Coming Home

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.” -Lord Byron

**********

Okay, there’s Seventeenth.  Here’s Eighteenth.  Twentieth can’t be that far away.

I was late.  I hate being late.  And for all errands that life offered, I was on a mission for some lousy teeth.

There are millions of people that care about how their teeth look.  Models and actors are paid big money to have great smiles.  I am none of those things.  My teeth need to break up pieces of food and keep my tongue in check.  That is all.

My dentist is of another mindset.  She is dedicated to making every smile look perfect.  She thinks that means straight, uniform, and pristine.

“I can’t retire until I finish off your front row”, she has often told me.  You would think I would have some say in the matter.  I am the one footing the bill and all.  Plus, there are our respective sizes.

My dentist measures at four feet tall.  I grew past her in middle school.  At over six feet, I still had not gained the upper hand.

It could be because I try not to pick battles.  She is a genuinely nice person.  Let it not be forgotten, she has very sharp tools that pierce, grind, and gouge around my overly sensitive gums.  If the person in charge of the numbing agents is on a mission, you comply.  I try to stay on her good side.  She might “accidentally slip” while trying to make her point.

That is why I was spending my day off like this.  Wandering the streets that I thought I knew around a lake I had seen countless times before.  The problem is that roads in mixed residential areas tend to curve.  The roads in their square grids collide with the curve of nature and the terrain.

Eighteenth Avenue was followed by Forty-Seventh.  The sam hill?  I didn’t just skip thirty blocks in a minute, right? 

Once upon a time my dentist would do everything in house.  Or, in office, I guess.  She would drill the tooth, empty it, and plug the tooth.  Done.  If it was extreme, we would have to wait for some miniscule piece of gold to be custom crafted.  By and large though, it was nice and simple.

No longer.  “See, they have these machines that can do a three-dimensional scan of…”  “Your section of the gums needs an insert so that the teeth below don’t…”  “If I send you to the lab they can custom-shade the tooth to its neighbors giving it a more natural…”

I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and took a moment to fume.  The directions from the bus stop had told me where to depart.  I had.  The directions had told me to walk a route.  I had.  So where was this dadgum place that would look at my tooth, which I did not care about, and turn it a shade that I had no opinion on?  I felt my annoyance in my jaw.

Maybe if I grind my teeth enough, there will be fewer surfaces for her to tweak.

In desperation, I made a turn onto a side road.  Yelm Street sounded peaceful enough.  I walked determinedly along its cracked concrete path as the houses crowded my peripherals.

A purple door?  Okay, if that works for you. 

No house should ever be painted entirely in bright yellow. 

But it’s still better than having a house with a three car garage.  And you have four cars parked outside!  Do your mortgage and your car insurance payments have arm-wrestling matches?  Dear word…

That is when I saw it.

I had turned off of Yelm, onto Birch, and found myself looking at a neighborhood book nook.  Normally people would make a small box, a square maybe a foot by foot in size.  The structure I was in front of was entire booth.  It was not painted.  It was stained.  The knots and rings were there for all to see and the recent rain had given it a nice texture.  There was a bench, just big enough for one person, nestled inside this creation.

I liked to see what collections of books were contained in these complimentary depots.  It seemed there was always a classical work or two, some pointless romantic debauchery, a middle installment of a series I had never heard of, and a book that had been wildly popular seven years ago.

large-black-slug-2I stood in between the bench and the books.  At my foot appeared to be a slug with its ooze trail leading towards the shelter.  I try not to kill animals in their natural habitat.  If they set foot (or whatever it is that slug “walk” on) inside my domicile, they are exterminated.  But nature is their domain.  So I lifted my shoe and tried to scoot the little guy over a bit.

The slug would not move.  I shoved and nudged, only to find that it was anchored to the floor.  I knelt down.  The” slug” was actually a carved piece of wood.  It was attached to the ground.  I brushed aside the leaves, the dirt, and the tiny bits of paper that had gathered around.  Underneath all the debris was a piece of wood.  It was a hatchway.

I looked at my watch.  I do not like to be late.  But one has to have priorities.

They’ll understand!  There’s a frickin’ escape hatch in the middle of the sidewalk!  Who isn’t going to go down a secret pathway in the middle of suburbia!  C’mon!

Tossing responsibilities aside, I grabbed hold of the knob and pulled.  The plank resisted at first.  With more effort, paired with a creaking noise, the hatch rose up to meet me.  My eyes fell upon a wood ladder and electric lights that beckoned me in.

I looked around one last time.  I pondered if some neighborhood warden or community watch group representative would jump out at me.  If I was not allowed to climb a water tower, was it okay to descend into this mysterious tunnel?

There was no one around to stop my adventure.  I lowered my legs onto the fourth and fifth rungs.  I grabbed the top rung sturdily with my right hand.  I pulled the door over my head and began my descent.

The ladder was not overwhelming.  I climbed down three or four flights and then found my feet on solid ground.  The lighting fixtures were hardly modern.  They looked like something one would find in a bunker.  They were affixed to the wall in a purely practical fashion, metal bars covering the bulbs.  The wire was strung and stapled loosely along the ceiling.  What really captivated me was the interior itself.

The floor, walls, and ceiling, were all of aged wood.  Oak, spruce, pine, cedar, it was as if an entire forest had been used to construct this space.  None of it appeared to be machine-processed.  Some of the lines were a little off.  I noticed a knot or two that jutted out slightly from the wall.  Every surface had been planed, sanded, and finished.  The walls were sealed.  The structure appeared sturdy.  Yet the craftsmanship did not yield to the demands of perfection.  I could almost hear the workers at the end of the day clap their hands together, take a step back, and say with contentment, “Yep.  That’ll do.”

Leaving the ladder and hatchway behind, I ventured farther into the structure.  I encountered a mighty hallway.  Giant oaks stood as pillars some thirty feet high.  They maintained some of their limbs, now used to hold more lights and crossbeams.  I walked and walked and the columns still stretched in front of me.

Slowly, the noise level began to rise.  What had been a soft murmuring grew into crowd noises.  A belly laugh echoed from an unknown older fellow coming from the right.  I heard a glass break to the left.  A whooshing sound caused me to duck.  I fell to the ground as something flew over my head and screamed.

From the floor I was able to get my bearings.  The hall opened up into a large space.  Immediately in front of me was a giant swing.  The rope, long enough to hold someone three times my height, was attached to a wood seat that was occupied by an ecstatic child.  Her pigtails flapped about without a care.  Each back and forth of the seat seemed to last ages.  The girl couldn’t have been happier.

“Oh, shoot.  You okay?”  A man with an apron and short curly hair rushed forward.  His plaid shirt fit with the décor, as did his strong arms that pulled me to my feet.  “We don’t get a lot of people using that entrance”, he apologized as he ushered me off to the side.

“What… what is this?”  I stammered as I tried to make sense of it all.  “Who is ‘we’?  Where am I?”

“Ah, a first timer”, the man said as he chuckled.  Taking the cloth he had tucked in the back of his belt, he did his best to brush the debris off of me.  “My name’s Thomas, and welcome to The Chapel.”

“Chapel?”  I looked up to the roof with its cathedral-like height.  “I can see that…”

“Well sure”, Thomas said.  “There’s more to it than that, though.  See, it’s an acronym of sorts.  The best we can understand it, they started listing off the types of trees that were used to make this place.  We got ourselves some Cedar, some Hemlock, a bit of Adler, plenty of Pine, lots of Evergreens—“

“Which is only the first of the flaws in the silly name of yours”, a new voice interrupted.

“You’ll have to forgive Stuart.  He… well, he has opinions.”

“I should not be listened to because of my opinions”, Stuart replied.  “I should be respected because of the factual nature of my comments and the lack of such in yours.”

black-moustache-clipartStuart took a moment for me to comprehend.  A bit shorter than average, he made up for it with a slight bulge around the sides of his shirt.  The sleeves on his white button-up were rolled up past his shoulders and creased immaculately.  His black shoes had a picture-perfect polish about them.  The moustache that took up residence on his face caught the light like only waxed areas could.  The tufts of hair threatened to overwhelm his features should the two waves of follicles ever crash into each other.  All this was less noticeable than the top hot that added a good six inches to his height.

“As I was saying”, Stuart continued as his moustache moved and jostled excitedly like two baby seals fighting for a fish.  “Allowing Evergreens as a key feature of the acronym is ridiculous.  It is more of a category or genre of tree while the other titles can be confined to a species.  Using Evergreens in a title conflicts with the others and should therefore be rejected.”

“I mean, you could always use Elm trees”, I offered.

“Elms?”  Stuart shook his head violently back and forth.  His top hat considered jumping off to a more stable resting place, but it hung in there long enough for its owner to pull it down securely.  Gesturing about the great structure, Stuart turned his gaze menacingly on me.  “Do you see any Elms here, sir?”

“Uh… no?  I have only been here about five minutes though.”

“Well I have been familiar with these grounds for over seven years”, he said with an air that was equal parts defiant and regal.  “I can assure you, no Elms were used in the construction of this majestic space.”

“Stuart thinks we should call the place ‘Chaps’.  Drop the ‘E’.”

“I think no such thing”, Stuart said as he rebuked Thomas.  “I am confident that a place like this needs no pithy name.  No label is required.  Putting a title on this building in no way enhances its existence.  Let it be.”  He nodded in agreement with his own statement and made his way to the nearby tables.

“What does the ‘L’ stand for?”

“Shh!”  Thomas rushed forward and waved his hands in front of me franticly.  “We’ve already woken the beast.  Best not to poke it with a stick.”

“What do you mean?”  I asked quieter this time, “what does the ‘L’ stand for?”

“We never really figured that out”, Thomas said as he leaned in close.  “Logs.  Lumber.  Something like that.  It drives him crazy.  ‘Chaps’ is a no-go, though.  It makes us sound like we have a mechanical bull.  Or that we’re a male strip club.  And I didn’t sign up for that.”

“Fair enough”, I said as I tilted my head and took in the people around me.  “That Stuart.  He sure is… curious.”

“Don’t pay him too much mind”, Thomas said.  “He’s our resident history buff, sure.  But he hasn’t even been here a year yet.”

“But he said—“

“Nope”, Thomas corrected.  “He’s been around the place for seven years.  As in, he came in the door once or twice before he started working here last year.  But he’s hardly the pro he claims to be.  Drops more things than any three staff combined.  That top hat keeps falling over his eyes.”

“Yeah that is quite the—“

“Affectation?”

“I was going to say ‘quirk’”, I offered.

“He’s got to keep all his opinions somewhere”, Thomas laughed.  “And they’d never all fit in a baseball cap.”

“So this Chapel”, I said.  “What is it exactly?  I mean, it’s not…”

“A cult?  Nope.”

“Did I say cult”, I asked surprised.

“Oh”, Thomas said.  “Sorry.  Some folks see us in our ‘bunker’ and start assuming.  The Chapel is a gathering place.  A restaurant that’s short on menu items and big on recreational space.  Our menu’s only one page and that’s fine with us.”

“How long has this been here?  How’ve I missed it all these years?”

“Now that’s where Stuart comes in handy.  See, we’ve got all kinds of junk and papers scattered around here.  He’s the one that who delved into all of that.  I can give you the general idea though.”

Thomas gestured towards a nearby table and pulled out a high-back pine chair.  He motioned for me to take a seat while he sat in the chair opposite.

“Near as we can figure, this place has stood for about an hundred years.  Folks came out here to start logging.  Clear the ground for new folks coming in while making a living off the tree industry in the process.  This is the early 1900’s, mind you.

“These guys, they knew that sooner or later they’d have to find a way to get their lumber out of here.  They started off clearing a long, straight path where a railway could be placed.  Chopped down all the trees for the route, got the ground nice and clear, and flattened the land for those tracks.

“The problem with that plan was that they had to find a railroad to connect to.  Then World War I comes around and these guys find that their Sitka Spruces are in high demand.  And they still have plenty of hills and rocks between them and civilization.  Happily, right about that time, logging trucks start coming around.  So they ditch their plans for the railway.  But they’ve got plenty of extra trees that they’ve cut down to get to the spruce.  And they got lots of workers that don’t want to sleep out in the cold or trek back to town.  That’s when they started building this massive place.

“We don’t know how they got away with it”, Thomas said with a shrug.  “You’d think those wars would take all the trees they could get their hands on.  But it appears that they didn’t have a whole lot of oversight.  Long as the spruce trees kept coming, the bosses didn’t worry too much about it.  Plus it seems like all the loggers’ free time was spent on building this place.

“Then they spent the years after the wars finishing this place.  They didn’t ever finish the rest of the land like they’d planned to.  Sure they built road for the trucks.  Most of them got turned into what are the neighborhood streets.  That’s why they all have tree names.  The building itself?  They let it reside comfortably in the terrain.

“It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened.  Plenty of cities have been built right over to make way for new roads and buildings.  You can go on tours underneath the new city and see all the old structures and leftover boilers and things like that.”  Thomas sat up a touch straighter and grinned.  “The big difference between those places and ours is that our place never closed its doors.  People have been using this building continuously the whole time.”

“That’s so cool”, I said, enthralled by my surroundings.  “I’m trying to figure out how I didn’t know about this place before.”

“You have to remember that progress kept going all around”, Thomas offered.  “We have houses built on all sides of us.  They rest on top of that hill over here.  Then there’s that development over there.  We still have a fair number of trees on all sides of us too.  That’s the thing about naming roads after trees.  People want those streets to be filled with the plants they’re named for.  Plus, with all the terrain and hills, about two thirds of our structure is underground.  From the street, we’re only a narrow entryway that looks like a church or an old library.  And six days out of seven, everybody’s going to drive right by this place.”

“You don’t advertise?”  I looked at the bustling staff and couldn’t comprehend it.  “No sign out front?  No online reviews?”

“We never really saw the need.  Plenty of people come through here.  You should see the nights we tie the swings up and put out our wooden bowling pins.  Floor’s not as flat as some might like, but it still draws a crowd.  It sure makes an awful echoing noise whenever someone gets a strike, though.  Every few years we get some fancy acrobats coming through and they have a grand old time, hooking up their gear from the rafters and putting on a high-wire show.  Little skinnier arena than they’re used to, but they say it keeps them fresh.

“They all found their way to our doorstop.  If too many people show up, it’ll lose something.”  Thomas pulled the cloth from his belt again and concentrated on sopping up a small puddle on the table.  “We’d get too busy.  Couldn’t have the one on one that we all like.  Or they’d try to replicate it.”

Thomas shook his head.  A tinge of frustration started to build in his voice as he rubbed at the table.

“A businessman would come across us and try to market us.  Try to recreate our structure in some mini-mall.  Then we’d have to pay for their advice.  We’d have to raise prices.  We’d have to bring in more customers.  We’d be obsessed with perspectives and expected growth and…”

Thomas put the towel behind his back and shook his head.

“It wouldn’t be worth it.  We’re doing fine.  Those that need to find us; well they make their way to our doorstop when the time’s right.  You can’t force these things.”

“True enough”, I replied.  “’When the student is ready, the master will appear.’”

“Ain’t that the truth?  Though we are saving up money to replace our septic tank.  Some improvements would be nice”, he admitted.

800px-Lid_of_a_rural_septic_tank“The first patent for a septic tank was granted in 1881”, announced a familiar voice.  “Of course, those earlier contraptions began failing in the 1960’s.  We should have addressed that years ago.  And the two-prongued outlets?  Come now.”  Stuart shook his head and sent his hat wobbling once more.  “Surely we can upgrade and simultaneously continue to provide the environment our clientele desires.”

“The man’s got a point”, Thomas agreed as he stood up and pulled a pad from his front pocket.  “I figure I’ve yammered at you long enough.  You hankering for a meal or something?  Some flapjacks?  Gritz?  First meal’s on the house.  Maybe you want to sink your teeth into a heaping plate of biscuits and gravy?”

Crud.  Teeth. 

“Sorry, I’m actually late for an appointment”, I said as I rose to my feet.  “I’ll definitely come back though.”

“Let me at least show you an easier way out of here”, Thomas offered.  “There is less of a likelihood of the swings bonking you on the noggin at the main entrance.”

I watched as the building widened out for the tables and main gathering area, then thinned itself down by a plain set of oak doors.

“Here ya go”, Thomas said as he pulled one of the door opens.  “Now you know where to find us.”

“I sure do”, I replied.  “Thanks for the tour, Thomas.  It’s been a pleasure.”

“Anytime… How about that?  I forgot to ask your name.  My bad.”

“Not a problem.  It’s Wilson.”

“Be seeing you soon, Wilson”, Thomas said as he went back inside.

I walked out to the street and turned around.  Looking at it from the outside it was an unassuming building.  The frame appeared to be tall and narrow, but altogether average.  It was wedged between houses with overturned tricycles on their lawns and parked vehicles.

I had passed the road before.  Yet I had not known what to look for.

I walked to the corner and regarded the nearby street sign.  In what I took to be a mocking tone, it declared itself boldly:  Twentieth Avenue.

Halloween is for the Birds

Drama is life with the dull parts cut out.” -Alfred Hitchcock

**********

Folks might leap to the conclusion that I outright hate Halloween. That is not quite the case. If others want to craft intricate costumes and go to parties, then I have no problem with that. I simply do not have that drive myself.

But I do appreciate when decorations go inappropriately wrong

But I do appreciate when decorations go inappropriately wrong

A large part of that stems from having met my quota for costumes. I work in a movie theater. When we had a big superhero flick opening, I was the one most willing to don the outfit. I was the person that dressed up as Batman four of five times. I put on a Spidey suit more than once. And I am here to tell you that the Iron Man suit is the most comfortable getup you will ever find. (The suit itself was not overly confining and the fake muscles were like little pillows you could take a nap on. ‘twas bliss.)

That being said, I should mention that most superhero movies come out between May and July. As the summer heat starts to really kick in, costumes become more problematic. batguysFor example; consider the setting for Batman Begins. It was Father’s Day weekend. We had invited some rather well-known Batman creators to come hang out with us on a sunny day. Our lobby is an all-glass building. And there I was, in a full-body, all-black, snug-fitting Batman costume, next to creators that I admire and tried not to geek-out over, all as the sun beat down and made that suit feel like my own little oven. I believe the best descriptor would have been “toasty”.

I have met my quota. Let the others adorn silly attire. I would rather not walk through the workplace and be attacked by fake cobwebs, but I chuckle when people squeal at a fake rat or some other harmless decoration. My annoyance at low-hanging skeletons is balanced by seeing those folks freak out over a spider that is clearly not real.

No, what I hate are birds.

Popcorn. When you introduce crumbled and spilled pieces of popcorn around an area that is half outdoors, you often acquire some trouble. Trouble with a capital “T” that rhymes with “P” that stands for pigeons. Oh, how I hate pigeons.

Running after pigeons and waving my arms wildly is beneath me. I am not three. I would rather walk up to them, use my height and loud stomping feet, and lecture angrily. I maintain my calm demeanor when met by the feathery cretins. I clomp around, I yell, and I throw things in the general vicinity of their perch but never actually at them. (I would never hit the little twerps, no matter how much I want to. I believe fear of being hit will suffice just as well as being bonked on the noggin.)

I am, in all ways possible, sick of this crap.

I am, in all ways possible, sick of this crap.

Monday I came across a particularly vexing pigeon. We had just installed some very ugly perch-pokers so that the birds would no longer sit above our entry doors and atop our sign. We thought our days of cleaning gobs, lakes, and assembled masses of poop were over. Sadly, this one pigeon had found a new railing to perch on. So I did what anybody would do and chased it off.

When I ventured back outside a few hours later, there was the pigeon again. “What do you think you are doing?” The pigeon continued to sit there in a curled up feather ball. If it were a puppy or a kitten it might have been cute. But I have seen what these little fecal-factories eat and how often their feathers fall out. “Cute” is not an attribute they possess.

“Hey! Scoot!”

The pigeon looked up a bit. There were elements of sleepiness and a touch of contempt in its beady little eye. There was no trace of repentance for trespassing in that tiny-beaked visage.

I waved my arms towards him as my feet stamped their disapproval onto the floor. Closer and closer I got until it flew up the staircase. I followed it and shooed it some more. Reluctant efforts to escape my badgering were made. At last, I got the pigeon to fly off into the rain. Only a random feather or two and a collection of poop were left behind.

You understand story structure. You know there is always a third arc. You know the villain of the story must return one last time to do epic battle with that noble hero.

(A refresher: I am the hero here. Me. I tear tickets and provide customer service. Pigeons create unsanitary environments and plague my existence. Me-good. Pigeons- harbingers of death and messiness.)

I came out to what I assumed was an empty area. It was after our daytime hours. The crowds were winding down. A pleasant stillness had descended on our grounds as it often does. Everything was okay. Until I saw it.

There was the pigeon. Again. Perched on the stairway railing. Again. Asleep over a giant collection of poop. Again. This time we both played for keeps.

I made my feet beat like warning drums. It ignored me. I yelled. It gave me the look of insolence. I approached closer. That was when the real fun began.

I neglected to mention that this stairway was halfway between the second floor and the ground floor. The pigeon had options on how to retreat. This time, it went down. I chased it, it flew downstairs. I chased it again. It circled to the left and perched on the floor. I chased it again. It circled more to the left, this time threatening to go in the office door. I chased it again. It circled to the left and threatened to go into the bathroom that had its door ajar. I chased it again. The bird circled to the left (Did it know that there was more than one direction to fly? Take a right, mix things up! Further proof that pigeons are idiots) and swooped over my head. I was convinced that the ne’er-do-well was out to scratch me or open its payload doors on my face. Thankfully, I escape unmolested.

After another series of two or three chases, the bird went up the stairs, out the upper courtyard, and flapped away into the rainy night.

I chose to believe that I had really won that time. Despite its greater reluctance to flee, I wanted to believe that our story had come to a conclusion. However, a tiny part of me was still cautious. In horror films, the unstoppable killer that is “slain” often comes back once more.

Those were the sort of thoughts I had as I walked to the downstairs bathroom a few hours later. I was ready to go home. My shift was coming to a close. And if I could just go the bathroom, bide my time in the theater, and keep anything from catching fire then I would be done for the night.

I walked up the railing, hoping that I would not see the same sight as before. It was clear! (Well, the poop was still there. But the giver of gifts had fled the coop.) I had won! Victory was mine. Strutting like a peacock, I walked to the restroom.

The door to the restroom tends to have its door propped open. This is partly to make it easier to find, partly to get fresh air from the outside, and partly to avoid that whole door-opens-into-someone’s face moment. (Which is comedy gold if you are prepared for it; less so if you just want to dry your hands and get out.) I strolled up to the urinal and took care of things. All was well. Or so I thought.

I like to think I have a feel of what is going on in my surroundings. I always recommend having a grasp of any unknown people or elements around you. At that moment by the urinal, my peripheral vision sent a warning straight to my brain.

I was not alone in the restroom.

There, by the sink-counter, was a bird. At least, I was pretty sure it was a bird. It was a large mass perched on the marble surface right by the door. My heart rate shifted into gear. I gulped. I knew exactly what had occurred.

The bird had plotted my demise.

We were in a confined space. Its wings, talons, and beak gave it the distinct advantage. It had been spurned and wanted payback. In order to get out the bathroom door, I would have to get past the beast bent on revenge. I zipped up my pants and did the only thing I knew I could do.

I turned around quickly, inhaled a sharp breath of courage, and charged towards my attacker! I would meet it face to face.

Or, as the case was, face to rubber.

For it was not the dreaded enemy of the skies and discarded corn that faced me. Instead, I was confronted by a fake vulture. The prop had been left there by my coworkers in their festive attempt to liven up the place.

Only the fear is real.

Only the fear is real.

Annoyed and embarrassed, I went back to my pigeon-less existence and finished my shift grumbling,

“fr#@*^-in’ Halloween…”


Hitchcock gets it.

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.

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