Untotaled: Stepping 13 (June 23rd, 1965) Old Lady Dickerson … May 10, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog

(2227)

(Transcript)

A nickel is five times more than what you need if you don’t have a penny to your name.

That’s where I found myself in the summer of ’65. I was an unemployed, untrainable, unteachable, unworkable, unadult young teenager.

What I did have in great abundance was need.

I had reached an age where money was suddenly important but totally unavailable. A simple principle was explained to me in vivid but boring detail: “If you want money, you gotta work.”

This was new. Since birth, food had been provided–trinkets, toys and even occasional trips–without me having to expend any energy except the occasional complaining whine, “Are we there yet?”

But now, when I requested money, my parents were suddenly a dry well, asking me to pursue odd jobs in order to procure some personal finance.

Now, there’s a reason they call them “odd jobs.” The jobs are odd–low paying, ridiculously stupid and generally speaking, hot and sweaty. I will not go into vivid detail about how I hated each and every one of these elements, but since I needed to raise five dollars for a gift I wanted to impart to myself, it became obvious that I was going to have to walk down to the end of our street and ask Old Lady Dickerson if she had any chores she needed done.

She always did. None of the other kids wanted to work for her. She was cheap and waited too long–thus making the task she requested even more difficult.

For instance, she didn’t mow her grass until it looked like an African Serengeti. And because she had a house full of cats, on those rare occasions when you needed to go in for a drink of water, you had to hold your breath–otherwise you would faint from the deadly feline perfume.

There were also rumors that because the grass was so high, mowing the lawn put you in danger of encountering snakes. Granted, they were just garter snakes, but that’s like saying, “These are only criminals that commit non-violent crimes.”

Yet I found myself making the trek down to her house to ask for work so that I could garner my five dollars.

Please understand–to get five dollars out of Old Lady Dickerson required that you work all week. She paid in quarters, which she squeezed out of her wrinkled, bony fingers, holding tightly to them, forcing you to nearly yank to acquire your payment.

This particular week of torture included mowing the lawn, where I did discover a garter snake, and like a frightened little girl, jumped back and pushed the mower really hard, over the top of it, spitting the slimy thing out the back end. I don’t know if I killed it, because I refused to mow anymore that day.

She also wanted to have her thistles removed. She wasn’t satisfied with having them mowed over. You had to get out there and pull them out with your hands. (There is a reason, you know, they are called thistles.)

And for some reason she had decided to clean up some old newspapers in her house which the cats had used as urinal pads. I literally put a clothes pin on my nose to perform the duty.

At the end of my five days of hard labor, she decided to pay me all at once instead of in quarters. Would you believe that old lady stiffed me a buck and only gave me four?

It was fine.

Many years later, she died, and one of the richer members of our community bought her house. I was told they had to tear out the walls and pull up the floors to get all of the cat stink out.

Did I learn anything from working for Old Lady Dickerson?

Yes.

I learned that I did not want to work with reptiles at the zoo, that thistles can pretty much have their way in my yard and that it is always a good investment to find a young man or young lady … to mow your lawn.

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Where’s Ya’ Goin’? … December 8, 2013

Jonathots Daily Blog

(2089)

older boy with SantaAt twenty-two years of age, I was an unsettling blend of fun-loving, lazy, irresponsible and unfortunately, just talented enough to have reason to pursue a dream that was trying desperately to elude me. What happens in this type of situation is that normally you do quite well–until you run out of money.

Finance is not the most important thing in life, but it does buy you time to think about the important things.

So at Christmas time, I decided I needed to go out and make some candy-cane funding for my little family, and opted to pursue being Santa Claus. I was built for the position. Matter of fact, when I applied at the department store, they were delighted because the costume fit me perfectly and they didn’t have to add padding.

Honestly, I was pretty good at it, being Santa Claus. It involved acting, joking, caring … and could all be done from a seated position. The best of all my worlds.

Still, because cash flow was tight, I wasn’t able to afford money for lunch, so I lived on candy canes from my bag, which I gave to the children. I carefully tried to insert them into my mouth past the synthetic beard provided for me to accentuate the part. As you probably have already visualized, candy canes are sticky, and I was often unable to push the candy cane past the beard without including some hair in the process. It was yucky, but it was sweet.

Every three hours I was given a break, and would go down a freight elevator to enjoy some water and free time. One day, much to my surprise, a young boy about six years old followed me to the back of the store to the freight elevator, and surprised me when he piped up, “Where’s ya’ goin’?”

I was shocked. But wanting to maintain integrity, I continued my role.

Ho! Ho! Ho! Santa’s going to go feed his reindeer!” I said with abundant joviality.

“Where’s are dey?”

“Just down this elevator in the basement, waiting for me to bring them food.”

“Is dis the magic food that makes dem fly?” he inquired.

“Yes. I mean, no. Not yet. After all, don’t want ’em to fly until Christmas Eve.” I produced another ‘ho-ho-ho.’

“Which reindeer do you like best?” he continued.

(We were in the midst of a conversation which was quickly becoming an interview. I not only was losing my quiet time, but realized that in a few short moments, I would be beyond my expertise.)

“I like them all the same,” I shared with equity.

“I like Blitzen,” he said with assurety.

“Why is that, young man?”

“Such a cool name. And also, I think he helps Donner pull the sleigh, because sometimes Donner’s a little weak because he’s getting older. Just like my Grandma.”

Wow. This was getting way too deep for a department store Santa Claus.

“Well, I gotta go now,” I said, trying to inch my way to the elevator.

“Can I go with you?”

I should have known this was coming and prepared myself with a good answer. But I was twenty-two years old and punching a clock, even if it was for the North Pole.

“No, you can’t.” That’s all I came up with.

“Why?” he asked.

Once again, a predictable question. I decided to be honest.

“It’s because Santa Claus is tired right now and needs to put his boots up so he’ll be ready to talk to other boys and girls and find out what they want for Christmas.”

Much to my surprise, he accepted this and nodded his head.

“Can I ask you one more question?” he said softly.

“Sure.” He was so adorable I couldn’t turn him down.

“Are you the real Santa Claus?”

He looked up at me with a glance that any Hollywood producer would require off of a child actor, but unfortunately never get, no matter how many takes are procured. What should I say to him?

I thought about the standard fare:

  • No, I’m not really Santa Claus. I’m just one of his helpers.
  • I’m just filling in for him today because he’s busy making toys.

But momentarily inspired, I replied, “What do you think?’

He crinkled his nose, squinted at me, and said, “I think you are.”

“Then you’re probably right,” I concluded.

He hugged my leg, turned on his heel and strolled away, singing.

I thought to myself how wonderful it was to be childlike. What a disadvantage to be so old that I couldn’t believe like him anymore, and so young that my lack of belief would cost me for quite some time to come.

In all my life, I never met anybody who was better off for doubting. I have never seen atheists, agnostics or even overly zealous thinkers walk away singing.

Maybe in the vast spectrum of reality they are better off possessing knowledge, but for me, I want to be like that little boy:

Chase my dreams, talk to my ambitions and walk away … singing.

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Overreaction … January 18, 2013

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BushmasterSlight traces of mercury are found in apple juice in containers from Upper State New York. As a precaution, a nationwide recall is made of all apple juice, not only from that particular company, but also from all distributors for a season, to ensure the public safety.

An overreaction.

A report is made that a razor blade is found in apples given out at Halloween to children near Cleveland, Ohio. A warning is broadcast across the nation via the media, informing parents of this danger. So many of these loving individuals take their children’s candy to the local hospital, where free inspections and X-rays of the treats are made available. Other parents (including yours truly) make sure they comb through every piece of sweet so that their children will not be damaged. It ends up being an isolated incident, in one case in one community.

So all the concern was certainly an overreaction.

Arsenic is discovered in several capsules of Tylenol near Chicago, Illinois. Within hours, all Tylenol products are pulled off the shelves, quarantined and put to the test, to make sure the public is protected from this poisonous outbreak. Once again, it was limited to that single store.

One might consider this an overreaction.

In the Pacific Northwest, ecoli turns up in some fresh spinach, making several people ill and causing the death of one. Within twenty-four hours, all fresh spinach is removed from the produce aisles, to shield us all from what turns out to be a very narrow spectrum of danger.

Likewise, toys that came from China had tiny particles of lead in the paint, forcing concerned parties to cease accepting shipments and to physically take all such products off the shelves.

An overreaction?

And now, twelve years later, we are still removing our shoes, having all of our possessions radiated and even being frisked at airports because of what happened on September 11th, 2001. Simultaneously, due to that tragedy, a Patriot Act was quickly voted into place, which limited freedoms and allowed for personal intrusions into our lives when it was deemed necessary to guard the common good.

An overreaction?

The truth of the matter is, if tomorrow’s news cycle generated a story in which a young man in Atlanta, Georgia, threw a coconut cream pie at one of his fellow-students in the cafeteria at Oglethorpe High School, in a matter of just a few hours, coconut cream pies would be removed from all cafeterias in our schools, deemed a recent danger. An investigation would be set into motion to determine when and how the treat could be returned to the menu.

Certainly an overreaction.

Yet when the Newtown Twenty-six were lying in their own blood in an elementary school, the American public, rather than producing a righteous overreaction by ceasing further commerce in the matter of weapons, ammunition and insisting on a full investigation of the kind of mental illness that produces such a macabre fiasco–yes, instead of this NORMAL overreaction that Americans would grant to a bunch of suspected spinach, the public instead went out and bought more guns than they ever have before–especially interested in the assault rifle used by the assailant who murdered our children.

No overreaction. Really no debate.

We are settling for a contentious conversation about how we can continue to be mediocrely prepared for such mayhem, while continuing to put an amendment in first place, which should be secondary to human lives.

Do I have this right? Spinach and Tylenol can be blamed in entirety for delivering ecoli and arsenic, which is not in the original makeup. But guns get a free pass simply because normally they sit on a shelf, waiting to be used. If spinach and Tylenol are blamed for producing a few deaths when they are completely innocent, guns must take their turn.

The only way for us to prove that we are serious about stopping violence in this country is to generate an overreaction, demanding a thirty-day moratorium on the sale of any weapons. It would speed up the process of our debate–because certainly the gun sellers would want to expedite a conclusion–and it would show that we have as much concern for our children’s safety from bullets as we do from ecoli.

The absence of this is the presence of a nationwide insanity, riddled with hypocrisy, which renders us at the mercy of an instrument that has a trigger on it, which can be pulled by anyone at anytime.

I am not against guns. I am against guns until we find out how we can keep them in the possession of the common citizen without putting the general citizenry in jeopardy.

And please do not quote the Second Amendment to me unless you’ve taken a moment to read it. The Second Amendment allows for a militia, which, if you move ahead to current time, would be the police force. I have no problem with policemen having automatic weapons. And by the way, the Second Amendment has already been infringed upon–because it allows citizens to BEAR arms. Most states have laws against walking around toting a pistol. You have to have a carrying permit, which after all, is the government infringing on your rights.

This is not a states’ rights issue. This is not about personal freedom. It is about the necessity we have as intelligent people to overreact when we realize … that a bit of hell is threatening our heaven.

It is time for an overreaction to violence. It is our responsibility to give the Newtown Twenty-six a decent burial and memory by taking more than five minutes to commemorate the loss, but instead, honoring these casualties by making sure that they … are the last ones.

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