Pondering the Pavement

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 16, 2018

A Fun Walk, A Short Tear

walkinsSomeone sent this little ditty to me early this morning. I’m sure my neighbors really appreciated my garish laugh echoing throughout the apartment building at 4am. I feel we’re even since their dog wakes me up scampering across their wooden floor every morning (trim your dog’s nails for cryin’ out loud!).

I find this random tweet hysterically funny because it reminds me of one of the last fairly coherent conversations I had with my mother a few days prior to her passing last year. She was being visited by one of her distant cousins (by some kind of marriage, twice removed and with a side of slaw). The pseudo-relative’s personality makes Melba Toast seem like one spicy meatball, lemme tell ya.

Out of the blue my mother asked, “When are they taking me to the cemetery?”

Cousin Blasé Bland’s eyes widened as her head jerked back. Admittedly, I did a double take. I didn’t see that one coming (psychic boy that I am). “What did you say?” I asked. Don’t get me wrong, I heard her question quite clearly. I just wanted to see the cousin’s impression of a bobble head one more time.

Mom calmly said, “The cemetery. When will they take me there?”

“Soon,” I said softly. “It will be soon.”

DaCuz shot me a glance that just screamed, “STOP TALKING THAT WAY!” If reality were a cigarette, she would have been stomping it out with her boot.  Mom and I had “the talk” some time earlier. She knew she was dying. This was not a time for secrets.

Mom asked simply, “Tomorrow?”

“C’mon, Mom,” I replied automatically, “you have to meet us halfway. You have to die first.”

I honestly thought the pseudo-relative was going to implode onto herself. Her mouth gaped open, swaying in the wind of mom’s oxygen machine. Her glazed eyes mirrored those of Kimba the White Lion.

Mom, however, chuckled from the confines of her bed. After a well-timed pause (because timing IS everything), she said matter-of-factly, “I bet I could get a discount if I walked in myself.”

I burst out laughing, as is my custom. The Quasi-Cousin was horrifyingly appalled. Win/Win in my opinion. After the woman hurriedly left (within 5 minutes–she honestly couldn’t get out fast enough), Mom whispered, “Some people just don’t have a sense of humor, do they?”

I’ve said it many times before and I know I will utter these words many more times down the road (even from the other side, I’m sure): “Life IS the ultimate joke and the Dead ‘get it’.” Share the smiles, folks. It’s what helps keep us alive…

Here AND “There.”

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