Untotaled: Stepping 40 (May 19th, 1967) Last Day of School ’67… November 15, 2014

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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(Transcript)

How does one describe the last day of school?

I suppose I could use the word “rapture” if it weren’t so entwined with the religious phenomenon.

I could use “orgasm” if it wasn’t so linked with what would be misconstrued by prudes.

So I guess the best word would be “carnivale.” Not that I’ve ever been to one–I’m just assuming the wild, abandoned glee over not having any more pressing responsibilities pushing in on you, realizing that there are a full eighty-eight days of summer ahead.

I never liked to be the first one to leave the school on the last day.

I liked to hang around for a few moments to walk the empty halls, with little clumps of dust still tumbling along, and discarded papers left to the discretion of the overworked janitor.

So by the time I headed home, everyone was pretty well gone, and it wasn’t until I got to my front door that I remembered I had forgotten to pick up an English book which my mother had insisted I bring home, because she had paid eleven and ninety-nine to purchase it because I had misplaced the provided copy.

So I had to weigh my options. My mom’s anger, or returning to the school I had just gloriously abandoned.

I walked back.

The door was still open and as I entered, there was an eerie sensation which crept down my spine at being in this empty edifice of learning, now so silent that you could hear the creaking hinges on the door.

I made my way down the hallway to Mr. Marshall’s English class, which also, miraculously, was still unlocked.

I crept through the door and walked to the storeroom where I knew he kept the books. I gently turned the knob, crossing the fingers of my other hand, hoping that it, too would be accessible. It was.

So I flung the door open in glee, only to discover that in the shadowy confines, not yet lit up by the overhead bulb, was Mr. Marshall, shirt unbuttoned, kissing Miss Crowley, the biology teacher, who had her top off, showing her “booba-toobas.”

(I developed the name “booba-toobas” in an attempt to be unique and humorous, and even though it was silly, I persisted in the terminology since a cheerleader once giggled upon hearing it.)

Honestly, in my entire life’s journey, I have never seen three people so frozen in time. Mr. Marshall, Miss Crowley, and dumb me, peering at one another.

No one knew what to do.

Finally, Miss Crowley grabbed her blouse to cover up her left “tooba” and said, “Jonathan, what are you doing here?”

I gasped, “I came to get my book.”

“You want a book?” she inquired.

Apparently my quest for knowledge was more surprising to her than being found in a closet with her paramour.

Mr. Marshall disconnected himself from the human apparatus, put his arm around me and walked from the room out into the hallway. He stood there looking at me for a long time. I wanted to say something but everything that popped to my mind seemed dangerous.

At length he sighed and said, “Well, Jonathan, we have a situation here.”

I nodded.

“Tell you what I’m going to do,” he continued. “I’m going to treat you like an adult. I’m gonna believe that you’re going to walk out of here with your book and never say another word about what you saw.”

Leaning in close to my face, he punctuated, “Because if you did, Miss Crowley and I would probably get in a helluva lot of trouble.”

I knew he meant what he said because no teacher would ever use the word “hell” in front of me unless he felt I was worthy to join him at the local bar for a drink.

All I said to him was, “I won’t.”

With this, I took flight out the door, running as fast as my fat legs would carry me.

I know he must have thought he was sunk, but on the way home I felt so grown-up.

I was trusted.

For the first time in my life, I was to be taken at my word without the threat of punishment.

And you know what?

I never did tell.

Even a month later, when my friends came over to sleep at the house and we watched “Chiller Theater” and everybody was getting real honest, I bit my lip and the side of my cheek, and stuffed a lot of pizza into my mouth to keep from blabbing.

When I returned to school that fall, Miss Crowley was gone and I heard she had gotten married over the summer–but not to Mr. Marshall.

The grown-up world is very confusing.

I never told anyone until this day, even though I have used memories of Miss Crowley’s “booba-toobas” to stimulate a few sessions in youthful lust.

 

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Messin’ With My Mess… January 2, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Christmas fam pic

  • Two filmmakers.
  • One aspiring dental hygienist.
  • Two people who own their own housecleaning business.
  • A great cinematographer.
  • Three sound technicians.
  • A drum-line instructor.
  • An ordained minister.
  • A guitar maker.
  • Five grandchildren.
  • An extraordinary musician.
  • A gamesman and blogger.
  • Food service.
  • National director of a beauty company.
  • An entrepreneur businesswoman.
  • An English teacher.
  • Two bass guitar players.
  • A studio producer.
  • A pair of young singers and actresses.
  • A retired administrative assistant.

Behold–a list of the doings of the family and friends pictured above, which happens to be the group of individuals with whom I shared Christmas cheer.

I was “Daddy” to some, “Pop” to others, “G-Pop” to a few, longtime friend, confidante, and now I am the aging patriarch who travels the country, cropping up every once in a while to remind them of their heritage.

As I sat in the midst of the photo session for the picture  you see today, I was thinking to myself, “What do I hope for these people?”

Is it realistic to dream that they might share my faith? Part of me wishes they would, because my substance of hope certainly conjures delightful, unseen evidence.

How about my politics? Well, since I feverishly and fervently avoid such foolishness, it might be difficult for them to pinpoint my leanings.

No, family is the great testing ground for us to realize that it is important to love people without ever thinking you’re going to control them. I really only hope that they maintain three cardinal principles:

  1. Love people.
  2. Like your work.
  3. Hate injustice.

Because without loving people, you have absolutely no chance of ever seeing God. And if you don’t like your work, it makes most of your day feel tedious. And if you don’t have the foresight to stand up against injustice, you will feel very silly and be proven wrong more often than not.

So take the picture. Preserve it for all time.

But hopefully when we stroll out of the room to our varied pursuits, we can remember that great trinity of responsibility.

 

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Click for details on the SpirTed 2014 presentation

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Please contact Jonathan’s agent, Jackie Barnett, at (615) 481-1474, for information about scheduling SpiriTed in 2014.

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Brother’s Keeper… October 24, 2012

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Live from October 1st filming

Mary and Russell had five children.

I was the fourth intrusion. I do not characterize myself in that way to be mean-spirited. No human being is good at parenting. Even Adam and Eve were not “Abel” and ended up raising “Cain.”

Here’s the problem: By the time we figure out babies, they become toddlers. We graduate that phase, and suddenly they’re children. Just when we grasp the concept of childhood, they escape into the great tunnel of adolescence. Some brave souls actually try to follow them into that cave–and are never heard of again. The intelligent ones stand on the outside of the deep, dark hole, pray, cross their fingers and wait for their dear offspring to emerge about eight or nine years later.

Feel free to purchase books on the subject of raising children–although some piously insist that the term should be “rearing.” Your little darlings will be more than happy to dash all theories and bring to rubble great plans for household advancement.

So it was no different with Mary and Russell. Their particular skills were stuck somewhere between the McGuffie Reader and Dr. Benjamin Spock, causing them in their confusion to be too mean when compassion was required and too gentle when my four brothers and myself were desperate for discipline.

The only regrettable conclusion of this situation is that the five brothers grew up not particularly fond of each other. We were too competitive. We were too self-involved. We were too much of everything that is associated with the word “too.”

My oldest brother passed away before he and I were able to make peace with each other. Sad.

The third son and I made a truce which lasted until the day he died.

My younger sibling expresses affection in my direction, which is never followed up with any connection.

But Brother Number Two has become my project over the past twenty years. He was an intelligent, promising student many years ago, who had a vision for becoming a high school English teacher extraordinaire. He pulled it off for many years, but in the mid-1980’s he had a nervous breakdown and has lived on disability ever since.

I have great devotion for him. You notice I am careful not to call it “love.” To me, “love” is reserved for those excellent earthly moments when true connection is made between souls and an unearthly understanding of the universe unfolds.

No, I am devoted to him. For twenty years I have written him. For twenty years, I have visited every chance I can–whenever I get within a hundred miles. And every week I also receive a letter from him, ranging in tone from the kindness of mundane to the anger and virulence of vicious.

I endure.

So imagine my mixed emotions this week when I arrived in Central Ohio knowing that I needed to see him, but realizing that there was a reluctance in my heart to be confronted–especially at this time in my journey–with such a malevolent presence. I always have to remind myself that he strikes out at the world around him because he feels struck. But it’s not very comforting in the moment.

So I made a plan to pick him up at 9:15 yesterday morning, confirmed it with him by phone, and drove into his driveway to discover that his entire front yard had been transformed into a giant garage sale, strewn with trash and old junk. I thought to myself that at least we had a good topic for opening conversation. As previously agreed, I tapped my horn to let him know of my arrival.

There was no response.

My present physical condition does not permit me to leap from the van and go to the door to pound upon it with urgency. So I waited five minutes and tapped my horn again. Nothing.

My mind flashed back to the last three times I tried to connect with this dear brother, and had been stood up by him with a nasty letter from him following, explaining that it was my fault that he didn’t appear because he knew deep in his heart that I don’t really care anything about him.

So I started to wonder how long I planned to stay in his driveway, tapping my horn, before leaving with the realization that once again I was to be viewed as the ugly girl at the junior prom.

Yet I persisted. After five horn beeps and twenty-five minutes, he appeared sleepily at the door and told me he would be right out. Ten minutes later, I was rewarded for my perseverance by the appearance of my brother at the side of my van, and we were off.

The next two hours that I spent with him are a study in human behavior and an exploration into the definitions of feeling helpless. For you see, the reason his front yard has been turned into a flea market is that he has allowed two vagabond young men to come in and live in his home, and they have completely taken over his abode, and are beginning to fight with him to such an extent that the police have actually had to be called to the scene.

I resisted running away in horror.

He explained to me that these same individuals have chased away his beloved cats, which are really his only family, leaving him without feline protection. One of these young intruders has also brought a homeless man into the house to stay, further complicating the chemistry brewing in the cauldron.

Then my brother explained to me that he is trying to evict one of the squatters, while said squatter is also taking him to court for reimbursement on construction supplies that the young fellow purchased to build in a living quarters–for himself–on the back porch. (Now, I realize that all of this is very confusing when written into a story form, but let me comfort you by telling you that it was no easier to understand in the original telling.)

My dear brother had no trouble whatsoever filling in 129 minutes of conversation on his own, only once asking about my doings, in passing. He has a life that is full … without having a full life.

You see, it’s what happens to all of us when we don’t decide the purpose for our breathing and moving; circumstance and crazy travelers can come in and fill in our empty space with their own trauma and terror.

This is why I pity grown people who make their children their lives. Your seed will be more than willing to destroy your garden of hopes. I am always careful to warn those who have retired to start a second career, finding a reason to get up in the morning. Otherwise, all of the insanity of the world will crash in on you, exhausting you with its nuttiness without ever granting you fruit.

My brother was exhausted but had nothing to show for it but sadness, exasperation, apprehension and defeat. They had broken his television set, taken his car and left him desolate. And because it appears that he has given these things over to them, it is impossible to prosecute the perpetrators.

I was so depleted. I remembered the lament of an exasperated brother from thousands of years ago: Am I my brother’s keeper?

It’s so easy to walk away from insanity and allow it to be turned over to the general asylum. You can disassociate yourself from it so easily, returning to your own peaceful ways.

But he is my brother. He would be my brother if we had not shared a common womb, because we share a common God.

I did my best to encourage. I did my best to bless. I did my best to promise him that I would return again very soon to renew our conversation. I did my best to give him some money so he could spend it on himself instead of squandering it on his emotional assailants.

I did my best not to cry.

Mary and Russell did their best, too. But like many of those born after the Garden, they grew some weeds. It is now the job of those stray children to find one another and make some sense of it all.

I am my brother’s keeper. It’s just that sometimes the most difficult part of caretaking … is cleaning up.

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