Sit Down Comedy … February 7th, 2020

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Sit Down Comedy

It is so much easier to deal with humans if you treat them as if they were people instead of elevating them to the status of little gods or demeaning them as raging demons.

I can always tell when something is going to fail.

If it’s presented to mankind as too spiritual or too intellectual, it is doomed. People are not particularly spiritual and only use their more brain-oriented side when it’s absolutely necessary.

Let me explain it this way. If you’re going to tell any person about something, there are three immediate questions that come to his or her mind:

  1. Where is it?
  2. What is it like?
  3. Do you have a picture of it?

Please do not think I’m marginalizing the masses. I’m just saying that Joe Schmoe and Jane Doe are visual.

It doesn’t matter what the subject is. You could bring up unicorns.

Here come the questions.

“Where are they? “

“Well, uh, uh, ah…well, not in any particular place…”

“What are they like?”

They’re like…well, like a horse, with a horn in the middle of its head…”

“Do you have a picture?”

“By picture, do you mean photograph, or would you accept a third grader’s drawing?”

You see what I mean?

Now, it’s much simpler with some things.

Pizza, for instance.

“Where is it?”

“They make it at pizza places.”

“Ok—what is it like?”

“It’s got dough, sauce, cheese, and any topping you’d like.”

“Cool. Do you have a picture?”

“Yes. I actually do. We ordered a pizza last night, and it looked so delicious we took a picture of it and posted it on Instagram, trying to make our neighbors jealous.”

Now, if you’ve followed the premise so far, understand that if the answers to all three questions are reasonable, then what you have shared will be considered a reality.

But let’s say that two of the questions asked are answered well but one is not. In that case, most folks will consider it possible but not certain.

One question answered? Then unlikely.

Zero? We dub it stupid.

May I highlight this process with an example?

Santa Claus.

“Where is he?”

“Well…I know this is a little hard to believe but he’s at the North Pole.”

“So what is he like?”

“He’s fat, jolly and likes to give toys to all the girls and boys. He seems to rhyme all the time.”

“Okay. Do you have a picture?”

“Oh, yes. There are pictures, drawings, sketches—all over the place.”

Now you understand why Santa Claus still hangs around. To some people, he may be unlikely; to others, a great possibility—but he’s never stupid.

It’s the old principle of vaudeville:

  • See your audience
  • Know your audience.
  • Work your audience.

So whenever you’re trying to sell your ideas, please keep the three questions in mind—even if you’re talking about God. Because here comes the first question.

“Where is he?”

“Ah…umm…he’s somewhere in heaven.”

“Well, that’s not much help. What’s he like?”

“Some say mean. Others say violent. A whole bunch of people think he’s loving to most but pissed at others. And I think there’s even a religion that believes there’s a thousand gods.”

And the final question:

“Do you have a picture?”

“No, I don’t. Nobody does.”

This is why all of us sprout some doubt about the reality of God, and in moments of weakness, may think he’s unlikely, or even that the whole idea is stupid.

As with everything else on this journey, you have to decide if you’re going to be an asshole or humble.

An asshole is the person who demands that people believe things they don’t understand.

A humble person knows that he or she is also human, is fully aware of the three questions, and does his or her best to break new revelations down to simpler realizations.

 

 

Not Long Tales … January 28th, 2020

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25.

Did I Keep You Waiting?

by Jonathan Richard Cring

It’s not really the tears. Privacy can be found for them.

It’s more the sense of vacancy—the emptiness, like a deep, dark cave, where the growl of agony echoes against the walls.

Eleanor counted the days. Forty-three. It had been forty-three days since the death of her soul, Jack.

Although she tried to remember, all that came to her was a wave of hopelessness which drenched her, leaving behind nothing but angry frustration.

She could barely remember the circumstances. An accident. A sleepy truck driver.

Instantly dead.

That’s what they told her. It was supposed to comfort her—that at least, her Jack did not suffer. No, all the suffering was left for her.

Somehow or another, she’d expected more empathy. It had been little more than a month and people were already moving on—perhaps wondering when she would be able to “compartmentalize” her grief.

To push on.

Somehow, she survived the funeral. But continuing life after Jack was not something she had planned for nor could any preparation have left her understanding the sense of incompletion that swept over her entire being.

She spent her days staring at his last razor, rubbing her hands across the top of his deodorant, using his washcloth and never rinsing it out, peering at the six-pack of beer in the corner of the kitchen he hadn’t finished.

And mostly—yes, mostly—indulging herself in smelling everything he had touched and everything that had been his.

Everybody had called them “Jack and Eleanor—the perfect couple.”

But if a coupling is perfect, what does it become minus one of its links? Especially if that joining has been ripped away, leaving the devastation on the other.

There was no relief for her grief. She didn’t want any. Not only was she unwilling to move on but found the whole idea blasphemous to a divine union which had been squelched by the demon of chance.

At first, Eleanor feared sleep. For it was peppered with flashes of Jack—some distorted and many violent. But gradually, the dreams tempered. They became an aching journey through images—almost like a photo album.

They were visions of firsts: first meeting, first kiss, first lovemaking, first child.

Ah, yes. The children. There were two—much too young to be talking about their dad in the past tense. Eleanor needed to tend to them, like a shepherd to sheep, but she was frighteningly put off by their presence. They were the evidence of Jack and Eleanor’s love—and now that their love was gone, only the needy evidence remained.

She was ashamed. She wanted to criticize the kids for not caring enough about their father—simply because they no longer broke down at the sound of his name or the sight of his picture.

Then, in her dream life the photo album of memories changed. She was given sights she couldn’t remember. She recognized herself—the children, old friends, and even Jack—but she held no recollection of the event or the scene or the time.

And then, on Tuesday night, October 25th, she met a visitor. Yes, a new image appeared in her dreams—a man. Part American Indian, athletic, eyes like her mother’s and a tender voice, deep and basal, like warm maple syrup.

She had never been visited in a dream before. But the apparition spoke to her. “What if you’re wrong?” he asked.

It was a simple question. She was surprised that her dream self was offended, and immediately spat back, “I’m not wrong.”

“My name is Saralis,” he said, pointing to himself.

Eleanor didn’t care. It was a dream. She wasn’t really interested in carrying on a conversation with something that was not going to last. She had already committed to eternally being in love with Jack, only to have it snatched away after fifteen short years.

But Saralis continued. “Why are you so upset?”

“He is gone!” Eleanor screamed, feeling it completely unnecessary to explain who the “he” was. He was the only he she was interested in or would ever consider.

Saralis smiled. “Jack is not gone,” he said. “You are gone.”

Eleanor became immediately angry. Maybe it was the tone of voice, or the flippancy of the comment. It was rude. Meaningless statements uttered in dreams were not going to fill the hole in her soul.

Saralis, seeing her rage, continued, “If you can be calm, I will explain to you that Jack is alive and waiting.”

Eleanor laughed. She now understood. All her religious training, heavenly schooling and church foolishness was trying to take over and replace her vacuum.

Her laughter quickly turned to scorn. “I am not going to wait for heaven!” she snarled at Saralis. “I am not going to believe in something that isn’t nearly as promising as what I possessed with Jack.”

Saralis interrupted. “Nor would I ask you to. I would merely suggest that your ignorance keeps you from the truth that would free you of your obsession.”

“Jack is not my obsession,” Eleanor said. “He is my love. He and I shared a breath. We shared a purpose. We conformed to each other’s needs. We became gloriously ecstatic when we were able to meet them.”

Saralis walked across the dreamscape and sat down on what appeared to be a glowing pile of logs, prepared for him and his perch. “My dear,” he said, “you just don’t know where you are, so how could you be expected to know where to go? You are in the middle of a mortalation. And before you ask me what that is, let me tell you. A mortalation is when our dreams mercifully evolve into our reality, as God, in his grace and wisdom, grants us the blessing without us having to consciously struggle with the transformation.”

Eleanor was unimpressed. Saralis asked, “Did you understand anything I said?”

“Not a word,” snapped Eleanor, “because there was no sense in it. It’s the jumbled language people use to pretend they’re spiritual when they really have nothing to say.”

Saralis chuckled. “Yes,” he retorted. “It would be impossible to comprehend what I’m saying. But what I would like you to do is just listen to my voice. What I’m about to speak will be very familiar to you. Remain still. Don’t allow yourself to attack or be insulted. Just listen.”

As Saralis stopped, Eleanor took a breath to speak. Then Saralis began sharing again—louder. Maybe not louder, but it filled the space surrounding her.

“The first time I met her, I did not fall in love with her. But I liked her so much that I hoped I would have the good fortune to love her someday. I didn’t think my prospects were good, for she was much more lovely than I was handsome. Much smarter than I was intelligent. And so much better than my simple good.”

Eleanor held her breath, frozen, shocked. These were the exact words Jack had spoken at the altar so many years ago when they exchanged vows. Saralis continued.

“And then, one night, or one moment—just some speckle in time—she looked at me with a gleam in her eye that communicated that I had a chance. That’s all I needed—just an opportunity to try to convince her that her time would not be wasted on us blending our lives together.”

As Eleanor listened, the basal tones of Saralis melted away. It was an amazing evolution—like bitter salt turning into the sweetest sugar. Emerging through the voice of the apparition of her dream came the familiar, gentle and less assured sound of her beloved Jack.

“So,” he went on, “when she decided to let me touch her, kiss her—to unite with her, I was so fumbling bad. I thought she would surely think better of giving me another chance. But she not only gave me another chance, she told me I did well. That I made her happy, and that she, too, wanted to do it again and again and again, with only me.”

The voice began to lose its dreamy quality, sounding more normal. More human. More present.

“So that’s why I read this to you each and every day, with the hopes that one day you will remember when I said it the first time, at the church we chose because it was so pretty on the outside.”

The voice finished. Eleanor slowly opened her eyes, and with cloudy vision, saw the form of her lover and friend, Jack. She tried to move toward him—to put her arms around him, but she was much too weak. Apparently, the dream had drained her of all power.

Jack, looking into her open eyes and realizing she was moving, squeezed her hand and she weakly squeezed his. Without saying another word, Jack ran out of the room, and quickly returned with a man in a white coat, wearing a stethoscope.

Eleanor looked around the room and realized she was in a hospital. Her face was filled with distress, so the doctor firmly laid his hand on her shoulder, holding her down.

“Don’t move,” he said, with a convincing tone. “You’re fine. But I need to check you over.”

That he did, reviewing all her vital signs while Eleanor desperately looked past him at Jack, who was darting right and then left, attempting to maintain visual contact.

Eleanor opened her mouth to speak, but no words came forth. The doctor patted her on the head, took a washcloth lying nearby and soothed her brow.

“I need you to relax and be quiet,” he instructed. “I will explain everything to you soon.”

Eleanor looked at Jack. She hadn’t really taken in his entire appearance. He was much thinner than she remembered. His clothes looked cheap, like they had been purchased at Goodwill. And though she would never tell him and hurt his feelings, he had aged.

But obedient, and too exhausted to say a thing, she lay her head back and closed her eyes. The doctor slipped out of the room, motioning for Jack to follow him.

In the hallway, the doctor looked for a private area and finally ducked into an examination room. Jack was gleeful, grabbing the doctor and pulling him in close for a bullish embrace.

The doctor held up a hand. “We’re not out of the woods,” he said.

Jack interrupted. “I know, doc—but it’s been five years. I never thought I would even see her eyes light up again, or… I don’t know. I gave up on any progress. I spent all my money. The kids and I are back living with my parents. I finally found a job that would accept that I needed to be at the hospital four hours a day. But the money’s terrible!”

The doctor broke in. “I understand all of that, Jack. What I am telling you is, she has come from someplace we don’t understand, so her grasp of the place we’re in may be twisted…”

Jack frowned. “What do you mean by twisted?”

“I don’t know,” said the doctor. “We think we’re so smart, but the human brain is so much smarter. She’s back. But her story may be much different than yours.”

“You mean she may not know she was struck by an eighteen-wheeler and suffered a severe brain injury?” Jack asked.

The doctor chuckled. “No. She won’t know any of that, more than likely. But don’t be afraid of her story. Don’t be afraid of her telling.”

He put his hand on Jack’s shoulder. “The universe is so much larger than we are that her version may be the accurate one. We may be the ones having an illusion.”

Jack stared at him like he had sprouted a second head. The doctor smiled. “Don’t worry about it, Jack. It doesn’t matter who’s been waiting for who. All that matters is, somewhere in that darkness, you found each other.”

THE END

 

Not Long Tales … November 26th, 2019

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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.

3 Things … November 21st, 2019

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You Want to Hear God Say to You

 

1. “Thank you for noticing.”

 

2. “You make me laugh.”

 

3.  Your name.Donate Button

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation for this inspirational opportunity

Not Long Tales … September 17th, 2019

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6.

Walt

The name “Walter” was quickly selected by two frightened young folk, who found out that his had mixed with hers, to suddenly produce an us.

Walter was the name of the uncle who had purchased her a Volkswagen Beetle the summer before she headed off to college with aspirations of becoming a marine biologist. Instead, she ended up pregnant before the first semester was done. He and she decided that “Baby Three” deserved to have a Mom and Dad instead of a live-in boyfriend or a Baby Mama.

So Walter began his life with parents who worked two jobs while trying fervently to pursue college degrees. By the time he began school, he had already discovered that his name was different than most of the young kids who frequented his personal sandbox space. As his education began, the atmosphere of “Biancas, Brians, Alicias and Brocks” left very little air for a “Walter” to breathe.

Immediately, by consensus, the first-grade class unanimously agreed that Walter was a “stupid name.”

By the third grade they began to rhyme it: Falter, Halter (as in “one who halts”).

By the fifth grade, when he insisted they call him Walt, for some reason the class clown changed it to Wait. Yes—W-A-I-T.

Then, in the seventh grade, it became a joke, as people began to poke him with phrases like “losing Wait,” or “Wait a second.” Then there was “worth the Wait…”

Well, you get the idea.

By the time Walt graduated from high school and had finished his second year in college, he decided to spend a year traveling through Europe. There he discovered that the name Walter was not worthy of persecution, which caused him to yearn stay on the continent for the rest of his life. But instead, he returned home to finish his education, still socially stunted.

So much had he missed that by the time he was twenty-five years old, he had no driver’s license.

People found this odd, and often questioned him. “How did you get to be twenty-five and have no driver’s license?”

He tried several answers, searching for one that would satisfy the questioner but make him look as good as possible. He eventually landed on a pair of possible purposes:

  1. “I never had to drive anywhere.”
  2. “I didn’t want to get a driver’s license until I could buy my own car.”

Exactly nine days after his twenty-fifth birthday, Walt took the bus over to the local DMV to take his driver’s test. It was a Tuesday morning. (One might call it a beautiful Tuesday morning if one were not frightened to overuse the word “beautiful.”)

As Walt stepped into the DMV and glanced around, he surmised that there were about thirty-five people. Sure enough when he walked up to take a paper number—his place in line—it was 37.

Walt would wait.

In the midst of the sitting and trying to make a four-year-old magazine seem interesting, a young man burst through the door, walked immediately to the front desk and began to argue with the receptionist.

This would not have been horribly unusual, but it became louder and louder. Then they began to hit each other.

When a guy in a chair nearby stood to his feet, attempting to become the knight in shining armor to rescue the damsel in the dress, the shouting dude grabbed a letter opener on the counter and thrust it to the girl’s throat.

The room was suddenly chilled in a freeze frame. No one could breathe. No one could think. Speech was absent.

Walt, on the other hand, was pissed. Walt was done.

Maybe it was the countless years of criticism over his name. Perhaps it was regretting that he hadn’t stayed in France.

All he knew for sure was that he had come to the DMV to get his license, and godamn it, he was going to leave with permission from the State of South Dakota to drive a car.

He stood to his feet and began quickly walking toward the door, as if to leave.

“What the hell are you doing?” called out one of the astonished sitters.

The holder of the letter opener screamed at him. “You sit back down!”

Walt did not listen. He kept heading for the exit.

“Where are you going?” screeched the attacker.

And then, Walt stopped dead in his tracks, pivoted toward the accoster, and spoke calmly. “Well, it’s real simple. You see, there’s a gun store just two doors down. I’m gonna go and buy myself a pistol, get some bullets, and come back here and blow your ass away.”

“Quit it! Quit it! You’re gonna make him mad!” shivered a lady directly across from the action.

“I’ll kill’er! I’ll kill’er!” shouted the boyfriend.

Walt asked, “What’s your name?”

The young man paused for a moment, then said, “None of your business.”

Walt tilted his head back, examining the ceiling. “Okay. We’ll call you Angry Boyfriend, which is too long, so you’re just A. B.”

Completely baffled, the man slowly nodded his head as if approving the name selection.

Meanwhile, Walt turned to the girlfriend. “Now,” he said. “What’s your name?”

“Mandy,” the little lamb said sheepishly.

A. B. squeezed her neck tighter. “Don’t tell him your name!”

“Why not?” she said, mousy.

This completely stalled A. B., yet not wanting to appear indecisive, he recovered quickly. “Because then they’ll know!”

While A. B. was busy arguing with Mandy, Walt had turned back toward the door, walking again, ready to make his departure.

“Wait! Wait!” pleaded the angry boyfriend.

Walt giggled a little inside at hearing the word “wait.” Brought back some memories. Still, without turning back toward A. B., he said, “I’m sorry. I’ve gotta go get my gun.”

A. B., mustering as much macho-sinister tone as possible, spat, “But I’ll kill’er.”

Walt chuckled. Yes, he did. He turned around slowly, and said, “A. B., I don’t think so. You see, what you’ve got there in your hand is a letter opener—and by the way, I didn’t even know they made’em anymore. Who’s opening letters?”

Mandy piped up. “just every once in a while, it’s nice to have one around.”

A. B. shook her. “Shut up!”

Walt continued. “Well you see, back to what I was saying. What you have is a letter opener, which is supposed to be dull, so people don’t cut themselves and bleed all over their desks.”

A. B. glanced down at the letter opener and threatened, “I’ll make it cut.”

Walt laughed. “Well, if you want my opinion, and you want to come off as really dangerous, you better go ahead and test it. You know—find a place on her arm or her leg and see if you can even puncture the skin with it.”

From way across the room, a man’s voice objected. “Don’t give him ideas!”

A. B. thought for a second, ran his finger across the blade and had to agree—it was too dull to cut anything. He changed his strategy. “Then I’ll strangle her with my arm!”

Walt couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing. This caused the whole room to gasp, fearing he was going to taunt the boyfriend into mayhem.

“Come on, A. B.,” chided Walt. “By the time you tried to strangle her, three or four of us would be all over you.”

Suddenly, in the midst of the conversation, the front door burst open, breaking glass everywhere, and in came two policemen in full riot garb, each carrying a shotgun. Walt was barely able to jump out of the way and escape the spray of glass as it flew through the entranceway.

The policeman noticed Walt standing there and turned the shotgun in his direction. Nice and easy, Walt reached over, pushed it away and said, “No, no, no. It’s not me. It’s that guy over there with the letter opener, trying to decide if he wants to be the DMV Strangler.”

The policeman, confused, just peered at Walt.

The second cop spoke up. “What’s his name?” he said, shotgun pointed at the offender.

“Good question,” said Walt. “We’ve decided to call him A. B.”

“Abee?” challenged the cop. “Is he an Arab terrorist?”

Walt shook his head. “No, no. He’s a whole lot of fussin’ from ever creating terror.”

Walt again tried to leave, but all at once, A. B. beckoned to him from his unholy stance. “You stay! I can talk to you! Don’t go! I don’t know these cops—and they already got guns! All I’ve got is a…”

Walt turned around, stepped past the policeman and interrupted. “Yeah! All you got is a letter opener!”

The first policeman leaned in and whispered to Walt. “Would you mind staying? You seem to have a calming influence.”

Walt leaned back and glanced at him. The policeman repeated his request, much more loudly. “Would you stay? I’d like you to help us talk to this fellow.”

The whole room seemed to nod in mutual agreement. Walt was needed. Walt was valuable. Walt suddenly was worth the wait.

He smiled. Never before had he been honored or appreciated for anything. But now, Walt was not only the center of attention, but his abilities were required to diffuse the danger.

Walt nodded and slowly approached A. B., one foot at a time, as he spoke. “A. B., what you’ve got here is a situation where you’re in the middle of a fox hunt. You know much about fox hunts? If you don’t, in this fox hunt, y would be the dog. It works this way—when gentlemen go out on horses over there in England, and hunt for foxes, it’s the dog that does all the work. The dog gets dirty. It is the dog that crawls through holes, gets stuck by bramble bushes, and finally corners the fox, leaving it no place to go. And then the good men of the county show up with their guns and blow the furry creature away.”

Walt stopped his walking and looked squarely into A. B.’s eyes. He reached up and scratched his head. “Now, wait a second,” he said. “Maybe I’ve got this wrong. I mean, the story’s good. But maybe you’re not the dog. Maybe you’re the fox they’re gonna blow away. It’s just so hard to tell. You know what I mean, A. B.? But either way, if you’re not careful, you’re either gonna walk out of here completely as a stinkin’ dog—or a dead fox.”

A still fell over the room while A. B. considered his dilemma. Suddenly he let his arm fall to his side, as the letter opener fell from his hand to the ground. A. B. looked out across the room and spoke to the entire gathering. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was just trying to argue with my girlfriend.” He glanced over at Mandy. “My cheatin’ girlfriend.”

Mandy suddenly gained full voice. “I was not cheating!” she said indignantly. “You never gave me time to explain! The guy I was hugging was my older brother, who just came back from basic training. Support the troops, loser!”

A. B.’s mouth dropped open. He wanted to object, but realized her story was not only possible, but likely. He hung his head, then lifted his eyes. “Well,” he muttered, “it sure looked like cheatin’.”

At this point, the two policemen stepped over quickly, apprehended A. B. and cuffed him.

The whole roomful of DMV-waiters, greatly relieved, burst into applause. As they took the angry boyfriend (A. B.) away, and the traumatized girlfriend to the hospital, the people turned and stared at Walt.

Yes, Walter who didn’t falter.

He, on the other hand, realized it was an excellent moment to gain some turf. He held up his tiny piece of paper that read “37.”

He walked slowly around the room. Then, speaking with a firm and deliberate tone, said, “Listen,” he said. “I don’t know who has Number 1—but get this straight. Whoever you are, you’re trading with me.”

He looked around and concluded, “Today I’m going first.”

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Not Long Tales … September 10th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4163)

5.

Pocket Size

Carl couldn’t stop staring at the small, cherrywood box sitting at the front of the church. He was very still, except every once in a while he got nervous knees and started swinging his legs, which prompted his mother to give him a quick, gentle swat, as she whispered in his direction, “Don’t you be actin’ like some peckerwood.”

He did not know what she meant by that, but every time she warned him in her stern tone, which still contained just a hint of her Norwegian upbringing, he was quite certain that even though he was a young fella, subject to fits of boredom, he did not want to be classified as a peckerwood, which based upon his mother’s disgust, must absolutely be a forsaken doomed child.

Inside that cherrywood box which drew his attention was his classroom friend. Her name was Lydia. They had told Carl that she was dead, though no further details were offered. Yet just by sitting quietly and listening to the adults on the way to the funeral, he was able to learn that his friend, Lydia, had been murdered by some stranger and cut into pieces, leaving behind only her blood-soaked dress.

All these words were so cruel and foul that Carl was unable to find an image in his mind to match them.

The funeral pressed on. Song after song, speech after speech. Especially terrifying to his young heart was when he saw Lydia’s mother and father break down in tears, a howling so intense it left him shivering, his skin crawling.

So he was relieved when they left the church, got into the big, black car with four adults including his mother, and headed off to the gravesite, where there would be more songs, talking and tears. Carl felt a little bad because he was grateful for the distraction.

Recently his life at school had become nearly unbearable. Living in the rural regions of Minnesota and having the last name “Bunyan,” Carl was constantly teased by all the children, because unlike his mythical ancestor, Paul Bunyan, Carl was a boy who was very small, slight, quiet, shy and sheepish.

Although these words were associated with goodness, they were taunted as failure by the overwhelming bullies. Last week, desperate, Carl went to see his grandfather, Peter. Peter Bunyan. He explained the trouble he was having at school because he was a Bunyan but didn’t have a mighty axe and seemed to be unable to “drink an entire lake.”

His grandfather listened carefully, stroked the boy’s flyaway hair and said, “When these boys say their words, you think this to yourself. I want you to memorize it. You think, then speak: Not small, not tall, not loud, not proud, just a lad, so glad, no lies, pocket size.

Grandfather reached down and tickled his ribs to prompt a giggling closing. Then he continued, “You see, that’s what you are. You’re perfect. You’re pocket size. You can be tucked away and carried anywhere.”

Even though Carl was not greatly comforted by the counsel and the bullies were unimpressed by the little rhyme he shared, his tensions were relieved.

And then the whole school received the news that Lydia, who had been missing for a month, was dead.

Now, standing at the grave, next to the hole in the ground where the cherrywood box would be placed, he was suddenly shaken with fear and grief. Since nobody was paying much attention to him, he scooted away and walked through the cemetery, heading toward the northeast corner where the bigger and older monuments covered with moss stood, worn but tall.

As he walked among them, he paused in front of one that still had some bluish-gray stone shining through.

“Is that you, Thomas?”

The voice seemed to come from inside him—out through the top of his head and into the surrounding air. “What?” he asked, looking around in every direction for the source of the question.

“Is that you, little Thomas? You haven’t visited for so long.”

Carl held his breath. He stared at the gravesite and realized that the question was coming from within it. He couldn’t help it—he was so terrified he peed his pants. He leaped away and looked in every direction to see if there was anybody who might possibly have been addressing him.

Embarrassed by his action of urinating himself, he looked over at the surrounding grass, and noticed some dribble of his own pee on the blades. Fearing being caught and punished, he ran over, took his foot and covered up the droplets with some dirt. As he did, the voice spoke again.

“Thomas, why have you come to see me?”

It was too much. Carl turned and ran at breakneck speed, not stopping until he literally collided into his mother’s leg, almost knocking her over. Having a maternal sense beyond comprehension, she gave a sniff and inquired, “Did you wet yourself?”

Carl was astounded, but replied, “Maybe. But I don’t think so. Nah.”

When they got home, he scurried out of the car and into his room, where he immediately changed. Merely wearing underpants, he lay on his bed, thinking about what he had experienced.

He must have been dreaming. Yes, maybe he had dozed off looking at the stones. Still, there was a tug from the adventuresome part of him—which usually hid away out of propriety and for fear of criticism.

He came out to eat dinner and asked his parents when the sun would rise. They gave him a quizzical look but told him that according to the newspaper it was set to rise at six-thirty in the morning. He nodded. They waited for an explanation. Realizing he needed to come up with something, he continued nodding, and mustered, “Schoolwork.”

“But tomorrow is Saturday,” objected his father. “There’s no school.”

Nervously, Carl replied, “Yes. But there is a sunrise, right?”

Carl’s mother found this funny, laughed, and the subject disappeared into the air. But the next morning, shortly after dawn, Carl headed back toward the cemetery. He brought along a canteen, a couple of candy bars and one of the small kitchen knives, just in case he had to defend himself. Of course, if ghosts were talking to him, a knife probably wouldn’t be very helpful. But it could scare them away.

Arriving at the cemetery, a walk of about a mile-and-a-half, he made his way to the gravestone where he had heard the voice. He edged forward until he was standing directly in front of the stone.

“Is that you, Thomas?” came the voice again, sounding identical to the way it had the day before. Carl immediately had the urge to run, but tried hard to stand still, his knees knocking.

“Not many people visit. Thank you for coming,” the voice stated politely. He quickly backed away, moving to the left, and found himself in front of another stone.

“My wife is my problem,” spoke a different voice. Frightened, Carl quickly leaped back to his original position.

“Hello, again, Thomas! Did you forget something?”

Carl carefully stepped across the adjacent grave and perched in front of another stone, next to the complaining husband.

“Do you know my husband?” A woman’s voice. “He is a philanderer.”

Carl didn’t know what the word meant, but inched back to his right, facing the other grave.

“My wife is nothing but a nagging machine!” intoned the voice.

Carl smiled. He was standing in front of the graves of a husband and wife. He moved to his left.

“I didn’t want to be buried next to him,” said the wife, “but the plot had already been purchased.”

Carl stepped again to his right, in front of the husband’s plot.

“It was bad enough that I had to live with her. To have her as a next-door neighbor is completely intolerable.”

Carl was terrified—but entertained at the same time. He spent the next hour going from grave to grave, hearing pieces of conversation—mostly complaints.

He wondered if death was a place where people realized that their lives were over, but they still kept their sadness. He had not yet decided whether to talk back to the grave-speakers, so forming what he thought was a very good question, when he was in front of the lady’s grave, after he heard her latest complaint, he asked, “Why are you so unhappy? I thought heaven was a place of joy.”

There was a long pause. Maybe Carl was not allowed to offer a contribution to the conversation. Then the voice responded, speaking softly.

“Heaven is unimaginable,” came the answer. “It’s just that every once in a while, we have to come back here to remember our lives, feel again, and pray for others.”

Carl shook his head. It was all so bizarre.

He had heard of a word—they had just learned it in school. Hallucination. Maybe that was what was happening to him. With all the tension of being bullied at school and the death of his friend, maybe his mind was escaping reality by creating a new world, separate from the pain. At least, that’s what the definition in the schoolbook said.

He slipped away, careful not to disturb any more gravesites, or souls.

As he was leaving the cemetery, he remembered the grave of his friend. Young Lydia. He wondered if it was proper to bother her so soon after her passing. But his curiosity overtook him.

He eased up to her grave and stood right in front of the marker that had been left, preparing for the arrival of the stone.

Nothing but silence.

Wondering if the hallucination time was over, he stepped over to his right. There was a woman’s voice, explaining the pain she had tucked away during her life.

On the gravesite to the left of Lydia’s, there was a young man’s voice, apologizing for drinking and losing his life in a car wreck.

But whenever he stood in front of Lydia’s grave, there was only silence.

Something was wrong.

Carl walked to the edge of the cemetery. About to head to his house, he realized that the town was only about a half-mile away, so he walked, jogged and ended up running to the police station. He had no idea what he was going to say.

He walked through the door. The entire station turned to look at him. He felt surrounded, realizing there would be no way to explain what he wanted to say without appearing to be the “crazy boy,” a dumb kid pulling a crank, or worst of all, coming off like a peckerwood.

A woman detective stepped forward, sensing something amiss. She took little Carl into her office and sat him down. She bought him a root beer. He loved root beer. (Mostly it was the taste, but some of it was being able to say he was drinking a beer, even though it had a root, too.)

After several sips, he relaxed. She was so understanding that he spilled his whole story. The funeral, the gravesite and the voices. He even told her that he had wet his pants. He explained that he had come back this morning just to see if he was nutty—or maybe just to confirm that he was wacko.

She listened carefully, hanging on his every word. When he was finally done sharing, she leaned in close to his face—so near that he could smell the coffee on her breath. “You’ve just had a really, really bad week. What is your name?”

Carl swallowed hard, knowing that once he gave his name, he was opening the door to his parents finding out about his weird comings, and now, weird goings.

“Carl Bunyan,” he replied dutifully. But he could not silence himself. The sense of dread overtook him, so he continued. “I know my story sounds crazy, but what if I’m right? Would you really hate yourself, ma’am, if you helped out a little kid? Even if I’m wrong, you can always say, you know…that you’re a good police person.”

Carl could see that she was considering it. She chuckled to herself and asked, “Well, what do you want me to do?”

Carl said, “I’m telling you—Lydia is not in that grave.”

The policewoman sat back and heaved a sigh. “Of course not. They didn’t find her body. I don’t want to spook you, but we think she was chopped up by her killer, and her body parts thrown in with the hogs down at the Spencer farm.”

Carl grimaced, but after he thought for a moment, he replied, “No—I mean, you know what you’re talking about, but I still just don’t think she’s dead.”

These seemed to be the magic words—the needed phrase. The detective patted him on the head and said, “Now you’ve given me probable cause. It’s my duty to follow up on every lead.”

She asked Carl to stay in her office while she checked some things out. It didn’t take very long. About an hour-and-a-half later she returned and awoke him from one of those “do nothing, go to sleep” naps. She was shaking her head. Carl noticed that her hands were also shaking.

“Carl,” she said, “I need to tell you—we went to the mortuary to talk to the undertaker who buried Lydia. At first, he was hostile. Do you know what hostile means?”

Carl nodded.

“I was suspicious of why he was so hostile,” the detective went on, “so I pushed him, and when I told him I was thinking about digging up her body, he broke down and confessed. Now, here’s the story. Carl, Lydia’s parents ran out of money, so they decided to go over to Beckersville. That’s about thirty miles away. They found some people who owned a big farm and they sold the girl to these folks so she could work for them. They got twenty thousand dollars for her. Before they took her over there, they drew some blood from her, telling her that she was donating to the Red Cross. And they worked out a deal to give two thousand dollars to the undertaker to keep his mouth shut—and to bury just the dress they had stained with her blood. So you, sir—you were absolutely right. Lydia was not there, and now she’s headed back home, to be with her grandparents. And three very bad people are on their way to jail.”

“Peckerwoods,” said Carl.

The detective frowned but nodded her head. “Yeah,” she agreed. “I guess they’re peckerwoods.”

Although the authorities kept the story as quiet as possible, it was leaked, and young Carl became quite the hero. He never, ever went back to the cemetery. He took the deceased at their word. The folks there were busy with their concerns.

He went back to school, and the bullies left him alone. Maybe they were all a little afraid that Carl might bring a ghost down on their heads.

Carl didn’t care.

Carl wasn’t unhappy.

Carl didn’t need to be famous.

He had decided he enjoyed being pocket size.

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1 Thing You Can Do This Week (To Help Things Along)


Question Your Statement

 Undoubtedly the greatest need in our world is for some human beings to show up at the human race.

We seem to be populated by an Earth full of little tin gods who believe that once they have arrived at an opinion, their contention is supreme and should not be challenged.

People make statements:

  • “I believe in God.”
  • “I’m pro choice.”
  • “We need gun control.”
  • “The Second Amendment rules.”
  • “We should guard our borders.”
  • “We should open to other people.”
  • “Pour hot sauce on everything.”

These are statements. Other statements have been made throughout history—just as convincingly—and ended up being false.

  • “Black people are not as smart.”
  • “Jews are rats.”
  • “The Native Americans are savages.”
  • “The Earth is flat.”

All the people who spoke these statements were just as determined as you and me of their rightness.

If you’re going to contribute to the quality of human life, you must question your statement—and the question you should ask of any statement that you hold as a principle for your life is:

What if I’m Wrong?

“I believe in God…but what if there is no God?”

“I’m pro-choice…but what if it ends up being a human life instead of just a fetus?”

“I’m going to heaven…but what if I’m mistaken?”

The humility necessary to be a human being includes the need to question our statements. When we’re not willing to question our statements, we become fanatics for our ideas instead of being enthusiasts for the truth.

 

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