Sam felt good. Everything about his life at this moment, on this day, was incredibly good, great, wonderful, fantastic with a capital ‘tastic!’ For the past three hours, he’d been trying to figure out why trying to pinpoint the moment this feeling started. But there was no particular reason why he felt this way and for a pinpoint, it simply was, as if he felt this way before he woke up, maybe even before that moment when he slipped from awake to asleep the night before. Although he couldn’t remember any of his dreams, he knew they were all special, the kind you want to tell someone about before you forget what they were or anything about them beyond the fact that you had them and they should have been memorable.
Then there was this thought: if he discovered the reason or the moment this elation began, maybe that would end it. Maybe he and everything about him would return to one of those moments before this began. It was like a softball game when he was a kid and each of the six batters before him had gotten hits and he knew if he thought about it too much, about being the one who ended the string, then he wouldn’t get a hit. So, he walked up to the plate thinking about hitting the ball, thinking about watching it going over the shortstops head, about running to first and maybe even to second. That didn’t happen though, the ball sailed over the second baseman’s head.
So he decided to stop thinking about it. He would just enjoy this giddy, tingling sensation, this raw happiness and forget about the possibility of grounding out.
“Why the big smile on your face?” asked Donna.
“Maybe because I knew you were going to walk into the room.”
“I walk into this room every morning about this time… you’ve never smiled like that before.”
“Maybe I have but you never noticed.”
“It’s more than just your smile. You look sorta strange. It’s like you know something I don’t, the kind of look one or the other of my brothers seemed to show up with a few days before Christmas. I knew he found our presents, but he wasn’t telling. So, what aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing. For some reason, I’m just in a really good mood.”
“What did you do?”
“Wish I knew. Don’t want to know. Don’t want to ruin it and you’re not helping. Whatever it is, I just want to hold onto it.”
“That’s nice. So, do you want to do something while you’re in this great mood?”
“Not really, just want to sit here and feel it.”
“We could turn on the TV and…”
“No, definitely not.”
“Maybe just go out for some ice cream?”
“I’d rather not.”
“Then maybe we could just go out and buy a half-gallon and bring it back.”
“You could do that.”
“Okay then, let’s go.”
“I said you can do that. I’ll wait here for you.”
“Okay, then maybe I’ll download a movie.”
“I’d like to watch something while I eat my ice cream. That would make me feel really good. Since you don’t want to watch TV, I thought…”
“I don’t want to turn on the TV or the computer, not for a TV show or a movie.”
“Maybe we could read to each other while we eat our ice cream. We haven’t done that in a long time.”
“Maybe you could read to yourself while you eat your ice cream.”
“You’re still smiling, but you’re becoming a real party pooper.”
“I know. I’m trying so incredibly hard to hold onto this feeling. I’d like to see it last all day at least.
“Maybe if you’d share it.”
“That would be nice, but if I share it, I’ll have to explain how I got it and I don’t even want to try to do that…. It’s strange, but I can’t think of a single time in my life when I’ve ever felt this good before.”
“Not when we got married?”
“That was different.”
“I think we were too busy to notice how good we felt.”
“Not even in bed.”
“Maybe, but each time’s different… and who’s counting if you know what I mean.”
“Well, we should do something.”
“We should, shouldn’t we. There’ve been six hits in a row… Ice cream sounds good, what flavor.”
Halloween, sixth grade, two classmates, both guys more than a teaspoon short of a full bowl are talking about their plans for the night.
They figure they’re too old to go trick or treating so they’re just going to go tricking. They’re going to tie garbage cans together. They’ll find neighbors whose cans are close together and tie the handles together with some kite string. They’ve got lots of kite string.
They figure it’ll be hilarious when one neighbor moves his trash cans and tips over somebody else’s trash can. They picture all the garbage scattered and the neighbors cursing each other as they pick the stuff up.
“So, when was the last time you saw anybody around here moving their garbage cans around?” I ask. In our neighborhood, all the trash cans are out in the alley and the only people who move them are the garbage collectors. I point out to my two imaginative classmates how they’ll have to walk or ride their bikes more than a mile away to a neighborhood without alleys, then they’ll have to stumble around backyards till they find two where the trash cans aren’t so far away that the string is easily noticeable.
Of course, that didn’t occur to them, but they still think it’s a good idea because the garbage man will be the one knocking over somebody’s garbage. Which they think is pretty ironic.
“So, you’re telling me you think the garbage man is so stupid he’s going to go from house to house tipping over trash cans and isn’t going to notice they’re all tied up?”
“Well maybe one or two, but there’s gonna be garbage all over the alley’s and that’s gonna look funny, right?”
“So you’ll be sitting here tomorrow trying to keep from laughing while you picture the garbage man tipping over trash cans?” I asked.
They both nodded.
“Maybe you should take a camera so you can take some pictures of all the trash tomorrow,” another classmate suggested.
“Yeah, that’s a great idea.”
I left it at that, thinking it was actually a good idea because it would keep them from getting into real trouble, at least that’s what I thought.
That night they headed out with their ball of kite string, tied up a few trash cans. Then one of them noticed a ladder leaning against the roof of a two-story building. The house was dark. The owners weren’t home. They didn’t want to see any trick or treaters. For some reason, that upset him and one part of his brain somehow clicked against another part as he concocted a plan to seek revenge.
Two minutes later those two kids were dragging a trash can up the ladder. It was hard work, one pulling up on a handle, the other underneath, pushing up on the trash can. Eventually, they got it to the top and just as they were working it onto the roof, the owner came home. The kid on the bottom scurried down the ladder, jumping the last five or six steps, leaving his friend balanced precariously on the roof with his arms wrapped around the trash can.
The owner hadn’t seen them on the ladder, but he did see the kid running out of the yard, so he looked around. He didn’t see the kid on the roof, but he did see the ladder and decided to take it down.
“No, no, no,” the kid on the roof screamed.
It was dark so all the homeowner could see was the shadow on the roof.
“What the hell are you doing up there,” the man shouted.
“Nothing,” the kid answered.
“Well, get down here right now,”
“I can’t,” the kid said.
“You can’t? Afraid you’ll fall?”
“No, I’ve got your garbage can up here.”
“What?” the homeowner said as he turned and went into his garage.
As if the kid wasn’t terrified enough, now he thought the man was going to get a gun. Instead, the man came out with a flashlight.
With his feet propped against the gutter, he was sitting there hugging a trash can.
“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it.” the homeowner mumbled over and over as he climbed the ladder.
The next morning the two kids who always showed up at school together, arrived separately. They didn’t talk to each other and they wouldn’t talk to anybody else. It was months before they got over whatever it was, but by that time we knew.
Both of them had been severely punished. Nobody knew exactly what that meant, maybe some beatings or spankings, the loss of privileges, groundings, and maybe even no more Halloween’s.
The one who was left on the roof was mad at the other because he ran away, and the one who ran away was mad because the other had ratted on him, even blaming him for the whole thing.
A couple of my classmates thought tying the trash cans to the chimney was a great idea, but most of us thought it was pretty stupid, but we wondered if anyone would try it next year.
Bradley parked the car, then walked down the driveway to the mailbox. The latest issue of the New Yorker magazine, the usual weekly collection of local advertising, a couple letters from AARP, and a letter from someone named Mitch Hedberg. Bradley studied the envelope to be sure it was addressed to him, which it was. It was handwritten, the Forever stamp was placed at an angle to the corner, and the letter was postmarked two days ago in . It didn’t look at all like a mass mailing.
Once inside Bradley poured himself a scotch on the rocks, rifled through the local advertising and recycled everything except the letter from Mitch. He opened it, expecting to see a sales pitch of some kind, maybe a pyramid scheme. Inside was a carefully written letter.
I’m expecting you will remember me. I found you on Facebook. I signed on to it last month. Giannini is on it too. Drew told me Jerry was in Texas I thought — still in the food business. Drew’s running a golf course. Turns out I probably drove right by him last year when we were visiting my wife’s cousins in CA.
As to what I’ve been doing. As you remember, I was in prep school (Phillips Academy, Andover, MA), only because my folks could afford it, not because that’s where I wanted to go. I did okay there and could have gone to Harvard or almost anyplace after that. Lord knows dad wanted that, but I joined the Navy and stayed in for 6 years. Then dad got his wish, but it was Dartmouth for me. Planned to be a doctor, but instead of going right into med school after getting my BS, I took a job as a Patient Service Representative at St. Lukes in New Bedford. Figured it would give me a better idea of what I was getting into before I got into it. After two years I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor, much less a neurologist. I know a couple doctors here Utica, but that’s about as close as I am to being one.
How did I get to Utica? I have spent most of the last 30 plus years in the health field. Fourteen years as a chemical dependency counselor/administrator, and the last 13 as a behavioral treatment unit manager at a long-term care facility in here.
Been married to Maggie (Margaret) for 29 years and nine weeks. Have one son, Allen, who is 19. Been living in Utica since 1974. Can’t tell you how many times we’ve been up and down hwy. 49 between here and Rome, Vienna, Jewel and points north. I just remember it’s not four lanes like 90. My best man at our wedding, Tom Tolbert’s folks used to have a place on Oneida Lake north of Sylvan Beach just off Hwy. 13. I remember a sporting goods store in town that had a freezer case out front that held a trophy size fish. His folks sold the place about 10 years ago.
What got me to look you up was your daughter’s art show. I noticed the name in the local paper and remembered Drew mentioning you had a daughter who was an artist. Brilliant as I am, I put two and two together, went to the show and asked her. She is indeed talented! You must be awful proud.
I had no idea you were so close. Last I heard you were working in Jersey. Maybe we can get together sometime, maybe golf or lunch. I don’t get over there as often as I used to, but I could make the trip.
Anyhow, that’s a brief history of me since we last met — which must’ve been in 1964, because that’s when I left for Phillips.
Bradley wrote back,
I’d love to get together for lunch sometime, anytime at your convenience.
A few corrections: I’ve never worked in Jersey, have lived here at least twenty years. I do not have a daughter who is an artist unless you consider accounting an art, but you’re right I am very proud of her. I also have two sons. One, Karl, is the News Director at a radio station in Oneida. The other, Dustin, teaches math at Oneida High School. I was a fifth grader in 1964. You sound like a person I would like to know, however. Lunch sounds good. we could meet half way. I know two or three good places in Rome unless you’ve got a favorite there. You mentioned a trophy size fish. Do you do any fishing? Maybe we could go out on my boat sometime. It’s an 18 footer, plenty of room for both of us.
Pushing the pile of dirt down the school hallway, John Casey noticed a few drops of blood. He stopped his sweeping to clean up the blood. As he looked at it, he thought about the day is life changed, forty-five years ago. He was eleven years old. His father was sitting on the front porch reading the newspaper, not paying any attention to him. John, who was called Jackie then, was tossing a ball into the air, hoping his father would stop reading and play catch. It didn’t happen very often, maybe once or twice a year, but it was like everything else. His father was there, but he wasn’t close.
Jackie tossed the ball and it wasn’t a very good throw. Instead of going up in the air it went backward and slammed into his father’s newspaper.
“Damn it, Jackie. You’ve got a whole big back yard. Why aren’t you playing back there instead of out here, pestering me?”
Jackie shrugged his shoulders, but as he turned toward the back yard he noticed a kid about his age coming down the street. It was somebody new, a kid Jackie didn’t know. He walked casually toward the boy until he was just two steps away.
“Hi,” Jackie said, then he punched the kid in the face as hard as he could. Jackie’s father jumped off the porch, shouting. The kid was wailing. Blood was pouring out of his nose. Jackie stood there just looking at the kid. His father jumped off the porch shouting, “What the hell are you doing? Why did you do that?”
Jackie shrugged his shoulders.
His father took the kid inside, got him cleaned up, stopped the bleeding and gave the kid a soda and some ice cream. Then they talked. They talked for almost an hour. The next day when Jackie checked on his father sitting on the porch after dinner, the kid was there, talking. The kid and Jackie’s dad met Just about every day, for the next few months. The kid never wanted to play catch or do anything with Jackie. All he wanted to do was talk with Jackie’s dad. Whenever Jackie took the time to listen to what they were talking about he was soon bored. The kid was crazy, always talking about money and investing and the stock market.
Then one day the kid disappeared. After a couple weeks not seeing him, Jackie asked his dad, “What happened to that kid who was always here?”
Elliot, Jackie thought, that was about right name for a weird kid, “Yeah, him,” Jackie said.
“His dad was transferred, so Elliot has moved away.”
Years passed before the two boys saw each other again. Both went on to college. Elliot earned an MBA from Wharton. John dropped out, had alcohol problems and spent ten years in jail. There he became John and learned enough about plumbing, heating, and electricity to get hired to do maintenance work when he got out.
Elliot made a lot of money and was eventually hired by John’s father and became one of the company’s VPs. When John’s father died he left each of the boys ten percent of the company. Elliot took over the day-to-day operation of the business and it thrived.
Since then another ten years passed. Both boys were married and had three children, although each of Elliot’s children was with a different wife. His alimony and child support payments left him with little more money than John was making.
As John cleaned up the blood he thought about how well things had turned out. Based on their respective births, Elliot was the one who should have been fixing the radiators and sweeping the halls and John should have been running the company. For years John thought he was trying to impress his father when he punched Elliot. Looking back on what had happened to the two of them, John wondered if there was more to it than that. He wondered if he had seen something of the future that was in store for him, a future he knew he would never want. Maybe when he saw Elliot he also saw that Elliot was perfect for that future, but first Elliot had to meet John’s father.
As he threw the rag with the blood on it into the trash, John smiled. Punching Elliot in the face was the best thing he’d ever done.
It always seemed like a good idea to him, to open a store.
He’d always liked to surf the Internet looking for bargains. It didn’t matter what it was: computers, cars, kitchen tools, pet collars or anything else. He just liked to find bargains. He found it thrilling. When he was in elementary school, it was better than beating someone at chess. When he was in high school, finding a great bargain was better than getting a date with the prettiest girl in school. When he was in college, finding something at an irresistible price was better… well maybe not better, but almost… than spending a night in bed with that prettiest girl.
So, it only made sense that he find a way to make a living doing what he liked most to do. First, he started a web site listing the deals he found. That was okay, but it wasn’t as much fun as finding the bargains. So, he started buying some of the bargains he found. Having a package delivered, then opening it was like undressing someone. It wasn’t long before his house was filled with things: toasters, TVs, small statues, butter dishes, and so on.
He hired a friend to run the web site. Then he decided to open a store to sell off the things he bought. He found a suitable space, 1800 square feet, in a mall next to a large department store. He called it “The Niks and the Naks Store.” He wanted something clever, but not cute. The location was perfect. The department store attracted a lot of foot traffic. Many of those people stopped at his store on their way to or from the department store. Business was good.
The Internet site was also doing well. About six months after he opened the store the department store went out of business. Instead of being the cute little with all the stuff next to the big department store his store became the little store that nobody noticed because it was at the end of a dead-end hallway where the kids hung out. Business was not as good.
The kids liked to wander his store, trying to shoplift. He usually caught them, but he felt sorry for them and never called the cops. They stopped trying to shoplift. Instead, they just looked at the stuff in his store and mostly sat on one of the big sofas he had at the front of the store and drank soda and talked. Gradually he became a counselor, a mentor, an adult the kids trusted and turned to when they had problems. He liked his new role. Rather than the excitement of finding deals, he found comfort in making friends and being trusted.
Two years went by like this. The kids often wondered how he managed to stay in business since they hardly ever so anyone buying anything. They didn’t know about his Internet business. They didn’t know that whenever they saw him surfing the Internet he was looking for deals to list on the website. They didn’t know that he was a multi-millionaire. He never talked about his Internet business. Instead, he talked with them about his store and said when business was good before the big department store closed it had been so good that he was able to keep going, but he hoped things would get better so the day wouldn’t come when he’d have to close.
One day a couple of them stopped by, just to say hello. He asked where they all hung out now. They said they were still in the Mall, that one of the other big department stores had closed down awhile ago, so they were all over there.
That day, after he closed up for the day he walked over to where the kids now hung out. He spent about an hour talking with them. He also noticed there was an empty spaced at the end of the hall. The next day he called the Mall management to ask about the space. It was available, so he made the necessary arrangements and moved.
“You know what the garden needs?” he asked his granddaughter.
“That too,” he said, “but it could use some flat stones to separate where the grass meets the flowers.”
“Okay,” she said, wondering what grandpa was talking about. She was ten, but planting a garden was still new to her.”
“We can go take a couple bags down to the creek, the one that runs through the woods,” he said. “It’s also a good day for a little walk through the woods. Maybe we’ll see a Scarlet Tanager.”
“It’s a bird,” he said, “a very pretty red bird, but we’ll have to be very quiet or it will stay hidden.”
“Will we have to tip-toe?” she asked.
“That might be good, but mostly we’ll have to stay on the path and not talk.”
That was okay with her because she liked to tip toe. It was hard to do, but she thought she was very good at it.
The forest was only a couple blocks away and the creek was only about a five-minute walk into the woods.
“Shhh,” grandpa said as they left the sidewalk and started on the dirt path. “Just stay right behind me, try not to step on any sticks, and try not to talk.”
The granddaughter looked out into the woods as they walked. She didn’t know what she was looking for, but she was watching for anything red. By the time they got to the creek she hadn’t seen anything red, other than a few leaves.
“No Scarlet Tanager,” grandpa said, “Maybe on the way back.” He bent over at the creek’s edge and picked up a small, flat grey-blue stone.”
The creek was six or seven feet wide and the water was moving fast after a series of thunderstorms the past few days. Normally, he’d hop across on the rocks that had long ago been rolled into place so people wouldn’t have to wade into the water. He thought he could probably carry his granddaughter across, but it was the trip back that concerned him, carrying her and a couple bags of rocks.
“This is what we’re looking for. We don’t want them to be round like a ball, but more like a squished ball.”
“Like a little pancake?”
“Exactly, that’s very good, like a little, flat pancake.”
He scanned the area for any signs of poison ivy or poison oak but didn’t see any. He noticed what looked like a small patch of watercress growing at a bend in the creek about 15 feet away and made a mental note to check it out.
“You look here on this side of the path,” he said. “Here’s a bag, put the stones you find in here. I’ll look there, on the other side of the path.”
About twenty minutes later his bag was noticeable heavy with rocks. Then he found one that was perfectly round, nicely flattened and had a good feel to it.
“Do you know what the best thing is about these rocks we’re collecting?”
“They are, aren’t they,” he said, “but they’re also good for skipping.” As he said that he pulled his arm back and bounced across the water the stone he’d been holding the water.
His granddaughter knew about skipping stones. She’d watched a couple boys from school doing it at the pond in Sunnyvale Park. She took one of the stones out of her back and threw it at the water. It didn’t bounce. It just sank to the bottom.
“This is how you do it,” He said holding one of the stones out so she could see how he was holding it.
Five minutes later reached into his bag for another rock, felt around the bottom, but it was empty.
“You got any stones left in your bag?” he asked.
She looked into her bag. “Just three.”
“You know what I think?” he asked
“That we need more rocks?”
“Not at all, not at all,” he said. “I’m thinking we’ve got three more rocks to skip.”
‘It was strange. It was weird. It was Deja Vue,’ Charles wrote under the words, ‘Dear Candice.’
‘When Teresa came home yesterday I was reading an article about unwanted pregnancies. It wasn’t a particularly interesting article. In fact, I was dozing off when Teresa walked in.’
“Guess what, Honey,” she said as she was taking her coat off.
‘Deja Vue,’ I thought. ‘Deja Vu. Strange she should use the word, honey . She never calls me honey. It was as if she knew I almost made a peanut butter and honey sandwich for lunch today but decided on bean soup instead.’ I was drowsy and thinking stupid stuff.
“I was reading a report this morning…” she went on.
‘There you go,’ I thought. ‘Reading. I’m reading. She was reading. She never tells me about what she reads at work. It’s always Joe does this and Beverly did that or another crazy customer.’ It was sorta weird I would say.’
“It was about the overpopulation of immature bank accounts in our system.”
‘I had no idea what to say to that, and she was looking at me as if she was expecting me to say something. What do you say to that? I have no idea what an immature bank account is. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. I thought she wanted me to ask, but I said to myself, ‘Don’t ask. I’m not going to ask. She’ll have to explain and it will take too long and be so boring she’ll stop and say “Am I boring you?” and I’ll say, “No, no, no, just carry over from my magazine. It’s a little boring, you know.’
“And the phone rang,” she was saying. “Talk about over population…”
Now, this is where it got weird. There was this look on her face as if she was trying to mislead me as if she was trying to get me thinking about over population in general because she was going to spring something on me. For a moment I think she knew and for a moment I really wanted to know who she was talking to.
“It was the clinic, she says. “You know, Doc Manders, my gynecologist…”
I must have breathed a sigh of relief that she misinterpreted because this big smile out of nowhere swept across her face, but just before the smile there was a flicker of something as if she thought I knew what she was talking about.
“And he said, ‘I’ve got some very good news. At least I think it’s good news. The tests came back, and you’re pregnant!'”
Of course, I wasn’t hearing what she was saying because I wasn’t hearing what I thought she was saying. So I wasn’t thinking about what I was saying as I said it. As you know, she and I haven’t really been doing it. At least not much. Not enough for me to remember, if at all. So I blurted out, “Who’s the father?”
Her smile disappeared. The look on her face told me I’d said something terrible, something dreadful, something that shouldn’t even be considered. So, I tried to cover it up, tried to fix things.
“Just kidding,” I said, trying to act all excited. “That’s great, that’s terrific, that’s fantastic.” And I jumped out of the chair, rushed over and hugged her, hugged her tight.
She hugged me back, but she could tell. I know she could. She knew. It wasn’t unexpected, but it was unwanted.
This is an exercise where I take the first line or two of a book and start writing. The goal is to write a complete story or scene. Another rule is that I haven’t read the book, so I have no idea where the beginning of the book is going.
This is how Kyle Keeley got grounded for a week. First he took a shortcut through his mother’s favorite rosebush.**
Then he lied about it. It wasn’t like it was just a branch or two or just a flower or two that got damaged. Nope, it was pretty darn near the whole bush. It also wasn’t like it was just any old rosebush, you know, the kind you buy at Brakesmith’s Five and Dime, the ones that are half dead long before you put your money down for one. Nope, this was a one of its kind, bred, coddled and cared for by Kyle’s mother, Karen.
It all started when she made her annual trip to Lester’s Greenhouse and Gifts for tomato plants. Every year since before Kyle could remember his mother brought home eight tomato plants. Each one was set on one of the back room windowsills. They were nurtured with sunlight, water, some nutrients, and Karen’s “you got to talk to plants. You got to say nice things to them or they won’t take kindly to you.” Even so, one or two of them still died on her; but in the end, she always grew more than four dozen ripe, juicy, redder than her lipstick tomatoes. “Best tomatoes are the ones you grow yourself,” she was fond of saying. “Anything else and you’re better off just stickin’ to the not so fresh picked at Super Foods.”
She was especially proud of her rose bush, because it was a bargain, a freebie. Actually, it was a stowaway. When she brought home the eight tiny tomato plants from the greenhouse, she showed Kyle the one with two sprouts in it.
“Should have charged me double for this one,” she announced. “Maybe shoulda bought only seven, cause I got only eight baskets. Probably gonna have to get something for this extra one.”
Two days later it was twice as tall as the other plant.
“Come look at this Kyle,” Karen said the moment he got home from school. See, its leaves are different.”
“So pull it,” Kyle said.
It was quite a shock to her when she saw one of her tomato plants almost four inches high when all the others were still struggling to stretch up to two inches or so. She hadn’t paid much attention to it till then. That’s when she noticed the leaves were different. At first, she was just going to yank it out, thinking a weed had made its way into her tomato cartons. For some reason she didn’t though. She thought she should find out what it was before she killed it off.
“Ain’t no plant worth dyin’ if you don’t know what you’re killing,” she said to Kyle right after pointing at the ‘maybe it’s a weed, maybe it ain’t’ and said, “You got any idea what that is?”
Didn’t take long before it was killing its tomato plant sister because the – ‘maybe it’s a weed, maybe it ain’t’ got too darn big for the egg carton. Karen carefully spooned it out and set it into a six-inch pot filled with fresh tomato dirt.
She still had no idea what it was and she didn’t want the neighbors laughing at her if they saw that she transplanted a weed. So, she trundled off to the library and started looking through the plant identification books till she found something that looked about right. It might still be a week, of course, but her plant and the picture of the rose in the book, looked enough alike for her to take a chance. She transplanted it and watched with pride as it grew thorns and eventually some buds. She took it out to the front dug a nice hole a few feet from the front steps and planted the rose.
Kyle should have trampled through his mom’s tomato plants. He might have gotten away with that, after all, she had twenty some odd tomato plants growing behind the garage. That rose plant, though, it was special. Every neighbor lady from blocks around often went out of their way to admire it.
“You should enter that in the County Fair,” they would say.
And that’s what Karen was planning to do. She’d just picked up the forms the day before and maybe that’s what set Kyle off. Here it was, only two days before summer school and instead of worrying about helping Kyle get signed up for any of the advanced classes over at the college, she was running around all worried about some stupid, apricot colored flower.
When she saw Kyle head into the bathroom she didn’t think anything of it, even though there was blood on both his arms. ‘Probably slid into second base again,’ she thought. Of course, she didn’t put two and two together or she’d have known Kyle never scraped both arms sliding into second base, and that was an awful lot of blood just for a scrape.
It wasn’t until the next morning when she went out to water and trim her prized rose bush that she discovered there wasn’t much of it left.
“Oh, no!” she screamed. “Oh, my lord, no.”
That’s where she was, sitting on the ground moaning and crying when Kyle pulled up and parked his car in front of the house. He reached in the back seat and fiddled with something before he got out. That something was a rose bush. After he woke up feeling more guilty than he wanted to feel, he thought maybe if he replaced the plant, she might not know. So, he’d been driving all over until he found one with flowers that looked close enough.
Seeing his mom all sprawled out on the ground in front of her rose bush, he knew he was too late. “What’s wrong mom,” he said when he got out of the car, knowing darn well what was wrong and hoping he could figure a way to get out of this one.
“Somebody ruined my roses.”
“Aww mom, who’d a done such a thing.”
“I was thinking maybe it was you.”
“Not me, mom. I’d never do something like that.”
“How’d you get all those scratches on your arms.”
“I was… I was up on the roof, getting a ball out of the gutter. I slipped, almost fell off. Scraped my arms something terrible.”
“How come you didn’t say anything? That’d be a pretty good story to tell, how you almost fell off the roof and all.”
“Maybe I didn’t want to say anything about being on the roof.”
“There’s one other thing Kyle. One other reason you’re grounded for the rest of the month…”
“You can’t ground me. That’s like almost a whole month. I didn’t do anything to your stupid roses.”
“Okay then, I won’t ground you if you can tell me one thing.”
“She held out her hand and opened it.
“What was this little flower, this little apricot colored rose doing stuck in the laces of a pair of your sneakers? Take a close look at it. It’s not more than a day old.”
Kyle looked at the flower, mumbled, “I’m really sorry mom.” Then he went into his room, closed the door and cried.
# # #
** First lines from Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
So I’m at the pizza place. I ordered a 16″ thick crust with green peppers, black olives, and tomato slices. It should’ve been ready five minutes ago, but there’s four people in front of me.
When I walked in the guy at the end of the line took a good look at me, as if he was taking my measurements. I thought maybe he was gay, but so what. Anyway, the guy at the front is placing an order. The guy in front of me who might or might not have been gay starts talking.
“I really got this craving for pizza, but I’m not supposed to have pizza. Doctor’s orders? Not exactly. Ex-wife’s orders.”
The he turns a bit and looks over his shoulder. That’s when I realize he’s talking to me and is expecting me to say something back.
So I say, “Yeah,” as if I understand.
“She says,” he continues, taking a big breath as he does. “She says pizza and pasta and almost any kind of bread product is not good for me and if I got any hopes of ever getting her back I’ll stop eating stuff like that. Says I should eat mostly vegetables and fish. So I been eating lots of Salmon and Tuna. Can’t stand most other kinds of fish. Stuff stinks and I got sick, deathly ill, thought I was gonna die, was kinda hoping I would last time I ate shrimp. Ain’t had shrimp in more’n ten years.”
Again he turns back toward me. “I’m not a big fan of shrimp either,” I say.
“Anyway, since I’m on this diet I thought just a plain cheese pizza couldn’t hurt too much, but tomorrow, you know, she’s gonna casually ask what I ate. So, I got a can of Salmon at home, gonna warm it up and put it on a five topping pizza. Tomorrow I can tell her I had some Salmon with a side of cooked mushrooms, green peppers, black olives, onion, and tomato with a little cheese. Eh?”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” I said.
“Damn straight. Fish and veggies, just like she wants.”
Jimmy woke with a start. He checked his watch. Just in time, the game wasn’t starting for another ten minutes. He could make himself a sandwich, open a bag of chips, grab a beer and be all ready when the game started.
As he opened the refrigerator he remembered he’d been chewing a wad of bubble gum when he fell asleep. He hadn’t planned to fall asleep, but it was the rhythm of chewing the gum that lulled him to sleep. He didn’t know why that happened, but for as long as he could remember chewing any kind of gum, in fact chewing anything sticky like caramel or taffy, always made him drowsy.
He wondered what he’d done with the gum. It wasn’t in his mouth. He checked back in the living room. Not on the table. Not on the floor. Not stuck anywhere on the sofa. Jimmy felt his hair, face, and clothing. No sign of the gum anywhere. He must have swallowed it.
Back in the kitchen he peeled off a couple leafs of lettuce, spread some mustard on the bread, added four slices of ham, two slices of cheese, and just a dab of horseradish. He was ready for the game. Packers – Cardinals, should be a good game. It was in Green Bay, so the Packers had the edge, but he was expecting Arizona to win. In the pool at work, he’d picked the Cardinals to win the Super Bowl.
By the time he sat down and had everything arranged it was just two minutes to game time. He pressed the remote, but nothing happened. He made sure it was pointed straight at the TV, pressed, saw the little red light go on, but nothing happened.
“Damn, wrong time for the TV to go out,” he thought. “One way the tube TVs were better, they always started flickering when they were about to die.”
Jimmie opened the small door over the controls on the TV and pressed ‘on.’ The TV sprang to life. “Must be the batteries,” he said to himself.
First, he turned the game on, then went back into the kitchen and got a couple batteries. He pried open the remote, pulled out the old batteries, put in the new, and as he was sliding the remote battery cover back into place he found the chewing gum. Somehow he’d stuck it over the remote’s infrared LED.
Back in the living room he put the gum back over the LED and pressed off. The TV stayed on. He removed the gum, pressed off, and the TV went off.
He chuckled, not just because it was funny, but because he was already picturing his brother’s face next time Jimmy visited.
Tony was 6’10” tall and weight just 191 lbs. When he was young and still 6’8″ he was told he would fill out as he got older. He never filled out, though. He tried strenuous exercise including weight lifting. Even though he was able to bench press 225 pounds with ease he hadn’t filled out much. He was still thin enough to squeeze through spaces the size of a basketball.
When he was ten other kids called him beanpole. Now he was tooth-pick, even though he hated being called that. Being skinny was not the most embarrassing, though. He wasn’t very good at sports. He could catch a football and his long legs and long arms were an advantage, but he couldn’t block and he was easy to take down. If there was a defender around when he caught the ball, it didn’t take too much to disrupt the catch. So, he spent most of his high school football career sitting on the bench.
He liked baseball and he could catch, but couldn’t hit. Getting the bat around quick enough was a problem, so he usually played at the end of the game when his coach put him in the outfield because of his defense.
The worst was basketball. Shooting wasn’t a big problem. He was about average and unlike football, he was good defensively, mostly because he was big enough to get in the way, but he couldn’t jump. Guys shorter than him often dunked over him and that was the rub. He never dunked over anyone. He never dunked. Never. For some reason when he jumped he barely left the floor. He spent hours in the gym squatting as low as he could, thn launching himself as high into the air as his body would allow, but it was never very much. Now, he was 22 and he’d been trying to strengthen his legs ever since he was 12 and tall enough that other kids smaller than him were already dunking, but something was wrong. His coaches thought maybe his legs bent wrong or maybe it was his ankles or maybe he just had white guy muscles. Every 6’10” white guy he knew could dunk.
“Wish I could help one of his friends said one day. Maybe it’s your shorts. You’ve been wearing the same kind of shorts as long as I’ve known you.”
“Or maybe it’s the shoes,” his friend said. “You remember that commercial when we were little. Michael Jordan and it’s the shoes. You been wearin’ the same brand your whole life, right.”
“It ain’t the shorts and it ain’t the shoes,” Tony said. “It’s my body, God just made me wrong, that’s all.”
A couple weeks later Tony was in a sporting goods store. He needed a new pair of shoes. He picked up a pair of his usual shoes, but as he did another pair caught his eye. They had a pair in his size. He tried them on. They felt good. Most of all, they looked good. He put his usual shoes back and even though the new shoes were a lot more expensive, he bought them. He might not be able to jump, might not be able to dunk, but at least he’d look cool. .
That afternoon all the guys oohed, aahed and whistled over his new shoes. Now they felt even better than they had in the store. The first time down the court he took the ball in for a little layup and to his surpise when he went to bank the ball off the backboard he realized his hand was over the rim. He moved his arm a little and for the first time in his life, dunked the ball.
Sunlight was peeking through the blinds when he woke. He looked at the clock, thinking he might have turned off the alarm and overslept.
“Surprise, surprise,” he said to himself.
He could lay there in bad another fifteen minutes or he could do something different, something unusual for him. He could get out of bed now. So he did. He figured the alarm would go off about the time he finished his shower. He was toweling dry when the soft buzzing began.
“This is going great,” he thought. “I need to keep this up. I need to be somebody different today. First, I will not shave. That’s the look today, rough and daring unshaved men, the look of an adventurer, sort of like Indiana Jones.”
As he brushed his teeth he thought about that, picturing himself in a cave or a jungle, climbing a mountain or fording a stream.
“That’s what I’ll do,” he said to his image in the mirror. “Today I’ll be Indiana Jones. I’ll do something daring, something brave. Should I explore a barren stretch of beach or hike the woods into the mountains? Plenty of time to decide. First, the breakfast of an adventurer: eggs, bacon, sausage, and some melon. I think Indiana Jones had some melon in one of his movies… maybe not.:
For a moment he considered starting with some black tea but decided black coffee was more the drink of an American adventurer. With the coffee percolating he took out the skillet, then rummaged through the freezer. Holding the package of bacon he had second thoughts. He didn’t really feel like having eggs and bacon. The grease always splattered when he tried to cook them together. He could either go out for breakfast… the only time adventurers cooked their own meals,” he reasoned, “was when they were out in the woods or the desert. Otherwise, someone else cooked for them. That’s when he changed his mind, put the bacon back in the freezer, put the skillet back in the cupboard and took out the bag of sugar coated wheat puffs and decided today he would be Peter Pan instead.
“Nanah, nahna, nah, na! Santa’s never going to pick you,” they shouted.
Finte’s big nose had gotten in the way again. Today at Santa’s reindeer school they were practicing roof landings and Finte knocked over a TV antenna with his nose, and did a little dance as he regained control. Everyone laughed even harder and imitated the Finte Dance. .
“Finte, Finte, Finte,” the teacher shouted. “Do not watch the sleigh. Never worry about the sleigh. It will follow you. If it doesn’t. If it slips off the roof, you will feel it. You will all feel it and you will pull and lift it into the air and try again. If you are watching the sleigh. If you are watching Santa, you will not see where you’re going and worse things than bumping into something can happen. Now, everybody, try it again.”
And so it went, six months of training: listening for Santa’s commands; lifting off, flying and landing, dealing with rain, snow, and ice; steering around skyscrapers, mountains, towers, and trees; and most of all just getting used to the feel of the sleigh filled with presents and Santa.
Still, there was one terribly embarrassing moment left. It happened on the first day of the last week of training when Santa was the teacher and actually rode in the training sleigh. Finte was nervous and wanted in the worst way to look back to see Santa’s reactions. He knew better and kept his nose pointing straight ahead. That didn’t keep him from slipping once, and he almost pulled the sleigh and all the other reindeer off the roof. He was so strong, though, that he turned it into just a little slip that just slowed everybody down.
‘Santa probably noticed,’ Finte thought.
Santa did notice. After that first training run, he jumped out of the sleigh, moved to the front of the team and told the elves to unhook Finte.
‘Oh no,’ Finte thought, ‘It was the slip or it’s my nose or both. I’m finished.”
“That’s a mighty fine nose you’ve got there, Finte. Do you ever have trouble seeing around it?”
Finte shook his head, no, and said, “No sir, well just a little, but I’m used to it.”
“Well, I noticed the way you handled that slip even with that nose of yours. As strong and fast as you are, you should be at the front, not back there.” Santa told the elves to move Finte up to the front next to
So, for the rest of the week, Finte got used to leading the sleigh, something he had not done since that day long ago when he knocked over a TV antenna.
Finally, the big day came, the day Santa would pick his eight reindeer and give them their new names: Comet, Donner, Blitzen, Dancer, Vixen, Cupid, Prancer, and Dasher.
One by one Santa called out the names: “Brina you are now Blixen, Immergrun you are Dasher, Zoey will be Cupid, Corridore will make a fine Comet, Stetig is Vixen, Sven will be called Prancer, and Artur will now be Dancer.
Finte was disappointed but not surprised. He didn’t really expect to be picked, not with his big nose. He looked around at the nine other reindeer who were still waiting. Flossie and Glossie, the leaders of the other sleigh were at the front of the crowd. Five of the reindeer Santa already picked were from their team. Finte was pretty sure one of them, probably Glossie would be the lead. That’s who Santa was looking at as he took a deep breath and started talking again.
“That leaves just our lead reindeer, one who is just as strong and fast and smart as all the reindeer who pull my sleigh have to be, and it’s been a very difficult decision making this most important choice because this is a good class, at least ten of you could just as easily be the lead reindeer this year. However, it would be a shame to ignore the ability to clear a path through fog, or snow, or sleet. Something a reindeer with a big nose can do better than anyone else.
Finte, now Donner couldn’t believe it. He was so excited he spun in a circle knocking over or pushing away everyone around him. Then he winked and did a few steps of the Finte Dance which then became simply, The Donner Dance.
She didn’t know what to do. She wanted to return the bed, but after just a week it was well used and she couldn’t just throw it out… not after spending more money for it than she wanted to spend. Before she got the bed she was happy, but now she was terribly lonely. Her own bed was empty.
Two weeks ago she noticed while she watched TV her dog, Mulby, always fell asleep on the cold floor. For some reason, it didn’t like sleeping on the sofa, so she decided to get him a dog bed. He liked it immediately. He liked it so much he refused to sleep anywhere else.
Now when she went to bed, she tapped Mulby, just like she always did. He dutifully came upstairs and jumped on the bed to be next to her, just like he always did. Now, though, as soon as she got in bed and turned off the light he jumped off to go downstairs and sleep in his new bed. She’d never been so sad before.
The orchestra is playing Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp minor, known as the “Farewell” Symphony. Many in the audience are familiar with the work and as it approaches they become increasingly attentive.
Then, the first oboe and second horn take their sheet music and instruments and leave.
A moment later the bassoon quietly slips off the stage, into the wings. The audience is loving this, some of them have never seen this symphony performed, but are aware of its story.
As the second oboe and first horn lower their instrument, preparing to leave the viola in mid note slips out of his chair and crumples to the floor. Some of the musicians near him stop playing and gather round him. The conductor realizing what’s happened drops his baton and rushes to the man’s side. The entire orchestra is now quiet.
The audience, thinking this is quite a novel way to end the symphony begins applauding, a few hands at first then more and more until the entire audience is applauding wildly and rising to their feet. They do not see or hear either of two musicians, their violins on the floor at their feet, talking into their cell phones. One is calling an ambulance. The other is calling the police.
“She said she would call right back,” he mumbles out loud. “That’s what she said, and she always does what she says… well, mostly.”
There is a worried, almost fearful look on his face. He looks at the clock. It’s 5:23. The time on his phone is 5:24. His mind wanders as he tries not to worry. “In a couple weeks that clock will be another minute slower,’ he thinks.
‘This isn’t like her,’ he thinks. ‘Then again it is. Sometimes she doesn’t call when he thinks she will when he thinks she should. Sometimes she doesn’t call for days, and he’s worried sick by the time he finally hears her voice again. That’s when he thinks she should call, when he wants her to call, when he hopes she will call. He would call her, and sometimes, desperate, he does. She almost never answers. Almost never calls back until she wants to talk, until she has something to say, but she always, always calls back when she says she will. Not today, though.
It’s times like this when he wonders if he should love her. She always says she’s busy. She’s got her job, and her family, and all her friends back there. “I love you, baby,” she says whenever he says he was worried because she didn’t call. “I love you so very much and I want to move out there, I really do,” she says again and again, “but it’s so expensive and all. It shouldn’t be more than a year, as soon as I get my promotion. Then I’ll be making a lot more money and I can transfer.”
‘A year,’ he thinks. ‘Already been almost two and it’s not like there’s not enough money, but she has to have her own. “I don’t want to be one of those girls, you know.” Why not. If she really loves me, why not?’
He stares at the icons on his screen as if they’re going to do something as if a new one is suddenly going to appear, an icon for the What-Is-Kelly-Doing-Now app.
Suddenly the phone buzzes in his hand, and his favorite ring tone plays. That phone number and his five favorite letters flash on the screen as he moves to swipe the ‘accept’ button.
“Hi,” he says casually as if he had not been waiting, doing little else for the last four hours. “Just a minute while I put my dinner in the microwave.” He opens the microwave door, acts as if he’s putting something in it and closes the door.
“You’re about to eat, I’ll call you back,” she says.
“No, no, no need. It’s frozen. It can wait.”
“Okay then,” she says, “Sorry I took so long to call, but I’ve been thinking.” She stopped and took a deep breath.
‘She’s coming out here,’ he thinks. ‘She can’t stand not being with me anymore. She’s going to transfer, keep her job, wait for her promotion out here.’
Then she took another deep breath. “I know this is kind of sudden and it’s really hard… but maybe we should stop seeing each other.”
“What?” he says almost moaning. “You can’t…”
“No,” she says, “Not maybe. We shouldn’t… I don’t want to see you anymore.”
“You’re kidding,” he says.
“No, I’m not.”
Before he can protest. Before he can ask why. Before he has a chance to say anything, she hangs up.
Again he is staring at his phone. He thinks he is going to pass out. He feels like all the blood, all the feeling, almost all his breath has been sucked out of him, but one thought keeps going through his head, ‘Why did she bother to call back.’
This is an exercise where I take the first line or two of a book and start writing. The goal is to write a complete story or scene. Another rule is that I haven’t read the book, so I have no idea where the beginning of the book is going. Additionally, I try to limit the story to 1,000 words.
The witch had a cat and a hat that was black, and long ginger hair in a braid down her back.**
Everything about her said, ‘Witch,” except for the three kids tagging along behind her. I knew one of them. He was Jacob, a kid in my class.
“Hey, Jacob!” I shouted as they walked by.
He looked at me, but didn’t say anything, didn’t even act like he knew who I was. That made me wonder if maybe she was a witch and she did something to them and she was taking them home to cook them. That’s what witches do to kids you know. If the kid’s lucky, the witch will make them a slave and make them wash dirty witch stuff. Usually, the kid isn’t lucky and gets stuffed in a big oven, the size of a pizza oven, only the witch isn’t making pizza.
I thought maybe I should follow them. After all, if she was going to eat them, she had to have a house someplace. Maybe I could follow and see where she went. Then I could call the police. I didn’t want to follow too close, though. Last thing I wanted was to be part of a witch sandwich.
They went down a block and turned the corner. By the time I got there, they were gone.
She must have seen me following and made them disappear, I thought. I hurried down the street thinking maybe there was an alley, but as I was passing an ice-cream shop, I saw them all inside. She was handing each of them an ice-cream cone. Oh no, just like the witch in Hansel and Gretel, she was fattening them up. When they came out of the store, I said, “Hi Jacob.”
He mumbled, “Hi.” as he licked his ice-cream.
“Are you one of Jacob’s friends?” the witch asked. I couldn’t tell if she sounded like a witch, but I think she did.
I nodded, yes.
‘Would you like some ice-cream, too?” she said, and I think she cackled.
“No, thank you very much,” I said as I turned and ran. Maybe Jacob was going to stand there and let an old witch fatten him up, but I wasn’t. I didn’t stop until I was in my yard in front of my house.
I’d love to start this story by telling you I woke up, but I can’t. At the end of this I’d like to tell you I realized I was just dreaming, so I woke myself up. That won’t happen. Well, maybe it will, but it hasn’t worked yet.Please Wake Me UP
The truth of the matter is that I am stuck in a dream (although, some including you, including me, might conclude that this is actually a nightmare). I am stuck in this thing and I can’t get out. Believe me; I’ve tried everything that’s made its way into my mind.
Forcing myself to fall out of bed
Telling myself this is a dream so I could wake up
Jumping off a cliff to kill myself (that was a last resort, but it didn’t work. My dream created a safe landing)
Jumping out of an airplane (again, landing safely)
Falling on a knife (nothing happened)
I remember seeing the movie “Groundhog Day.” This is just like that, only worse. I can’t kill myself. I can’t hurt myself. I can’t wake up.
I am literally at my wit’s end. On the one hand I tell myself to accept it. This is the way my life is, now. It can’t be this way forever. Sometime, someway something or someone has to wake me up. On the other hand I think I’m either crazy or dead. I’m very afraid the time will come when I will meet an angel or a doctor or a nurse or God and one of them will tell me where I really am. I don’t want that to happen. Believe me; I’m terrified no matter how you or I look at it.
I know you, whoever you are; anyone who happens to be reading this will readily agree with me that I am either dreaming, crazy or dead. Just read anything else I’ve written and you will see how true that is.
It’s true, I’ve written many other things – stories, poems, thoughts – in here. If this is just a dream, then I’m hoping I remember them when I wake up. In fact, I’m hoping I’ve actually written them down. A friend told me he taught himself how to write in his sleep. Funny thing was that when he woke up, he would look at what he’d written and it made no sense. Plenty of words, some complete sentences, but all in all, just gibberish. To be truthful with you, I’d give anything to be able to wake up and look at some gibberish.
That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this. I’m hoping it helps me wake up. Maybe it will trigger my subconscious to let me go or maybe it will trigger an idea I can use to get me out of here. Even more than any of that I am hoping wherever I am I have managed to get a piece of paper, a pen or pencil or crayon, and my real hand is moving forming these letters and words I’m dreaming into something someone can see and that you, whoever you are will read this, realize what is happening and do whatever it takes: please, please, PLEASE, shake me, slap me, throw water in my face, anything, anything at all just wake me up.
Fourteen years old, History report. The teacher had made an all but impossible demand: typed.
I didn’t know how to type. Most of the kids in my eighth grade class didn’t know how to type. For a couple of them there wasn’t even a typewriter in the house. A few of my classmates had a parent or older sibling who could type, but not me, so the task was mine.
Required: three sources, I had five.
Required: ten footnotes, I had twelve.
Required: 8 – 10 pages, my handwritten report totaled 2,415 words. That translated to nine pages of typewriting.
Required: follow the teachers hand-out for the report structure: Title, footnotes, bibliography, etc.
Required: Double spaced, with one inch margins all around, check.
I was running out of time. The report was due the next day. I’d put a lot of work into it. I’d read the two books, Encyclopedia entry, and two magazine articles about Alfred Emanuel “Al” Smith, Governor of New York and 1928 Democratic presidential candidate.
Copious notes: six double sided pages worth, handwritten.
The report was finished a week before, but other homework, studying for tests, and playground baseball had taken up most of my free time.
After dinner a little after 6 p.m. I dragged the typewriter, an old Underwood out of the closet, cleared everything off the little desk in my room. Hefted the typewriter on to it, set my report on one side and a small stack of blank paper on the other.
Suggestion: make sure you have a bottle of white out. White Out was new to me and proved to be a learning experience.
The typewriter was also a learning experience. It took me awhile to figure out how to line up the paper so the lines of type ran across the page mostly parallel to the top and bottom.
Since I just had to copy my paper I figured I’d get it done in a couple hours at the most. I did not figure in any extra time for my one finger typing, nor my lack of familiarity with the location of all the letters and numbers, nor my lack of familiarity with White-Out, nor how difficult it would be to follow the teacher’s report guidelines. Just putting the footnote on the right page proved to be daunting. It would have been easy if she had been kind enough to allow us to list all our footnotes on a single page in the same way we listed our bibliography on a single page, but this was preparation for high school where we might have to write a report with the footnotes on the page where they were indicated.
Required: no more than 12 corrections per page.
Required: no hyphenated words.
With the first piece of paper ready, I consulted the guide, carefully typed the title page. Somehow I managed to get through it with no mistakes. It was not lined up exactly in the middle, a little closer to the top, but it was close enough.
Next page: a mistake just three letters into the first second word, Smith. I hit the letter ‘u.’ I tried to brush the White-Out between under the typewriter ribbon, but got it on the ribbon so that when I typed the ‘I’ it was mostly white.
I learned I had to roll the paper up, apply the White Out and roll the paper back down. Since it was an old typewriter, I found that I had to pull the paper up when I was turning the roller to make sure the paper actually moved up the distance it was supposed to move with each click of the roller. I did not do that the first time, so that when I typed the ‘i’ it was a half line too high.
Toss the first page and start over again.
My next attempt got tossed just seven lines in because of the 12 mistakes rule, same with the next three attempts. It was now, 7:30. The worst thing about using White Out was that I had to let it dry otherwise whatever I typed was grossly distorted or simply smeared.
The sixth attempt was perfect, except that I forgot to leave room for the footnote.
Toss the page and start over again.
I trudged along, letter by letter, mistake by mistake, footnote by footnote, page by page.
By midnight I had four pages finished and about a half bottle of White Out left.
I was quite proud of myself when both pages five and six took just one try, one sheet of paper each, even though there were 11 blotches of White Out on page four and a dozen on page five. The sixth page did not go well at all. It had three footnotes on it the first three times I typed it, but by the time I finished it the third footnote was moved to the second line of the seventh page. It was at this point that I realized my nine page report had become a ten page report. Footnotes hadn’t figured into my initial page estimate.
When I was writing the first draft I cut a few paragraphs that totaled almost 400 words because they were more about New York than about Al Smith. However, I probably would have left them if I wasn’t worried my classmates might think I was trying to impress the teacher by going the full ten pages. I wasted some time rereading the rest of my report, trying to find something to cut, but there wasn’t anything I thought my report could do without. I decided to risk whatever my classmates might think.
Just before 5 a.m. I started typing the last page. It turned out to be the worst page of all. Twice I got to the last line, and made my thirteenth mistake. Once I made the same mistake three times. At six o’clock my mom came into the room and asked if I’d been up all night. My hands were shaking. I could hardly keep my eyes open. I was I the middle of the last paragraph with nine mistakes, when my mom opened the door.
“Have you been up all night?” she asked.
“Yes, but I’m almost finished.”
“What’s taken so long?” she asked.
“It’s hard to type and I keep making mistakes.”
“It doesn’t have to be perfect, does it?”
“Well I get only twelve mistakes per page. More than that and I have to throw it away.”
“How much do you have left?”
“Just this,” I said, pointing to the last paragraph.
“Okay, type that, then go to bed. I’ll wake you in an hour.”
“But what if I make too many mistakes? I have to finish this page.”
“There comes a point, Bobby, when you have to say, that’s the best I can do and even if you think it could be better, you finish it. You could spend the rest of the day trying to make that perfect, but sometimes perfect is only the best you can do.”
So, I typed the rest of the report, typed the final footnote, made seven more mistakes. I put a paper clip on the report, and slipped it into the pocket of a folder. Three minutes later I was sound asleep.
Rather than make me wait for the bus, mom let me sleep an extra half hour, rushed me through my wake up routine, had a bowl of cereal waiting for me, and drove me to school. The bell rang just as I was walking into the school. If I stopped moving I probably would have fallen asleep. I’d never stayed up all night before, but I was ecstatic. I finished the report. Sure there were too many mistakes on the last page, but the rest were okay, so I didn’t think I’d lose too many points for that.
As I ran over in my mind everything about my report I startled myself, the Bibliography. I forgot the bibliography.
That’s what I told the teacher: “I forgot the bibliography. The page is still on my desk at home. Could I bring it in tomorrow?” I didn’t mention anything about not having typed it up.
She studied my face a moment, decided I wasn’t lying and said, “On my desk, first thing.”
was more difficult than I thought it would be and took more than two hours, but it was on the teacher’s desk when the bell rang.
Good job: that was the first line she’d written under the A- grade. I was surprised. I would have been happy with a C.
Good job: Your report is good. Your writing is very good. Good use of sources. Well thought out.
Goof job: None of my typing errors were marked, just a couple misspellings, some grammatical mistakes and one mistake on the bibliography.
I learned a lot about writing reports, about footnotes and bibliographies. The most important thing I learned was that there are degrees of perfection and that in the end perfection was the best I could do, whatever that was, whatever it is.
I’ve been told many times that to be successful at anything hard work is much more important than luck. Sometimes though, luck is much more important. For instance, quite awhile ago there was a girl in my neighborhood who would be playing baseball, basketball, and football with the boys if she was born 12 years ago, rather than back when I was a kid. I’ve forgotten her name mostly because even though she was my age, she went to a different school and I only knew her for a few weeks. I’ll call her Susie.
Susie was quite pretty: blonde, blue eyes, some freckles, but she was tough and I imagine most of the boys who knew her well were afraid of her. I hardly knew her at all, but I was afraid of her.
One 5th grade day during recess, when I got out to the playground I walked into this conversation between some of my classmates.
“You’re kidding! She didn’t really?”
“She did. She did. Sheconkedhim right on the head.”
“Jimmy, naw? Nobodyconks Jimmy and gets away with it.”
“I told you she did. Susie walked right up to him, saidsomethin‘ to him, I don’t know what, then hauled right off and smacked ‘im in the mouth. Flattened ‘im right there in front of everybody. Then she just turns and walks away. Jimmy‘s layin’ there in the dirt,tryin‘ to hide his mouth, butwe can see there’s bloodcomin‘ from it.”
“And he didn’t donothin‘?”
“Nothin‘ at all. What’s he gonna do? She’s a girl.”
Jimmy Wilton, was a tough, spunky guy. If somebody pushed or hit him, he’d push or hit back… and he was strong. He was one of the leaders of my elementary school class, mostly because he was funny and brash. You wanted Jimmy to like you, and if you were honest with him, he usually did. If you didn’t bother him, he didn’t bother you. You didn’t want to get on his bad side, though.
Susieon the other handwas a bully. From the little I knew about her she was mean and nasty. She’d hit or kick or spit on just about anybody for getting too close to her. She also knew and used every dirty word any of us knew and a few some of us only imagined we knew.
Jimmy never said what happened between them, but it was said that after that he did his best to avoid her. If she was walking down the street toward him, he crossed to the other side.
During the summer between fifth and sixth grades we moved into a new neighborhood. As it turned out, it was Susie’s neighborhood. Until we moved I had no idea who she was. There was the Jimmy story and other stories I’d heard about her, but if I saw her I wouldn’t have guessed. She didn’t look at all like the girl I’d pictured in my mind… a muscular, ragged, scowling beast.
The house was brand new; no grass in the yard, no shrubbery, no trees, just dirt… so much dirt that there was ahill of it, twelve feet high. It was left there from the basement excavations of our house and the house behind ours. It was a great place to live as far as my brothers and I were concerned. Not only was the yard a place where we didn’t have to worry about digging up the grass, much less cutting it, but that pile of dirt was its own playground. With it in our yard we didn’t need the playground across the street.
At first the hill was a challenge to climb because the dirt was still fresh and loose. It didn’t take us long to pack the dirt thanks to the daily pounding it took from our feet.
We’d been there a couple weeks when one of us noticed a small indentation in the side of the hill and started digging at it, making a small hole. We saw the beginnings of a cave, a secret hideaway, an underground clubhouse. We went to work with our mom’s garden tools and a small bucket, hauling dirt. It took us most of a Saturday, but by the end of the day there was a cave big enough for the three of us. I found a piece of plywood and nailed a rope handle to it so we could pull it behind us tocover the entrance. It was our secret hideout.
There wasn’t much to be secret about. I barely remember what we did or what we talked about while we sat in there. It was just fun to sit in the cool darknessand giggle at each other. I’m sure there was talk of bears and bugs. Could a bear sneak in at night? What about worms, ants, and spiders creeping in? A flashlight was our only light and I remember spending a lot of time shining it on the walls watching for crawling things.
A few days after we finished our cave, I met Susie. My brother, Richie, and I were sitting inside when someone started knocking on the plywood door.
“Who’s there?” I shouted, thinking it might be mom.
“It’s Susie, can I come in?”
“Susie, who?” I didn’t know anyone named Susie, so I thought she might be one of Richie’s friends.
“You know, from down the street.”
I pointed the flashlight at Richie. He was shaking his head no.
“No, you can’t come in,” I shouted, “this is for boys only.”
“You better let me come in,” she screamed.
I thought, who does she think she is? This is our yard and our hill and our cave. We don’t have to let anybody in.
“No this is ours, go away,” I shouted.
“Yeah, go away,” Richie echoed.
Suddenly the plywood door flew away from the entrance. A pretty, tiny, blonde haired, little girl stood there. When she told us what she thought of us in the way she did, all the stories I’d heard about Susie rushed across my memory and I knew who she was. Too late I saw Richie sticking his tongue out at h er. She punched him in the shoulder, knocking him back into the cave. He started crying. She said something nasty about crybabies. I grabbed Richie’s hand and we ran into the house. From there we watched Susie jumping up and down on top of the hill till our cave collapsed. As she walked down the hill she turned, saw us watching her, shouted something vulgar, and walked away.
Now, I was positive I’d met the girl who punched Jimmy and that the stories about her were probably true.
About a half hour after she left, when we thought it was safe to go out we inspected the damage. The cave no longer existed. It was replaced by a large crater in the top of the hill. I got a small shovel to re-dig the cave, but the dirt was too loose. I’d dig a few inches into the hill, but the dirt quickly filled the new hole. Meanwhile, Richie dragged the piece of plywood to the top, got in the crater, and pulled the board over himself.
“Look, Bobby,” I heard his muffled voice saying, “I’ve got my own cave.” Then he pushed some dirt aside, making an opening, and slithered out. We looked inside. It wasn’t much of a cave, about 12 inches deep and three feet across, but it was a start. Again we set to work, digging and digging. The first thing we noticed was that we needed a bigger piece of plywood. Whenever we tried to enlarge the cave, the walls slid in and the plywood sank.
There were still a few houses being built so it didn’t take long to find a suitable piece of wood. Now we had a large piece for the roof and the other piece for our door. We figured a wooden roof was the perfect thing to keep Susie from destroying our secret hideout again, especially since we piled dirt on top of the plywood to disguise it. Being the experienced cave builders that we were the new cave was finished before dinner. It as an even better cave than the old one, sturdier and roomier. Also, we hadn’t thought of this when we started, but the entrance was now facing away from the road so unless someone, meaning Susie, came looking they would never see the new cave in the hill.
About that time another family moved in down the street and I met my new best friend, Jack. I introduced him to the cave, which he thought was great.
We’d been inside barely a half hour when dirt started tumbling inside. Dust was filling the air. Someone was jumping on the roof. I heard the board cracking. Jack and I scurried outside. Susie was and one of her friends were jumping with as much force as they could muster.
“Okay, okay,” I said. “You can join our club, just don’t break the board.” She said something to me my parents would never let me repeat, kicked me in the leg, and said to her friend, “let’s get out of here.” I stood there, rubbing my leg as I watched her walk off.
“Who was that?” Jack asked.
“Susie. I don’t know the other girl.”
“Which one was Susie?”
“The one who kicked me.”
“Is she in our class?”
We’d already talked about school. Jack would be going to my school and since we were the same age, we would be classmates.
“Nope, but just about everybody knows her.”
Jack was a baseball fanatic. I wasn’t, so he started teaching me about baseball and how to play. We spent a lot of time across the street playing catch. It wasn’t long before Jack heard about a daily game at our school’s playground. Our first day there, Jack talked the other kids into letting me play. I wasn’t very good and they knew it, but I now that I had a friend who liked the game, I paid attention and tried hard.
End of the Cave:
On our way home that first afternoon at the school playground, we were so deep in a conversation about the game I didn’t notice what happened to the cave until I was across the street from my house.
Not only had the cave been destroyed, it wasgone.
This time it wasn’t Susie.
The entire hill was gone. While we played baseball the hill was loaded into a dump truck and hauled away. Now our back yard looked like the rest of the yard. That weekend my dad bought some grass and bushes, seeded the lawn and planted the bushes. A month later there was no sign there had ever been a cave in my backyard.
As for Susie, I never saw her again. Apparently her family moved away. It’s funny but I thought she was cute, pretty. She showed up at the time in my life when I was starting to notice girls as more than people who weren’t boys. She was the first girl I ever really noticed. Evenas she was cursing at me and kicking me Iwas noticing the freckles across her nose and deciding I liked them. If Susie had been just a little bit nicer, I might have found myself searching for her and might have ended up like Jimmy Wilton. Then again, while I was rubbing my leg and watching her walk away I realizedshe was not a girl after my own heart.
I didn’t know what it was she was after when she crushed my cave, but it seems she was launching the first attack I’d ever seen for women’s rights. Who knows, maybe she planted the seed that told me women are equal to men, and often more than equal.
Slept well, he had and that was a good thing, an unusual thing of late for this reason and that, but not a particular reason. Still he was awake even though the alarm had not gone off. It would, soon, he felt it… Maybe five minutes, maybe ten, but he knew, he could feel it in that part of him that told him the night’s sleep was good or it was not, it was long enough or it was not. A decision had to be made. Not an imperturbable decision, not a critical decision, not one of those decisions his mother would or would not berate him for having made or for not having made. He had to decide whether to get up now, or to lay in bad until the alarm went off.
After rising at this time, most mornings for more than six years, he often woke minutes before the alarm went off. He knew what would happen if he decided to get up now and what would happen if the decision was to stay in bed and wait. He decided to get up. It was better to be out of bed when the alarm went off. He avoided being startled. Somehow, even when he knew the alarm was about to buzz, there was always the sensation of being startled if he was in bed waiting. And even though he was prepared, the buzz was still demanding. In a single motion he sat up and slipped his feet into his slippers and started standing. He didn’t stand though. Something felt wrong. It was as if his feet were in the wrong slippers – right foot in left, left in right. It was something else though. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something wasn’t quite right.
He got out of bed, shrugging off the feeling, shuffled over to the alarm clock. Sure enough, two minutes to five, just enough time to pick out his clothes for the day. When the alarm went off he headed for the bathroom. Brushing his teeth left him again getting that peculiar, something-isn’t-right sensation, as if there was a change coming. For a moment he thought about sitting down and waiting either for the feeling to go away or for whatever was going to happen, to happen.
Trying to ignore the feeling, he rinsed his mouth and realized what it was. It was the story. It was the entire book. This was a dreadful way to begin a novel. It was the kiss of death. No novel should begin like this – the hero waking up in the morning and getting out of bed, preparing for a day in which his life was surely going to change. If this novel was going to be any good, His entire morning had to be different. His life would indeed have to change, but a beginning like this all but took out an insurance policy that this novel was going to be a dead ringer, stinker and worst of all, the change, the growth, the progression toward an understanding that would become a reality, probably wasn’t going to happen either now or at anytime before his story ended.
Something had to be different. He turned off the light, reset the alarm and went back to bed. That would have been the end of it and you wouldn’t be reading this because there’d have been nothing to write about, after all, who wants to read about somebody, somebody they don’t even know, getting out of bed just to reset an alarm clock.
Fifty-four minutes later he woke up. The alarm was about to buzz. Unlike earlier, however, a decision to get out of bed or to stay and wait was not a consideration. This time something was different.
“Get out of bed you son-of-a-bitch!” a voice less than four feet away from his bed screamed at him. The barrel of a shotgun was pointed at his head. Jumping out of bed he realized he’d missed his slippers, but it didn’t matter.
She was incredible… maybe more woman than I could handle, more woman than I was worthy of, but she was looking at me and I was looking at her. She was smiling at me and I was smiling at her. She was talking to me and I was talking to her. Yet I had no idea why this had happened. I knew how this had happened. We were in the elevator together and I started my usual nonsense about anything and anything. We walked to the parking garage together and I continued talking my usual nonsense about something and the other thing. Then she said she was hot, and I had to agree, she was very hot. But she said, she meant she felt like she had a fever and could I give her a ride home. To my incredulous underestimation, to my utter amazement after I ludicrously asked, to your home or to mine. She said, yours will be fine. Yours might be better. So I did what any man who had noticed the way her legs went all the way from her toes up to where they were supposed to go and the rest of her went followed the same pattern… not to her legs but to the places they were supposed to go in the way they were supposed to go there. I took her to my place.
Up front, and in back too, I identified all the things I needed to be successful here… and maybe there was need of a shower or a bath, maybe both… something that would be equally important with or without the collection of all the things that went to the right places, but because there cooling down was a necessity, if you know what I mean. There could be static, though and with that entering the equation an entirely knew way – we knew the way, and it was a new way of looking at things, if you know what I mean. An exception could be eminent, imminent? Even with the possibility, probability as it were of consequences, consequences that were contingent up the cooling down in such a way that the hotness would remain, and you know what I mean. Still there could be confusion, there could be contusion, and there could be refusal, even with a lunch including avocado and tomato. That would be a rarity, indeed, but not unknown.
There could be time spent together, squeezed strategically into a space usually reserved in a revered way for one wildly spinning dervish of a not especially subtle order. That shower or that bath (I usually prefer a shower, but a bath can have its benefits – long, languid, lingering in accumulated liquid bubbles while immersed within rather than merely traversed by and beyond total wetness) could be skipped, eliminated from the respective repertoire as it were and replaced by a sponge bath. Such a bath would offer not merely a process of temperature reduction, but also an elementary procedure allowing surveying and further purveyance and essential plotting of the landscape.
The concern, of course, is that of a one night stand. You know how it is when there is only a single night stand. Some things are placed on the stand and other things are left on the floor and one person has precedence over which is which and what is what and where is where. Thus a one night stand might be desired or maybe not. The hotness, the fever as it were could lead to that. It could cause that. It could elevate that. Could you stand it not knowing? On the other hand would you settle for a couple slices of toast instead of fried eggs and ham, or maybe just a crumpet with some jelly (do you think it would be a sticky situation or just something or just something else). It would be a whole new way to look at it, wouldn’t it?
So I made the call. Fifteen minutes later the cab arrived. We agreed it was for the best. No kiss. No hug. No shower or bath or night stand. Waving good bye I wondered the if, the big if, the if that is both hoped for and dreaded. The next morning the first thing I did, even before making the eggs, toast, or coffee… first I called the pharmacy. I knew beyond all imagination, beyond all understanding, beyond all that should be holy that this might be an entirely different morning if I’d had a thermometer, so I ordered one.
Denise Dawkins watched her husband Sam slink out of the room. She listened to each shuffling footstep until the door to the garage opened and slowly closed.
Unaware she was holding her breath, Denise exhaled slowly trying to let her anger evaporate. Even though she was steaming hot and the day was warm even for the middle of March, she felt cold.
When the argument began her intention was to stay calm. It wasn’t the first time this subject was broached, more like the fiftieth or sixtieth time during the nine years she and Sam had been married. Watching him stand there, arms at his sides, head lowered, not moving, barely even blinking his eyes, not looking angry at all, not even unhappy, just looking like he didn’t give a damn. She was convinced he didn’t, otherwise why was she bringing this up again?
The longer he stood there just nodding his head and saying, “Yes dear,” in that condescending, I’m-really-tired-of-this way of his, the angrier she got. Somehow she managed to hold it, even though she was sure he knew she was about to explode. He had to know. He wasn’t an idiot, even though that’s what it seemed that’s what he wanted her to think. Hell, the man could have joined MENSA if he wanted. Instead, he liked to spend hour after hour at his computer, reading, reading, reading. Whatever he was reading, he hardly ever discussed it with her. If he would at least discuss it, maybe she wouldn’t get so angry with him. He did nothing, though, nothing, nothing, nothing. He seemed to like doing things with her, whenever they actually did something, but he was like a crack in the sidewalk: noticeable, maybe enough to trip over, but easy enough to step over. Everything she said about keeping the house in order, washing the windows, adding a few bushes in front, keeping the garage clean… what was it about the garage? Why did everything end up in the garage? And why was he so adamant about having a sale to get rid of some of that junk. No matter what she said about it he just said, “Yes dear” in that condescending way and did nothing. The most he ever did was what he was probably doing right now, moving things around. Stacking things a little higher, trying to make it look roomier, cleaner, but just adding to the problem. She tried setting stuff out on the curb, but that didn’t work. The stuff disappeared, but somehow it ended up back in the garage. He was a pack rat of the worst kind.
Denise resisted the urge she always had to follow him, to give him directions, to pick out things that looked like junk, and clearly there were many things out there that were obviously just junk, and ask him why he had it, did he plan to do anything with it or was he one of those people who liked to have warts, because it gave some texture to their body. That would be an insult, but he would ignore it. That was something he was very good at, ignoring things, ignoring her, but at least he didn’t ignore their kids. Their two boys Daniel and David were both good students. Daniel was twelve and David, ten. They hardly ever caused any trouble, rarely needed any severe discipline. She felt that was as much her doing as his. At least Sam went to their games; at least he was interested in what they did in school. He was a fairly good father in that respect, but she wondered what he was teaching them about how to live your life, how to succeed. As far as she could see, not much. After dinner he often spent the evening playing computer games with one boy or the other.
Her coffee was cold again so she popped it into the microwave and looked into the back yard. Her boys were out there, Danny working on his tree house, a rickety thing she was always afraid he was going to fall out of some day; and Davy, crawling around on the ground. She wondered what the six-year-old was looking at so intently, an ant probably. For a moment she considered going out there, but she had bills to pay, meals to plan, groceries to buy, laundry to do and on and on and on.
When the coffee was ready she sat at the kitchen island intending to pay some bills, but her thoughts returned to Sam. “Why is he like this?” she asked herself out loud. “Why?”
“I don’t really know,” a voice behind her said. It was a man in a flight suit. There was something that looked like a weapon in his right hand. Whoever it was stepped toward her. She screamed, but he was already putting a hand over her mouth. She realized her heart was pounding as fast as it had been when she was arguing with Sam.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” the man said.
Oh sure, she thought, that’s what they always say before they hurt you. “What do you want?” she tried to say, but his hand was still over her mouth. Hundreds of thoughts and questions started racing through her mind instantaneously. Who was this? How did he get in here? Why is he dressed like that? How long had he been there?
He kept his hand over her mouth until she seemed to be breathing normally.
“I’m here to help,” he said. “Promise you won’t scream?”
She nodded her head, he removed his hand and stepped back. He looked familiar, a little like her uncle Ron, but Ron had been dead at least a dozen years.
“Now,relax, drink your coffee” he said. “You have no need to be afraid. I am not here to hurt you. I have a message for you.”
“Is that a gun?”
“No. I’m from the future> This takes me where I need to go. You look like you think you know me?”
She shook her head, no.
“Yes you do know me. My name is David…”
“Right, your son. Actually, I’m your son’s son.”
“My grandson? And me?”
“You died about five years ago… at least five years before I made this trip.”
Denise started to speak again, but he shushed her.
“Gandpa is still alive, though. He’s the one who wanted me to come back here to talk with you. He wants you to spend more time with him whenever he is at the computer. There are so many things you two will discover.”
“About the world? I don’t…”
“Not as much as about each other.”
“I know Dad is cleaning up the garage right now, listening to us. I know that because tonight he’s going to make me to promise that if in the future people figure out how to travel back in time to come back and say to you, ‘I’m from the future. I’m here to tell you that in ten years, the garage is still going to be a mess. There are more important things, so, get over it.”
David smiled at her, raised his had toward the ceiling and disappeared.
“David. David,” she called after him. For a moment she just stared at the ceiling wondering if she had imagined the whole thing, but hit had been real. She could still feel his hand over her mouth, still smell the smoky smell of his glove.
“David,” she whispered. Then she went out to the backyard. He was kicking Danny’s soccer ball. She was going to say something to him about the future, but realized it wouldn’t make any sense to him. Instead she headed to the garage. What was Sam doing? There had to be a reason why he thought the garage was still going to be a mess in fifteen years.
This is an exercise where I take the first line or two of a book and start writing. The goal is to write a complete story or scene. Another rule is that I haven’t read the book, so I have no idea where the beginning of the book is going. Additionally, I try to limit the story to 1,000 words
“Here we go again. We were all standing in line waiting for breakfast when one of the case workers came in and tap-tap-tapped down the line.” ~ Christopher Paul Curtis from Bud, Not Buddy
At this time of day that usually meant one of two things. Either somebody was about to get punished or the breakfast menu was changed. Instead of pancakes we were getting cereal, probably oat meal, or the shipment of cinnamon rolls didn’t make it in time, so we were getting toast, probably dried – no peanut butter or jelly or even plain old margarine. I really hoped it wasn’t the cinnamon rolls. The other kids were jealous because one of the lunch line ladies thought I was cute or something and almost always gave me an extra cinnamon roll when I asked, but she never gave one to anyone else.
That’s the way it was here at the free breakfast line.
“Hey Johnson, what’d you do now?” Missy talk-whispered from about five feet behind me. I’m Johnson and it seemed I was always getting into trouble. Not that I wanted to, not that I tried to, but I liked trying to funny stuff, stupid stuff to make people laugh. Usually it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Like the time I tried to fake falling down the stairs, but really lost my balance and bumped into Lindsey Mulgrew, a third grader. She fell down the stairs broke her arm and got a pretty bad concussion.
Then there was the time I tried to make all the boys laugh when I saw the new fifth grade teacher step out of her classroom. All the boys liked looking at her. So I said, “Woo hoo, here sure is getting’ hot around here, must be a fire or something, better pull the fire alarm.” Just as I reached to pretend like I was pulling the alarm lever and all the boys started laughing because they knew I was talking about Miss Ryklief, but Richie Plucinska punched me in the arm probably because he had a big crush on her and didn’t want anybody talking nasty about her in any way.
It wasn’t my fault though. I wasn’t really going to pull the fire alarm, but he hit me real hard and my hand hit the lever. Biggest trouble was that Miss Ryklief was looking right at me. No way was I going to say I didn’t know who pulled the alarm.
“Nothing,” I whisper talked back at Missy. “I ain’t done nothing.” I was pretty sure that was true, even when the case worker stopped right in front of me. Just in case it was me I looked away and stared at the front of the line.
“What’d I do?”
“Walk with me to the Principal’s office.”
The Principal’s office. This was bad. Somebody must have made up a story about me or something.
“I didn’t do anything.”
“Of course you didn’t,” she said, like she thought I was lying.
All the kids started saying things like “Woo hoo hoo, you in trouble now, Johnson. They probably gonna kick you out of school.” And other stuff like that.
“But what’d I do? Why’s he want to see me?”
She nudged my elbow, guiding my out of the line and said, “Anthony, please don’t make this any worse than it is.”
All the way down there I was trying to figure out what I might have done. I couldn’t think of anything. I hadn’t cheated in any way, hadn’t played any tricks on anyone, hadn’t told any lies I could think of, or anything like that. Either it was something I didn’t know I did. One of their secret rules they use when they want to pick on some kid like me or else somebody else was in trouble and they blamed me for it.
When we got to the main office I could see through the windows that my parents were there. This was really bad, I was probably being kicked out of school.
The social worker opened the door and held it for me. My mom rushed over to me. There were tears in her eyes, but she wasn’t mad. She wrapped her arms around me, hugging me tight and said, “Anthony, my dear, dear Anthony.” That’s when I knew it was something worse than me being kicked out of school.
At the same time the case worker was holding my father’s hand and saying, “I’m don’t really know how to say I’m so very sorry, Mr. Johnson.”
‘What’s wrong mom?” I asked knowing I should be wishing I was being kicked out of school.
“It’s Andrew, he…” but she started crying so hard she couldn’t finish her sentence.
“Uncle Andy, he’s not…?” I knew he was dead otherwise they wouldn’t be here. They would be at the hospital. My head started spinning. Out of my four uncles he was my favorite. For a moment there was a silly thought, a thought I was ashamed of as soon as I thought it, but we were going to go to a Bears game. Every year for the past three years he’d gotten tickets and taken me to a game.
“They called us this morning just after you left for school. Somebody robbed and shot him this morning in an alley between the coffee shop and his car.”
For some very stupid reason, as I listened to my father recount how my uncle died stupid thoughts kept running through my head. Could I still see the Bears game? He’d probably gotten tickets. What were the kids saying about me? What would they say when they knew I wasn’t in trouble. Were the pancakes good or were they gooey. Would I have been able to talk one of the breakfast line ladies into giving me an extra cinnamon roll?
When I was in fourth grade an uncle asked me if I liked baseball.
“Yeah, sure,” I said in order to end the conversation right there. The day would come when I could tell him about my big catch, but at that time, I had nothing to talk about.
The fact was I didn’t like baseball at all. I was terrible at it. I couldn’t catch. I couldn’t hit and I didn’t care. I knew there were two teams in Chicago, because my classmates talked about them all the time, but ask me to name a single player and I’d be guessing.
There were 19 boys in my class, which meant unless somebody was absent, one boy had to sit in the bleachers and watch. That boy was always me. I savored the days when I didn’t have to play. Rather than sit in the bleachers watching, I walked around the playground looking at things: a footprint left in dried mud, a butterfly (which I would track about as far as it would let me), a Dandelion with an ant carefully working its way across the flower, a dust devil (which I would try to step into so I could feel the bits of dust spinning around me), a window with a spider and web on one side and the remains of a dead spider on the other.
On those days when I knew I would have to play I had attention problems in my classes and I felt sick all morning. I’d never say anything because I didn’t want to be sent home. My mother was working. I didn’t want her to take time off just because I didn’t want to play baseball.
Finally, it was the last full day of the school year. It was going be a good day. One boy was absent, so I wouldn’t have to play. I tallied my stats for the year: Sixteen games (give or take a game or two), one hit, no catches, lots of errors. It didn’t matter anymore. My fourth grade baseball career was about to come to an end. With a little luck one of the guys in my class would move away during the summer or better yet, another fifth grade boy would move into town and there would not be a fifth grade baseball career to worry about.
Getting close to lunch time I was thinking about flowers. I knew where all the flowering weeds were around the playground, so I was planning to check on some of them.
Needless to say, that wasn’t going to happen.
“Hey, sissie,” Someone shouted as I headed across the playground. I recognized the voice. It was one of my classmates, one who always called me ‘sissie.’ I ignored him and continued toward the basketball court. It was my plan to look at some little blue flowers at one end of the cement slab..
“Hey, sissie, Jenkins went home sick. You have to play.”
“No, no, no,” I thought. “He’s got to be kidding, playing some kind of joke on me.”
When I realized he wasn’t kidding, I started doing what I always did in that situation, I prayed. I didn’t pray for a hit Not that it was asking too much of God. I simply didn’t see any reason to bother God with such a little problem. Having a ball hit toward me in right field. Now, that was a problem, a very please-God-help-me-and-don’t-let-them-hit-the-ball-to-me kind of problem. Most of the guys weren’t bothered much when I struck out, most likely because they struck out plenty of times, too. What bothered them was that when I finally tracked down a ball hit my way, even though I threw it as hard as I could toward the infield, it often didn’t go anywhere. A good throw of mine would land about 20 feet away.
So I trudged over to the ball field. My team batted first. We got two runs. I was going to hit in the next inning, but first I had to get through a half inning in right field. One ball was hit in my direction, but lucky for me, the first baseman caught it before it got close.
When it was my turn at the plate I surprised everybody. The ball hit the bat and trickled passed the second baseman into right field. “Not bad,” I thought, “two hits in seventeen games.” Our games rarely lasted more than three innings. By the time we got to that third inning my team still led by two runs.
In their half of the third, the other team got two hits. With runners on first and third and two outs their best player, their team captain came to the plate. Out in right field, I wasn’t paying much attention to him. Instead, I was watching the playground monitors. One of them was walking toward the doorway to ring the bell, calling everyone back to school, ending the lunch hour.
In an instant these things happened:
Instinctively I started walking toward the school.
My classmates started screaming my name.
Someone was yelling “Catch it! Catch it!
I spun back toward the commotion.
The baseball zipped past my face and slammed into my chest, knocking the wind out of me and knocking me to the ground.
The school bell started ringing, but the playground seemed strangely quiet. Something seemed very wrong.
I lay on the ground gasping for air. My chest hurt.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the center-fielder running toward me.
As I sat up something rolled off my chest into my lap. I grabbed it before it hit the ground.
“He’s got it!” the center-fielder screamed. “He caught the ball.”
It was the first time all year a team I’d been on won the game and it couldn’t have come at a better time, the very last game of fourth grade.
That summer my wish came true, a new boy, a fifth grader moved into town, right down the street from me. He was baseball crazy. All he wanted to do was play baseball, so that’s about all we did and I got pretty good at it, good enough that when it came time for the first lunch hour of fifth grade I was looking forward to heading out to the ball field.
She was finding it quite a difficult thing to do, at least difficult to do for any length of time.
She tried all the tricks, meditation, staring at flowers, listening for birds, admiring colors, sitting at a playground and watching – children, sunsets, men.
Watching a man was probably her best way to stay in the moment, at least for a moment. Then she found herself stepping into another moment, a moment where she would walk up to the man and say something she imagined would be quite irresistible such as, “Would you step into my moment” or “You have a moment, don’t you?” or “You have a wine stain on your shirt.”
The trouble with that, of course, was that it required slipping out of the moment. And what good was finding a moment only to have that moment lead to the end of the very moment she was trying so desperately to live within.
Tori tried driving an hour just to sit on the beach so she could watch the waves roll in and out and out and in. That started really well. The waves helped her empty her mind until two well tanned young men playing Frisbee moved between her and the ocean. Then the Frisbee landed at her feet. She knew what they were doing. She refused their request to play because, after all, she was there to try to live in the moment, not to play Frisbee or anything else they might have wanted to play.
Nothing seemed to work. Sometimes she felt like she was living in the moment, but that never lasted very long, rarely more than 10 or 15 seconds before she realized she was thinking about something else. There was the job, and the bills and the TV shows she watched last night, and the TV shows she was going to watch tonight, and what she was having for dinner, and should she buy some Ben and Jerry’s or just go with a large container of ice cream.
Of course, the Ben and Jerry’s was always so good but so expensive, but a large container left her feeling like she should have another bowl full if she wanted to continue trying to enjoy it in the moment. Worst of all was when she left the moment she was trying to be in to have a discussion in her head about how good the moment was and how to make it better. Usually, the whole thing was fruitless because she couldn’t get into any of the moments she wanted to be in.
The kind of moment Tori really wanted to get into was one where Tom Cruise was sitting looking at the flowers with her or with Johnny Depp watching the stars and pointing out the Milky Way, or even one where she was watching the sunset over a dinner with Robin Williams and laughing so hard she didn’t dare drink anything. She probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with him, but he would be paying for the dinner and that would be an incredible moment.
If only those two guys playing Frisbee had been Jake Gyllenhall or Ryan Gosling. That would have been a pretty good moment because it would have meant she was probably sitting in the middle of a movie scene and maybe they would be doing their acting stuff around her, maybe even with her. Yes, with her would be very good.
It would even be better than the only real moment she ever had before, when Jonah Hill bumped into her at the airport and said, “Excuse me.” Maybe it wasn’t much of a moment at the time. Hardly anybody knew him, but that was the kind of moment she wanted to live in again for a very long time.
Absorbed in thought, while remembering that moment and the look on Jonah’s face, Tori suddenly walked nose first into a light pole. She saw stars. She checked her nose to make sure it wasn’t broken. It wasn’t. As she continued down the street, she could hardly see. There were people and things in her way, but who or what they were she couldn’t tell. She knew there was probably a lot of blood, but it didn’t matter, because for the moment, her nose really hurt.
Someone stepped in front of her, blocking her path. “Here,” he said, holding a piece of cloth gently under her nose. We have to get you to a hospital. If Tori hadn’t been in so much pain, she might have noticed the beginning of the moment she was looking for.
Brian was tired, not drunk. Couldn’t they see that? Couldn’t they just smell his breath? Couldn’t they just listen to him talk to tell he wasn’t drunk? He was just overworked and tired, so very tired, that’s all.
He put his hand on his head, then patted his stomach. He’d seen sobriety tests before, mostly on TV. Usually they were as simple as walking a straight line or standing on one leg or saying the alphabet backwards, but this was ridiculous he thought as he held his hands out in front of him and turned them up.
One police officer was watching him intently while making notes on a clipboard. The officer who’d taken his license was sitting inside the car, probably checking his record, but Brian wasn’t worried about that because there was nothing there, two speeding tickets in ten years, no accidents, nothing else.
A car from the other direction honked as it’s headlights lit up the interior of the police car. Brian wasn’t sure, but it looked like the officer there was aiming a digital camera at him.
“Okay, okay,” the officer with the clipboard was saying, “Very good. That’s the Macarena now how about the Chicken Noodle Soup Dance.”
“But it’s his least favorite place. He’s not a water person.”
“So, what’re we gonna do, dump his body in the woods somewhere or on a mountainside?”
“And let the mountain lions chew him up.”
“No, we cremate him and scatter his ashes.
“But that’s going to cost money and he said not to spend any money on his funeral.”
“So, like he’s going to know.”
“He said to tie some cement bricks to his body and drop him about ten miles out in the ocean.”
“Isn’t there something illegal about that?”
“How should I know, that’s just what he said he wanted.”
“That makes no sense. He never went in the ocean, he can’t swim.”
“Like that should make a difference. Where’s he going to swim to?”
“Damn, you’re such an idiot. Can’t you be serious just once?”
“I am being serious. How about we cremate him and scatter his ashes out over the ocean.”
“But that’s going to cost what… five hundred, maybe a thousand bucks?”
“We can afford it.”
“That’s not what I mean. It’s not much.”
“Okay, so we get the best container money can buy.”
“There you go again.”
“There I go where? The man didn’t want anything special. He didn’t want a big elaborate funeral. He didn’t want a gravestone or a marker of any kind. He didn’t want anybody to go to any trouble. So, we do the least expensive thing, a legal thing and be done with it.”
“But what’s he going to say when he finds out?”
“So, who’s gonna tell him?”
“I mean, he’s probably listening someplace right now.”
“And I’ll bet he’s thinking, “’Do what you want, I’m dead what the hell do I care?’”
“Alright, alright, so we cremate him and scatter his ashes off the pier. So, who do we invite?”
The two men stood there staring at each other a moment. Then one of them threw his hands up in the air, mumbled something and walked away.
“Hey,” the other man shouted after him. “We weren’t finished.”