Not Long Tales … August 20th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4142)

Underneath

Lance sat quietly staring at his hands.

They didn’t seem small—at least, he didn’t think so. But the bully who lived seven houses down on the right-hand side had made fun of them yesterday, in front of four or five guys, and worse, two girls.

It wasn’t easy being eleven years old, anyway you looked at it. But being ridiculed for your little hands in front of friends was more than humiliating. It was debilitating and left no recourse. After all, you couldn’t scream, “My hands are big!”

But Lance had anyway. And when he objected, everyone laughed at him. Because tears that were lurking in his eyes suddenly avalanched down his cheeks.

Lance hated summer vacation. As bad as school was—and it certainly had some really stinky things about it—at least your day was filled, and you didn’t have to try and figure out a reason for getting up in the first place.

It was especially difficult because Lance had a mother who insisted he “go out and play with the other kids.” She didn’t understand that he had just been targeted for having tiny paws.

Yes—he felt like a puppy being mocked by the big hound. He was afraid to leave his doorstep.

There was one friend who never deserted him—what you might call the saving face. His name was Jallus. Lance’s mother always referred to him as “the black boy” and Jallus’ mother called Lance “the white boy.” Sometimes the two buddies joked with each other, calling each other “black boy and white boy,” just to get the giggling going. Of course, it was ridiculous. Lance was the color of dirty sand and Jallus looked like chocolate milk diluted by water.

But the two boys needed each other, because the bully also told Jallus that his hands were puny. They found comfort in each other’s company.

But during this particular summer, Lance had discovered an escape. He hadn’t told anyone, not even his buddy, Jallus. In the back of the house, just underneath the steps, there was a piece of white lattice covering up the crawl space. There were a couple of screws missing from the top—just enough that Lance could pull it back, squeeze through and climb in beneath the house.

When he first discovered it, he was scared. His mind went crazy thinking about what might be in that crawl space, lurking to harm him. A rat, a snake—and most certainly, any variety of bugs made their homes in the sludge.

Yet it was so peaceful in there—especially on hot days, it was just a little cooler, and on rainy days it stayed dry, but gave Lance a front row seat on the beauty of the pelting rain. He adored the place.

He cleared it out a little bit. There was some trash—discarded bags of cement and rocks getting in the way of affording him total space. He sat in there for hours at a time thinking about life, small hands and his daddy. Lance had never actually met the fellow. He had departed before Lance had a full brain for knowing. His mother told him that his daddy probably loved him, but lived far, far away, in Mississippi. It made it nearly impossible to come and visit.

One day when he was snooping through his mother’s closet, he found a picture stuck in a box—a fellow sitting on a motorcycle, wearing a cowboy hat. He assumed it was his daddy. Sitting behind him on the bike was probably his mother, back when she was a girl.

Seeing that motorcycle reminded Lance of the time his mother said that his father had sent a birthday present of a bicycle. It came in a big, huge cardboard box, but it wasn’t put together. Mama had tried really hard to get all the bolts in the right places, but it was never right. So it just sat in the garage in a heap. Every once in a while, Lance would pull out a piece or two and play with the back wheel for a while. The bicycle was so much like the rest of his life—everything seemed to be there, but nothing came together.

But when Lance went underneath the house into his chamber of privacy, it was a whole different situation. He took a flashlight with him so he could keep an eye on the surroundings, in case he was invaded by one of nature’s uglies. He also found an old canteen in the garage, which he cleaned and filled with Kool-Aid, to sip on as time passed by. The Kool-Aid was so refreshing that the next time he brought a plastic bag of Gummi-bears. Goldfish crackers and M & M’s. It was so peaceful and satisfying.

Lance never thought he’d ever want peace. Being a boy, he was rather fond of chaos. But occasionally, he needed to feel like feeling was okay and nobody was staring, wondering what he was doing.

Sometimes he would lie on his back and listen to the floorboards creak—Mama preparing dinner in the kitchen. Sometimes she would sing. It made him feel so good when he heard her sing. Other times, she just talked to herself. He couldn’t hear what she said but could tell from the tone that it came from an unhappy place.

Summer persisted, as the summer sun often does.

Then one night, right before bedtime, sirens went off from the nearby town. Mama was frightened. She explained to Lance that the sirens meant there was a tornado coming. It didn’t take very long before great winds began to sweep by their house, rattling the windows and striking terror into their souls.

The two of them lived in a very simple house. There was no upstairs, no basement. Just the one floor—and Mama had no idea what to do. She was looking for a safe place for them to hide from the danger, but she couldn’t move. Her head turned, her eyes peering in all directions, as if waiting for someone to give her instructions.

All of a sudden, she prayed—no, nearly screeched, “Oh, Jesus! Help us!” Just about that time, a tree blew over in the front yard and landed on the top of the house, mashing in the roof.

Lance looked at his mother. He knew two things—she wasn’t going to move, and Jesus wasn’t going to stop the storm.

He took his Mama by the hand and started to walk toward the back door. She wouldn’t come. He pulled a little harder, but she resisted. Then, as if inspired by forces far beyond his understanding, Lance decided to run out the back door, figuring that Mama just might follow, terrified that Lance would be swallowed by the big twister.

As he ran toward the door and opened it, the screen flew back, broke off and landed on the ground. He hurried down the steps and when he reached the landing, he looked back. Sure enough, there was his mama, faithful lady that she was, chasing him.

He slid around the steps and over to the lattice, pulling back as hard as he could, to make room for him and also his mother to get in. He climbed into his precious space. She trailed, peeking inside. “What are you doing?” she asked.

Lance realized there was no time to explain, so he whispered. “Trust me, Mama. Trust me.”

She stared at him for a moment, trying to make out his image in the darkened space, and then wiggled forward as he grabbed her hands and pulled her down to sit next to him. As soon as she was seated, they heard a cracking—breaking glass and horrible thumps coming from all directions. They sat in the dark, holding each other and breathing heavily, hoping…hoping there would be a life left for them, since they would still be living.

Then, as quickly as it began, it was over. There was just the sound of rain splashing against the broken lattice. Mama shivered. Both of them were afraid to move.

Lance thought his mom would eventually release her grip, but she stayed where she was, squeezing him. He could hear her heart pounding. Finally, after a few moments, she relaxed. Her arms came free, and she wrapped them around her knees. She took four, maybe five, deep breaths.

He watched her. Either there was more light or his eyes had adjusted, because he could see her face clearly. She looked like a little girl. After all, that’s what bad storms do—they turn us all into children.

He leaned over and stroked her hair. “Mama,” he said, “what do you think about my place? I call it ‘Underneath.’”

Her eyes filled with tears as she looked around with her limited view and managed, “I like what you’ve done with it.”

She started to move, as if she was going to head out of the protection. Lance grabbed her arm. “Let’s not,” he said. “There’s no need for us to find out anything right now. You see, if we don’t know, then we don’t know.”

He offered her a drink from the canteen and some Gummi-bears. She accepted, putting a Gummi in her mouth and then taking a swig from the canteen. She emitted a tiny giggle.

Lance reached over and grabbed her hand. “Mama, this is where I come to get away from all my storms.”

Her face brightened, with a glint of understanding. She scooted across on her bottom, pulled him close to her and hugged like she had never hugged before.

The two just stayed there, hugging, crying and breathing in unison…

Underneath.

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Untotaled: Stepping 29–(October 28th, 1966) Soaping… August 30, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog

(2337)

(Transcript)

Halloween always brought out the “ween” in me.

I was never particularly fond of monsters, and dressing up like Superman, with my chubby physique, was inevitably comical.

On top of that, my hometown called trick or treat “Beggars Night.” It made me feel like I was running through the streets of Calcutta with my gunny sack, bringing provision home to my family of untouchables.

I think the worst experience was when I was seven years old, decided I wanted to be Casper the Friendly Ghost, and my mother discovered they didn’t make the costume of the gregarious apparition in any size except medium. Needless to say, I wasn’t a size medium, and the manufacturers never envisioned a 142-pound seven-year-old. Yet I was insistent, so my mother took scissors and trimmed it up so I could slide it on, but as I walked from house to house, it continued to rip where the scissors began, transforming me from a friendly ghost into a “holey ghost.”

I was grateful when I outgrew the experience.

That is, until my friends decided they wanted to go out for Halloween–soaping. It was a common practice of the time. Bored teenagers took bars of soap, snuck around town smearing messages on the windows of cars and homes, giggling and feeling rebellious to their Midwestern in-house imprisonment.

Four of my friends decided to go on such an escapade and invited me, so we bicycled to a deserted garage just outside of town to practice before we went out on the actual adventure. We bought bars of Ivory Soap (simply because it was 99.44 % pure).

I was so nervous that I pushed too hard on the window pane at the warehouse and it broke. This concerned my fellow Musketeers, so they decided to uninvite me so as not to be deemed vandals in their pursuit of cautious rebellion.

So I sat at home on Halloween pouting. Not even seven Milky Way bars could alleviate my suffering.

The next morning I discovered that my friends got caught on their ninth house, and the constable levied a punishment by placing their pictures in the newspaper, and made them wash all the windows they had desecrated.

Honestly, I didn’t know whether I felt grateful for getting out of the retribution or a little sad because I wasn’t one of the cool guys who had a story to tell.

So I guess I need to close this off with some sort of moral. And that would be, there are just some things that go together:

  • Salt and pepper
  • Love and marriage
  • Congress and confusion
  • And soap and water.

So be prepared–if you’re going to use your bar of Ivory, you might want to be aware that you’ll probably end up … washing.

 

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A Great Reward … February 16, 2013

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Jillian MichaelsShe stomps around the room, panting and huffing, with fire in her eyes, screaming a tirade of disapproval to a collection of hand-selected American fatties, who haplessly receive her critical words, having no way of escape. She is muscular, slightly emaciated and totally bewildered by why these misfit souls can’t exercise their way to trimness and beauty.

“What’s wrong with you?” she bellows from the depths of her self-righteousness.

***

I looked forward to it every day.

When kindergarten was over, if I had been a good boy, my mother would drive me down to the Dairy Delight in Delaware, Ohio, and buy me two chicken sandwiches and a root beer freeze. It was so delicious–so reassuring. Sometimes during the morning hours, it was all I could think about while I organized my crayons and cut circles out of construction paper.

It was my reward–proof that I had done well. And I learned it excellently.

Like millions and millions of other people in this country, I was teased, taunted and tantalized with the reward of eateries and treats, to accentuate the possibility of my good grades and fruitful behavior.

“That’s right, Tommy. If you’re a good boy in the grocery store, Mommy will buy you a candy bar.”

As painful as it is for Tommy to maintain the vigil of purity, the prospect of a soft Milky Way candy bar melting in his mouth sustains him through the rigors of restraint.

“If you’re good, Jane, on the way back from dance class, we’ll stop and get ice cream at Baskin Robbins.”

Jane is willing to tolerate the ridiculous contortions of her instructor’s demands for the prospect of Rocky Road with a squirt of whipped cream.

It is the practice of this country to reward its children with naughty little pieces of caloric destruction when they have achieved success–and then we wonder why we grow up to be a nation full of bloated bodies, if not egos.

So some of these rewarded children discover they have slower metabolisms, or they even develop addictions to their rewards and treats, growing fatter than their neighbors. Then we wonder what’s wrong with them. What turmoil is churning in their souls which cause them to destroy their bodies with the poison of food?

We are absolutely insane. We have a First Lady who proclaims the excellence of good eating, while simultaneously living in a nation where food–dripping with grease, fat, sugar and salt–is touted as a confirmation of our prowess and pleasure.

If we actually are going to be healthier, we have to develop a better reward system. I know it torments me to this day. When I finish a show, I want my two chicken sandwiches and my root beer freeze from the Dairy Delight. “Jonathan has been a good boy.” I have colored within the lines. I put down the toilet seat so the little girls wouldn’t fall in at kindergarten. Where’s my treat?

Until we address this problem, we will manufacture a hypocrisy which is not only befuddling to the masses, but also offers little alternative for ever achieving a trimmed-down solution.

I don’t care what you do with your children, but food–especially those terrible morsels of treachery–can no longer be dangled as rewards for good performance.

How about developing “house bucks”–little dollar bills you print–as the reward for excellent work, which can be traded in for favors, opportunities and the ability to make decisions. In other words, you collect 25 house bucks and you get to select all the TV shows for one night. 50 gives you the chance to choose the dinner, as long as it includes all the necessary food groups. 100 house bucks–you get a bicycle, so you can ride around and exercise instead of sit around and eat fat.

Whatever our decision, we cannot punish our adult population, which is growing obese, because as children they were taught that they were good boys and girls, and confirmed to be so by chomping on caramel and cream.

When you remove the hypocrisy, what remains is your reality. As long as you’re not afraid of it, you gain power. We need to understand that food is not a reward–it is nourishment. The true reward in life is the opportunity to decide for yourself what you’re going to do … and to find a way to have fun doing it.

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