Just heard a story about a couple sinkholes not too far from where I live that opened up overnight. One of them in a road I’ve driven on a few times, Foothill Road near Hwy 154 in Santa Barbara. Now, I’m thinking about the first time I thought about sinkholes.
So now, I’m picturing holes with cars and houses in them and remembering the first time I ever heard about sinkholes.
I was about nine. The radio newsman was talking about a sinkhole in Florida that swallowed a house and he was making no sense to me. After all, the holes in the sinks I was most familiar with were pretty small, I’d dropped a toothpaste cap into the hole in the bathroom sink once, but even the kind of house people used for their model trains would be too big to get swallowed by a bathroom sink hole or even the hole in a kitchen sink. You’d have to break it up into little pieces to wash it into such a tiny hole, but a regular, full-sized house, even a tiny one like the one next door would never fit into the kind of sink holes I was familiar with.
So the next thing I wondered was what kind of sinks they had in Florida. I knew some people had swimming pools in their back yards, but would a swimming pool have a hole big enough to swallow a house and if it did, did people in Florida have sinks the size of swimming pools?
My mind was spinning trying to come to terms with this. For a moment I was pretty sure I didn’t ever want to go to Florida. Usually, my mom had the answers to things like this, but not this time.
“Mom, could a sink hole swallow a house?” I asked.
She thought a moment, probably wondering why I was asking a question that for an adult, had an obvious answer. “I suppose they could, but not very often.”
On the one hand, that was a relief. It didn’t happen very often, so I’d probably safe on a trip to Florida. On the other hand, that didn’t explain how it could happen in the first place, but it wasn’t an impossibility as far as she was concerned. Since I wouldn’t be seeing any of my teachers for a while, there was only one thing left to do.
I headed over to the library and to the encyclopedias. Of course, I found the answer, but it took a little while to understand the relationship between a big hole in the ground and the hole at the bottom of a sink.
Now, I’m sitting here, amused by my childish innocence and perception of the world around me.
My cousin was jogging alongside me. I had to pedal slower to keep pace with him. He was ten years old, I was eleven. We hadn’t been friends very long. I’d known him when I was three, so I hadn’t really known him. Then my family moved to Illinois, a little town outside Chicago. Time passed. We saw each other again when we were old enough to remember the visit.
Every year for the first five years after we moved to Illinois my father took the family back east to visit relatives. We always visited my mom’s family and someone from my dad’s family: one of his aunt’s one year, his mother another, another aunt, then when I was eight after a few days in New York he took us to Massachusettes to visit his sister and I got to see my Johnson cousins again. Not that I’d ever missed seeing them, but until then I hardly knew they existed.
I don’t remember what we did. My uncle had a target behind his house and he invited me to shoot an arrow at it. I have no idea where the thing went, but it didn’t hit the target. He helped me pull the string back, told me to look down the arrow at the target and when I could see a straight line from my eye, down the arrow, and to the target, I should let it go. My cousins told me I was really lucky because he never let them touch his bow and arrows, much less shoot them.
We all slept in a room on the second floor overlooking the street. I loved watching the cars go by in the street below. All I could see from my bedroom window at home was the mobile home across the way.
Less than two years later my cousins and I were roommates again. By then my family had moved into a house. My brother and I had an upstairs room overlooking the street, but the house was at the end of a dead-end street, so there wasn’t much to see. Four of us shared one small room. We were small, though, and it was fun, so the room didn’t feel crowded.
So my cousin, Kenny, and I were becoming friends. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but without warning, he ran faster. In an instant, he was ten steps ahead of me. I was pushing hard on the pedals to catch up. He looked back at me, stumbled and fell. I pushed back hard on the pedals to stop. I couldn’t swerve because there was a ditch on the left and a busy street on the right. I think he’d run ahead because there was a bridge where the road crossed a creek. The space at the edge of the road narrowed to about two feet. Normally, I would have been able to stop in time, but this time my foot slipped off the pedal and as I fought to gain control the bike rolled over my cousin!
Somehow I managed to keep from falling over. Somehow he wasn’t hurt, at least not much from the bicycle. He was a little scraped up from falling on the gravel, but he jumped up and started screaming at me as if I’d run him over on purpose. Before I could say anything he stomped home, taking the shortcut I couldn’t take, through the yards.
It was two days before he talked to me again. We were watching TV and he started laughing. Then he said, “You should have seen the look on your face after you ran me over. You looked so scared, I thought you were afraid your bike was broke. I got so mad at you, ’cause I was the one who was hurt, not your stupid bike.”
“I did think you were hurt!”
“I know, but I think I was in shock or something and I was mad at you for running me over and not even falling down. Next time you run me over you better fall down, even if you don’t have to.”
“My cousins moved out a few weeks after that. The trips out east stopped about that time and were replaced by trips to visit the Johnson’s. Ken and I stayed friends until we were in our twenties. Then we both moved further away and grew apart. Still, whenever I see two kids, one on a bicycle, the other running alongside or on a skateboard I remember the feeling of bouncing on my bicycle over my cousin.
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.”
But he was wrong. They skipped ten more stones.
‘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.
“Maybe I should put on my pajamas,” he thought.
Sayings of Caledon Pritz