Untotaled: Stepping 41 (July 14th, 1967) Needing Change… November 22, 2014

 Jonathots Daily Blog



It had never happened before.

There was going to be a carnival set up at the Westerville Shopping Center, right across the street from Redman’s Hardware.

Even though that in itself was cool, even cooler was that this cavalcade of amusements was advertising unlimited rides and midway games for five dollars for the whole day.

It was great.

The only trouble was, Randy and I didn’t have five dollars apiece, so I was ready to do my usual small-town plan of giving up and spending my carnival time complaining about missing the parade.

Randy, on the other hand, had an idea.

He went down to our local phone booth, sitting on the north corner of the Town Commons, and stuffed a bunch of Kleenex into the change return, so that when people missed a call or had money coming back their way, it would get caught and would not return to them.

I thought it was the dumbest idea I’d ever heard.

I wasn’t so concerned that it was dishonest as that I didn’t think we would ever get ten dollars out of such an adventure, with the money coming out in increments of ten cents a throw.

But Rand did it anyway, and three days later, when he pulled out the Kleenex, we ended up with a haul of $10.75.

Apparently a very popular phone booth.

We could not have been more giddy. We went to the carnival and had a fabulous time, never once feeling guilty about how we acquired the funds.

No, for me it was four days later.

I was sitting in my mother and father’s loan company, and I peered out the window and saw there was a policeman inspecting the phone booth.

It scared the crap out of me.

I had to do something–not out of guilt over my misstep, but rather, because I didn’t want to go to Juvenile Hall, where I heard they only served partially cooked pot pies.

So when my parents weren’t looking, I snuck into the safe of the loan company and grabbed a roll of dimes. I quietly stepped over to the phone booth, trying to pretend like I was going to make a call, and as calmly as possible, stuffed that whole role of dimes back into the slot, one at a time, to do recompense for my sin.

Once again, it never occurred to me that I stole from my parents to cover my previous thievery.

It was nearly three weeks later, when my uncle gave me five dollars for school supplies, that my conscience finally showed up.

I determined to go to the bank, purchase a roll of dimes and slip them back into the safe, no one the wiser.

Unfortunately, my plan was foiled by the fact that my parents hung around all day long, never giving me the chance to do penance.

I decided to try again the next day, but on the way home I passed by the local five and dime, and they were advertising candy bars–six for 20 cents.

Well, the only 20 cents I had was in the roll of dimes, and I thought, what the hell? What difference would two dimes make?

The next day I forgot to return my dimes to the loan company, but I did stop off at the Dairy Queen to get a hot dog and a coke, which took another seven dimes.

Long story short, within a week I spent all the dimes I had planned to return.

I didn’t feel bad–I felt stupid.

I did make one determination, and that was to never steal from the phone booth again. And when Randy tempted me, I changed the subject and refrained from further iniquity.

From then on, I went on a personal journey in search of my own integrity.

It was ten years later, long after my dad had died.

I was visiting my mother at her home, and I walked up to her and gently placed a roll of dimes into her hand. She looked up at me, quizzically.

I patted her on the shoulder and said, “It’s a really, really long story…”


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Egging Me On… March 30, 2013


eggsI was eleven years of age, living in a household where my four-and-a-half-year-old younger brother was sucking all the life, appreciation, attention and love from the room, as I wandered about like some sort of unexplained pudgy blob, bumping into furniture and constantly being reminded by my meticulous mother that my hands were filthy. Meanwhile, my younger brother smelled like a diaper pail and had dried oatmeal on his face leftover from two days previously, and he was adorable. Go figure.

It was Easter time and I knew that my mother and father were probably going to purchase me an Easter basket, along with the one they would select for the divine child of promise. So I stepped in early on and told them that I was too old for plastic grass and funny stuffed animals, and that I would prefer to have two dozen chocolatemarshmallow eggs. I loved them. Of course, what’s not to love? But I seriously had an abiding, deep, everlasting affection for these treats.

To my great surprise, on Easter morning, my little brother received his Easter basket, which more resembled the Horn of Plenty, and I got a box with two dozen chocolate-marshmallow eggs, carefully placed in the slots, looking not only well-organized, but ready for consumption. I immediately was informed, though, that I was allowed to have three of these wonder units right now, and that the box would be kept in the bottom of my dad’s closet, so that I wouldn’t overeat on the sweets. I would have to ask permission to have one.

I’m sorry–this was unacceptable.

I knew better than to argue with them, so instead, fell back on my preferred profile–plotting. I came up with an ingenious plan. For you see, in our little town was an establishment called Hills Drug Store (that was back in the time before places like that went to college and became pharmacies). Mr. Hill was what my parents referred to as a “goof.” He was so nice that people thought he might be crazy. I think parents in this day and age might actually be suspicious of him, fearing he might be a pedophile because of his gentleness toward children.

Mr. Hill had a practice of buying a ton of Easter candy, which no one in town ever purchased, because they were partial to driving over to the big city of Westerville to procure their holiday treats. So every year, the day after Easter, he would take this abundance of confections and put them on sale–huge mark-downs. So I knew that I would be able to acquire many of these chocolate-marshmallow eggs, which I could use as a means of re-stocking the box in my dad’s closet as I diminished the number of little ovals by overeating them. That way my parents would never know how many I was absorbing, and I could stuff my face with chocolate-marshmallow and still once a day, ask them for my portion, without fear.

It was brilliant.

And fortunately for me, that year Mr. Hill outdid himself, offering a box of twelve chocolate-marshmallow eggs for a dime.

Now you must realize, I had only two sources of income. The first one was a chair in our home, where my dad would sit at night, and if he was wearing his loose-fitting corduroys, the change in his pocket would fall out and go into the cushions, and I could come back later and procure treasure. My second source of money was to go down to the local telephone booth near the library and to cross my toes and stick my finger in the change return slot, hoping that someone had forgotten to retrieve their returning money. Also, occasionally near the phone booth, an absent-minded grown-up might just drop the dime they had retrieved on the ground while attempting to put it into a pocket. It was a chancy thing, but about one time out of every five, I was able to acquire the magical coin. Between those two sources, I was funded for this particular project.

It worked beautifully for the first week. I ate so many chocolate-marshmallow eggs that I nearly became sick of them. (I said NEARLY.) I then replenished them with the eggs I bought at Hill’s Drug Store, and my parents were never the wiser.

One day I came home, a bit perturbed because Mr. Hill had just informed me that the last of the chocolate-marshmallow eggs had been purchased by Mrs. Smithers, who for some reason or another thought the kids at the orphanage might “enjoy them.” I was already a little depressed from this slight when I slipped to the closet and discovered that the box was gone. Yes–the entire box.

I panicked. I broke out in a sweat. I was addicted and the only thing I viewed in my future was withdrawal.

I pulled myself together and went out to ask my mother what happened to the box of chocolate-marshmallow eggs. She explained that she had discovered it that morning, saw that it was full, and figured that I had just stopped liking chocolate-marshmallow eggs, so she gave them away to little Jimmy, the boy next door, who had just broken his leg tripping over his cat while taking out the trash.

I was horrified. I wanted to rebuke her for such nonsense, but then I would have to reveal the details of my devious plan. I slipped away in silence, sitting in a corner, moping and dreaming of my old friends, who now lived with Jimmy.

What I learned that day was…

Well, I really didn’t learn anything. I just really missed my eggs.

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Twenty-four Miles… December 23, 2011

Jonathan in Miami

It was three days until Christmas.

I was so young, so inexperienced and so poor. I had two children–one four and one two-and-a-half years of age. In the previous week I had developed a severe toothache which became infected and caused my jaw to swell. I didn’t go to the dentist for three reasons: (1) no money, (2) no insurance, and (3) no real assurance.

I had hated the dentist since I was a tiny kid and my parents took me to see a chap who didn’t believe in Novocaine. (I was unaware that pain relievers were a spiritual issue, but apparently, to this fellow, they were.) Needless to say, I was not anxious to have someone pry into my mouth. But it finally hurt so much and I was getting so physically sick that I broke down and went to a dentist, explaining that I was without funds but would “gladly pay him on Tuesday for a hamburger today…”

He was reluctant–not so much over the money, but because I really required oral surgery and he didn’t have the time to do a good job. But sensing my desperation, he decided to just slit my jaw open on the inside and squeeze out all the infection and then give me antibiotics to take and hope for the best. I had never taken antibiotics before, so they immediately made me feel loopy, a little sick to my stomach and gave me a strange vacant sensation.

So returning to my story, it started to snow.  I was in Westerville, Ohio, which was twenty-four miles from my little apartment above a drugstore in Centerburg. I use the word “apartment” here for the reader’s understanding; actually it was just a large room that was formerly used for storage, and the industrious pharmacist had placed a refrigerator, a toilet and bath and had rigged up some sort of heating and cooling system that generously cooled in the winter and heated in the summer.

We were poor. (Oh, I remember. I already told you that. We were macaroni-and-cheese-with-chicken-hot-dog poor–only having a two-burner hot plate and an electric skillet, which had a cord that only worked directly on alternating days. We had to be quite ingenious in our meal planning. So we would have sweet-and-sour macaroni and cheese with chicken hot dogs and jump the next night to barbecue macaroni and cheese with chicken hot dogs. On Sundays we would have a special surprise: macaroni and cheese and chicken hot dog meat loaf.)

Anyway, back to my story with my tooth and adventures with antibiotics. Three days before Christmas it started to snow like it normally doesn’t snow in Central Ohio. What I mean is, it actually snowed like they forecast when it usually doesn’t. It was the closest thing to a blizzard I had ever experienced in the Buckeye state. I needed to get home but I had an old car with no heater and tires that had lost their hair months before, leaving them quite bald.

Also, quite bluntly, I waited too long. By the time I made the decision to drive the twenty-four miles to be with my family, the streets were completely blanketed. But I was young and stupid (which may be redundant). It was pitch black with nobody on the road when I turned on the old 3-C Highway and journeyed northward towards Centerburg. Within just a few miles, the road disappeared and my only landmarks to know where to drive and not end up in a ditch were the telephone poles on both sides of the highway, which I tried to stay precisely between.

About five miles down the road, I started to get a headache, my neck cramped and my heart started to palpitate. I thought I was dying. Part of me believed I was having a heart attack or stroke and another part thought I was reacting to the antibiotics mingled with my apprehension about the storm and my insufficient tank, rolling along in the inclement weather. I crept like a turtle at twenty miles per hour, believing I was going to pass out at any moment.

Fortunately, there were no cars on the road, only a snow truck that had slid off into the ditch, but still maintained the integrity of its blinking yellow light. I realized that if I couldn’t keep my tires rolling forward, that I, too, would end up buried somewhere in the snow, slumped over my steering wheel, gasping for air from my sudden infestation of illness.

I was scared.

Scared is a bad thing–but it does afford one quality contribution–it makes us think about what’s important. On that stretch of road, with snow falling all around me and ice-cold air blowing into my face from my alleged heater, I realized that I had much to do and had tackled very little of it. I was living in a space that was insufficient to my needs, trying to duck out early in the morning so my landlord would not ask me for overdue rent. I was getting fatter by eating low-quality food and failing to provide basic needs. But as important as all of that was to the betterment of my life, the main thing that troubled me was that I had stagnated my dreams while insisting I was pursuing them. I was a musician, a writer and an artist but I spent more time explaining what I wanted to do than actually performing my vision. I was about to die in the middle of a blizzard in a beat-up Chevy from an overdose of antibiotics due to botched surgery on my jaw and would never be able to celebrate this Christmas with my little family.

I just cried.

It’s not good to cry when you’re driving through a snow storm. My windshield was already smeared with all sorts of slush and sludge, and the tears only served to further diminish my vision–but I didn’t care. I cried. Part of it was feeling sorry for myself, part of it was that my mouth still hurt from the surgery and some of it was that I was lost. I said one word.


That’s it. Actually, even to this day, it is the most effective prayer I have ever uttered. As I came out of my little plea, the snow stopped pelting my car and turned into a mere flurry. The road became clearer. My neck stopped hurting and I was able to drive the remaining miles without fear, to arrive at my home and grab my two little boys, throwing them together into one bed with my wife and myself, covering us with all the blankets in the house and giggling ourselves to sleep.

The road became clearer.

But often we have to be willing for it to freeze over and threaten our complete demise before we can actually see where we’re going. Did my life drastically change after that? No–but I did make a great, gradual improvement.

Twenty-four miles took me into the heart of my problem, gave me a frigid view of my condition and then, when I relented to reason and cried for help mercifully set me free.


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