Too Hot To Handle (Weekly Writing Challenge)

The Weekly Writing Challenge wanted us to keep it real. Sur-real. Challenge accepted. Surreal I can do.

“Trust your heart if the seas catch fire, live by love though the stars walk backward.” -E. E. Cummings

**********

“See where that tractor is pulling off? Follow him down that road.”

“Good grief, Nathan. You really do live out here.”

“Well now you can see why I didn’t want to take the bus. Thanks for carpooling.”

“Hey man, if you’re setting all this up, least I can do is give you a ride.” Grant found his gaze slide back to his rearview mirror once more. He knew that there was a certain patch near the back of his head that liked to stand up and wave to the crowd. The more Grant tried to push it down and make it obey the pattern of the other hairs, the more likely it was to come back for a command performance. For the moment, the patch seemed to be keeping a low profile.

Grant’s had been a long one and he wasn’t done yet. First off there had been the staff meeting to discuss how they might achieve greater success and team cohesiveness in the workplace. Grant did not think that being a call-center rep really needed any cohesiveness or even a dab of Elmer’s Glue. However, he had been strongly encouraged to attend. If the first three memos stating the “voluntary” nature of the meeting had not motivated Grant, the personal invites by all four of his supervisors had done the trick. Especially when his immediate boss had asked, with eyebrow raised and a dangerous tone, “We’ll see you tomorrow, right?” Freedom to attend had no felt so menacing.

Afterwards, he had worked his eight hour shift. And the customers had been an extra kind of crazy that day. Grant could not believe, in this day and age, that he still had to convince a woman that her CD-drive was not a cup-holder, and that is why it had snapped off when she had put her latte in and the drink had spilled all over her computer and keyboard.

Who even has CD-drives anymore? Grant shook his head at the memory. A Blu-ray-drive works for everyone, but c’mon, at least get a DVD-drive. Yikes. I wonder if she has all her photos saved on floppy disc. Grant knew that on his last day he would probably talk each customer through “accidentally” reformatting their hard drives.

Grant looked out the window at the pastures that lined the road and shook his head. Cows. When was the last time I saw cows? And they’re everywhere. The only thing that had made his day, and this surprisingly long commute, worthwhile was the promise of a date. Nathan had assured him this gal would show him a hot time.

“Sizzling, man. Sunga knows things you wouldn’t believe. You’ll love her.” Since Grant’s dating life was in the midst of quite the cold spell, he agreed. What did he have to lose?

“Hey, Nathan”, Grant said as he drove by a fertilizer dealer. “Why didn’t you introduce me to Sunga before?”

“Oh, well I thought you were dating Annette”, Nathan replied. Nathan was leaning as far back as the car seat would go. Staring at the car ceiling, Grant couldn’t help but envy his coworker. He always seemed a little calmer with customers than Grant. Nathan had the answers and Grant hadn’t even figured out the questions. Grant had a lovely wife and two kids. He owned a house. Even with the salt and pepper hair that dotted his temples, he still acted young. At six foot nothing and broad shouldered, Nathan was always “that guy”. He was the guy who would crush all comers at recycling can basketball. He was the employee that actually offered useful insights in meetings. The man had his act together and it gave him a confidence that both annoyed and amazed Grant.

“Annette? Who’s Annette?” Grant tried to crane his neck backwards, but he couldn’t get a good view. He would have to hope that his nostril hairs were trim and decent. Grant wasn’t unattractive, but he was no Nathan. Grant was two inches shorter and twenty pounds heavier. His blonde hair was thicker and fuller than Grant’s brunette tresses, but that only left more ways for it to flop around and generally act unkempt. Thanks to long years of programming and sitting in front of a computer, Grant’s wrists and knuckles were wrecked. Almost every gesture or move that his hands made was accompanied by the sound of joints popping and cracking. Grant had parts of his life together, but there was certainly some assembly left.

“You know, Annette. Accounts receivable? Really nerdy?” Nathan started tapping out a rhythm on his jeans as his hands slid and slapped on his jeans.

“That Annette?” The one with the chart detailing all the Star Trek boats on her wall?”

“Ships, Grant. They’re called ships.”

Nathan couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Isn’t she the one that taped big blue construction paper to her office tardisdoor until the higher-ups made her take it down?”

“Yep”, Nathan said with a smile. “The woman wanted to live in a Tardis and The Man shot her down. It was a problem even a sonic screwdriver couldn’t fix.”

Grant shook his head. “Why would you think I was dating her? I barely talk to her.”

“Well, you always open the door for her. And I see you in her office quite a bit.”

“That’s because she’s always carrying too many papers and can’t reach the door. C’mon, I’m not that big of a jerk.”

“Uh huh. And the office visits?” Nathan smiled in his own sly way as he pressed.

“Dude, her account got hacked because she opened that e-mail a few weeks ago. I’ve been trying to get her computer up and running again so we won’t lose any billing information.”

“Wait”, Nathan said as he sat the car seat upright. She opened the ‘FREE RABITZ’ e-mail? The one with like, four attachments on it?”

“Yep, she was the one.”

“Dear word”, Nathan said as he went back to tapping his beat. “I really thought she was smarter than that.”

“This is the point I am trying to make. And I can’t imagine Annette and I being happy with a gaggle of bunnies pit-pattering around our place.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll like Sunga. She’s amazing, fascinating, and exotic. Oh, and they’re a colony. Also known as a nest, or my personal favorite, a warren.”

“What?”

“Turn left up here. A ‘gaggle’ of rabbits? They’re called a warren.”

“How do you know this stuff?” Grant flipped his turn signal and headed down the dirt road.

“I read. My wife tells me things. The usual. We’re the house at the very end of the block. Watch out for the tar pits over there.”

Grant and Nathan were flung forward as the car jolted to a stop.

“Grant! What the… why’d you slam on the brakes.”

“Tar pits?!?”Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

“Oh, that’s right; you haven’t been to my place. Sorry. Yeah, we’ve lost a few tires to the tar pits. A few cars and bikes too. But hey, we never have to shovel the drive.” Nathan smiled, the terrain being quirky and amusing to him.

“Tar pits. Explain.” As if to emphasize his point, Grant put the emergency brake on.

Nathan sighed and turned to the driver. “Okay, here’s the thing. We’re right above this weird geothermal zone. That’s why there are tar pits on the way. And, I might as well tell you this now, the floor of my house is made of lava.”

“I’m starting to think you belong with Annette.”

“No, you’ll see”, Nathan said with a chuckle. “That’s the only reason we were able to afford this place. I admit, it took some getting used to. Right away, we knew we’d never be able to have pets. I mean, c’mon; one misstep and those furry little suckers would get all their fur singed in the lava. That’s just cruel; we couldn’t do that to a cat. And the fumes have this effect on birds. I guess it’s like canaries in the coal mines? I don’t know, but those things pass out and don’t snap out of it. But the four of us are happy by ourselves.”

“Wait, you’re not kidding. Your floor is made of lava?”

“I know, I know”, Nathan said as he waved off the shock with a gesture of his hand. “It all sounds so insane. But dude, think about the benefits. I don’t have a heating bill. Zilch. And since it is always warm, we can keep the windows propped open. That takes care of most of the fumes. You know I’m a strong believer that kids are pampered. A toxic fume here or there will build character.”

“Hey, book guy”, Grant said as he smacked Nathan on the back of the head. “What part of ‘toxic’ is not sinking in?”

“Oh, it’s fine. Just in the ‘caution’ range, not quite in the ‘hazard area’. We got it checked.”

“Well if you’re propping windows open all over the house, how do you keep burglars out?”

“Why is that always the first question people ask?” Nathan sighed. “I’ve talked about this with Alyssa time and again. People don’t want to know how the geothermal conditions powers our electronics. They don’t want to see the cool glass studio we have out in the garage where she sculpts her art. Nope, they want to know how we keep out robbers and thieves.”

“And?”

Nathan shook his head ever so slightly. “Think about it, Grant. You’re sneaking into the house. It’s late. Sure the floor looks funny, but people pick weird carpets. So you lift one leg in through the window. The smell starts to make your nose twitch, but you continue. All is quiet. Other than the glow coming from the floor, it’s nice and dark. You swing your legs in, stand on the floor, and Wammo! All of a sudden your shoes start melting. You try to make it out in time, but then it goes after your socks, makes quick work of them, and it starts to get to your feet. You’re outta there like a shot and you aren’t coming back. I’m just glad the judge found in favor of us. For guys that make their living operating outside the law, thieves can be awfully litigious. Did you know that?”

“No”, Grant said as he tried to reclaim his bearings. “Apparently I’m learning a lot today.”

“It’s good for you.”

“Wait, how do you keep from burning? Your books, your couches, do you just float around on this constant bed of coals and magma?”

“Lava, technically.”

“What?”

“Lava is above ground, magma is underground. At least, that’s the short answer.”

“Nathan, you’re killing me here.”

“I know, but what a way to go!” Nathan had spread his arms wide but soon realized his friend didn’t share his enthusiasm. “Okay, look. The short answer is we use lots of Nomex and iridium. Lava has a pretty set temperature in our place. So we reinforce all our walls and the ground around the house with iridium and we’re happy campers. The constant flow of lava and the geothermal energy powers the array of fans we have all over; you’ll see.”

“If you’ve got it all figured out, then why is there a lake of lava in your living room!” Grant could hear his voice crack, but did not care.

“You know, that’s a question Sunga still hasn’t answered to our satisfaction. We kinda just let it go.”

“Hold on”, Grant said as he turned off the car. “What does Sunga have to do with this? What is she, some sort of Volcanologist?”

“Hmm? Oh, no she’s our neighbor.”

Grant felt a sense of dread take over. “Your neighbor who lives… where?”

“Underground”, Nathan said calmly, but with a faint trace of hesitation.untitled

“Underground. Of course, because she’s what, Lava Lass?”

“Actually, she refers to herself as a Keeper of the Crust.”

“So she’s a custodian of lava?”

“Well, I’m not sure her underlings would call her that but—.”

“Underlings? She’s, their queen?”

“No”, Nathan said with some irritation. “I told you, Keeper of the Crust. C’mon, Grant, catch up. Yeah, she’s royalty, but she’s above all that.”

“Okay, you’re setting me up with royalty. Great. How am I not going to die when I set foot insider your house!?!”

“We have iridium shoes for you, duh.”

“Where are you getting all these materials?”

“Well, Sunga helped us out. She really made the home more livable. She likes us, and wants us to stay, so she really goes out of our way to make our lives easier. She’s introduced us to lots of folks in the meteorite community. That’s how we can afford all that iridium. I’m telling you man, she’s great. Smart, wise, funny. You’ll love her. Just, y’know, keep your car keys and wallet in your pocket at all times. Five seconds after you drop anything and it’s not coming back. Alyssa loves not having to vacuum, though.”

“So when you said Sunga was hot…”

“Oh, she is”, Nathan said excitedly. “You’ll love her, I know it. She’s smart, inventive, and hilarious. Nobody works harder to take care of others than she does. She’s like Mother Teresa of the underworld. Hmm. Bad choice of words. Of the netherworld? Shoot, what did she call her realm? I’ll have to ask. It’s a much better title. Ugh, Alyssa always has to remind me.”

“But Sunga, she’s not like a Tolkein dwarf or anything? No Quasimodo hump on her back?”

“No no, she looks stunning. Think a gal from a tropic with a few differences”, Nathan said waving his hand once more.

“So, the tan to beat all others?”

“Well yeah”, Nathan admitted. “I’m not going to lie to you; all those decades around magma have made her skin a bit leathery. But man, she’s got a soft spirit. Don’t you worry.”

The car was quiet. Nathan looked to Grant, opened his mouth, and then changed his mind.

If there was one thing Grant had learned from years of fielding phone calls, it was how to read silence. He looked at Nathan. Nathan wouldn’t meet his eyes. Grant cleared his throat loudly. Nathan turned to look. Grant tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. Nathan smiled.

“What?”

“What?” Nathan adopted a look of innocence.

“Don’t give me, ‘What’”, Grant replied. “I know this feeling. Any quieter and I’m going to start seeing tumbleweeds roll across our path.” Of course here, the tumbleweeds would catch on fire and keep on rolling until it was ash. “What aren’t you saying? Does she have an extra hand? No teeth?”

“I told you, she’s gorgeous.”

“Except…?”

“Well, her eyes are all black.”

“Uh huh”, Grant said as he tapped the steering wheel. “Do tell.”

“C’mon man, she lives underground most days! She has to be able to look straight at magma, lava, and navigate dark caverns. Of course her eyes are going to be a bit different. So she has black oil swishing around in her ocular cavities, so what?”

“That…”, Grant caught himself. He was intrigued.   “That actually sounds awesome.”

“I know, right!”   Nathan leaned towards Grant as he spoke excitedly. “Alyssa doesn’t get it. She’s learned to not see it but it freaked her out at first. The kids think it’s amazing. You know, like one of those lava lamps—“

“Because you’re so lacking in lava.”

“Yeah, yeah. But between you and me? It’s incredible. Like a hula-dancer who sways hula_dancerwith her eyes. Frickin’ enchanting. Don’t tell Alyssa, though. I mean, she’s probably guessed, knowing her. But still.”

“Sunga’s fun too?”

“Oh, man, are you kidding?” Nathan slapped Grant heartily on the back. “She’s the best. A little forceful for my tastes. You know, since she’s used to commanding and ordering people around all day. For you, though? I think it’ll be great.”

“Nobody’s going to toss me into a lake of burning tar?”

“Hey, if my kids can get through their toddler years in one piece, you’ll be fine. Watch your step is all.”

“Literally and figuratively.”

“Yeah, I mean it is your first date with Sunga. Don’t say anything stupid.”

“Like, ‘Is it hot in here or—‘.”

“Exactly like that. Don’t do that.”

“Got it.”

Grant sat in his car and mulled over his situation. He had already driven all this way. He really was intrigued. The house and its strange habitat sounded interesting. More so, he was curious about Sunga. If she was half as great as Nathan said she was, it would be much more fun than another night of Celebrity Jeopardy. What did he have to lose? If nothing else, he was quite sure the evening would be memorable.”

“All right”, Grant said as he turned the car back on and removed the emergency brake. “Guide me through these hazards and pitfalls.”

“Okay”, Nathan said as he pointed up the drive. “See where the smoke is coming up from that black pool there? Drive around it, not through it.”

“Understood”, Grant said as he pressed onward. “What next?”

Being a Good Friend (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(It’s not my typical way of writing a story, but the Weekly Writing Challenge wanted me to be all personal.  So, I’ll tell part of a story that’s been three hundred and fifty years in the making.)

When we really want to hear, and be heard by, someone we love, we do not go rushing into noisy crowds.  Silence is a form of intimacy.  That’s how we experience it with our friends and lovers.  As relationships grow deeper and more intimate, we spend more and more quiet time alone with our lover.  We talk in low tones about the things that matter.”  Brent Hill, Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality

**********

“Why do I feel like I’m always the one talking when we get coffee?”

“I always feel like I’m unloading on you.”

“Now, don’t tell anyone else I said this.”

Much of my life is spent not talking.  As someone who slings coffee twenty hours a week, you’d be amazed, stunned, and entertained at the things people tell me.  When I go on a walk with a friend, odds are that they’ll have more to say than I will.  Oh sure, I have my opinions.  I spend hours a day thinking and arranging my thoughts.  However I can almost guarantee that I’ll be the quiet one.  And what can I say; it’s all in my upbringing.

Now, my quiet stance can be traced to my family numerous ways.  For one thing, we’re all nerds.  My brother, my sister, my mom, my dad, the in-laws; every adult wears glasses.  For each child that’s born, you should simply start taking bets on when they’ll get the ol’ four-eyes nickname.  It’s a foregone conclusion.  Our idea of “family visiting” is sitting in the same room reading our books or surfing our laptops.  That’s quality together time on our world.  Doctorates, analyzers, engineering degrees; we’ve got ‘em all.  I was taught about DOS prompts (ask your parents) when I was five.  We’re nerds who always have our noses in a computer screen or a book.  However, I think our religious upbringing plays the biggest role in me being slow to speak.

Nine generations ago my family started being Quakers (or Friends, if you prefer).  They tried it out a few hundred years ago, it worked for them, and it carried forward.  Now, here I sit, content with my religion.  Some family members have found different routes that work better for them.  (We still love each other regardless.  Honest.)  For me, I can’t imagine anything other than Quakerism.  I don’t like every single thing about my church, but the history works well.  I like how they treated Native Americans, women in leadership, and their roots in The Underground Railroad.  Also, and perhaps most pertinently to this, they are big on sitting and listening.

800px-Treaty_of_Penn_with_Indians_by_Benjamin_WestThere are two kinds of Quaker service, programmed and unprogrammed.  Programmed will flow like most church services.  There is a message, some songs, and announcements.  But my favorite part is where, for at least ten minutes after the message, we sit and listen.  We listen to the thoughts in our heads, to what God’s telling us, and to what our fellow congregants feel led to share.  Go with me Sunday morning and you’ll sit in a large room with a solid chunk of silence.  In this busy world, it’s quite freeing.

Unprogrammed is a more extended version of those ten or so minutes.  There is no planned message, no edict on how to proceed.  The gathering simply sits and enjoys the quiet until someone feels like they have something to share.  Many times there will be an hour where no one says anything.  Whichever service one attends, programmed or not, there is a concentrated effort to spend time in silence.

That works for me.  I wake up at four in the morning and spend a good thirty minutes reading my Bible, scratching the cat, and making very little noise.  When I get on the bus, that’s another thirty minutes for me to sit still, not listen to music or read, and try to filter out the noises in the world.  By the time I’m at work, I’m about as calm and centered as I can be.

When I find something that bothers me, I sit with it.  I turn it around in my head.  I try to figure out how this one incident fits into the big picture.  I can’t guarantee that I refrain from outbursts altogether, but my go-to behavior is to be quiet and think it out.  Save the discussions until I’ve fully formulated my thoughts.

That’s how I end up being the listener with most of my friends.  Even in school I was the quiet one, though comics certainly helped that along.  But when my friends and I go for a walk, odds are they will be saying what is important to them.  I’ll take what they say and try to listen.  If I feel like I have something to say, then I will.  However most times I’m supposed to be shut the sam hill up and let them vent.  I find that my friends need less advice in their lives and more hugging, so that’s what I do.

And yes, I realize that sometimes it is hard to get a conversation out of me.  I can go months without chatting with a new coworker.  I can spend three days sitting at home without calling or checking in with anybody.  I see the downside to the way I do things.  I’m certainly not the exciting one at any party.  Yet from where I’m sitting, I think it’s better to keep my trap shut, process all my thoughts, and then be sociable.  It’s worked for eight other generations of Quakers, so I’ll take my cue from them.

Samantha’s Suburban Surprise

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Samantha’s Suburban Surprise

Today, the degradation of the inner life is symbolized by the fact that the only place sacred from interruption is the private toilet.” -Lewis Mumford

I know. This makes you think the story’ll be gross.
Just trust me.

Of all things in the world that work reliably, Samantha thought that toilets should be one of them.  She stood in front of the porcelain necessity and judged it as a failure in its workings.  The toilet in the main bathroom had always been a source of trouble.  For some reason that Samantha and her family had yet to understand, the toilet was low-volume and it often took several tries to yield any results.  Samantha in particular was often vexed at the appliance’s lack of functionality and often made her way to the bathroom in the guest bedroom just to avoid the battle.

Friday morning was no different.  At seven in the morning there were enough things on the mother’s mind.  Joel and Cassidy needed their lunches packed.  Joel had a science fair that was being judged in the afternoon.  Samantha wanted to be there.  In truth, she deserved a portion of whatever praise was heaped onto Joel’s final product.  It had been Samantha’s fingers that had been caked in glue and dirt as the two had tiresomely created a dirt base for Joel’s photosynthesis diorama.  At the end of the night, as her son’s freshly washed fingers and brushed teeth slept three doors down, Samantha had been convinced that it would have been easier and cleaner to take their garden to school.

As her mother put a sandwich in her lunch, Cassidy refused to change out of her dance uniform.  Her mother tried to explain that the recital wasn’t for another two days.  Cassidy adamantly stuck to her fashion decision.  She didn’t care that Samantha’s parents were coming to town just for the performance.

They claimed that they were going to be in the area anyways and that Samantha and Chuck shouldn’t make any plans for them.  They even offered to check into their hotel.  But Samantha’s mom had said it with that tone in her voice.

She had heard that tone when she had brought home her high school boyfriend; the one with the motorcycle and leather jacket, but no helmet.  She had heard that tone again when she informed her parents that she was going to major in Liberal Arts.  Should Samantha’s mother ever hear about the state of their toilet, Samantha knew that tone would come out again.  Somehow, even while smiling, the matriarch could communicate her distaste in a decision without actually putting it down.  It was this ability that Samantha feared would be used if Cassidy’s dress looked frumpy or, God forbid, torn.  Yet, with all the hustle and chaos of the day, Samantha decided the loud battle that would ensue with her daughter was not worth the fight, even if it meant a silent conflict with her mother.

In addition, Samantha had her review today.  If the paperwork had gone through in the way that it should have, the whole ordeal would have been wrapped up two months ago and Samantha would be at her son’s showcasing.  Instead, she had waited for her boss to return from his European vacation.  Then she had waited for him to get caught up from his time away.  And finally she had waited for the man to get through every other person in the office’s evaluations except hers, even though hers were overdue and theirs were not.  Samantha asked if they could meet a day later, but the boss had said no.  Today was the day.  After fifty-seven days of procrastination, the boss had put his foot down and didn’t care whose toes he stepped on.

With all that going on, it makes perfect sense that the toilet, an everyday annoyance at best, was shoved to the back of Samantha’s already crowded thoughts.  She looked across the table at her husband and tried to remember the last time the two of them had gone out together.  Maybe she could con her parents into babysitting.  Samantha’s mother might have the vocal talent of the family, but she was powerless against Samantha’s Bambi-eyes.

Later that night, the four members of the household reassembled under the same roof.  Samantha was the last to arrive home.  She was shocked to see her daughter running around in something other than her recital apparel.  Chuck saw her, put his hairy arm around her waist, and hugged her.  A smile came over her face.

“I convinced her that if she was a secret agent ballerina, then she would have to wear pajamas to go on covert spy missions and save persecuted kittens from enemy clutches.  Plus she could do somersaults as she evaded capture and clutched the fur balls close to her.”

“Whatever works”, Samantha said as she pecked him on the cheek in appreciation.  “You’re brilliant and handsome, and I’d only love you and your scruffiness more if you had been kind enough to cook dinner so I don’t have to.”

“Spaghetti”, he replied.  “I figured since we don’t have dresses to protect, we’d celebrate with sloppiness.”

“One of these days I’m going to show you my appreciation”, she said as she stroked the dark hairs on his forearm.

“I’ll hold you to that”, he grinned.  “Oh, but there is one more thing I need to tell you.”

“Can it wait?”  Samantha asked as she took of her blazer and headed towards the guest room.  “I really have to use the bathroom.”

“Yeah, it’s about that”, her husband called out.

“In a minute, Hon”, Samantha yelled as she locked the bathroom door and turned on the facet.  She had learned much since children had begun sharing the house.  Rule number one was that the door should always be locked.  Seven year-olds didn’t understand when Mom was unavailable to answer their questions.  They would enter without remorse, without hesitation, and no matter how much she reminded them; without knocking.

Rule number two was that to these same kids, any bodily function was hilarious.  Running sinks wouldn’t mute all the noises that the human body makes, but they would more or less do the trick.  In another minute or two Samantha would face the quirks and surprises that her life provided in abundance.  But first she had business to take care of.  Samantha pulled her blouse loose, walked to the guest toilet, and sat down.  It was only seconds later that she heard a squeaking noise as something furry brushed by her bare skin

With a screech, Samantha stood up and scrambled to pull her clothing close to her.  She whirled around and saw the source of the noise.  There, swimming in the toilet, was a rat.

Hi! How’s it goin’?

“Chuck!”

“I tried to warn you”, his voice came from the other side of the door.

Samantha scrambled to unlock the door, her hands fumbling with the doorknob as her eyes continued to watch the beady-eyed creature at all times.  She knew that the moment she took her gaze from the rodent, that would be the second it would skitter off to some remote hiding space.

“You knew this thing was in our house?  And you didn’t do anything about it?”

“Sam…”

“You could have at least put something on the toilet seat lid!  One of those weights that’s cluttering up the garage; the one’s you never use.  Grab a potted plant from the back porch.  But don’t just leave it swimming in there!”

“Why not?  I think he looks rather cute.”

“Chuck!”  Samantha squeezed her husband’s bicep.  “Rat.  Toilet.  Not good bedfellows.  Did you try flushing it?  Making it return to the watery depths from whence it came?”

“I couldn’t do that to Joel.”

“What does our son have to do with that rabid creature with incisor-like teeth?”

“It’s his rat.  Or mouse.  I really don’t know.  Either way, he traded his prize money for another student’s rat.”

“What?”

“I could repeat that last bit, if you want.  It’s gonna be the same answer though.  Our son bought a rat.”

“And you didn’t stop him… why?”

“I told him we’d have to have a family discussion.”

“Ugggggh.  It’s a rat.  It’s filthy!”

“Actually, it’s not as bad as you think.  The other father assured me that they had taken all the precautions and that they are as healthy as can be.  He says they make pretty decent pets.”

“Then why didn’t they keep this thing?”  Samantha started to hop and skip around on the linoleum floor.  Her prior task was not forgotten, only temporarily delayed.

“Well, funny story.  It turns out they have five other ones at home.”

Samantha stood still and looked Chuck straight in the face.  “I don’t want to know that man’s name.  If we ever meet him and I know he’s the one with mice all over his house, I will scream.  Just assure me that we will never, ever, go to his house.”

Chuck only laughed in reply.  Samantha’s response was more dramatic.  She pushed her husband aside, threw the door open and hurried to the other end of the house.

“I thought we were talking”, her husband called out.

“Oh, we’re not even close to done”, Samantha hollered as she nimbly navigated her way around the floor-covered maze of toys and crayon drawings.  “But it can wait a few minutes.”

Samantha hurried to the main bathroom, thrilled to find it unoccupied.  She closed the door and sent a mental note of thanks.  She had never been so happy to see that wretched toilet in all her life.

The Christmas Caper

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

The Christmas Caper

The advantage of having many children is that one of them may not turn out like the rest.” -unknown

Where three or more are gathered, trouble is bound to ensue.  It wasn’t a guaranteed recipe for mischief, but the odds of a triad of youngsters behaving one hundred percent of the time were rather slim.  Honestly, Christmas wasn’t too far away.  How patient are kids expected to be?

The escapade occurred one year in early December.  Mom had left us alone to go buy groceries.  Or maybe she left us behind so that she could buy us more Christmas gifts?  A kid could dream.  The possibilities were endless to several children all under the age of twelve.  However one thing was certain.  We were alone in an unsupervised house.  We knew that mom always bought presents early.

My sister is the oldest and has a quiet streak to her.  What others call well-behaved, I label as a propensity for plotting.  She knew my mom’s habits better than anyone.  After all, she’d had the longest to observe her tactics and caches over the holiday seasons.  My brother was the middle child, and therefore is guaranteed to cause all kinds of problems.  I’m not saying he was wanted by the law or anything, but he did tape matches to a paper airplane and throw it off the balcony as it “flew” and melted into a fireball.  (Don’t worry, we lived in Seattle.  The ground was always wet.)

Then there was me.  The innocent one in this Ocean’s Three.  I was merely following in the footsteps of my older relatives.  Peer pressure in school is one thing, but I lived with these ruffians.  Imagine what sort of short-sheeting, snowball flinging, stuffed-animal-hiding payback they could have rained down on me.  Plus, they thought of it before I did.  I was inspired by their conniving nature.

We more or less had the run off the house.  There were no locked rooms, no areas fenced off for special occasions.  We had a way of tearing through most rooms of the house on a daily basis.  The living room was full of LEGOs, the family room had books and VHS tapes strewn about, and the vestibule was sullied with our tennis shoes and backpacks.  It wasn’t our parents’ fault that we had free roam; they were outnumbered.

My sister must have used her years of experience to determine that there was only one area that we never visited.  Our parents’ bedroom was a world of secrets.  It wasn’t like we could go in there and play tag at four in the morning.  Also, there wasn’t much worth our time in that room.  A dresser with clothes was boring.  The bed would have been all sorts of entertainment if we were allowed to jump on it, which we weren’t.  As for the record and CD collection; all I saw were classical music selections with old men and boring landscapes painted on them.  I do remember seeing a few Johnny Cash vinyl records, but it wasn’t until my twenties that I would find out how cool my dad was for having those.

However, every master bedroom has an adjoining area of mystery.  The eldest of us had read C.S. Lewis, so perhaps she borrowed the idea of secret treasures from Aslan-enhanced adventures.  Regardless, the children of the house were soon huddled on the floor of the closet.  It was a walk-in room with a shelf above all the hangers.  The taller members assured me that there was nothing worthwhile up high.  It was time to get down on our hands and knees.  In the L-shaped space, we all crammed into the corner as one big huddled mass of excitable giggles, arms, and legs.  Sure enough, just as had been foretold, the wonderful embarrassment of delights was contained therein.

We celebrated, we examined, and we ooh-ed.  Our mom didn’t wrap the presents until the week of Christmas, so all the toys and trinkets were there for our examination.  There may have been sweaters or socks for us in the pile, but I rather doubt it.  Who needs to hide clothing from children?  Toys, that’s what we were excited about.  We looked, we compared, and we managed to keep each other from opening up the packages and playing with them.

The plot of every heist flick always seems to go the same way.  At some point, the ne’er do wells end up coming “this close” to getting caught.  The warden barges in, the security feed blinks back to life, a stoolie rats out the prison escapees for an extra ration of cigs.  Well that’s why we didn’t have any accomplices.  It was us and us alone, and we got away with it.  No one was to know the wiser.

At least, that was the case until dinner time.  I don’t recall any nervous faces at the table.  The five of us all sat around as normal as could be.  It was a typical family having a meal together in true Rockwell-ian fashion.  But my family had something that you’ll never find painted in The Four Freedoms.  Our household, much to their amusement, had me.  So it was that in between bites of food, I turned to my mom and asked, “Which Care Bear’s mine?”

The Speech Will Be Televised

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Speech Will Be Televised

“I often have long conversations all by myself, and I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word that I am saying.” –Oscar Wilde

Percival fiddled with the pesky clump of hair at the back of his head that refused to cooperate.  Most of his black hair lay flat and dormant, but this patch had a rebellious nature that would not be tamed.  No matter how much he wetted it or tried to comb more dormant hair over it, the little flag of insubordination waved boldly. Taking stock of his appearance in the mirror, Percival silently prayed that the people would not notice the tuft.  He had a hard enough time commanding respect as it was.

The task that awaited Percival was not a glamorous one.  There were some in the audience that would outright mock him.  Percival refused to take his role lightly.  He felt that he provided a service to those in attendance.  He believed that his speech should be as professional as possible and that people should know what was expected of them.  To him, theater etiquette was incredibly important.

Percival felt the heft of the flashlight weighing heavily yet comfortably in his right hand.  He had often considered letting his left hand carry the burden of illumination.  His dominant limb would then be free to deflect the napkins and pieces of popcorn that frequently made their way towards his face.   However, he felt it was vital to always have the flashlight at ready.  He was more adept with his right hand and therefore he could shine the light on any troublemakers that much faster.  He clicked the button quickly as his thumb merrily bounced along.  He repeated the action.  The lamp lit up, then doused itself again and again.  The obvious attempts by others to sabotage his weapon of enforcement had been thwarted.

Now was the time for action.  Percival tucked in his polo shirt, adjusted the collar, and gripped his flashlight that much tighter.  He took a deep breath, opened the door with his left hand, and stepped into the next room.  The crowd was small, but Percival was used to the low attendance.  No matter how few the numbers, there were always a few hecklers in the crowd.

“Ladies and gentlemen”, he began as he placed himself between the seats and the screen.  He clicked on his flashlight and shone it in the faces of the audience.

“Aack”, protested a voice.  “I thought you took care of the flashlight.”

“I did”, a woman responded.  “He must have found the batteries.  And the light bulb; it’s actually rather impressive.”

“Why?  Why do we go through this every frickin’ time”, the first audience member asked.

“Stella, don’t talk that way to your father”, her mother replied.  “Honey, she does have a point.  Don’t you think you take this a little too far?”

“No”, Percival responded.  He turned off the flashlight and continued in his informational lecture.  “We’d like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to attend tonight, but there are a few housekeeping notes we would like to address before we begin the presentation.”

“Ugghhh”, Stella moaned as she made a show of throwing her head and shoulders onto the empty pillow beside her.  “Every.  Lousy.  Time.”

“Honey, it is a little late”, Dawn offered.  “Maybe we could skip it this one time?”

“First and foremost, we would ask that all cellular devices, cameras, and gaming machines be silenced at this time.”

“No.   No no no.  Hank McNigh is supposed to call me.  We’re going out to the Howlaween Dance, Daddy.  All my friends are totally jealous.  He’s on the tennis team, just like you were!”

Stella’s pleas fell on unrelenting ears.  “I was on the lacrosse team”, Percival replied.

“Oh.  Well, still.  I mean, it’s important.  What’s he going to do when he calls me up to ask me out and I don’t answer?”

“One would hope that the young individual understands the complicated procedures involved in leaving a voicemail.  Besides, if he likes you that much, I think that he should ask you out in person.  Not over the phone like some cowardly lout.”

“Mommmmmm.”

“Percy, be nice.  The boy could be terribly pleasant but he’s just shy.  You’ve raised a very strong-willed daughter.”

“Regardless, I’m still going to have to ask for all electronics to be turned off before we begin our feature.”

“Mom?”

Dawn looked at her daughter’s pleading face.  She looked to her husband and gauged the amount of patience he had left after his day of work.  Then she returned her attention back to Stella and wore a look of resignation.  “I don’t think you’re going to win this one, kiddo.”

“Finnnnnne”, Stella said as she pulled her phone from her pocket and pushed the big circular button.  A happy little tune sang goodbye to its owner and went to sleep.

“Thank you”, Percival said with a nod.  “We would also like to remind those in attendance that this evening’s movie will not be available in 3D.  We are aware that the movie has been advertised as such, but seeing as how no 3D glasses were handed out to any patrons tonight and our theater has never been equipped with 3D technologies, we felt it necessary to remind our visitors of the fact at this time.

“Once”, Dawn said as she mockingly threw her hands in the air.  “I asked if we were seeing a 3D movie once.  Not since then.  You know, like how a certain someone once forgot to put on the emergency brake at the lake and our car drifted into the water?  Then we stood around for five hours while the tow truck pulled it out and tried to dry off the inner workings?  I don’t bring that up every time you reach for the car keys, do I?”

“I wonder what Hank’s parents are like”, Stella said to no one in particular.  “I bet he doesn’t have forced family nights like these.”

“Finally, we must strongly discourage any talking during the movie.  There are no intermissions, so we ask that all questions be held until the film has concluded.  We understand that sometimes there are confusing moments.  However we offer that those answers might come later and folks should simply wait until the movie is over.  Talking over the movie and disturbing those around you is hardly productive.”

“Does this mean we’re watching a documentary?  Hank’s going to think I’m rejecting him because I’m watching another global warming preach-fest?  We get it.  It’s hot outside.  Use less gas.”

“Finally, we would like to remind the younger members of our audience that sometimes older patrons become amorous during a presentation.  Any kissing or groping is entirely appropriate and is to be expected by those around them.”

“Percy, I wish you’d stop saying that.  You’re going to give certain people ideas that I’d rather she didn’t dwell on.”

“Dawn, she has her tongue pierced.  I’m guessing she’s already tried it out on a boy or two.”

“Percy!”

“Nah, Mom.  He’s right.  I’ve got my kissing technique all down.  It’s cool.”

“I can’t believe this”, the mother replied.  “How long have you been making out with boys?”

“I’m not telling you that, it’s personal!”

“So if you’re out kissing boys, then why is it so bad when your father and I kiss on the couch?”

“I don’t know; because you’re old.”

“How heartwarming to hear what my daughter thinks of me”, Percival commented.  “Now we begin our movie for the night, ‘Grumpy Old Men.’  Thank you for coming.”

“Oh fun”, Stella replied sarcastically.  “An old people movie.  If they start talking about, ‘The Last Great Generation’ again, I’m outta here.”

Percival placed his flashlight on the table behind the couch.  He walked up to cushion in the middle of the couch and sat down.  Dawn, seated on his left, handed him the bowl of popcorn.  Mumbling some phrase about wanting to be closer to the food, Stella scooted sideways and put her head on her dad’s shoulder.  The business of the day to day would come for them soon enough.  For now, they were happy to share in the humble activity.

Family Binding

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Family Binding

A half-finished book is, after all, a half-finished love affair.” –Cloud Atlas

From Wikipedia.

I come from a family of book people.  It’s just who we are.  Before the world of the internet intervened and we all retreated to our separate laptops, we would all sit around and spend family time with our own individual books.  We don’t take family trips too much, and the small children running around the house tend to sap what energy we have out of us pretty darn quick.  But at some point, someone will yank out a book and we’ll all follow suit.

I try to add a little variety to the group.  Nobody else reads comic books, but I can’t get enough of them.  I don’t read devotional books; I want stories.  In tandem with my love of stories in book form is my appreciation of a good movie.  When I hear that a book is coming to the movie screen, I want to read the book first.

On the one hand, it’s an ego thing.  When the movie finally does come out, I can have bragging rights.  “Oh yeah, I read the book.  Did you?”  This additionally allows the option of spouting a pompous phrase like, “They left out three chapters of the book.”  I have yet to say such things, but I like to know that the possibility exists.

In addition, once you see the movie, it’s almost too late to go back and read the book.  The actors will always be stuck in your head.  (The only exception I’ve come across is Pride and Prejudice, and even then I still had Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle dancing around in my head.)

Tonight I got the e-mail that all true book huggers wait for.  The library wanted to let me know that a copy of Cloud Atlas was waiting for me.  The book is about six hundred pages and the movie comes out just before Halloween, so I had to get a move on.  (If any movie is made with Tom Hanks and Jim Broadbent, I’m forced to see it.  Those two actors cannot be denied.)  That was how I found myself in the local library this evening.  The sooner I had that book in my hands, the sooner I could put the rest of my life on hold.

I walked into the library, made my way to the reserve shelves, and plucked my book off the shelf.  Being the somewhat-considerate brother-in-law that I am, I checked the shelf to see if my relative had her normal stack of books.  I was on my way to babysit my nieces and figured I could save the other family members a trip.  There were no books for them on the shelf, so I assumed she had already been in earlier this week.

I needed to keep my nieces entertained and they like books as much of the rest of us.  I made my way towards the children’s section.  I assumed something worthwhile would jump out at me.  If nothing else, I figured I could inject a little Shel Silverstein into their lives.

Appearing out of nowhere, a small girl with blonde curly hair started running towards me.  It took me by surprise, but this sort of thing has happened to me a few times before.  Her blue eyes wide open; she ran to me in her spring dress and threw her arms around my leg.

“Uncle Phil!”

“I was just on my way to see you guys.”  I was taken aback, but not floored.  This was the third time that I have run across my family in the library.  Book junkies need a fix rather often and the librarians are good at pushing their wares.

Carrying a large cloth bag of books, my sister-in-law approached.  She gave me a little tsk-ing because my phone had been turned off.  She had been trying to offer to pick up my book for me since we were going to see each other.  Great minds think alike.

Instead of blindly guessing what sort of selections I should grab for my nieces, one of them helped picked the stories out with me.  Happily, she agreed that The Missing Piece sounded like an interesting read.  As a matter of fact, she made me read it twice to her tonight.  I tried to talk her out of it.  She wouldn’t have it; the munchkin likes books as much as the rest of us.  There’s no escaping that genetic trait, nor do we plan to.

Beside Oneself in Frustration

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Beside Oneself in Frustration

There’s always two of me just a-hangin’ around.” –“Weird Al” Yankovic

“Not you again”, two voices said in perfect synchronization.

A nearby passenger looked up to see a rather odd scenario play out before him.  The man, an I.R.S. Section Supervisor, blinked a few times.  He rationalized that the two were either twins or he was just that tired.  Turning up his NPR podcast, the man closed his eyes and instead focused on the soothing voice emanating from his headphones.

“Ugh.  Hello Prime.”

“Hello Number One.”

“Don’t tell me you’re seated in this row.”

“Yep.”

“Sitting next to me?”

“It sure looks that way”, Prime replied.

“Typical, just typical”, Number One said.

“What do you mean, typical?  I’m going to a family reunion”, Prime argued.  “We agreed that you got all the friends, and I got all the family.”

Thomas and Thomas had a unique problem.  Once upon a time, Thomas Dustereoal was the foremost expert in cloning.  Working in a privately funded lab in international waters, Thomas had managed to create a perfect human clone.  Being somewhat of an egomaniac, he decided that he was the one most worthy of cloning.  (Thomas would continually state that his genetic material was the easiest and cheapest to procure, therefore it was only logical that he should experiment with his own DNA.  Any person that knew Thomas recognized that this was merely a supplemental reason.)

To say that the experiment had eventually worked would be underselling Thomas’ achievement, which the self-obsessed scientist could never do.  What was truly remarkable about Thomas’ cloning process was that it copied the experiences of the source DNA as well.  Memories were retained, scars were coded into the tissue; everything came along to make the clone a true duplicate.

The problem began when Thomas realized that his process had worked too well.  The morning after the clone’s brain had been programmed, the arguments started.  Each Thomas declared that they were the original and the other was the clone.  One Thomas would claim that the other had slipped some chemical into their coffee and stolen the clothes, the wallet, and most importantly, the keycard to the lab.  They couldn’t even agree on what to call each other.  Finally, a compromise was worked out and neither would call themselves Thomas when around the other.

“So where are you going?  Off to one more lecture?  Still trying to cash in on our genius?”  Prime had been allowed the family ties, but he no longer set foot inside of a laboratory or dabbled in biology and he resented that Number One was constantly focusing on the financial benefits.

“If you must know”, Number One said with a sigh.  “I’m on my way to present at the Bioengineering conference.”

“Oh, that one”, Prime said as he nodded in remembrance.  “Does that one still take place in the same hotel?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I miss the continental breakfasts they used to offer.  That bacon, it’s just…”

“The greatest treat around”, they both said.

“I thought you hated it when I did that”, Prime said.

“What?”

“You keep getting annoyed when we say the same thing.”

“So?  I’m not raging with fury, am I?”  Number One was already dreading the four-hour flight and just wanted to memorize his talking points.

“Okay, but this time I was talking and you joined in.  You talked over me.  So you’re allowed to do that?  When I do it, it’s the worst thing ever.  Yet it’s perfectly acceptable for you to finish my sentences?”

“I’m sorry”, Number One grumbled.  “You’re too sensitive; further proof that I could have copied you better.”

“Don’t start that again.  Or else I’ll have to express my theory about how the emotional transfer wasn’t as smooth as it should have been.”

“Fine”, Number One said.  He closed his eyes.  The row they were sitting in only had two seats and Number One had gotten stuck with the aisle so he had no window to rest his head against.  “How’s Mom?”

“What?”  Prime raised his eyebrow in amusement.  “What did you say?”

“You heard me”, Number One grumbled.

“I did, it’s just that every time you actually show concern for a member of the Dustereoal gene pool that isn’t you, I go into a mild state of shock.”

“Are you going to tell me or not?”  Number One’s eyes had snapped open and now they were glaring right at Prime.

“She’s fine.  She says I sound different when she tries to call me at work.  Why don’t you ever have a real conversation with her instead of telling her that you have to go?”

“You got the family”, Number one replied.

“Oh c’mon”, Prime rebuffed.  “I’m not going to explode if you exchange pleasantries every now and then.”  Prime studied his twin and thought for a minute or two.  Then the realization struck him.  “Wait, I thought you said you were going to have the work number changed so that Mom couldn’t get a hold of you?”

“Work wouldn’t let me change it”, Number One said as he unpacked his papers.

“Work?  That’s your excuse?”  A look of incredulity had taken residence on Prime’s face.  “Are you serious?  You’re the most demanding, most obnoxious, most pretentious…”

“…Most recognized, most rewarded, highest paid…”, Number One added.

“…Scientific twerp that they have working there.  They give you whatever silly thing you ask for, even if it breaks; I’m sorry, “bends”, the law half the time.  And they won’t change a phone number for you?”

“Company policy”, was all that Number One said.

“Uh huh”, Prime said with a smile in the corner of his mouth.

“All righty, if you want to talk then let’s talk”, Number One said as he put down his papers.  “What have you been doing with your time?”

“Reading”, Prime said.

“And?”

“Just reading.”

“How is that supposed to pay the bills?”

“You know, it’s the funniest thing”, Prime said.  “Nobody really asks you to pay taxes when your identical twin already does that.  You want all the prestige, well you can finagle all the income taxes too.”

“How do you pay for food?  For gas?”

“Well, gas implies I have a car, which I don’t.  I just walk or take the bus.  As for food; there’s always some little task or chore that needs to be done that someone else doesn’t want to do.  I take care of it for them and they help me pay my bills.  It’s a work-for-hire kind of thing.”

“But you spend most of the time…”

“…reading”, Prime replied.  “Yep.”

“How is that furthering society?  How is that adding to the world of intelligence and discovery?”

“How many of Isaac Asimov’s books have you actually read?”  Prime looked to his double already knowing the answer hadn’t changed.  “When we were little, the closest we got were reading the descriptions on the back of books, and then it was straight on to the homework.  You don’t have time to read anything and learn from it.”

“So, you’re spending all your time, being half-broke, and reading science-fiction novels?”

“Not just sci-fi”, Prime replied.  “Sure I’ve read Asimov and Wells, but there’s also Dickens, Shakespeare, Keats.  I once spent a whole day reading nothing but Roald Dahl.”

“Never heard of him”, Number One said.

“I’m not surprised.  You’d like him though.  Lots of potions, experiments, and he can be very dark.”

“That’s all you do is sit in a library and read?”

“Sometimes I go to the park.  There are quite a few interesting people to discuss books with.  You also meet some pretty cute women while ‘loafing about’ outdoors.”

“That’s what you’re using my genius intellect for?”

“Ours, you dolt; ours.  I keep forgetting just how greedy and possessive you are”, Prime said.  “I don’t know why you care.  We enjoy seeing women swoon when we get all theory-talk on them.”

“I do not”, Number One stated.

“Yeah you do”, Prime replied.  “What, you’re going to lie to yourself?  There’s a sure way to prove your mental health.”

“You don’t know everything there is to know about me”, Number One said as he picked up his papers again.  He was done listening to the other Thomas and decided he was going to focus on his notes and nothing else.”

“We’re still the same person, just with new experiences.  How different could we really be?”

At that moment, a flight attendant walked up and leaned towards the two men.  She was a middle-aged woman and her confident stride made it clear that she the boss on the plane. She put an arm on the headrest and towards both men at the same time, which is to say, not really at all.

“What can I get for you folks tonight; chicken or fish?”

“Chicken”, Number One replied.

At the exact same time, Prime had answered, “Fish”.

“One chicken, one fish.  Coming right up”, the flight attendant said and then departed.

“You didn’t get the fish”, Number One said.

“And you didn’t get the chicken”, Prime noticed.  Both men had a look of confusion about them.  Somehow they had grown at least a little different in the years that had passed.

“Huh”, they both commented.

The Most Important Duty

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Most Important Duty

The father of a daughter is nothing but a high-class hostage.  A father turns a stony face to his sons, berates them, shakes his antlers, paws the ground, snorts, runs them off into the underbrush, but when his daughter puts her arm over his shoulder and says, “Daddy, I need to ask you something,” he is a pat of butter in a hot frying pan.” -Garrison Keillor

Mark took another sip of his coffee as he made his way through his office door.  The man guarding it nodded at him and Mark sleepily returned the gesture.  Mark was usually very friendly with those that worked around him, but he was still struggling with the earliness of the hour and the men in dark suits had never been hired for their conversational skills.  At four in the morning, it was best to leave everyone alone.

Taking another sip from his coffee, Mark wished that it wasn’t so bitter.  He knew that if he wanted, a fresh cup would be brought to him.  He tried not to abuse his power over those that worked for him.  He had a position of authority; that was true.  However he didn’t think that someone else needed to scurry around simply to satisfy a whim of his.  Mark pondered the possibility of sneaking down to the kitchen after making his important phone call, though he doubted he would have time.  When he was younger and was still trying to make a name for himself, Mark could get coffee whenever he wanted.  Now that he had obtained his goals and millions depended on him, Mark didn’t even know how much money was in his wallet.

There was still half an hour until the phone call needed to be made.  Mark wasn’t thrilled about the response the other end would have to his statement.  The problem was that Mark simply couldn’t give the other party what they wanted.  To assist them with their financial difficulty would mean serious cutbacks on his end.  He spent the next half hour looking at the numbers and the same results continued to present themselves.  The answer was as clear as the famous emblem on the carpet; he might lose his job if he made the changes necessary to help out the other party.

Five minutes before the phone call was due to be made, there was a quiet knock at the door.  Mark looked up and saw his youngest daughter standing before him.

“Susan?  What are you doing at the office?  Don’t you have school today?  It’s awfully early.”

Susan looked at her feet and nodded.  “I know, but I have to talk to you.”

“Are you sure, Honey?  I’m kind of busy.”

She looked up with the big brown eyes that more than made up for her lack in height.  “But dad”, the twelve year-old protested.  “It’s important.”

Mark stood up and walked around his desk to one of the nearby couches.  “Okay then, what is it?”  The two sat down close to each other and Susan played with her dad’s thumb while she searched for the correct words.

“Well, I have my big birthday party coming up.  Mom and I were working on the invitations last night.”

“I saw”, her father replied.  “It’s turning into quite the to-do.”

“What’s a to-do?”

“Oh, you know; a shindig.”  Mark’s response was met with confusion.  “A barn raiser.”  More confusion.  “Something that everyone wants to be a part of.”

“Yeah, it is”, Susan replied.  “Mom said that I could invite whoever I wanted and you guys would help out.  But I’m trying to decide if I should invite Paul or not.”

“Who’s Paul?  Is he your boyfriend or something?”

“Daaaaaad”, Susan said as she rolled her eyes.  “I don’t have time for boyfriends.  Not with how things are.”

Mark felt a pang of guilt as he nodded in agreement.  Susan continued.

“It’s just that he’s really interesting.  We talk about weather and frogs and all kinds of cool science stuff.  I think he’s a fun person to have around.  Grace and Julie don’t think so.  They say he has coke-bottle glasses and he’s got a weird nose and he talks about Star Wars too much.”

“Well don’t you like Star Wars too?”

“Uh huh.”

“What am I missing then?”

“I want him to be at my party, but I think my friends will make fun of me if I invite him.  A girl has to have a circle of cool friends, and Paul might scare them off.”

“So you’re trying to figure out if you should listen to your friends or do what you want.”

Susan nodded.  “I want him to be there.  I also want Grace and Julie to like me.”

‘I see your dilemma.  What did your mother say?”

“She said I’d have more fun with Paul than with Julie.”

“I think she might be right”, Mark said.  He turned to the paintings on the wall.  Whenever he tried to think better, he would turn to the old art around him.  Somehow he knew that the problems around him were smaller than he originally thought when he looked at the paintings.  The oil masterfully put to canvas centuries ago reminded him to have perspective.

“What am I supposed to do?”

“I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers”, Mark replied.  “Still, I think it makes sense to surround yourself with people you trust and respect.  Even if it turns out that nobody else likes them.”

“You don’t think that Julie will make fun of me?”

“She might.  You’re the one with the decision to make, not her.  Look kiddo, you’re always going to have to make tough decisions.  The hard part is doing the right thing, offering the kind gesture, and tuning out those that won’t like you.  Nobody ever said doing the right thing was easy, but it’s worth any criticism that comes of it.”

“I guess”, Susan mumbled as she turned her eyes to the carpet.

“Think of it this way.  If Paul isn’t there, who’s going to help you blow out your R2-D2 cake?”

“There’s going to be a droid cake?”  Susan’s eyes were back on Paul and they were alive with excitement.

“Oh, did I say that?”  Mark winked as he feigned embarrassment.  “Here I wasn’t supposed to mention it.”  Susan smiled back with glee.  “Do you think you can stand up to Julie and Grace?”

“Yeah,” Susan replied.  “If they can’t get along with Paul then that’s their problem.  I can’t control their attitudes.  Maybe they’ll come around.”  Susan hopped down off the couch and hugged her father.  “Thanks Dad, you helped.”

Mark watched his daughter run out of the room and couldn’t help but grin.  He looked at the time, realized his phone call was late, and asked his aide to dial the number.  The formal request for assistance stared him back in the face.  A wave of realization hit him as he heard the other party pick up.

“Hello, Mr. President?  It’s Mark Preston.  Sorry to keep you waiting, but I think you’ll like what I have to tell you.  I’ve decided we’ll help your country out with food and cancel your debt with us.”  An excited leader hurriedly offered thanks in a language that Mark didn’t understand.  As the translator relayed the message in English, Mark nodded along.  “I know I had told you we couldn’t help, but there are a few projects around here we can postpone or do without.”  Mark thought of Susan and smiled.  “I may not be popular around here tomorrow, but maybe they’ll come around.  I like to think I’m a rather convincing President.”

No Rest for the Weary

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

No Rest for the Weary

Allow children to be happy in their own way, for what better way will they find?” –Samuel Johnson

Chester had been hoping for a quiet Saturday afternoon.  He had spent the week helping his wife get ready for the family members that were visiting.  Luann had been very thorough in her cleaning of their humble abode and she had been quite eager to put Chester to work as well.  He had trimmed the hedges, cleaned the gutters, and a new coat of paint had been applied to the guest room, all due to Chester’s willingness to please his wife.  Now that all that effort had been expended, Chester was looking forward to relaxing.

“Grandma!  Grandpa!  There’s something wrong with the oven!”

Chester started to doubt just how peaceful his day would be.  Luann patted her husband’s hand and got up to see what had happened to the casserole.  Chester turned his attention back to his rocking chair.  He realized that an elderly man gliding back and forth in a chair while children ran by his legs was quite the cliché, but it was one he was quite happy to commit to.

Chester had bought the rocking chair fifty years ago and it was evident.  He would never claim to have built it himself, but he had certainly made more than a few repairs to the chair.  Chester had stained the chair several times over the decades, but the patches and cracks in the wood always seemed to show through.  Then there was the infamous missing slat in the right side of the chair.  Countless times Luann had, in her own, non-pushy way, suggested that Chester should try to replace the missing piece of wood.  Chester, being the practical and stubborn character that he was, simply replied that his back didn’t touch that area of the chair and therefore he didn’t need it.  He was content to have the chair the way it was.  He enjoyed listening to the old wood creak and croak as he pushed off gently with his knees.  Trouble would come, friends would take ill, and the roof would spring a new leak; but the rocking chair was always a place where Chester found peace and tranquility in the world.

Chester turned his head slightly to venture a look outside.  He had to admit that it was a good thing the gutters had been emptied because the pouring rain now rushed to fill them.  The grayness of the sky suggested that the deluge would not let up anytime soon.

Chester’s attention was torn from outside as a small person ran up to his feet and tugged at his trouser leg.  Meggie, the youngest of the grandchildren, was carrying a broom.  To be truthful, she was more dragging the lumbering object in her small hands than lifting it.  She looked up at Chester with her big green eyes, her brown hair pulled back in matching ponytails; Meggie was the picture of innocence.  Chester tilted his head to one side, raised his right eyebrow, and leaned forward.  Meggie offered the broom to Chester by thrusting it towards his knees.  Rather confused at the gesture, Chester took it in his left hand.  After he had accepted the item, Meggie resolutely rearranged it in his hand.  She made sure that her grandpa was holding the broom, bristles on top, perpendicular to the floor.

ImageMeggie ran off and left Chester confused.  He was about to set down the broom when his grandson, Charles, walked up to him.  Charles was carrying Luann’s bathrobe, the soft pink cotton filling up his small arms.  Charles was only a little older than his cousin, so he simply asked his grandpa to lean forward.  Chester did and the bathrobe was thrown over the back of the chair.  The shoulders of the robe had flopped onto the top of Chester’s head and Charles scurried to make adjustments.  First he ran to the back of the chair and pulled the robe down off of Chester’s head.  Then he hurried to each side of the chair and tugged until the robe draped evenly across the back of the chair.  Returning to the front of the rocking chair, Charles surveyed his work.  He put his hand to his chin in an unintentionally comical way, and then nodded his approval.  As quickly as he had entered, Charles exited.

Chester wondered if he was going to be allowed to rock quietly in serene bliss today.  The prospects certainly seemed dubious.  As if picking up on the unspoken cue, Madeline, the oldest of the grandchildren, walked up to Chester.

“Put this on your head”, Madeline ordered as she handed her grandpa a shower cap.  Chester looked at the pale blue hat and held it with disdain in his right hand while he started to see the significance of the broom in his left.  Madeline must have sensed his reluctance to oblige to her perfectly reasonable edict and changed tactics.  “Pleeeeeease?”  Unable to resist the pleading that came out as an unintentional whistle through Madeline’s missing front tooth, Chester donned the cap.

“Now what?” Chester asked, his curiosity awoken.

“Now you have to chase us!”  Madeline was soon joined by Charles and Meggie.  All three of them ran to the next room, tied blankets around their necks, and returned with swords made of paper towel rolls in their hands.  “You’re the evil king of the land and we’re three good little princesses and princes!  Chase us!”

Chester’s fear had now been confirmed.  He was not going to have a quiet afternoon spent relaxing in a rocking chair.  He had three excitable and energy-filled children demanding that he rise from his majestic throne and join in their adventure.  There was to be no serenity for Chester that day.

Chester shrugged.  Why not?  Mentally dismissing the idea of being stately and respectable, he leapt towards them.  The rocking chair swung dramatically back and forth from the force of his exit while the three grandchildren screamed in terror and glee.  Chester decided to embrace the silliness and be playful.  Peace and relaxation could have to wait until later.

An Electric Education

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

An Electric Education

Children have to be educated, but they have also to be left to educate themselves.” -Ernest Dimnet

Gregory was an intelligent and accomplished man.  He had graduated college with a degree in engineering.  He had a nice wife and two precocious children.  While others were running out and buying mp3 players for their cars, Gregory built one out of a small hard drive and a power source that hooked into the vehicle’s cigarette lighter.  Yes, Gregory was a smart sort of fellow.  Of course, he hadn’t started out that way.

Gregory also had a brother by the name of Mort.  Mort was a year and a half younger than Gregory, so perhaps he thought that his older brother wouldn’t do anything to inflict any harm.  However, Mort operated off of the faulty assumption that Gregory knew what he was doing.

ImageThe two brothers got along well enough, but there were certainly visible differences.  Gregory was around ten years old, which naturally made Mort eight.  Gregory had already developed his fascination for electric things.  He played with LED lights, knew how to work a volt meter, and was only too content to spend hours working on his electric train set.  Mort was less engaged in technological things and was happy to spend his mornings reading comic strips.  When he heard Gregory mention the word “transformer”, Mort got very excited.  Of course, when he realized that his older brother was playing with some mechanical controller and not any robotic toy, Mort turned his attention back to the book he had spread on the floor.

On one seemingly uneventful day, Gregory and Mort were both sitting on the dining room floor.  Their mother was in the kitchen, but there was a wall between her and her two boys.  How was she to know that Gregory had absconded a butter knife and was looking at it in his hands?  She couldn’t have known that Gregory was holding Mort’s hand.  However she quickly was alerted to Gregory putting the butter knife into the electrical socket and shocking both himself and his brother.

Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt.  Granted, Mort saw a few spots in front of his eyes and Gregory’s hand tingled for a few moments afterwards, but they would live to cause trouble another day.  Gregory had learned the importance of using caution around electricity; a lesson he surely passed on to his daughters as they grew up.  The younger brother learned an equally important lesson which helped keep him out of trouble.  Mort found that there was a limit to how far he should trust Gregory whenever his brother had a plan.

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