The Dating Game (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(Weekly Writing Challenge is your friend.  Take advantage of it.  I do!)

But when the time comes that a man has had his dinner, then the true man comes to the surface.” -Mark Twain

**********

Greg picked up the fork in front of him and cursed.  It wasn’t anything that the fork had done in particular, but the sheer pronged nature of the utensil vexed the man.  Greg tried to gauge his reflection in the metallic surface, but the gaps in between the metal made this effort difficult.  It felt as though there was a little tweak of hair on the back part of his head that was sticking up.  He reached up, attempting to comb it down with his right hand while the fork was nearly strangled in Greg’s left.

Exhaling angrily, Greg’s frustration was evident.  Hearing a giggle, he quickly put the fork back on the table.  He didn’t care that the silverware was no longer uniform in what had been its carefully placed arrangement.  Greg was too concerned about any embarrassment that he might have earned.  He glanced from table to table, hoping that everyone else in the fancy restaurant was too focused on their tiny portions and shiny gold-accented plates to have taken in his grooming performance.

The waitress walked up to his table and refilled the water glass without asking.  She smiled briefly and then moved on to the next patron without a word.  Greg sighed and crumpled up the cloth napkin that resided on his lap in a jumbled mess.  How am I supposed to be engaging and interesting when the waitress, someone who is paid to be nice, barely even gives me the time of day?  This was not a good idea.

The notion of a dating service was not one that appealed to Greg.  He didn’t relish meeting new people.  He was a baseball referee.  He spent all his days surrounded by people, most of them drunk and loud.  The last thing he wanted to do when he got home was talk sports, or even worse; partake in small talk.  However there was only so much going back to an empty apartment that Greg could stand.  He was a solid provider; not prone to wild outbursts or violence like so many overpaid celebrities that tore up the stadiums.  Greg had it on good authority that he was highly dateable.  No less than three of his friends had said so.  It had taken a few beers for them to admit as much, but the friends had stated it after only a few prodding attempts from Greg.

REFEREEA striped uniform and a chrome-plated whistle were hardly the most alluring of attire, so Greg knew that meeting someone at work was unlikely.  He realized that he would have to enlist some outside help.  That was where the dating service came into play.

Greg had sat through the pre-game ceremonies that they had called, “initiation”.  He had detailed what he looked for in a woman, doing his best not to limit any potential candidates.  “Smart, fun, cute”, he had said with a shrug.  Skin color?  Religion?  Any beliefs that might clash with his?  Greg had shrugged and replied, “Well, I’d prefer if they weren’t too crazy.  I mean, I guess I’m looking for somebody who would appreciate me and want to spend time with me.  Someone… um, who’s fun, and smart.  Oh, and cute.”  Greg had felt his face turn red when he realized how repetitive he sounded.  The depersonalization of finding true love grated on him.

I hope she hasn’t ditched me, Greg considered.  It’s one thing to accept the awkwardness of a date that someone else sets up for you.  But to be stood up and left sitting alone?  She wouldn’t do that.  Would she?

The notion dawned on Greg that he really didn’t know anything about Sophia.  The phone message had been short and unhelpful.  A chipper voice had his voicemail, brushing the “perfect woman” for him in broad strokes.  “She’s got a great personality, really wonderful, and we just love her here at the office.  She’s got some fun opinions and she’s just great.  Sophia’s beautiful, of course, and has a spirit that really stands out.  I think you two will have a great time.”  Greg had hung up on his voice mail that morning, unconvinced.  Well isn’t that just great.  He marveled at how the staff could use dozens of phrases to say absolutely nothing; all in a cheery and lively voice, of course.

“Excuse me, are you Greg?”

Greg was startled awake at the tall figure that had placed her hand tentatively on the vacant chair.  He blinked himself back into full consciousness.  He blinked again.  Still trying to make sense of the sight across from him, Greg gulped down what moisture was left in his quickly drying throat.  Then he blinked a third time.

“Greg”, the woman prompted with a warm smile on her face.

“Yeah.  I mean, yes.  Please, have a seat”, he replied.  Greg was shocked at the person that he was to share a date with.  The analytical, realistic, pessimistic side of himself had calculated the odds in his head.  His picture of a “Sophia” was a short person, cute in a tank top, and probably easily distracted by pretty things.  She would be many things, all of which could be gathered under the umbrella of “sorority girl”; with an emphasis on the “girl”.  The woman that stood confidently in his line of sight was already proving Greg quite wrong.

Sophia stood at a solid six feet at least, but she confidently wore high heels and her hair was swept up on top of her head.  If she was abnormally blessed in height, she seemed determined to embrace it.  Her smile seemed born of an inner voice that said, “Hey, how are ya?” in that natural way that Greg most clearly lacked.  She was no beanpole; even Greg could see that she had some curves to her.  Yet, like the rest of her demeanor, she appeared to own them.  Greg wondered to himself how someone this enticing upon first meeting was still single.

“Do you mind if I take a seat?”  Sophia began to pull the chair backwards.  Greg cursed to himself.

“Oh, I’m sorry”, he said half standing up.  “Please, please.”  Brilliant Greg.  Forget to stand up to greet her, and then forget to get the chair for her.  That’ll make a great first impression.

“Have you ever been to this place before?”  Sophia smiled.  She unfolded the napkin with a quick gesture and placed it lightly on her lap.

“No, I don’t really eat out much”, Greg admitted.  “They said you recommend this joint and I figured that was alright by me.”

Sophia laughed and made a move for the menu.  “Yes, I can honestly tell you that this ‘joint’ is one of my favorite haunts.  Don’t you just love sushi?”

“It’s a pretty decent food”, Greg said as he cursed himself again.  “What do you think I should try”, he asked, hoping to get back into her good graces.

sushi“Oh, I’ve always been a fan of their California rolls.”

A kind force must have been looking over Greg, for the waiter returned before Greg could blurt out a clumsy joke about Rolls Royce cars.

“What do you say, Greg?  Shall I order us up two plates?”

Greg nodded, watching as Sophia went to work.  He stared at her and soon noticed that he was unable to keep up with her orders.  A blur of high-society words came into their conversation as the woman about town and the experienced waiter bandied back and forth about various side dishes, fish freshness, and wine pairings.  Greg found himself blinking again and pulled out a piece of paper.  Holding the cheat-sheet just under the table cloth on his lap, he skimmed the list for any question that might spark a conversation.

“I really think you’ll enjoy the food here”, Sophia offered as the waiter returned to the kitchen.

“What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?”  Even Greg noticed how awkwardly he had blurted out the question.

A look of confusion came over Sohpia’s face.  There was a definite pause as she took in the question that had been asked of her.

Stupid, Greg.  Put her on the spot before you even know anything about her.  Stupid.

“You’re not going to waste any time are you?  Just jump right in, huh?”  Sophia laughed and pulled her chair in closer.  Greg had thrown down the gauntlet and now Sophia was contemplating picking it up.  “Fair enough; I’ll play along.”

“No, it was an insensitive question.  We can talk about something else.”

“Oh, come on.  This’ll be fun!”  A playful and daring light was obvious in Sophia’s eyes and Greg once again questioned how this had all worked out.  Maybe blind dates aren’t so bad after all?

White_House_Front_Dusk_Alternate“Okay”, Sophia began.  “I’ve got one.  It was a year or two ago and my grandfather was invited to The White House.  You see, he was one of the last living survivors of World War II.  The whole family got to go and we were all so excited.  I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself, but I still wanted to look regal, you know?  I wanted to bring the glamor if I was going to meet The President”, she said with a laugh.

“Well, sure”, Greg said in a way that showed he didn’t know what else to say.

“There were a few other families before us.  The Fourth of July is quite a big day around The Oval Office, as you might guess.  All these men in suits with sunglasses, my mom worrying that we were keeping ‘Him’ from running the country.  It was overwhelming, but delightful”, Sophia explained with an unbridled excitement in her voice.

“Anyways, in my attempt to look elegant but still keep Grandma from thinking I was a hussy, I chose this long white dress.  It was sleeveless, flowing, and I paired it with what I thought were a classy pair of sandals.  You have to plan these things just right, don’t you?”

“Of course”, Greg answered.  Be agreeable.  Forget the fact that this woman has met The President while you were probably home drinking a beer and watching pay-per-view.  Just smile and nod.

“In all the waiting around, wouldn’t you know it?  I had to go to the bathroom.  The assistants were all perfectly nice and they showed me the way.  I was about to go in the door when along comes The First Lady!  I mean, of all people!  Secret Service wanted me to wait but The First Lady wouldn’t hear of it.  She looped her arm around mine and pulled me in.  After I had taken care of things, I tried to leave as quickly as possible.  I mean, I couldn’t maintain my composure at being in the same room with her!  Could you?”

“Not likely”, Greg answered.  Thankfully, the food had appeared with surprising quickness.  Greg started to put food in his mouth so the temptation to say something stupid would be lessened.

“She stops me, and she tells me how great it is that I’m there.  She appreciates how I’m setting an example for the younger generation and goes on about how much she likes my attire.  I of course have no idea what she’s talking about.  I was there for Grandpa, not myself.  I asked her what she meant.  And are you ready for this?  She thought I was Wonder Woman!  Apparently she mistook my dress for a toga.”

“Mmm”, Greg murmured as he chewed eagerly on his food.  He could understand The First Lady’s mix-up.

“I didn’t know what to do.  I tried to explain that I wasn’t a model or an actress or anything.  I was just a granddaughter!  But how do you explain to the most important woman in the country that she’s mistaken?  Then she took me out to the reception room and told all these dignitaries’ kids that I was Wonder Woman.  That I was there just for them on the special holiday!  I turned beat red when my Grandpa arrived and we had to sort the whole thing out.  The First Lady had a great sense of humor about it though.  She wouldn’t stop apologizing and we laughed about it for quite a time after.  But being introduced by Wonder Woman; it was all so embarrassing.  I still have a picture of The President, The First Lady and myself at home.”

“That’s quite a story”, Greg said as he finished off the last of his rolls.

“How’s the fish?”

“Quite good”, Greg replied.

“And you?”  Sophia reached for her plate as she prompted Greg.  “What’s your tale societal woe?”

“I have to think about that for a moment”, Greg said as he scooped up the green pile from his plate and thrust it into his mouth without a thought.

“Greg!”

There was a moment of calmness.  To be truthful it was more of a millisecond.  In that infinitesimally minute amount time, Greg was confused.  He saw a shocked expression come across Sophia’s face.  He felt the green paste land on his tongue and do something to his taste buds.  Then, scant seconds later, all the sound and sights in the room vanished as all his senses turned toward his mouth.  All he could feel was the excruciating pain that overcame his mouth.  His tongue was on fire.  His eyes watered, trying to douse the inferno that had when his lips had closed and the fork had wisely retreated.  It was in that formerly calm moment that Greg learned what a heaping mound of wasabi would do to a man.

“Aaaaah!!!”  Greg screamed as the agony became too much for him.  He clamped his hands on to the table, pulling the tablecloth towards him as he reached for anything that might bring him relief.  He spat the green offender out and chugged down the water that had been four gallons short of what he needed to put out the blaze on his tongue.  He chugged down the wine and felt a sense of relief coming.  The worst of it was over, but a painful tingling remained in his mouth.

There, on the formerly pristine tablecloth, lay the aftereffects of what had just happened.  In a big white circle, surrounded by crystal glasses and fine cutlery was a green blob, now looking rather disturbing and on display for the world to see.  Many of the surrounding patrons took up the invitation and craned their necks; gasping and chuckling were audible from nearby.

Sophia’s eyes grew wide while Greg’s still welled up from the sensory overload.  Neither of the two could take their gaze off of that wasabi bull’s eye on the giant target before them.

“Huh”, Sophia finally replied.  “Guess we now your most embarrassing moment, don’t we?”

The Trek to Oyster Doom

“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness; that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” -Theodore Roosevelt

**********

A friend of mine, let’s call her “Dawn”, often spoke of the wonders of a certain hike.  Dawn and I even had plans to travel the route with a group of our coworkers.  But as these things often go, plans fell apart.  A year or two passed without me ever seeing this mysterious Oyster Dome.  All I knew of this mysterious land was that Dawn and several other friends spoke of the plentiful joys that this scenic escape had to offer.

Now, given those accolades and emotional urgings to explore said land, what could I do?  Early this week I finally made the trip out to Oyster Dome.  However, after my adventure I have found a more appropriate name.  I choose to call that most “exciting” of places, Oyster Doom.

The warning signs were plentiful; I just chose to ignore them.  Caution flag number one was the drive there.  I tend to be a little frightened by detours.  I am sure that the folks who place those imposing and unyielding orange signs know what they are doing.  However I like my roads to run in a straight line.  Therefore, I had some trepidation about driving down a stretch of freeway where there existed an infamous gap in the road.  Oy.  I have issues driving where chunks of the road is missing.  Sure, it worked for Speed, but I was alone.  Sandra Bullock was not behind the driver’s wheel encouraging and coaxing me on to victory.  (A point which I happen to think is a cruel injustice.)

Oops.  But it's getting better?

Oops. But it’s getting better?

To be fair, the detour was just fine.  Personally I think a few more signs would have been helpful.  But when in doubt, follow the semi-trucks; works every time.  Thanks to those multi-wheeled behemoths, I was able to get back on the highway with no problems and two exits later I was cruising down a quiet little paved road looking for a place for the trailhead.

The guide book claimed that there would be parking along the side of the road.  The book and I disagree on the term “parking”.  When I think of parking, I like to have bold white lines spray painted on the ground.  Ideally, there are concrete blocks on the ground or some sort of barrier to ensure that one’s car doesn’t go out of bounds.

The “parking” here was a strip of gravel.  On the edge of a cliff.  With a speed limit of 55.  I’m sorry, what?  In every story I’ve ever heard of a car parking along the side of a lonely road, it tends to end up with some guy carrying an axe and chasing them into the uninhabited woods.  (Showing their courteous side, the planners of the park even gave the crazed woodsman a way to hide the evidence; simply shove the innocent hiker’s car off the road.  No railings to get in the way, just a nice steep drop and tall trees to cover it up for ya.)

You're a lumberjack?  Okay, but explain the mask...

You’re a lumberjack? Okay, but explain the mask…

Now, folks that know me will attest that I am a might stubborn.  I had already driven out to the park.  It was broad daylight.  And I had managed to find the tiny little path of dirt that was to be the start of my expedition.  I figured I’d roll the dice and take my chances.  That was when I came upon the next sign of impending danger, which was an actual sign.

The short version:  "Dangerously dangerous danger!"

The short version:
“Dangerously dangerous danger!”

After reading the entire notice I realized that I had no intention of hiking along the closed route.  Why would I add wet rocks, another cliff, and the threat of angering thousands of bats to the already treacherous day?  Still, the words, “close this area” effectively concerned me.

Having considered and dismissed all warnings, I hit the trail.  It hit back, hard.  I am a tall fellow, but those hills are not for the faint of heart.  Or knees.  Or ankles.  Or lumbar.  Uphill the path led and uphill I went.  As I crested the first ascent, I was greeted by another mighty mound of dirt.  Things tend to happen in threes and so another hill presented itself.  Of course, the more the merrier, right?  Bring another order of steep earth to table one!  Apparently Oyster Dome is one big block party and the hills are only too happy to RSVP.

To the park’s credit, there were plenty of trails.  At least, I think they were trails.  The first few miles were dotted with white splotches on trees.  I can only assume that those white blobs were meant to identify the route as correct and safe.  Of course, those markers were utilized when there was a massive hill or glacier rock on one side, and a steep cliff on the other.  It was much like walking down the grocery aisle and having a staff person ask that you refrain from taking your squeaky-wheeled shopping cart and leaping and bounding over the high shelves.  Further into the woods; when

For all I know, it was just bird poop.

For all I know, it was just bird poop.

the trails started to get confusing?  That’s when the white splotches conveniently disappeared.  (I maintain that the mystery guy from the horror movie is to blame, but I haven’t yet figured out how.)

With or without markers, the routes appeared regardless of my desire for them to c ease.  There was the aforementioned closed trail that didn’t need the professionally-made signs to ward me off.  I think there was a glacial view trail, but the word “glacier” invokes two mental thoughts to me; slippery and sharp.  Needless to say, I declined the invitation.  And then there were the little paths that sure looked like trails.  A patch of dirt here, a wide expanse of forest there; my fear of getting lost only increased the higher up I journeyed.  I prefer not to take the Lord’s name in vain, so I did my best not to mutter, “Dear God I’m going to die”, “Dear God this is terrifying”, and “What in God’s name were these people thinking?”  However, I assure you that statements very similar in tone to curses ran around in my head as I looked at each intersection with concern.

In the end, I did the only logical thing I could think of.  I followed the slugs.  Come on, what animal looks like it prefers the safest path possible?  Slugs, that’s what.  A cougar, a bear; even snakes would have been wildlife that might have sent me packing.  But I am a Washingtonian.  Slugs are our friends.  If a path of dirt is deemed a suitable strolling area by a slug, then I am going to follow along.  Scoff if you must, but much of the success I had in getting up to that summit was from a slug pointing the way with its antennae and sage wisdom.  (And yes, a trail of slimy goo.)

At the end, I would say that I would make this trek again.  It really is not all that far from where I live and now that I know that the terrain’s grade is equivalent to trying to climb out of a well, I am prepared for the climb.  I have an idea of which trails will not lead me to my demise.

Also, I firmly believe that the view is worth it.  Or rather, I choose to believe that what should be the view is majestic.  I could not say myself.  When I got up to the top; when I finally broke free of the tree line?  I was met by a 180-degree view of clouds.  Add in a smattering of trees, some clouds, and then really smother that sucker with another layer of clouds; that is the sort of “picturesque” moment I experienced.

Obligatory scenic photo from early in the hike.  If somebody lugged a bench up that trail, you -must- take a photo there.

Obligatory scenic photo from early in the hike. If somebody lugged a bench up that trail, you -must- take a photo there.

I shall try again.  I was almost attacked by a non-existent axe-murderer, my knees are still sore, and I have never been so afraid of being lost in the woods as I was that day.  The moral in all this is that hiking buddies are highly underrated.  Take someone with you to take in all that nature has to offer; even if it kills you.  Because of Dawn’s recommendation, I have just the person in mind.  What better way to thank her than by taking her along?  No good deed goes unpunished, y’know.

A Four-Colored “Rest of the Story”

(I’ve spent much of the last few weeks listening and reading stories by Paul Harvey.  If you’re too young to know who that is; do some research.  For now, you’ll have to content yourself with a story I don’t think he ever told, but one that his nonetheless true.)

“Neither a man nor a boy ever thinks the age he has is exactly the best one- he puts the right age a few years older or a few years younger than he is.” –Mark Twain

**********

The world of comic books has never been an easy one to break into.  Oh, I don’t mean that comic book shops are frightening or that Archie Comics have disappeared from the checkout lines in groceries.  No, any person that wants to can quickly and easily immerse themselves in the four-color world which the professionals have created for them.

When a person tries to be a comic book writer or artist; that is when the real challenge began.  If it is difficult today, it was almost impossible back in the mid 1960’s.  Legendary creators like Neal Adams, Denny O’Neil, and Steve Ditko would be some of the first to start DC Comics as fresh new talent.  But James didn’t know any of that.  Or perhaps he did, and simply didn’t care.

James started out, as many comic creators do, as a fan.  He found himself with a stack of comic books, eagerly flip through each page, and became motivated.  It wasn’t long until he started creating comic books of his own.  He scripted them, drew them, and soon had a finished project.  Having successfully crafted his own stories, he thought they were suitable for publication.  So he did what any ambitious young fan would do.  James mailed his story ideas to DC Comics.

Nowadays there are policies.  Comic book companies typically do not accept submissions by mail.  Work that is sent in unsolicited is unilaterally returned.  The editors have their contracted staff that is already assigned their titles months in advance.  Big companies take care of their big-name properties.  Taking the time to read through work that they probably couldn’t read?  Well who has time for that?

72119809 But this was a different time.  In the mid 60’s comics were about to be surprised by Bat-mania and earlier in the decade the cover price had surged from a dime to twelve whole cents.  So perhaps editor Mort Weisinger was feeling reckless.  Perhaps he simply liked the conversations that he had with James through their letters.  Whatever the reason, Weisinger took the crude story that had been crafted and offered James a job.  The inexperienced fellow was now in charge of writing and drawing the Legion of Super-Heroes feature for Adventure Comics.

This was only the beginning of James’ career with super-powered heroes.  Not only did he have a successful run on Legion of Super-Heroes, but he also scripted Superman Family tales and in 1968 he would be the writer on the new Captain Action title.  He took a break from comics for personal reasons, but rejoined the industry in the mid-70s.  He wrote some more stories for DC Comics before he headed across town and signed on with Marvel Comics.  It was there that this previously rookie fan had the job that thousands of folks only dream of.  From 1978 until 1987, James was the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.

Now, James had other things to do with his life.  He would eventually step away from comics and pursue other employment.  Still, back in 2007 he would return to the title that started it all and script one more run on Legion of Super-Heroes.

You might be thinking how impressive it is that this man could have such a lengthy career.  The 1960’s up until only a few years ago?  That’s quite a record in comic books no matter who you are.  However, James had a secret.  A secret that even Weisinger didn’t know as he communicated with the youth.  It wasn’t a terribly scandalous piece of information; there wasn’t anything the creator could have done anything about.  Yet, one wonders if he would have gotten his first job had his boss known the truth.

paulharveySee, Jim Shooter’s first foray away from comics; the one he took just as 70’s were starting off?  Well he took it just as he was graduating high school.  He used many interactions from his high school life to shape the scripts of teenage heroes.  For this man, this legendary weaver of stories that sent in his story ideas and received a job offer through the mail?  Well when he was first hired, he was only 14.

“And now you know… The Rest of the Story.”

Giving ’til it Hurts

A dignified and respectworthy thing, and there is small merit about it and less grace when it doesn’t cost anything.” –Mark Twain, on charity

**********

Travis Jackson pulled a sweatshirt out of his closet and felt a sneer overtake him.  Once, a long while ago, he had been a rabid fan of the Tulsa Tortoises.  Now, a decade later, he couldn’t bring himself to watch a game.

It really wasn’t all that surprising.  Travis had bought the sweatshirt in his early college years when he and his roommates would all pile into his friend’s cramped two-door and drive down to the stadium whooping and cursing excitedly.  Every time they went Travis would wear his sweatshirt in support of his team.  It had kept him warm when the harsh weather pummeled the open-air stadium.  It had acted as a napkin, sopping up the nacho cheese and beer stains; both of which resulted from his enthused state and his friends’ clumsy ways.  It even had a tear from the parking lot brawl when the other team’s fan had dared to mock “Swifty” Samuels’ defensive skills.

Decades later, Travis looked at the sweatshirt and knew he would never wear it again.  His beloved stadium had been torn down and replaced with a new, more pristine, family-friendly venue.  The players he used to cheer on and high-five after he waited outside the gates had rewarded him by quitting or trading away for big paychecks.  When the notion of nine dollar beer was combined with all of those changes, Travis just couldn’t muster up any interest.  The idea of going to a game had once been exciting, now it held as little allure to him as the pathetic piece of clothing in front of him.

trash-bag Looking through his closet, Travis realized just how out of touch his attire was with his current tastes.  As he pulled out a pair of pleated slacks and several baseball caps, all the result of Christmas gifts from past girlfriends, a pile of clothing started to grow.  Only minutes later, Travis was stuffing piles of clothing into a large garbage bag.  The sides puffed out in bumps and bulges as he strained to pull the top closed.

That’s quite a haul, Travis thought to himself.  I really should donate this stuff instead of tossing it out.  Somebody’s gotta want that sweatshirt.  Right?

Travis was dubious about the truth of that last notion, but regardless he walked towards the kitchen.  He went to the table and moved a pile of bills.  Then he moved a pile of newspapers.  Underneath those were another stack of bills.  Oops, he thought as a sheepish grin appeared.  I forgot about those.  At last, resting on the bottom of the chaos, resided the telephone book.

The telephone book hadn’t seen much action.  In fact, it was in mint condition.  Travis hadn’t needed it before, even though it was two and a half years old.  As he turned to the last third of the book, he began to recall the experience of flipping past hundreds of pages to find the category he wanted.  Life before internet searches sprang into his mind.  Travis thought back to “simpler times” as he pulled out his smartphone and dialed up the number.

On the first ring, Travis heard the pick-up on the other end.

“Hi, My name’s Travis Jackson and-“

-Click-.  Charles looked at his phone in confusion.  He didn’t know what to think.  Surely they wouldn’t have had any reason to hang up on him.  He was trying to do a good deed and these people were supposed to facilitate that.  No, it must have been some sort of mistake, he told himself.  He was just about to redial the number on his phone when he was startled.

He couldn’t be sure, but Travis could have sworn that he saw something drop out of the sky.  He left his phone on the kitchen table and ran to his living room window.  There, much to his surprise, he saw a man in armor running across the grass while another man ran up to his door.  Three ropes seemed to be hanging above his lawn.  Turning his gaze upwards, he saw a helicopter silently hovering high above his house.

081104-M-5023B-005Panic started to overtake Travis.  Were all those movies right?  Is this how the invasion begins?  These guys are trained and have serious gear.  How am I supposed to fend off a wave of intruders?  He started to pace the living room frantically when the men did the last thing that Travis ever expected.

They knocked on his door.

It was a short, brisk, three-rap knock; one which somehow conveyed their efficiency.  Unable to think of a better response, Travis called out in response, “Hello?”

“Yes, are you Mr. Travis Louis Jackson?  We received your call.”

“Already?”  Travis couldn’t believe it.  “Man you guys are fast”, he said as he unlocked the front door.

“Yes Sir.  We are”, the authoritative tone replied.

Travis opened the door and was met by three identical-looking men.  They all had on what Travis guessed were armored-plating over their camouflaged clothing.  Each wore a helmet that covered their heads except for near their temples where he could see that their hair was shaved very close to the skin.  All three eyes stared back at him through opaque sunglasses.

“Sir, where’s the target?”  The now-familiar voice came from the first mass of muscle on Travis’ doorstop.  He looked at the combat boots on the concrete step and wondered how long it had been since he last swept out there.

“Sir?”  The voice roused Travis from his distraction.  “We still have our mission”, the man prompted.

“Right, sorry.  It’s in the kitchen.”

With that, the leader turned to his two men.  He made a series of complex hand gestures.  The men nodded in reply and ran uninvited into the house.

“Uh, I could show you the way”, Travis offered.

“There’s no need for that, Sir.”

“There’s not?”

“No Sir.  Standard protocol is to brief ourselves on the object’s blueprints, and those within five blocks, before the incursion begins.  We memorized your house en route.”

En route?  Travis shook his head.  These guys’re hardcore.

Travis watched as the man put his hand to his ear.  Some sort of exchange was clearly taking place.  The man nodded in satisfaction.

“Copy that”, he responded.  “Maintain radio silence while I interrogate.”

“Wait, I’m sorry”, Travis interrupted nervously.  “Did you say interr-“

“Sir, the package has been acquired.  Our goal here has been accomplished with no complications.  However, we could use your help.”

“Uh, okay?”

“You see, these operations are extensive.  They require intensive training and perfect execution.  Would you agree that is what has taken place here?”

“Yeah.  You guys are almost too good at what you do.”

“We have to be, Sir.  That’s our job.”

“And, really, kudos to you.”

“Thank you, Sir.”  The imposing man took a step closer until there was only a foot of space between him and Travis.  “Now, I need to ask you a question, Sir.  Is there anything else in the house?”

“I… I’m sorry?”

“When we go to this sort of effort, we like to come back with more than our initial target.  We want to maximize the efficiency of our time.  So is there anything else in the house?”

“Wait, you want me to give you more?”

snowboarder-md“On our preliminary sweep through the area we noticed a snowboard that hasn’t been utilized in five years, a set of dining plates and cutlery that you clearly aren’t taking advantage of, some pots and pans that have never been used, snow tires, snow chains, screens that aren’t secured in your windows, cat litter for a pet that doesn’t appear to exist on the premises, tampons, jogging shoes that are collecting dust, a case of diet supplements, a shovel that is clean for a device that was created to move dirt, several reference books that we both know you’ve never read, and an “Ultimate AB-Builder” that’s hardly this year’s model.  Would you please confirm for me the presence of said items?”

“Hold on, you went through my stuff?”

“It’s all part of the procedure, Sir.  You’ll find a copy of the contract posted to your refrigerator door.”

“So, you just want to take all that stuff?  I didn’t give my consent for any of this.”

“We’re only trying to maximize our efficiency.  You do want us to maximize our efficiency”, the guard growled as he took the final step that closed the gap between the two men, “don’t you, Sir.”

Travis gulped as his belly almost grazed the armored pouches that held unknown threats above the man’s waist.  He wouldn’t put it past the man to have C-4 or some terrifying gizmo in those pouches.  His eyes darted back and forth, refusing to stare straight at the black ovals that covered the official’s glare.  He gulped again.

“No, no I wouldn’t want to do anything to upset you or your superiors.”

“We appreciate that, Sir”, the man said as he backed away and whispered into his wrist.  “Rest assured”, he said, returning his attention to Travis.  “We have left you with all the modern conveniences that you currently enjoy.  And if I haven’t already, let me express our gratitude for your giving spirit.  We would like to sincerely thank you for your generosity.”

As the man finished his sentence, the two other men ran by with their arms full of bags that Travis knew contained his former belongings.  He watched them go, rushed out the door with terrifying speed.

“Again”, the man said with a curt nod, “thank you for your help.”  With that, he rushed double-time after the men under his command.  Travis watched as the men hooked their loads onto the rope with carabineers.  The trio of workers and their cargo were lifted back up into the helicopter.  It was already flying towards its next destination, silently leaving Travis and his remaining property.

Man, he thought as the vehicle disappeared into the clouds, those Salvation Marine guys don’t mess around.

A Good ‘ol, Sci-Fi, Country Song (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(The Daily Post asked for dystopian concepts.  As a musical.  I can’t really pass that up.)

Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
Listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever, but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in” -Cole Porter

**********

Well folks I’m gonna tell ya ‘bout this crazy little tripimages
You can call me a dadgum liar; I don’t give a rip.
See now I done seen things that you wouldn’t never believe,
But I promise my aim in all this is not to deceive.
 
It weren’t too long ago when I done woke up with a start,
I felt a shock that darn near wrecked my achey-breaky heart.
I found myself stuck inside a plexi-glass contraption,
And you can bet I did my best to leap into action.
 
I banged on the walls, I kicked and punched with all of my might,
But computer screens and numbers were all that was in sight.
I cried out for some fella or gal to come set me free,
But instead this voice piped in like a machine from T.V.
 
“You’ve been out for forty years.  Relax, we’ll take care of you.”
That’s what that there computer claimed it was going to do.
Well I hollered and I bellowed and I screamed, “Let me out!”
I wanted my freedom; I made sure that there was no doubt.
 
1331806738305313089sad%20robot-mdWell that hunk of gears and switches just wouldn’t let me go
And it worked and toiled tirelessly just to tell me so.
“We want to keep you healthy and restore your damaged hide.
Why would you fight against us only to go back outside?”
 
On and on they bragged about the benefits of their pod,
And how they could make improvements to my broken-down bod.
They told me if I stayed inside their high-tech, so-safe cage,
I’d never have to worry about my health or old age.
 
The blasted machine just outright refused to understand
That I’m a good ol’ boy who likes to roam across the land.
Gimme dirt under my boots, gimme the wind in my hair
Gimme farms that smell like a flatulent cow’s derrière.
 
I want snow that I can shovel or drive my pick-up in,
And I want women in bars that tend to tempt me to sin.
You can keep your tubes and nobs that look ever-so pretty,
I’ll take a piece of beef jerky that tastes rather gritty.
 
That new-fangled machine kept refusing to let me be.
It kept on about better living through technology.
It offered to inject these strange fluids into my arms
And claimed it would protect me from disease and other harms.
 
I laughed at the thing and couldn’t stop from shaking my head.
I offered up this rather solid argument instead.
I tell it if this is the future they got it backwards,
That ain’t the end destination that mankind should head towards.
 
cowgirl-GraphicsFairy1We want nasty crud and strange dirt under our fingernail
We want to hear the tin roof fighting off the storming hail
We want to stub our toe and yell when the dog starts to bark
And we want to love on somebody when the lights go dark.
 
I said plainly that living that long just ain’t worth a thing
If you can’t get in a fight or have a fun little fling.
I know it thought its circuits and chips were on the right track
If that was the world I was offered, I’d rather go back.
 
Take me away from all that stupid purification,
Let me see people reflect the tastes of their own nation,
 I don’t care too much for gears that are silent and stealthy.
Shoot, I need at least some of my food to be unhealthy.
 
So them computers gave up, they unplugged all of their gear,
And they used some fancy time machine to send me back here.
Now I’m back in the present and I sure would like to think,
That one of you fine folks would go and buy me a tall drink.

Dependably Durable (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(If you don’t make a habit out of checking The Daily Post, you really should.  They help with my writing more times than I care to admit.  This week is no different.)

O Day of days when we can read! The reader and the book, either without the other is naught.“ –Ralph Waldo Emerson

**********

Book Review The Fifth AssassinMiranda pulled a grocery bag out from under her kitchen sink.  She laid it on the table next to her trusty scissors, masking tape, and her crisp new copy of Brad Meltzer’s The Fifth Assassin.  She had a regiment that each new book went through after it arrived at her doorstop.  The procedure had worked every previous time and she was not about to take chances now.

With a few quick folds, confident cuts, and strategically placed pieces of tape, the stalwart and robust construction paper was ready for its new inhabitant.  Miranda smiled and hummed to herself as she made the last few adjustments and then placed her new book in the waiting embrace of the sturdy book cover.  The last pieces of tape were put on, but Miranda made sure that they never so much as grazed the new book itself.  She moved the paper book jacket from where she had relocated it to the bookshelf. She tittered and tsk-ed at the ornamentation.  Such decorations were for display, not for travel.

Miranda smiled at the paper-clad book that sat on the table in front of her.  She cleared off the errant lengths and scraps cast off from the brown bag and let them fall slowly into the recycling bin.  She had gotten what she wanted from the former grocery bag.   After she meticulously put the scissors back in their drawer and the tape back on the shelf, all that remained was her prize.  She smiled at the anticipation of tearing through the new suspense novel, albeit gently and with respect for the white pages.

The book sat on the table, a tone of daring calling from behind the thick brown cover like a siren trying to lull in sailors at sea.  In an almost imperceptible voice, it beckoned to Miranda.  C’mon.  Gimme a read.  You know you want to.  Just give in.  You don’t really think you’re going to be able to wait it out, do you?  Succumb to the temptation Miranda!

As much as she wanted to dive into her newest purchase, she knew she would have to wait.  She had endured a long day at the office and her brain was done for the night.  Miranda knew herself well enough to play out what would happen if she tried to start any reading.  She would wake hours later with a string of drool right down the middle of the page.  Her book’s new binding would ha be stressed from the weight of her head pressing against it.  Once was enough to teach her a lesson.  She had all of Meltzer’s books.  She had devoured The Inner Circle and had waited impatiently for the years to pass until this new book was available.  Miranda could wait another twelve hours to learn all about The Fifth Assassin.

She turned the lights in her house off one by one.  A quiet and still mood encompassed Miranda’s home and she was lulled into a quiet sleep as she thought about how unfortunate the title of the book was.  Any book with the word “assassin” in the title was bound to attract attention.  Resting her head on her pillow and closing her eyes, she could see picture various scenes playing out.

On the bus there were plenty of strangers that plucked nonsensical conversations out of the air at the slightest cue.  Miranda half-dreamt of crazed people accusing her of being pro-gun because she was reading such a book and imagined some sort of anti-N.R.A. person feeding her their views and opinions.  Instead of being allowed to read her enjoyable selection of fiction, Miranda would be forced to politely nod and “mm-hmm” along.

Public Domain due to age from WikiCommons

Public Domain due to age from WikiCommons

Then there were the conspiracy nuts.  A book with a picture of Washington, D.C., the American Flag, and that loaded word, could only add to up something lunatics would cling to fervently.  She could practically smell the wackos with their drug-addled minds telling her “the real truth, the truth they don’t want you to know” about the Kennedy assassination.  No, Miranda decided as she fluffed her pillow and pushed such awkward social interactions from her mind.  It really was better to keep the cover of her book under wraps.  After all, it had worked quite well in masking her embarrassment when she had read Fifty Shades of Grey.

The next morning arrived and brought with it an increased anticipation.  Miranda weighed the pros and cons of calling in sick for work.  Realistically, there was no earthly reason she could give that would delay the presentation that she had to give that day.  She had spent the last two weeks working late in order to prepare the ideal approach to win over the board of directors.  Yet her love for books was doing its best to push her work obligations out of her mind.  The battle of pleasure over responsibility was a short one, and Miranda regrettably slipped out of her comfortable pajamas and into pantyhose and tight shoes.

Her bus was still a good ten minutes away.  That gave Miranda five minutes to get to the bus and a five minute buffer zone for herself.  Miranda pondered at the possibilities.  She had long ago learned that writing your name on the cover of a book was just as inviting to random commuters as any provocative book title.  She didn’t want to meet anyone, she just wanted to read.  (Well, within reason.  If the guy was really cute, Miranda wasn’t going to complain.)  Still, the brown surface needed something.  Her habit was to leave the paper unadorned.  This time she just couldn’t bring herself to leave the thing alone.  How could she decorate it and still maintain some anonymity?

Looking once more to the clock on the wall, Miranda saw that her five minutes of leisure were quickly fading away.  If she was going to act, she would have to do so immediately.  Her mind still wasn’t made up.  She looked to the scraps of paper in the recycling bin.  And that’s when she saw it.

Crawling across the floor was, without a doubt, the largest spider that Miranda had ever seen in her life.  She stared at it in horror.  The body resembled some sort of grotesque Ding Dong and the legs were like flexi-straws that had been caked in brownish-gray mold.  The creature was some sort of freakish mutant love-child of a daddy longlegs and a tarantula.  She did her best to stifle her instinct to scream, but the beast was skittering along the tile floor.  Worse yet, it was making a beeline for her legs.

Acting purely on adrenaline, Miranda grabbed the closest thing to her.  The book felt heavy in her grasp and she clasped it firmly between her two hands.  Bending her knees ever so slowly, she looked the spider in what she guessed were its eyes.  She squinted; her two neatly groomed eyebrows reached towards each other to form a menacing V-shape.  Glaring at the spider, she gave it one last chance to crawl off into some dark corner in retreat.  The spider did not relent.

“Grraaaah!!!”  Miranda screamed angrily as she shifted both her hands to the back of the book and slammed it down on the floor with all her might.  Sure enough, she had hit the target dead-on.  The spider, no match for the weighty literary skill of Meltzer’s writing, was now a splatter on the homemade book cover.  The kitchen floor somehow survived relatively splatter-free.

Miranda reached for a paper towel and did her best to remove the bug’s guts, limbs, and other bodily stains from the cover.  She felt as though the germs and bits of carcass were no longer a threat.  Also, her worries about her book coming across as plain and uninteresting were over.  She checked her book over as she scurried out the door.  Happily, she found that the binding and the corners of her new hardcover were still in excellent condition.  She laughed as she thought about her high-tech friends’ and their reading methods. 

Let’s see an eReader take out a monster like that and not shatter their precious screen, Miranda thought to herself triumphantly.

Intermission- There’s More to Come. Honest.

Howdy.

I’m not dead.  I swear.  Most of my three month absence can be blamed on Christmas gifts.  I decided to make ’em this year.   Oy.

The first gift took a month.  The next gift took two months.  I forgot how completely time-consuming cross-stitching can be.  I didn’t have time to read any books, let alone write.  But at least I’m now an expert at threading needles.  Please tell me that counts for something.

The other excuse I have is this: 

 

I want to write stories this good.  I want to convey the shadows and the texture and the little details like thumping your head against the window frame of your office wall when things go awry. 

I’ve been thinking.  And pondering.  (You have oodles of time to think about stories when you’re putting camel-shaded threads around the coral ones.)

More to come, I swear.  My fingers haven’t fallen off, my desire for stories is still there, and my keyboard is calling out to me. 

Be patient, they’re coming!  (I’m looking at you, S1ngal.)

And if nothing else, you get to watch the best animated short I’ve ever seen for free.  Everybody wins!  Happy weekend.

Perfect Perspective (Weekly Writing Challenge)

Perfect Perspective (Weekly Writing Challenge)

 (C’mon folks, it’s Saturday afternoon.  If you haven’t looked at The Daily Post and their suggestion for the week, you’re kinda lagging behind.  Hop to!)

Let me just begin by saying that there are two sides to every story. This is my side, the right one. “ –Easy A

**********

“I can’t believe that jerk almost killed me.” 

a3500_einstein1_gCarlos tore off his ski mask angrily and stormed in the door.  His hair raged like his temper; clumps of brown follicles thrust this way and that in an unintentional homage to Einstein.  The rest of his body was not keen to rest either.  His tempest of frustration surged.  Carlos tore off his gloves and jogging shoes.  He paced back and forth in his living room as he pulled of his jogging pants and shirt.

Making his way for the shower, Carlos still couldn’t calm himself down.  He stepped into the hot water and felt the moisture stream down on him.  Normally he turned the hot water on and then tempered it with some cold for the ideal amount of heat.  Tonight, Carlos let the shower spray out stinging pellets of scorching water to fuel his fury.  His sore body yielded and relaxed under the showerhead.  The physical exhaustion was ebbing, but not Carlos’ indignation at the event.

Carlos had thought going for an evening run would be a nice source of relaxation.  He had a ski mask that he wanted to break in for the ski trip that Connie and he were taking for Christmas.  Also, it had been getting colder outside and the thought of not having dribbling snot and sweat freeze to his face held an appeal for him.  In his dark-shaded attire, Carlos had made his way around the city streets.

The first few miles had been the same as they always were.  It took Carlos a bit to get his legs warmed up and loose.  In another mile, his lungs had adjusted to the thirty degree chill.  The only problem with Carlos’ chosen route was the lack of sidewalks.  The residential streets where he lived had nice little paved strips for him to travel on.  Besides the occasional garbage can that waited patiently to be picked up by early morning sanitation workers or mailboxes that took up permanent residence at the edge of the curb, the route was obstacle-free.  However, further away from the houses and mowed lawns were the city streets.

Back when the area had first been established, jogging was probably the furthest thing from the city planners’ minds.  No one was buying running shoes or meandering about the town for exercise seventy years ago.  So it was that the sidewalks soon gave way to vehicle lanes.   Carlos loathed racing in the same lane as cars, but he hadn’t seen any viable alternatives.  He wanted his ten miles and there were only so many routes available to him.  He wasn’t about to jog the same block over and over just because some moron on his Bluetooth couldn’t yield to a pedestrian.  Regardless of his stubbornness and his determination, Carlos would have admitted that the whole thing made him nervous.  The man had long been worried about an incident just like the one that happened that night.

For the first hundred yards on the street, things had been fine.  Carlos hugged the edge of the road, trying to give the cars as much room as possible.  Some cars honked at him, others swerved into the middle lane at the last moment.  All these activities were rather normal and the intrepid runner was able to take it all in stride.  That was before the blue four-door.

In the last stretch of the street route, Carlos noticed a car coming up behind him.  The headlights cast an eerie glow over his shoulder.  Unlike the other double-lit signs of approach, these were unyielding.  As the circles of light 549787_3225555432071_1788332779_nbecame more distinct, Carlos’ fear became greater.  To his left was the inside lane of traffic which was heavily populated with more vehicles.  To his right, Carlos saw the concrete barrier that kept him from falling off the edge and plummeting down a hundred feet to the lake below.  The car continued to approach Carlos.  He knew his escaping unharmed was entirely on him.  He scurried up onto the foot-wide perch on the top of the barrier and tried to keep from falling either down the steep drop or back into the path of the car. 

Suddenly, the blue four-door noticed the pedestrian.  It honked, swerved to the left, and screeched its brakes all at the same time.  The vehicles in the middle lane also stomped on their brakes and narrowly missed the other cars when they darted across the double-yellow line and back again.  The blue four-door somehow missed colliding with any other cars.  A man threw the passenger door open and screamed to Carlos who was lowering himself from atop the concrete wall.  He ignored the curses and angry shouts when he realized that the car wasn’t going to stop and apologize.  Sure enough, the car door slammed and the blue four-door sped away.

Carlos turned off the shower and dried himself.  His anger had almost entirely dissipated, but he still couldn’t understand why the event had happened. 

Cars are supposed to yield to pedestrians.  Yeah I was a little hard to see, but that’s the social contract people sign when they get behind the wheel.  Why couldn’t they stop gabbing at each other and focus on, I dunno, the road?  There was a time when joggers weren’t required to wear headlamps and reflective gear.  What happened to letting people not die?  There are too many distractions and too many displays in cars these days.  I’m sorry, but once you start putting DVD players in vehicles, you’re just asking for trouble.

Putting on a t-shirt and his most beaten up pair of jeans, Carlos decided to relax on the couch.  He knew he wouldn’t have the television to himself for long, so he pulled out The Three Stooges.  His wife never understood the comedic brilliance that they were performing.  Carlos got it though, and he was in the mood for some laughter.

Sure enough, as the credits started to roll, the sound of Connie’s car was heard as she pulled into the garage.  The car door slammed.  The door to the garage slammed.  Finally, Connie walked through the living room and threw her bags on the counter with a mighty thud.

“Unbelievable!”

“Honey?  Connie?  Are you okay?”

“You would not guess what happened to me.  Morons, Carlos.  We’re living in a world of morons!”

“Tell me about it.  I mean, just an hour ago…”

“I’m sorry dear”, she interrupted.  “Do you mind if I go first?  I want to… I mean… I’m so angry!”

Carlos nodded without saying a word.  He had pacified himself and his wife was clearly still incensed at her day.  He turned off the television, waved her over, and let his wife collapse onto him.  Connie sighed, slumped onto the soft cushions, and let her head rest lazily on Carlos’ shoulder. 

“It’s good to be home”, Connie said with an exhausted tone.  The relieved attitude didn’t last long.

“I still don’t see how anyone could be so stupid!”  Connie leapt to her feet and started pacing in front of the television.  Nothing that flickered across the screen could dare be as animated as the enraged woman was and Carlos gave her his utmost attention.

“You remember how Stan and I had to make this presentation downtown tonight, right?  That’s where I was for the last few hours?”

Carlos only nodded, knowing the questions that would be thrown out were only rhetorical.

“Well the whole thing went great.  I expect them to offer us a contract in the next few days.  Stan and I are happy little coworkers.  We head for his car since I left mine parked at the office.  We’ve talked about his hybrid before.  I wanted to know how it handled.  I mean, how much have I spent on gas in the last six months?

“Anyway, Stan offers to let me drive his car.  He takes the passenger side, I slide behind the wheel, and we make our way back to the office.  Traffic was awful.  There was some accident by the first intersection.  It blocked things up for I don’t know how long.  Then… then came the real kicker.

“I think everything’s going to be fine.  I figure we’re through the worst of it.  But no.  I’m driving along the city road and the most incredibly asinine person gets in my way.”

Carlos started to feel a tingling down the back of his neck.  He didn’t understand what it meant at that precise moment, but he soon would.

“Someone, some complete buffoon who’s too stupid to run on a track like a smart person, decides that the street is the perfect place to get his jollies.”

After that, Carlos could only stare on in horror.

“I mean, he wasn’t even smart about it!  Was he wearing white?  No!  Was he running in the opposite direction of the cars like he’s supposed to?  Of course not.  And why would he be out jogging at night time?  Is he suicidal?  Do joggers have some sort of death wish to offset their need to be healthy?  I mean, c’mon!”

“Uh, Connie?”

“So there I am.  I’m driving a car that I’m still trying to figure out, and there’s this jogger.  In the road!  Not off to the side, not on some sidewalk.  He’s in the flippin’ road!  Doesn’t he know that there’s a massive cliff on the other side?  Of all the asinine behaviors…  And he’s wearing all black!  Who wears all black anymore?  Emo-running is the hip new thing now?  I just, I can’t even believe it.  I need to take a shower and calm down.” 

Connie sighed and stopped pacing.  She looked at her husband, took a deep breath, and kissed him. 

“I’m glad I’m home.  Would you be a darling and cook dinner while I scrub this atrocious night off of me?  Thanks.”

“Uh, honey?  What kind of a car does Stan drive?”

“I told you”, she said as she made her way down the hallway.  “It’s a hybrid.”

“What kind?”  Carlos could feel himself twitch with fear as he asked the dreaded question.

13203533121548009075ski-mask-psd7675-md“I don’t know, Carlos.  It’s a hybrid.  His is blue.  It’s a four-door.  What do you want me to tell you?  And why is that new ski mask I bought you on the floor?  What have you been up to?”

Ever So Friend-ly (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(I may be taking a break due to National Novel Writing Month, but I can’t shrug off the pull of The Weekly Writing Challenge.  This week, we’re supposed to talk about, “I wish I were”.  Sorry it’s not much of an anecdote, but it’s what I’m supposed to write today.)

**********

It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear
When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month,
Or even your year…”  –Friends theme song

I do my best to live a fairly introverted life.  Over the forty-eight hour weekend I spent about three of those interacting with fellow church-goers.  The rest I devoted to my couch and my cat.  There were Halloween parties, there were lectures; the world was wide open to me.  However I like my free time to be occupied with a quiet that my living room and my furry sidekick create.  Not surprisingly, friends still find a way to sneak their way into my heart.

Somehow I seem to have gotten a free pass in the ways of the world.  I don’t have any serious problems.  Everything that’s wrong with my life merely rates as a hiccup.  My life, in a nutshell, is ninety-five percent perfect with a high contentment rating.  I don’t have the exact existence that I pictured for myself, but it’s pretty darn nice.  The cat is alive, the jobs pay the bills, and those around me let me have my wacky moments.

It seems that everybody else has things harder than I do.  I’m on the West and the East is living with a storm barreling towards them.  I go for a morning jog and dry my socks over an electric fan while I warm up.  Only blocks away, homeless people shiver in doorways and constantly wage an unending battle to stay comfortable and fed.  Friends around me are undergoing stresses in the relationship, sometimes taking up completely opposite stances on the exact same issue.  I don’t think my friends are suicidal, but we all struggle to be happy now and then.  As I sit on my comfortable chair in a peaceful area, I don’t always see those quick and convenient roads to a better tomorrow for my pals.  They share their frustration and all that appears before them are roadblocks that stand much higher than any of my pithy speed bumps.

I wish I were able to help my friends wtih all their woes and worries.  I wish I were wise enough to give each of them the advice they needed to make the choice that was right for them.  I wish I were in control of each situation that seemed to be tormenting them.  Guess what?  I’m not.

As I come across people that I care about with their own sets of struggles, I’ve only found one trick that works with a darn.  I do my best to shut up and listen. 

Sometimes I can do more.  There are occasions where I can buy a hungry individual a meal.  I’m pretty quick to hand out hugs or rides here or there.  I’d like to think that the loved ones know that I’m praying for them and that I have their back.  But usually I just try to be the one person that won’t judge and won’t shove my solutions on them.  I wish I were the friend that others need me to be.  Hopefully, more often than not, I am.

The Universe’s Largest Messy Room

Do you know what you call those who use towels and never wash them, eat meals and never do the dishes, sit in rooms they never clean, and are entertained till they drop? If you have just answered, “A house guest,” you’re wrong because I have just described my kids.” -Erma Bombeck

**********

“Ralphie, get in here right now!  You are in big trouble mister!”

Almost against reason, Ralphie walked up the stairs and stood in his bedroom doorway.  Seeing the look on his mother’s face, he decided not to venture inside.  He remained where he was, half in the hallway and half at the scene of the crime.

“What did you do?”

“I cleaned my room”, Ralphie replied as he looked to the carpet.

“No, I don’t think you did.”

“Well, there’s no stuff on the floor anymore.  And there’re no toys around.”

“Yes”, Susan admitted.  “But there are also no toys neatly put away on the shelves and no clothes folded up in your dresser.”

“There’s no stuff on the floor”, Ralphie repeated.

“Ralphie, tell the truth.  Did you use your tesseract dimensional storage unit to hide all your things?”

Ralphie only looked at the floor, wondering if some sort of escape hatch might open and help him escape his mom’s question.

“Ralphie?”

“Maybe”, he said quietly.

“Now you know what your father said.”  Susan was exasperated with her son.  She thought that this matter had been taken care of before, but apparently it was time for her youngster to get a refresher.  “When your father invented a portal to fourth dimensional space so that we could access an infinitely sized realm, he gave you instructions, didn’t he?”

“He uses it all the time”, Ralphie argued.

“Yes and he’s an adult.  Adults get to make decisions that young people don’t.”

“I don’t see what the big deal is”, Ralphie said as he finally looked his mom in the eye.  “Dad stores his tools in there.  You told him he couldn’t keep his table saw in the garage anymore so he put in it the tesseract with that old clunker car and the extra dining room furniture.”

“Does he toss his clothes in there?”

“No…  He never said I couldn’t though.”

(Click to see the tesseract model.)

Susan sighed.  “I think you knew that you shouldn’t.  When your father places things into that endless realm of size and proportions, he makes sure to attach a special tracking device and a long cord to them.  Plus, he always puts on a pressurized suit in case the entrance’s walls buckle and gravity and oxygen are compromised.  Did you take those precautions?”

“I had Mr. Fluffin watch the door!”  Ralphie pointed to his stuffed bunny with the top hat.  Clearly, he believed there was no more responsible act than having his treasured toy act as his second in command.

“I told your father you weren’t ready for this.  I told him that you weren’t grown up enough.  If that doorway collapses, then we’re going to have an area that mimics the absence of space trying to merge with your bedroom.  Do you know what sort of calamity that could cause?”

“That depends”, Ralphie replied.

“Depends on what?”

“What’s a calm nighty?”

“A calamity is when everything goes terribly wrong.  Like in those comic books you read?  Every time a bad scientist gets careless, they get changed into a monster, right?”

Ralphie nodded, the images of scaly faces and claws for hands filling his head.

“Those accidents are calamities.  You don’t want to be the reason something like that happens, do you?”

Ralphie worriedly shook his head back and forth.

“And what about Rodney the Righteous Turtle?  Remember how he got lost in the tesseract?  How your dad had to send in a robot probe to bring it back?”

His eyes went wide as Ralphie remembered the turmoil that his favorite action figure had gone through.  Its shell-launching action still wasn’t the same.

“I’m going to talk to your dad.  We’ll see if he can get the probe to launch some sort of net over your things.  Hopefully they haven’t floated too far away from your portal.  If, if we can get all your stuff back, I expect you to take care of it.  Understood?”

Ralphie nodded again.

“That means you need to keep it organized and clean in this room.  You can’t just throw it into a boundless dominion with no shelves or physical constraints and expect it to be okay.  You need to take care of things here, in this room.  Got it?”

“Yeah”, Ralphie responded.  “Only…”

“What?”

“Do we have to bring back the itchy sweater too?”

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