Not Long Tales … December 24th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4468)

20.

The Wysies

On July 19th, the project received the green light for filming—seven days commencing on the 2nd of December—to be aired for five straight nights, beginning December 19th through December 24th, Christmas Eve.

Expectations were high.

The network was always thrilled when any new angle on the holiday season could be unearthed in an attempt to capture a large market share during the December festivities.

This year was particularly exciting, because along with the entertaining new concept was the introduction of Zandy Carlisle to direct. She was an Asian gay woman with a disability—carpel tunnel syndrome. A promotional trifecta.

The premise of the show was simple. A twist and turn on the phrase “Wise Men” had become “Wysies.”

This was not the original title. At first it was spelled W-I-S-S-I-E-S. But after conducting a survey of potential audience, it was determined that the name was too close to “Wussies,” which made everybody laugh—but for the wrong reason.

So it was quickly changed to W-I-Z-Z-I-E-S. But this tested worse, since the inclusion of the prefix “wiz” brought forth images of urination as far as the eye could see. It was Zandy who suggested that using a Y took care of the pronunciation, and striking the extra S eliminated the “Wussie” or the “Wizzie.”

Actually, choosing the name was much more difficult than coming up with the blueprint of the show.

Basically it was a broadcast about five couples, all in their twenties, sent on a mission. Each couple would begin in Temecula, California, dressed in shorts and a shirt, barefoot and with fifty dollars. They would be instructed to walk all the way to the Burbank, California studios as their final destination.

The ninety-four miles between Temecula and Burbank were almost identical to the ninety-seven point six miles that the first Christmas couple, M & J, trekked from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

The rules were easy to understand. There were four things that needed to be accomplished:

  1. Each couple was to stay on foot with no motorized transportation, be it public or private.
  2. They must garner all food and drink from the kindness of strangers.
  3. They would also have to perform one huge, provable good deed.
  4. And finally, to keep everything lively, they should arrive at the finish line in Burbank with a donkey.

Each journey would be filmed, and on the final night, there would be a vote cast by the audience to proclaim the winner.

A rather extensive search took place for the right participants. Of course, in respect to the times, one needed to be gay, one was interracial—black and Asian. An additional couple was a prison romance which blossomed into freedom, with a great backstory. One selected pair was a very religious married team. And finally, there was one couple that was white bread enough to make peanut butter sandwiches for all of summer camp. Their names were Curtis and Morena—a pair of actors who had come to Southern California seeking fame and fortune, but willing to settle for either.

Curtis had been in the hunt for notoriety for about a year-and-a-half, and so far, had only procured a job as a stand-in for a talking jalapeno in a Mr. Mexico taco commercial. Morena had a bit more success—playing the notorious “Queen of Dirt” in a kitchen cleanser TV ad.

Long before the time for filming arrived, sessions were planned to discuss what was expected, beneficial, preferred and helpful for each couple. It was made clear that it was absolutely fine to mention God—but no more than once per episode, so as not to scare away the “uncertain” crowd or the “God is dead” demographic. At no time was Jesus to be included. There were just too many Jews, Muslims and Buddhists for the show to present itself as a billboard for Christianity.

Every couple needed to have a story, so questions were asked, and the search began for what approach would draw the public into the private lives of the contestants.

But first, it was made clear that the name “Wysies” was chosen because it gave a quaint, holiday sniff to what was actually a reality game show (“Wysies” being the Wise Men). That was coupled with the length of the journey being tied into the story of Mary and Joseph. It seemed to be just enough to provide a flavor of inspiration.

The back-stories were chosen.

The gay couple was to play out the persecution they had suffered in pursuit of gaining the right to be married in an America which was “the home of the free and the land of the brave.” Or maybe the other way around.

The black man and Asian woman had lived in Mississippi after he had completed a military tour of duty in Iraq. Their feelings had been greatly injured by the citizens of Dixie, who found their joining to be unnatural under God’s Law.

The two prisoners who had found love after jail had a natural set-up. He was in for trafficking drugs, and she had killed her former husband in a fit of rage when she found him sleeping with her younger sister.

The difficulty came when it was time to derive an appealing presentation for Curtis and Morena. After much questioning, it was decided to emphasize that Curtis was an orphan—since his father had died when he was ten, though his mother was still alive and dwelling in Columbia, Missouri. And Morena had been plagued by disease because she had terrible allergies to both hay and ragweed. (It was agreed that as long as they didn’t get too specific, a general mentioning of their circumstances could still stir the sympathies of the viewership.)

Director Zandy made it abundantly clear that a show of this intensity—this rich with human conflict—would have to emphasize forced feeling, forced fighting, forced exposure, and when necessary, forced story lines.

After the first four planning sessions, Curtis and Morena became disillusioned. It was especially disheartening when the religious couple stomped off the set after being informed that any testimony of their salvation or personal relationship with God had to be abandoned in favor of punctuating their own love story—with a strong dose highlighting their sex life.

That left four couples.

Director Zandy said she was thrilled when it came down to four because five stories were more difficult to squeeze into the time constraints. Even though Curtis and Morena became upset about the job, the first-place prize money of fifty thousand dollars would keep them working and striving toward their goal of becoming full-fledged actors—and was certainly worth putting up with some bleeding of the conscience.

After the planning sessions, and with a general understanding of the expectations, the cast members were sent back to their lives to fend for themselves until the filming began. Each week, Zandy sent off an email with little hints and encouragements on how to better access their greatest potential for winning the show.

Especially significant were the ideas on how to do a good deed. Matter of fact, Zandy referred to this as a “sloppy, sappy service.” In other words, something so obviously kind, generous and merciful that the audience at home would be brought to tears, convinced of the overwhelming goodness of the contestant.

Each week, Curtis and Morena read the directive from Zandy, feeling more and more unsure of their footing. Also, Curtis received alarming news about his mother, Catherine McDermott, who was showing the first stages of dementia—or perhaps warning signs of cardiovascular disease and the danger of a stroke. In other words, she was “ailing.” That’s how family and friends in Missouri expressed their fears for the worst.

Curtis didn’t know what to do. The main problems were his financial situation, fear of failure and his lack of passion about his aspiration for acting. He was frightened that if he went home to Missouri, he would never make it back to Hollywood. He was reluctant to share his feelings with Morena, who found his silence about his mother to be disconcerting, and soon was considering leaving him. She probably would have done so if it had not been for the commitment to “Wysies,” plus a nagging, heartfelt affection for the boy.

The next directive arrived the following week. Both Curtis and Morena were shocked.

Now, neither one of them were religious. But when they read Zandy’s message, the little, tiny piece of faith that still abided in them was stunned. The directive read:

“Good morning to you outstanding human beings and contestants for “Wysies!” I wanted to give you a heads up. During one of our planning sessions, it was discovered that some initial press reports have leaked—portraying the show as a religious broadcast about the journey of Mary and Joseph to the manger. The critics are already attacking it as being just another righteous ruse’ to punctuate the differences among the populace, aggravating the debate about the separation of church and normal life.”

“Of course, nothing could be more untrue. But once a rumor like this gets started, it must be stomped out quickly, or pretty soon a forest fire of misunderstanding will be set ablaze. So I am asking each of you to do a couple of interviews on a press junket in order to (a) advertise yourself; (b) be cute and humorous, bringing intrigue about the show; and (c) strongly establish that ‘Wysies’ is not a God thing.”

“I will contact you soon with times, dates and some possible lines you can use to sever this contest from Sunday School lingo.”

The email was signed:

“Your fearless friend and leader, Zandy”

This stimulated a discussion between Curtis and Morena. Neither one of them felt comfortable defending the faith. They were not like the religious couple, who yearned to preach the Gospel, but they also found no contentment in being included among unbelievers and those who were apathetic about a possible Creator in Heaven.

What began as a discussion about the show ended as an argument about their relationship. Morena was just as discouraged about their progress in the cattle calls of the entertainment industry thus far. Playing the “Queen of Dirt” had not garnered much business, and unfortunately, had not become a repetitive character for future commercials. (Matter of fact, those reviewed about the commercial were thrilled when she was sucked down the drain in the last scene.)

But Morena did not want to be the one to give up. If Curtis were going to leave, he needed to make it clear that he was the quitter—and if he wanted her around, he needed to offer a greater commitment than a tender pat on her bare butt after sex.

On the other hand, Curtis did not want to be the villain in the great tale of their lives. So ensued two or three days of continual fighting with perpetual finger-pointing.

“You’re the reason we’re failing!”

“If you just cared more, we might do better!”

In the midst of this, more calls came in from Missouri, expressing, in a quiet way, desperation over Mother Catherine’s well-being.

Curtis began to wonder if he could just abandon his dream and blame it on his mother’s condition. His problem with that plan was that Morena would always know about the little piece of chicken-shit mixed in with his nobility.

He could leave her, but then he would be arriving back in Missouri alone, into an atmosphere of dreary demise.

One night as they sat, heads spinning from the latest bewildering exchange of ideas, Curtis posed a very interesting question.

“Morena, do you think we can win ‘Wysies?’”

Morena was offended, and then surprised that she felt so insulted by a legitimate question. After all, there were three other couples. The gay lovers were certainly cute and flamboyant. The two prisoners had enough tattoos for three people. And the black and Asian couple—well, on top of military service, they had the applause of everyone who hated Mississippi.

Curtis asked again. “Do you think we can win this thing?”

Morena surprised herself. “No.” That was all she said.

Curtis turned to her, alarmed. “Then why are we doing it?”

Morena replied emphatically. “You know why we’re doing it! Exposure! Showing enough of ourselves that this time, you get to play the jalapeno instead of getting coffee for him!”

Even though the comment stung Curtis’ ego, it was still rather funny. He laughed. “And,” he retorted, “you might get the part of Princess of Clean in the next commercial—who gets to survive to sell yet another day.”

“So,” she said, “we’re hanging around here to participate in a contest where we have no chance of winning, and we’re hoping that our failure will draw enough attention to us that someone will want us in some sort of part because we were such dynamic also-rans.”

Curtis smiled. “You left out something,” he said. “All this is true—plus we have to find a donkey and get it to Burbank, California.”

Then something strange happened—odd indeed. Morena did something she had not done since she was a young girl. Matter of fact, she had been nine years old, and her dog was hit by a car and was lying in the middle of the street, twitching.

On that day, she had bowed her head and prayed. “God, heal my dog.”

Her puppy died. And so did her faith.

But now, in this moment of craziness mingled with humor and pathos, she prayed again. “God, would you get us out of here to someplace where we can breathe without being afraid?”

Curtis was shocked. The two of them had never even mentioned the word “God,” or thought about an Everlasting Presence, but without even thinking, when Morena finished her prayer, he said, “Amen.”

There were no phone calls. The sky did not open. There was no chill going down the spine.

They simply looked at each other and they both knew their next trek would not be to Burbank, but instead, across the country as best they could—to the bedside of a hurting woman in Missouri.

When Curtis called Director Zandy and quit, she was infuriated. She briefly tried to get him to change his mind, but when he wouldn’t, she explained that due to the nature of their contract, they would be required to sign a termination agreement, guaranteeing that they would never sue the show or the network. After this, Zandy curtly stated that the show would be “better with three couples anyway.”

When Curtis and Morena showed up in Burbank to sign their termination agreement, to their surprise they were both issued checks for five hundred dollars. They promised to never say a bad word about the show or do any negative promotion.

Shocked, bewildered, and dare we say, blessed, the two climbed into Morena’s old car—held together with rust and hopes—and headed toward Missouri.

They were in no hurry. It was a five-day journey, and they arrived on the exact day they originally had planned to begin filming “Wysies.”

Mother Catherine was still living in the old homestead. When they got there, she was sitting in the living room, staring out the front window. At first Curtis thought she was anticipating their homecoming—because he had called ahead to let the family know of their intentions. But when they came in, she continued to stare out the window to the undetermined outside.

He made his way to his mother’s side and touched her hand. Barely acknowledging his presence, she reached over and clasped his arm. Unexpectedly, Morena made her way up the stairs to the attic, where, as Curtis had explained, they kept all the Christmas decorations.

She emerged carrying a big box, shut the attic, came downstairs and opened it, beginning to remove the seasonal family treasures. This gained Catherine’s attention. She got up, walked across the room, and began to help Morena.

About five minutes into the experience, Catherine took Morena’s hands, and though she had never met her, she said, “We have done this before, haven’t we?”

Morena saw no reason to argue, so she nodded her head. Immediately, Catherine stood up, walked into the kitchen and took a stance next to the stove, as if considering warming water for tea or beginning a pot of coffee. She stared at the oven intently, as if seeking inspiration.

Concerned, Curtis followed her in. Seeing her stymied at the stove, he came up behind her, placed his hands on her shoulders, and then his arms around her neck, embracing her. Suddenly, from behind, he felt Morena’s tender arms squeezing his waist. The three stood there, connected, tightly holding one another, trying to draw strength from within.

That year, when “Wysies” aired, the ratings were so bad that they never actually finished the five days of production, pronouncing a winner.

Curtis and Morena spent the holiday season with Mother Catherine. Although they feared for her health, each day she actually grew stronger, more present and cognizant of the world around her.

By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, she was reciting memories, singing carols, and fixing the delicious chocolate chip cookies for which she was acclaimed.

Curtis and Morena fell in love—first, with Mother Catherine. Then, with the sweetness and nostalgia of the home. Next, with each other, as they sealed the covenant between them. And finally—and more slowly—they fell in love with God. Even though He had not done much to help Morena’s puppy, this time, on this occasion, and in this Christmas season, He had shown up…and answered their prayers.

Not Long Tales … December 17th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4461)

19.

The Glimpse

Teaching American history at the Daniel Boone High School in Lancerville, Kentucky, required a delicate balance between honoring the actual story of events mingled with comprehension of what every citizen of Lancerville believed to be true—or at least insisted was.

Marco Craswell had arrived in the town four years before as a teacher, and in the past schoolyear had taken on the added responsibility of assistant football coach.

Because his name was Marco, many people thought he was ethnic and looked deeply into his complexion for confirming signs. But actually, his father named him Marco out of a deep admiration for the great explorer, Marco Polo.

Depending on who you talked to, Marco was either the most eligible bachelor in the community or a closet gay. It would be delightful to report that Marco was a dedicated teacher, spending hours developing study plans, and giving extra sessions after school to encourage troubled students. But actually, Marco was the last one in the door when school began and the first one out when it ended. That was why he was a little upset about accepting the job of assistant football coach—it forced him to linger around the campus.

Marco did not like Lancerville.

The town had a credo: “Leave well enough alone.” The theme ran from City Hall, through the streets, into the stores and front doors of the homes, and even to the pulpits and pews of the seven churches sanctifying the surroundings.

As soon as he had arrived, Marco was informed by the school principal that he should find a church he liked—or at least could tolerate—because such things were very important to the citizens, and word would spread very quickly of any non-participation with the Jesus faithful. He had discovered that there was a Community Church in town which had a young minister from California, who by some circuitous journey, had ended up in Kentucky. His name was Jack Murphy, but required everybody to call him Pastor J.

He was a clumsy fellow with a great mind which was never able to manifest its authority through his tongue. So the sermons were a bit confusing, but blessedly brief. Marco made his church home there, struggling to attend each and every week.

Back at school, however, he never went to the teacher’s lounge, nor did he sit with the educators in the cafeteria at lunchtime but perched himself with the computer geeks, which seemed to greatly raise their self-esteem. One day after lunch, one of the leaders among the staff whispered in his ear, “They’re gonna ask you to chaperone for the upcoming class trip to Mammoth Cave.”

Marco flinched. The teacher continued, “This is a good time to say yes. Trust me.”

Sure enough, Marco didn’t even get halfway down the hall before the principal stopped him and said, “We’re having a school trip to Mammoth Cave in three weeks, and we wanted to ask you—because the students love you—to be one of the five chaperones. The school will pay for all your expenses, including entrance to the park. And the mothers are packing sack lunches for everyone.”

Marco wanted to decline—like he had done so many times before—but something told him that this was a line in the sand, a silent demand for him to participate or possibly face the danger of being eliminated.

With the cheeriest voice he could muster, he replied, “Of course! Where else would I be?” The principal really liked this answer. Matter of fact, he patted Marco on the back and tottered down the hall, whistling.

Marco did his best not to think about the upcoming trip. He tried to get sick. He looked for any reason possible to skip out on the duty.

He was just not happy in Lancerville. He was sick and tired of making Daniel Boone one of the predominant characters in his American history class. He was angry that several of the parents had suggested that he refer to the Civil War as the “War Between the States.” He was a disgruntled mentor to young men and women who desperately needed a fresh idea.

Yet Marco was ashamed of himself—so unhappy with his attitude that he decided to make an all-out effort to turn the Mammoth Cave trip into a roaring success.

The day arrived. Everything started out pretty normal. As he rode down the freeway on the bus, he read the pamphlets about the destination. He felt a little thrill. After all, Mammoth Cave was—and is—the largest underground cavern system in the world. Four hundred miles of it.

And even though he was a bit claustrophobic, he thought being with others, conversing, would prevent the walls from closing in on him. He would be fine.

The first part of the tour went well. Then one of the parents wanted to go down a different trail than the tour guide was pursuing. She needed an ally. She asked Marco if he would join her and four of the students. They had all heard flowing water off to the right, and the little group was curious to see what they might discover.

Marco was hesitant, but since he had vowed to become a willing participant in the class escapade, he nodded and joined the mother along with the four kids. They headed down the Eastern path.

After a couple of minutes, there was a sudden, violent shaking beneath their feet—a movement that threw all parties to the ground. Marco believed it was an earthquake. They were not common in Kentucky but did come from time to time—and unfortunately, today one arrived when he found himself beneath the earth inside a cave.

Terrified, everyone tumbled onto the ground, amid a cacophony of screams from all directions. Marco had fallen hard against the stones, bruising his side. He was still trying to recover from the impact when he looked up and realized that the entire entourage, which he had been leading, had run away.

He called out, uncertain what the appropriate beckoning should be. “I’m here!” he said once—then twice and a third time. No answer. A deep silence.

It didn’t seem like the earthquake had done any damage. A few rocks fell. Some sand and dirt.

Where was everyone?

Strangely, Marco felt at peace. Everything was so quiet. The surroundings were primeval. He felt that Nature had engulfed him within her soul.

He realized he should get up and try to find his way back out, but he was content. Maybe they would search for him.

It was so quiet he could hear his own heart.

Then, right in front of him, on the rock wall, a tiny pinpoint of light appeared. It was odd because the cave was so dark that even this small illumination hurt his eyes. It came and then it went. And then it came again.

It happened four times before Marco decided to get up and investigate. He walked over to the rock face and there, etched into the surface, was a small slit about seven inches long—like a rip along the seam of a pair of pants. And every few seconds a brief spritz of light emerged, then disappeared.

Marco giggled to himself. It was so unusual and peculiar that it seemed silly. But it was also a bit frightening. What was trying to shine through the rock?

Slowly, deliberately, he inched his way forward and placed his eye right in the center of the slit in the stone. He stepped back suddenly, unable to breathe. Then he scooted forward again to look. Once again, he retreated, breathless—for inside the miniscule crevice, surrounded by blinding light, he saw himself.

Not the person he was—an American history teacher from Daniel Boone High School. No—he was suddenly, almost cosmically alerted to the fact that he was staring into his own face from another place. Although he had seen the vision for less than two seconds, the realization swelled in his mind.

He slowly inched forward. But this time, as he put hie eye up to the crack in the rock, the stone suddenly began to seal together, as if being mended. The light that had been emitting flickered. Then the wall closed its rupture and the seam was gone.

Marco moved forward, staring at the place where the severing had been. It had vanished. The rock was sealed.

So spooked was he by the event that when two of the students came running up behind him, he jumped, pulling back from them in terror.

“What’s wrong?” said one of the students. Marco shook his head and bound out of the cave, with them trailing.

On the ride back to Lancerville, he could not think about anything else. He did not share his experience because he didn’t understand what he had seen. He didn’t offer details. It was the kind of report that would be considered weird—certainly unacceptable in the provincial village.

He kept it to himself, closing his eyes occasionally, to try to remember and regain the vision he’d beheld.

Arriving back at the school, he was the first one off the bus, ran to his car and drove home. Escaping to his bedroom, he turned off all the lights and lay on his bed, trying to simulate the quietness of the cave. What had he seen? Why did he believe he was staring into his own face—yet not the face that resembled him. It just was him.

Laying there quietly, exhausted from the trip, he fell into a deep sleep. Deeply slumbering, he had his first of two visions.

The first one was like his encounter in the cave, except in this dream, he could see himself more clearly. It was so bewildering. It was him, except formed by a different atmosphere—a unique climate. Or was it a coloration?

He awoke from the first vision, too tired to rise, too weary to think. He fell back asleep.

In the second vision, he was standing in front of the rock in Mammoth Cave. He saw five creatures, so different in appearance. Yet deep in his heart, he knew they were all him—all molded in his image. All constant with his spirit. As he watched, the crack healed and blended into the rock face, returning the wall to normalcy.

Needless to say, he awoke troubled. He carried the burden all the way to school—but decided to share some of his insights with his students during class. They listened, sympathetic, but also deeply worried that the experience had done some physical damage to the teacher’s brain, leaving him in need of medical attention. Less than half-an-hour after his class, three students, one faculty member, one parent from the town and the principal were standing in his classroom, demanding to know how he was feeling, and strongly suggesting that he immediately check himself into the city infirmary.

Marco realized his mistake—he needed to be much more careful about what he said about what he thought he had seen. So he laughed it off and told them it was just an experiment, to see what the students would do. He explained that he wanted to give them an example about how people throughout history had to make major adjustments to see progress achieved in our nation.

His sincerity rang true and they believed him.

He couldn’t wait to return home—to dream again, to see more, to learn more. But there were no more dreams. As startled as he was with the visions themselves, the absence of them left him sad, vacant.

The following morning he decided to take a day off from school and headed back to Mammoth Cave. He tried to find the place he’d been before but had no idea where it was.

Disappointed, he drove back toward town. Hungry, he pulled over at a diner, stepped inside, sat down at a booth and ordered a hot roast beef sandwich.

The young waitress was so kind to him that a sweet relaxation settled in. He realized that he just needed to talk. So he called ahead and asked Pastor J if he would be available for a visitor.

Pastor J was surprised but agreed. They met at the parlor of the church. Marco didn’t waste any time. He shared exactly what had happened, beginning at Mammoth Cave.

He told the whole story—the earthquake. The split in the stone. The flickering light, and the visions.

Pastor J listened carefully, trying his best to muster all his training. After the story was all done, Marco asked, “Is it possible, Pastor J—and I’m only asking you if it’s possible—that I’ve had a visit into another world?”

Pastor J sat for a moment, thinking. “Well,” he began, “let me tell you what I know from what you’ve shared. Or maybe what I think from your thoughts. I, for one, have never believed in a heaven where we humans, who have lived for less than a century, go and celebrate our little adventures eternally.”

Marco thought the way Pastor J put it was so adorable that he had to laugh. Pastor J continued. “Let’s not forget, the Bible itself says that ‘eye has not seen, nor ear heard’ what God has prepared for us. And speaking of that prepared thing, Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place just for them.”

He paused, considering. “And if you remember, the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus when he rose from the dead—and they had just seen him a couple of days before. Maybe that’s the way it is with us. Maybe we don’t die and go to heaven, but we raise up kind of like ourselves, and arrive in a new dimension.”

Marco was enthralled with the concept. “Let me ask you something, Pastor. Have you ever thought about the fact that Mars, Venus and all these planets that we think are unlivable—well, that maybe in our dimension they are, but in their spectrum, we look like just a rock hanging in the heavens.”

“No, Marco,” said the pastor. “I’ve never thought of it just that way. But maybe we just rise and live again. Or maybe it’s just a continuation without us being totally aware that we’re ever absent. I don’t know. But it’s gonna be cooler than hell.”

Marco gave Pastor J a hug. From that day forward, the two men became great friends. Marco decided to put any further speculation to the back of his mind, to toy with his own entertainment. But he did decide that if living was about keeping on living, and maybe even living in another aura, he’d better get started doing it.

Suddenly, he wasn’t afraid anymore.

He talked to Miss Sanchez at school—one of the new teachers, who was beginning a course in musical appreciation. He was attracted to her. He just walked right up to her at lunch and asked if he could sit down. The two entangled intensely in each other’s lives. He took her to the dance. He took her to Nashville for a concert. He took her to his family. He took her into his heart. She was thrilled with each experience.

They took one another to the altar, where they were married. Marco was no longer in a hurry to leave. He wasn’t sure what was waiting far beyond the stars, but down deep in his soul, he realized that he’d had a glimpse.

Not Long Tales … December 10th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4448)

18.

Po-Tay-Gold

There was no advantage in being female.

Joni knew this for a fact. At sixteen years of age, she had spent her entire life living on a tiny settlement, stuck between Laramie and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The elements dictated your effort.

The climate decided your work

And the isolation made it virtually impossible to think about things like dresses and bows in your hair.

It was lift, push and survive. There wasn’t much more time or reason for anything else in this outpost which the original founders had named Sinsear. (These first pioneers might have found some humor in the name, but nobody left behind ever gave it a smile.)

Joni was an orphan. She wasn’t born that way. (Of course, no one is.) Four years earlier, her parents left Sinsear to travel to Portland in the Oregon state, to look for work on the docks. They never returned.

No one talked about it—partially because speculation was fruitless, possibilities were painful—and mostly because living in the harsh surrounding, there was just no time to care.

Joni was willing to pull her load. So she became the community pet, given a slender cot in the back end of the only municipal building in the region—a large log cabin.

She earned her keep the same way all the teenagers did. Of the three hundred and twenty-four people who still lived in the vicinity (that is, if the Hennings, with their six children, decided to stay) there were about sixteen teenagers. These adolescents were employed for one purpose. When the snow came—and the snow always did come—it was their job to keep the road to the mountain pass cleared, so the town deputy could drive his truck up the quarter mile to his lovely home.

He was the richest man in town. Unfortunately, his name was Baron Quigley. But he didn’t act like a baron. He was a pretty nice guy for someone who had too much when everybody else had too little.

Quigley paid this army of teenagers a dime a day each, to shovel out the road to his home after the snowstorms. A dime had become a lot of money since the Great Depression had spread all across the United States.

Joni once asked, tongue-in-cheek, “So, what makes this depression so great?” (People either didn’t get her humor or decided to ignore it. She never tried it again.)

It was 1934, and it was Monday, December 10th. Fifteen days ‘til Christmas.

Joni’s two constant companions were Cummings Johns and Darson Shakers. In a more civilized world, the two old fellows would be classified as ne’er-do-wells, but in Sinsear, they had both found their place. Cummings called himself a “moving mechanic,” and Darson was dubbed “The Gatherer.”

Cummings got his name because he came around to fix things, and as long as you gave him some food and permission to sleep in the warmth of your premises, he was happy to be of service. The same thing was true of Darson, whose title, “Gatherer,” referred to him pulling a small trailer in which he collected the community garbage. (No one knew where Darson took it. Most folks were afraid to ask.)

Joni had it figured that she was better off than most of the other people who lived in the U.S. After all, there was plenty of deer, moose and bear to shoot and drag home for food, lots of snow to keep things cold and tons of wood for a fire, to warm you up at the end of the day.

It was more than enough to survive—and when survival was the name of the game, wise people didn’t sit around and discuss improvement.

So it was a little surprising when a salesman appeared in the settlement, advertising the new “golden potatoes” from Boise, Idaho. He touted that these spuds were twice the size of the normal variety and he whispered to Baron Quigley and several of the men who had gathered at the cabin that “word had that the Simplot Potato Company had secretly inserted into fifty random potatoes one ounce of pure gold per each tuber.”

The sales fellow made the men swear that they would not say anything about it, but the men quickly broke their word, sharing it throughout the entire camp. For the first time in a long time, the gathering of human souls in Sinsear was buzzing with excitement. “Just think of it—a potato with gold in it! A Golden Potato!”

Matter of fact, that’s what they decided to call it.

And the sales rep had even more good news. In an attempt to help out during the Great Depression, the Simplot Potato Growers had cut their price. You could now get five pounds of potatoes for three cents.

Everybody had one thing on their mind: how do we get more potatoes?

The Golden Potatoes would obviously make a great side for the moose steaks and the braised venison—so it wasn’t like they weren’t gonna get used.

So everybody gathered all their pennies and wrote a letter to Simplot Potato Company, requesting a shipment.

Joni didn’t want to get left out, but she wanted to make sure her potatoes were separate from those of the rest of the order, so as not to get things confused when she found gold in one of the potatoes.

One ounce of gold was enough money to last the average person for nearly two years. How wonderful it would be to not have to shovel snow through a pair of winters!

Joni asked Darson and Cummings how she might be able to order her potatoes and keep them separate from the ones being delivered to the camp by the company.

“I don’t know,” said Darson curtly.

That’s the way Darson was. He began every conversation like he was ready to spit into the snow. Then he began to sweeten up as he talked.

Cummings was a little bit nicer—he actually did the opposite of Darson. He started off talking reasonably nice, and by the end turned as sour as a pickle.

Joni had learned to ask most of her questions when the pair of gents landed about in the middle.

Cummings objected. “Why do you want to separate off your potatoes from the others? What a selfish thing to do. You mean if you find gold in your potato, you’re not gonna share it with me, after all I’ve done for you?”

Darson interrupted. “What have you done for her?”

Cummings was offended. “What do you mean, what have I done for her? The little bother-bug is an orphan and I’ve never made her feel like she’s not wanted even though her parents left and haven’t come back.”

Darson shook his head. “Isn’t that what you just did?”

Cummings scratched his beard. “She knows what I mean.” He looked at Joni. “Don’t you?”

Joni smiled, shook her head and returned to her question. “How can I keep my potatoes separate from the mass of potatoes?”

Cummings suddenly had an idea. “Well, I suppose you could order them later than the others. Then they would come separate—but also, you’d be waiting and maybe the shipment that came to the town folk would be filled with gold and you’d be left out.”

Joni did not like that at all.

Darson spoke up again. “Can we all agree that potatoes without gold in them taste mighty good and are well worth purchasing, especially if you can get some of that good white gravy on ’em?”

Cummings’ eyes sparkled. “I do love me some gravy,” he said. “Gravy is God’s way of apologizing for tasteless food.”

“Amen,” said Darson, staying sweet a little longer than normal.

Joni was still not satisfied. “I make a dime every time it snows,” she said. “Now, figure this out with me. If I took that whole dime, I could buy me about fifteen pounds of potatoes.”

Cummings vigorously shook his head. “I don’t like math problems. I never learned no arithmetic.”

Darson jumped in with his agreement. “I’m with you there, brother. I’ve lived a long time, and honest to God, nothin’ adds up.”

The two men laughed like they were drunk. (Joni knew this because she had seen them that way many times.)

Convinced there was no more need to consult her two companions, she went off by herself to dream about Po-Tay-Gold.

She liked the name. It sounded promising. And since it was almost Christmas, she wanted a few moments of privacy to think about it. So she went to her cot in the back of the cabin and lay down as darkness began to fall, finishing the day.

She fell asleep.

Joni had a dream. It was more than a dream. It was like this really nice-lookin’ young man was standing in front of her, talking right into her face. All he said was, “You’re going to win the gold.”

Joni woke up so thrilled that she wanted to run and find Darson, or Cummings, or anybody, and tell them that God had spoken, and her prosperity was on the way. But it was already dark—not safe to be running around looking for people since it was that time of night when the creatures of the forest ruled over the prairie.

As she lay on her cot, nearly sleepless for most of the night, she decided it was actually a good idea not to say anything about her dream, except maybe to Darson. Well, Cummings, too. Wouldn’t want to leave him out. Maybe she could tell some of the kids while they were shoveling snow. She’d have to be careful. She wouldn’t want an old-fashioned, jealous spirit to fall on her and have people dislike her because she’d been favored.

While Joni lay sleepless, the heavens opened and dumped eight inches of snow all over the world around her. The only problem was, it was the wet kind, not the powder. Wet was more difficult to shovel—made her legs ache and her back creak. But she knew at the end of the day, she’d have her ten cents to order fifteen pounds of potatoes.

Much to her surprise, the potato people from Idaho decided to ship a whole bunch of potatoes in the direction of Sinsear after they heard that their salesperson was received quite well by the folks. So it was only four days later—December 15th—that a big shipment came in on a huge truck.

There were so many potatoes that people could buy more than they’d even ordered.

Inspired, Joni did something she’d never done before. She asked one of the boys who was on the snow-plow team—who usually criticized her for being too slow—if she could borrow a dime from him. (For some reason, he always seemed to have a little more coinage than the rest of the kids.)

He asked what she’d give in return. Joni had no idea what to say. So the boy came right out and told her that if she’d give him a big kiss on the lips, he’d loan her the dime.

Joni had never even thought about kissing. Just like wearing a dress seemed foreign, kissing seemed to be something done on another planet. She always wore Levi’s and her bulky wool sweater. They certainly didn’t make her attractive—at least she didn’t think so. Nobody had ever called her cute, pretty or even reasonably acceptable. Now this boy was willing to use her lips for collateral.

She was ready to say no when he leaned in and grabbed him a kiss anyway. Joni was shocked—offended. Her head was spinning. She wanted to curse but didn’t know the words. The boy just laughed at her, handed over the dime, and said, “You pay me back within two weeks or I get me another one of those.”

She stood, staring at him as he stomped away, giggling. What had just happened?

Yet, she was so proud of herself for being willing to sacrifice for her Po-Tay-Gold that she ran to the truck, which was surrounded by locals. She bought fifteen pounds of potatoes—almost so heavy that she couldn’t carry them. She took them back to her cot in the cabin, found an old knife that the Baron used to whittle wood, and started cutting them open.

She was about nine potatoes in when Darson stuck his head in the door, saw what she was doing and exclaimed, “What in the name of Geronimo’s bones are you doin’, girl?”

Joni didn’t even look up. She just responded, “I’m lookin’ for gold.”

Darson laughed. “But what are you gonna do with the potatoes when you’re done?”

Joni looked down at the carved potatoes and said, “I’ll offer ’em to all the folks and we’ll have a big potato bake.”

Darson nodded approvingly. “That’s good thinkin’. I’ll pass the word.”

By dinnertime Joni had cut open all of her potatoes. There was no gold. She had thought one of them might have gold in it, so she called Cummings in to confirm whether it was gold or not—since she didn’t know what gold looked like. But this particular potato felt moister. But Cummings explained that it was just rotten and seeping out some pukey juice.

Joni had carefully picked it up and threw it to the side, continuing her labor. So much carving, so much hope. No gold.

Matter of fact, other people from Sinsear had spent their early afternoon into the evening doing their own potato inspection. No one found gold.

People were a little bit fussy, but after a fire was built and a rack was constructed for roasting, and when the eating began, people cheered up a little.

Joni was concerned. She realized she couldn’t give up. That angel boy in her vision had told her she was gonna get gold. Why would God tell her a lie? And if He wasn’t a liar, then out there, waiting, was her gold.

After the great potato bake, Joni was ready to head for the cabin. She told Cummings, “I’m gonna keep looking for my Po-Tay-Gold. It’s here. Do you believe with me?”

Cummings didn’t know what to say, but nodded, so Joni ran with all her might to her bed, hoping for a sleep that would give her enough energy to plow the road to buy more potatoes.

Cummings came back to the fire. Darson was sittin’ there, chomping on a particularly well-cooked, yellow potato. Cummings said, “Joni’s bound and determined to find one of those fifty golden potatoes.”

Darson turned and looked at Cummings. “What?” he inquired.

Cummings replied, “You know—she wants to get money—gold.”

Darson laughed and laughed. He laughed so long that Cummings was almost ready to punch him in the snout. Finally calming down, he put his arm around Cummings’ shoulder and said, “Listen, my friend. You do understand, there is no gold in any of the potatoes.”

Cummings jerked back, shocked. “But the salesman told us there were fifty potatoes sent out with gold in them.”

Darson patted Cummings on the leg. “Now, just stop and think about it. How would they get gold inside a potato? They couldn’t cut it open. They couldn’t squeeze it in.”

Cummings looked at him, alarmed. “Are you sayin’ there’s no gold in any of the potatoes?”

Darson shook his head. “Not a nickel.”

“Then they lied?” Cummings shouted, surprised.

Darson hushed him. “Don’t be shoutin’.”

Cummings said, “But we gotta tell people.”

Darson shook his head. “Now, why would we do that? There’s no harm in buyin’ potatoes. They’ll get et. But there is plenty of harm in destroying hope just so you can be right.”

Cummings was mad. “Well, what about Joni? You know we love her.”

Darson frowned. “Well, I certainly feel somethin’ about her. I’m certainly devoted. Yeah, I guess I do love her.”

Cummings said, “Well, what should we do about her?”

Darson took a deep breath. “I wouldn’t do anything. Look at it this way, Cummings. She’s sixteen years old. She’s a girl living in the wilderness. She has to act like a boy, or she’ll be worthless. What should we tell her?”

Cummings stood up and excused himself. He was upset—so upset that he couldn’t sleep. In the middle of the night, he got an idea. When he had graduated from high school many, many years before, somebody had given him a brand-new silver dollar.

So Cummings grabbed a potato and very carefully slit open the side, and with the skill of a craftsman, he found a way to slide the silver dollar into the center of the potato. Then, to keep the slit from being noticeable, he took a little bit of glue from his workbench and smeared it to cover up the incision.

He was so proud of his effort.

The next morning, he told Joni he had found a potato that had apparently fallen out of her stack when she was carrying them in. He handed it to her, who sprouted a dark cloud of disbelief. Cummings encouraged her to cut open this potato.

She did.

There, at the center, was that beautiful, shiny silver dollar.

Joni was thrilled. She jumped up and down, clapped her hands, and started to head out to tell the people in the community. Then she changed her mind, turned back to Cummings and said, “Can you believe this?”

He shook his head, feeling proud that he had come up with such a magnificent idea, to satisfy Joni’s desire.

Before he could speak, as she jumped up and down, Joni exclaimed, “Now, I can order me about one ton—two thousand pounds—of potatoes! I oughta find the gold with that many, don’t you think?”

Cummings didn’t know what to say. It didn’t make any difference, because Joni had already run out the door, with plans for figuring out how to place her huge order.

Cummings stood to his feet, feeling it was his responsibility to track her down and tell her he had placed the silver dollar into the potato. Matter of fact, he was halfway down the street when he stopped in the middle of the road and peered up at the sun, thinking.

If he told her, it could break her heart.

If he didn’t tell her, it could also break her heart.

The only difference was that if he told her now, her heart would be broken immediately. If he waited, she would have a little big longer to be thrilled.

He turned and walked down the street to repair a busted pump. He would remain silent.

For the truth of the matter is, our visions will continue to be dreams as long as we keep believing in them.

Not Long Tales … December 3rd, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

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17.

The Man Who Would Be…

Santa Claus.

A complicated simplification.

For he is a homebody with a flair for adventure and a generous soul with a mission to “nice up the naughty.”

A lowly toymaker with a vision for all the children of the world.

Reginald Carlson was a fan of Santa Claus. He was obsessed with the good saint from the North. It was usually the second thing he shared with any person he met, right after saying, “Fine. How are you?”

For twenty years, Reggie (as they called him at work) found his station in life in the backroom of the local post office, sorting letters that he hoped found correct destinations. But all day long, he would share, with whomever would listen, whatever he had recently learned about Father Christmas.

He studied books.

He read all the legends.

He had over two thousand pictures of Old Saint Nick in his personal possession.

For Reggie, rather than reaching an age when he ceased to believe in Santa Claus, not only continued to keep his faith in the icon but developed a hero worship—an everlasting sensation of sympathetic connection.

He wanted to be Santa Claus. There were three problems:

First, Reggie couldn’t get any skinnier if he were to fast for ten days. No, not an ounce of fat on Mr. Carlson’s frame.

He was also not bestowed with hundreds and hundreds of elfin assistants to aid him in his quest to bring a toy and joy to every girl and boy.

And finally, the traditional marshmallow-white skin envisioned for the toy-giver—well, Reggie’s was a bit more toasted.

But in the midst of one of his musings about trying to do something to become more “Clausian,” he came up with his idea:

North Poling.

It was a rather plain concept. Reggie envisioned selecting twenty small towns in his home state and finding a group of grown-ups in each locale who would become Santa Claus to their community by taking all the families in their little village who were unable to provide a solid Christmas for their children—and not only provide the toys and extras, but deliver them, wearing costumes, on Christmas Eve.

Reggie was so excited he could barely contain himself.

He shared the dream with everyone he knew, and though it seemed a bit farfetched to them, it had a bit of sparkle and nobility, which made each one promise to support and even participate.

Counting his hometown of Baskerville, Missouri, Reggie lined up twelve other communities within a hundred-mile radius and started writing letters. City councils, mayors, preachers, store owners…

He contacted charities and pursued government grants to procure the money for the yuletide venture.

Word of his efforts spread quickly, and some pictures of the first fruits of his gathering in Baskerville even went viral on the Internet.

He received an invitation from the television show, “Invest or Bust.” The program featured entrepreneurs with reasonable ideas, who presented their plans, trying to get money for their causes from the star of the show, who dubbed himself “Snarky.”

Snarky was hard to convince. He was prideful, cynical and had left many people in tears, walking away feeling foolish for having uttered their visions.

Things were going so well with North Poling and there was such a great level of intrigue that when Reggie received the invitation from “Invest or Bust,” he was reluctant to appear. But everybody circled around him, hounding him, for a whole week, until he nodded his head, called back on the phone and set a date for taping.

Meanwhile, Reggie had no illusions of grandeur. He didn’t need some billionaire from New York City to feed his hopes with cash. He kept promoting. He kept sharing. He kept believing and even started his initial planning.

By the time he headed off to tape “Invest or Bust,” there were ten communities which had agreed to be part of North Poling, with over a hundred volunteers. He was ecstatic. His faith in becoming Santa Claus was materializing right before his eyes.

So he took the trip to New York more or less as a lark. He imagined himself being the bearer of great news and receiving—well, overall, a vote of confidence.

But when the show was taped, Snarky, being particularly surly that night, attacked Reggie for his presumption, explaining that it was not only foolish and a waste of time and money, but that in a sense he was discouraging poor people from improving their situation. Reggie tried to defend himself, but Snarky kept up his attack, viciously snarling rebukes and repudiation.

At length, Reggie explained that he wasn’t looking for any money and really didn’t need Snarky’s approval. In doing so, he feared that he had come off angry and defensive.

Reggie was so disappointed with his appearance on “Invest or Bust” that he took an early flight home, only to discover that apparently the whole world had been watching.

The phone started ringing.

One after another, the small towns that had signed up for the project pulled out, stating that they lacked the money or some other lame excuse.

Snarky’s prophesy about the adventure being doomed was being fulfilled.

There seemed to be no encouragement coming in from the appearance in New York except one tailor from Los Angeles, who donated a red and white pinstripe Santa suit for Reggie to wear. When the garment arrived three days later, Reggie looked at the beautiful costume with a deep sense of futility. All that was left was Baskerville, which had shrunk to a staff of only five—to deliver toys to thirty-two households.

Then a sneaky, sinister statement began to circle through the community.

Reggie was trying to make money off the idea.

One of the volunteers asked him why he had so much money in his checking account. Reggie was shocked. How did this fellow know how much money he had bank? It was outlined to Reggie that “someone knew someone” who worked at the bank.

Reggie explained that he had no place to put the donation money that was coming in, or the few grants that had been afforded his way.

But it didn’t really matter what story he offered. The five Baskerville volunteers were really just looking for a reason to escape. They all deserted.

It was three days before Christmas, and all through the town, all the creatures were stirring, but no support was around.

Reggie was depressed. His wife and oldest son had cautiously stepped away. Oh, they still spoke their support, but whenever he brought up new ideas or asked if they would help him find more volunteers, they gently changed the subject.

The question hanging in the air all over Baskerville was:

What is Reggie going to do on Christmas Eve with what he’s begun if he has no one to help him. What will become of the money? What will happen with the toys? What will he do with the huge truck he rented for the evening?

The answer was simple: Reggie had no idea.

By five o’clock Christmas Eve afternoon, he sat alone in a rented warehouse, staring at presents which were already wrapped—with no place to go.

He was alone. Darkness was falling. The warehouse was chilly, with shadows were lingering across the walls. Reggie sat on a big box containing five bicycles—and started to cry.

After about a half an hour, weary of his own tears, he spoke aloud.

“I am not a religious man. I have nothing against God (if You’re listening). I just don’t like church—sitting for so long and ending up doing nothing. I don’t get it. I mean, if there is anything supernatural—if there is a spirit that causes Santa Claus to be real, why in the hell didn’t it show up? Is it because of me? Am I so stinky and dumb and meaningless that the idea has to wait for a better person to carry it? What did I do wrong?”

He continued. “Was it prideful for me to go to New York? Why couldn’t North Poling work? Even if it is a dumb idea, other dumb ideas work. Putting cinnamon on cereal kind of worked. I think it’s stupid, but it’s still out there. They messed up Coca Cola for a while, but people are still drinking Coke. And even when we have really bad politicians, no one gives up on the government. What happened?”

All at once Reggie raised his voice with a mighty thunder. “What in the hell happened?”

He heard a sound behind him and whirled around.

Standing there was Kathy Gillespie. She was one of the teenagers from the high school—a cheerleader. Reggie knew her because the school often sent her down to the post office to pick up specific packages that the principal wanted as soon as possible.

There she was, standing in the darkened room, frightened and shivering. Reggie foolishly stepped toward her. She jerked back, terrified. “I’m sorry,” she said sheepishly. “I didn’t know you were crazy.”

She burst into tears, turned on her heel and ran out of the warehouse. Reggie thought about chasing her but the image of a grown man tracking down a teenage girl in the night didn’t seem very promising. So instead, the middle-aged post office laborer loaded a few things into the truck, not certain what he would do once everything was in place. All he knew was that he needed to make a go of it.

And if he couldn’t finish it, he still needed to begin.

The truck was nearly loaded. He stepped out and walked down the ramp, and there before him was Kathy again—but this time, she had brought seven teenage boys and five teenage girls with her. Standing alongside them were what appeared to be six younger brothers and three little sisters.

Reggie didn’t know whether to defend his angry speech to Kathy or to simply allow her to share why she had returned. Was she going to try to get him in trouble? Had she brought friends to make fun of him?

Kathy, sensing his nervousness, spoke up. “I’m sorry I bothered you the first time,” she said sweetly. “I ran away because—well, because you seemed kinda nuts.”

One of the boys laughed but then covered his mouth. Reggie was about ready to speak when the girl continued. “The reason we came was that all of us here—felt that you got treated, well…you got treated…”

The biggest boy of the group jumped in. “Like shit,” he said in a basal tone. This caused everybody to laugh. Reggie even chuckled through his depression.

“Well, anyway,” said Kathy, “we thought it was terrible. I mean, all you wanted was to be Santa Claus to a bunch of kids who need one. If we’re gonna wait for answers to fly out of the sky, then a lot of people are going to go without.”

Reggie’s eyes filled with tears. He was sensing that something beautiful was about to happen. He needed to just be still.

Kathy, who apparently had been assigned as a spokesperson, went on. “Well, anyway, there’s only…”

She looked around at the gathered friends. “…about a dozen of us. Maybe more. But we’ve come out—by the way, with our parents’ permission…”

More laughter.

Kathy cleared her throat. “We’ve come out to help you deliver all the stuff in your truck.”

Reggie was beside himself with joy.

It wasn’t the army of toy givers he had envisioned.

It wasn’t the march of twelve communities in unison, providing for the needs of the less fortunate.

It was not the triumph of his childhood dream to become Santa Claus.

But it was something. It was something good.

Maybe the towns should have done better. Maybe Snarky could have been kinder. Maybe…

But this Christmas, it would be the children doing the leading.

It would be those who were young caring for their young friends who didn’t have enough.

There was something heavenly about it.

It took the better part of the night. Some households were happy to see the truck arrive. Others felt put out because of the lateness of the hour.

It didn’t matter.

At exactly 4:02 A. M., they delivered the final wrapped present—this one was for the McCaultry children.

They were done.

Reggie put all his helpers, his elfin assistants, into the back of the truck and drove to a restaurant about ten miles away and treated the whole entourage to breakfast.

Stories, laughter, tears, jubilance.

The owner of the restaurant was so impressed by what this quickly-put-together committee had accomplished that he gave them their morning eats for free. Reggie was speechless.

In its simplicity, North Poling worked.

Maybe trying to do something big was the opposite of Santa Claus.

Maybe trying to get the whole world involved and failing was why we needed a Santa Claus in the first place.

When Reggie arrived back at the warehouse and parked the truck, the kids all got out, hugged, and then turned to head home.

Reggie watched them walk away. They probably always had been good kids—but now they were good kids who had done something good.

Reggie learned a lot that Christmas.

Mainly, Reggie learned that being Santa is a hard row to ho-ho-ho.

 

 

Not Long Tales … November 26th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

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16.

Falling Leaves

Clouds are just water vapor. They have no lining—certainly not a silver one.

This is probably the first thing any villager from Blanchport, Pennsylvania learns growing up near the West Virginia border, where eking out a surviving wage without hating your work is considered heaven.

Murtrand Gillogly was only seventeen years old when she met Benson. He was tall, muscular and worked in the coal mines, so had a little extra money—more than the average boy walking the streets or plowing the fields.

She fell in love. Well, at least enough to give herself over to him in the cab of his Ford pickup truck. They had only consummated their confirmation on three occasions when Murtrand found out that she had missed her time.

Not knowing what to do, she finally decided to go to the town doctor. “Murty,” he said. (That’s what all the locals called her.) “Murty, I want to tell you something real simple. You’re pregnant.” He peered at her. “I imagine that’s not good news for you, so I will grant you the privacy of keeping my mouth shut until you want to yap about it.”

The young girl was terrified but had enough sense to confess to her parents, her preacher and a few close friends. They all did the wrong thing—what often happens in small towns with small minds.

They condemned her.

It became especially problematic when after three-and-a-half months, the hospital, twenty-five miles away, confirmed that she was carrying twins. Benson, her boyfriend and baby-maker, had decided to hang around—until he received this latest news. There was something about two babies popping out that scared the living shit out of him.

He explained that because there was so much expense that needed to be covered, he was going on a “miracle journey.” That’s what he called it–a “miracle journey” to Las Vegas–to win enough money to take care of the family, for now and all time. Murty was suspicious—but still moved that he had the desire to be a breadwinner, even if the crumbs came from the gambling tables. She sweetly kissed him on the lips and promised to remain true.

That was the last time she ever saw him.

Six months later, by the ordination of nature and sheer will and purpose of the human body, Murty gave birth to two boys. Feeling particularly traditional and proud of herself, she decided to name one Clarence and one Cameron.

Concerning the community, no support and no real sense of acceptance came her way throughout the first part of the twins’ growing up time. For in Blanchport, Pennsylvania, once you sin, it’s not forgiven unless God shows up and does it Himself.

And He doesn’t come around very often.

So Murty did a little waitressing, telemarketing and even pumped gas down at the local convenience store, to keep shoes on four small feet and grits in three bellies.

She loved her boys.

She was really proud of Clarence. When he was only seven years old, he walked by the town bank and noticed that somebody had dropped a hundred-dollar bill. His first instinct was a good one. He took it inside and presented it to the bank president (or some fellow wearing a tie) and explained that he had found it just outside the door, so figured it might belong to somebody inside.

The banker patted him on the head, told him he was a good little gent, and said they would advertise, letting people know the money had been discovered.  But he added that if it wasn’t retrieved in the next thirty days, little Clarence could keep it.

He had a terrible time sleeping. He even picked himself up a giveaway calendar from down at the drug store and started marking off the days. The whole town was rooting for him. Matter of fact, he acquired a nickname. Instead of Clarence, they started calling him “C-note.” He liked it, even though he didn’t know what it meant. But when they explained that a hundred-dollar bill was called a C-note, he was flattered and overjoyed.

It was the twenty-ninth day of waiting to find out about the prize money when the banker called Clarence to his office. The little boy sat down, anticipating his hundred dollars—ready to scream just as loud as he could.

The banker smiled, cleared his throat and said, “Young man, I want to tell you how admirable it is that you brought the money in when you found it. Some boys would have run off to the candy store or hid it in a jar in the back yard. Unfortunately, I’m sorry to report that as it turns out, after the books have been budgeted and calculated, that hundred dollars belongs to the bank.”

Clarence cried. He tried not to do so. He tried to keep what the preacher always called a “stiff upper lip,” but even though his lips seemed quite all right, his eyes were pouring.

The banker came from behind his desk, put an arm around the boy and said, “Now, now. Don’t you cry. Because we at the bank have decided to give you five dollars as a finders fee.”

Now, it wasn’t much money. Certainly not a hundred. But it seemed to be enough encouragement to turn off the water faucets in his eyes.

He ran out of the bank with his five-dollar bill and down the street. He bought something for his brother, Cameron, something for his mother and something for himself. They had a wonderful night together, celebrating their sudden wealth and how much they loved each other.

Only one problem arose from the situation: Cameron was pissed off that he didn’t have a nickname, too. After much deliberation and even a little bit of prayer, he decided that from that point on, he wanted to be known as Camo.

It didn’t have any meaning. Yet from that moment, the twins became known as C-note and Camo.

Their eighth year looked similar to their ninth. And the tenth year was marked by a brief visit to some friends in Harrisburg.

They went to school, they wore the clothes provided, they smiled at the right adults and when those grown-ups weren’t looking, they had their fun.

One of their favorite pastimes was climbing an old mulberry tree down by the railroad tracks. It was a huge one—about eight enormous branches going up to the sky. Each boy marked his courage by how high he was willing to go on the branches leading to heaven.

C-note had made it to the third branch. Camo was still sitting on the second one, mustering up the courage to shimmy up the tree.

One day, they foolishly invited their mother out to watch them climb. She was terrified. She almost forbade them to do it anymore, but after much pleading she made a compromise. “You can climb that, but no higher than that third branch,” she said, pointing it out to them. She made them point it out, too, so there wouldn’t be any misunderstanding.

But it is truly amazing how quickly a mother’s advice evaporates in the heat and enthusiasm of a climb.

On the Monday morning before Thanksgiving, C-note decided it was time to go to Level 4. Camo was scared—shaking like a leaf.

C-note mocked him for his cowardice. “If you’re gonna be a big boy, you’ve gotta do big things,” he said.

Having never reached for the fourth branch, knowing nothing about it, C-note was unaware that the fourth branch was broken. And even though he was a young boy, his weight was still enough that when he grabbed on, a big piece of branch broke off in his hands and he fell to the Earth. The fall seemed to last forever, as he stared up into the top of the tree and the world began to spin.

All at once he landed—flat on his back.

He waited for the pain. He was surprised he was still awake. Suddenly his ears opened, and he could hear Camo screaming. And then, the sounds of one, two, five, maybe ten people running in his direction. He was so scared he pooped his pants. Now he was dying and going to stink.

Something odd, though, was that he didn’t feel damaged. He didn’t think he was dead. And when the people began to gather around him, he could make out faces, which meant his brain was still working.

It took about five minutes, but the doctor arrived, and with the assistance of a couple other men and one woman, they moved him gently, and the doctor checked him over for broken bones, cuts, bruises—and found nothing.

Camo explained that C-note had fallen from the fourth branch, which was about twenty feet up in the air. Then one of the observers looked down, pointed, and said, “Look! That’s what saved you.”

C-note, now fully conscious and aware of what was going on, turned around and saw a mashed wild turkey, which had broken his fall—but had also broken its neck. It was lying on the ground, looking like…well, looking like an eighty-five-pound twelve-year-old boy had fallen twenty feet from the sky on top of it. The bird did not fare well.

C-note was pronounced sound of body.

The turkey was dead on arrival.

Everybody laughed, then cried. And then, when it occurred to them that they had experienced a bona fide miracle of supernatural intervention, they sat down under the tree and got real quiet. Here’s what they thought.

“How did a turkey end up at exactly that place at exactly that time, when a little boy was falling from the sky, unless God Himself plucked it from the woods and placed it there, granting it final purpose? And we all know–this is one of the more noble ways a turkey can die.”

C-note was mystified and angered by the whole situation. He shouldn’t have been climbing the tree—not that fourth branch. Why did a turkey have to die because he was disobedient? And why was God going around asking turkeys to help dumb little boys?

It just didn’t make sense.

By this time the city newspaper—even though Blanchport was not a city—had sent a photographer to the scene. As they carefully removed the carcass of the sacrificial fowl, the photographer asked if C-note would be willing to kind of “re-enact” what happened.

He shook his head. “I ain’t climbin’ that dumb tree and falling again just so you can get a picture.”

The photographer patted him on the shoulder. “No, no. I just want you to sprawl out on the ground there and pretend you’ve got a turkey under your back.”

C-note squinted. Mrs. Marlins stepped in and explained what the photographer was trying to communicate in more kid-like language. So C-note spread himself out like he’d just fallen from the tree. The newsman took two shots, which appeared in the newspaper three days later.

In the meantime it was the talk of the town—no, much more than that. It was the only thing anybody could think about.

The preacher down at the Pentecostal Church was certain it was a sign from God that little Clarence was a prophet.

Some of the more sensitive folks who dressed up their dogs in costumes—that type—had a memorial service for the turkey.

And speaking of the turkey, something had to be done with it. It was suggested that it would be wonderful to pluck the bird, dress it and give it to Murty and her little family for Thanksgiving.

The grocer threw in some ‘taters, snap green beans, gravy and miscellaneous sweets to complete the deal. It was so thrilling.

The television station in Pittsburgh contacted the mayor and asked if they could bring in a camera crew to do an interview with C-note about the whole magical turkey event. (Although it never happened because some other more important news came along to delay them, the town felt important, always knowing they had been considered.)

It did nothing to calm the heart and soul-searching of Clarence.

He asked advice from his schoolteacher. Her words were, “Be grateful.”

He asked the oldest lady in the community—who everybody called Aunt Rachel—what she thought he should feel and do about the dead creature. She closed her eyes, looked like she was praying for a moment, and then said to C-note, “I just talked to the turkey in heaven…and he forgives you.”

Unimpressed with her response, C-note went to Deacon Connelly, who did a lot of hunting and had shot a turkey or two in his time. C-note wanted to discuss his feelings, but Deacon Connelly was so impressed with the fact that it was a clean kill and there was no need to remove buckshot from the carcass that he chattered away, unaware of the boy’s turmoil.

On his way home from Deacon Connelly, C-note ran across the drifter referred to as “the town drunk.” C-note was pretty sure his name was Mandrake. Mandrake was a nice enough fellow when he was sober, which was so in infrequent that nobody thought of him as a nice fellow.

But on this day, he’d only had a little bit of the juice. When C-note called to him, he answered, “Boy! I got a new name for you. They oughta call you ‘Fallin’ Leaves.’”

C-note was confused. He wanted to ignore Mandrake, but he kept going. “You see what I mean?” asked Mandrake. “You got yourself a dead turkey. You know why?”

C-note shrugged.

The drunk continued. “You have a dead turkey because that’s what your fallingleaves.”

Mandrake burst into laughter. C-note was not amused, even though he kind of understood the joke. It just seemed improper to be laughing so near the demise of his savior.

His brain popped up the word “savior” without him even thinking about it. It wasn’t like C-note thought the turkey was Jesus Christ. And even though Jesus might be saving his soul from hell, the turkey kept him from getting’ there.

It left him cold, a little frightened and humble.

When he got home and saw that his savior had been plucked, oiled and was heading for the oven, he burst into tears again.

Camo screamed at him. “Godammit, would you stop cryin’? Mama might decide not to cook it.”

His mother tried to comfort Clarence, but he just could not wrap his mind around eating his savior. He didn’t think he could even watch other people devour his protector.

About four hours later, Mama came into the room and found him in a fitful sleep. She gently woke him up, whispering, “Dinner’s ready.”

He just shook his head. He didn’t know what to say.

She hugged him real tight—the way mothers are supposed to do in those situations. He was expecting sympathy, but instead, he got the razor of her truth.

“There’s two things I want you to understand, Clarence.” (She had never gotten used to calling him C-note.) “The first thing I want you to understand is that in five minutes we’re gonna walk out of this room and gorge ourselves on turkey and fixings before it gets cold. I will not hear any more nonsense about trying to preserve a bird that’s already gobbled its way to glory.”

She paused, eyes glittering. “And the second thing is, you can honor this bird by learning from it. As you eat this meal that we did not expect to have, you can speak to the meat provided and say, ‘Thanks for catching me. I’m sorry it cost you your life. No disrespect, but may I say, you sure do taste good.’”

C-note didn’t want to listen to his mother’s counsel, but memories of the yardstick she kept in the closet and occasionally applied to his backside made him more pliable.

For the rest of his life, he never ate a turkey dinner without thinking about the one that rescued his life. The one that kept him going. And whether it was a miracle or not, the intervention was sweet.

For every creature on Earth will eventually experience a falling…

And only time will tell what it leaves.

Not Long Tales … November 19th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4233)

15.

Shears

Ronald tiptoed along the narrow aisle of his thirteen-hundred-and-fifty-square-foot establishment, quietly making his way to the door, opening it slowly, slipping outside, and closing it, holding his breath.

Even though he was the owner and manager of his own location, he was trying to avoid his cashier, Michelle, seeing him leave, once again giving him her pesky sermon on the dangers of cigarette smoking.

Because that’s where he was headed.

Once or twice a day, he escaped, turned left, walked about twenty paces, just beyond the corner of Main and High, sat down on the curb and smoked some Chesterfields.

It was usually never more than one or two. Every once in a while, four or five—but had never exceeded a pack. It all depended on his mood.

And today Ronald was not very happy. He was thirty-nine years old and no one knew it was his birthday, so he had too much time on his hands. He was plagued by his own thoughts.

When he first moved to the little town of Cadbury, Ohio, a village about forty minutes from downtown Columbus, he had envisioned starting a bustling enterprise that would include shirts, some shoes, dresses, underwear, socks—everything a local citizen might need to quickly acquire when the long drive to Newton’s was not practical. Newton’s was the huge conglomerate that carried everything imaginable, which usually meant that his tiny facility was ignored if gasoline was available and scheduling permitted for the drive.

He originally named his location “The Cadbury Emporium,” but quickly realized that the people of the town didn’t care for their name—Cadbury—since most folks associated it with the chocolate-covered Easter Bunny. And also, no one seemed to know what an emporium was.

So after a year-and-a-half of trying to explain, he settled on “Shears Department Store”—Shears being his last name.

He was proud of what he had accomplished—happy for the two or three customers that came through his doors each and every day (mostly to eyeball the latest goods or chew the fat for a few minutes). Actually, the business barely earned enough money to sustain his rent, utilities, a wage for Michelle and his living expenses.

But it was a needful, occasionally pleasant, distraction.

He once had threatened to leave town, and more than a dozen folks came to protest outside his building, demanding that he stay. It was one of the best days of his life. After all, everybody wants to be wanted.

There were also great moments.

There was the time that one of the girls from the local high school needed a dress for homecoming, and everything at Newton’s was too expensive, so she and her mother came in, found what she needed—and Ronald even offered to tailor the dress to her liking and add a few more bows.

There was also a young fat boy who lived down the road who came in at least once a week to eyeball a pair of Beatle Boots that had been around for years—size twelve. Ronald felt bad for the chubby fellow, knowing that his bloated feet would never fit inside, but was still always willing to stop and chat with him—both about the shoes and favorite songs from the Fab Four.

Next door to him was the Village Eats—that’s what they called it—the local restaurant. Cater-cornered from him, going down High Street, was a little market that made delicious ham loaves, another little clothing store geared specifically to women over the age of seventy, a laundromat, an old-time drug store still making malts, the town bar and, on the far end, the local newspaper—The Cadbury News.

Ronald had memories in all the locations.

Now, on this day of his birth, Ronald sat on his curb, smoked and thought about where he was, who he was and what he wanted.

He wanted a woman. At least he thought so.

He had never really dated, but he liked women. At least he thought so.

But with a name like Ronald Shears, it was difficult to draw the immediate attention of any female. He had considered becoming “Ron,” but he just wasn’t the kind of guy you went and had a beer with. “Ronnie” was out of the question—there was nothing cute about him.

He turned his head and looked to the left, down High Street, to a small white-frame building—the office of Dr. Raswell.

Ronald envied the good doctor. The man was one of those fellows who was so handsome that other men admired him. Slender but not skinny. Not too tall but certainly closer to six than five feet. Brown, wavy hair with just a touch of gold near the crown. And he always looked like he had a tan. Even in the dead of winter, Dr. Raswell looked like he had just come from the beach.

And the women flocked from everywhere, saith the Lord.

It really was rather suspicious. There was no plague loose in the community, so it was doubtful that all the ladies were sick at one time. There were rumors aplenty about what happened in his examination rooms, but nothing had ever been confirmed and nobody was telling.

Ronald kind of hated him. Hate is just what envy does when it can’t find a way to compete.

Ronald breathed in a ragged breath. He still had his business and his Chesterfields. He liked smoking. He loved the way the first few puffs burned the inside of his mouth with a delightful, aching throb which gradually, as he smoked more and more, gave him a numb, kindly peacefulness, making his head spin.

He sat, continuing his thinking and smoking, when suddenly, unexpectedly, his feelings switched to guilt. It often happened to him.

Living in a small town, there was so much shit that had to be ignored that if you took too much time smoking too many cigarettes on the curb, you started recalling all the vicious things going on around you.

For instance, right above the Village Eats was an apartment. Matter of fact, the staircase that walked up to the location was right next to Shears’ back wall, where he kept his limited inventory. So when tenants bound up the stairs, it always sounded like he was right next to a bowling alley. It often felt that way, because all of the people who rented that apartment were young couples just out of high school or just beginning their lives together after college.

It had always been that way and would always be that way—because Ronald knew why these young people were selected to live in the apartment, even though their credit history and work records were often questionable.

The apartment was co-owned by Officer Dunworth, one of the two policemen who served the town, and Mack Jones, who advertised himself as a real estate agent, though nobody had actually ever seen him sell a property.

About a month earlier, Ronald decided to toddle down to the community tavern and see if he could blend in and consume a couple of mixed drinks. While he was standing there, Officer Dunworth, who was off-duty, and Mack Jones were perched not more than five feet from him. They were chattering away, laughing. It was just the three of them—the bartender had slipped away to use the facilities.

Ronald listened to them talking. When they realized he was eavesdropping, they invited him into the conversation. Well inebriated, their lips were loose.

Mack put his arm around Ronald, which surprisingly, gave the store owner quite a thrill. It was exciting to be appreciated. It was nourishing to be included. With a slurred lip, Mack explained what he and Dunworth had been talking about.

“You see, what we do,” he said slowly, “we take that apartment up above the restaurant, and we find young couples who are so grateful for a chance to start out, that they don’t have any questions. Then we have them sign a contract. You know—a lease. But there’s nothing standard about it. We charge them a decent rent, but we ask them for first and last month, and a $250 non-refundable cleaning deposit. Written into the lease—of course, at the very bottom…”

Mack turned and punched Officer Dunworth in the arm, and the two burst into laughter. The officer was so close to Ronald’s face that he sniffed the Jack Daniels. Dunworth added, “At the way, way, way, way bottom.”

More laughter. Mack took a breath to let the laughter die down and then continued. “Well, as I said, at the bottom of the lease we have a stipulation. If they decide to leave the apartment—for whatever reason—before their one-year lease is up, they will owe us for the entire three hundred and sixty-five days—twice over.”

Ronald didn’t understand. It seemed quite unfair. But still, not worthy of all the giddy reflection the two fellows were mustering.

Officer Dunworth, seeing that Ronald didn’t get it, said, “Aw. He forgot to mention. After they’ve been there about a month and a half, we sneak in and release cockroaches and mice.”

“Well,” said Mack. “This scares the hell out of the kids.”

More hilarity. Mack took a deep breath and a long drink of his whiskey, and punctuated, “So scared that they want to leave. Especially the little wife is ready to jump out of her skin. But meanwhile, when they start complaining about these roaches and rats, we once again go in to inspect, and kill the little mothers. But the wifey is so frightened she sees them in her head and is convinced they are still there. The punks demand to be let off their lease…”

Officer Dunworth jumped in. “And you know what, Ronald? We refuse.”

Mack interrupted. “So they cry and cry and cry. And we just keep pointing at that lease. And finally, when they’re just about ready to take us to court, we step in and tell ’em that they don’t have to pay twice the amount on the rent. Just one year’s worth of money will settle their debt.”

Dunworth sneaked in with an additional thought. “And they are so grateful for our courtesy…”

Mack, suddenly tired of his own tale, slapped the bar and finished up. “And we walk out with a couple thousand dollars. If we do it three times a year, in no time at all, we’re pretty damn rich.”

Officer Dunworth gave his conclusion. “For Cadbury, Ohio we are.”

The two men laughed, staring at Ronald and wondering why he wasn’t joining into the chuckling. Ronald, fearing the two men might hurt him, managed a smile and the wiggle of a giggle.

Now, sitting out on the curb smoking his seventh Chesterfield, he felt ill. The young couple presently in the apartment were a pair of lovers who had been condemned by the community because they’d had a baby out of wedlock. You weren’t allowed to do that in Cadbury, Ohio.

Ronald thought it was fascinating that the grown-ups planned proms, homecomings and dances but didn’t expect any of the kids to ever screw.

But screw they do, he thought.

His name was Michael and she was Josephine, but they went by Mick and Jo. It frustrated him that these two young people were going to be ravaged by the pernicious plot. Of course, they would have to go to family for the money, and there would be so many strings attached that it could end up being ropes to hang them.

Smoking away, Ronald turned his head one more time toward the doctor’s office as the young medical Don Juan stepped out the door to welcome another woman for her checkup.

Not fair.

Ronald was thirty-nine years old and a virgin. He could barely say it to himself. He lit up another Chesterfield, realizing the time had passed and he had finished the pack. He didn’t care.

He probably should go up and see Mick and Jo and warn them about the scam.

He probably should try to start a life for himself, so that he wouldn’t feel emotionally flattened from just breathing.

He probably should sell his business, go out and try something else. But then he would lose the dozen supporters who begged him to stay.

He probably shouldn’t have smoked a whole pack of Chesterfields, because now he had a headache and was sick to his stomach.

Maybe some of Maryanne’s home-made chicken soup from the Village Eats would settle him.

He stood to his feet and walked slowly toward Shears Department Store.

What should he do? If he stood up to Officer Dunworth and Mack Jones, they certainly would get even. Maybe they’d spread more rumors about him.

He couldn’t handle the rumors. Last year, when people were talking about him being a queer, he made a scene at the post office, screaming at some ladies, insisting that he was “right in the head, and favored women.”

It was so ugly. As horrible as gossip was, trying to defend yourself against it was a monster.

He didn’t know what to do.

And that was the summation of his thirty-nine years.

There was the answer: not knowing what to do, he had continued to do what he felt was expected to be done.

As he neared the door of the department store which bore his name, Michelle stepped out and called, “Ronald, Margaret Jenner just called, and her husband needs a really good-looking black suit because his brother just died and they’re heading for the funeral.”

Ronald nodded his head.

Just what he needed. A wonderfully timed distraction.

His eyes brightened a bit and he told Michelle, “Tell Margaret to come on in, and I’ll fit Bob in one of our black suits.”

Michelle ran to make the call.

Ronald was just about to step into the store when he saw Mic and Jo arriving in their beat-up van. They got out, carrying groceries, and headed toward the stairs to their apartment. Seeing Ronald, they waved and shouted, “Nice to have you as a neighbor.”

Ronald waved back sadly.

Jo followed up with, “You should come up and see our place sometime. Anytime. You don’t even have to warn us.”

With this, the two disappeared up the stairs to their temporary home.

It was 1971.

Ronald was a businessman, thirty-nine years of age, living in Cadbury, Ohio.

The world was racing toward Sesame Street

And his little town was stuck in Howdy Doody.

 

 

Not Long Tales … November 12th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4226)

14.

The Big Morning

It seems that contemplation is often the worst treatment for concern. Maybe it’s because if an answer is so readily available through simply thinking, it should have popped up by now, offering itself as a possibility. Concern requires a certain amount of relaxation—usually impossible to attain because of the energy and frustration involved in lacking an answer.

All in all, he got up from his time of rest feeling pretty good. Actually, he was surprised at how relaxed he was, considering the day laid out before him.

He had made the request just a while back to have a private meeting with the boss, to discuss his future with the organization. What a bizarre phrasing.

Future with the organization.”

Didn’t it hold to reason that if your past was excellent and your present was fruitful, that your future should be budding? Yet there was some sort of nagging fear in him, that transitions were in the making, and he might be left out.

Silly as it sounded, he always found it reassuring to get a good shave to calm the nerves. One might think that shaving was a dangerous thing to do during a fit of anxiety, but actually, because it required such precision, it slowed things down and welcomed perspective.

It also immediately offered a much less complicated choice: “To cologne or not to cologne? That is the question.”

Considering the time of day and the purpose of his business, he decided that extra fragrance was unnecessary. Then, picking the appropriate clothing.

There was nothing quite as impressive as being well dressed. After all, it was the first thing people saw. And amazingly, upon leaving the room, the last image they had of you.

Coming and going.

Navy blue. A great color—not quite as somber as black, but exuding gravitas. Yet—on this day, he chose his smoke grey suit, with just a slight hint of pinstripe. A robin-egg blue dress shirt. And then the tie.

What tie? Stripes were too gaudy for the occasion. Matter of fact, designs of any kind might draw attention away from the maturity of the conversation. He decided on a royal blue. It looked beautiful with the suit. Just looking at it hanging there delighted his eyes and generated confidence.

He was dressed.

But he was not ready. Normally, “dressed and ready” go together, but sometimes it was a good idea to get dressed—to be in your uniform of choice, so that your thinking was freed up, to garner valuable inspiration while expelling nonsense.

What was the goal of this morning? What did he want to see happen?

He decided to follow the past, present and future format—that being, when he finally stood in front of his boss, he would present the quality of his past performance, which had already been proven out; the nature of the present work ethic, which was fluid and without interruption or regret; which would immediately open the door to the future.

And what did he want to clarify with his boss about the future?

Well, certainly he wanted to know if he was in the plan. He was curious about what his role and position might be. And he was notably worried about being ignored and abandoned from the planning, forbidden the opportunity to make the endeavors more fruitful.

He took a deep breath and thought to himself, “I’ve done well. I don’t want to be arrogant. I don’t want to have to tout my accomplishments. But I have done well. Does my boss know this? Does he care? Does he take it for granted?”

Sorting through the situation was good.

Past success.

Present flow.

Future placement.

Yes—that would be his format. He would go in with a mingling of gratitude, lifting up his productivity, while quietly and intuitively offering some suggestions on change. This was the chemistry of a good meeting—to be grateful for productivity while energized by the obvious need for change.

But what would his slogan be?

While he contemplated, he walked himself into the room, looking for something to eat. Nourishment was such a trickster. It was always comforting to snack, but too much food dulled the brain, preparing it for a nap instead of a conversation.

After much consideration, he realized the meeting would not take very long, and if it went as well as he expected, he could go out, pick up a late meal and celebrate the victory—no, no. Not the victory. The harvest of the big morning.

He needed a repeating phrase—yes, something to come back to as he talked about the past becoming the present and the present evolving to a more glorious future.

With this, he considered the nature of his boss. He had watched him fervently. After all, the boss was the one who held the keys to his future. He had found this individual to be generous but unrelenting. In other words, “All is well as long as all is done well.”

Yes—that certainly capsulized him. What would he want to hear? What should be the theme of this dialogue between the two of them, to determine the horizons of their relationship?

And then, like a light bulb, it went off inside his mind. Inspiration is often like a crack of thunder followed by a flash of light.

Yes. As he explained the past, the present and the future, he would punctuate each portion by returning to a simple phrase: “Sharing burden, sharing credit.”

Indeed. This was certainly something that would go along with the company plan.

He took a moment, since there was no need to chomp on a bagel or sip any coffee, to do a trial run on his little spiel, careful to keep it under five minutes. Anything that took more than five minutes became an ordeal to the ears instead of a pleasure to the soul.

The past, then the slogan. The present, the slogan again. The future, culminating with “sharing burden, sharing credit.”

Suddenly his spirit was buoyed by memories filling his head with accomplishments and successes. He had become one of the favorites in the company. Matter of fact, last year, when it was suggested that some music was in order for a celebration, the boss had asked him to step in and organize the whole event. He was astounded at how much talent there was and how absolutely terrific the musical program turned out to be. He had never viewed himself as a person familiar with notes, beat and harmony. That was why it was essential that he do good.

You see, when you do good at things you should do good in, there’s little reward. But when it turns out that you do well when no one knows of your talent, then you began to impress—perhaps even startle.

By the time he got done putting on the musical production, he had used so many staff members that it seemed like nearly half of them were on stage, performing for the other half. It was a beautiful corporate extravaganza.

All he wanted was more of that.

More responsibility, lending itself to excellent effort. And more respect, leading to even more involvement—to where finally, he could once and for all feel what he really wanted to sense from his boss.

Confidence. And out of that confidence could come more status.

He took a deep breath.

One more practice of the speech. Thankfulness, status, and simply asking the boss to back him up without hesitation, knowing that he could be counted on for good work at every turn.

Straightening his tie, deciding at the last moment to dribble a little cologne on to sweeten his fragrance, he headed off to the meeting.

He was expected. The boss was in and waiting. This was a good sign.

He felt something really strong stirring inside him. He stepped in and looked at his boss, sitting there with a little smile on his face. It was odd. A disconcerting smirk. It did not exude pleasure or approval, but rather, appeared to be a snarl of authority—a sneer establishing superiority.

All at once, all the preparation fell to the side. Worthless.

Why did it have to be this way? Why couldn’t quality be recognized? Why was there a need to diminish staff to maintain order? He was so angry.

Everything he had plotted, everything he had reasoned and everything he had wished evaporated.

Instead of feeling grateful and ready to discuss the future, he felt small and meaningless. In a fit of rage, he stepped forward, not more than four paces from the boss.

He stuck his finger out, nearly touching his nose, and screamed, “You think you are god! YOU THINK YOU’RE GOD. Well, listen. Move over. Make room. Because Lucifer is here to stay.”

 

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