talk in the night

in every place that holds a comb
a toothbrush
a roll of tape
or even grapes newly washed

a person takes a stand
hears the sounds of the night

a bird way out there
calls another
over there
way over there
lets me hear
the conversation

one of them shouts the steady talk
the other answers
a quick chirp
just enough to validate

both together tell me
that if I empty out
what’s inside
all the earthy material
in my gut
their calls can heal anything


I wrote this in January of this year and feel like sharing it again, as a way of connecting to the heartbreaking news that Naomi Bernhardt passed away last night after an automobile accident.

I crashed a party Saturday night

Her relationship with my parents was close and spanned the better part of the past century.  They owned businesses across the street from each other, and they had a standing Saturday night dinner arrangement — for decades.

It’s not my place to give details about a life that ended only yesterday — before the traditional grieving has even begun.

This is just to say she was a special person.  A member of a special family, with special circumstances.  A prominent member of her community.

And there’s a special connection.

For this day, that’s enough.

bright lights, little city

This was a beautiful, coolish, pre-autumn night.

The playing fields at Catawba were brightly lit — with remnants of activity.

Only the soccer filed was dark tonight.

The band had just finished practice on the football field.

A guy was doing a bit of grooming on the baseball field.

The volleyball court was lit, awaiting activity.

A pick-up threesome competed hard on the basketball court.

And there was a ladies doubles match on the tennis court.  As I was leaving, one of them poached into the server’s side of the court — fully stretched — and popped a hard backhand volley for a winner.  In my day, girls didn’t play doubles that way.

I grew up next to this campus, here in Salisbury, NC (my parents house).  And for the past twenty-four years, I’ve also lived next to the campus (my house).  That adds up to most of my life.  I guess I wouldn’t really want to live anywhere else.

It’s like living next to a park.  I enjoy observing the ebb and flow of life that school years mark.  The deadly quiet summers with brief flurries of camp activity.  The excitement of fall.  The inwardness of winter.  The bliss of spring.  The sudden vacancies of Christmas and spring break.  The students getting younger and younger — and younger — every year.

I crashed a party Saturday night

A rollicking bunch:  After all these years, they’re still partying on Saturday night.

For decades, this group has gotten together on Saturday nights for an evening out.  For most of those years, my father was there also.

(L to R) Leon Zimmerman, Phyllis Zimmerman, Naomi Berhnardt, Paul Bernhardt, Rose Post, Billy Burke

I’ve been there many times myself –  and not only on Saturdays.  For years, it was spaghetti night at Pockets also (Thursdays).

Tonight, I just happened to be visiting my mom when my uncle showed up and invited me to tag along for dinner.

I rode to Blue Bay with my Uncle Sonny and Aunt Phyllis.  I sat in the back seat, with Mom and Billy.  Phyllis drove.

I shared the small salmon plate with my Mom.  It was more than enough.

Dino, the owner, sent us a complimentary order of potato wedges.  I ate more of these than all the others put together.

My youngest daughter was there also — working.  She’s a waitress at Blue Bay. She has asked that I not go there while she is working, and I’ve honored that request.  But she seemed to be okay.

When we were leaving, it occurred to me that it’s been awhile since I’ve been with this group.  After my father passed away, four years ago, the Thursday nights at Pockets began to become more scarce.  And now, Pockets is closed.

Not all of them have been well.  My mom’s Alzheimer’s has progressed.  She’s fallen and hurt herself a few times and been unable to go out.

Others in this picture have spent time convalescing — at home, in nursing homes, rehab, and the hospital.

There have been issues with my siblings that have resulted in diminishing family get-togethers.

And I’m often distracted by work and whatever else I’m doing.

I’ve had many meals with many people — but the conversation with these folks is my favorite.

During dinner, Billy asked me if I had seen the latest play at Piedmont Players.  I said no and asked him if he had seen it.  He said it got a good review and he was going Thursday.  They discussed the play’s lead actress — someone worth discussing, apparently — but no one could remember her name or really anything about her.  Someone said this may be “her first play.”  Not so, someone else responded.  “She’s been in a lot of plays.”  Someone else said she may be “from out of town.”  Nobody really knew.  I could Google it, but I won’t.

Paul and I talked for a minute about Obama and the word on the street about his job performance. He remarked on how much various countries were giving to Haiti, compared to the U.S., and commented particularly on Russia’s measly contribution.

Paul described what he considers an incredibly heavy use of credit card shopping during this past Christmas season.

Naomi asked me what I was writing.  I told her that I had not been writing much, just the occasional blog, “on the internet.”  She advised me to write something like Coffee Therapy again, to protect what I write, and to keep it off the internet.

Leon asked me if I thought the Massachusetts Senate election marked a trend. I said yes, and then pontificated for a moment.

Billy said that Presidents always lose seats in mid-term elections.

I also told Leon, my dear uncle, in far too much detail, about how I had broken my printer today, in an effort to clean it.

Naomi said that Obama was spending so much money.  I kind of wanted to respond to this, but Mom interrupted before I could.

Conversation jumped from one interesting topic to another.  I missed some, having to help my mom across the restaurant to the restroom — three times.

As we were leaving, it occurred to me that this is a special group, and a special moment, and I needed a picture.

I announced my request that they gather for a picture, and somebody said, “Why?”

I didn’t want to say, “Well, I might not have so many opportunities to take this picture again.”

So I said I wanted to send it to my daughter, Sarah, in Alaska.  This reason was more than satisfactory, and they all gathered.

The next challenge was getting their attention.  I took one photo with everybody looking all over the place.  I don’t think my mother understood that I was trying to take a picture.

So I said, “Mom — look over here!”  Everybody looked, and I got this picture.  A fine looking group.

I think I know the age of everybody in this picture, within a year or two, but I will not report this here.  Suffice it to say, the average age, not counting me, is about 85.  (Counting me, it’s 80!).

Nor will I patronize them by discussing their resumés.  Suffice it to say, they are downtown folks, top community leaders from the heart of the 20th century history of Salisbury, NC.

All dear friends.  Not a Facebook page among them.  Still the best dinner conversation a person could ask for.

I never took Economics

full moon
full moon

This morning I watched some business news on TV. There was a good bit of talk about the recession ending.

I went to a lunch meeting. More talk of the recession ending.

Problem was, nobody was doing much business.

This afternoon, I called on a few retail businesses. A furniture store was calling it quits at the end of the week. A few others were hanging on by a thread.

This evening, on the way home, I listened to Ivy League economists talk about the recession. People are really hurting, they say. People are losing everything — but it’s almost over.

Even when it is over, they said, there are serious problems that have nothing to do with this recession. Health care. A huge shift of wealth to the top. The real problems began in 1980.

One guy called in to the radio and said his father was a librarian who earned enough to own two cars, take vacations, and send several children to college — while his wife stayed home and worked as a full-time mom.

It probably won’t be like that again.

A woman called. She just graduated from college and got a job that pays 30k per year. She lives at home and feels pretty trapped. She owes 40k for her education. Not that much, compared to many.

Here’s what I gather from all of this. It may be almost over. In fact, it may be over. But things won’t get better until consumers resume consuming. And — they won’t start buying stuff if they are afraid they will lose their jobs.

People are still losing jobs, but not as many.

When people feel safe about their jobs, they’ll start buying, and business will improve for everybody.

The stock market is great, but Main Street is all about jobs, fear, and hope.

Still, when it gets better, it won’t be that great.

That said — my wife fixed a really nice dinner and I took a pleasant, late-night walk with my dog.

I listened to some spiritual stuff — rather uplifting — under a very bright, almost full moon. Walked for an hour. Not as hot and humid as it was a couple of days ago. Pretty nice for early August in North Carolina.

full moon tonight
full moon tonight