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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Not Long Tales … November 5th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4219)

13.

Turnkey Dinner

Melanie Shakeland was the mother of two intelligent, talented, precocious sons, Maxwell, thirteen, and Johnny, ten.

Unfortunately, the boys were also poverty stricken, since their mother had been out of work for thirty-five days, and all the remaining finance had been used up in the pursuit of living and breathing.

They lived in a two-bedroom apartment at the Bermuda Manors, Room 1211. There were about seventy units in the building, with people of all nationalities, all ages and certainly all dispositions.

Melanie had made her run through all the agencies, charities, churches and generous friends and relatives in McKendree, Michigan. There was no one left to tap—no one who hadn’t heard her story of difficulty and struggle.

She made a plan.

Sitting and talking candidly with her two sons as if the three of them were board members from a Fortune 500 company, she explained her scheme. She was going to go somewhere to get money to pay their rent on October 15th, take care of the utilities and leave behind enough money for the two industrious young men to survive on for eats and treats until she returned to them by November 15th—with a new job, a new city and a new home.

Maxwell and Johnny could barely contain themselves with joy. Although they liked the McKendree school system and had many friends, it was embarrassing to be considered the “poor boys” of the class. They believed in their mother—actually, they believed in their mother more than their mother believed in herself.

Melanie took a deep breath and visited one more person—a minister who was new in town at the Universalist Unitarian Church. He was a foreigner from someplace in the Mideast. He was called Tanzier. He refused to be called Reverend, Pastor or any title whatsoever. Tanzier listened carefully to Melanie’s plight, which by this time she had perfected to a sharp, pointed edge. After she was done, Melanie was shocked when the young Arab man agreed to give her money for her October rent, utilities and also extra for food and gasoline.

Melanie was so startled and breathless over the blessing that on the way home she picked up a five-dollar pizza so they could celebrate with the remaining root beer in their last bottle.

She explained the plan one more time. She would be gone for one month. They were to tell nobody that she was out of town. The boys were to keep to themselves.

She showed Maxwell her signature, making him practice it so he would be able to fake school permission slips. She also created a fictitious relative named Aunt Mindy to deter those who might be so nosy as to challenge the situation. Mindy would be staying with them while their mother was away on business.

Although Maxwell and Johnny were frightened and saddened by the absence of their mother for a month, they were determined to do their part to help the family remain a family—and hopefully, with some good luck, become an everlasting family.

On the morning of October 15th, Melanie, having paid the rent and secured the utilities, rose and shared some toast and jelly with the boys before kissing them on the forehead and lips. She handed them two fifty-dollar bills, and with tears in her eyes, said, “Make it last.” She headed out the door.

Time passed. There were many close calls—folks who felt it was needful to talk to Mother Melanie. But the promise of Aunt Mindy—the reassurance that she would get back to them as soon as she could, eventually caused all parties concerned to back away and leave well enough alone.

The hundred dollars Melanie left behind spent pretty well, but after all, the boys were only thirteen and ten, and had little experience with purchasing groceries. They went through half the money in the first week, buying things to eat from the closest convenience store.

November 15th came and went. There was no contact from Mother Melanie. The same was true the next day and the day after. Maxwell encouraged Johnny, and Johnny was attempting to be uplifted—to give Maxwell some peace of mind.

Before they knew it, here came Thanksgiving Day. All they had left was eight dollars and forty-one cents. They nearly got into a fight on Thanksgiving morning, over who had spent too much money on what, and why some particular candy bar should have been avoided.

Just when they were about to start scuffling, Johnny stopped, looked Maxwell in the eyes, and whispered, “I don’t want to fight with you. You’re all I’ve got.”

The two boys broke into tears, grateful they were alone and such an action couldn’t be mocked by their friends.

“What are we gonna do?” whimpered Johnny.

“About what?” asked Maxwell.

“Thanksgiving,” replied Johnny, with a crackle in his voice.

Maxwell smiled. “You know, my brother, I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve got a plan, if you’ll help me. At school the other day, I looked up on the Internet the ingredients used for a Thanksgiving dinner. I wrote them all down. So I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind going to apartments and asking people if you could borrow some of these simple ingredients, because your mom ran out, or forgot to get it at the store.”

Johnny interrupted, upset. “Maxwell! You can’t ask people for a turkey!”

Maxwell patted him on the shoulder. “No, no, of course not. You see, that’s the beauty of the plan. What you do is ask them for this easy, cheap thing, and then when they invite you in to get it, you stare at something from their table, or maybe from their kitchen they’re preparing, and then—if my thinking is right—they might offer you a little bit of it. When they do, you can shy away like you’re upset that you got caught looking. That’ll only make them insist more. Then finally, let them give you a piece from the dish, and bring it back here. Take the thing you requested and leave, thanking them a whole bunch.”

Johnny stood and stomped his feet. “This ain’t gonna work,” he objected.

“Oh,” Maxwell said. “I see. I got it. I didn’t know you were Chicken Boy.”

Johnny hated to be called Chicken Boy. It was like pouring salt into his gizzard. “I ain’t no Chicken Boy and you know I ain’t no Chicken Boy!”

Maxwell spat, “Well, I know you think you ain’t a Chicken Boy. Since it’s Thanksgiving, maybe I should change it to Turkey Boy. Are you a turkey, Johnny?”

Even though Johnny wasn’t sure what was entailed in being a turkey, he was deeply offended, and threatened to punch his bigger, older brother in the belly. Maxwell blocked the punch and hugged him, holding his flailing arms.

“Listen,” Maxwell spoke into his ear. “Just try it once. If it doesn’t work, that’s fine.”

Johnny, still irritated and twitching, slowly nodded his head. Maxwell released his grip. “Here’s the first thing I want you to go after,” he said. “Poultry seasoning.”

Johnny crinkled his brow. “What’s that?”

Maxwell sighed. “I don’t know, and you don’t need to know either. It’s Mama stuff.”

Both Maxwell and Johnny thought it would be good to start on the furthest end of the building and work their way back toward 1211.

The plan worked at the first stop, where they offered Johnny a huge clump of pumpkin pie. When he went to the next unit, asking for cinnamon, he got some dressing. When he inquired about borrowing some aluminum foil, he was loaded down with a generous portion of mashed potatoes. At the next apartment, he requested corn on the cob holders, and they gave him a huge hunk of ham. Finally, when he was in search of a potato peeler, two ladies who happened to share a home both gave him treats—one, some corn on the cob, and the other, a salad (which had enough non-green things in it to make it look possibly edible).

It took about an hour and fifteen minutes, but the boys sat down at a table with a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner—and poultry seasoning, cinnamon, aluminum foil, corn on the cob holders and a potato peeler, just in case they ever needed them.

They were about halfway through their surprising feast when there was a knock at the door. Maxwell frowned, worried. Maybe somebody had become suspicious. Maybe they had noticed Johnny going to more than one apartment to borrow things. Or maybe, after a whole month and twelve days, some neighbor had put together what was really going on and was ready to uncork his or her opinion on the two befuddled lads.

Johnny looked at Maxwell and Maxwell back at Johnny. Should they answer the door?

They stayed as quiet as possible, but after the third knock, the visitor spoke from outside the door. “Maxwell? Johnny? Are you two boys in there?”

They immediately knew who it was. It was Mr. Caylens, one of the teachers at the McKendree School, who lived right down the hall. He was a nice fellow—kind, and always a little bit sad because he had lost his wife to cancer over the summer. But whenever he saw the two boys, he greeted them with gentleness and asked them about their studies and activities.

Still, Maxwell remained quiet, and held Johnny’s hand to keep him from responding. For some reason, Mr. Caylens refused to leave. “Maxwell? Johnny? I know you’re in there. I just saw you, not more than ten minutes ago, running down the hallway. That was you, Johnny, wasn’t it? I just wanted to step in and wish you a happy Thanksgiving. I brought some fried turkey I made this year—it sure is juicy and good.”

The two boys couldn’t help salivating. Although their dinner was quite impressive, the only turkey they had acquired had apparently died and dried out in the desert.

Maxwell considered his choice, and then all at once, spoke up. “Just a second, Mr. Caylens. Thank you for thinking of us.”

He walked over and opened the door. Mr. Caylens looked him in the eyes, but also gazed above his head, searching for an adult presence. “Is your mother here?” said the teacher.

“No,” said Maxwell. “I thought you knew that she went on a trip and left us with our delightful Aunt Mindy.”

Caylens laughed. “Is she delightful?”

Johnny stood to his feet and ran over to join them at the door. “She sure is, Mr. Caylens,” he piped in.

Caylens chuckled. “Well, if she’s that delightful, I certainly must meet her.”

He tried to step through the door, but Maxwell awkwardly blocked him. Mr. Caylens pulled back, a little startled, and Johnny tried to fill in the moment. “It’s interesting that you brought up the fried turkey, because Aunt Mindy just left to go pick ours up at the grocery store. I mean, it’s not frozen or anything—you probably saw the sign, that they cook turkeys, and she was just going down there to get ours, but this is gonna be great!”

Johnny reached up to take the turkey, wrapped in aluminum foil, from Mr. Caylens’ hands. Maxwell touched Mr. Caylens’ shoulder, trying to turn him to leave. “Yeah, this is going to be great. Aunt Mindy told us that sometimes those store-bought turkeys can be dry to the bone.”

Mr. Caylens paused. Although he had been guided to walk out the door, he turned back around and looked into the faces of the two boys, trying very hard to play their parts in the deception.

He had pretty well figured out that there was a problem when he overheard the landlord, who arrived on the fifteenth of November for the rent, and the boys explained that their mother was sending it in the mail, and it would be a few days. It just didn’t ring true.

Mr. Caylens had been a teacher for nearly twenty years, and he certainly could sense a ruse when it was trying to rise. He didn’t want to scare the boys, and certainly didn’t want to disrupt their unity.

Then, struck by a thunderbolt of inspiration, he said, “I don’t know whether you boys know this, but your mother did explain her plan to me.”

Maxwell looked over at Johnny, who was about ready to speak, excited at the prospect of an ally. Hurriedly, Maxwell stepped in. “What are you talking about, Mr. Caylens?”

Mr. Caylens leaned against the doorpost. “You know,” he replied. “The plan she devised so she could get back on her feet to take care of you boys.”

Maxwell was stumped. There was just enough truth in what Mr. Caylens said that he sure was tempted to believe that his mom had a backup person to watch out for them. After all, that would be pretty smart. And one thing Maxwell knew—his mama was a genius.

Johnny couldn’t stand the wait any longer. “She’s a few days late, Mr. Caylens,” he said. “She said it would just be a month, but you know how time can slip away.”

Mr. Caylens nodded. Even though Maxwell was still suspicious, he was also very tired of carrying the burden. He was weary of deceiving the teachers and friends who had once meant so much to him, but now were just obstacles to a private scheme.

Maxwell spoke very slowly. “I don’t know whether you’re lying to us, or trying to get information, or whether my mom did talk to you. What I want you to know is, if you have plans to mess with our plans, well…” He paused. “Well…”

Mr. Caylens interrupted. “Well what, Maxwell? Are you gonna kill me?”

Maxwell shook his head. “Hell, no! What would make you say a thing like that? I’m not a killer—and please forgive me for saying hell.”

Johnny interrupted, using his most mysterious voice. “I guess we just have to get you to swear to silence. You know—like a blood covenant.”

Mr. Caylens frowned. “Well, I certainly don’t know what you mean by that, but it doesn’t sound very good. Here’s what I can do. I can become Aunt Mindy.”

The two boys frowned at him. Mr. Caylens burst out laughing—like he probably hadn’t done for months. “What I mean,” he said, still chuckling, “is that I know there’s no Aunt Mindy. But you see, I’m right down the hall. I don’t need to move in with you, but I do need you to check in with me. And I need you to trust me to quietly find out what’s happened with your mother.”

Johnny looked up at him with big, brown eyes and said, “Sir, we’ve only got eight dollars and forty-one cents left—plus the food we were given by all the nice folks.”

Mr. Caylens reached over and ruffled his hair. “I don’t think it’ll bust my budget to help you all to keep groceries in the refrigerator. But here’s the one stipulation—”

Maxwell jumped in. “Now, I know you’re an English teacher, but does stipulation mean ‘rule?’”

Caylens nodded. “Yeah,” he answered. “Basically. Rule might be too mean. Stipulation is just an agreement. And here’s the stipulation. You will contact me when you come and go. You will let me know if you need something. You’ll let me do all the signing on the notes, and you’ll check in with me in the morning and before you go to bed.”

Maxwell and Johnny felt like slaves that had just been freed from a Roman galley ship. No longer would they have to lie, cheat, plot—and worse, scrounge. Johnny looked up into Mr. Caylens’ face. “Don’t worry, sir,” he said. “It won’t be long. Mama’s comin’.”

Caylens sat down with the boys that night, adding some leftovers from his own table, and he had a delicious dinner with the turnkey boys. As he left to go back to his apartment, wishing the boys a good night, deep in his heart, he knew there was something wrong.

He had always known Melanie Shakeland to be a solid person but being poor could make someone do poor things. He was doubtful that the boys would ever see her again. He was already formulating what he would have to do on the first of December when she didn’t return.

It was November 30th, in the afternoon, when Johnny knocked on Mr. Caylens’ door. Opening it, the young man said excitedly, “Can you come down to our apartment?” As soon as the words were out, he disappeared down the hallway.

Caylens slipped on a sweater and slippers and ambled down to their unit. The door was open, so he stepped in.

There was Melanie Shakeland, surrounded by two of the happiest boys that had ever been known.

She reached out, took Mr. Caylens’ hand and thanked him. “Maxwell and Johnny tell me that you figured out our little deception, and that you were good enough to watch over them. I’m sorry I was late. But I found a job. A good one. Actually, it’s kind of weird—I got a position as a nanny for a very wealthy family down in Grosse Point. I couldn’t come back on time because they were going to Europe and needed me to immediately move into the home to take care of their two children. I didn’t know how to get hold of the boys or what to tell them. I probably did wrong. But anyway, this family lives on beautiful grounds with a mansion and a house out back, that used to be called servant’s quarters. They’ve invited me to bring my two boys to live there, and to take care of their daughters. I don’t know how science, God or Mother Nature saw fit to bless me so. I just plan on trying to do my best to be worthy of it.”

Mr. Caylens was shocked to the point of tears, overcome with the emotion of being present for what could only be called a miracle.

For this mother he had presumed dead was alive.

She was lost, and now was found.

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Not Long Tales … October 29th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4212)

12.

Cam-Pain

The season had arrived for the thirty-first official mayoral race in the little village of Garrettsburg, Oregon, population 4,322 individualists.

Three candidates stepped forward to offer themselves for consideration. As was the custom in the community, these contestants were not identified as Republican or Democrat. They were perused for their ideas, their popularity and whether they maintained a personable profile in all their dealings.

The first was the present mayor, Derrick Collins. He was one of those gentlemen caught somewhere between the barnyard and rock and roll. His favorite wheels—a motorcycle. His favorite beverage was a beer. Home-brewed if possible.

One of the challengers was Maxwell Jones, a slender man who taught history and civics at the high school. He favored classical music, though if you pressed him, would admit some fondness for the Moody Blues. He wore wingtips, polyester pants which desperately tried to reach to his shoe tops, and oversized sweater vests in an attempt to appear hunkier.

The third comer in the race was barely worth mentioning, since she was a woman and there had never been a female mayor in Garrettsburg history. It wasn’t that the community was gender-biased—just that so far, no woman had fancied the position. Her name was Rachel Luxor, and she was of some foreign extraction—and even by Oregonian standards, a bit frumpy.

Each one of these race runners had a different approach.

Maxwell immediately went after the issues. There were four he had in mind: expanding the park, sanitation pickup twice a week, cleaner water and better fireworks on July 4th. At the last minute, he added another one to his list of four, which unfortunately for his symmetrical mind, made it five. But it was important: filling in the potholes.

His strategy was to stay on point with these points to make his point. Matter of fact, that became his slogan: “Maxwell Jones will stay on point with these points to make his point.”

On the other hand, Derrick Collins was not quite so energetic. Already occupying the job, knowing the job and the city having printed business cards with his name on them, he felt very secure in his domain. What Derrick decided to do was, anything that Maxwell brought up to achieve—well, Derrick just took it to the next City Council meeting and proposed it himself. He figured it was perfect. If the proposal passed, it would then be to his credit, and if the Council thumbed their noses at the idea, then it really wasn’t his fault. So no matter how much Maxwell railed on an issue, Derrick just took the issue, put it to a Council vote and removed any potential for Maxwell following through on a campaign promise. So it seemed that Derrick Collins would once again be voted into the Mayor Chair.

Now, the two men and one woman had made a pledge to one another. A vigorous campaign would be waged, but there would be no dirty tricks. No insults. No personal attacks. And no punches below the beltline.

Well, since Derrick cheated—at least that’s the way Maxwell saw it—the promise was negated. A poster was printed with a picture of Derrick Collins drinking a beer at the monster truck extravaganza the previous fall. Underneath it was printed, boldly, “Here’s your man—if you want a redneck.”

The folks of Garrettsburg were not what you would call sophisticated, but they certainly did not want to be considered rednecks. Once this circular circulated through the community, Derrick decided the gloves had come off. He printed his own poster, showing Maxwell reading a book. Beneath the picture was the caption, “Your socialist at work.”

Once again, none of the citizenry were raging political animals, but they were pretty sure they did not want to be socialists.

The buckets were gathered, the lines were drawn, and the mudslinging began.

Maxwell said that Derrick once called an African American a Negro.

Derrick found a book report written by Maxwell back in high school, where he referred to Darwin’s volume, The Origin of the Species, as an “evolving read.”

According to Maxwell, Derrick was sympathetic to terrorists.

According to Derrick, Maxwell just might be one.

They scoured for dirt—back and forth. At first the community watched, pretending to be horrified, while lapping up every word.

On and on it went. It got nasty.

The two men refused to be in the same room with each other, which made things difficult since they ate lunch every day at the only diner in town. Therefore, it was agreed that Derrick Collins would arrive at 11:30 and eat until 12:15, when Maxwell would come from the school and eat from 12:16 to 1:00 P.M. Of course, that one minute in between did create some problems as the two jousters occasionally bumped into each other, like two bulldogs, growling and snorting.

Yet what was particularly aggravating for both camps was the fact that polling was not determining if the attack ads were successful—mainly because the populace was holding out its opinion, wondering what the next accusation might reveal.

There was no longer any discussion about filling potholes, and the quest for cleaner water dribbled away. It was a war of words and the two men were trying to put poison into each syllable.

Election Day rolled around. A gray cloud hung over the town—and not just emotionally. Since it was Oregon, and there were often gray clouds, the rain came pouring into the village like the wrath of heaven. It curtailed voter turnout.

Matter of fact, by midday, so few people had voted that the candidates decided to drive around town banging on doors, begging people to wade to the polls and cast their choice.

The weather also interfered with the counting of the ballots, so it was the next day, around one o’clock, before the tally was totaled. It was then posted on the window of the Garrettsburg newspaper, for all to read:

Derrick Collins got 32% of the vote.

Maxwell Jones also got 32% of the vote.

A tie.

But Rachel Luxor, from her backseat position, ended up winning with 34% of the vote (two percent of the electorate voted for a combination of Beyoncé, Tom Hanks, the Rock, Kim Kardashian and Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback.)

There was a collective gasp that went through the community—well, maybe not the whole community, but certainly City Hall and the high school, where Derrick and Maxwell joined in a mutual head scratching, trying to figure out the source of their defeat.

It was perplexing.

After all, Rachel Luxor—now, Mayor Rachel—had campaigned on only one issue, with one slogan.

The issue was better school lunches. And the slogan?

“Carrots for Garretts(burg).”

 

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Not Long Tales … October 15th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4198)

10.

Mr. Eyeballs

Curtis Marshall was the father of two young boys, a contractor, avid Philadelphia Phillies fan and great proponent and propagator of practical jokes.

He loved to create a setup that surprised trusting victims with a payoff ranging from foolishness to horror, and then to stand back and howl with laughter at their naivety.

At a barbecue-rib-and-corn-on-the-cob night, he once replaced the toothpick container down at the Reynolds Dining Hall with his own toothpicks, which were covered in maple syrup. For a solid hour he observed folks grossed out by the sticky pick, casting it away in disgust. Finally an employee noticed his giggling, and he was confronted by the manager and asked to leave.

Curtis was always surprised at what you could get away with as long as you looked like you knew what you were doing.

For instance, one busy Saturday he set up a table at a local shopping mall, with a big banner with the drawing of a deer, reading “Free Doe Nuts.” Sitting out for all to enjoy were small, dark-brown, round doughnut holes. Curtis thought it was absolutely rib-splitting to offer these to people in the mall, and while they popped them in their mouths or were chewing on them, he explained that they were actually Doe Nuts—testicles taken off a deer. Reactions were absolutely explosive. Some people spit, others cussed, one little kid spewed—and finally Curtis was reported to the mall manager and had to hustle away with his table and Doe Nut holes, security on his tail. At no time did it occur to any of the participants that does were ball-less female of the deer species.

More recently, he got in trouble with the Health Department. At the ladies’ restroom of the movie theater, he replaced the liquid soap provided with a product known as Blood Soap. It came out looking like regular soap, but as you washed your hands it turned bright red and appeared to be blood. Curtis sat directly next door in the men’s restroom on the pot and howled with laughter as he heard the women screaming. When it was discovered that he was the culprit, the Health Department filed a suit against him for disturbing the peace, or something or other, but it was thrown out of court.

Curtis Marshall was certainly committed to the art of the practical joke. He had pulled so many on friends and family that it had gone from humorous, to quaint, to finally—with all in agreement—flat-out annoying.

They got together to hold an intervention over his practical jokes. After an hour or so of him protesting that it was innocent, a way for him to enjoy life, they countered by informing him that if he wanted to continue to be a part of the family—or even married, for that matter—he had better stop practicing what they deemed “a spiteful wickedness.”

Discouraged, he nodded his head. But the next morning, he decided on one final escapade. It needed to be a big one. He decided he would even spend some money.

He rented a post office box at one of those strip-mall stationery stores under the name of Stanley Morton.

Next, he needed to find a private investigator. Having no idea on how to go about such a task, he asked a couple of friends. Finally Jerry, one of his work buddies, happened to have a card from a young man who had passed through the office, trying to drum up business for his foundling company. He was an investigator. The name of the company was Mr. Eyeballs.

Curtis had to chuckle at the silliness of the name and decided it would be perfect for implementing his coup de gras of laughables. So posing as Stanley Morton he called Mr. Eyeballs. Curtis asked the young proprietor to do a job for him.

What Curtis—pardon, Stanley—wanted was for the private dick to follow a man around to see what his activities were, because Stanley was planning to do some business with this fellow and feared he might be dishonest. Curtis—Stanley—explained that he would send Mr. Eyeballs a picture of the individual he wanted to be scrutinized.

Well, Mr. Eyeballs said he could do as requested—he would give four full days of bloodhounding the activities, but it would cost five hundred dollars.

Curtis winced a bit at the expense but figured the payoff would be worth it. He agreed and sent Mr. Eyeballs a five-hundred-dollar cashiers check, along with the name of the fellow he wanted pursued—Curtis Marshall—and a picture.

Curtis, who had stopped all other practical jokes in honor of this magna cum laude, was nearly beside himself with anticipation over the arrival of the report.

One week passed. Two weeks passed. In the middle of the third week, Curtis decided to call Mr. Eyeballs back—as Stanley—and ask what the holdup was. The young man was apologetic. He explained that he was new in the business, wanted to do a fine job, and was still typing up the final draft. He was holding it in his hands and would put it in the mail immediately. Curtis, under the guise of Stanley, was agreeable.

Two days later, when Curtis checked the mail at the stationery store, there was a manila envelope waiting for him. He grabbed it, raced to his car and opened it, pulling out the stapled report.

It had a preamble:

Being asked my Mr. Stanley Morton to investigate Curtis Marshall to determine his honesty and virtue, I have come to the following conclusions.

Mr. Marshall made quite a few stops at the ATM.

I have found through my studies that two visits a week is commonplace. Mr. Marshall sometimes made two a day.

(Curtis just laughed. It was his practice to never carry extra cash, but to take out of the ATM whatever he needed for the moment.)

The report continued:

I also discovered that Mr. Marshall made frequent trips to the library, and following him into the establishment, it seemed to my mind that he spent an inordinate amount of time whispering to the librarian.

(Once again, Curtis had to burst out with laughter. One of his favorite targets was the librarian. He would ask her for books that did not exist, and then be disappointed that the library was unable to fulfill his wishes.)

Still more report:

Three times during my four-day investigation, Mr. Marshall made a stop at the back door of a small mom-and-pop restaurant called The Rib Shack.

He huddled with a man in an apron, exchanged some cash, and hurried to his car, carrying a small bag.

(Curtis smiled. He loved the ribs at The Rib Shack, but he didn’t like the way they cooked them for the common people. So his buddy, Mickey, always fixed a quarter-rack of ribs for him just the way he liked them. Curtis picked them up three times a week, on the down-low, so nobody else would know.)

Mr. Eyeballs was not finished. The report also cited that Curtis Marshall picked up his two children at school, always arriving early, and seemed to be watching the other children as they departed.

(Now Curtis was feeling a little nervous over the report. It was true that he went to the school early—for two reasons. Number one, he wanted to make sure he was never late so as not to keep the kids hanging. And number two, he used this as his private time, to think up…well, usually to think up new practical jokes.)

Finally, Mr. Eyeballs cast some doubt on why Curtis Marshall spent so much time in his garage at night, working on some sort of project. Getting close to a window, Mr. Eyeballs was able to determine that there was a lot of rock and roll music being played, some smoke coming from one of the open windows, and—well, it was all just very brash.

(Curtis resumed his laughing profile. He loved loud rock and roll music. He wife thought he had quit smoking three months earlier, so the garage was his only safe haven. And he was trying to learn how to be a carpenter but finding that he was not very good at measuring or cutting.)

At the bottom of the report, Mr. Eyeballs had placed, in large letters, the word CONCLUSION.

“If I were surmising the life and times of Curtis Marshall, I would say that perhaps he’s involved in selling some drugs—maybe on the high end—having an affair with the librarian, using the contact at The Rib Shack for distribution, trying to get young children started on smoking grass, while working in his garage, hatching a plan for some sort of criminal evil.”

Curtis finished the report and stuck it back in the manila envelope. He was a little disgruntled. It was ridiculous, but he thought it would be funnier. Instead, he felt affronted, even defiled. He decided this particular joke was a fizzle, and that if he was going to finish out the life of a practical joker, he would need a better exit prank. He would think about it.

As he was driving home, about five doors down from his house, he saw an old gold sedan in his neighbor’s driveway with a magnetic sign on the side which read, “Mr. Eyeballs.”

He was so surprised that he almost slammed on his brakes, but then thought he needed to be cooler than that. More controlled. Once he got home, he forgot all about it. Of course, he told no one about his disappointing and expensive adventure.

The next morning, on his way to work, about eight doors down on the right hand side, at another neighbor’s house, there was Mr. Eyeball’s car again, with the ugly sign. This time, Curtis noticed the paint was peeling on the door. He drove by very slowly so he could get a good peek.

The same thing happened that night—except it was three doors down on the left-hand side, in the driveway of his neighbor, Michael. There was Mr. Eyeballs’ car—right in front of everybody.

Curtis was unnerved. He needed to talk to somebody but couldn’t do it without exposing his foolish flub. So after dinner, as darkness fell, Curtis decided to walk out, go down the street and talk to Michael about who the visitor was with the golden sedan.

But before he could get to Michael’s house, driving slowly by in the other direction was that ugly gold sedan with the magnetic sign, which could barely be read in the darkness, but still was certainly Mr. Eyeballs.

Curtis turned around and hurried home, taken aback by the whole encounter. He peeked out of his front widow four, five—maybe six times that evening, and on two occasions, driving along at a creeping crawl was Mr. Eyeballs’ vehicle. What in the hell was going on?

A whole week passed. It seemed like every time Curtis looked around his home turf, there was the gold sedan either coming or going.

And then, something truly startling–friends and neighbors, who had frequently come for visits, ceased to appear. The Crawfords, three doors down, cancelled a barbecue that had been planned for months. Curtis had always tried to walk his neighborhood every day, but now each time he saw one of his friends and waved, they ducked their heads and hurried inside.

What in the hell was Mr. Eyeballs up to? Had the young man become too aggressive, following him to his home and warning the neighbors about these fictitious concerns?

Finally, Curtis decided to ask his wife, Carol, if she knew anything about the gold sedan driving through the neighborhood. She said no, but her eyes darted like they always did when she was lying.

Curtis went down to the police station and explained his concerns to the lieutenant. He surmised that he was either being persecuted by this stranger, or Mr. Eyeballs was perhaps planning to extort money by ruining his name among his companions.

The following Saturday, Curtis went to the doors of his neighbors—seventeen in all—and knocked. Half of them refused to answer at all and the other half refused to open up and allow him entrance. Skittishly, they peered through their windows at him, or made up some excuse for not being able to talk.

Curtis was losing sleep. He had to do something. It was completely out of control. The young detective he had hooked up with obviously had some mental problems and had targeted him for demolition.

Finally, two days later at the grocery store, he cornered his friend, Brian, in the meat section between the steak and the chicken. He maneuvered his cart to prohibit Brian from escaping and came right up into Brian’s face, whispering, “You are my friend. You are not going to lie to me. You are not going to avoid me. You’re going to tell me the truth. What’s going on?”

Brian looked at him nervously, his eyes flitting to the left and then the right. Brian leaned into Curtis and whispered back into his ear. “Leave it alone,” he said. “You’re in a lot of goddamn trouble. We’re all scared. The young man has us terrified. We can’t talk to you. He told us about following you—he’s discovered all of your sinister paths.”

Curtis couldn’t take anymore. He pulled Brian in by the shoulders and shook him. “You know me, man! You know me. What’s wrong with you?”

Brian took the opportunity to wiggle away, grab his cart and dart to the front of the store. Curtis was barely able to maintain his public decorum, chasing his old friend through the canned goods.

He gathered a few last things, remembering the gallon of milk and dozen eggs his wife had requested and headed to checkout. Brian was two people ahead of him, on the right-hand side. Checkout 6.

Curtis stared at him—a threatening glare. Brian finished paying, gathered his groceries quickly and headed for his car as Curtis impatiently waited for the cashier. He was pissed—done with being nice.

He raced his car home, but as he approached, he discovered there were cars everywhere. What caught his attention immediately was the one sitting out front—the ugly-ass mustard sedan with Mr. Eyeballs’ sign on the side.

All the cars were at his house and on his grass.

He parked as close as he could, leaving his groceries in the car, no longer concerned for the outcome of his Rocky Road ice cream. He scooted through his front door. There were his neighbors, sitting in a circle in his living room, and there was a young man in the middle—the one he assumed to be Mr. Eyeballs. He was through being courteous.

“What’s wrong with you all?” he screamed, turning in every direction. They all peered at him without flicking an eyelash.

“I ask you, what’s wrong with you?” Curtis demanded. “Are you actually listening to this maniac? He’s so stupid—so dumb—that he doesn’t even know that I—yes, I—am Stanley Morton.”

He turned to Mr. Eyeballs, shouting angrily,  “I set you up, you dummy! I gave you a fake name and you got taken in!”

The women in the room pulled back in fear as the men stood, ready to subdue him if necessary. Lunging forward toward Mr. Eyeballs, his arms were caught by two of his friends, Tommy and Jack. They held him as he tried to break free to attack his oppressor. Fully constrained, Curtis stood helplessly panting.

Mr. Eyeballs looked at him and said, “Gotcha. Or would it be better to say, ‘April Fool’s?’”

From across the room, Curtis’ wife shouted, “I kind of like hee-haw!”

With this, everyone burst into uproarious laughter.

Curtis, still feeling heat from his fury, looked around in disbelief. “This was a joke?” he challenged.

Mr. Eyeballs replied, “Yeah. But an expensive one. I plan on keeping the five hundred dollars.”

This brought a whole new wave of laughter. Curtis Marshall was embarrassed, angry, humiliated, bereft, nervous, suffering high blood pressure—and deflated.

Everyone stood to leave and quietly passed by, patting him on the back. A couple of folks even gave him a hug.

Curtis desperately tried to imitate humility. He didn’t want to be an angry loser. He didn’t want to act like other people had when he’d pulled pranks on them.

But the truth was, he felt exactly like them.

After everybody was gone and his wife kissed him on the lips, he headed out to his garage and turned on Metallica full blast. After fifteen minutes of hammering nails into a board (which would never be anything but hammered) he stopped and considered.

“This was not fair,” he thought to himself. “This was not a joke. This was…completely impractical.”

 

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Not Long Tales … October 8th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4191)

9.

Write Before My Eyes

At age twenty-five, just shortly before his wedding day, Nathan Merced decided he wanted to write a novel. Energized by his romance and a bit greedy for some notoriety and profit, he envisioned a book showcasing all of his art and much of his heart.

Now, nearing his fortieth birthday and a father of two, he returned to the dream, determined to once and for all pen a lasting tribute to immortalize his name and offer credence for his time on Earth (or words to that effect).

Staring at the page, with the working title, “Monstrous,” Nathan paused, considering his byline. What name should he use for his book? He had never favored pen names—how would people know it was you who wrote it? Nathan Merced was a solid handle, he thought, but it didn’t have that three-name flow common to writer—like Edgar Allen Poe.

He thought about using all three of his names: Nathan Edward Merced. But suddenly, Edward sounded very common. He decided to transform Edward into Edvard. So now typed on the page in front of him was:

Monstrous

A Novel

By Nathan Edvard Merced

And the morning was the first day.

Coming back after a lunch (which he tried to make continental and light, so as not to bulge his brain with fat grams) Nathan felt his best approach was to conceive a work with a popular theme—of course, nowadays that would be science fiction or a graphic novel. Bringing up something about the Apocalypse would be a plus. Bouncing a few ideas around, he decided to write them down, just in case one of them fired up the ferocity of his writing thrust.

How about a book where a human becomes a monster, while simultaneously, a monster from an alien planet becomes a human? Yes, yes…then they mysteriously meet somewhere in the middle of their transition, and in those few hours of complete similarity—one being half monster and one being half human—they fall madly in love, only to move away from each other as the human becomes more monster and the monster more human, until finally, the human (now monster) kills and eats the monster (now human) whom he or she had once loved.

Nathan sat back and considered. It could work. It could really work.

But did he know enough about monsters to write about one? He laughed. Since there really weren’t any monsters, anything he made up would be fine. No one could challenge him, citing the “Book of Monsters.”

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. He had told his wife he needed to be left alone, so assumed she would answer, running interference. But the knocking continued. Finally, Nathan’s next-door-neighbor, Jack, was standing outside his bay window, pointing to the front door. Nathan heaved a sigh of despair. Apparently, his wife got caught up in some temporary difficulty and failed to be the watchman required.

So Nathan waved at Jack, slowly stood to his feet and walked to the front door. He welcomed a man who was obviously agitated. He invited Jack into the study where Nathan had just been involved in writing the Great American Tome. Before he could offer Jack drink or even seat, the man launched.

“My daughter Cynthia,” he began frantically, “I need help. I need wisdom. I came to you because you have more education than me. You’ve got some sort of degree, don’t you?”

Nathan sat down slowly in his desk chair. “Well, I’ve got a bachelor’s in fine arts.”

“Perfect,” Jack said quickly. “That’s more than I’ve got. I thought you maybe could help—here’s the problem. In high school, my Cynthia’s history class has been studying the 1970’s and she has become obsessed with Patty Hearst.”

Nathan frowned, trying to remember the name. Jack, seeing his confused face, offered, “You remember her, right? That rich girl that got captured by the Symbionese Liberation Army.”

Nathan’s eyes grew wide. “Listen, Jack—you obviously know more about this than I do.”

Jack objected. “That’s only because I looked it up. I thought I should at least know the name of what was destroying my daughter. Do you understand? My beautiful, young daughter, Cynthia, came to me today with a headband tied around her head and insisted that from now on, we should address her as ‘Scratchy.’”

“Scratchy?” repeated Nathan, trying to keep up.

Jack shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t know why she wants to be ‘Scratchy.’ She’s read up on all this stuff, she knows all the details. She even knows what Patty Hearst wore the day she was abducted. Nathan, for her sixteenth birthday, she’s asked for an Uzi.”

Nathan chuckled nervously. “Come on, Jack,” he said, trying to sound reasonable. “She’s a teenager. It’s a phase she’s going through.” He motioned to the page on his computer. “Listen, I’ve got some work going on here. I think you should back off—don’t do anything to either discourage her or encourage her.”

“Did I tell you the worst part?” jack responded impatiently. “She is advertising—posting on the Internet—asking for someone to come and kidnap her.”

Nathan crinkled his brow. “Oh-h-h. That’s not good.”

Jack sat, shaking his head, staring at his hands, not saying a word. Thirty seconds of silence went by, creeping up to a minute. Nathan, realizing that Jack was awaiting some kind of guidance of divine proportion, finally responded gently, “Hey, Jack…”

Jack stood up, and Nathan rose, too, speaking. “Listen,” he said, “I am gonna help you with this, but not right now. I think I told you last week. I’m on a jag. I’ve hitched a plane. I don’t know how to explain it, but I’m really buzzed about writing this novel, and here I am. See? I’m sittin’ here and it’s happenin’. We’ll talk about Cynthia later. Just go home, lock all your doors and keep an eye on her.”

They arrived at the front door. Jack turned and looked at Nathan like a desperate man on his way to the gallows. “Okay,” he said slowly, “if you say so. But I don’t think I can keep crazy people from attacking my house to snatch my daughter.” A quaver invaded his speech as the last word was spoken.

Nathan nodded his head, walked over, patted him on the back—but literally pushed him out the door and on his way.

Nathan quickly returned to his computer, trying to regain the energy of his monster-human story. He was on the verge of coming up with an idea concerning how the sexual parts of the emerging monster and unfolding human were difficult to…what would be the word? Well, he decided, let’s go with “reconnoiter.” But their love was so strong that somehow, they found a place for everything.

As Nathan turned back to type up the ideas that were eeking out of his brain, there was another knock at the door. He was stuck. He now knew his wife wasn’t home to sidestep the danger, and he didn’t want anyone else doing jumping jacks to get his attention through the bay window, so he eased to his feet and went to the front of the house, peering through the curtain to see who had come to invade his privacy. He recognized him immediately. It was the new minister from the church down the street. (Nathan had only met him twice. Church didn’t come up often on the Merced schedule.)

All at once, the minister winked at Nathan, glimpsing his peering position behind the curtain. Exposed— “made,” as they often said in police dramas—Nathan pulled the curtain back to its former position and stood tall for a moment, trying to remember the preacher’s name. He remembered that when he first met the fellow, his name reminded him of donuts. Powered? Glazed? Jelly-filled?

Unlikely.

Nathan went to the door and opened it. Fortunately, the minister, well-trained by his seminary, solved the problem. “Hello, Mr. Merced,” he said brightly. “I hope you remember me.” He reached out his hand to Nathan and continued. “I’m Reverend Thomas Duncan.”

Nathan laughed inside. There it was. Like Dunkin Donuts. He shook Duncan’s hand but decided to keep the conversation at the door instead of letting it spill out into the house.

The polite parson, realizing he had not been welcomed inside, began to launch on his mission. “I don’t mean to bother you, but I’m contacting all the church families because we have a…how should I say? Well, I guess it’s a crisis.” He quickly added, “But also an opportunity.”

For a crisis, Nathan felt forced to invite the minister in. They walked back to the study where the novel had been on the verge of being unleashed, Nathan perched behind his computer, hoping to create a visual for not talking too long.

The young minister perched and explained. “We have gotten information about a refugee family from Central America. They were just rescued from the Atlantic Ocean. You see, Mr. Merced, they were so poor, so frightened of military retribution, that they made a raft—to the best of their ability. Although I have to be honest. I don’t know how they would have any information on how to construct such a vessel. But somehow or another, they got together a raft and launched it into the Caribbean—all six members. Mom, Dad and four kids, the oldest being twelve.”

Nathan was frustrated. He felt a long discourse coming on and he was not in the mood for it. He could just feel the inspiration dribbling out of his body. Here he was, on the precipice of writing the first paragraph—or maybe even chapter—of “Monstrous,” and he was being held captive by an overwrought reverend. Yet Nathan had no idea how to shut the man up, so the soliloquy continued.

“Well, as you probably guessed, they got the raft past the tides and into the ocean, but it began to fall apart. The family members ended up clinging to it, holding on for their lives. As the story goes, they figured out a way to catch fish, or some sort of sea life, which they broke apart, shared and ate raw. On hot days, they licked the sweat off each other for moisture, and when it rained, after the storm passed, they would remove their clothes and wring them out into each other’s mouths to achieve hydration. After six days on the ocean, they were rescued by a fishing trawler, begged for asylum and arrived on the mainland of the United States with no place to go. When the notice of their plight went out on the Internet, I immediately contacted the authorities and offered our town, and said that our church would provide this family lodging for two weeks, until they could gain their admission, get assistance and make their way to becoming part of our great country.”

Even though Nathan was absorbed in his own concerns, the tale was so compelling that a tear came to his eye, yet he bravely fought it back in respect of regaining his muse. “Listen,” he said, “we can’t have a family near here. You see, the problem is, Pastor, there’s a girl who lives next door and she’s kind of crazy right now. She wants to be abducted by…what should I call them…scoundrels. I don’t have time to give details—but I don’t think this is a good place for this lost family, but I will tell you what I’ll do. I’m gonna sit down right here—right here at my desk—and I’m gonna write you a check. Yes, I’m gonna give you a donation to help these folks.”

Nathan grabbed his checkbook from the drawer, took his pen and scrawled the gift. He ripped it out and handed it to Pastor Duncan, who said with as much vigor as he possibly could, “Oh! Twenty dollars! Well…that should help.”

Nathan interrupted him. “That’s what they say, Pastor. Every little bit helps.”

The startled preacher responded, “And this is just that. A little bit…”

The young pastor quickly stood to his feet, shook Nathan’s hand and headed for the door, asking him as he walked, “If you have any other people you know or ideas, please contact me.”

Nathan, a bit ashamed, confused, yet a tad irate over his donation being trivialized, tried to change the subject. “Hey, preacher,” he said. “You know how I remembered your name?”

The minister shook his head. Nathan chuckled. “Donuts. I remembered ‘donuts’ and that’s how I knew your name was Duncan.” Nathan laughed.

The minister smiled. “Huh,” he said. “I never heard that one before.”

There was no more conversation.

Nathan’s mind was already floating back to his computer and the pastor’s focus began to float to the lost souls who had floated his way.

With the departure of the cleric, Nathan gleefully shut the door behind him and ran to the computer to resume his quest for the Great American Novel. He hadn’t even made it to his seat when his phone buzzed. He glanced down at the screen. A text from his wife. He wanted to ignore it. He wanted to purposely set it aside to demonstrate his devotion and dedication to his mission. But after all, it was his wife. How could he ever explain to her that he had declined her text?

So he punched the button and the text came up. “Son arrived at school dressed in drag. Meeting required immediately. 2:00 P. M.”

Nathan wanted to throw the phone across the room, but such actions always ended up costing money, only offering temporary satisfaction. He glanced at his watch. Twenty minutes until two, and the school was ten minutes away.

He shouted at the walls around him, “How the hell am I supposed to write a masterpiece in this environment, where I am constantly interrupted, and I don’t have the chance to transform small ideas into great ones? My God! How did the masters ever achieve their successes, surrounded by sniveling mortals?”

He finished his little speech, so enthralled with his boisterous outburst that he quickly typed onto his screen the phrase, “sniveling mortals.” He would certainly want to use that later.

He decided to take ten minutes—ten holy minutes, ten consecrated minutes—and see if he could add to the already burgeoning possibilities of “Monstrous.” But rather than being inspired by his efforts thus far, the plot line began to mock him.

Who would be interested in a half-monster and half-human, getting busy?

How would he sell the book to kids under fifteen once it was dubbed too racy? They would certainly read it, but they would download it from their friends, and he wouldn’t make a penny.

And finally, the worst realization. What kind of name was “Monstrous” for a novel?

He was so discouraged.

Why couldn’t Jack take care of his own daughter?

Why didn’t the preacher start somewhere else to seek aid?

Why didn’t his son choose Saturday to experiment with women’s clothes?

A sense of gloom, and then doom, fell upon him like a pelting summer rain. He closed up his computer, heaved a sigh, stood to his feet and walked toward the study door, turning for a moment to address his computer.

“Good-bye, old buddy,” he said softly. “I don’t think I’ll come again. There just don’t seem to be any great stories left to tell.”

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Not Long Tales … September 24th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4177)

7.

The Grass Is…

Having been married for five years and saving up the residue from paychecks, Harry and Sandy Richardson were finally able to muster the down payment, mingled with the gumption and the good fortune, to purchase their first home—not exactly what they wanted, and certainly a little more than they could afford.

Sandy worked the night shift at the local county hospital and Harry was the overnight manager at the local pencil factory.

Now, the little two-bedroom, one-bath cottage sat on 156 Carmel Street in Walakons, Washington. There was no back yard, as the home sat in front of a nearby forest, but there was a quarter acre of beautiful lawn in the front, with the prettiest green grass you’ve ever seen.

Shortly after arriving, the neighbor to the right came over with a special casserole, and the neighbor to the left soon appeared at the front door with two bottles—one of wine and one grape juice, just in case the Richardsons were teetotalers.

So Harry and Sandy settled into domesticated life, and even began to consider having a child, though the idea terrified them. They certainly knew how to make one, but not necessarily what to do once it sprouted.

Speaking of sprouting, their front grass didn’t.

Something went awry. The beautiful lawn they had purchased suddenly began sporting dry patches—ugly brown sections all over, splotching the expanse. Harry quickly ran down to the local self-help store and asked what to do. Several different nutrients, and bags of this and that were suggested, but no matter what he applied, the grass continued to die out.

Harry thought it was a good idea to go over to the neighbor to the right to ask for a suggestion, since his lawn seemed fine. He was happy to help though he had to admit he had never seen such a problem in all his living days. He explained to Harry that the best thing to do was buy a big bag of hog excrement mingled with plenty of nitrogen to enrich the soil. He further expounded that the key was to spread it over his lawn at night, so that the evening mist and dew could perform their magic. Harry was so excited that he almost hugged the man, though it was a bit too soon for familiarity of that sort.

That night, Harry and Sandy, before going to their jobs, went out and sprinkled the magic potion all over the front yard. It took about forty-five minutes. When they arrived back home the following morning and the sun rose, they prepared for a miracle.

But the patches of ever-losing grass remained the same. The only evidence of the treatment was the lingering fragrance of a hog farm in full bloom.

Then the left-hand neighbor, sympathetic to the plight of the Richardsons, stepped in, patting Harry on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, my man,” he said. “I have the answer for you. There is this grass seed you can buy which is derived from a strain from the rain forest in Brazil. You plant this in your yard, and then, just make sure that for the next two days you water the entire area in three-hour intervals.”

It sounded so promising that Harry nearly cried. (Sandy went ahead and did it for both of them.)

Once again, the pair faithfully followed the prescription offered by the left-hand neighbor, but after a week nothing improved, except that the front yard had patches of puddles, resembling a rice paddy in China.

Harry talked to a botanist. He consulted a turf and earth specialist. He listened. He studied. He scanned the Internet.

He began losing some of the sleep he needed during the day, trying to find out what to do with his deteriorating quarter-acre. Because both Harry and Sandy were so invested in the issue, they became snippy and started blaming each other. There was no basis for the attacks—it just felt good to scream at something other than the front yard.

The death of the grass continued. Then Harry and Sandy noticed that the neighbors weren’t coming around anymore. Matter of fact, they had stopped making eye contact. The normal “howdy” or “how are you?” disappeared, as right-hand neighbor and left-hand neighbor quickly turned their backs, busying themselves and avoiding all contact.

There was even the whisper of a rumor which trickled back to the Richardson household. There were those in the surrounding block who believed there might be some sort of curse on the couple, which was manifesting itself through this unnatural occurrence. Of course, most of the sane folk of Carmel Street rejected such superstition but still played it safe by not getting too close to the 156 address.

As the bickering between the Richardsons grew worse, they sought out a counselor who offered little comfort to them, except to suggest that no matter how odd it seemed, perhaps a move to another house might be in order, to salvage their nuptials.

Then one day, neighbor to the right had a knock on his door. It was Harry, informing him that he and his wife were going on a cruise to Bermuda—one of those counseling affairs, where married couples with problems could escape onboard a beautiful ship, sip Mai Tais and solve their painful struggle.

Harry also visited the neighbor to the left. He told both neighbors that while he and Sandy were away, he had hired someone to come in and do a very special treatment to the lawn, blending both right-hand neighbor’s idea and left-hand neighbor’s idea together—to see if the twain could make the lawn one.

Harry outlined to his friends that these experts would be pitching a huge tent over the entire quarter-acre to do their work and to keep the sun from interrupting the treatment. Both neighbors were fascinated and promised to keep an eye on the house but would stay away from the tent area so the blending could be truly miraculous.

So on Tuesday, Harry and Sandy put their bags in their car and headed off to the airport to escape to rediscover their marital bliss. As promised, trucks arrived, workers erected a huge tent, there were the sounds of digging, and people coming and going for the next five days. Matter of fact, the workers had to come to Neighbor Right and Neighbor Left to apologize, because they would be doing some work on the final night, and might make a little noise, which they hoped would not be an intrusion.

Exactly nine days later, Harry and Sandy returned, well-tanned and doing a lot of smiling and hugging. They went to Neighbor Right and Neighbor Left and invited them over for the unveiling of the front yard—the result of the two treatments that had been so graciously suggested.

Five workers came, and meticulously removed the tent. After about an hour of labor, they exposed the prettiest green lawn you ever saw in your life.

Neighbor Right gasped and Neighbor Left clapped his hands. The two men walked over, shook hands vigorously and patted Harry on the back. Harry returned their enthusiasm, thanking them profusely for their contributions, and standing back to admire his lawn—the evidence of a community effort.

Well, before you knew it, there were half-a-dozen other folks, who came out and stood back in wonder, peering at the green grass like they had arrived on resurrection morning, witnessing Jesus himself walking out of the grave.

Everyone was so thrilled that a block party was planned for the following Saturday night to celebrate the patch of grass that was once brown and now had “greened” before everyone’s eyes. After all the congratulations were done, the giggles were finished and the back-patting was fulfilled, everyone returned to their homes and Harry and Sandy walked into their front door.

Harry gave Sandy a big, huge, loving hug. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s hard for me to believe that I let our front yard control my affection for you.”

Sandy nodded. “Do you think it’s gonna work?” she asked Harry thoughtfully.

Harry Richardson turned and stared out his front window at his amazing lawn. “Yes,” he said. “I think it will. If our neighbors don’t ever find out that we put in really high-quality artificial turf.”

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Not Long Tales … August 13th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

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We are overjoyed to announce the initiation of our weekly segment on Jonathots Daily Blog, entitled Not Long Tales. Each and every Tuesday, we’ll be offering you a short story for your enjoyment.

Mrs. Windermoot

Loneliness is a confinement requiring solitude, a commitment without companion.

It had been one year since Mrs. Windermoot had lost her beloved husband of forty-three years, Baris. Even though she had two grown sons who loved her, she found herself very lonely, like a bride left behind on the dock of the honeymoon cruise.

Her sons, Benett and Burgess, were responsive and certainly concerned for her health, but fell short of touching the tender spots of her well-being.

She was alone, which left her lonely. She’d never anticipated being quite so submerged in the sense of absence, but since she had moved into the much smaller two-bedroom townhouse just west of the city, she was constantly battling the pangs of self-pity and the ache of separation.

She did not know any of her neighbors. Several of them had made a visit—but they were all so much younger—and though they promised to return, none did.

Mrs. Windermoot tried to plan activities for herself—making a special dinner, watching a movie. She even scheduled a weekly tea, where she set out all the fixings, including a dozen of her famous chocolate chip cookies. Although it was somewhat entertaining, in no time at all, she was just an old woman sitting in a room nibbling treats.

She never reached the point of desperation—that being sharing her complaint with others. Most of the time she sat very still in her home, wondering whether it was too soon to have another nap.

One day she noticed that a city bus stopped right in front of her house. She had never paid any attention before, but on this particular morning, maybe the sun was shining just right, or she just happened to look out at the correct moment.

But there it was—big as life. 9:31 A. M. It was back again the next day, and faithfully returned the third morning.

So Mrs. Windermoot made a plan. On the fourth morning when the bus appeared, she would get on the bus, and ride as far as it went through the town, and at least have the ability to see other scenery—and maybe even converse with new people.

She dressed for the occasion—one of her best Sunday frocks, and made two dozen chocolate chip cookies, which she tucked away in her purse. She eased her way out the door at 9:15 so as not to miss the arrival and was standing there patiently when the bus pulled up. Not familiar with the route or process, she carefully climbed on as the driver impatiently waited for her to place her money in the slot, allowing her the privilege of being toted about.

She was smart enough to know to bring exact change, but her fingers were not very fast, and finally the bus driver, heaving a huge sigh, took the coins from her hand and completed the job.

Once legally paid for, she inched her way back four rows and sat down. There were only two other people on the bus, and she was nowhere near them, and felt foolish to be on a journey with no apparent purpose.

After a couple of stops, with additional people arriving, she felt better. When someone sat in the seat next to her, she finally worked up the courage to greet the stranger. Her words were met with a bit of kindness, so she offered the young man (obviously on his way to work, because of the uniform he was wearing) … well, she offered him a chocolate chip cookie. He was so grateful, explaining that he hadn’t eaten breakfast, and usually didn’t take the time for it.

At the next stop, while people were getting on, the bus driver walked back to Mrs. Windermoot. He seemed huge. His nametag read, “Mickey.” He leaned down to Mrs. Windermoot and whispered, “Listen, lady. I can’t have you giving out food on the bus. I don’t know where it came from. You may be a nice lady and all—you certainly seem alright—but I could get in a helluva lot of trouble if you were poisoning people.”

When Mrs. Windermoot heard the word “poison,” she flinched—a reflex. The whole idea of her being a sinister murderer seemed absolutely ludicrous, if not offensive. The young man who was still chomping on his cookie interrupted. “Listen, they taste great. You should try one.”

Before Mickey could consider the idea, Mrs. Windermoot was holding one to his nose. Beautiful chocolate chip cookie.

Maybe it was a desire to salve the old girl’s ego, or maybe it was Mickey taking responsibility—taste testing to ensure there was no danger. Or maybe Mickey had missed a breakfast, too. But he grabbed the cookie and chomped away. His expression changed from austere to delight.

Realizing that the bus driver was now eating chocolate chip cookies, which seemed to be coming from the frail lady sitting in the seat, three or four people made their way up the aisle to receive a treat of their own. Everybody was grateful, and the bus driver (still maintaining a bit of his authority) told Mrs. Windermoot that if she brought them again, to “make sure he could check them out before they got passed around.”

Thus began a ritual. Four times a week—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday—the lonely woman climbed on the bus with her chocolate chip cookies and rode around town, sharing treats and meeting new folks, turning Bus #572 into a friendly wagon of confection.

Once Mrs. Windermoot realized the chocolate chip cookies were a hit, she brought some little finger sandwiches, Rice Krispies treats—well, almost anything that came to her mind that she could make quickly for at least fifty people. Yes—it didn’t take long for the sweet old woman to gain a congregation of fifty admirers for all of her offerings.

A week passed. Two weeks. A month. Two months. Gradually, Mrs. Windermoot learned the story of Mickey, what the young man she originally met was hoping for his future, and the life stories of a dozen or more fellow travelers. It actually seemed that the bus was beginning to grow in attendance, if such a thing were possible. And everyone always seemed to be in a better mood once they boarded Bus #572 and headed off to pursue their responsibilities.

Then one morning, Mickey pulled the bus in front of her house and Mrs. Windermoot was not there. It was Wednesday. Mickey knew it was the right day. He was concerned, as were four or five other people, who stared out their windows, desperate to see the old lady emerge with her kindness and generosity.

But she was nowhere in sight.

Mickey was on a schedule, but his curiosity overwhelmed him. Where was she? Then his imagination went wild. Why wouldn’t she be out there? Was she alright? Did the old lady die?

It was right after this last question crossed his mind that Mickey decided to climb off the bus and go knock on her door. He did not notice that three or four other people joined him, apparently feeling a similar concern. Mickey knocked, and he knocked again. He peered in the window. There was no movement.

He reached over, tried the doorknob, and it opened. How foolish of the old lady not to lock her door, he thought.

But motioning to those who had trailed behind to “stay back!” he stepped into the house to investigate. Human nature being what it is, of course nobody listened to him, and they followed him through the door like a little train of detectives.

Inside there was an eerie silence. No sound.

There was one light on in the house, which appeared to be coming from the kitchen. Mickey inched toward the light, listening carefully for any movement. He was frightened—afraid of what he might find. He turned to those following, holding a finger to his lips, demanding that they remain quiet. He walked slowly to the opening of the kitchen, and as he rounded the corner he looked. There she was. It was Mrs. Windermoot.

She was sitting in a chair, peeling eggs.

She turned around, surprised to see Mickey in her home, and gasped. “What are you doing?” she demanded.

A good question. He didn’t know how to explain that he was expecting to find a body, not an egg peeler. “When you weren’t out there for the bus, I got scared, so I decided to check on you.”

Mrs. Windermoot glanced over at the clock that sat on the stove. “Well, you’re two hours early,” she explained.

Mickey looked at the same clock. It read 7:40. Leaning down and peering at it, he reported, “Ma’am, for some reason, the clock stopped. It’s 9:37,” he said, looking at his watch.

Mrs. Windermoot turned red with embarrassment. She looked behind Mickey and saw that there were six other people in the house, staring at her.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I thought I was ahead of my time! You see, I got up this morning deciding to boil eggs to make egg salad for our trip today. I wasn’t sure whether to hard boil them or soft boil them, so I decided to go in-between. But when I got to the in-between time, I thought how terrible it would be if they were runny, so I boiled them again.”

There was a pause, then everyone laughed.

Mrs. Windermoot was not certain why she was so hilarious, but she appreciated the affirmation. Mickey patted her on the shoulder and asked, “How long would it take you to finish your project?”

Mrs. Windermoot crinkled her brow, thinking intensely, as if pondering the national debt. “I should be ready in twenty minutes,” she said.

Mickey looked back at the passengers in the room, cleared his throat and said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. I shouldn’t do this, but there’s no reason why I can’t make four or five more stops, and then come back around on Johnson Street and pick you up—as long as NO ONE TELLS ON ME.” He raised his voice at the end.

Everybody nodded their heads in agreement. Mrs. Windermoot looked up at Mickey and said, “I’m sorry to have been so much trouble.”

Mickey patted her on the shoulder. “You’re no trouble at all. Matter of fact, a lot of trouble has left since you came along.”

Mickey corralled all the souls and they headed out the door. As they streamed back to the bus, Mickey realized he was taking a big chance by changing the schedule. What if someone noticed? What if there was a new customer who complained to the company about the delay? What if this was one of those weeks when there was a spy on the bus, evaluating his ability and performance?

As he reached the steps to climb into the bus, he scratched his head. He glanced back at the house, wondering if he should run and tell the old lady that he had changed his mind. Then…

Mickey shook his head and chuckled. “What the hell,” he said to himself. “No one’s gonna care. And I sure do love a good egg salad sandwich.”

Donate ButtonThe producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly donation for this inspirational opportunity

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