Pondering the Pavement

September 19, 2020

The Telltale Signs Tell Tales

I loved ugly shirts even at this young age…

Today is my maternal grandmother’s birthday. Mamaw would have been 122 years old so, yeah, she’s been gone for quite some time. However, like so many who have flipped to Side B, she still makes her presence known periodically. I don’t know if they do it just to mess with me or because they like to see if they can still pull these elaborate stunts off. It’s probably a combination of both. I’d say it was done out of unconditional love for anyone else. But, in my case, I lean more toward the whole “messing with me” method.

I always acknowledge birthdays of those close to me who have passed. Why? Well, several reasons:

1) Acknowledgements of significant dates, such as birthdays, holidays and anniversaries, is a great way to keep their memory alive.

2) Our loved ones in Spirit do enjoy the recognition. It gives them a chance to enhance their continued connection with us.

3) It gives me a great excuse to eat cake. I cannot express the importance of this point enough. Truly.

Once I got up this morning, I offered her a sincere birthday salutation. I added I’d be getting a slice of cake later in the day just for her. While she didn’t offer any gracious auditory commentary, I’m sure she was thrilled at the prospect of my upcoming sugary tribute. Ahem. I wandered through the streets today, running errands and other mundane things like a good grown-up (insert eye-roll here). The last of my journeys took me to my local grocery store. I nabbed a few dietary staples (out of fear for my cardiologist’s emotional wellbeing, I’ll refrain from listing everything I purchased). I will tell you that the last item was a slab of birthday cake available in the bakery section. DeeeeeLISH!

I giddily took my haul to the self-checkout. There are 6 checkout stands, each lined with displays of every candy bar and energy drink imaginable. I “randomly” selected one and began to slide the barcodes tattooed on the buttocks of each of my chosen items over the scanner. I happened to glance into the cup where change is dispensed. There were four pennies cradled in there, gleaming under the florescent lights high above. I scooped them up, muttering my mainstay chant, “Thank you for this and more!” I slid them into my shirt pocket—so they won’t get mixed up with my other change—and made a note to tally the dates when I got home.

Patience is not one of my virtues. Never has been. I don’t have the patience to even pretend that it IS one of my virtues. See what I mean?

As I sat waiting for the bus, I pulled them out my Hawaiian-themed pocket and totaled them up. Four cents with a sum of 8 in the dates. That is certainly not one of MY numbers. I couldn’t help but wonder if the sign here wasn’t the eight, but was actually the four. Then “someone” poked me in my back. A rapid review of my grandmother’s birth date provided the answer. Yup. She’s an eight. SNORT. Well, how about THAT?

I keep a jar on my alter where I deposit any money I find along my path. I’ve been doing it for years. I call it my Pennies from Heaven Fund. As I drop the currency into the jar, one coin at a time, I once again mutter, “Thank you for this and more!” Today however, I made a temporary change to the change collection custom: “Thank you for this and more, Mamaw.”

Look for the signs from your loved ones in Spirit, folks. They’re there. Your loved ones, just like their tales, continue…

August 29, 2020

It’s Time

“Let’s start at the very beginning.
A very good place to start.”

— “Do Re Mi
music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

 

I TALK ABOUT MY HORDE OF SPIRIT GUIDES A LOT. And why not? They are a huge part of what I do and how I do it. My intensely clear connection with Them is really quite the blessing (or curse — it really depends on the day, my mood and my level of sobriety). Our connection makes Them privy to my borderline childish barrage of endless questions and comments. (Borderline? Seriously? Bwhahahaha!) I pity Them for the on-going linking some days, but what’cha gonna do? After all the ring tosses that they’ve hurled me through over the years, They’ve got it comin’.

I’m often asked when I first became aware of my Guides in my life. I originally assumed that it was when Robert introduced himself to me as my Master Guide in my second attempt at Automatic Writing in late 2001. As equal amounts of insight and spotlights shine upon my own awareness, my opinion has changed over the years. (FYI: in this case, “changed” is the PC term for “mangled through a woodchipper.”)

My mother informed me several years ago that I had an invisible friend as a toddler. This was news to me. I have no memory of that at all (and I remember a lot of the weirdest things from my cluttered childhood). She told me that I would just sit by myself, on the dining room floor, and just jabber away with someone. Whenever she’d ask, “Who are you talking to?” I would quip, “My friend!” Then I’d immediately return to my pressing conflab. I never gave this friend a name. She didn’t pursue it any further than that. What a pity. She was a seriously nosy individual, but God forbid she delve into something that may one day be interesting.

Upon hearing this, I assumed that it was probably Robert. That would make sense, right? I do remember a series of dreams that I would have as a kid that would feature a certain man. I cannot call them reoccurring dreams because the topics always varied. The one common denominator was this tall man. He had no name in the dreams (that I can remember anyway). He lived in a little shack on Indiana Avenue on the east side of the town where I grew up (or, as I think of it, “where I served my sentence”). I could take you to the exact spot where this shack stood in my dreams. Of course, there wasn’t a shelter of any kind there when I was a kid. But it did exist in my dream state. The spot is now a parking lot for a Dollar General (only the finest in real estate for my invisible friends).

I remember how I felt whenever this man would pop up. He made me feel safe. He was always kind to me. Unlike so many in my awakened life (adults and mini-adults-in-training), he had no interest in harming me. I cannot tell you anything about him physically, other than the fact that he was quite tall and slender. But, to a small kid, most people are quite tall. When I would go to bed, I often hoped he would be in my dreams that night. Sort of the same way you’d anticipate finding a particularly favorite, but scarce, candy in your Halloween stash. I considered the mystery man my friend. I didn’t have many of those, so I cherished the few that I had, even in the dream world. Sad? Maybe a bit. But it saved me a boatload of postage at Christmas time, lemme tell ya…

Dondi

“Dondi” by Irwin Hasen

A recent discovery has made me re-think part of this. While I still believe it was Robert who showed up in my miscellaneous dreams, I now have a suspicion that my chat buddy may have been Dondi. This particular Spirit Helper is a small boy and is the spitting image of his comic strip namesake. His role is simple: helping me keep the youthful joy of my so-called inner-child alive and well in all that I do. Seriously. I was sent a Guide to help me stay in touch with my Inner Child. That’s like asking a T-Rex if he needs help with channeling his inner carnivore. I’ve always assumed They initially intended to send me a Guide to assist me in tapping into my inner “responsible normal adult” but realized early on that I’m just not capable of such buffoonery.

How perfect is it that a cartoonist, who is an adoptee, gets a comic strip orphan as a guide? Leapin’ Lizards, I guess Annie was otherwise engaged.

You’re wondering why I’m leaning toward Dondi being my buddy in those early years. I know you are. Like it says on my business card: I’m psychic. Ahem. Well, dear reader, here’s the double scoop dipped in chocolate…

 

I’ve been keeping myself busy during this self-isolation by attempting to whittle down my storage unit. My favorite pastime of all is poring over boxes of family photos. I’m just fascinated by these little tidbits of personal history. Some bring back fond memories while others make me scratch my head in bewilderment. I’ve been stumbling onto all sorts of little gems. I have some from the late 1880’s, so the nerd in me is pretty stoked. I’ve always had a deep interest in genealogy (it’s that whole adoptee thing) so I’m having the time of my misspent life. One of the nuggets that turned up was a series of photos from my 2nd birthday. One black & white photo in particular really garnished my attention. It shows a hodgepodge of my presents strewn along the sofa like a display from the “all we have left” aisle at a local flea market. There are a couple of white dress shirts (cue group yawn), a pair of gloves that appear to have different colored fingers. Thank you, Jesus, for allowing me to block those hideous things from my memory. There is a Huckleberry Hound book (WooHoo!) as well as a stick hobby horse. If you’re a child of the 60’s you certainly remember those. It was the ultimate in simplicity: a decapitated horse head impaled on the end of a dowel rod. I wonder how many kids ended up having Godfather influenced nightmares over that creepy toy.

01241963There was something else, though, propped up just behind and to the left of my pal, Huckleberry. I couldn’t quite make out what it was, so I subjected it to a magnifying loop from my graphic design days. I was not at all prepared for what I saw. It was a pair of toy six-shooters. That alone was quite extraordinary because my mother absolutely refused to let me have toy guns as a kid. She felt that it would make me violent. This is funny considering she was such a violent soul herself. Maybe she didn’t want any competition. Therefore, it had to be given by someone who either didn’t know or didn’t give a shit about Mom’s ironfisted dictatorial ruling. I like to think my Dad gave them to me just to piss off my Mom (I’m just grateful for any chuckle I can get). What really bowled me over was that the toy in question was boasting the name and drawn image of the comic strip character, Dondi.

>>> Insert wide-eyed stare here. <<<

So, yea, it’s very easy to chalk this up as one of those coincidences you convince yourself are real. I attempt it all the time. I like to play the odds. Eventually a coinky-dink will show itself, right? (quick glance at my watch) So, yea, I’m still waiting.

The date of the photo is 1-24-1963. That’s an 8 in numerology. There was a movie made based on the comic strip. It was released 62 days after I was born. That is also an 8. The young actor who portrayed Dondi in the film, David Kory, was born on 7-27-1954. You guessed it: he’s an 8. What’s the big deal about all those eights? Dondi showed himself to me (again?) sometime in the early to mid-2000’s as my eighth Spirit Guide. Well, go flippin’ figure.

Which came first? The chicken, the egg or the befuddled medium? Hard to say. But, at this point I’m pretending to wait for the results of the photo finish whilst I nurse a Mai Tai at Churchill Downs. There’s no doubt that this was already planned, figured out and formed… it was (and is) just waiting patiently for it’s time to be. So, as much as it goes against our grain as human beings, wait it out, folks. Whatever it is. It’ll get there in its already well orchestrated time.

Dailes_Dondi

A snippet of Dondi’s wisdom in DAILIES.

“Call it fate… Call it luck… Call it Karma…
I believe that everything happens for a reason…”

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)

August 20, 2020

Third Time’s A Charm

“Time doth flit; oh shit.”
Dorothy Parker

 

THREE YEARS AGO, ON THIS VERY DAY, I was bitch-slapped thrice, when twice should have sufficed… or one would think. Over the years, countless test dummies have gallantly sacrificed themselves attempting to crack my thick skull. I do admire their tenacity. I also think ISHTAR is a cinematic masterpiece, so my admiration is about as respected as a vegan crashing a beef barbeque. But I digress. The three little ticks on my Honey Do List for August 20, 2017, were as follows:

  1. Jerry Lewis passed away at the age of 91. This really hit me hard in the heart. Without even meeting him, Mr. Lewis was a massive influence throughout my life and beyond. He was third in line after my grandfather and Charles Schulz. If you’re interested in finding out why, you can click right here. Or you can just move on to the Jan Brady of my list. Your call.
  2. I was set to see renowned medium, George Anderson, for the first time in 16 years. He is, in my humble opinion, the greatest medium working today. Anderson inadvertently kicked me through the revolving doors of mediumship in 2001. He had literally changed my life. This little tidbit is even more interesting once you move on to the bronze medal winner of my Drama in Three Acts…
  3. After a lot of deliberation, I had pretty much decided to walk away from mediumship all together. I’d had my fill and was just a big beach bonfire basically burnt out.

Good God, I’m overly dramatic, aren’t I? Well, what do you expect when you combine my combustible over-the-top bravado with a bevy of Spirit Guides who shine with more light than a movie premiere at Grauman’s back in the day? This heaven(ishly) made collaboration sure wasn’t designed for mimes, lemme tell ya.

A long story mercifully short: I was bored, frustrated and, for lack of a better word, disappointed with my life as a medium. It wasn’t just any one thing. It was an assortment of things. I found myself perched on a tree limb that had been whittled down to barely kindling. And it was time, I felt, to toss it on the hearth once and for all. I had put it out to my Guides that IF I was supposed to stick with it then they had to give me a pie-in-the-face sign. You know what I’m talking about, right? Something so unmistakable that someone who had never spoken a word of English could sit down and immediately read Webster’s Dictionary without pause.

Dear Sweet Tea Jesus. WHEN will I stop daring my Guides? I mean, seriously? WHEN?

20170820_163630Kelsey, one of my favorite cohorts in crime, accompanied me on this little escapade. It’s always good to have a witness in case you consider doing something stupid… or if you need help moving a body. It’s an either/or kinda thing. We settled down in our seats, along with about a hundred or so physical individuals. If we counted those standing in the wings (as in “angels”), we probably broke a few fire codes. Anderson, a small framed man, stepped out and took his place on center stage. He gives off the persona of someone who is friendly and approachable, yet private and reserved. He talked for a bit about his life, spiritual experiences and his love of cats. Then he embarked on the first “random” reading of the afternoon. I put quotes around “random” not because it is rigged, but because Spirit has already figured out just who will get the messages they need (whether we know it or not). My first reading with Anderson in 2001 was the last one in the evening. This time around, my peeps had absolutely no patience. They charged out from the gates as if pushing wannabe shoppers away from the discount sock rack on Black Friday. Fuck subtlety. It’s my mantra, so why not Theirs, too?

His process is a simple one: stand up if you relate to the name that he is given. He will continue getting more details. If something does NOT resonate with you, then you must sit down. This continues until there is only one person standing. Anderson said he was getting the name Madeline. I was taken aback. One of my late mother’s closest friends was named Madeline. If someone had said, “Charles, name the last 5 people you would ever expect to come through a medium!” I would have picked Madeline.

I stood up, hesitantly. Anderson added, “This woman is NOT family, but she was LIKE family.” Yup. That’s Madeline. She was sort of like an aunt minus the title. She lived alone so we had her in for holidays as well as “why the hell not” occasions. Madeline was abrasive. She said whatever she wanted and too bad if you didn’t like it. She shot from the hip without hesitation, spoke her mind and, greatest of all, she had a laugh that could shatter clocks. Obviously, she and I got along famously. Once Anderson realized he was with me, Kelsey and I both started recording. She used her iPhone while I used an MP3 digital recorder (Because they’re good buggy whips!). We’d be great corporate spies. Anderson then said, “She tells me she’s the last person you expected to come through today.”

“Absolutely!” I half-laughed.

She had come through as a “connection” to the “old neighborhood.” Anderson added, “She tells me she knew your folks.” I nodded. She then opened the door for the arrival of my grandfather, Charles, who was half my namesake. I adore this man. Always have, always will. He had come through Anderson in 2001, knocking my friggin’ socks off in the process. I won’t go into serious detail with the information shared, but my grandfather had glowing messages of love for me. He recognized the struggles I was facing at the time and reassured me that he was there to support and assist me in all ways possible. Then my (adoptive) father made another appearance. I say “another” because he, too, popped up in the initial reading in 2001. He reiterated that he knew he had been a terrible father (and he truly was!). Displaying his charm and sense of humor, he proclaimed, just as he had 16 years earlier, “I was no Ward Cleaver.” He feels responsible for a lot of my issues (I guess we have matching subscriptions). But he needed to remind me that he loves me and always will. Anderson then added, “Even though he had a verrrrry bizarre way of showing it.” (I’ll take GROTESQUE UNDERSTATEMENTS FOR $500, Alex!)

The first real spin on this carousel was when my dad relayed through the medium, “He speaks of harmonizing with your mom.”

When my mother passed, I immediately sent out the word to Spirit that she was NEVER permitted to communicate with me. She would never be welcome. I do not want to hear from her at all. Our relationship, if you can call it that, was formidable at best. It was nothing but a bitter on-going battle of wills for 56 years. As far as I’m concerned, I have earned at least another 56 years of blissful peace without her. Well, Dad let me know that not only was my Mom with him, but she had found a loophole in my contract. She got a message through to me without actually speaking to me. Mom should have been an attorney. She could slip right through any circumstance she wanted. She was a pain in the ass, but she was also one of the shrewdest women I’ve ever known. Well played, Mom. Well played indeed.

I am convinced that one of the reasons my mother lived for so damn long was because of her fear of my dad. I honestly don’t or can’t fault her for feeling that way. He had an explosive hair-trigger temper (funny expression for a man who was virtually bald). His heavy drinking certainly didn’t help matters. More than anything, he was very verbally and physical abusive. Her fear of him was well warranted. She was petrified of meeting up with him again on the other side. I told her that she would eventually face him down, but it would be under different circumstances. I explained that they would have a chance to work things out. I even told her it would be “…a place of harmony.” She didn’t believe me. Well, look at that, Mom! I was right! HA! He shoots! He scores! Nothing but Dead Man’s Net!

I figured that message would be the big crescendo of the evening’s symphony. Huh. Some psychic I am…

He then asks, “Do you take the name Robert?”

My jaw and the auditorium floor immediately melded into one. “Son of a…” I thought to myself. My Master Guide was making an appearance through THE medium. The one I admire more than any other. The pie smeared all over my face was Crow flavored in case you’re wondering.

“I will tell you,” Anderson continued, “He claims to know your dad. At least over there.”

Well, no shit, Sherlock.

“I definitely get a nice feeling from him,” Anderson said. “He comes to you in ‘fatherliness’.”

“Yes, that makes sense,” I managed to say.

Then the big one: “He’s pleased to rekindle the fact that you DO have pleasant memories of him. He’s just glad about that and glad to express it as well.”

I’m sure the word “gloat” would be more accurate than “glad.” For an enlightened being, Robert sure can gloat with the best. As Robert has always reminded me, “I was a being of love and light before I met you.” Kinda tosses that whole “deity” image right out the DeSoto window, now doesn’t it?

After a few more musings, Anderson stated that they were pulling back to make room for someone new to come in. I thanked him, of course. Anderson humbly replied, “Thank Them. I’m just the instrument.”

I sat down next to Kelsey, who was about as slack jawed as I was. I whispered, “Do I know how to show you a good time or what?” I sat back, processing all I had just heard, assuming I was out of the spotlight.

Nope. Not by a longshot.

Anderson said he was getting the name “Max.” I muttered, “Nooooo…” to myself. I slowly turned to Kelsey. She was already staring me down as if I’d cut in front of her at Ghirardelli’s in San Francisco. She jerked her head, indicating me to speak up, as her green eyes bored into me like a ravenous wood tick. I shook my head. “I’m sure it’s not my cat,” I whispered.

As if on cue, Anderson says, “This is someone’s pet!”

Face. In. Palm.

After a brief pause of no one claiming the name — a pause I’d like to point out that was accented by Kelsey’s elbow playing crash dummy with my ribs — I hesitantly raised my hand. Anderson chuckled and told me to stand up. Once up, I did a cursory scan of the room and loudly whispered, “I am SOOOOO sorry!” Everyone laughed. But I’m sure they were secretly wishing for a stage light to come crashing down on my head.

“Your Dad is stating that Max is there with him.” He paused, as if listening to a conversation that only he was privy to — the very kind I had been toying with never partaking of again. He continued, “Your people over there are talking about Max being with them.”

Note how he used the term “Your people.” Not family — PEOPLE. I usually refer to my Guides as “My People” or “My Peeps.”

“They’re telling me that when some pass on, the animal came to them first.” Anderson said this simply, nonchalantly, matter-of-factly.

I, on the other hand, heard it with such a resounding sonic boom that I nearly lost my balance. When I lived in the Sedona, Arizona, area, I had a studio set aside for readings. It served no other purpose. I was able (and willing) to have clients in for private sittings. Max was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a people feline. Whenever someone would show up, he would vanish. Sort of in the same way I duck whenever a Jehovah’s Witness comes to my door. Max would hang out with me because I fed him. I’m sort of the same way when I think about it. But — you knew there was a but coming, didn’t you? — if I was conducting a reading in my studio that was particularly intense for the sitter, Max would saunter in the room. He’d lazily leap up onto the sofa next to the client, nuzzling next to them. He would stay there for the duration of the session. His presence brought levity and peace to the events unfolding. When all was right with their world again, he’d get down without fanfare and simply walk away. What Anderson told me was that Max was still fulfilling his role as a giant, furry tranquilizer. That’s my boy. And my Dad wanted me to know that HE brought Max through to me. Not out of ego. Oh, no. Not at all. But, as in ALL Spirit Communication, out of unconditional love.

20170820_163425

With George Anderson, who clearly has a better sense of fashion than I do.

Let’s sum up, shall we? Spirit wrangled my grandfather and (adoptive) father to come in to show me some love. Then, my Master Guide shows up. THE head-honcho of my crew. The one I met through automatic writing so long ago and who has been at my side, whether I like it or not, throughout this epic DeMille production of a life. And, just in case THAT wasn’t enough (if you know me, you KNOW it’s NEVER enough…), they brought in my beloved Max to seal the deal. Our animals are living, breathing bundles of unconditional love. So is the core of mediumship. If Cheesecake had a soul, I’m sure that would have come through as well. Ahem.

Here it is, three years later. Yes, I’m still working as a medium. But I no longer let it dominate my life or thoughts. I’ve given up on making it something that it’s not. I’ve released it to the winds. It’s free to perch upon high, wherever it needs to be. When it calls, I’ll be right here, answering on the third ring.

 

“I love that cute thing you do when you stop texting me for hours, it’s adorable.”
Anonymous

Anderson3rdAnniversary

 

April 9, 2020

A Fine Line

Filed under: Appreciation,cartoonists,In Memoriam,Uncategorized — cfilius @ 11:44 pm

 

MortDrucker_NYC2000

It’s sobering when an artist puts down their pen for the last time. The contagious enthusiasm over following their own line has ended. Mort Drucker, the unrivaled Artist’s Artist from MAD Magazine passed away last night at 91. He lifted the bar insanely high for anyone else wielding a pen for a living. He was the exceptional kid in the class that always ruined the grade curve for the rest of us. I can honestly say you would probably never meet anyone as kind, gentle or generous as Mort. He shared his talent and his time freely. He was a God who happily mingled with we common folk. He was humbled, genuinely moved, whenever anyone would flatter him on his work. As compliments would be hurled at him, one almost expected him to kick shyly at a pebble, uttering something like, “Aww, shucks, kid.” He was recognized for his work with the National Cartoonists Society Special Features Award (1985, 1986, 1987 AND 1988), the Reuben Award (1987), the NCS Medal of Honor (2015), and induction into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame (2017). He loved his profession and, more importantly, he loved anyone in the biz.

He autographed my copy of his book, “Whitefish Will Rides Again!” with such unassuming elegance: “A Fan.” Can you imagine? Those two simple words were such a beautiful gesture and they moved me greatly. They still do.

The last time I saw him was in 2015 when he was awarded the NCS Medal of Honor. I was standing by a bank of elevators just after the award ceremony, talking with someone, when the doors slid open. Mort was just standing there, unassumingly, with his hands clasped in front of him. As someone exited the lift, I looked at him and shouted, “Mort!” I promptly placed my hands together at chest level, as if offering a prayer, smiled and bowed. A gigantic genuine grin spread across his face as he placed his talented hands over his heart and returned the bow in kind. The doors shut and he was gone.

Damn. And now he is. His memory, his talent, live on, thankfully. Mort and the “usual gang of idiots” have been a massive influence on me, my work and my (alleged) sense of humor. God knows I am forever grateful. Later tonight, I’ll hoist a glass, toast to his memory and then dip my pen in his honor… just to see where my line will take me. I think he’ll like that… just fine.

DruckerBook

 

August 1, 2019

Soooo Over My Dead Body

“If life seems jolly rotten,
There’s something you’ve forgotten,
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.”

Monty Python

* * *

ClientSearch2

Cruising the obits for potential clients… it’s a never ending job!

When I finally admitted to the outside world—and myself—that I was a medium, I was a tad floored that a huge slice of the people I knew were anything but on board with it. Many thought I had finally lost it (Well, the joke is on them… I “lost it” long before disco was ever found). One friend of mine even told me she wouldn’t hesitate to commit me to a hospital in order to prevent me “…from hurting yourself or anyone else!” The joke has been lost on this one, too: I’m far too lazy to walk uphill, let alone bring harm into the mix. One of my biggest lack-of-supporters on this new pathway was, naturally, my mother. She kinda believed my mediumship abilities were sorta real…maybe. This didn’t faze me because, honestly, the woman never expressed approval on anything I did, thought or contemplated at any given mileage marker along my life’s turnpike. If she had been supportive of my mediumship, I probably would have stopped long before I started. I became a cartoonist solely because she told me I couldn’t. Wow. Yet another joke being lost on someone. One more and I’ll have to start posting them on milk cartons.

Mom had a set of friends—three cohabitating sisters—who happened to eat this mediumship stuff up with a spoon. When I was in West-By-God Virginia, I would make a point to visit The Sisters (with Mom in tow like a trash barge) for a good old-fashioned afternoon of chatting with their larger than life dead family (see what I did there?). Mom would sit at their kitchen table, gasping in astonishment, right along with the sisterly trio. Mom even received messages from some of her long-gone relatives (folks I never knew). She would validate each and every piece of info that came through to me from them. Then, on the tedious drive back to her home (which bore a thought-provoking resemblance to the Bates’ residence, sans the motel), she’d go on and on about how much I had embarrassed her “yet again.”

* * *

I was involved with the theater department while in college. I didn’t major in drama. Like my participation in my high school marching band, I just used it as an excuse to get out of the house. Oddly, it was my mother who tossed me the bone to get involved in theater in the first place. Irony can be so gooey, can’t it? Sorta like chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven: if you’re not careful, it just gets all over everything. She would attend the plays I was in, then dutifully tell me how glad she was that no one knew she was my mother. “You were the loudest one on that stage!” she’d say. “I’ve never been so humiliated!” It was as if she had just realized that I’ve never had a functioning volume control on my voice box. Well, I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s not like she was ever the pointiest arrow in the quiver.

“Well,” I’d say matter-of-factly, “I bet the people in the back row were grateful they could hear me!”

“Don’t get smart with ME!” she’d exclaim in a voice that often rivaled the staccato sounds of an MG 81 (Today’s Fun Fact: that’s a machine gun used by the Luftwaffe).

“Why? Am I confusing you?” Her reaction to that comment was totally worth the next few hours of her non-stop banshee-like bitching, by the way.

* * *

As time waddled by, like a fat guy in a Hawaiian shirt circling the dessert buffet for the second time, my presence as a medium became more prominent. That’s when Mom started tapping franticly on the big ol’ panic button that not only existed, but lushly thrived, within her one-track mind. “Can any of my friends find you on the computer?” she’d ask.

“Sure,” I’d shrug. “If they looked. But why would any of your friends be typing my name into their search engine?” I’d then have to take 20-odd minutes to try to explain the term “search engine” to her.

“I just don’t want anyone to know what you do. What would they think?” Her brown eyes would stare me down with such intensity that I nearly burst into flames.

“I don’t know what to tell ya,” I’d say. “Just toss your hands up in the air and blame it on the fact that I’m adopted. Ya know, all that faulty DNA n’ shit.” For the record, I offered up that excuse to her far too many times in my life.

* * *

She once told me that if I became famous for anything (cartooning, mediumship, serial killer, Burger King Employee of the Month, etc.), she wanted me to change my name. “I don’t want anyone to know we’re related,” she’d say.

That’s pretty much how I felt throughout my formative school years, but I digress. “OK,” I replied. “I’ll change my professional name to “Mildred Filius’ Son.” Oddly she wasn’t amused. Go figure.

* * *

She’d then lecture me on how I needed to take this crisis seriously. Again, it’s as if she just didn’t know me. I do stand-up at funerals. How did she expect me to take anything seriously?

“What’s the big deal if someone you know discovers that I’m a medium?” I asked.

She’d thrust one of her crooked talons into my shoulder, emphasizing each word with its own individual poke. “They’ll—find—out—over—my—dead—body!”

* * *

Fast-forward a few years later to her funeral. I was positioned by her casket, greeting a surprisingly long line of—well, for lack of a better word—mourners. Admittedly, I was shocked at the size of the turnout. I assumed they were just wanting to make sure she was really dead, but that’s a theory for another time. One of her friends, a former neighbor named Marsha, greeted me with a hug (something I detest). I honestly couldn’t tell you how many decades had passed since I last saw Marsha. As Mrs. Parker reminds us, “Time doth flit; oh shit.” After Marsha spewed out the stereotypical “I’m so sorry for your loss” spiel (I managed to bite my lip, keeping my giggling under wraps), she said to me, “I hear that you’re a medium. Is that true?”

I’m sure my surprise speedily sprawled across my face like grape juice engulfing a sheet of Bounty, but I didn’t hesitate to say it was indeed true.

“That’s wonderful,” she said. “Do you suppose I could get a reading with you while you’re in town?”

Curiosity wrestled me to the mat in three counts, so I asked, “How on earth did you know I’m a medium?”

With a nonchalant wave of her hand, she explained, “Oh, Doris told me!” Doris was another former neighbor. Well, how about that? The word was out and dancing in the streets without a chaperone.

I told her I’d be happy to schedule something for her. She gave me her number and off she went. So, yea, I booked a reading for this woman literally over my mother’s dead body. Snort!

Is there a moral here? Some great lesson or sliver of wisdom to pass along? Something along the lines of a “always have someone you can count on in your corner” kinda deal? Oh, hell, no. It’s just a really funny story. Sometimes that’s all you ever really need to get through the rest.

* * *

Nikki Page: [leading a drunken Beckett out of a bar, while being followed] How do you lose a tail?

Maxwell Beckett: [tries to focus] Evolve?

(An exchange between
Jessica Lundy & Edward Woodward,
“Over My Dead Body”, 1991)

July 1, 2019

Self-Expression Mirrors Self-Reflection

Beautiful woman businesswoman in front of a mirror with a reflec

“Often we’re recreating what we think we’re supposed to be as human beings. What we’ve been told we’re supposed to be, instead of who we authentically are. The key about the creation of full self-expression is to be authentically who you are, to project that.”

– James Cromwell

 

* * *

 

I’ve never been a fan of astrology. It’s not that I don’t believe in the significance of it. I’m just not interested. It fries on the same back burner as UFOs, the Akashic Records, and salads. But I do have a legitimate interest in numerology. (Can a bastard can have a legitimate anything? Point to ponder…)

It’s weird that I would take a shining to numerology because I have always had a valid hate/hate relationship with math. If someone suggests I balance my checkbook, I get an uncontrollable urge to see how long I can perch it on the end of my nose. I’m convinced that algebra, like disco, is just a cruel, sick hoax that spiraled way outta control.

In the delightful world of numerology, I am a “six.” And being a “six” is all about self-expression. Nail meet head, right? I’ve never had a problem with expressing myself, much to the chagrin of some (that’s what makes it fun, don’cha know?). I’ve spewed my philosophies around all willy-nilly for the vast majority of my buy-in-bulk life. Since I speak fluent sarcasm, I’ve had no problem expressing myself verbally.

One of the top three compliments I’ve ever received (yes, I keep a running list of favorite things said about me…don’t you?), was when a longtime friend said, “Charles is completely capable of disemboweling you with his tongue and you’ll walk away laughing without even realizing you’re bleeding.” That quote is going on my headstone.

I also find a natural outlet on paper, both in drawing and writing. Sometimes, for the Woodsy Owl hoot, I’ll combine all three. I believe the phrase “the perfect storm” has been used a few times to accurately describe that delightful experience (anyone pick up on the sarcasm there?).

When my mother cashed in her chips a couple years ago, I was reminded of just how far back my flair for self-expression goes. She saved everything, from every grade school paper to receipts for furniture she purchased in the late 1940s (you never know when you’ll want to return a cedar chest).

When I flipped through the memories, I was reminded that I had a “habit” of drawing cartoons on all my mimeographed worksheets in elementary school. I’d rush through the test, turn the paper over, and start doodling. It was all pretty much the same theme: two jagged cliffs on either side of the paper. A bridge, now collapsed, had at one time connected the two precipices. There were jagged rocks and/or stalagmites jutting upward at the bottom of the great abyss. Once I had set the stage, I added countless hurling bodies falling to the rocks below. Then I’d cover the piece in multiple word balloons all screaming one word and one word only: HELP!

Self-expression that was, I assure you, totally ignored by the powers that be in the 1960s West-By-Gawd-Virginia Educational System. I enjoyed creating the scribbles (poor man’s therapy, I suppose). My teacher was annoyed with my perseverance of such a useless activity. Admittedly, her irritation was just a juicy cherry atop the whipped cream covered graphite sundae. I just drew what I felt needed to be drawn. And, in my mediumship, I say what needs to be said. I didn’t self-edit when I was a kid, and I certainly don’t do it now.

Show of hands… who’s shocked? Anyone?

One of my biggest belly-flops in the community pool of self-expression took place in 1976. I was a nerd who was fully immersed in Bicentennial Fever. (Woo Hoo! A timely Fourth of July theme!) I even managed to convince my family that we should travel to Philadelphia for our annual family vacation that summer. That’s the equivalent of starting your Christmas shopping around 9:30 p.m. on December 24th and expecting no one else to be at the mall.

CAF_BicentenialShirtI read any and all bicentennial themed literature I could get my hands on. I had t-shirts covered in images of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. I memorized the Presidents in order because I thought it would be “cool” (obviously, it wasn’t). If it had a 1776 theme then, by-gum-by-golly, I was interested in it. I was so unrelatable, the other nerds wouldn’t hang with me.

I thought I struck euphoric gold when Kellogg’s announced a bicentennial contest. They asked for drawings of any historic figure from the American Revolution eating a well-balanced breakfast. The meal, of course, had to include any of the sugary nuggets Kellogg’s offered at the time. If your drawing was selected, you would win a prize of — are you ready for this? — a $5 weekly allowance for a whole year! That’s right, I would get a whopping $260 over a 52-week period. I was stoked. How could I miss? This aspiring cartoonist was a friggin’ shoe-in!

I knew I had to think outside the box in order to get noticed. Everyone would be drawing the same historical figures: Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, et al. I had come up with someone more obscure. I needed a subject that would really show I had thought long and hard on the project. I racked my brain, stewing on it for days. Finally, as if clubbed over the head by the mallet of inspiration, I had it! A sure-fire attention grabber. Someone who would truly express my unique brand of creativity.

I chose Nathan Hale. Yup. You read that right. That Nathan Hale. The guy the Brits hanged for spying.

I drew Hale standing on the gallows, noose secured around his neck. Naturally, he was eating a bowl of cereal. The hooded executioner was standing off to the side holding a tray of bacon, eggs, and a big ol’ glass of OJ. As Hale held a spoonful of cereal to his open mouth, he said, “I only regret that I can eat but one breakfast for my country.”

Yuh-huh. I really did. And I was convinced that I would win. I was sure no one even came close to what I had created (and I’m sure I was right on that assumption). This may come as a shock to you—because it certainly was to me at the time—my cartoon was not selected. I guess I was just too far ahead of my own time. Ahem.

Looking back, I can honestly say I was never upset or angry that my entry wasn’t chosen as a winner. I was perfectly comfortable knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that I did my very best (keep in mind that “my best” is usually wedged somewhere between someone else’s “deranged” and “twisted”). I was true to myself. I trusted my instinct. The judges just weren’t ready for me. Yet.

I must admit, though, that I’ve found myself often wondering about all those unsuspecting souls sorting through the contest submissions all those years ago. Did they find my cartoon funny in a Not Suitable For Work kind of way? Or did they join in a communal prayer circle, thanking God Almighty that they were a (realistically) safe distance from a very fucked up kid over 400 miles away in West Virginia.

My instincts, for lack of a better term, tend to work in my favor. Sure, they usually take me around Gobbler’s Knob as the crow flies to get me where I need to be, but still, they work. It’s said that the journey is as important as the destination. And my journey is a vast array of odd souvenir stands populated with items stamped with the standard WISH YOU WERE HERE sentiment. Mine, however, usually end with a question mark.

WishYouWereHere_SQ_NewsletterThe toughest uphill battles in remaining true to myself are always the ones I’m the most comfortable with completing. If it’s a pain in my tuckus, then By-God, it’s the right choice. At the forefront of this list of self-making choices is my choice of the style of my mediumship. If you’ve seen me work, you know I am anything but cut from the cloth of the norm. I am not soft-spoken and gentle in my delivery. I am blunt, direct and I shoot from the hip (often grazing an innocent bystander or two in the process). And, more than anything, it’s all interwoven tightly with long strands of humor that ties it all together.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been chastised more than once for my style over the years. The judgments have come from both audiences and fellow mediums alike. Hell, I even had a spirit coming through in a reading complain about me! But, according to the sitter, her grandmother’s dislike for me was very fitting with the late woman’s personality. I didn’t take offense to it (I can’t be offended—it’s scientifically impossible), but it took me a couple years and several readings to accept how it all works for / through me.

Then, within the cozy confines of a relatively innocent conversation, my POV was changed out for a much stronger, brighter bulb.

See, there was a fellow reader I had personally dubbed, “The Chameleon Medium.” He had a knack of taking on the mannerisms, catchphrases, and overall working style of others in the field. He would even start dressing like other mediums! Like Disney and all their “live action” remakes, it would have killed him to do something original.

One evening, I found myself at a large social brouhaha jam packed with a slew of those New Age sorts. I was blessed to spend some time with Peter Close, a charming medium from the UK. I was working the refreshment stand (what kind of unreliable psychics put the fat guy in charge of the food?). Peter commented that I must have been a tavern’s barkeep in a past life since it came so naturally to me. I shrugged it off, explaining it was my love of carbohydrates that drove me to do my best. As we chatted, the Chameleon walked by, attempting to impress anyone who was willing to listen and watch. Peter looked at me, grinning, his eyes twinkled, and said, “That’s just not you, is it?”

I shook my head, chuckling. “No, it’s not.”

“Charles,” Peter emphasized in a capitalization and italicized sort of way, “You know what I mean?”

Well, I certainly did. And there’s been no turning back. In the early days, I’d hold readings where I’d just do them the way I thought I was supposed to give them. Lots of reserved commentary, quiet nodding, the usual lack-luster shebang. But I just couldn’t find my stride. Then I finally tossed the reins aside like an unwanted side dish of kale and let myself shine through in my natural, garish light. Ya know what? I find more and more embrace my delivery service with great enthusiasm. Time and time again I will hear how my off-the-wall style actually puts them at ease—especially with those who have never, until then, experienced mediumship.

One even said, “I personally think your style is unique and a refreshing… I’m so tired of watching mediums that all sound alike and seem to be following a formula. We need more mediums like YOU out there working.” Far be it from me to argue with that logic! The way I see it, those who come to me are led here for a reason. Either all parties involved will benefit greatly from the experience, or they must learn living a life as an easily offended wuss is just not an option (I may be lightly paraphrasing, but you get the idea).

What’s the moral of this story? Is there a moral? If I had to say so, it’s just a reminder that no matter how outlandish or seemingly ridiculous your self-expression may seem to others, you owe it to yourself to be true to it and to yourself.

Self-expression, like points of view or beliefs, change over time. Sometimes subtly, other times radically so. It’s all a part of living, growing, experiencing all that comes before you. One of the frequent messages I get from those on the other side are regrets that they didn’t allow themselves more flexibility in their own lives. Sorry that they remained so steadfast in beliefs that were nothing more than excuses to not trust their own heart, values, and instincts.

I was stoked about my Kellogg’s submission. However, now, I find it just bizarrely hysterical. Anyone who knows me would hear that story and immediately think, “Yup. That’s Charles.” And, despite the adoptee moniker, that’s who I’ve ever really tried to be: Charles.

My art and my writing are just like my mediumship: completely and totally mine. Just as your life should be built around being you. Be kind to yourself, and others. And be flexible. It’s OK to change and rearrange. Only make a point to be the one who instigates the change as well as the one who carries it out.

 

* * *

 

“OK, fine. But remember, “bee” yourself.”
– Genie (“Aladdin” 1992)

May 6, 2019

Don’t Wait! Celebrate, Commemorate, Elevate, Eat Cake!

“Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.”
– Plautus

Charles&amp;Marjorie

Hanging with Marjorie, November, 2018.

My cousin, Marjorie, leaned forward in her long-familiar chair; her diminishing frame being dwarfed by her surroundings. She looked up at me over her glasses, giving me the impression of someone in contemplative thought. After a pause, she said, “Do you know what’s really strange?”

Of course, as a medium, I have a long-ass list of topics filling that roster. Resisting my urge to just spout off, “Top 10, alphabetical or just as they come to mind?” I just shook my head and said, “No. What?”

She sighed, “We’re the only ones left.” She glanced at a portrait of she and her late husband, George, longingly. He had passed away four months earlier, in July, after having been together for 71 years.

I nodded knowingly. “I was thinking about that on the way up here,” I said. Most of our holiday family gatherings were evenly distributed between the homes of my grandparents, my aunt & uncle and George & Marjorie. There was usually ten to a dozen people attending these obligatory soirées. My grandparents, great-grandma Harvey, my mom, Aunt Ruth & Uncle Bill, Uncle Frank & Aunt Bessie, Guy & Louise (Marjorie’s parents), and a few oddball stragglers from time to time—such as Marjorie’s Aunt Belva (who was nothing short of a sitcom waiting to happen) and a crotchety old spinster named Virginia (who burrowed her way under the family skin like a wood tick on a hound dog)—and, of course, this strange kid who had an unreasonable passion for shirts as garish as his inherited laugh.

And now the original cast had been whittled down to just two. It felt like the final season of M*A*S*H.

Our holiday meals were orchestrated with the precision of a well-choreographed assembly line. Everyone had their role, their positions marked as if part of a cable access broadcast. Most of the men would gather around a television. Football was the chosen sport for my Uncle Bill while my grandfather would immerse himself in any available baseball game. George would want to tune into anything from NASCAR to a local soapbox derby. Me? I’ve never had even the slightest interest in sports. I’d just withdraw deep into my happy place praying for a chance to ram an ice-pick into my brain. The women would all scurry into the kitchen, which was always too small to comfortably contain the growing populous of the gaggle of self-proclaimed cooks. They would all pitch in wherever needed. Marjorie, on the other hand, always had ONE task and ONE only: she made the mashed potatoes. No instant flakes for this woman. Oh, no, my friends. She peeled honest-to-God REAL potatoes. She had THE perfect blend of milk, butter, salt, pepper and a hint of what must have been either cocaine or the freshly ground bones of innocent kittens. I’ve never had mashed potatoes to match hers. NEVER.

I said, “It seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?”

She just nodded. “It really is strange to think about,” she reflected. “It’s like…” her voice trailed off as she brought her fingers to her temples. “Boom!” she exclaimed, her hands popping off to each side in an abrupt gesture.

I laughed, “You are just THE hippest 88-year-old around!”

She chuckled in her lady-like fashion, but the glint of mischievousness in her eyes twinkled oh-so-very-brightly. “You know,” she said, “My birthday is May 11th.”

I nodded, “I know.”

She sat up as straight as she could and proudly exclaimed, “I’ll be eighty-nine!” She emphasized the “nine” firmly.

I leaned toward her, my left elbow resting on my corresponding knee, as I pointed a finger at her. “I’ll tell you what,” I said matter-of-factly, “I’m going to come back for your birthday!” I held out my left hand palm up, “I’ll bring cake…” then did the same with my right, as I continued, “… AND ice cream!”

“Ohhh!” she exclaimed gleefully as her eyes widened with excitement.

“And you know what THAT means?” I said with my arms & hands still extended. “You’ll have to hold the door open for me because my hands will be full!”

She gave her head a firm, quick nod and said, “I can do that for cake!”

You go, Girl.

We both laughed, simultaneously leaning back into our respective seats. She grinned while looking down into her lap. Then she shot a look back up at me, her smile softening slightly, and added, “Well, if I’m still here.”

It pained me to hear the reality of the situation. But I glossed over it and interjected, “Hey, it’s CAKE I’m talkin’ about here! Surely you can hang around for cake!” As with her “nine”, I bitch-slapped the emphasis on “cake.”

She winked. “I’ll do my best,” she laughed.

Despite her best of determined intentions, she sadly missed the mark by nearly 3 months to the day. In the wee hours of February 12th, as I held her frail hand, Marjorie slipped away quietly to reunite with those who had ventured onward before us. And, I’m sure, they had an amazing spread just waiting for her when she arrived. Well, except for the mashed potatoes because that’s STILL her job!

“When someone asks if you’d like cake or pie, why not say you want cake AND pie?”
– Lisa Loeb

20190505_133728

In honor of Marjorie’s birthday, I am inviting anyone within the local area to join me for pie on Saturday, May 11th, at 11:30am. I’m limiting attendees to an even dozen to match our old family gatherings (and to ensure we don’t take over the restaurant!). Please RSVP to me privately (charles@extralargemedium.net) no later than 8pm, Friday, May 10th. It would really mean a lot to me, and Marjorie. PLUS, you get pie. It’s a win/win. Restaurant location will be provided once you RSVP. Thanks! ♥

April 1, 2019

Carma: What Zooms Around Vrooms Around

“The little old lady from Pasadena
(Go granny, go granny, go granny go)
Has a pretty little flower bed of white gardenias
(Go granny, go granny, go granny go)
But parked in her rickety old garage
Is a brand new shiny red Super Stock Dodge…”

– Jan & Dean, ‘The Little Old Lady from Pasadena’

 

MY COUSIN, GEORGE, HAD A SERIOUS SWEET TOOTH.  Over the years, his passion for candy & pastries left my own in a cloud of powered sugar. It got to the point where all he would eat was sugar in nearly any form. There were bowls of M&M’s in every room of the house (God love him). You’d also find a healthy mix of Reese’s Cups, butterscotch and peppermint hard tack candies, and even a scattering of the “fun size” Milky Way bars just to shake things up. The kitchen was home base to nearly every variety of mass-produced cream filled snack cakes you could think of and then some. He lost all his teeth several years earlier, so what was the harm in living primarily on candy? A Willy Wonka wet dream in the making.

CandyDishNear the end of his life, another staple of sweetness found its way into his home and bloodstream: spearmint lifesaver candies. Those little individually wrapped suckers (see what I did there?) were sprinkled all over the house. After he passed away in 2018, his wife carried on this tradition. When she passed away, lacking 2 days of being 7 months later, we found a nearly endless supply of those candies in every nook & cranny of their home. In addition to two glass bowls full of the little breath-freshening morsels, they were also strewn throughout the house like loose change. As a matter of fact, one side of one of her purses was stuffed to the seams with ‘em. This particular pocketbook played host to her driver’s license, a rain hat and about 4 dozen of those little lifesaver candies.

They were both tough old birds (said with the best of intentions) cut from the same racing checkered cloth. They shared a love for sweets, cars, stubbornness and one another. Once either of them dug their heels in, there was no force on earth that could budge them. Trying to dissuade them from a decision was the equivalent of trying to find a vegan with any functioning taste buds: you can try but why waste your time?

Here’s an example: Marjorie had difficulty getting around in her later years. She was getting stooped over more & more each year and she needed a hip-replacement. Despite her growing list of limitations, she still forced herself to get up and go as best she could. After my mother, Mildred, bit the big one in 2017, I gave Marjorie one of Mom’s three canes. It was adjustable, so I knew it would be ideal for her shrinking stature (she went from 5’6” to 4’9” over time). I took it down to its lowest level and showed it to her. She wrapped her well-manicured fingers around the handle cautiously, sizing up both the cane and what it represented. She politely thanked me, assuring me that it would be beneficial to her “down the road.” She then asked me to place it in the corner of the living room. I did as she asked and, as God is my witness, that cane stayed in the corner, collecting dust, for nearly two years. She never once used it.

Flash forward to 1:11am on February 12, 2019. Marjorie had passed away less than an hour earlier. The intimate gathering was silently waiting for the arrival of the funeral director. We had convened in the living room, quietly immersed in our own moods and memories. There wasn’t a single sound outside of the sporadic sniffle or sigh. We were all startled back into the present by a loud unexpected crash. The unused cane had just toppled to the floor. A communal gasp filled the room, followed by a ripple of stunned silence. Never one to miss a beat, that’s when I started laughing. Either my mother was swinging by—just making her (unwelcome) presence known—or it was Marjorie letting me know that she still had no need for that cane! I’m sticking with the latter because I just stubbornly refuse to give mom any more credit than I absolutely must at this point.

If Marjorie had a theme song to her life, I’m convinced it would have been “My Way.”

After the funeral, the executor offered me the opportunity to purchase Marjorie’s car from the estate. It was being offered to me at the Kelly Bluebook value. A heck of a good deal on a 2006 Dodge Charger with only 10,607 miles on it. Yup. You read that right. A 13-year-old automobile that had averaged nearly 816 miles per year. It was literally a car that was driven by a little old lady once a week. She had to stop driving it because she could no longer see over the dashboard. It had been kept in a garage and was in pristine condition. George & Marjorie were extreme car enthusiasts. They had both been stockcar racers in the 50’s and 60’s (and had plenty of trophies to prove it). They owned a highly successful Chrysler dealership for nearly 30 years. You could say motor oil raced through their veins. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, the car would be in excellent shape.

Of course, as is my custom, I hesitated. While still a helluva deal, it would take a noticeable hunk out of my savings. But, in order to go beyond my home to expand my work base, I would have to go beyond my means, not to mention my overall comfort zone. How friggin’ poetic. As usual, I found myself asking for a sign. Fun Fact: in storytelling, this is referred to as “foreshadowing.”

Something I almost always do is check any form of numerology connected to an event. Later that evening, I stepped out of the warmth of their home into the brisk winter West Virginia air. And by “brisk” I’m referring to single digit temps. I firmly believe “six” should NOT a temperature. At best it’s an amusing misspelling of “sex” or the number of days in a week I wish to dine on cheesecake. Nothing more. I stepped into the garage and added up the license plate. It totaled a five. In numerology, five is the number of big ass change. Sure, most numerologists leave out the ass, but I feel it accurately gets the idea across. Getting the car would most certainly be a big ass change in my life. One for the Other Side.

However, my mother was also a five. Shit. I shook that one off, sticking valiantly to the idea she has nothing to do with this (OR my life) on ANY level.

Stubbornly, I checked the vehicle identification number. This number, a distant cousin of pi, is a long rambling series of digits composed of numbers AND letters. I reached an 11 by totaling up the numbers of the VIN alone. This made me quite happy. My peeps often use an 11 as a “thumbs up” from them. But something/someone was nudging me to add-in the numerical equivalent of the letters, too.

Well, shit. Five. (insert intense stare accented by furrowed brow here)

I turned on my nearly numb heel and went back inside, the sound of the garage door descending in the background. I sat at the kitchen table for quite sometime pondering my situation. The only sound in the house was the monotonous ticking of a clock. At least that’s what I assumed it was. After awhile I realized the tick-tick-ticking was my own forefinger on my left hand tapping the table. I just sat back and laughed.

I do that a lot these daze (not a misspelling BTW).

I shook my head and said, probably aloud, “What should I do, Leigh?” Asking advice from a dead person is a pretty normal activity for me these days. I almost said “paranormal activity” but I opted to avoid the pun. Damn friggin’ mature of me, don’cha think?

I was to give my decision the next day. Prior to calling in my choice, I bundled up like Ralphie’s baby brother in ‘A Christmas Story’ and walked to the local McDonald’s. This was the only location where I could sign onto the internet. My cell provider has no cell towers in the backwoods area, so this was my only option to discover what was still going on in the world. After thawing out, using the steam of my hot chocolate to spring my metacarpals back to life, I checked my email. After scanning through a mercifully small assortment, my eyes and heart stopped when I saw an email bearing the simple subject line of LEIGH.

It was an email from one of Leigh’s daughters. Stunned does not even begin to cover what I was feeling. I have not heard a peep from any of her children since the day of her funeral 12 years earlier. The day after I nonchalantly tossed Leigh’s hat into the ring of the situation, this girl—nay, young woman—decides to reach out to me. Holy Expletive, Batman. She opened the email with this:

“I’m not sure why I feel nervous to reach out to you,
I remember you being a very warm and welcoming person. 😊
I’ve wanted to contact you for a few years now.”

I sat there, dumbfounded, on the verge of tears. My emotional upheaval must have been more noticeable than I thought because a fellow patron asked me if I was ok. I just said my nuggets were especially good that day and waved them on… Leigh was always one to insist on going after the brass ring. Taking chances was as commonplace as inhaling and exhaling for her. So, with a lump in my throat and its twin in my gut, I bought Marjorie’s car.

Right after signing the paperwork, I drove the car to the cemetery where George & Marjorie are buried. I wanted to offer a simple ‘thank you’ for this opportunity. As a medium, I know I don’t HAVE to go where the physical body is located. I know that’s not them. That’s simply the outfit they wandered around in, nothing more. But the physical part of me needed to be humored. George & Marjorie are buried, alongside their own parents, in the back part of the large graveyard. However, my great-grandmother (George’s grandmother), is in a lone plot just as you first enter the property. I stopped the car, parked, and walked across the crumbling roadway to her gravesite. I couldn’t just drive on by without saying “HELLO.” That would be rude, and I was raised better than that.

LoneCandyI gave my silent tribute to my great-grandmother as I wiped away some wet leaves from her flat marker. I then turned to head back to my car (admittedly, it still felt awkward thinking of it as “my car”). Something caught my eye as I returned to my car. Something small and white to the rear of it reflected a glint from the sun attempting to peek through the rolling winter clouds. I walked over to it and was simply dumbfounded. As God is my witness, it was one of those lifesaver mints! Keep in mind that the mint was on the ground several feet behind the car. When I got Car&amp;Candyout of the car, I walked directly across the street to my ancestor’s burial spot. I did not walk BEHIND the car and then across. There was no way one of those mints could have fallen out of the car when I opened the door, nor could it have fallen out of my pocket as I crossed the road (sans the chicken). Upon seeing it there, all wrapped up in its cozy cellophane wrapper, I had no choice but to just burst out laughing. That’s pretty much my custom for just about everything these days.

I drove back to their now all-too-silent home. I steered the Dodge behemoth into the garage, my face still aching from all that non-stop smiling all the way back. I glanced at the clock and realized for the first time that the time was no more accurate than a lackadaisical dieter’s weight log. I opened the glovebox to retrieve the owner’s manual. It’s a thick novella filled with far too many mechanical instructions for my taste. My general knowledge of the workings of an automobile is as follows:

1) Slip key into ignition.

2) Turn key.

3) Magic elves make it work.

I thumbed through the index but, alas, there was no mention of elves, gnomes or lawn fairies to be found. It’s always sad when a long held belief system is drop-kicked to the curb. My chubby index finger found its way to the page number that would allegedly provide me with SIMPLE EASY TO UNDERSTAND steps to setting the accurate time on the clock. I didn’t WANT to duct tape a Timex onto the dashboard, but I was most certainly not above such a solution if painted into a corner. I thumbed through the pages, but my plight was halted by a bookmark of sorts. My lips pursed as my eyes bulged out of their respective sockets as I realized what I had found. The bookmark was a Christmas gift tag that read, “To Marjorie From Mildred with Love.”

XmasTagI did the only thing I could do: I bounced my head off of the steering wheel a few times. Try it. It’s surprisingly refreshing.

So, yea, I’m willing to bet on the fact that George & Marjorie set the whole thing up. And, apparently, they had a wee bit of help. Ahem. There’s no doubt in my skeptical mind that they’re all three gloating about it. Honestly, I can’t say I blame ‘em. With that being said, “Thanks, George. Thanks, Marjorie… (insert heavy sigh of semi-defeat here) … and thanks, Mom.”

 

 

 

 

 


Car

“MY” Car.

“Well I’m not braggin’ babe so don’t put me down,
But I’ve got the fastest set of wheels in town.
When something comes up to me, he don’t even try
‘Cause if I had a set of wings man, I know she could fly.”

—The Beach Boys, ‘Little Deuce Coupe’

October 4, 2018

A Clowning Achievement

“You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!”

– Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), ‘Sunset Boulevard’

 

MOVIES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MY SOLACE. I’ve retreated deeply into them for nearly as far back as I can remember. I could get sucked into those celluloid worlds projected on the screen effortlessly. All that surrounded me would be forgotten, at least temporarily, with an inaudible sigh of gratitude. The images flickering before my adolescent eyes were the equivalent of a crocheted sampler testifying to the sugary goodness of home.

Comedic Romps, live action and animated, were my favorites. No shock there. My grandmother introduced me to Laurel & Hardy before I started kindergarten. My mother opened my eyes to even more when she dragged me to see ‘Funny Girl’ at the local cinema one Saturday afternoon. I was only 7 so I wanted to stay home so I could play with my best (and only) friend at the time. Nope. She said I had to go. I was NOT happy. This was a movie about a girl…AND, if that wasn’t bad enough, the girl would be singing! Ick. If Godzilla or The Boys weren’t in the movie then I was NOT interested. A dinosaur destroying a city or two grown children donning matching bowlers were all it took to make me happy. Much to my own shock, I was totally enamored within the first 20 minutes of the movie. As Babs uttered her first words on screen, “Hello, Gorgeous!”, I was expressing the exact same sentiment to REAL film. My mother, without knowing it, had just created a monster.

Honestly, the only time Mom & I really got along was during a movie. An afternoon at the Eastland Theater was our Treaty of Versailles. To this day the wafting aroma of popcorn gives me the urge to scan the sky for a white flag fluttering in the breeze.

One of my absolute favorite distractions was Jerry Lewis. Of course, like many of my Jurassic era, my first introduction to his zany trademark of humor was through the brilliant teaming of Lewis with his partner in comedic crime, Dean Martin. I was enthralled by their physical antics paraded before my impressionable mind. As I aged, rapidly depreciating like a Yugo driven off a car lot, the bantering of Martin & Lewis captivated me as well. Of course, the duo split 5 years before my appearance this time around. But, thanks to TV syndication, I was able to catch up with all that I missed in a relatively short amount of time.

I took part in three neighborhood backyard carnivals for Muscular Dystrophy. The summers of 1974 through 1976 were pretty much devoted to pulling together the events. My friend, Jerry Neel, was the “Ringmaster” and I was the devoted Carny. I created all of the posters—duh—that were put in various shop windows around town. Jerry and I would walk to each and every store on Adams Street (the main thoroughfare through downtown) asking for donations of items to use as prizes for the carnivals. We were rarely refused. A different time, a different place, ya know? We incorporated many of the kids in the neighborhood to participate in any way possible. Our mom’s would make cupcakes for us to sell. It was quite the big to-do! And, at the end of it all, we’d receive official certificates acknowledging what we’d done. The certificate was emblazoned with a photo of both Jerry Lewis and our own local children’s show sponsor, Paul Shannon (from WTAE-4 in Pittsburgh). Their pre-printed signatures were even on it so you KNEW it was completely official! Our names would be TYPED on each individual’s certificate. Of course, MY last name was ALWAYS misspelled: FILLUS. Good God. So my mother would take the certificate to work and correct it on her typewriter. The problem was that the original misspelled name was in all CAPS and Mom would make the correction (to the last name) in an initial CAP followed by lowercase letters. So it read “CHARLES Filius.” Oh, yea, my OCD was SOOOOO cool with that…ahem. Either way, I was extremely proud of those little pieces of paper. And, yes, I still have them!

I diligently watched the 24-hour MDA telethons for many, MANY years. I not only found it “cool” to stay up into the wee-hours of the morning, but I was enraptured in the solitude it provided. Everyone else would eventually go to bed and just leave me the hell alone. I was in bliss. Of course, the single greatest memory I have of those all-nighters was in 1976 when Dean Martin stepped out on stage, surprising his former partner after a 20-year separation. I’ve always been a sucker for emotional reunion scenarios—it’s that whole adoptee thing—and this event has always been the one I dog-eared in my well-worn book of life’s experiences.

I’m sure you’re wondering by now just WHY I was such a fan (See? I really AM psychic!). My adoration of the genius of Jerry Lewis was sealed when I was about 8 or 9 years old. This was the time when I saw ‘The Family Jewels’ for the very first time. This movie tackled my life like a fat kid diving after the last piece of pizza on grandma’s Formica kitchen table. The film only takes up 108 minutes of linear time. However, it has played on a continuous loop in my heart & soul from day one. And it will continue to do so until there’s no more pizza left for me to covet.

WARNING! Mega spoilers are looming ahead. So, either stop reading right now, rent the movie and then return to the prose before you OR toss caution aside, like a plate of kale, and continue reading. Like a Nevada brothel, I like to offer a wide array of choices.

Here’s the rundown… A young heiress (the late Donna Butterworth in her debut screen performance) has just lost her parents in a tragic accident. Her father has left a provision in his will that she is, in the event of their deaths, to be raised by one of her uncles, all portrayed by Lewis. She is to spend some time with each uncle and then decide with whom she wishes to be raised. Who can’t relate to THAT situation? Her only companion throughout this massive undertaking is the family chauffeur, Willard (also played by Jerry Lewis). Each uncle is quite unique. They all possess eccentric personalities as well as outlandish outfits and make up to fully solidify the comedic enhancements of each. Willard, on the other hand, is about as normal as you can get. He is a bit clumsy and he tends to wear his shoes on the wrong feet. Other than that, he’s just a regular sweet guy. He clearly cares for Donna and vice-versa.

Her Uncle Eddie is a pilot. Uncle John is a sea captain. There’s also Uncle Bugs, a bungling 30’s-type gangster. Uncle Everett is a circus clown while Uncle Skylock is a world renowned private-eye. Rounding up this mob of misfits is Uncle Julius, a famous fashion photographer (Lewis uses his Nutty Professor character in this particular role). The only uncle she doesn’t interact with is the circus clown. As she is approaching his tent, her suitcase clutched in her orphaned hand (I suppose a handkerchief at the end of a stick wasn’t the best choice for an heiress), she overhears him talking to some of his fellow clowns. He tells them that he’s been stashing his paychecks into Swiss banks for years so he could one day leave the circus as well as the country. He makes a point to mention, a number of times, how he won’t be missing “those screaming brats” in the audience. Young Donna hears this and, while crestfallen, immediately realizes he certainly isn’t the father she wants or needs.

Wrapping up a slowly unraveling ribbon of words, the final scene takes place in the offices of her late father’s attorney. All of the uncles have come together (with the exception of Everett, the clown) to hear Donna’s final decision. She announces while she enjoyed meeting all of six of her uncles, she wants Willard to be her father. No shock there. A blindfolded man in a power grid outage could see that one barreling down the pike. The attorney slammed the brakes on her choice, of course, stating that The Will clearly dictates that it must be one of the uncles. Unhappy with this situation, she simply announces she’ll just run away (a tactic I use to this very day, especially when I’m stuck in line at the DMV). As she bolts toward the door, in an attempt to flee, it opens and Uncle Everett enters. He’s wearing dark slacks, a tan over coat and he’s wearing his full facial clown makeup. With a lit cigarette casually dangling in his right hand, he kind of resembles Emmett Kelly with a wise guy attitude. He says, “What’s your hurry, Sweetheart? You must be Donna. Aren’t you going to consider your dear Uncle Everett. I’d make a good father. C’mon, I’m in a hurry. I gotta make it back and do another show. Those little brats are waiting.” Donna looks him up and down for a quick second, grins and then announces that she has chosen her Uncle Everett to be her father. Of course, it’s Willard donning the pancake makeup. Donna knew it was Willard when she saw that he had his shoes, as always, on the wrong feet. And they lived happily ever after…

The reason this movie hit me so hard was the realization that a child found someone to take care of her, to love her and, more than anything, keep her from harm. I remember watching this on my grandparent’s RCA Color TV and fighting back tears. It was as if my heart was screaming to be released from its confinement in my rib cage. I grew up in a very dark home. Not the house, but the home. My mother was simply one of the meanest people I’ve ever had the misfortune of knowing. She danced back & forth over the line of cruelty with such frequency that she should have held dual citizenship in both heaven & hell. The constant berating, emotionally and physically, was the only constant I had growing up. I never knew when or why she’d strike but, I assure you, it would eventually get there. Sometimes I’d see it brewing off in the distance, like watching a thunderstorm slowly approaching across the plains of Indiana. Other times it would swing in with great force like Poe’s pendulum. It might not cut you on the first swing-by, but in the end, it will deeply wound. And all I could do was lay there, tied to the stone pedestal, watching it come closer and closer with rhythmic certainty. I did my best to ensure the eyes in the back of my head were as close to 20/20 as possible. My layers of survival relied on it. I was very adept at ducking on instinct. I guess you could say it was the initial training ground of my intuitive abilities.

I received a great gift as I sat basking in the warm glow of both the television and the movie: hope. For the first time in my life. For the first time I had hope that there was someone, somewhere, who would not want to hurt me. Someone who would want to love me, to care for me. The hope that my life would get better. This film, and the message wrapped within it, truly changed my life. I held a death grip on that hope every day, like an alcoholic clutching the bottle cap from the last beer they ever drank.

Is it any wonder I’m far more comfortable with the dead than the living?

I did not see that movie again until some 40 years later. Something was nagging me to see it again. If I’ve learned anything as a medium, it’s to do your best to address the nagging. Some call it “inspiration from Spirit.” I prefer to call it what it is: disembodied dead guys booting me in the head. I rented the film through Netflix and had a long overdue visit with an old cinematic friend. This time, however, it had an even greater impact on me. As a child, of course, the name of the “uncle” she chose meant nothing to me. But this time around it really shook me to my core. Everett was the name of my biological father. He was a man whose face had been hidden from me, as if covered in clown makeup, for the first 33 years of my life. He was loving and understanding and, like a true clown, one of THE funniest people I’ve ever known. He even died ON April Fool’s Day. You just have to admire his dedication to a great gag. So, at age 55, I sat once again in front of another RCA television (a flat screen this go-around) and cried my eyes out.

Yea. I’m a walking batch of Hallmark movies bundled together.

I decided I really needed to find a way to reach out to Jerry Lewis and share this story with him. I’d probably leave the whole “medium” thing out of it. Why amp up a communication from someone who may initially be regarded as a crazy fan at the onset, right? I wanted to simply thank him for helping a frightened young boy get through a time-old situation. I diligently searched the internet until I found what seemed like a valid address for his representation. I really decided to push the envelope and send him a piece of memorabilia for him to sign (return postage would be included, of course…I may be enthusiastic but I am also cost conscious!). I have an original lobby card for ‘The Family Jewels’ in my oddly grouped collection of odd-n-ends. I knew, on some level, that if the letter AND item actually reached him, there was a good chance I would not get a reply. Honestly, I didn’t really care. All I really wanted was for him to know he made an immeasurable difference in my life. I sent the intent and was hoping for the best.

20181003_202352Of course, this delightful plan of mine was thwarted when, on August 20, 2017, Jerry Lewis passed away. I know what you’re thinking: “Hey! It’ll be really easy to talk to him now!” Har-dee-har-har. You’re so funny. Sure, I can talk to him, but how can I get the autograph of a dead guy? I don’t think automatic writing would be valid, but I digress. What makes this particularly whimsical is that I heard of his passing on the car radio. Kelsey, my frequent cohort in varied ventures, and I had just parked the car in LA where we were going to see medium George Anderson. And, yes, I received my second earth-moving reading from him that day (no, Jerry Lewis did not come through). Interesting timing, don’cha think?

Hey, I tried, right? Since I could not thank him personally (or through the mail), I thanked him profusely through the ethers. As a medium I know, beyond any doubt, that he could hear me. And I’m totally good with that.

Flash forward to August 17, 2018, three days shy of the first anniversary of his passing. I received an email from the Hollywood Show store. They send out announcements of upcoming shows, festivals, even sales of memorabilia of old Hollywood. Yes, I’m THAT big of a nerd. But you should know that already. They had 300 previously owned autographed celebrity photos up for sale. They’d been accumulated from estate sales, other collectors, etc. I decided to browse through the items offered because it involved one of my favorite pastimes: sitting. For the highly sought ‘hoots & giggles’, I searched the collection for any photos already endorsed to ‘Charles’. How easy is that? Get a semi-personalized photo from a movie star without the hassle of prompting a restraining order. God, but I love the convenience of the internet! Out of 300 photos there was only ONE that had been inscribed to a ‘Charles’.

Yup. Jerry Lewis.JerryLewis

You don’t have to be psychic to know I purchased it immediately. So, yea, he heard me. The intent in my gratitude was received and noted. How’s THAT for hope realized?

If you take anything away from this missive, my friends, it’s this simple fact: your loved ones in Spirit hear you. While I always feel it’s best to say what needs to be said while they’re with us on this side of the veil, it is never too late to reach out. Take a moment and send out an ‘I love you’, ‘I miss you’ or even a genuine ‘thank you.’ It WILL be heard.

I hope this helps…

 

“I am probably the most selfish man you will ever meet in your life.
No one gets the satisfaction or the joy that I get
out of seeing kids realize there is hope.”

– Jerry Lewis

 

July 15, 2018

By George, Writing IS Cathartic

Filed under: Family Memories,In Memoriam,RIP,Uncategorized — cfilius @ 4:22 am

I lost one of the great ones this morning. George is my mother’s first cousin, 3 years her junior. They, along with my Mom’s big sister, Ruth, were inseparable growing up. This same connection carried on through adulthood. Mom and Aunt Ruth always referred to him the brother they never had. When they’d bring this up, George would respond with, “If I was your little brother WHY did you put me in a dress and drag me around the neighborhood in a wagon?” Then everyone would howl with laughter.

He worked in West Virginia coal mines “back in the day”. He worked in a furniture store. And wherever he worked he always advanced up the ranks. If there was a job to be had, George would get it. The depression didn’t stop him. His father abandoned the family when he was just a small boy. He knew he had to help his mother and grandmother earn money to “keep the family going”, as he always said. He honestly didn’t know the meaning of the words “no” or “can’t”. In 1969, he bought a Chrysler dealership in a tiny West Virginia town that didn’t even have a daily newspaper. His mother’s brother, Charlie, thought he was nuts for doing that. “You’ll never make a go of it!” he said. (Our Uncle Charlie was just a a pound shy of a pound of sunshine let me tell ya…)

George made more than “a go of it.” He was a top seller in the Chrysler corporation for many years. From the time he bought the business, in 1969, until he retired 25 years later, he was awarded several trips, Cancun & Las Vegas among many, by the corporation. He would be traveling with people who owned huge dealerships in large cities. Dealerships that employed several sales people. George, on the other hand, had one salesman: himself. He had a gift of gab, this man. He could sell ice to an Eskimo and condoms to the Pope. Being the unassuming man that he was, he always credited his customers with being his sales team. “Treat people right and they’ll tell everybody.” He was right.

He and his wife were inducted into the West Virginia Motorsports Hall Of Fame in 2017. George & Marjorie were forces to be reckoned with in the early days of car racing in West Virginia. I would visit them as a small child and see SO many trophies throughout the house. At that age I had NO idea they raced cars. All I knew was that my cousin had a boatload of trophies and plaques. I had NO inkling of what they did but it was obviously something REALLY cool! As I grew older, he would share drag racing stories with me. I would just sit and listen in total awe. This conservative man had been hell on wheels and he hung out with the likes of Richard Petty. You’d never know it unless you asked. He was humble. He was kind. He was understanding. He was intelligent. He was generous. He was all of those things, and much more. But more than anything, he IS loved.

He was also wickedly funny. Whenever I’d visit he’d say to his wife of over 70 years, “Margie! What have I told you about keeping that door locked!” or “Margie! Just slip him a few pennies through the door. Don’t let him in because he’ll think we’re gonna feed him!”

I would usually reply with, “That’s why I come here, George. For the respect. I haven’t received it yet but I keep hoping.”

He’d nod his head and say, “You’ve got a loooong wait, Charlie.” Then we’d just burst out laughing. By George, I’m gonna miss the laughs… and him. But, thank God, I had him in my life for 57 years. RIP.

GeorgeMontage100

 

 

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