was in the kitchen when my wife entered.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Making a root beer float,” I replied, gesturing to the plastic two liter bottle of A & W and the carton of vanilla ice cream sitting on the counter in front of me.

“I wonder who invented the root beer float” she pondered as she placed her empty cup in the sink and nonchalantly returned to the television program she was watching. I stood stunned and silent. What may have been an off the cuff remark by her in me revealed a gaping chasm of indifference, a shallowness in my being.  For sixty years I’ve been enjoying the cold and refreshing foam and cream that are unique to the root beer float. Sixty years of frosty goodness.  Sixty years of cold comfort.  Sixty years of devotion, and yet never once in all that time did I ask the simple and obvious question my wife so innocently asked.  How could it be, given the hundreds of hours of pleasure that RBFs have given me, that it never occurred to me to ask who, what great man, what visionary, what genius, was responsible for so much joy in my life. Whoever he was, he deserved my deepest gratitude.             

I took my latest RBF with me and locked myself in my office, determined not to come out until I’d righted the wrong I’d committed on this man who’d given so much to me. A quick Wikipedia search revealed his identity: “The root beer float was invented by Robert McCay Green in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1874 during the Franklin Institute‘s semi centennial celebration.” I began to read on but the subsequent come-down from my RBf induced sugar high and my reduced attention span led me to fill in the facts with some minor enhancements and suppositions from my own imagination.  But not enough to shake the basic integrity of the incredible story of this heroic man and his epic struggle that ultimately resulted in triumph and glory. In other words, I am fairly confident that some facts have made their way into my account. So, without further ado, here is the story of Robert McCay Green and his incredible journey to refreshment immortality.

March 17,1822

Robert McCay Green is born, the only child to Bartholomew and Kate Green. His maternal grandfather, Dystonia Pebbles, is a self-made millionaire, the founder, sole proprietor, and owner of the monolithic Philadelphia Peanut Butter Company. With no sons of his own to leave his enterprise to, son-in-law Barth Green stands as the only heir to the empire.  In 1819, preparing for his own retirement, Pebbles begins mentoring Barth Green to take over ownership of his vast portfolio.

The transition does not go well, however, because Barth Green, it turned out, was a complete and total idiot. Pebbles had been fooled by Green’s undeniable passion for peanut butter, and had slowly come to realize that Barth’s habit of walking down the street licking the contents of an open jar of peanut butter while smacking his lips and loudly moaning “mmmmmm,’’ while enthusiastically demonstrating a true loyalty to Pebbles’ product, ultimately was just weird..

Finally, in July, of 1831, after forgetting to remove the peanuts from the creamy peanut butter for the seventh time, a frustrated Dystonia Pebbles gives up mentoring Bartholomew and disowns him, throwing him and his young family out of the warm comfort of the palatial Pebbles estate onto the cold hardness of the street.   

Times are hard and Bartholomew Green struggles. He turns to the bottle to lose himself, but it’s not until he realizes that the bottle is empty and fills it with tequila does he grow dependent on it With Barth an unreliable wage earner, Kate Green and her nine year old son Robert both take jobs, she as a shoe shine boy and Robert as a dance hall girl.  Their combined income is enough to keep food over their heads and a roof on the table.

Robert develops into a good student, demonstrating an undisputed aptitude for the burgeoning food chemistry field. His Doctorate thesis, combining ham and cheese into a single sandwich, causes a stir among food chemists, who either laud his genius or curse him as a food radical, rejecting Green’s insistence that his invention would work equally well regardless of the bread, regardless of Green’s choice of a Kaiser roll in his presentation.

Several years later, in 18i59, Green shocks the world by announcing he was dedicating himself to liquids and soft, cold solids.  “I believe, that that by combining an ice-cold soft solid with an equally ice cold beverage, the ultimate summer time treat could be achieved.” It was a bold statement, especially given its timing; one month after the  Buchanan administration had just granted  a million dollars to Phil Shake to develop a ‘”frosty, flavored dessert.”

Both efforts were stalled by the Civil War although a breakthrough was tantalizingly close when inside the icebox at the Appomattox Court House, a bottle of Sarsaparilla and a quart of vanilla cream was found.  Before anyone could combine the two elements, the ice cream was quickly consumed with a cake that Robert E. Lee had baked earlier in the day as a term of the Confederacy’s  surrender.

After the conclusion of the civil war, the original “cold war” between Phil Shake and Robert Green captured the attention of the entire reconstructed union, with newspapers breathlessly churning out stories about every new lead and disappointing set back the two camps endured. Just when it seemed Shake had the upper hand, he’d suffer a major setback, like when he tried to mix chocolate ice cream with a vinyl automobile floor mat.

Green’s journey was no less perilous. Although he settled on Root Beer as a vital ingredient early on, he had trouble finding a cooling agent, and tried dry ice with disastrous results, killing three testers.

Finally, in1874 while walking in downtown Philadelphia with a mug of root beer in his hand, Green turned a corner and ran into none other than Phil Shake, who was enjoying a vanilla ice cream cone.  They collided with such force they both fell to the sidewalk.

“Hey, “ Green said, “you got ice cream all over my root beer.”

“Yeah?” Shake replied. “You got root beer all over my ice cream.”

They both sat there for a moment until the same realization flashed in their faces. Each took a mouthful of their sullied products.

“Incredible,” Green said. 

After a brief pause, the two men rose to their feet and started running for the patent office.  Shake had a slight lead and made it to the steps of the patent office first.  Green, closely behind, leaped out and tackled Shake and got on top of him.  He began slamming Shake’s head on the concrete until Shake was a crumpled, bloodied and lifeless heap.  Green got up and went inside and applied for the RBF patent.  Shake was dead but Green was acquitted in the trial, with the Grand Jury saying that the RBF is so delicious and refreshing its invention transcends any life that may have been lost in the process of inventing it.

So now, nearly 150 years after its invention, I raise my mug of root beer and vanilla ice cream in tribute to my hero!

Tucker


You said everything with your wags,

your tail all fluff and flash.

It was talking to me this morning,

telling me how happy you were,

unaware of my betrayal

even as I lead you to the gallows.

 

Your eyes were so dark and deep,

deeper and deadlier than quicksand.

To look into them was to sink in the depths

of un-asking loyalty and endless love,

love without boundaries, without conditions,

your trust in me unquestioned.

 

The mask of pandemic

soaked by tears and guilt.

These are strange times to die

and I wonder where I’ll see you next.

Maybe in the shape of soiled laundry

lit at night by dim bath room light,

or in small heaps of fallen branches

crumpled in the backyard

where we went for our walks.

 

Wherever you are now,

you are unencumbered by collar and leash.

Run free, chase your terrors and heartache away

and I’ll soon be there beside you,

my tears finally dissolved,

my worthiness unquestioned again.

Summertime


You were summertime, more than anybody else.

The log cabin that your husband, my Uncle Steve, built from scratch in the Wisconsin north woods, by hand, measuring and cutting the logs, pouring cement, hand digging a well, stacking the stones for the fireplace, installing electricity. Walls and windows and ceilings and floors. Plus all the art work that hung from the walls, the landscapes and the portraits, the oils and the water colors, the output of his day job as an extraordinary artist. Now, seventy years later, it still stands, out living its creator by about thirty years and now, outliving you. It was (and still is) a simple structure, but to me, it was (and still is) grander than the Taj Mahal.

You were summertime, breakfast.

My dad, your brother. My Mom. My brothers and sister. Every summer, after you returned for summer vacation from your job teaching in California, we’d spend whatever time Dad got for vacation in our trailer house that doubled as a summer cabin and winter hunting shack, parked just over the small hill behind your cabin.  And every year, beginning the first morning after we arrived, we’d wake, and one by one, each of us would make  our way to your breakfast table, where you’d already be up and have the first shift of the endless breakfast sizzling loudly on your stove.  Pancakes, French toast, fried or scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, and sausage – whatever we wanted – we’d put our order in and within seconds we’d be sitting there, at your small round table, and a plate full of the world’s best breakfast would appear. One by one we’d file down, until all of us, including my mom and dad, would arrive while you worked tirelessly keeping the plates filled.  The amazing thing was that when we were finished eating, filled up, nobody left.  As good and plentiful as the food was, the conversation, the banter, the laughter, was always better, and we’d sit there, listening and talking and laughing, for a good four hours after the first straggler made his way down.  Most of the laughter was at your’s and my dad’s expense, as we’d hear the same old but never tired stories and arguments that’d been festering since you were kids.

You were summertime, early mornings.

I remember walking with you, 6:15 A.M, the sun already out and warm on spectacular summer mornings, daylight alive with the sound of songbirds, the road speckled with smatterings of sunlight that pierced the trees that canopied the narrow county highway, back when it still ran along the Chippewa River, twenty years before they’d re-route and move it to the south, away from the steep and eroding river bank.  We’d walk the half mile or so to the farm next door, that just happened to be the farm you and my dad grew up on, where you’d get a bottle of milk from Ken Schultz, the owner of the farm at the time, one of the nicest men in the world. I remember the milk being so fresh, and the cream that rose to the top of the glass bottles.

You were summertime, lazy afternoons and evenings.

Reading or fishing or exploring. Laughing, making puns, especially if your son Larry was home. Sitting in front of your fireplace in a rocking chair, reading The Yearling or The Call of the Wild or a Sherlock Holmes story, or a twist ending story by Saki or O’Henry or whatever else I pulled off of the bookshelves that lined your cabin’s living room. Or running outside and grabbing one of the fishing poles you always had leaning against the big tree at the top of the riverbank and running down the cement steps you’d laid to the shore, just past the confluence of the Flambeau and Chippewa rivers, where the Flambeau ended and the Chippewa went on. Casting my line for hours without a strike, the lack of action on my line and the long summer afternoons giving me room to explore all the wild fires burning wherever the current in the river and my imagination would take me. 

You were summertime, ice cream scooped from big plastic buckets into crunchy cones kept in a glass jar in your cupboard.

Warm summer nights, cloudless skies lit by the pale light of a full moon and an infinity of stars and the ancient dust of the cosmos. More laughter and conversation, in your lamp-lit living room, you speculating on some philosophic theory you’d just read about or picking up on whatever argument you and Dad had left unresolved at breakfast.

You were summertime, captured.

The portrait of you Uncle Steve painted back in the sixties that still hangs on the wall above your fireplace. Your eyes burn fiercely, intensely, and it captures you, your essence, in a way only Steve could have, in a way I didn’t understand until only recently, that the fire your eyes burn with is the fire of your very soul, their intensity revealing the strength that drove you to such exceptional love of and devotion to family and friends, the same strength and stamina that enabled you to work long summer days in your flower gardens under the hot summer sun as late as last summer, despite being 94 years old, slight and frail, a shell of your former self. 

You were summertime, some fifty years ago, when none of us realized just how young we were.

You are summertime, and always will be.

Spring Denied


Once

I ached for you and you for me

and when we found us we locked ourselves in

and breathed, and inhaled each other,

releasing our contagions to stoke the coals of desire

until our low grade fever burst into flames

and ignited passion’s wild fire,

happily alone together in our spring.

 

Now,

there is no dried kindle to coax into soft and tentative flames.

Instead, winter’s end finds damp indifference and decayed flesh,

cold ash in the curves and the crevasses,

dull and aching bruises covering thin and fading lines,

and all of the other damaged places

where passion once burned.

 

Winter,

As thick as the colorless sky that dimly lights these

days of gray and white and black,

where heartbeats are replaced by murmured whispers,

where shadows lengthen and spread

across the locked and rusty gates of the garden,

where its icy fingers remain,

unwilling to relinquish their corroded grip.

You Say Kahoutek, I Say Coranado


As I grow older, I find more and more that I am turning into my Father.  It’s not so much similarities in physicality, although there has been the occasional sleepy eyed sight of him looking back at me in my bathroom mirror. No, it’s brain function, or maybe malfunction, that I’m noticing in my own internal processing, the same butchering of words and names that I used to find so amusing in my dad.

For years, my dad fought an undeclared war with the English language. He’d get hung up on a certain word and mispronounce it several ways, some subtle and some just bizarre. Sometimes, he’d even add a new syllable or two. For example, the word “vibrate” became “viabrate.” Back in the seventies, his insurance agent was a man named John Kuharich. For some reason, he had trouble with “Kuharich.” Some glitch in his brain couldn’t process “Kuharich,” and his attempts to say it produced results like “Krewharich,” ‘Kronurich,” and “Kuhatcher” before finally settling on “Kahoutec, agent John Kahoutec.”

 I always found this to be extremely funny, until recently, when a similar glitch in my similar brain became evident. Just as my dad struggled with “Kuharich,” a word has emerged that has me totally befuddled when I try to say it. The only difference between the two of us is that “Kuharich” was the name of a relatively obscure insurance agent in a small town, while the word I’m having difficulty with has been one of the most frequently spoken words in the country, if not the entire world, over the past several weeks.

“Corona”

I can feel the cog wheels of my mechanical brain slowing down just looking at the word. It just doesn’t look or sound right. When in public, while maintaining a safe social distance of at least six feet, in conversation, I find myself referring to the Coranado or the Cordoba virus.  The other person will very nicely and politely point out my error, that it’s Corona. This correction is accepted and processed until some 45 seconds later, when I hear myself saying something about the Coradabo virus.

The next thing I hear is the sound of my dad’s laughter, viabrating in my ears.

Breakthrough


Happy holidays and Merry X-mas!

Those of you who occasionally read the drivel I post on this site may have noticed a recent plethora of mediocre poetry.  This is mainly due to the fact that I’ve recently developed an interest in poetry.  As amateurish as my poems have been so far, I chalk the dearth of quality up to the fact that I’m still learning the craft and remain a stumbling novice.

That was until tonight. Tonight, I finally broke through and wrote something that is undeniably good if not great.  Best of all, it’s in the form of a haiku, and even better yet, it’s related to the holiday season.

Here without further ado is my masterpiece:

What's the Deal With Egg Nog
Egg nog in July
would be just as refeshing
as in December

Thanks, and Merry Christmas from DBD!!!

December


The trees are all bare now,

their fleshy leaves having withered and fallen to the ground,

exposing their bony and naked branches and skeletal imperfections.

The leaves rustle noisily under my feet.      

Harsh and graceless, they are dead and decomposing,

their once brilliant colors having drained to cold dullness and risen and

overtaken the sky in shades of thickening gray.

A shiver runs down my spine and I pull the hood on my jacket up around my face,

as the leaves crunch under my feet,

making my steps crude and ugly

and reminding me in the arrogant clumsiness of my gait

that this is the December of my Decembers.

Days and Nights


He still sees her as she was nearly forty years ago.  While he recognizes the marks that time has chiseled on her face and body and the streaks of gray in her hair, he still can see her at twenty four, in the backyard of the property they still live on, amongst the piles of leaves they’d been raking, her deep green eyes lighting up her face.

She sees him as he is, too thin, gaunt, with the remaining hair left on his head having turned pure white. Every morning, she wakes up with him beside her, and when she looks at him, she sees a clock, counting down the days left until the morning comes that his side of the bed will be empty and cold.

They’d bought the house, a simple 1200 square foot ranch on a two and a half acre parcel on a remote dead end road in what was left of a sleepy small town that was in the final stages of being consumed by the spreading sprawl of suburbia, in November of 1984.  She worked seven miles to the north as a paralegal in a local law firm, while he was working as a computer programmer /analyst at the power plant nine miles to the south. He was 26 years old, she was 24.   They’d been married for a little bit more than three years.

Now, in 2019, they still live in the same house, having added a second floor and doubling the living space in 1998.   They raised three children, two sons and a daughter, all grown and successful and on their own now. His career ended in 2012, when the Parkinson’s Disease he was diagnosed with in 2004 progressed to the point to make working too difficult.

In  2015, he survived the severe blockage of three arteries and triple bypass surgery

After the heart surgery, he lost twenty five, then thirty, then thirty-five pounds, thanks to a new regime of diet, exercise, and a combination of a statins and baby aspirin that cut his overall cholesterol in half, by more than a hundred points.  Weighing the same as he did when he graduated high school was a source of pride until thirty five became forty and forty forty five.  When forty five became fifty pounds without even trying, he became concerned. The diagnosis confirmed their worst fears.

They both struggled dealing with the news.  For the first couple of days and nights, things were uncharacteristically quiet between them. She was consumed by fears of what life would be without him, how she’d cope with the emptiness that would consume the house they’d lived in all these years.

He spent most of the time in his head, replaying memories like Youtube videos. He kept returning to that Saturday in December of 1984 and he came to the conclusion that it ranked right up there with the birth of his children among the best days of his life.

It was a brisk and grey late autumn day, and it was just her and him, the rest of the world didn’t exist, each raking and burning their own piles of leaves, underneath the two giant maple trees in their yard. They’d only owned the place for a month, and though they’d raked leaves many times before, this was the first time they raked their leaves that fell from their trees onto their lawn. And that was all, the world belonged to them, and it was such heady and intoxicating stuff that is was inevitable they’d end up in bed, making love in the early afternoon. He remembered how she looked and felt, the warm smoothness of her skin, the smell of smoke in her hair, the sweet taste of her kisses, and the perfection of how their bodies fit together.

Returning to the deep night of 2019, he rolled over in the darkness and wrapped his arm around her waist, and she clasped his hand in hers.  They both lay there, awake with their eyes closed in the dark, somewhere between their best and last days together.

 

I Am Smoke


I wake in the diminishing daylight and I am smoke,

rising from red burning embers in a campfire

in an open field on the top of a high ridge.

I rise higher and higher above the red and blue flames and the white hot coals,

leaving the warmth of the fire and floating on the breeze,

feeling the chill of the late afternoon air,

above and over the trees,

carried on the breeze,

dissolving into the wind,

until I melt into and become the wind,

making the leaves on the trees tremble and shake.

I move out past the ridge and over the river,

pushing small blue lines that silently glide across the water.

The trees that line the water’s edge

are leaning and bowing in silent deference to me.

I lift dead leaves from the ground and breathe life into them,

making them dance in the cool air.

I make flags wave and I whisper through pine trees.

I am silence and grace,

I am young and old,

I am familiar and comforting,

and threatening and foreboding.

I am life and I am death.

I am the sum of my contradictions.

 

I find her,

working in her garden,

and I wrap myself around her.

She bundles her jacket tight around her shoulders as I move through her hair,

lifting and caressing it,

until she turns around,

and I caress her cheeks and fill her lungs.

I brush her skin and make goose bumps rise.

I taste her and she tastes me,

and she becomes fire,

ignited by my breath,

and I am the smoke she exhales from her red and blue flames

 

 

8-15-19


I’d give up my sight

rip the eyes right out of my head

just to see you again

 

and I’d cut off my feet

and sever my legs

just to stand beside you again

 

I’d tear the flesh from my bones

and bleed every drop of my blood

just to brush my hand against yours

 

I’d cut out my tongue

and never speak again

just to taste your kiss

 

and I would die again

a thousand times and more

just to sleep in your arms

 

but I couldn’t breathe, not even a breath

the morning sun couldn’t rise

if my searching fingertips couldn’t find

 

the smooth warmth of your skin