Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My Pied Piper Syndrome

I was crossing an intersection a couple of weeks ago where a car facing me was waiting to make a right turn. A little girl standing at the window greeted me with a cheerful “hi.” Setting aside the why-isn’t-that-child-in-a-carseat discussion, she was a pop-up ray of sunshine in my day and I happily returned the greeting as I stepped up on the sidewalk and the car turned past me. 

My Pied Piper Syndrome. That’s what my mom called it from the time I was a pre-teenager. It’s the tendency of children to recognize that I’m someone who will share a smile and who is willing to be playful. I like to think they recognize the child in me. Time and time again, children see me and say hello to me, smile at me, and trust me. From infants to pre-teens, they just look at me and know it’s okay.

When I was a boy, the neighborhood kids that were five to ten years younger than me would come knocking at our door to see if I could come out and play. I often went out to run around the yard with them, pretend, play tag, that sort of thing. The kids my age couldn’t understand why I wanted to play with these little ones. I couldn’t understand why hitting a baseball could be so all consuming. Mom watched and shook her head, bemused.

With great power comes great responsibility, right? I know what it is that parents fear about predators. I’m a parent. I’m very careful to guard my amiability until I get a clear sign of approval from the adult who is with that child. When I’m in the company of my wife or daughter, the adults are ten times more trusting, but when I’m on my own I feel the need to rein in my response to friendly children. It’s too bad, really, because a woman can ooh and ahh over another person’s child, but as a man I have to be more restrained. Again, I fully understand, but it does reflect on our societal ideas about gender roles. 

Walking in the park with Angel also gives me with a pass when children want to come up and say hello. They want to know if they can pet the dog and I get a smile from the adult when I say, sure, but she might lick your face. I’ve enjoyed coaxing shy children to overcome their fears when they clearly want to touch her fur. And kids love to help me give Angel a drink at the water fountain, holding down the button while I cup my hands to catch the water. 

If, by being a Pied Piper, I can get a sad child to laugh, or a scared child to relax, I like to think I’m making my contribution to the happiness quotient overall. I know it makes me feel better. They say that we should listen to our inner child, and maybe we need to listen to children in general in order to hear that child inside. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to be silly or to see the world from a different perspective. That’s an important quality for creativity and, if you want to dredge up a tired metaphor, thinking outside the box. 

What do you do to increase your happiness quotient? How do you explore open-ended creativity? I walk.   

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Take up walking and blisters are bound to take you up somewhere along the way. I’ve been walking the same way in the same type of shoes for several years now, so I was quite surprised when blisters recently appeared between the toes of my right foot. 

I was in a show just before the blisters made their appearance and my costume included tall riding boots, but I thought all the tightness was all in the calves. A couple of times I had a friend pull off my right boot for me—a comic moment lacking only the sound effect of a popping cork. Maybe the toes were squeezing where the boot tapered to a point. I’ve also been walking the dog in old sneakers where the right shoe was falling apart at the seams, thinking I was stretching a dollar, or fifty dollars, as the case may be.

Taking our daughter to work at a summer camp involved two days of driving and virtually no walking, so I figured I’d give my feet a break. When we got back, I walked the dog and BAM. Pain. A big blister reappeared between my toes along with little ones in other places on my right foot. Bring out the blister Band-AidTM. They’re a bit expensive, but they stay put for days and provide good protection if you don’t stick them on too tight. (Not a paid endorsement, I’ve never compared brands.) 

The next couple of days of walking still brought pain, so I switched to newer shoes and the problem dropped about 95%.  The falling-apart shoes went in the trash and I’m happy to say that I’m blister free once again. 

In my childhood, my mom would sterilize a needle by holding it to a flame, and used it to poke a small hole in my blister to squeeze out the fluid. The fact is that this is only necessary where it can prevent the likely ripping of a blister, and the tender skin underneath would really prefer the protection until the fluid can be reabsorbed. By the way, that fluid should be clear. Discoloration indicates infection and time to apply topical antibiotics or hydrogen peroxide. WebMD talks about this and shows pictures at

Today my toes now have nice leathery skin where the blisters used to be, reminding me of the callouses I developed on my fingertips when I used to play the guitar. They say that mastery of a skill requires 10,000 hours. Update that phrase to read 10,000 hours and a tough hide. And don’t forget to use or wear the proper equipment.  

Happy walking.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What You See

As I was approaching the park with our dog, Angel, I saw what I thought was a bird perched atop a chainlink fence that bordered the horseshoe pits. I’m no avid birdwatcher, but I can tell a robin from a cardinal, and this seemed much larger than either of those. A crow perhaps? No, not entirely black enough. Another bird of prey?

If you’ve already examined the photo, you know where this is going, but I was much farther away when I first saw it, and as I approached I wondered at its steadfast pose, its intent focus,  its unyielding stance where a lesser bird might have flown away. As Angel and I got closer to the park, the bird kept attracting my attention. What was it? 

It was, as you’ve figured out, a coke bottle jammed into the chain link at the top of the fence. Nothing majestic. Nothing impressive. I felt a bit foolish. 

I’ve been thinking that we see things in three ways. We see what we believe we are seeing. We see what we want to see. And we see what is.  

In Oedipus, the King, the blind prophet, Teiresias, is referred to as the seer. He knows what seeing folks do not. And Oedipus, who refuses to see what is before him, is blind to the truth. In the end, Oedipus puts out his own eyes. Oh, sorry, spoiler alert (here is a very readable translation if you’re interested: 

I believed I was seeing a bird, Oedipus believed he was seeing traitors in his midst. We are fully engulfed in our preconceptions. One of the delights of children is when they see the truth that all of us do not. The Emperor has no clothes! 

When we see what we want to see, it’s not so much a confusion as a delusion. Someone may make a derisive comment, and I can’t believe anyone can be so mean, so I choose to see a cutting remark as a joke, or convince myself that she didn’t mean it. 

Then we see what is really there. It’s a coke bottle, Eric. Nothing more, nothing less.

My wife avidly watches Dr. Phil on TV and when I see it, I agonize over the way his guests treat one another. I don’t want to see family members abusing one another so atrociously (refer to “what we want to see” above). But Dr. Phil has a unique ability to plow through the words to get to the truth: seeing what is. I told my wife that I would happily watch the last 10-15 minutes of each show, but getting there is so uncomfortable for me (learn more at 

I think I will do my best to focus more on what is. Oh, I love my daydreams, my imagination, my creativity, and all, but as a seeing exercise. 

After all, I am That Guy Who Walks.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Explaining The Name

I was recently working on a play with several people I had never met before, and I enjoyed getting to know a fellow named Tony. After a couple of weeks of working together, Tony told me that the first time he saw me at rehearsal he thought he knew me from somewhere, but he couldn't figure out why. I had no idea.

"Well, last night," he says, "my wife saw you and knew right away who you were." And I almost said it with him, "You're That Guy Who Walks."

Strangers have stopped me in the grocery store and exclaimed that I was That Guy Who Walks. This must be what it feels like to be a celebrity. "Why, yes," I say with a smile, "Yes, I do." And then they like to tell me where they saw me walking. "Yes, yes, that's true. I do walk there."

People I know tell me that their friends only figure out who I am when they tell them I'm That Guy Who Walks. Sometimes they add the word "everywhere" or the phrase "all the time," but that's hyperbole. I mostly walk to and from work, and I walk the dog to the park. According to my iPhone, that's between six and seven miles a day. And not when it's raining.

This phenomenon, is it a small town thing? A southern Indiana thing? Where the car culture is alive and well? (And trucks. Got to include trucks.) I've been to New York and people there walk all the time. Here, people drive to a location four blocks away, search all over for a place to park, and I've arrived on foot ten minutes before them. I'm not a health nut, just practical.

I used to get in a lot of trouble when I was in elementary school for being tardy. Starting in kindergarten, I walked about a half mile each way twice a day (we came home for lunch). I was a straggler, a daydreamer, someone who lost track of time in favor of interesting cracks in the sidewalk or the stories playing in my head. My report card came home every six weeks with a dozen tardies. I liked school, I just lost track of time on the walk.

Today I walk at a brisk pace and find it difficult to walk with others who all seem to go so slowly. I listen to podcasts so you have to get my attention if you want to wave or talk. I'm happy to do either, though. We can talk in this forum now, too (assuming you're being friendly and all.)

Unlike my walking, I have no idea where I'm going with this blog, but if you want to join me, you're more than welcome. I'll tell you what comes up on my walks and what I've been thinking about. Or daydreaming about. I still do that.

My name is Eric and I'm That Guy Who Walks.