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Free Association Friday #1: Just Some Things on My Mind

Updated on August 22, 2020
boxelderred profile image

I have been writing off and on for many years. Now that I'm retired from the work force, I'm dedicating more time to the craft I love.

This great horned owl was who was "hoo-ing" in our 'hood last night.  My sister says it was my mom (who adored owls) dropping in to check up on me.
This great horned owl was who was "hoo-ing" in our 'hood last night. My sister says it was my mom (who adored owls) dropping in to check up on me. | Source

It is 45° F (about 7° C) outside, and it’s beautifully clear. My water heater failed two days ago, and one of our local plumbing outfits will be out to replace it sometime today. In the past two weeks, we have had two bathroom sinks require repair (my wife now calls me Joe Plumber); we had a carousel fail in our kitchen cabinet; our screen door suffered wind damage (I fixed that, too, now she just calls me Joe); and last evening our kitchen garbage disposal went on the fritz. As my daughter says on occasion, “Adulting sucks.” Indeed. Fingers crossed that we won’t have to do any more of it than planned today.

This broken cabinet carousel was just one of several major fails we experienced around the house this week...and so it goes.
This broken cabinet carousel was just one of several major fails we experienced around the house this week...and so it goes. | Source

That said, I am in the mood to free associate this morning, and so I will turn this into Free Association Friday:

I watched CBS coverage of John Lewis’ funeral this week. We have not come as far as we could have and should have when it comes to equality in this country. Like the Republic itself, this is a work in progress, but I want to see us make more progress. Perhaps there are some similar troubles elsewhere in the world, but for my part I think we here in the US can and should do better. I lived in Montgomery, Alabama in the mid-70s. I was bussed to a school across town in order to force integration/desegregation. I was in junior high. Those were formative years for me. Time, age, knowledge, and education have enlightened my recollection of those days as just ‘another in the life’ of a military brat and turned it into an understanding of how extraordinary those events were in the life of our Republic. We young junior high and high school kids did not fully grasp the political and social enormity of those days. Instead, we were living the life in front of us, making the best of every moment. Perspectives probably focused on whether Johnny or Susie liked so-and-so and whether or not Calvin and I would be in the starting lineup when our George Washington Carver Wolverine basketball team played against our cross-town rivals the following week. I never knew how bad the racism was down there in and among all that until I went back and lived there again in the late-90s and things hadn’t really changed all that much. Indeed, the only thing that had really changed was my understanding of how the world works and how I would like to see it work.

I also heard it somewhere this week, and I’ll just say that I really want to believe that Abe Lincoln once said it: “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” I hope it’s true that he did. What a great mindset. I can think of a large handful of people to whom this applies.

Sunrise, 6 Aug 2020.  The week wasn't all that great, as weeks go.  But everyday this happens, and each time it does I'm reminded it's a reset, a new starting point.
Sunrise, 6 Aug 2020. The week wasn't all that great, as weeks go. But everyday this happens, and each time it does I'm reminded it's a reset, a new starting point. | Source

Too many people have already died from Covid-19. Especially in a civilized, developed country like ours. I wear a mask every time I go into a public space. When I ride my bike, I do not mask up, but I also ride alone and I stay far away from other people. I was maybe not happy, but at least relieved, to hear that the Big Sky football conference postponed their 2020 season yesterday. They will attempt it in the spring semester of 2021. The news was welcome because the hometown Idaho Vandals had nine positive virus tests since the early part of July, and there are at least 59 NCAA teams across the country who’ve had players post positive test results. I mean, I know it sucks to lose money and all, but it sucks worse to lose lives needlessly. Or change lives forever needlessly. At the end of the day, I think the decision was a wise one. Many, many young players around here were relieved to hear the news.

In 1983, I drove from South Dakota to Washington, D.C. to pick up my sister and bring her home after she separated from her husband and while she was waiting for her divorce to be finalized. Her mouth had been wired shut, she had to eat from a feeding tube. Her husband beat her up. When I told my girlfriend of the time I was going to DC, she made me promise to get a picture of the ruby slippers at the Smithsonian Museum. I was almost 22 years old that summer, and when I left home I had a full tank of gas, probably didn’t have any sunglasses but I did drive at night. I drove through Chicago on Interstate 90 along the way and I had an Amoco credit card for gas. Hit it! I don’t remember if the Blues Brothers came before or after that trip, but often times when I remember the trip I remember the movie, too. And Jake and Elwood. Gotta love those guys.

I can remember sleeping in my car in a rest stop in Pennsylvania on that trip. I didn’t feel unsafe doing it, either. I am not certain I’d do that now. No, let’s say that differently: I’m certain I’d not do that now. Anyway, I’ve digressed a bit. Back on track here: I rolled into DC and found myself driving down Martin Luther King boulevard, windows down (no AirCon in the yellow 1978 Subaru 5-speed I was driving), arm hanging out the driver’s side window. This must have looked like a signal of sorts because when I came to a stop sign, I was approached by folks young and old, seemingly coming out of the woodwork.

“Want a nickel bag? Need a dime bag? Hey man, I got some ‘ludes and some red ones, here, too.”

“I’m good, thanks.” Rolled up my window and moved on.

Next stop sign I come to, a guy approaches the car and he’s got a laundry bag over his shoulder.

“Hey man, wanna buy some flood lights?”


“You know, flood lights.” He opened his bag and pulled out two flood lights that looked like they’d just been removed from the top of a Jeep. You know, flood lights.

“Um…nope. I’m good.” And drove off rapidly.

Washington, DC in 1983 was a place you could very easily find debauchery if you wanted to. At one point on my adventure cruising through the heart of DC, I was less than two blocks away from Constitution Avenue and there were naked ladies dancing in street-facing front windows of several establishments along the way. There were signs with lots of Xs on them everywhere you looked.

I managed to make my way through that area, finding for the passing through that I somehow felt much less naïve than I’d been just a scant few hours before. I don’t think I ever got over my amazement, though, that all of this was happening just two blocks over from the street where the White House was located. Surreal. Still and all, next thing you know, I was at the Smithsonian without much trouble.

I found my way to the Wizard of Oz ruby red slippers display without much trouble, too. There was, however, some trouble in River City: the museum section containing the ruby slippers was closed. There were two gold-topped stanchions there with a fat red velvet rope hanging between them and a sign that read, “Display closed.”

I panicked for a moment, worried I wasn’t going to be able to keep my word to my girlfriend. But then I did what any red-blooded young man would do in that situation: I looked around the joint, cut my eyes from side to side, went deftly under the rope and directly to the display stand. It said, “No pictures allowed.” Damn, this really wasn’t my day.

Well, once again, I did what anyone else in my shoes would have done, I think. Actually, I did what I felt like I had to do, given the mission I was on: I snapped a couple of Kodak pictures anyway. I had one of those disposable cameras, I believe, but even if it wasn’t a disposable (I honestly just don’t remember), it had an automatic flash on it, so every time I took a picture the camera flashed. I gulped every time it did, but still took several shots from several different angles for good measure, then scooted on out of there. Believe it or not, I did not spend any more time at the Smithsonian than it took me to enter, find the red slippers and ignore the signs so I could fulfill my girlfriend’s wish. Mission accomplished. Well…sort of.

Weeks later, when I got the developed pictures back, every single shot of the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz had a reflection of a big bright flash in the glass display case, which completely blocked out any view of the slippers themselves. There was one shot where you could tell that there were red shoes in the case…but nothing so definitive that anyone would believe you if you told them it was an actual picture of the shoes worn by Dorothy / Judy in the classic film. <Sigh>

We made it back to South Dakota from DC, too, obviously. I remember driving through Chicago during rush hour traffic with a screaming, poopy-diapered baby in the back and one very upset two-year old who was really only upset because his baby sister was not happy. Where can you stop in rush hour traffic in Chicago on the interstate? Nowhere. So you don’t. We pushed on and found a spot closer to Wisconsin. Then, as we drove through Wisconsin in the rain late that evening, we went under a bridge along the way and there were six or eight racoons in the roadway scattering in different directions. The best, safest course of action in the pouring, puddling rain was straight on through, sadly. I found pink mist and animal hairs on my bumper when we finally stopped some hours later.

Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles

I wanted to talk more today about riding in the cool 60° evening air last night while I was wearing Walmart gym shorts; a WSU Cougs t-shirt I got for free when I helped during freshman move-in back in 2011; Hanes socks and Blundstones boots. I could have stayed out all night long riding up and down the block. It was cool, serene, peaceful, mind-clearing. Truthfully, all I thought about was the Stones, The Outfield, Bob Dylan, Joan Jett and the Black Hearts, the Beatles. The jar by the door had a face in it. Think about lyrics like that and where they might have come from.

I once had a line pop into my head when I was in college dinking around on my guitar in my dorm room one evening: “I found the brick that was missing from Mrs. Robinson’s windowsill.”

That line popped in and never left. There’s a bit of a riff that goes with it, too, but there is nothing else, absolutely nothing else. A few notes, one line of lyrics, nothing else. I told my mom about it once, and she said that’s how hit songs are born. This one will never be a hit song or anything else, though, because it will never be finished. Indeed, what I’m about to end this with below is probably the umpteenth version of something I’ve written to go with it, and I concocted this one early this morning at about 0430. This was after I’d already started another version of it some number of days or weeks ago, chasing a completely different tack: how bricks used to be made and laid in the old days. I’m not happy with any of these versions now, but I’m putting this one out there because it took so much of my time away from me this morning.

And so it goes.

Ok, enough of Free Association Friday. I didn’t even get to Mr. Victor, or watching the Montgomery Rebels play baseball. I also went to a Blue-Gray football game with my dad one time. And Mr. Cochran invented Woolite, and Mr. Carpenter threw an eraser at my head (I deserved it), and Mrs. Moe and our football coach and our biology teacher and lots and lots and lots of other things that come to mind when you really free associate.

Let’s end this here, and add to it a hope that you one and all have a very good weekend. Be well and be safe, wherever you are on this big blue marble.

The Missing Brick

I found the brick that was missing

From Mrs. Robinson’s windowsill

I’ve no idea know how it got there

I sometimes wonder if I ever will

It was in the sand in the box

Where the young kids used to play

But that was long ago, 13 years

Three months, and some number of days

I keep the brick in my home

Locked up in a chest of drawers

In an old Roi-Tan Trumps box

I don’t really look at it much anymore

But I think a lot about the children

And the way they used to run

Around and round the neighborhood

Everything they did was fun

Who put the brick in the sandbox?

I suppose I wonder still

But I’ve really no idea how it got there

And I am certain I never will

© 2020 greg cain


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    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      5 weeks ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      Thanks, Ms. Dora. Your comment here is among my very favorite of those I've ever received. And I imagine it would be a real treat to visit with you in person! Have a blessed day and weekend.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for sharing your reflections. You're so real. Reading you was like enjoying a real visit.

    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      6 weeks ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      Sha - don’t mind at all, and much enjoyed hearing about your teachers from the day. Interesting perspective on the face in the jar. It is definitely a sad song and she died and was buried alone so maybe there’s something to that interpretation, depressing as it is. In any case, this is one of the many reasons I love the Beatles’ songs so much. Have a great evening!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 weeks ago from Central Florida

      Box, I'd like to put in my two cents to RoadMonkey's comment, if you don't mind.

      When I was in Catholic school in Philly, we had a teacher who left the convent (good for her - she was cute!). In 7th grade, she'd have us analyze current songs. Two that stand out in my mind are "Eleanor Rigby" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water". (She was so cool!)

      The way we/I interpreted the line "she kept her face in a jar by the door" referred to makeup. Trying to make herself pretty, but no one ever visited her. Eleanor Rigby died alone. No one knew of her beauty or her loneliness. Another interpretation is that she "put on a face" when answering the door so no one would see her depression.

      In addition to that teacher (I can't remember her name to save my life), we had a male teacher, at the same time, who left the monastery before becoming a priest. His name was Frank Woodeshick, Tom Woodeshick's (who played for the Philadelphia Eagles) brother. I think he and the lady teacher had something going on. They were the only lay people who taught at our school. All other teachers were nuns.

      Both were great teachers. Obviously, they both left a positive mark on me. I remember and appreciate them to this day.

      Sorry about your RA. I didn't know.

      Have a great rest of your Sunday, Box.


      Sha Sha

    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      6 weeks ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      Sha Sha - yes, indeed, it has been a week to remember! Old Man Murph needs to stay away for a while! As for the guitar...well...I don't have the hands I used to have since RA took them away when I was a very young man. I can play some notes, but I couldn't possibly play well enough to record something and post it. Sigh.

      I think, too, that my singing voice might scare the help. ;)

      I don't know for certain if I can/will do a Free Association Friday routinely or not, but I have given it some thought. It had occurred to me on several other occasions when my brain would not shut off or adhere, cohere or otherwise stay somewhere in the here and now. I'd say it'll probably happen again but I don't know when.

      Have a blessed, rested weekend, my friend. And as always, thanks for dropping by!

    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      6 weeks ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      Ms. RoadMonkey - you know, I just love that line. Who is it for, that face in the jar? One could sit around and ponder the lyric all day, wondering about its meaning, its origin and so forth. I absolutely adore the memory of your riding with your parents in the car. I am confused at how anyone could not like the Beatles, of course, though the vivid memory evoked and shared is outstanding. Thanks for that. I am certain you'll be one of very few folks to listen to the song, as well, as most people don't do the videos on these types of articles. Hope you have a blessed day, RoadMonkey.

    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      6 weeks ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      Abby, thanks and yes, I agree. 2020 has been an interesting year, with Covid-19 being only one part of the surreality. Thanks for checking out my article, and thanks for the comment. Very much appreciated.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 weeks ago from Central Florida

      Box, I love riding around in your roller coaster of a brain. It's funny the things that pop into our heads when we give our minds free reign, isn't it?

      Man, you've had one hell of a week! Murphy stopped by and definitely overstayed his welcome, huh? But then, Murphy never is welcome!

      I love your song. Why don't you get out your guitar and make a video of you singing it and add it to this post? I think that would be pretty awesome.

      Will Free Association Friday become a thing for you? I'd love to hear more!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      6 weeks ago from UK

      This is an interesting journey through your thought process. The red slipper photos made me smile. I was impressed by your determination to get the photos. Shame about the flash though. The poem rounds off this piece well.

    • RoadMonkey profile image


      6 weeks ago

      It's amazing which memories stay clear to us and which disappear. That was a great version of Eleanor Rigby, I put the headphones on to listen to it and closed my eyes and I could remember me listening to it in a car, as my parents drove us round on a trip to Ireland. My parents were not fond of the Beatles and I remember my mother saying she didn't understand the term "wearing a face that she kept in a jar by the door", she thought it was creepy.

    • Abby Slutsky profile image

      Abby Slutsky 

      6 weeks ago from LAFAYETTE HL

      This was an interesting ramble. I also liked your ending poem. It is amazing how COVID has affected everyone and their perception of the world.

    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      6 weeks ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      Bill - FWIW, I'm glad the toaster missed. FYI, the eraser did, too, but it made a nice pop against the back classroom wall, and white chalk dust floated slowly down to the floor next to my desk chair. He just wanted me and my buds to pay attention in class because he was putting his heart and soul into the teaching of Trig to us. He was right. I was wrong.

      I loved the open road, too, and pine for days when time and circumstances would permit the free and carefree, ill-planned, just-get-up-and-go type adventure I used to embark upon in my college days. Maybe when the nest is empty my bride and I will do some of that...

      Good weekend, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      That was a fun read. You had me thinking about several impromptu road trips back when I was free and carefree. God I loved the open road.


      My ex-wife once threw a toaster at me...she missed...that would have hurt....and yes, I deserved it!

    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      6 weeks ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      Wow, Fran, that's some serious driving! I can remember doing lots of cross country trips like that when I was much younger. I'd only stop and take cat naps along the way, then back on the road. Now it's much more of a production if and when we drive long distances. I think 1000 miles would be at least a two day trip for me, now. Anyway, I know exactly the feeling you're talking about with the yearn to stop and see and do so much more. Our country is so vast, so full of possibility and areas to explore.

      Thanks for taking a look, and have a great weekend!

    • powers41 profile image

      fran rooks 

      6 weeks ago from Toledo, Ohio

      Loved your story! Memories are so important and cost nothing. Thank goodness we all have them to refresh ourselves. I had a similar solo trip from Florida to Oregon and also slept in rest areas and I was a widow and over 60 at the time. But I saw our country wishing I could stop and look at it all. 3500 miles in 5 days.

    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      6 weeks ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      Eric, thanks. The Republic is my favorite experiment, I guess, and would that it continues to go well for us long into the future. Good weekend, my friend.

    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      6 weeks ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      Thanks, Ann. I am still searching--less frantically, now, but still searching--for the pics, at least one of them. Would be fun to share. I know they're here somewhere...

    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      6 weeks ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      Thanks, John. Much appreciated, my friend. You have a good weekend, as well.

    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      6 weeks ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      Thanks, Flourish. I'm working on another version. Same first line, more definitive destination/origination for the brick me thinks.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      6 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Yes indeed. I wonder why I wonder. We are a work in progress ourselves, could we expect more from our people.

      Ruby slippers and the lost and found brick are great.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      6 weeks ago from SW England

      Great read, Greg. It's soothing just to browse through someone's memories with the occasional smile and your poem at the end is quite surreal whilst still being enjoyable. I kinda thought your photos might be just one big line of flashes!

      Good entertainment!


    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      6 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

      Greg, this was such an enjoyable read. Thank you for sharing your journey from Sth Dakota to Washington DC as well to photograph the ruby slippers. Have a great weekend,

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      6 weeks ago from USA

      You make me wonder about the brick as well. I liked your ruby slippers story.


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