Monthly Archives: August 2013

Matter

Chalmers Penn began to think he didn’t matter anymore. He knew he still existed, but even when he looked in the mirror, he seemed a little less there. Not mentally, that was all good, but he could almost swear that he was fading.

This required some tests. He started on Monday. Something small, just in case it was a mental thing, he wore tennis shoes to work. Not is decent, casual Friday ones, but the ones he used to cut the grass, air-conditioned from a few holes and dyed stark green from the blood of a million blades of grass.

He had no meetings. No deliveries and his lunch pal, Bill was out of the office for two days so Monday seemed to be a bust. There were no opportunities for people to see his shoes, except for maybe Betsy whom he stopped by to ask a question, but she was deeply entrenched in a phone conversation, busily handling one of her standard fires and neglected to see him.

On Tuesday, he decided to bump things up a bit by wearing his old college Hawaiian party shirt and his grass cutting shoes. He had a fairly big meeting with Jolsten that afternoon and surely it would be a topic for discussion. Unfortunately, just as he got to Alice’s desk, Jolsten’s admin, she was cancelling his meetings for the rest of the afternoon and was informing Bolger, Jolsten’s boss, since his afternoon was clear, golf was a go.

On Wednesday, Penn decided to keep the shirt and the shoes and bump things up by getting drunk at breakfast and staying drunk all day. Not boomingly, stupidly drunk, but impaired enough to be noticeable. Near lunch time Bill swung around as he normally did, peeked over the rim of Penn’s cubicle and then wordlessly, hastily stepped away.

Did he see me or did he see me? Chalmers wondered. “Hey, Bill…” but Bill was gone.

In the cafeteria, by himself, he filled his tray with pretzels and three orders of fish strips. He stopped hiding his vodka bottle and left it right there on the tray next to the two cans of lemon-lime soda he would use to mix it in. He noticed no stares, no slight comments…nothing. In line to pay, the cashier offered a smile and a pleasant exchange to the lady before him and then visually skipped him to greet the man after him. He stood at the end of the line while she took three more customers before deciding to leave.

Thursday he avoided the mirror. He was afraid more of what he might not see than what he expected to see, less of him. His phone never rang. It was eight days since he received a text from anyone, and he was nearly run over by that bicycle delivery boy. He decided that he must take one more, potentially catastrophic test. He went to work entirely naked, with a few drinks in him for courage, and went about his day.

On Friday, Chalmers Penn’s apartment was quiet and empty. A few dirty dishes stood in the sink unattended, a clock on a bookcase ticked as it had dutifully for years, but Chalmers Penn was nowhere to be seen.

Dinner

Lewis opened the door to the fridge with a sort of blind ignorance tied to a wish that maybe this time, there would be something there he might not be responsible for,  some kind of gift left by fairies, or trolls, or leprechauns.

Wrong again.

A quick visual survey confirmed the only things in there were things he put there and hadn’t used yet. Most of the things he couldn’t use without getting more things. Swinging the door wide, the light came up on three beers, two pounds of butter, an expired jar of green olives where the remaining two olives were floating in a murky brine, a dried up carrot, a tiny jar of orange marmalade someone got him from a recent trip to the sunny south and one slice of American cheese where the corners were getting hard because he neglected to close the Ziplock properly.

What was he doing with so much butter?

He grabbed one of the beers, now dinner, and the carrot. He tossed the carrot into the garbage bin, snapped the top off the beer and held it to his head. It was so hot he was convinced there was a sizzle when the can touched his skin.

The air conditioning blew out earlier this morning and being a bit late on the rent certainly didn’t seem to motivate the super into coming up to have a look at it.

The first course of dinner went down fast. He barely tasted it. He opened the fridge again, grabbed a second beer – the main course – and forced himself to slow down enough to make it last. He would try not to get at the last one tonight. What could be dessert might have to be breakfast in the morning.

He plopped himself down onto the chair of his nook-sized kitchen table and stared up at the bright, naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Sweat dripped down his face.

“What a mess,” he said softly to himself. It might have been the fifth time he said it in the last thirty minutes and he lost count of how many times it rolled across his mind this week. It was only Wednesday. There were still many more eye-opening moments of full failure realization to go before he had two solid days to wallow in his unfortunate circumstance free of the burden of weekly annoyances.

Of course, the rent was due on Friday, really two months worth now, and while part of his mind churned on any one of a number of creative excuses for not having the full amount this month, the other half was scheming away at how he could get the money in two days, and how getting the money would certainly turn things around…or at least start to turn things around.

All of his thoughts began with phrases like, “if I could just,” or “if only.” Phrases you might hear on a Saturday morning cartoon where Scooby and the gang are about to be done in by this week’s mystery, when “if only” results in a misstep, that results in an accident, that results in everything working out and the kids becoming heroes for saving the day.

Lewis had some pretty big “if onlys.” Short of running around his apartment shoving bookcases and trying to turn light fixtures to possibly reveal a secret passage or untold wealth, he was pretty certain there was no neat and clean Scooby ending awaiting him at the end of a 90 second commercial break.

He got up and walked to the fridge. It was probably just as good a night as any to have a little dessert.

That’s Crisco!

Jake kicked his heels into the dirt at the base of the tree and leaned deeper into the shade. Biscuit sprawled out on his back across the grass and pulled his ball cap over his eyes to keep out the glaring summer sun. It was another glorious summer day, but after hitting the ice cream truck, riding their bikes through Mrs. McCatanney’s sprinklers and then all the way across Montgomery Field, they found it was a good time for a break.

“We should invent our own language for stuff,” Biscuit said

“What do you mean? Like a code?”

“Kind of, sort of, not really. A code is something that only we would use. Like when we came up with ‘Sparlez.’ We had Charles, who is a spaz, and we mixed them up to make Sparlez. That’s a code. If we made up a language, everybody could use it.”

Jake squinted up the sun then clamped his eyes shut. He traced the remnant aura back and forth under his eyelids. “Oh, you mean like how people say, ‘cool.’”

“Yeah.”

“That’s dumb. Why would we do that? Who would use our language?”

Biscuit rolled over onto his elbow letting his hat drop to the ground. “If it was good enough, everybody would use it. We’d be famous!”

“You’re a dork.”

“Shut up. And you just proved my point. Who do you think came up with dork?”

“I don’t know. Some dork. He’s certainly not famous.”

“Just because we don’t know him, doesn’t mean he’s not famous for coming up with the word. That could be us.”

“You want to be a dork? No, a ‘dork-maker’?”

“No, I want to make cool names for stuff that other people will use liiike…Crisco!”

“You are now a super-dork!” Jake said laughing and resetting his feet. “Crisco is already a word.”

“Yeah – but we can use Crisco to mean something is slick. ‘That’s pretty Crisco!’ That’s pretty slick. See?”

Biscuit rolled over onto his back again and reset his hat.

“How about, gelatinous?” Jake said.

“Hm…gelatinous,” said Biscuit. “Good word, but what’s it mean in our language? Use it in a sentence.”

“Ok.” Jake paused in thought. “The plan to get Jerry Brigg’s Jonathan Tyler rookie card was gelatinous. It means, the plan is good, almost super solid and can work, but it might be a little shaky.”

“That’s not bad,” Biscuit said. “How about, needs soap? Like, you know how Chester Ding always smells like armpit? We could just say, ‘needs soap’ and leave it just like that.”

“That’s like code.”

“I guess, a little,” said Biscuit. “At least until it catches on.”

“I don’t know,” said Jake. “It all sounds pretty paper to me.”

Biscuit sat up. “Paper?”

“Yeah, paper, super thin. Probably not going to work. See what I did there?”

“I see. That’s Crisco!” Biscuit said pulling himself up. “Let’s go write these down. It’s too hot out here.”

“You mean it’s…solar!”

“I guess. Let’s go.”

“Don’t you mean let’s…zoom?

Biscuit straddled his bike. “I think I created a monster.”

“Do you mean you created a…jumpdog?”

“Shut up already!”

“Are you telling me to…pop mouth?”

“Come on! Shut up! Let’s go…let’s Zoom!”

 

Eulogy

Calvert Jennings gripped the edge of the lectern. He looked up into the moderate crowd of mostly strangers, strangers to him anyway. He supposed that, while still on the younger side, in his mind, this sort of thing would start happening more often, but he hoped the opportunity to play this role would be rare.

“Friends and family of Cranston Bink, thank you for being here today and thank you for this opportunity to speak on Cranston’s behalf.”

He paused, needing a deeper breath due to the weight of the moment.

“I’ve known Bink most of my life. Although our paths moved us near and far and near again, we kept in touch loosely over the years and when we were able to get together, we usually picked right up where we left off, as if I had just seen him the day before.”

A slight smile came to him.

“Bink would probably hate this. Those of you who knew him well, knew that he didn’t stand on ceremony. He liked things to happen organically. He thought if people really wanted to celebrate, or react to something, they should be able to drop everything and do so. He would say that celebrations rarely happen organically because there is always someone somewhere who feels the need to organize. They would want to make it an event and it would be something bigger than it needed to be. Organization takes time and planning, and time and planning tend to kill genuine impulse, genuine joy. Celebrations should not be events, he would say. Events become more about the planner than the occurrence.

While tragic for us, Bink is probably happy that his passing came at a time where people who really knew him could gather and reflect upon the joys of his existence. He told me once that he feared getting too old, because when you’re too old and you die, there is nobody left to speak for you…the real you. Rather, if you get someone to stand up for you, it’s generally a canned speech from someone who sees you as an assignment, something on a to-do list before they wash their hands and go home for dinner, or get a drink, or to take their kid to soccer practice.

Being properly represented was important to him. You know that in talking to him, he worked to make himself clear and that there was a rationale that drove him, and a sense of self-image he felt comfortable working with.

As I look at you, I sense some of you may still be a little tender about some of the things he said about God, about religion. One of the last things he said to me was that he hoped you understood where he was coming from. It’s not an apology. It’s just more reflective of who he was. However, since he was likely going away, he didn’t want to leave on ill terms. His words.

You see, not being religious himself, an offer of prayer, while heartfelt and genuine for you, was for him a failure in his ability to communicate with you his feelings and needs without trampling on yours.

He knew that a sense of faith is something deep inside people. He knew he could no more ask someone, or expect someone, to turn off his or her prayer mindset, than he could not tell a joke. But he felt that if you really knew him and respected who he was as a person, there would never be a prayer between you. For him, that was OK. While he would take all the good energy and good thoughts you might throw his way, he had very little use for someone’s prayers.

It might be semantics. Maybe prayers are just another way of sharing good energy, but he liked to say that reaching out to some far great beyond for assistance is like bringing a mediator into your negotiations for buying a new car. Why do you need the middleman? You’ll get to where you need to be eventually, and you’ll be stronger for the journey. He thought it diminished the direct link between you and I know he got a lot from you all directly in those last few weeks. It was your being there, your energy that helped him through to the end.

Bink was a moral man. He was a smart man. He had a nearly unshakable faith in himself, a confidence that many of us might envy.

I don’t know where you go after this. Bink and I had many long discussions on the matter. We got no closer to a final resolution than we are today. We thought once the best heaven was where you got to go be your favorite character from your favorite movie, so it’s quite possible that there is a new Han Solo galloping around the galaxy, fighting the good fight.

To close, one of the last things Bink and I talked about before he faded into sleep was how much he enjoyed the ride. That even the dull, drudgery of the day-to-day, held within it glorious sunsets and magical full moons, flowers and laughter and snow and handshakes, fresh fruit and hugs. The world is magic if you know where to look. And it can be depressing and hard, but it can also be made easier just by saying so.

He does not want you to leave here in tears. He wants you to leave here with hope and a smile. And when we’re done here, he wanted me to tell you to all go out and get a sandwich and enjoy being together.”

Fourth Date

Corvis suspected the date could have gone better.

It was their fourth official date overall. They had done things with groups of people and there were several events where they both showed up and did the “hanging out” thing, so his association with Melody had some time behind it. Up until now, he felt there might even be some roots here from which they could grow a strong relationship.

That thought made him pause. He wondered why, when he thought of relationships, his analogies always involved farming. Being a middle manager at Allus-Smith made him pretty much the farthest thing from a farmer, and the very pathetic looking “lucky bamboo” on his desk sealed the notion should there be any lingering doubt.

Mulling over the evening, he was hard pressed to put a finger on where things took a turn. Dates one through three went nicely. They built on each other as one might prep a field for planting. (There it was again.)

The fourth date seemed polluted with missteps and awkward moments. Maybe they were both off their game a little bit. The conversation seemed forced, the jokes – stale. They ate a quiet dinner and the evening capped with his grand statement about the suffering souls in third world countries and how things wouldn’t be so bad for them if…

He couldn’t recall the exact remark now, but once it left his lips he knew it was bad. Like stepping in something unfortunate, he knew it was not where he wanted to be, but his foot was right in it.

Her recoil to the remark, which he was sure he meant as a joke, was contained, yet her face let slip a certain amount of hurt or discomfort, he couldn’t say which, as if he said something pointed and hurtful at her directly. He learned in date two that she was born and raised, like her entire family, in Muncie and lived there until almost recently. This stint in Chicago was the farthest she had ever been away from home, much less a third-world country.

Dates one through three ended with shy smiles, and “let’s do this again…soon,” sort of phrases. This date ended with thank you, I’m tired, drive safe.

As he pulled away from her building, making a mental note that third-world country jokes were straight off the table, he feared he was being immortalized in her diary as another example of what she did not want her future mister to be. That her impressions of him, certainly unfair at this point, would be added to however many men she made notes about, that when considered collectively would guide how she moved forward into future relationships. That’s what women do right?

If date five happens, if by some miracle he figures out what triggered the chill and she is able to resolve his callous thoughts in her own mind, he resolved to step more carefully. If he can figure out what the error was, he will apologize. Unless bringing it up re-stirs the pot, then he would let it go. Then of course, he runs the risk of not acknowledging the error, cementing the notion that he is an uncaring clod and being definitively and officially marked in her diary as Mr. Wrong.

Storm clouds seemed to come from nowhere and while the promise of rain is good for the seeds of a new relationship, a torrent, a flood will only destroy them.

A scowl crossed his face. What was with the farming thing?

Membership

Because it looked a bit on the disgusting side, Den took two towels and draped them over the stationary bicycle. With the bulk of the seat covered, he moved on to the handle and display. Because of the odd way the bike sat, it took about four towels to get it right. He used two more towels to cover any other visible portion of the machine, save for the pedals and any other moving bits. It would not do good to have any of the cloth getting caught up somewhere.

“Damn,” he said.

“Can I help you sir?” The staff representative at the Bright Morning Health Club and Juice Bar startled him.

“Yes,” Den said, not really looking up from his work. “It seems I’ve run out of towels. Could you go get me about four more.”

“Sir, it looks like you already have a fair number of towels.”

Den stopped and finally looked at the young man standing before him. He had a light blue polo shirt, khaki shorts, white socks and sneakers. He wore a name badge that identified the youth both as “Stanley” and as an “Honor Associate.”

“Ah…Stanley is it?” Den said. Stanley nodded. “How does the club here define a fair number of towels?”

“Sir?”

“Simple question Stanley. You said I have a fair number of towels. How is that defined?”

“I’m not sure specifically,” Stanley said slowly and with a modicum of hesitance, sort of like how one might approach a strange animal. “Most people use one or two.”

“Ah. Very good. Do you know how long I’ve been coming to this club?”

“No, sir.”

“I’ve been a paying member of this club for three years. I’ve paid my dues regularly and on time. This is, however, only the second time I’ve ever set foot in this place. The reasons are not important. I get busy. I forget. I have other things to do. The list goes on and on. The main point is, now that I’m here, I feel I deserve a little of what I have been paying for. Does that sound fair?”

“Yes, sir”

“Good. Now the way I see it, using your example, my being a member here allows me access to, let’s say two towels per visit. I imagine an average member might come here three times a week. Over a year that is 156 visits. Over my three-year membership that would be 468 visits. Take away the one time I’ve already been here and that leaves 467. Multiply that by a standard two towel a visit limit and you could say I am due the use of 934 towels.”

“Yes, sire, but that’s…”

“Ridiculous, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Of course it is. I’m not sure you have over 900 towels available. But if I were to demand them, I would certainly be within my rights as a paid member to use the facilities as I see fit within the rules as they were established. Is there written rule that indicates a limit on towels, Stanley?”

“No, sir. Not that I’m aware of.”

“Do you want to start bringing me out over 900 towels Stanley?”

“I’d rather not sir.”

“I thought not. If you think about it, another half a dozen towels or so doesn’t seem so crazy now, does it?”

“No, sir…if you put it that way.”

“Very good young man, now off you go! Bring me, let’s say, an even dozen towels and we’ll call it a day.”

“Yes, sir.”

Star

Pap Doyle stood by the backstage entrance of Packertt Valley Theatre and ArtsExplorationCenter as he had done so many times before. There was so much activity at the theatre these days, it almost felt like his regular beat. It was a perfect assignment for he wasn’t the kind to get star struck. So even while he enjoyed seeing the “stars,” he could focus on the task at hand, protecting them.

Each act, each celebrity had his or her own persona. Each persona generated a crowd to match. It’s funny how a group of people, normally probably fairly well disconnected, are drawn together for something and that group as a whole develops a personality of its own. The teens stars bring out the kids and lots of screaming. The moodier, “deeper” artists bring out the crowds of kids who like to dress in black, accept for their hair, which usually held a wild splash of vibrant color. The “classic” acts usually brought in the older folks who by the time the show was over, mixed their youthful desire to see their chosen idols with stray yawns that slip out because it’s an unusually late night for them.

Tonight was a mix. Max Henry. The crowd building up backstage to get a simple glimpse of the man was much larger than Pap could ever remember, and probably for good reason. Even though they got a lot of them, no act as big as Max Henry had ever come to Packertt Valley.

Max Henry had just turned 65. His career started when he was 14 in the troubled streets of Dublin, Ireland, back in the day. Max hit the world hard and fast with an infectious mix of pop, rock and Celtic influences that just seemed to hit people in the right places. Even though the times changed over the years, and the sounds with them, almost everyone found something to relate to in a Max Henry album.

Pap had the option of working inside, stage side. He could have seen the show, and while he would have a hard time denying his own preference for a good Max Henry album. He felt the backstage door was where he could do the most good. Coming in, the stars were usually pretty safe. They sneak in really. Arrival times are fluid and fans are few. The departure was another story. The transfer from building to vehicle and vehicle to what they called the release, was probably the most important security challenge of any show.

He saw many acts come and go. Most were tired and spent when it was time to leave. They just want to dive in their cars and go. Some, the ones who can’t get enough, dwell outside, not so much to interact with the fans, but to hang there awash in the screams of adoration as if they drew some kind of energy from it. Finally, some acts were just trouble. Panda Angst was the best example of that. The lead singer, Copper Potts had been in a downward spiral personally for some time. The band was strong and growing and Pap was warned to expect the unexpected. He had no idea that once safe in the car and the car was on its way that Potts, high on several things, would burst through the limo’s sunroof climb to the top and dive into the waiting, screaming throngs of people. What a night.

Max Henry should be different. The crowds were energized, but respectful. They saw the barricade lines and only tested them a little. How could they not? Henry’s show ended about an hour ago, and while he was normally known to leave the premises rather quickly, an hour wasn’t out of the question.

Pap’s earpiece crackled. “We’re on the move.”

While he was certain that he was the only one to hear the message, the crowd sensed it and he could feel the energy surge. Two minutes later, the door pushed open and after three band members crossed the threshold and moved to the cars with purpose and intent, but also with smiles and nods, the man himself stepped into the broad alley.

Pap was all business, ready to take on whatever happened. He stepped close to Henry as the crowd tested the barriers with their enthusiasm.

Max Henry, worldwide pop icon, stood for a moment, smiling and waving at the crowds. Cheers and whistles filled the alley. Henry clapped Pap on the shoulder drawing his attention. “Great night, right mate?”

Pap nodded and smiled back. Then he noticed the hand that rested on his shoulder, the hand that penned hits like, Mary Sunshine, Party in the Park and Wonderbomb, seized his shirt. Pap quickly took in the man’s face. Mere seconds ago he was smiling, eyes lit with a bottomless energy. Now, the face was contorting into a pleading wave of misunderstood pain.

“Christ!” someone shouted. “You, get him into the car now.”

A man, probably an agent or a publicist grabbed Pap and Max, who were now joined by Max’s grip, into the car. The door slammed shut cutting a good amount of the noise down to a mild roar. The unknown man yelled at the driver, “Get to the hospital! Now!”