Ever So Friend-ly (Weekly Writing Challenge)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The One-Time Lucky Coin

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 One-Time Lucky Coin

“For a change, lady luck seemed to be smiling on me. Then again, maybe the fickle wench was just lulling me into a false sense of security while she reached for a rock.” -Timothy Zahn

Tad was hungry.  It wasn’t the sort of hunger that would wreck a person’s body if it went unfed, but at the moment if felt quite important.  If Tad was being completely honest, he would admit that it was a boredom-induced hunger.  He was off work in a few hours.  Tad had just eaten two hours ago.  Yet, he knew that if he took a short little walk to the vending machine and back it would be five minutes where he was actively doing something.

Tad walked into the break room and found it empty.  He was relieved at the absence of coworkers and the judgments they might make about his snack foods.  It was hard to sit in a staff meeting and command respect when the whole board room knew you’d had cheesy-fluffs for lunch. 

Rifling through his pockets, Tad noticed a lack of funds.  Normally he tried to keep a dollar bill or two on him, but he had spent his cash on the morning’s coffee.  The only thing resembling cash that Tad had on him was his nineteen seventy-four silver dollar.

To Tad, the metallic circle was not money.  When homeless people asked him for change, Tad never thought about the coin even though he had it with him every day.  Tad used the silver dollar to keep himself occupied.  Most people have a gesture or a quirk that they let run wild when they are bored and Tad was no exception.  He would take the coin and flip it through his fingers, toss it in the air, flip it behind his back only to catch it every time; the coin had survived over a decade with Tad. 

The problem was that the chocolate bar was staring Tad in the face and looking quite tempting.  The granola bars, as usual, were fully stocked.  The over-priced gum remained in its spot along the bottom of the vending machine.  What concerned Tad was that there was only one chocolate bar left.  As soon as he returned to his cubicle, someone else would get the idea to go grab a snack.  The way Tad’s luck went, that person would buy the chocolate bar that he felt like eating. 

Looking at the coin in his hand, Tad thought about their shared history.  The subtle changes that the many years had worn into the coin were probably invisible to others, but they spoke of a history between the object and Tad.  The coin’s engravings and bumps were just a little smoother than regular silver dollars.  The countless hours of the coin rubbing against his finger had softened the coin; sometimes Tad thought that it warmed up faster than other change.  The silver dollar was the first item that Tad put in his jean pocket.  The small corner of his right pocket was always occupied by the coin.  The fabric compartment that most considered useless always held the silver dollar that was ready to be used.

Tad’s hunger won out.  He had other silver dollars at home; a stack of them, in fact.  He could always grab another one.  For now, he was hungry.  He looked to the vending machine and examined the coin slot.  He began to wonder if the coin would even fit in the small opening, let alone be read correctly by the vending machine’s programming.  Tad felt himself involuntarily holding his breath as he put the coin in the slot.  To his surprise, the coin fit and registered in the machine. 

“Congratulations”

Tad looked to his right where the voice had come from and leapt in surprise.  There, standing next to him, was a leprechaun.  Tad wanted to argue the point, but the little man fit all the stereotypes.  He had a deep red beard, green attire, and seemed to be hovering a few feet off of the ground.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Peadar the Vending Leprechaun, here to grant a wish for ya.”

“Wait…”  Tad was understandably confused.  “A vending machine leprechaun?”

ImagePeadar sighed.  “What can I tell ya; times are tough.  Tourism’s been down in the last few years and there are only so many pots of gold to guard.  Those older leprechauns just refuse to give up their cushy positions, leaving the rest of us to fight and scrap for any leprechaun gig we can get.”

Tad scratched his head.  “But… a vending machine?  And why don’t you have an accent?”

“We’re trying to acclimate to your marketplace.  Do you know how long it took me to swap from saying ‘bonny’ to ‘cute’?  Regardless, the corporate folks felt that you might find us more approachable if we didn’t throw you too many linguistic curveballs.  So here I stand before you, culturally neutered.

“The machine itself, well that’s where things get a bit more interesting.  Obviously, not just any old person can get a wish from this machine whenever they want.  The manufacturer could never service as many requests as they’d get if any dollar bill would do.  No, they can only handle a slim margin of regular snackers, so they made the money selection very particular.  Only a silver dollar will bring me around.”

Tad started to think about the pile of silver dollars he had sitting at home.  Plans and dreams started leaping to the front of his mind.  Peadar sensed what was going on in Tad’s mind.

“Now you just slow your noggin down there, lad.  Seeing as how I work for a business, there are a few more limitations.  We have to cross a few t’s and dot a few more i’s to make this all work out.  Rule number one; it’s strictly a one per customer deal.  Once you dropped that coin in the slot, you had your shot.  Rule number two; there’s no prize for networking.  You tell any of your friends about it and it’ll count as a referral and be folded under rule number one.  There’ll be no sharing this information with your friends and charging them a finder’s fee.  Everybody has to discover it for themselves.”

How is he really going to know if I tell anyone? Tad thought to himself.

“Oh, I’ll know”, Peadar said with a laugh.  “Then there’s rule number three.  You get one wish.  That’s it.  It’s a one wish agreement.  Don’t go wasting your wish asking for another set of wishes.  Don’t think you’ll get the standard three wish combo.  That’s genii, not leprechauns.  The only reason you’re getting the one wish instead of gold is that we’re all out of pots, cauldrons, and tea kettles full of gold.  Got it?  One wish.”

Tad considering arguing the stringent rules that the leprechaun was throwing at him, but the look on Peadar’s face showed that he wasn’t about to change his mind.  The company had set the rules in blarney stone, and they were unlikely to bend for him.  Peadar tapped his foot in midair and made a show of looking impatient.

Tad went through the list of things that he could wish for.  He could ask for a house, but he didn’t have the time to upkeep it.  He could ask for a servant too, but Tad was rather sure that the leprechaun and his bosses didn’t allow such frivolities.  He’d like to marry a supermodel, but something in Peadar’s eye made Tad suspect there’d be a catch.  Tad might end up married to a foot supermodel who cursed like a sailor or a supermodel that had an annoyingly shrill voice.  Tad wondered what it would like to be smarter, but he was afraid that the leprechaun would make his head swell up three times too big.  Tad wanted many things from life, but looking like a reject from a nineteen fifties science-fiction film was not on his list.

Tad felt his hand starting to twitch.  Of course, now that he wanted some clarity of thought, he had no coin.  Tad wondered if someone wasn’t trying to teach him a thing or two about loyalty.  If he hadn’t spent the silver dollar, it would be here to help him mull over things.  On the other hand, if he hadn’t spent the coin he wouldn’t have triggered the leprechaun.  It really was quite the conflict.  Tad’s right hand felt uncertain and abandoned. 

I wish I had my coin back so I could think better.

The thought entered his mind before he could stop it.  Peadar grinned.

“Done!” 

Tad’s silver dollar reappeared in front of his face and started to fall to the ground.  Years of conditioning kicked in and Tad automatically reached out and caught it.  Peadar tipped his hat and disappeared before Tad’s eyes.

Tad stood there, rubbing his thumb against the eagle’s wing on the tail-side of the coin.  He felt somewhat reassured by the familiar object returning to his hand.  Tad knew that later on he would curse himself for not thinking up a better wish.  The immediate problem that bugged Tad was that he was still hungry.

Lost, then Found (with a Vengeance)

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.

Lost, then Found (with a Vengeance)

The streets shuddered under the rumbling of The National Guard.  The sidewalks filled beyond capacity; the frightened populace tried to escape the rapidly approaching cloud as one giant mass.  The unfortunate ones along the edge of the walkway found themselves forced into the road where their shoulders rubbed against the military personnel.  Normally there would be some sort of uniformed personnel trying to guide people to safer ground with a sharp yet confident voice.  But today was anything but normal.  The rain had, in fact, come another day.  And it brought friends.

Countless children over the years had sung that rhyme with some hope that they could actually change the weather with their whim.  One child had actually succeeded.  Sam Bullbuttom had spent the last few weeks wishing for various chores to leave him alone after he succeeded at his first attempt.  The rain had threatened his cowboy plans with his friend Billy.  Sam got quite upset, glared at the approaching clouds, and dutifully recited, “Rain rain, go away.  Come again another day.”  He stated it just as Billy had taught him, but Sam’s curly-haired companion didn’t tell him how quickly it would work.  Sam went wide-eyed as the gray clouds above made a quick detour and wondrously veered off towards the ocean.  Sam and Billy played for several hours and not once did Sam reveal what he was capable of.

The next day started off as usual.  The rain, in a small and more benign form, fell as Sam sat in his math class.  He looked outside, shrugged, and contented himself that he wasn’t outside.  So long as Sam had a roof over his head and no great adventure ahead of him, it could rain all it wanted.  The math, on the other hand, was beginning to get on his nerves.  The class was just starting to wrap up for recess when the teacher turned to the class with an imposing stack of papers.

“I’m giving you all a take-home test.  I want you to study the problems, do your best to solve them, and be prepared to go over them on the whiteboard tomorrow.”  The teacher said all this with a calm voice, but Sam knew she was really out to get him.  Math was something he could not get.  He didn’t like it, he didn’t understand it, and he saw no reason to spend any time with it.  And standing up in front of the class?  When it was show and tell, well that was a completely different.  Who wouldn’t want to see the cool rock that he found near the beach?  And slug goo was fun to rub between his hands.  He could even watch the girls squeal and squirm as he held his slimy fingers out and tried to get it on them.  (That was one more reason Sam didn’t like his teacher.  She was a girl, so of course she took the girls’ side.  If he’d had a cool teacher they would have let him play slime-tag.)

Standing in front of the class for math?  That was about the worst thing that Sam could think of.  He wanted to have fun at school, like he did on the playground.  Being confused and talking about how many eggs farmer Hal had was just stupid.  Maybe if they were talking about dinosaurs, then Sam might stand up in front of the class.  He didn’t know all the dinosaurs’ names, but he certainly knew more than little-miss-perfect Heidi Holgnor.  She thought she was so smart with her adding and subtracting.  She’d take one look at a triceratops and scream.  She probably didn’t even know it was an herbivore.  Sam knew, he knew it as clear as the Superman-drawing on his book, that he would be better at a dinosaur class than Hideous Heidi.

But Sam was not sent home with dinosaur homework.  He carried the three pages stapled together with the scary phrase, “TEST” typed menacingly across the top.  Sam didn’t even open the three pages when he got home; he just crumpled it up and threw it under his bed.  He hoped that if he didn’t think about it then it wouldn’t hurt him.  That’s how it worked with monsters, why shouldn’t it be the same with math?  Math was just as scary as the creature under his bed that wanted to grab him by the ankle and eat his toenails.

Sam looked out his window and saw that the rain was abating.  At that moment, a brilliant idea struck him.  “Math, math, go away!  Come again another day!”  He sang it boldly and proudly.  If he could make the rain stop, maybe he could make the homework stop too.  He sang it again just to be sure.  “Math, math, go away!  Come again another day!”  A dog across the street barked its appreciation.  Sam waited for some sort of announcement that his chant had worked.  Other than another bark from the dog, there was no reply.  Sam looked under his bed.  Toy trucks and a jump rope blocked his view.  He pulled the toys out and looked back under his bed.  His eyes lit up with delight.

My yo-yo!  Sam happily threw the loop around his finger and watched the circle fall and rise at his command.  There were not many toys that Sam was an expert at, but he was a natural at the yo-yo.  He had taken it to show and tell three times and would have kept bringing it if his mean old teacher hadn’t stopped him.  “Bring something different each time”, she told him.  Why couldn’t he have a better teacher?  Sam watched as the yo-yo danced and shone in the afternoon sun.  None of the other kids were as good at this as…

Then Sam remembered what he had been doing.  He took his prized toy, delighted to have it back, and tossed it in the sock drawer of his dresser.  Then he went flat on the floor and pulled himself under his bed.  Like a mole digging an extension to its home, Sam set about clearing all obstacles out of his way.  The small tuxedo he had been forced to wear when he was the ring-bearer at his Uncle Seth’s wedding was tossed out to the left.  His half-finished LEGO tractor got rolled (as well as a tractor with three wheels and no front end can roll) to the right.  Even his stamp collection got pulled out.  Sam surveyed the collection of treasures and saw no test.  He looked under his bed.  It was empty.  His chanting had worked again.

For the rest of the day Sam used his power to make his life easier.  At the dinner table he whispered the appropriate version of his song and his lima beans disappeared.  The litter box was a problem for some other time.  Even his tooth brush obeyed his commands.  His parents, tired from chasing and Sam around the house didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.  They just assumed that Sam had done what they’d told them too.  Sam’s mom thought that the laundry room looked a little more spacious today (missing litter boxes will do that), but she dismissed it as one more side effect of being a tired mother.

The next morning Sam woke up and walked sleepily to the bathroom.  He walked by the sink, his pajamas flapping against his small legs, and he looked at himself in the mirror.  He was just about to wish his messy hair away and try life bald when he looked in the family toothbrush cup.  His toothbrush was back.  He pulled it out of the cup and held it close to his face.  At first he thought his parents had just bought a second one, but he soon found that wasn’t true.  It had the same super-heroes on it as yesterday.  The handle was a little worn from where the cat had chewed on it.  There were even the same frayed bristles as the ones that had been frayed before.  This was the same toothbrush Sam had wished away last night.

Sam was perplexed.  He shook his head, went back to his morning, and thought about sending the toothbrush away.  His cat, Captain Destructo, walked up to him and meowed.  Sam pulled him up by his front legs and squeezed his cat.  Captain Destructo meowed again, a tiny squeak capping off their conversation as Sam hugged him a little too tightly.  Captain Destructo meowed and started to walk towards the laundry room.  Sam was not quite ready for his cereal yet, so he decided to play along.  The cat kept walking, paused and turned to make sure Sam was behind him, and then walked into the laundry room.  He looked at where the litter box usually was, turned to Sam again, and meowed.  Sam tried to think of something to tell Captain Destructo about further peeing.  But just then, the litter box reappeared.  The cat meowed and ran to the box, relieved to have his depot returned to him.

Sam stood in the doorway and thought about what was happening.  He considered the conditions for each object.  When he had wished his toothbrush away, he had been very quiet.  His parents had been standing on both sides of him and he didn’t want to get caught.  When he had wished the litter box away, his mom had been folding his t-shirts.  It seemed like the louder he wished for things to leave, the longer they stayed away.  And it might have been Sam’s imagination, but the litter box seemed bigger.  Before it was about a head longer than Captain Destructo, but today it seemed almost twice the cat’s size.  He thought about telling his parents.  No, they’d just tell him that he was making things up; like always.  Sam pondered what else he had sent away.

“Samuel Alfred Covern!  Come to the table!”  Sam answered his dad’s voice by entering the kitchen.  “What is all this?” his dad asked, pointing to his plate.  Sam climbed into his chair and looked to the plate that his dad had gestured to.  On it, was a plate full of more lima beans than Sam had ever seen.

“Is this some sort of joke?”  Sam’s father raised his arms, crossed them against his chest, and then leaned over to look his son in the eyes.  “Did you grab these out of the fridge to play some sort of prank?  Don’t you know that wasting food is bad?”  Sam tried to think of an explanation, but came up empty handed.  “Well, you’re going to have these for dinner.  That I guarantee you.  But right now you need to get dressed.”

“But school isn’t for another two hours.”

“You’re not going to school today”, Sam’s dad informed him.  “Your Uncle Jim had their second son.  We’re going to meet your new cousin.”

The rest of the morning was a blur of Sam’s mom and dad rushing around the house trying to get ready.  Sam tried to keep up, he even thought about telling them about his chanting power and the things that had returned so far.  With his parents rushing to and fro he didn’t have a chance.  He ended up sitting on the floor, scratching Captain Destructo while his Mom asked why the “propagation of the human race couldn’t happen on a week when I don’t have an annual meeting presentation to make”.  Sam didn’t know what she meant, so he rubbed Captain Destructo’s belly while the cat purred in response.

Eventually the three of them were in the car and off to their family in the next state.  (Captain Destructo had been left behind, despite Sam’s protests)  When Sam returned, he would find a bedroom filled with wall-to-wall papers; more math problems than he could answer in a month.  Sam never did hear the news reports about the record-breaking rainfall that had shockingly dumped seven inches of rain in five minutes.  Happily, the litter box and the wall-to-wall tests convinced him that his talent was better left unused.  At least for the time being.

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