Thursday, March 30, 2006


I still cannot get over the fact that, when I turn a little knob in my kitchen, water comes out a pipe. The strange thing is that the water gets magically drawn from a well beneath the ground, and it comes up. People in the know tell me it has something to do with a pump, but I don’t care for the details; spare me them, please. I only care that I am in awe of water that comes up from a pipe and into my home when I want it to.

Historically, it was not always this way. There was a day when people had to travel with buckets to a community well, draw, take the sloshing container home, pour it into a cistern, then return to the well maybe sixteen more times, depending on how often the family planned to run the dishwasher. People bathed in rivers back then as well—which reminds me!

There is a miraculous little cubicle in my upstairs bathroom, enclosed by a curtain, containing a nozzle such as the one in my kitchen, only bigger and higher—situated over my head. The nozzle is unique in that someone has drilled lots of little holes into it. But you haven’t heard anything yet. There are two knobs in this cubicle, same as in the kitchen, and when I turn the left knob to the left, hot water comes from the nozzle. Hot water! Hot water with which I bathe! People in the know tell me that this has something to do with a water heater and, once again, a pump. But once again, I do not care to hear about it. It’s a miracle, and that’s the end of it.

Do you realize that, in days not long past, not even the palaces of kings contained such amenities? But if I told you of all the other luxuries in my home, you would blush. It is nearly sinful, what I possess.

My family is spared the trouble of gathering bits of wood to light fires under black stinky pots for cooking purposes. That’s right. Instead—are you ready for this?—we have a flat area on our countertop that, when other little knobs similar to those which operate the water are turned, make various parts of the countertop heat up. And the heated parts light up in the exact shapes of the bottoms of our pans. And the heat is hot enough to cook on!

I can no longer be quiet about any of this; I am too aroused by it all. Concerning physical, tangible blessings, Scripture says that with food and shelter we should be sufficed. So you can see that, even with the little I have told you about, I am blessed above and beyond measure. I will say no more. For if I told you of the means by which I answer nature’s call—indoors—and evacuate it from the premises—you would simply not believe me. You would hate me.

I am too ashamed of my wealth to tell you about it.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


And now, naturally, I am being asked by the women how they might cure their depression. It is amazing to me that women experience such a thing. It is like learning that the butterfly despairs of the magic flying powder dusted by God on its wings. I know, of course, that women are depressed. Married women are depressed because they live with careless, sleepy men. Some women feel they don’t have a purpose in life. Others are certain that the endless details of maintaining life will soon kill them. Women are multi-taskers, but they take it too far. I understand why, though: no one helps them. But just because a person can do everything, doesn’t mean a person should.

As a short-term fix, the woman who is at least well enough to leave the house should do so immediately, and take a friend. If she cannot find a friend, the Hershey Company provides them, wrapped in silver foil. That is correct. The first thing the depressed woman must do, with or without a human companion, is buy and eat lots of dark chocolate. This will take the edge off her immediate pain. You see? I do not give the same advice to the women as to the men. It does not help women to log onto the Internet and look at pictures of men in boxer shorts, even if such sites existed. There are no such sites for women on the entire World Wide Web, and neither should there be. There are several sites for chocolate, however, and for good reason.

Upon ingestion, dark chocolate improves the mood. It also releases hormones that simulate intimate dinners for two at fancy restaurants. It also unleashes boatloads of antioxidants that do mean but necessary things to boatloads of oxidants. It also slathers the soul with incredibly warm sensations; it smooshes in the mouth and makes the breadth of the oral cavity feel creamy. It doesn’t simply go down the throat, it flows down it like a dark, sweet waterfall. Hard chocolate crunches in the mouth (it feels good to the teeth), while soft chocolate melts there, enrapturing the tongue.

Next, the woman should go shopping. If she has any money left over after the chocolatefest, she should buy herself a new article of clothing. If she has no money left, she should at least feel the new clothing. Shopping does not necessarily mean buying things. The woman should pet the clothing over and over again (and perhaps rub it against her cheek), then try on new shoes after smelling them.

What if a woman is too depressed to leave the house? This woman should, first of all, comb the house for chocolate. If no chocolate can be found, I recommend sleep. Unconsciousness is a gift of God to both sexes. If one is dead to the world, one cannot be depressed. A further recommendation: close the drapes and engage a large electric fan. Waking up is a bitch, which is the reason for the drapes and the fan. Now, for the long-term solution.

Sigmund Freud stroked and stroked his little white beard trying to understand what women want. He never did figure it out. I figured it out two years ago. All women want is to be adored, appreciated, cherished, even pedastalized. For married women, this begins with the training of a husband, whose days of cherishing, I assume, are long behind him. Ah. What a waste of a good piece of meat: the husband. There is so much potential here for help, work and comfort, all lying dormant before the computer and the television. In a book titled Shagah, I instruct women how to train their men to cherish them, adore them, and help them uncomplainingly around the house. Women will be surprised to learn that men want this training. Though they are usually the last to admit it, husbands want directed by a benign feminine sex force. Shagah offers win-win relief, in the depression department, to both marriage parties. For those who apply its truths, Shagah marks the end of marital misery. Sorry now to have to tell you this, but you will have to wait until either Fall or Spring or Summer for this book.

For the depressed unmarried woman with children, here is my recommendation: Come Fall (or Spring, or Summer), find yourself a good man. (An average man will do.) Buy my book, train him, and live happily ever after. In the meantime, eat dark chocolate, shop in moderation, drink lots of water, sleep eight hours a night, and take long, slow walks every day, no matter what the weather.

For the depressed unmarried woman with no childr—

Hm. As soon as I meet one of these, I will advise.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


A single guy I know gets frequently depressed. He lives in Northern Ontario—sorry for the redundancy. He lives where the sun is rarely seen and the roads are so muddied and pot-holed that the local car dealership has three moon rovers on the lot.

This guy was once so depressed that he wanted to kill himself. He called me and fished covertly for an immediate remedy to his mental difficulty. Why did he call me of all Earth’s mortals? I am the great Martin Zender, confidant of God, holder of the keys to people’s happiness. Good thing, then, that I did have a remedy at hand. Some day people may recognize my wisdom and make me their first resort rather than their last. So I said to the man, “Go on the Internet and look at pictures of beautiful women in bikinis. Not pornography, just beautiful women in bikinis.” There was silence on the other side of the line. “The bikini was named after the atoll in the South Pacific where the first atomic bomb was detonated,” I continued into the silence. “When atom bombs are falling, people forget how depressed they are. It happens all the time. Imminent nuclear war and two-piece swimsuits take the male mind from all other problems.”

My friend was taken aback at first, but then warmed to the idea. Oh, but this wasn’t an idea—it was a cure. I told him that my simple solution would relieve him instantly. It would make him want to live again, at least for the rest of the afternoon. It was the free, legal, God-inspired solution to his problem. In some parts of the world, I told him, the sun actually reported for celestial duty. In some parts of the world, I said, beautiful women wore extremely small bathing suits.

He said, “You know, I do feel better when I look at a beautiful woman.”

Well, duh. Do I have to tell you to eat, too? Must I instruct you to bathe? To breathe?

The annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit expedition embarked upon by my two older sons and me raises the eyebrows of embarrassed/horrified people who may, in their lifetimes, have discussed sex once—with the obstetrician. The embarrassed/horrified people had sex because they have children, but “the dirty part” came and went in the dark and lasted as long as it took to disrobe and disburse seed. And God forgive all parties for what made the seed come out. And God forgive Himself for having invented beauty in the first place.

It is stupid, in my opinion, for fellow testosteronians to pretend among ourselves that we could take or leave the bikini and its inhabitant. The cover of this particular Sports Illustrated is an anomaly in the midst of an evil eon, for it opposes everything we know so far of this damned winter. I praise Jesus for that. To refuse to look at such respite is to spit in the face of God. It is to slap away a reasonably priced escape ladder dangled by the Deity’s celestial helicopter.

I will have no awkward moments with my sons. I refuse to allow into my home the time-tested “ignore sex/screw up your kids” syndrome. I refuse to slip on the divine banana peel (the bikini and its inhabitant) and then pretend that I didn’t. My boys are looking anyway, so why not accompany them, foot the bill and get shrimp out of it? The more normal I make it (and it is so very normal), the less powerful its pull. The bikini and its inhabitant will always pull, but one can diffuse the freak side of the power. Religious people habitually make normal things freakish by silently (or vocally) condemning natural inclinations. This is a recipe for the production of criminals. The criminal starts and may finish in the closet. At worst, he wreaks mayhem among the less religious (and thus, the less peace-loving) citizenry. I prefer a nice quiet trip to Waldenbooks—followed by cheese rolls and shrimp—to abandoned carnal mayhem followed by an i.d. check at the state penitentiary.

Some very ingenious people designed the swimsuits worn by the SI models.

In some other corner of the world, the sun, apparently, has escaped its box.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Monday, March 27, 2006


My two older boys and I enjoyed our annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue date last Saturday. On this annual date, I drive them to the mall, buy the magazine, hand it over to them, then drive to Red Lobster while they take turns perusing the pages and not saying much. When we get to Red Lobster, we ordinarily wait forty-five minutes to an hour for a cozy booth in the non-smoking section. This is precisely what happened. The wait only enhances the satiation of hunger. Hot, soft cheese rolls in a wire basket covered with a napkin make mortals lose saliva from the corners of their mouths. Lift the napkin and cheesy heat wafts into the lantern-style light fixture. This is accompanied by iced teas and a black decaf served in a heavy, earthen mug.

While waiting for our table, many odd people filed past us. Some people in this world are beautiful, while others carry extra flesh and are misshapen. Three crippled souls rolled past in wheelchairs, one of whom rolled over Aaron’s foot. One poor chair-bound female stared out toward an invisible ocean and mumbled strange sayings while making wild gestures with her hands. Aaron said, during dinner, “Many people in this world are not right.” Artie said, “We are so blessed.” Aaron agreed with him, as did I.

There are so many different kinds of people in this world, and my sons and I are blessed to know the One Who made them all.

Together then, we thanked God and broke His bread.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


If a male angel lived in a heavenly palace and looked into his sleeping cubicle in the morning after returning home from his early session in the clouds to be with his little angel offspring and read Acts to them, and his angelic wife was lying on the bed doing dumbbell bench presses in the nude with an NPR show playing lightly on the radio, then that male angel would know that there will come days better than those gone before (before the disruption of the world), and that it may be one of those today as the winged Being wafted him by God now stretches the hamstrings in the backs of her legs and by some miracle has a celestial sort of side meat already sizzled from the stove and cuddled in a “napkin sandwich” to remove all the hellish earth-grease from it.

“Even so,” says the celestial messenger to a compatriot at the commissary, “come quickly Lord Jesus.”

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Oh, that my vexations were actually powdered by the pestle, then laid in the grave together with my iniquity. For then it would be heavier than the mantle of the earth and the starfish of the sea and the skeletons of mariners.

My words are rash and quick, for the arrows of the Almighty are inside me with their poison tips in my liver; my spirit quakes at it. The terrors of God are arrayed against me. The jackass brays over his grass and the ox wails mournfully over his meal of bone, but tasteless things go down without salt; the white of an egg bloggs in the bowl. Such food makes loath against days much brighter than this.

Oh, that my request might come to pass, and that Gould would grant the whim of the will; would that God were willing to crush me in a moment; that He would loose His hand and cut me off and break this, and let me get this off. But it is still my consolation that I rejoice in unsparing pain and that, in the lake, I have not denied the words of the Holy One; these are His words.

What is my strength that I should not eat rust and drink poison, and what is my end that I should wait to tiptoe on the inside of grace? Is my strength the strength of granite or is my flesh of silver like the metals that crush miners? Is it that my help is not inside me and that the deliverance of my God will wait another day?

For the despairing man there should be kindness from a braying cloud or a dollop of sun, lest he forsake the fear of the Almighty and suffer the death of another day like this one. My brothers have acted deceitfully, like a dry river in the desert, like the torrents of dry river dust that vanish before they appear and are turbid because of no dew. No person scrapes the dew into snow. But the blessed man sees not the trouble of this Spring, for he has passed along another way, the way of death.

The rivers, for those gone, become more desolate still, more waterless; they become bare and soulless. When it is hot they vanish yet more from the places appointed them. Then the paths of their courses wind along the corridors of deferred hope, they go down into the valleys of hope deferred where they suck and stink and defer everything forsaken by God, where they piss a storm of wail.

The caravans of Tema looked like crap; the travelers of Sheba hoped for crap and got it. But they came there and were blown away by the nothingness of everything they saw there. Indeed, You have now become such as them, this day, save for young men who stand tall like the oaks of Mamre. You see a terror and You soil the pants of people who are not You. It is not as if I have said, “Make me rich,” or, “Offer me a babe from Your storehouse,” or “Deliver me from my organs,” or, “Redeem me from the insipids who deem this life so lightly.”

Teach me and I will be silent and watch Curb Your Enthusiasm; and then show me, after the show, how I have erred. How painful are honest words, and You’ve got an eon’s worth of them. But what do Your honest words prove? Do You intend to reprove my honest words? Then go ahead. You may as well—I like it—I die for it—I like pain—I die. But You know these things already, so what am I telling You?

But why, when the hours of one’s despair disappear on the zephyr of cloud that discourages all the living, do You then not come right away but seven months hence, if at all, and then so lightly? You would roll the dice for the orphans and barter over Your friend. Gore is something You tolerate blatantly, though you have spared me thus far the gore I feed, house and clothe—and for that I worship You. And now, please look at me, and see if I lie to Your face. Because I’ve looked up to You even while tied to the boards of Your threshing floor. And the night continues, and my flesh continues but is clothed with righteousness with skinny worms sewn in, but I am still looking up tied to the threshing floor of Noah, and of the archangels Who created Earth, Who are always all around You.

Desist now, let there be no injustice. Ever desist; my righteousness is yet clumped up. Is there injustice on my tongue? All right then. Cannot my dump-mouth discern calamities and give vent to them in the wind of the first day of the rest of this dung-infested time period?

All right, then. So be it. Amen, and come quickly.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Monday, March 20, 2006


I did a bad thing last night while Melody was berating Aaron for staring down a teacher. Aaron is a high school Junior, and this particular Mistress of Numbers has something out for him. Or in for him. Or maybe he has something out or in for her. Or maybe math has something out and in for all of us, which is my conviction and has been since Freshman Algebra.

Aaron must take care because he’s working on straight A’s (from seventh grade on), and this teacher needs coddled, not outstared. It is true that she may be lacking in the ways of education, but so what. I had teachers like that, too. I was not so careful with language back then and would come home in a huff to announce, “Miss Clouse stinks.” I’m pretty sure that, between 1966 and 1978, I was perfect and nearly all my teachers, including the nuns, were hopelessly screwed up.

Melody said I should discipline Aaron. That is, she wanted me to tell him how to be a good young man.

Melody grew up on a farm. In such environments, character gets pounded into you like a three-pound pancake. Melody got up before dawn to feed chickens and milk cows. Good young men were as plentiful as sprouts of alfalfa. Melody’s real world was Laura Ingall Wilder’s fiction. As a young man, I loved purity and hard work, as long as I could write mis-rhyming poetry about it from a safe distance. Melody regrets this about me. It is the part of me she wishes she could change. I sometimes tease her and tell her, “Well, maybe you should have married Mike Hartz.”

Mike Hartz was everything a girl could want in a man. He was a stand-up cutout dude from a catalog, replete with polished shoes and a nice haircut. From a practical standpoint, Melody loved everything about Hartz. His goal was to become a History teacher. His life was planned out, right down to the kind of grass he wanted in his yard and the church he and Melody would attend. He would give Melody a three-bedroom house, a two-car garage, and a Lazy Susan in the kitchen. The guy pressed his own pants, for God’s sake. He knew how to wash his car—including the whitewalls.

Because Melody was so darn cute, Hartz wanted her for his own. Who wouldn’t? Melody was so much like him, too. She was willing, in her heart, to succumb to the two-car garage. The problem was, Melody kept calling him “Martin” on their date. (I still wonder why, after going out twice with me, she still went out with Hartz. She told me she was going to do it. “Is that okay?” she asked. “Of course it is,” I said. Then I got off the phone and cried and threw jellybeans.) At the end of the date, Melody refused to let the sex-crazed Hartz kiss her. She told him a week later that she couldn’t get “this other guy” out of her head. Hartz, the ever-practical idiot, said, “You mean I spent all that money on you Saturday for nothing?”)

While Melody built barns, planted trees and baked pies, I watched Three Stooges and Gilligan’s Island re-runs. My parents made sure my sister and I had endless supplies of Popsicles, pop, Pop Tarts, and Sugar Pops cereal to serenade our television watching. My parents did discipline us: sometimes they bought us cereal without sugar and made us watch Jacques Cousteau specials. (I’m talking about cereal like Bran Flakes, Special K and Product 19, and Cousteau specials like the one about plankton.) But my parents loved us. I can’t help it that I grew up in the suburbs. My only knowledge of farm life came from Lisa and Oliver Douglas, and Mr. Haney and Eb, on Green Acres.

I did receive real discipline on occasion. I remember Mother chasing me—and rapidly—with the hairbrush. She did make contact two out of seven times. I did get grounded for innocent childhood crimes such as forgetting to do homework, forgetting to pull weeds, forgetting to clean my “pig sty,” and forgetting to go to bed on time on school nights. (I was a forgetful child. Well, I forgot things.) I remember getting my mouth washed out with soap, and to this day I cannot say what this was frickin’ for, or how I could possibly have deserved such humiliating doses of hell in my own stinking house. Nevertheless, I succumbed to all this parental treatment; I considered it par for the childhood course. Then I grabbed a purple Popsicle and wondered if the next Stooges episode would feature Curly or Shemp. (I hoped it was Curly, but I would learn in my teen years to appreciate the genius of Shemp.)

I’ve always been a do-it-yourself discipliner. With the things that really mattered in life (learning to write, staying fit, reading, obtaining wisdom, caring for family, seeking God), I was harder on myself than others could hope to be on me. Thus, I believe that while you can influence others and set a good example, you cannot live more than one life at a time—your own. This principle is especially true of the relationship between my two oldest sons and me. They are nineteen and seventeen years old. As with my youngest son, I trained them as best I could. I spanked them early with love and intelligence (and a spoon of some kind), I carried them on my back, I hugged them (still do), I got onto floors with them, I read them scripture and many Dr. Seuss accounts. I loved their mother, supported my family, spent every spare minute giving them God, fun, and organic raisins. Now I’m tired, and I believe I deserve a rest. I want to reap now the plentiful fruit of good parenting and shrug off the rare thorn. You can lead a horse to Advanced Algebra, but you can’t make it not stare down a crummy teacher—that’s my philosophy now at this stage of the game.

So right there in the kitchen, in the middle of the berating, I started to laugh. It was the worst thing to do, at the worst time. Poor Melody. That she was so technically right and I was so technically wrong proved too much contrast for my funny bone. It was the farm versus strawberry Pop Tarts, Laura Ingalls Wilder verses Larry Fine, Product 19 versus Kellogg’s’ Fruit Loops, Melody White versus the Marx Brothers. That Melody was so serious while I experienced flashbacks of French class drove me over the back of the sofa in tears. I hated myself. The more I told myself not to laugh, the more I dripped spittle and snot. The healing of it was absolutely horrible. (I realize now, upon reflection, that my laughter was not of the healing variety, but rather a self-defense mechanism against the false accusation that I was somehow, in this case, a poor father.) Aaron just stood there, wondering what would become of his legal guardians. (Our youngest, Jefferson, had run away—in titters no doubt.) Then Aaron had to laugh himself; it was two against one now. You’ve got to feel sorry for poor Melody. She tries so hard to make us good people. God has withheld from her a daughter, a princess, a normal human being. Instead, he gave her Larry, Curly, and Moe. Melody will read this and dislike that I have written about it. If you are reading it, I am wondering how it is possible.

Upon reflection, I know. It is because my wife is the kindest, most forgiving, most well-rounded, well-meaning person on the planet.

Eat your frickin’ heart out, Hartz.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Saturday, March 18, 2006


It is already the following weekend, and I have yet to tell you about my walk of weekend last.

On Sunday the twelfth, I walked 27 miles. It was easy.

I awoke up at 5:00 a.m., excited to begin. It was rainy and dark, but warm. I love the pre-dawn dark because I own the day then. By the time the sun comes up the world is alive—I prefer it sleeping. Jesus rose early, before the sun, and walked into the mountains, alone, to pray. Self-propelled motion becomes a prayer to me, and each step a thanksgiving to God that I am alive.

I lightly boiled my three eggs, sprinkled my oatmeal with ground flaxseed and wheat germ, slugged down a double-strength cup of black coffee, drank four glasses of water, poured two liters of lemon-lime Gatorade into the bladder inside my Camelback Blowfish pack, hung a plastic sandwich-bagged whole wheat, wheat germ, natural peanut butter and honey sandwich from the waist strap of my pack—and was away.

I floated. I walk a nine-mile block: three miles up, one and a half across, three down, then another road across like the first. All the miles, this morning, are floating. Feeling fresh from a day off, I am hydrated like a lake: the key to success.

The rain comes lightly and my raingear works: it’s called Rainshield, the brainchild of the 3M company; Gore-Tex is sievey compared to it; remember that. Inside my hood, I feel indoorsy. The black galoshes keep unwanted roadwater off my socks and out of my shoes. Roosters crow, the rain does not stop them. They are my companions across Crescent Road, these crazy birds. I never see them, but I like what they do when I don’t have to live by them. They cry out of nowhere; I like their language.

I sip Gatorade through my drinking tube. It is a wonderful thing, this tube. The modern pedestrian need not stop to fumble with old-fashioned bottles. The tube of the bladder is blue, snaking from the back o’ the pack o'er my right shoulder. There is a bite valve, which is blue and yellow; the materials are clear. A marvel of science, all this is. I stick the valve in my mouth and return both arms to their work. I bite the valve and suck. The elixir, still cold from the refrigerator, comes in peristaltic rushes. The elixir is lemon-lime Gatorade, which I imagine to be cotton-candy syrup. I think this in my mind: I am drinking the syrup of cotton candy. Ahh, that is so good—and at the same time it replaces electrolytes and renders the perfect combination of calories, carbs, sugars, water, and sodium, unto my system. Gatorade, the elixir of the gods. Had it been available in first-century Palestine, Jesus would have drank it for sure.

I sit down at a well in Ritchville, same as Christ. This is a drinking place at the Ritchville rest stop, but without loitering women. There is a rusty green-handled crank here instead, protruding from a metal pipe stuck far down into the groundwater. A person toting his own Gatorade, however, eschews such primitive refreshment. So I sit and rest for two minutes, get up and go. It is still dark, thank Jesus.

North up Route 9 now, when I will eat my sandwich. There are not many cars on Sunday morning. I walk on different sides of the road, depending on what the cars do and how loathe I am to die, which is pretty loathy now that I’m happy on the majority of days.

I imagine that my sandwich is a maple-filled creamstick. It is not that I crave such a thing (though I used to, many of them, the icing wet with condensation from the plastic wrapping), but that the sandwich actually tastes like this, to me. I misspoke to say I imagined the taste; I take the taste it gives, which is that of a product of the bakery I just mentioned.

My legs work independently of me, or so it seems. It is so, even at seven miles when turning off the highway onto Snyder Road toward home and the end of the first nine-mile loop. I am my own passenger, sitting atop these amazing appendages with shoes attached, watching them work. They are transporting me—that’s how it feels. I am only looking out the windows, thinking of other things. I am thankful to be whole. (I am thinking of you, Sheryl, who have lost parts of your body to cancer. I am thinking of you this morning; I envision your wheelchair and I want God to give you joys not requiring legs; there are many such joys; I want you to have them; this is my prayer for you.)

The first lap ends, and I’m back home. I stop in to kiss Melody good morning. I make another sandwich, drink four more glasses of water, and top off my drinking bag: another liter of Gatorade. It’s a twenty-minute break in all, then back on the road, and happy to be there.

Starting the second nine-mile loop, I’m as fresh as at five-thirty a.m—how does that happen? The sun has come up (behind clouds, it only brightens things a little), but everything else is fine.

At thirteen miles, I cannot believe the walk will be this easy. At fifteen miles, I think the same again. Seventeen miles arrives, and I’m still waiting on the tiredness. The rain has stopped, and the warm air feels so good. It is so unlike the winter I’ve been walking through on my weekly eight-milers. My training is paying dividends now.

Eighteen miles is in the bag (there is no more Gatorade there, however), and I’m none the worse for it—in fact, I’m better. I’m high. Aaron and Melody are in the living room, and I babble at them. I laugh and say things, but just what things I don’t know. High, am I, on endorphins, inebriated in the afterglow of gentle, extended exercise. (I have walked all eighteen miles in under fifteen minutes a mile. The time, less breaks, is four and a half hours.) All my bones feel greased. Nothing inside me cracks or creaks. I have not worked hard, only walked correctly. There’s a flush to my face. “It’s the Gatorade,” says Aaron.

I go to bed and try to take a nap. My plan: two laps in the morning, nap, attend a birthday party, walk the final nine miles at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Sleep won’t come. Melody’s nightwear hangs on the doorknob. The varying endorphins fight friendly brawls within me, utilizing armholds and legholds never before seen. The covers of the bed shroud all this, and keep it humid and loose, away from other mortals. Perhaps this is what life in the womb was like, when outside sounds came muted through the membranes.

Two of the boys’ cousins turned certain ages over and under ten—can’t remember which or for whom—but my sister-in-law Mindy made a fabulous red soup containing vegetables and pasta pieces that resembled stars. I eat two bowls, drink coffee, and look forward to the four-thirty lap. How will it feel? It has been twenty years since I have covered so much distance on foot.

It’s crazy. I’m as fresh at 4:30 p.m. as I was when beginning at 5:30 a.m. When will it hit? The sun finally shows itself (it’s 5:30 p.m. now), and sets everything east of it aglow. I’m thankful for the sun, but not for the people. There are people out now, in their yards and in their cars. They are strangers to me and I cannot fellowship with them. But one man waves, and I wave back. I liked it better in the morning, though, in the rain. I owned the road then, and the roosters were mine. But now I’m a part of everything; I guess that’s okay if one embraces the everything.

Stopping again at the well, everything looks different. Was this the same drilled hole of thirteen hours ago? It has an altered personality now, it’s less mindful of me. I am not as fond of it, and I leave it within two minutes of arriving at it; I have walked twenty-three miles.

At twenty-five miles, the feet finally feel something. That, and a small twitch goes up my right hip. These things are nothing, really. I’m still moving easily. It does not seem like work.

My house has come now, and I stop in front of it. My wife is in there, and so are all my kids. I’m happy that they give me this freedom—to be apart from them and with them simultaneously. Home is a joyful place when one has been away at wells, and fellowshipping with roosters and people who wave. The roosters are fine, the well does its work, the waver tends to his yard, but there is no place like the space in front of one’s own refrigerator, and near the drawer where Melody stores the amazing zip-locked sandwich bags, recently purchased by the family patriarch.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Friday, March 17, 2006


I love Irish people. Some of my best friends are Irish. God bless the Irish and their homeland, Ireland. Lucky Charms is the best concoction of oats and sugar ever poured into wax paper bags and sealed into colorful cardboard boxes with plastic prizes at the bottom, wrapped in cellophane. But St. Patrick’s Day is the most asinine holiday on the calendar.

Any true Irish person—any noble Irish person—distances him or herself from this absurd day. It is named after a person who, at sixteen years of age, got carried away from his homeland, Britain, by Irish marauders. He passed his captivity as a herdsman near a mountain called Slemish. He saw visions (uh-oh) in which he was urged to escape to the north coast of Gaul and become an ordained deacon (double uh-oh). The encyclopedia does not say who spoke to him in the vision, but one can only assume that it was a leprechaun.

leprechaun (lep re kon), n. Irish Folklore. A pygmy, sprite, or goblin.

ST. PATRICK: What are you?

LEPRECHAUN: I am a pygmy and a goblin, but you can call me a sprite. Yes, I prefer that. A sprite, if you please.

ST. PATRICK: What do you want me to do—sprite?

LEPRECHAUN: I want you to escape to the north coast of Gaul and become an ordained deacon. Become learned in the ways of institutional religion. And don’t forget to condemn people and look for relics.

ST. PATRICK: At once, Sprite! Is that all?

LEPRECHAUN: (becoming furious) Well, of course not! I want you to begin experimenting with compressed marshmallows and geometric figures!

ST. PATRICK: Yes, my Lord!

LEPRECHAUN: Yes, my Sprite!

ST. PATRICK: Forgive me, my Lord!

According to the encyclopedia, “[St. Patrick’s] use of the shamrock as an illustration of the Trinity led to its being regarded as the national Irish symbol. A strange chant of his, called the Lorica, is preserved in the Liber Huynorum.” That the Trinity is a false doctrine unknown to Scripture makes me wish for the shamrock a more noble beginning. (Fun game you can play at home: Guess the root word of “shamrock.”) Can’t we just say it illustrates the number o’ people able to make sense o’ St. Patrick’s Day?

Speaking o’ o’, without this famous contraction in “the luck o’ the Irish,” we are left with: “the luck of the Irish,” which is too literal, too sad, and too untrue for anyone’s palate. The Irish are no luckier than any other peoples. In fact, if the Great Potato Famine and the long history of bloodshed mean aught, the Irish are unluckier than most. This contraction, ‘o, is paramount to the furtherance of the Irish myth. It’s the grammatical equivalent of pixie dust. Anything becomes possible when you drop an “f” and apply yourself stupendously at the pub.

Which must be how the famous Blarney Stone came about. At Blarney Castle in the town of Blarney in County Cork, Ireland, is an inscribed slab. No ordinary slab, this. Did you not hear? I said it was inscribed. Are you still not in awe of it? Then I unsheathe my ace: It is “near the top of one of the walls.” (!) According to legend, one who kisses this stone is thereupon endowed with the gift of eloquence and persuasive flattery. This answers, for me, a mystery. Whoever convinced our government to calendarize St. Patrick’s Day and make Irish and non-Irish people alike wear green clothes and send each other hokey cards, must have smooched that rock smooth.

My youngest son came home from school today and said there was a new tradition: anyone not wearing green became susceptible to a pinch. “A pinch where?” I asked.

He said, “Anywhere.”

I apprised his clothing. “You’re not wearing any green. Did they pinch you?”

He said, “I’ve got it covered, Dad,” and he unveiled the tops of his boxer shorts, which were covered with palm trees.

“Happy St. Patrick’s Day,” I said.

“And the same to you, Pops.”

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Thursday, March 16, 2006


A practical example of what I wrote yesterday came to the fore in the kitchen this morning. Melody asked if I got sandwich bags at the grocery store. I said, “No, I forgot. I got them for my office, but not for the house.” Then I decided to add, “I was looking out for Numero Uno.”

I’ve said that to my family more than once. I’m half joking. I’m not sure they get me, and I don’t strain to explain myself. My actions speak louder than my words to them, I think. My family knows that I give them everything. I have given my soul to them and thrown my last literal dollar toward their welfare. And yet when it is obvious to them that I’ve done something for the Z-Man first, I play it. I play the part of the quintessential cad and chant the mantra of the eon: “Looking out for Number One.”

And yet it’s a scriptural concept: “Love others according as you love yourself.” If you do not love yourself first, you cannot love others. If you do not take care of yourself first, you cannot take care of others. Loving and taking care of oneself is not an end (that’s the world’s concept) but a means to an end, namely, doing the same thing for others.

Not many people grasp this. In the interest of “selflessness,” people lose their peace, their minds, their spouses, their kids. By working tireless for others at the expense of their own happiness, the so-called “superperson” harms instead of heals. When you have too much to do and not enough time for it, you yell. When you desperately need rest but never get to bed on time, you cry. When your own health fails because you live for the health of others, you die. Screamers, weepers and dead people—these we do not need. Might I suggest: 1) disappoint at least three non-family members four times a week, 2) go to bed before nine thirty on a nightly basis, and 3) rise before the sun and take a long walk.

When the sun comes up, then for God’s sake, 4) buy sandwich bags.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Life goes on, even for non-pastor types. Remind me to tell you sometime about why I am a teacher and evangelist and not a pastor.

Very well, then. I’ll do it now.

God gives different gifts to those in the ecclesia. Some are pastors, some are teachers, some are evangelists, some are jerks, and so forth. I am a teacher and an evangelist, but not a pastor. I have checked all my bones, and not one of them is a pastor bone.

The word pastor, in Greek, is poimen, and it means, “shepherd.” A shepherd is one who tends sheep. A shepherd has to hang around sheep all day and all night. He has to lead, feed, water and guard the sheep. He is burdened daily and nightly with the care of the sheep. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I do not have it in me to guard, feed (literally feed, with food) or water you. It is all I can do to guard, feed and water my family. I water them well because I bought a Culligan reverse osmosis water filter for our home. But I cannot buy a Culligan reverse osmosis filter for your home. I can’t even say, “I wish I could, but I can’t,” because I do not even wish I could. It is simply not in me to stretch myself this thin. I do hope you get one of these filters, though—I do. I want you to have good water, but I shall not be concerned and burdened by the thought. I simply cannot afford to lose sleep over your water condition. But do look into the Culligan filter, not for my sake, but for yours.

I’m too tired to lead you. To lead you, I might have to stay up past 8:30 p.m., which I am unwilling to do. To feed you, I would have to go to the grocery store yet again, which I already go to about three or four times a day because the four other members in my immediate family need different things, all at different times. It’s all I can do to keep my own family in milk. Everyone drinks different kinds. And they all run out at irregular intervals. If I screw up this milk situation, then I’ve really blown it in life, and I don’t want to do that.

I thank God that I’m not a pastor. Lots of pastors I know neglect their own families. The fact that so many pastors do this makes me think that the people are not really pastors. If they were really pastors, God would give them supernatural ability to care for their families first, then shepherd the people of God later. Real pastors must be able to survive on scant sleep. That isn’t me; I get up at 4:30, but I go to bed at half past eight. I do okay on seven hours, but anything less makes me want to nap or die. Real pastors must have broad shoulders and sturdy backs. That isn’t me; I do do resistance training to build my deltoids and latissimus dorsi, but this is so I will feel good and look sexy, not so that I can shepherd you and your kin. I’m sorry. Please don’t take that personally.

I do feel the burdens of the world, but in an impersonal way. I weep for the miserable occupants of this planet, I do. Disasters tear me up. When I read in the newspaper of a fatal car accident, I’m troubled. I can mourn for days over people I don’t even know. I weep for the race, but this does not necessarily make me send a card.

I do not cook spaghetti for the sick. Maybe I should. I thank God that not everyone is like me. Thank you, God and Jesus, that so many people do not think like the person I have become. If I was in the hospital, I would want spaghetti cooked for me. (No meatballs, please, just plenty of marinara sauce.) Perhaps this is real lack on my part. Maybe there is something wrong with me. I’m willing to admit that there is. Or maybe it’s simply that I’m not the pastor type—I am much more willing to admit to that.

I pray for people constantly, but with inarticulate groanings rather than with formulated words. Whether this helps people or not, I don’t know. I suppose it does, only because the spirit is praying instead of me. I do formulate words on occasion, but not that often. When people are on my mind in a general way, then I consider that praying for them. People say, “Pray for so-and-so,” and I say “Surely, I will,” and then I’ll think about that person for about thirty seconds or so, and count that as praying for them. After that, the spirit takes over. The apostle James would scold me for this because he says what good is it to pray for people if you don’t bring them warm mittens in the winter? I believe I’m paraphrasing the man. Well, if you really need mittens, I’ll send them to you. If someone approached me and severely needed mittens, I would surely render the mittens. I am a decent human being that way.

I heard another teacher, Ray Prinzing, tell a parable of the torrentially running river and the ocean. He said that the torrentially running river isn’t much practical good because you can’t put a boat on it, you can’t fish from it, you can’t swim in it, and so it goes. But the river is doing something, that is, it’s rushing to the ocean. In fact, it’s rushing because of the ocean. When the water of the river gets to the ocean, it can bear the greatest of seafaring vessels. Ray said that he was like the roiling water of the river, rushing to get to God. Not much practical good now, but just wait.

The sooner I get into God, the sooner I’ll be able to make James happy.

I still do some good now. People get blessed by my writing and speaking. Teaching suits me because I can drop a truth and run. Instead of giving you fish and giving you fish and trying to hook you another big fish, I can hand you a pole and go home. I give you principles. I make tapes or CD’s, or I write things, then I go away; I love doing this. It’s a fantastic method for me because you can learn about God from my pen or my voice while I’m home sleeping, or eating spaghetti at the hospital.

It takes special skills to pastor, but also to teach. The teacher must be able to ignore people and not consider their feelings. This is hard for some people to do. Some people never can learn it. My wife, for instance (God bless her) can neither do nor learn it.

I am willing to help people, but I like for people to be able to help themselves. I love to be appreciated and complimented, as long as no one asks me to pastor or boil pasta. I love to be hugged and kissed, but all within reason. (Melody is the exception to this rule, of course, and for this very reason I am considering shaving my facial hair. Melody pulled out a dish brush the other day and scrubbed my lips with it and said, “How do you like kissing that?” And I said, “Well, it didn’t feel very good, but I am becoming emotionally attached to the brush.”

I told Melody that I would shave off my facial hair, if it meant that I could begin kissing her unreasonably. Melody said, “But I love how you look with it.” Sigh. What am I to do? This is another topic entirely, so I will forgo it for now. But do you see? I can’t stop talking about my situation. I would make a lousy pastor, due to this. Pastors must talk incessantly about you. I do want to help you with your situation, but I can do that best by writing books for you, and talking to all of you at the same time on a tape or a CD. In this way, ZenderTalk works for me. It works better for me than visiting each of you individually, buying each of you a water filter, or constantly running to the grocery on your behalf, or fending off your many kisses with my bristly face.)

In all this I am trying to justify myself for not visiting the nursing home to see Herb.

Looking back, I see that I haven’t done it.


© 2006 by Martin Zender

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


I just found out this morning that Herb Dirks died.

God sent Herb to the Earth via Germany before the Second World War, and he suffered during that conflict and never recovered from it. He saw people burned alive and took a rifle butt to his head. He was a good boy, but he stuttered and became a prisoner of war as a youth. God drew him to Himself through much pain. It is through much tribulation that we enter into the kingdom.

Herb came to our Bible studies when we held them at our home. He was big and thick, like a tank, and powerful with his accent and that ferocious stutter. He wore his hair in a crew cut, or grew it out white like a wild man—these two styling options. In the wild phase, his hair stood tall like Wolfman Jack’s. He would not have known The Wolfman, however; he strove to know nothing but Christ, and Him crucified.

Herb shaved irregularly, and this, combined with his other traits, frightened nearly everyone. He talked loudly and inadvertently spit. I met him in his latter fifties. Herb slapped you on the back with tears in his eyes and loved you like a bear; he cried so easily. He prayed for you always and followed up by bringing you things. When my family was struggling, in he would march with a watermelon, or pop, or a bag of groceries—always crying, always pressing toward you, forever loving you.

No one loved God more, or cried more, or felt more. Herb was like Jesus, so sensitive to the world was he. Every moment throbbed with meaning for Herb. He was unfathomable because of this, and, unlike Jesus, occasionally overbearing. We sometimes fought. He commandeered Bible studies. When Herb took the floor, the floor disappeared. Simple questions had Swiss-gearing answers, beginning in Genesis One and ending somewhere in Revelation. Herb drove me crazy. He spit on our rug. He inadvertently insulted unfortunate guests. (This came from knowing only Christ, and Him crucified.) There was nothing to do but sit back and sigh—and try to stay within grasping distance of Herb’s train. If you heard only half of a Herb Dirks speech (the national average), you prospered. You visited the sanctuary of God and met Christ.

I told him I stuttered, and we fellowshipped around that. He loved me for confessing it, and wept for my confession. It was Herb who told me minutes before my first public address: “Get up, speak up, shut up.” He saved me that day. That was thirteen years ago, but I recall that mantra still, whenever I approach a podium.

Herb mourned the adulthood of his daughters. There were no earthly beings more precious to him. He took his young family to so many scripture conferences. He missed that so much when his daughters grew up and married. He hated it when they all got jobs that took them away. He pined for the days when those little girls needed him, when they held his big hand. Herb’s wife, Barb, had diabetes and seemed tired all the time. She was never that well when we saw her, which was rarely. She preceded her husband in death by three years.

Herb must have died slowly in the nursing home. Three years in a nursing home, thirty-five miles from my home. Thirty-five miles, and I never once visited him.

And so I go to my bedroom now, and cry.

God have mercy on me.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Monday, March 13, 2006


My town is junky with weak stabs at civility, sometimes painted gray and Bahama blue. But mostly the paint is peeling and dilapidation sings songs that sound like animals croaking, especially frogs.

Up over the signs through bricks and agecracks, red leaves appear in plaster as in the days of Roosevelt.

Nothing loves Crescent Road except pick-up trucks and roosters—and saws run by chains, and dismembered fingers.

What do people have against wood here? Against fingers?

The water tower fumes; the stones blame the track, but the tower points backward, and the track clacks heavily under trans-Atlantic bins. People admired the sidewalks, circa 1953. This settlement had prostitutes, but they depressed themselves and left in the early 21’s.

Two cops shot a bank robber in 1925. They stood him up in the corner so that little girls could wave pansies at him. They dressed him in a funny hat matching the gurgle he left Earth with. I think about him often, when the bank temperature fades.

The town here is Still Life with Weeds Growing Up. The smith makes shoes off the nail in the sod over the handle of his saddle-whapped horse, then leaves. The only cure for depression here is bananas, freshly peeled. Stare at the virgin banana flesh; stare. Off-white banana meat makes such happy eating. Devour the meat; it could never be nourished here.

No one cries for mercy in this town; I alone do that. People buy white bread and the cancer sticks of camels. I do not buy white bread and cigarettes. Interesting.

The trains come barging through this town, do they ever. Fat, stupid trains; lumbering crapyards laden with coal. Rusty tipbins, dory-sized, and ‘numdrums, too. The trains bangle bridges and fart out their hopes. They knock out the canopy people and pass o’er graffiti. They blast from their chutes and dangle where they are. Down go the dead cars past bins of recyclement.

Nothing recycles here, though; nothing at all. Everything is old and stays old through the weather. Loose dogs mangle down the sidewalks like monkeys. Cops cruise through dishevelment to inspect the crumblings; their speeding faces wax cherubic in the rainlight of “discovery.”

The wind blows, always.

People knife people here, and shoot people, and hit their brothers, then lumber through the woods on four-wheeled escape buggies. Twinkies sustain them on their branch-infested getaway. Someone won the lottery once—eight miles away.

The ice cream stand is God, and sundaes are Jesus. Some women should not wear sweatpants, ever. No woman should ever wear pajama bottoms in public. Men should and do wear sweaties and sleeperpants whene’er they let doors fall into the faces of fat mamas. Birds continue to crap here when they fly o’er the traincars. The band marches past the Independence Day puddles, and e’er out of tune are they—e’er out of tune.

I wish they had fixed up the robber in ‘jammy pants. The girl wanted him wrung on an ATV, but her mama got him whapped on his stubble with Marlboros. Cover him, I say, with ice cream that is soft. Bury him in snow-colored bread that is old. Suffuse him with bologna that is perfectly round, and discount his milk, no, not ever.

Soon, it will be over, and it will probably be windy. God will arrive; He’ll destroy all the quirkies when He’s finished with Babylon.

Come quickly, one world religion, thank you. Thank you, God, for placing me here, for I do like the statuary and the discounted milk. One woman wears miniskirts, and there are lights on the poles. I like the gas and electricity; I like cats. No one will ever find me here, no, not ever. I like all the roads where the cows shit bran flakes, all done freely without benefit of pants. The smell of the wheat dung justifies my tenure here; the wind brings it to my nose. It returns me (the wind) to memories of Jerusalem and the Bethany Road, when Barrabas shot the bank robber and dressed him in a Sponge Bob hat.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


So I thought to myself, How can I get smaller and lighter? From whence will come my newest portable shelter? Am I destined to sleep in bubble wrap? Then so I shall!

Well, no. I didn’t want to sleep in bubble wrap. I still don’t. Try to imagine that. The wrap would be comfortable, yes, but every time I rolled over I would pop and wake myself up. And not just one pop, but dozens of them. Rolling from my side to my back, I would sound like the Fourth of July; Independence Day in the middle of the woods; the crackle of machine gun fire; Jiffy Pop that can’t sleep. What I needed was a bivy bag.

“Bivy” is short for “bivouac,” which, according to the Rand McNally Collegiate Dictionary, is “a military encampment made with tents of improvised shelters, usually without shelter or protection from enemy fire.” Soldiers camped in open spaces require proximity to the ground; jutting into the horizon even a foot could spell the loss of a foot, or another vital appendage. The bivy sack, then, was not a tent, but a glorified bag encasing the sleeper, shedding rain, fellowshipping with the groundlife. Because campgrounds on the Pittsburgh walk might not appear when I want them to, I felt I needed stealth camping capability. (That is, trespassing capability.) And nothing seemed better suited to that than a bivy.

Stealth camping is not my method of choice; I would prefer a bonafide campsite. I have never stealth camped in my life. Okay, I take that back. My friend Jim and I stealth camped in the Mojave Desert once, near an on-ramp to Interstate 15, outside Barstow, California. My wife and I stealth camped in a cemetery. (Yes, we did. Scenery Hill, Pennsylvania. September, 1984.) And I stealth camped at a rest stop in Utah once, in the woods behind the restrooms. I also just remembered that my same friend Jim and I “stealth” camped on a bench at a shopping plaza in Monroe, Michigan. We also “stealth” camped on the town green in Hemet, California. And Melody and I “stealth” camped on a town green in Fresno, Ohio.

I put “stealth” in quotation marks in the above examples because it’s not stealth camping when you’re in the middle of the middle of a town beneath an orange halogen lamp. This is bold, stupid and thus, perhaps, brilliant. No one bothers you—at least this has been my experience. People assume you have permission. No one is so bold to camp in sight of the world unless they’ve consent from the police, the mayor, and a majority of city council. But now that I think about it, camping in shameless places may be the best option yet. The choices become limitless: restaurant parking lots (tough to drive stakes through), schoolyards, churchyards, the post office, the library, next to the civil war cannon (or, for solo campers, in it), between the pumps at the BP.

I want nature, though. I want simplicity. I crave a degree of remoteness on this trip. I don’t want to hear mail sorted, or the clanking, through the night, of book and video return chutes. I do not want shot from a canyon, nor do I wish to mingle with the demons of the churchyard. I should not reek of wiper fluid in the morning; I should not want my oil checked.

I could lay my bivy bag anywhere in any woods—if need be; that is, if no proper campgrounds manifested themselves.

So I went online and googled “bivy bags.” I may as well have googled “death shrouds.”

Might I say: these products lacked size. Occupied, they resembled large and very uncomfortable caterpillars. (Struggling caterpillars, even; hurting and discouraged caterpillars.) Some of the bags had a small pole at the head that formed a hoop the circumference of a basketball. This feature kept the top of the bag three inches off the camper’s face. This was what I wanted, for sure. I wanted that kind of luxury. I wanted to be able to blink and stick my tongue out if I wanted to. I wanted to be able to itch my nose. These models were advertised as “SPACIOUS!” “ROOMY!” and “BIG ENOUGH TO SNEEZE IN!” This was for me. Still, I kept looking for something better.

Two days ago, I found it: A hammock! Look at this. At only 32 ounces, it rolls up smaller than a package of hamburger. It includes a rain fly that is strung just above the mosquito netting and staked out for total rain coverage. Two trees, and you’re up. Smooth, level ground? The hammocker doesn’t need them! The hammock takes three minutes to hang, four if you’re an idiot. You enter it by poking your head up the middle; yes. There’s a slit at the bottom, running halfway up. You poke in your head, turn around, sit down, bring up your feet, lay down, and your weight makes the slit disappear. Magic!

In pleasant weather, you stare through the mosquito netting at the stars while no insect on earth, no matter its size, disturbs your reverie. In windy weather, you rock gently to sleep. Position yourself diagonally and the hammock lays magically flat. There is room to spare at both your head and feet. The netting rests taut, a foot off your face. You may thus eat, read, or play pattycake with visible planets.

Suspended in the air! My realm is inherent among the celestials, so what better way to sleep, for me, than suspended off the ground? No terrestrial soldier, I! Son of the living God; my God! He, Himself, is enthroned on high in the company of angels. Besides, I don’t want to be trampled by deer, mice and rabbits.

I have pictured myself in a driving rainstorm at night, high and dry, a small electric lantern clipped to an interior hook, reading a book, snuggled into my down sleeping bag, dipping at leisure from a bag of pretzels; at one side my glowing blue Sirius radio—a Christmas gift from my sister—the antenna snaking up the tree at my head, dutifully receiving signals from a satellite in space; at my other side a cell phone, connected to Melody with whom I am whispering through a tiny headset—all while suspended between two trees in the middle of a Pennsylvania woods; I want this.

Hammocks, I have discovered, are as old as man. The Mayas used them exclusively; you would never catch a Mayan on a cot, or a Sealy Posturepedic. They napped, overnighted, made love, birthed, lived and died in their hammocks. It is probable that our Lord, while asleep in the fishing boat on Galilee during the storm, lay ensconced in a hammock. Mariners have utilized hammocks for centuries, stringing unused sails between masts and enjoying a restful night’s sleep no matter the waves.

According to a testimony on the website, a sixty year-old man, a nature lover, thought his camping days were over. He suffered hip pain, back pain, pain in his shoulder, pain in his pain. Simply contemplating a night in a tent on the unforgiving ground made his joints throb. Then someone told him about the Hennessey Hammock. He tried it on a short camping trip and—Glory! For the first time in four years, he awoke feeling fine. The guy was so excited that he came home, pounded two giant eyebolts into posts in his living room, and strung his hammock there. Now whenever he wants assured of a painless night’s sleep, into the Hennessey he goes.

I intend now to save up for the backpacker, ultralight version. In the meantime, I dream about it: a bag of pretzels, calm nights, stars or rain, swaying to sleep in a gentle breeze. With sustenance and shelter we shall be sufficed.

And now, “May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of The God of Jacob set you securely on high!” (Psalm 20:1).

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Monday, March 06, 2006


I’m still going to tell you what I found on the Internet yesterday, but I must review now my trip to MallTown Friday, and what happened at the Barnes & Noble—before I forget.

MallTown is my name for the suburb twenty-five miles south of here that contains all the staples of indulgent shopping and fat-filled food. The shopping staples include Staples, Penny’s, Macy’s, Old Navy, Target, Wal-Mart, and such. Among the emporiums of fat are Chi-Chi’s, Red Lobster, Friday’s, Chipotle, Olive Garden, Outback, Cheddars and the like. The only real food in MallTown sits in bun ovens and veggie bins at Subway. Subway is the only fast food in America that has a right to the title, “food.” One may be assured of a square meal at Subway as long as one answers “No, thank you” to the requisite cash register question, “Would you like chips and a drink with that?”

MallTown contains a mall, of course. On weekday mornings only lonely people, walkers, and self-employed writers go there. (Sometimes these are combined into the frankenstein: self-employed, lonely writer/walker.) On weekday mornings and early afternoons, malls are barren of fun, and nearly of life. I encountered a middle-aged walker swigging a Starbucks as he went, and this was the main hive of activity. Old people sat on benches with hands atop their canes. The modern mall may be the geriatric version of the singles bar.


“I know.”

“Wanna go to the hearing aid store?”

“Oh, I just had lunch.”

“What do you say we date?”

“The thirteenth.”

Mall employees at midway kiosks endlessly adjusted their product. As for me, I sought the Radio Shack; I needed high-bias, metal cassette tapes for the re-launch of ZenderTalk. I walked around so many times looking for this store that I encountered the Starbucks man seven times. It turned out that the Radio Shack had moved. I found out later from my sons that it was on Linwood Avenue now, between Panera’s Bread Store and Pay-Less Shoes, in the shadow of Dick’s Sporting Goods and Target.

Barnes & Noble is the best store in MallTown because the doors are well-built, and there’s a vestibule full of books between the cold parking lot and a cozy reading chair. The ambiance, upon entering the second set of real wooden doors, smells like toasted almond coffee beans. This is due to toasted almond coffee beans.

I make an immediate right to the coffee stand for a Starbucks grande, decaf. The sizing at Starbucks is foreign, even to foreigners. “Grande” is somehow “medium.” If you want a small, you say, “tall.” If you want a large, you say “venti.” If you want to cuss, you say “Blaggerdeepoop.” If you want to know why smalls are tall and larges are venti, you ask one of the young clerks. But as many of them have white, spiked hair, they don’t know. And yet they are kind enough to want to leave room in your cup for cream, if that’s your taste.

I was looking at “New Arrivals” at the front table when a woman (a new arrival in the flesh) came into the store wearing black, high-heeled leather boots.

I confess to you that I really like women’s boots, especially the high-heeled, black leather variety. I like it even more when the boots fit snugly around the woman’s leg, and this phenomenon was occurring here at this bookstore, with this new arrival.

This boot thing is venti to me; it’s not a tall issue at all. The higher the heel, the ventier the experience, to me. Some call this a fetish. I call it a matter of really liking women’s boots.

Someone gave me the impression, many years back, that this bent of mine was sinful. I respected this person’s opinion, so I sought to cleanse myself. (If God hated this variety of female footwear, then I would hate it, too. I wanted to be on God’s side in the matter of female footwear.)

I laid on the floor of my living room and cried and prayed. I was that sincere, in the direction of God. I prayed and prayed for the cleansing. When I got off the floor, I dusted myself and felt the need to test the prayer’s effectiveness. I had to wait a few days, but then I saw her at K-Mart: a woman in tight, high-heeled boots, leather and black. In that moment I knew that God had answered my prayer! I still dug the boots. God answered my prayer by not answering it. Whenever God responds in this way to a high-heeled request—or to any kind of request, for that matter—it is His way of saying, “Until I rid you of this thing, just hang onto it and do your best. If it is fun and relatively harmless, relish it.” In my case it was His way of saying, “I want you to keep this fetish, Martin. Enjoy the boots.”

This, in itself, was a cleansing. Here at the Barnes and Noble this day, it never entered into my heart to biblically know the woman; I did not prefer her to my wife; I did not make myself a nuisance to her; I did not even stare at her footwear, though, were it socially acceptable, I surely would have. I merely glanced and sighed, and felt good inside. It made the gray day better. It made me want to go home and see Melody.

Melody’s boots have a spiked, metallic heel, and they are an inch ventier than those of the tall lady at the not-so grande bookstore.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Saturday, March 04, 2006


I have been thinking about shelter lately, and my walk to Pittsburgh. Some people in this world try to see how spacious and fancy they can make their earthly domiciles. I had a guy recently tell me what the square footage of his house was. He was explaining how successful he was, so I assume that the number he gave spelled a very big house for him. I wouldn’t know; I failed square footage in school. Two hundred square feet sounds like a lot to me. I assume that my house has a square footage. I cannot tell you what it is, any more than I can tell you the size of my hard drive.

As for living quarters, I go the opposite way. One of my secret passions is tents. The idea of living so lightly that one can carry one’s home, fascinates me. Turtles have it made. If I could be any animal on this planet, however, I would be a duck. (More on this another time.)

I have carried my own home on several bicycling excursions. When Melody and I did our trans-America tour in 1984, we carried a Eureka four-person Sentinel. Why a four-person tent when there were only two of us? You never know who is going to stop by. I wanted Melody to have a nice place. I wanted her to be proud of her tent. Whenever we stopped at campgrounds, I wanted Melody to be able to look down upon the other tents and their owners. I wanted her to be able to “poo-poo” our tently neighbors and feel superior to them. I wanted Melody and me to be able to stand outside our tent, hands on our hips, and feel proud of our investment.

This backfired on me, because there were more car campers at many of the campgrounds than bicycle campers, and some of these tents you could do jumping jacks in. These tents had parking spaces around them. Some had exit signs. Some had to be pitched by teams of Amishmen. Many of the tents blocked the sun, moon and stars. I tried explaining to Melody that our tent was cozy. Melody said, “uh-huh” and went to take a shower.

While Melody was in the shower, I tried to do a dozen jumping jacks in our tent—just to see if I could. I pulled all eight stakes loose during the first jumping jack. After that, the next eleven jumping jacks were easy.

For a solo bicycling trip in Michigan in 1998, I bought a Eureka Solitaire. I was trying to simplify and minimalize even more, and this was the answer. The shelter weighed only three pounds, and thus it contrasted with our Sentinel, which was like carrying a zebra. It packed so small that I could fit it into one of my panniers.

The first time I pitched it for practice, I crawled in and said, “Uh-oh.” My brain didn’t like it. The tent was roomy at the shoulders, but it tapered down, down, down, toward the feet. It could not be sat up in. Even on my back, I could not put my knees up without them hitting the top. This tent was small. Whenever I looked down toward my feet, I got the willies. So I decided to myself, I just won’t look down toward my feet. This worked! As long as I pretended that my body was only a head and two shoulders, I dodged the willies and their wicked neighbors, the creeps.

I came to love the tent. The Michigan trip was five refreshing days and nights of rudimentary living. This tent offered the same protection as four walls and a roof, but you could fold it up and stuff it into a small sack. In the mornings after packing up, I would hold the bagged Solitaire in my two upturned palms and say to it, “You are my home.” I would say this to the Solitaire. Then I would look up to heaven, as if presenting to God my firstborn, and say, “This is my home.” I was very thankful to God for allowing me the thrill of holding in my arms a temporary home.

Who needed furniture and the like? This was my thought then. I thought to myself, Who needs closets and overflowing desk drawers and high-maintenance beds that require domestic theatrics such as making? This was the simple life. I didn’t have to clean the gutters of my Solitaire, or mow around it. I didn’t have to insure it or tell delivery men how to get to it. With sustenance and shelter let us be sufficed. I’d have needle pointed this saying and hung it on the tent wall, if I’d had one.

The Solitaire was the epitome of privacy. Unlike on the ’84 tour, I did not want guests dropping by. Here was the perfect deterrent to that. No one was going to say, “Let’s go visit that man in his nylon prescription bottle.”

But now the Pittsburgh trip looms, and it’s a walk, not a bicycle ride. So you know what I am thinking: How low can I go? I’ve got to get simpler and more basic. Along this line, you will not believe what I found on the Internet today.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Thursday, March 02, 2006


When my son Jefferson was little and my office was in a tiny room at the house, he used to come in with an apple and sit on a big chair. I would turn my office chair around to face him, and put my feet up on the arms of his chair. In this way, I would enclose him and protect him. We called this time “protect time,” and it impressed on him forever that fathers protect sons. Jefferson is thirteen years old, and we still talk about protect time.

I like wearing sunglasses because they protect me from the harsh light of the world. My house protects me from the rain. My skin protects my bones from becoming bleached in the sun. I love visored hats in the rain because the visor protects my face from the water. A hot coffee cup in my hands, in winter, protects my hands from the cold of my downtown office, before the heater hits. My dad used to protect me, but he died. God protects me every day with an invisible shield. This works in combination with my sunglasses and my skin. I mix frozen berries in with my protein shake; the berries protect me from certain forms of cancer. I go to bed at 8:00, and this protects me from the debilitating forces of stress. Rising before the sun protects me from the mad rush of the eon. The quiet and solitude protect my spirit, and these work in conjunction with God and my skin.

My favorite time of day is when I crawl into bed. I sleep naked because I want to be free. The walls of my home protect me from the wind. If it rains during the night, I am all right because of the roof and the walls. A man needs a roof, four walls and a good wife; with these, he is happy. A down comforter is bonus protection, in the winter. I hope it is unnecessary for geese to die to provide the feathers that insulate my naked frame from the blue of night, which is 4 a.m. Four o’clock in the morning is called “the blue hour” because it is the time when the body comes closest to death. The heart is stiller then, the blood cooler, and the body practices for an untimely demise. If God is merciful, death is deferred for another day. At 4:01 a.m., life begins its slow return. Heat returns to the blood and the heart adds another beat per minute to prepare its home for the stresses of a wicked eon.

Death is dodged for another day, but maybe not tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow I will die. Death hangs over the head daily and by night, and there is nothing for it but food and skin, berries the color of wine, and sons and a good wife. But these, themselves, die. The only thing for it, then, is the invisible barrier of God. But even this flies at the hour appointed for an earthly end. The only thing for it, then, is an expectation for a future beyond the now-visible world. The only thing for it is the knowledge that God will one day abolish death. This knowledge is the feet of God at the arms of the chair, protecting the citizens of this tiny room from despair.

© 2006 by Martin Zender