April 12, 2021

Peaceful Persistence: A Book Review 

By John R. Greenwood 

This is more of a Thank You Letter than it is a book review. It's also more about the author and his influence on me, than it is his latest collection of essays titled, Peaceful Persistence. I first discovered Michael Perry when I stumbled upon a book called Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time. That was over ten years ago. I’d plucked it from a table of random paperbacks just inside the door of our local Barnes & Noble. To say it changed my life wouldn’t be a stretch. To say it enhanced my life in the following decade would be more accurate. The cover of Population 485 pictured a man walking down a country road. There was a barn and an old maple in the distance. The visual grabbed my arm while the description of the books theme rang familiar. For the price of a turkey sub and chips, the purchase of that book continues to pay life-altering dividends. That may sound melodramatic but I’m being truthful. It wasn’t just the parallel stories or characters in the book that resonated, it was the journey he took writing and publishing it. His early years were spent wrestling with being strong and gentle, brave and cautious, hunter and gatherer. In the end he carved a path that kept his values intact and his passion for writing true to his upbringing. I embraced the common thread that keeps me here at my desk today pecking away at a keyboard. More importantly his story allowed me the courage to wear my heart on my sleeve and do it without reservation or fear of what someone thinks or says. If someone can inspire you through their words or actions, it's a gift that keeps on giving. 

Peaceful Persistence, takes Michael Perry’s short, hand-picked newspaper columns, and puts them in a collection that basically wraps my life in a blanket of affirmation. It’s a compass-reading that confirms I didn’t wander off the trail and that treating people with compassion and understanding is the ultimate path to a full life. Somewhere along the way you realize the world is bigger than you thought and it’s not revolving around you. You begin to look for signs telling you what purpose you serve. I began to feel it was best to live with compassion and understanding and not fill my head with mistrust and anger toward anything or anyone who presented a conflicting opinion. I’m in this over sixty years now and that path is proving to be a bigger challenge than expected. Peaceful Persistence, reassures me that I’m not alone in wanting to hang my hat on optimism and the simpler joys of life. 

Peaceful Persistence showed up in the mail just as Covid-19 was kicking us shin high on a daily basis. It provided assurance that peace would indeed return to the valley. It’s short two-page vignettes of life through the eyes of a writer/father/artist/husband/human realigned my outlook better than my cataract surgery. The tone of the book is to take longer looks at simpler things. What does it take to make you truly happy? I find comfort in the knowledge that my ability to savor everyday tasks around my home and property is shared by others. 

Every morning my willpower is limp and I find myself scrolling through the news like everyone else. I’ve tried to banish this habit with limited success. It’s like leaning into a fast ball. I just grabbed my phone to list a few examples: 

Former NFL player kills 5 in South Carolina, then himself.

Pa. Woman Was Stabbed When She Showed Up to Buy Fridge on Facebook Market Place

Popular Diets That May Cause Damage to Your Kidneys.

Hazardous spill in Florida highlights environmental threat decades in the making. 

I won’t even begin to list the political headlines for fear of bursting into flames and igniting a wildfire. My inability to ignore the train wreck that plates itself on my phone everyday is the greatest threat to my well-being, yet I slurp it up like a thirsty dog. When I do come to my senses with a snort of smelling salts I can’t wait to find a quiet corner to hide in. Once I have my bearings I come out swinging and scouring the day for something positive. Most days those optimist-bits are within reach. It might be the sight of a goldfinch clinging to a bag of thistle outside my window or that first sip of morning coffee. How we measure happiness is how we value life. It’s also how we survive intact and craving more. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lifetime to enjoy a lifetime. It’s an experience cocktail. You mix all the good things, bad things, mediocre days and celebratory days, births and deaths, memories and memorials, and you stir them briskly, pour them over ice and gulp them down like glass of Citrucel. A few hours later you're revived and ready to take on the next Vehicle Warranty phone call.  

Peaceful Persistence reminds you, chapter by chapter, the importance of appreciating the day-to-day. It’s not a self-help book its a self-awareness book. There’s the chapter tilted Montaigne and Mercy. In it Perry tries to explain the irony of reading Montaigne’s works from the 1500s while sitting in a deer stand dosed in buck lure. His efforts to navigate between worlds of flannel shirts and tweed jackets is one that not only appeals to me, it defines me. A chapter or two later called Barnyard Ballet was a precise reflection of my own cloddishness. He takes the simple act of climbing over a short section of fence surrounding the chicken coop and regurgitates it into a word ballet. Not only does his word choice capture the scene with humor and grace he takes a similar ice ballet of mine from a few months ago and replays it in 4G right before my eyes. I vividly remember stepping backward to capture the full beauty of my wife’s outdoor Christmas lanterns only to go one step too far under the dripping eves. The glossy ice beneath my feet placed me horizontal in a NY second and when I regained consciousness my first move was to kneel there in the wet laughing at what would have easily made AFV’s Top Ten. Lucky to be alive and destined to need a helmet to take the trash out I relish the life I’ve been afforded. How happy can we be? Does your freshly detailed Mercedes make you happier than me and my dusty Tundra squatted low with compost? I think not. 

Whether you read one of Michael Perry’s books or not, you’d be wise to follow his lead and my advice. Be true to the person in the mirror. Savor the small stuff don’t sweat it. Take inventory on a daily basis. Peaceful Persistence is full of two-page examples of what gratitude looks like and how to recognize it when you see it, hear it, taste it, feel it, or smell it. Based on the other reading options on your iPhone you can’t go wrong. 

Thanks Mike, you mak(d)e my day(s). 

J.R.G aka Raining Iguanas 

March 21, 2021

The Dealership

By John R. Greenwood 

"Tail Light"
It's no surprise that the online appointment at my local car dealership never reached its intended destination. I would have been more surprised if it had. The young woman at the Service Counter assured me it wasn't a problem. She said there'd been two no-shows anyway, so they would get me in asap. Her voice sounded sincere, but after decades of repair nightmares, my gray-haired skepticism kept me on alert.  I've resigned myself to treating any positive experiences as unexpected gifts. Based on my previous post about refreshing my personal page to positivity, I will keep my word and edit this post accordingly. 

First of all, I have no reason to complain. After years of questionable decisions and limited resources, Mrs. G. and I now own two reliable vehicles. They both have low miles for their age, indicating a lack of car payments with a dash of crossed fingers. They are the two most reliable things on four wheels that have ever parked in our driveway. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate in the transportation department. Even after its long winter slumber, my seventeen-year-old motorcycle with 60k miles started without hesitation. 

I've owned dozens of motorized vehicles in my life. The first was a Lil' Indian minibike with a 3.5hp Briggs & Stratton. It was serviced by the ten-year-old who rode it. I treated it like it treated me—with pure joy. I've tried to recreate the experience of that first taste of freedom for the last half-century. I conclude that the goal is unattainable as a full head of hair and 34 waist Levi's. 

Now back to the dealership. 

This place is as clean as Urgent Care up the road, and everyone is as pleasant as a Holiday Inn receptionist. That's when I wait for the proverbial hammer to drop. 

"Your tires are riddled with road fungus. We can treat them with tire antibiotics for $49.95 per tire. Plus tax."

"I'm sorry for the wait, but we don't carry the rare viscosity oil your car requires, so we had to order it on eBay. It will be here next month. Do you want to make that appointment now or do it online at your convenience?" 

"Did you know there's a recall on the brake pads we installed last year? They say they may burst in flames and fail without warning. Did you want us to take care of that for you? We have an opening in 2022." 

None of these scenarios played out this morning. I'm only two hours in for my, maybe it was, or maybe it wasn't a scheduled appointment, and I'm still in the "positive lane." I'm starving and have a headache, but I remain smiling under my masked facade. I'm praying that if I'm out of here by noon, I'll be okay. 

Another waiting room resident just received her doctor's report. The service rep informed her that her car would be done shortly. She and her two preschoolers were glad to hear the news. Have you ever waited more than an hour with two little ones with no toys and a Deadliest Catch Marathon locked in on TV? She handled the information that even though her tires were still legal, she should consider new ones before the next snowflake hit the ground. No worries, she's told they have a 12-month promotion on tires. Buy three for an inflated price, get the fourth free! If she takes the bait and gets reeled in, I'm confident she'll end up paying for new valve stems. There I go again, drifting over into the opposing lane. This positive reboot may take some time. 

It's the next day, and I'm putting the final touches on this sarcastic slice of reality. In the end, the service on my vehicle was executed without incident, and the bill was fair. They didn't try to upsell me any additional services, and I was home in time for lunch. Whether it's an oil change, tire rotation, or battery replacement, I always feel like I'm involved in high-stakes gambling. I'd label this trip a break-even one. In my book, that rings positive. Tomorrow I head down the Northway for a doctor's appointment. Let's hope that routine maintenance has the same outcome. Doctor visits, another nail biting evaluation that puts us at the mercy of others. After a year of playing Russian roulette with a virus, we could all use some good news. With shot #1 one in my arm and #2 a week away, this spring is shaping up better than the last and just enough to keep me thumbs-up happy.  


March 18, 2021

A Shot In The Arm

A Shot In The Arm
By John R. Greenwood 

A Shot In The Arm
felt like the appropriate title for a story about writing after hitting the pause button for a while. This is my first post for 2021 and I’m about to head to CVS for my first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. I’m hoping it will be the shot that will prolong the inevitable dirt-nap and the shot that will refresh my outlook on the future. Simply put, I’m exhausted from the daily discourse that has coated my brain with negativity and despair. I’ve tried to climb out of the ditch, but every time I start to whistle again, a wave of political poison places a boot heel on my forehead and knocks me back in the hole.

I’ve become zombie-like in my daily routine. The difficulty putting pen to paper has been a lack of caring. I’ve reverted to child-like selfishness that melts when I see others struggling but re-ignites when someone scrapes their opinions onto my plate. Reading the xenophobic refuse that people share on social media makes my head hurt, and my heart cringe. It’s unnecessary and consuming. It devours my ability to function in a positive light for more than a day. Even as I plunk down these ramblings, I feel a sense of pissing in the wind.

There is good news out there, but you have to mine it like gold. It’s always buried beneath a pile of scare tactics, warnings and conspiracy theories. There’s a never-ending army of naysayers waiting to trounce on every uplifting sprout.

From here on out, I’m going to focus on the positive—the ability that used to come to me naturally. These days I have to use a pair of jumper cables to get me started. Thankfully spring is headed our way. Mowing is better than snow-blowing. Tee-shirts and shorts beat out puffy parkas and neck gaiters any day. Releasing the lawn furniture from the basement is just a few weeks away.

I haven’t been completely stagnant. Indoor projects continue to commandeer my time. Sprinkle in an occasional appointment or a visit to the grocery store, and winter has scooted along like an aluminum saucer on crusted snow, but the stress of the outside world has taken a toll on my desire to sing. I’m fighting it like a Tiger comeback, but it’s not going to be easy. There’s a lot of pain out there, and it’s hard to move ahead without looking back. In the past, a day in the woods with the sun shining on my face would do the trick. Spring 2021 may take something extra. Maybe a combination of a motorcycle ride around the lake, a bike ride around the neighborhood, and an old-fashioned pickup-run to the transfer station will do it. The key is not to wave the white flag. Keep swinging. Keep swatting away those pesky gnats of negativity. Keep telling yourself you’ve been through worse and always exited the other side.

This shot in the arm needs a little more than before. Pandemic and politics are no match for the human spirit. At least that’s what I keep telling that voice on my shoulder.

Shot #2 is scheduled for the end of the month.

Look out, April, here I come! 

November 20, 2020

The Obituary of Leaf Rake

The Obituary of Leaf Rake 

By John R. Greenwood

Leaf Rake 

October 25,1100 B.C. — November 19, 2020

Saratoga Springs, NY

Leaf Rake, age 3120, passed away this morning on West Ave., Saratoga Springs. Mr. Rake was born in China in 1100 B.C. His first years were spent clearing fields of leaves and plant refuse. His childhood friends described him as being made entirely of wood—wooden tines attached to a wooden head. His facial features remained wrinkle-free and relatively unchanged for his entire 3120 year existence. 

Leaf Rake graduated with honors from Garden State College at the age of 5. His hard work and long hours made him outstanding in his field. He never asked anything of his handler that he wasn’t willing to do himself. After college he spent centuries on farms all over the world. In the 20th century he committed his remaining years to suburban yards across the globe. He was never boisterous or condescending and was always willing to work in the front, side, or backyard at a moments notice. 

At the time of his death Leaf Rake lived in the dark recesses of sheds and garages. During his last days he might be found leaning against the back of the house, rusty and neglected. Leaf met his demise today at the hands of the “Blower Boys.” A posse of masked marauders in hoodies, brandishing gas-fueled death-wands of hurricane force winds. Leaf Rake was doomed. His manually operated handle and tines had zero chance of survival based on the shear numbers of his staggering opposition. 

I witnessed the murderous act in real time. It brought personal sadness and despair. Leaf Rake and I spent most of our lives together. When we were kids we made soda and candy money together. We bonded instantly. We went from elementary school through high school together. When I needed money for the movies or a new bike tire, Leaf was there. He never let me down. When we got older and started families of our own, Leaf and his cousin Garden would show up at my house to help seed the new lawn or fill in the low spots over the septic tank. He let my rambunctious sons play pretend landscaper minutes after they’d used him as a makeshift axe on the old maple out front. He and his cousin were tough cookies right to the end. 

As the scene above unfolded I pulled over to the side of the road. I yelled out in anger but my voice was smothered by the roar of two-stroke horsepower. My efforts were nullified by progress and the unstoppable future. A tear rolled down my cheek, and as it did an oak leaf floated in my truck window as if to say, “Don't worry, Leaf's okay and you will be too. You two had a good run together. You made memories and money. You bent his back, he gave you blisters, but you remained friends until the end. You both paid your dues, let the Blower Boys have their fun. Things always come full circle. Someday you’ll both be remembered fondly for your hard work and low maintenance."

"Most of all be proud of all those mountainous leaf piles of autumn you two made." 

"The Blower Boys can’t do that now, can they?"

RIP Leaf Rake 

November 05, 2020

Cover-Up (A Greenfield Memory)

Cover-Up (A Greenfield Memory)

By John R. Greenwood 

I want to share a father/son moment that took place in 1968. I was thirteen and had saved enough money for a new bicycle. I bought my Raleigh Rodeo 3+2 at Globe Supply(presently Soave Faire) on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. It was a stingray bike styled like the muscle cars of that era. It had a Hurst-like, 3-speed shifter on the frame in front of the seat. Next to it was a smaller shift knob, which gave you two more pedaling speeds. It was gold in color and my pride and joy. I parked it on its kickstand every night in the garage. Saturday mornings, while dad washed our International Scout, I would wash my Raleigh next to him.

My father instilled the importance of taking care of your things. The better the care, the longer they will last. I came up short a few times because I remember being on the receiving end of "That Look" after I misplaced or broke one of his tools. Parents hope that if a child buys something with their own money, they will take better care of it. Hope is just that. The chances of your child having the conscientious-trait is a crapshoot. Some get it; some don't. Most kids fall somewhere in between. I probably leaned more to the caring side because I feared "That Look" worse than a kick in the shins. 

In the 1960s, it was popular to ride your friends on the handlebars. They would rest their feet precariously on the small bit of threaded axle sticking out from the front tire. The other option was to let your legs swing free, which was much more difficult for both rider and the one pedaling the bike. It was also an excellent way to get run over by a car. My father was adamant that I do not try this with my bike or with anyone else's. I was a compliant son, and I was also much too afraid of my father to break that rule—that is until Glen came along. Glen was older, bigger, and wanted to get from point A to point B one day. He insisted that I provide a taxi service from the Greenfield General store to his friend Tom's house at the bottom of Cemetery Hill about a quarter-mile away. Glen was the Eddy Haskell of our neighborhood. He was an instigator and possessed a larger than life personality. He was the type of kid that could get you in trouble quicker than a wink, but at the same time, his presence helped you remember those events with overwhelming fondness. On this particular summer day in 1968, everything above fell into place.

Because Glen was too big to ride on my handlebars, he strong-armed me into the role of hood ornament. Boys at thirteen are about as coordinated as a giraffe on skates, and I was no exception. A few hundred feet up the road, my sneakers slipped off the axle bolts, and my toes got caught in the spokes. Glen, the Raleigh Rodeo, and I went ass over tea kettle. When the dust settled, a friendship and a brand new bike were in a bit of a pickle. I remember having to push my bike a mile back to my house, the whole time thinking about how mad my father was going to be. He would be upset about the bike, but even more so because I disobeyed him. The front wheel was a bent mess. The spokes had a pretzel quality to them. 

What do I do? 

You do what any red-blooded thirteen-year-old would do—cover it up! This virtual cover-up included an old blanket. Like a reprieve from the governor, it would buy me time to devise a brilliant scheme. The words "brilliant scheme" and "teenager" mix like oil and water. It did take a couple of days for my father to decipher why I was walking the mile up the road to the village versus riding my brand new $70 bike. Fathers are more observant than we think. My teenage sons learned this factoid about the same time their father did. 

"Why is there a blanket over your bicycle?"

Here's where you begin to weigh your options heavily. I didn't have enough time to concoct a viable lie. Even if I had (my wife will confirm this), I'm a terrible liar—especially if she or my father are involved. It was time to plead for mercy. 

"Um, I, I, well, uh, I messed up." (add tears here) 

Here's where parenthood takes a moment of silence. It's a silence that doesn't pay dividends until your grown children recognize the honesty you instilled in them. In my case, it took a couple of days and an eagle-eyed father to bring it to the surface, but it proved that honesty is the best policy no matter what the outcome. 

The following Saturday, dad loaded my Raleigh Rodeo, with the crumpled front wheel, into the back of our Scout. The two of us took it down to Globe Supply and dropped it off for repair. A week later, after putting several miles on my Converse, we returned to pick it up. I'm not sure who paid the bill, but my parental guts tell me it was the man whose "look" is all I ever needed. It was all that was necessary. 

Stories like this filled my teens and my life. 

Man, I miss my father.