Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Pointsettia Bowl

I've been a fraud for so many years. Now, finally, I was facing the chance to remove that lable--I was going to my first football game.

I spent ten months in college working for the St. Louis Rams Internet Pro-shop. We were the official site for buying Rams Gear and could honestly say we were employed by a professional football team. All of us touted that with pride. Even me, who hates football, mostly because I don't understand it. I remember feeling excited about going to high school where I could go to football games and pep rallys on Friday nights, but the performing arts high school I went to didn't have a team. Can you imagine, dozens of violinists and ballet dancers out on a football field? We'd have been the joke of the century! Ok, no problem. There's always college. That would be more fun anyway--college football. Well, the Billikens were big in basketball--no football team.

I resigned myself to never knowing the sport and not really caring. I'd managed to make it through those ten months with the Rams, not knowing a single thing about football. Customers would call and rave about the game and I'd just express untrue remorse at having missed that one. Sigh!

But now, five years later, I finally had my chance! My father-in-law went to the Naval Academy, graduating in 1970. At the inaugural Pointsettia Bowl, the Midshipmen were playing the Colorado State Rams. Naturally, we had to go and cheer on the home team (though I'm not sure which side was really the home team--the game was played in San Diego and the Midshipmen were from Maryland).

When he asked Nick and me if we wanted to go, I said sure! What an opportunity! An inaugural bowl! I'd finally get a chance to really watch a game. How complicated can it be? It's football.

We had seats fairly close to the front. The pre-game show was exciting! I'd been hearing about the march of the Midshipmen for hours during the tailgate party and thought it must be impressive. I will say one thing for those Navy guys and gals--they know how to march. But the Rams--what a marching band they had! It was huge--covering the whole field. They could march and play instruments! They had cheerleaders tossing each other up in the air and spelling things out--and this was just the pre-game show? Boy, was I in for a treat!

I soon learned just how wrong I was. A quarter lasts 15 minutes. There are four quarters in a game. The ball is in play for one hour. Not too bad, right? Well, it actually takes an entire hour to get through one quarter. But an exciting game like football should make the time fly.

Not exactly.

The kickoff meant nothing to me. I watched the ball fly across the field and then lost it in a pile of burly men pouncing all over each other. No sooner had the clock started than it was stopped again. Only four seconds into the game. A long night ahead of me...

Try as I might, I could never follow the ball. Just when I thought we were doing something great, the Rams fans would cheer. When our guys got tackled, the Navy fans were cheering.

What? Is this right? We want to be tackled? Aren't they kicking the ball the wrong way? Why is the clock stopping? How exactly does this scoring work? One point, two points, SIX POINTS? What?

I sat for the four hours with my elbows on my knees, trying to concentrate on the game. The ball would be visible and then disappear again. Everyone was calling for a time out, even the commercials.

I have no idea who won. I heard the next day that it was the Navy. Well, good for them. I learned one valuable thing that night--I still hate football.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Workout

I have become something of a nutrition junkie, though you wouldn’t know it to look at me. I’m not in the best physical shape, I drink more coffee in a day than any one woman should (and not decaf), and I have an uncontrollable weakness for doughnuts. However, over the past several years, I’ve become fascinated by how the physical body works, have turned to a vegetarian diet and limit my indulgences to as few as possible—my weight is on the way down. I’ve become an avid exerciser in the early morning hours as well.
When I first moved to California, I found the joy of 24 Hour Fitness. I love it solely because it is open 24 hours. I like to get up before the birds are chirping and college students are still out partying. I generally stroll into they gym around 4:30, do an hour on the elliptical and they a half-hour to an hour of resistance training. It’s done wonders for my well-being. Not only am I getting in a great workout, but I’m up so early that I get lots of other stuff done as well.
The branch I’d been going to was literally a five-minute walk from my apartment. Convenience made up for the inconsistency in several of the same model of stationary bike burning different amounts of calories at the same resistance. They showers weren’t exactly private (there was only one with a shower curtain—the rest were fogged doors. Some privacy, but not as much as I’d like), and the nude fest that took place in the women’s locker room every morning was enough to make a porn star blush. I’m exaggerating, but my point is made. I’ve seen more naked women that I care to, and most of them are not quite “there” with their bodies yet (myself included, which is why I try to stay covered up).
I was happy to continue going to this gym, but my husband and I decided to move about thirty miles south of the gym. There was a branch more conveniently located to our apartment, but even more so, there was one close to my office. How nice it would be to work out and go straight to the office, or take a long lunch hour and get in a few miles on the treadmill. What a great idea!
I called the toll free number on the back of my membership card to find out just how one goes about switching locations.
“Thank you for calling 24 Hour Fitness, this is Carlos, how may I help you?”
“Carlos, I have a one-club membership. I’ve recently moved and I’d like to switch clubs.”
“Would you like to upgrade to the all club? It’s only $5 more a month.”
“No, I don’t think so. I really only use one club. I’d just like to change that club.”
“What you have to do is call the club you’d like to switch to. They can do it for you over the phone.”
Fine, no problem. I called the club near my office.
“It’s a great day to get in shape at 24 Hour Fitness. This is Shelly, how can I help you?”
“Hi Shelly. I have a one club membership and I’ve just moved into your area. I’d like to switch clubs.”
“Would you like to upgrade to the all club? It’s only $5 more per month.”
“No thanks. I just want to change clubs.”
“Oh. Uh, what you need to do is call back, Monday through Friday, between the hours of 9am and 5pm.”
I looked at my watch. It was Friday afternoon around 1:30. Hmmm. I decided to let Shelly know this.
“Ok. Today is Friday and it’s 1:35 in the afternoon.”
“Right. But not today.”
“Why not today? You just said to call back Monday through Friday between nine and five. This very moment fits that criteria.”
“Right.” She sounded flustered. “But all the managers are in Orange County today for a kick-off meeting.”
“Ok. So Monday should be fine.”
“Right. Or you can call the club you want to transfer from. They can do it there.”
“Oh, so I can just call them?”
“Right, but not today.”
“Ok.” Shelly didn’t sound very bright. All right, fine. I’d go in on Monday.

Monday afternoon, I walked into the 24 Hour Fitness in University Town Center, just a few miles from my office.
“Hey! How’s it goin’?” Chip, the young man at the counter seemed a little too energetic for a Monday.
“Fine. I have a one club membership and I need to talk to someone about changing my club.”
“Ok GREAT! Do you want to upgrade to the All Club? It’s only $5 more a month.
“No thanks, Chip. I just want to switch clubs.”
“Ok. Why don’t you talk to Eric, right over there?”
Eric was sitting in a large room filled with desks and computers—presumably the sales office. Eric could easily have been my son and he was about as up beat as Chip.
“Hey! How’s it goin’?”
Did they all say this?
“Fine. I have a one-club membership and I’ve just moved. I’d like to switch clubs.”
“Ok. Do you want to upgrade to the All Club? It’s only $5 more a month.”
“No, Eric, I just want to switch.”
“Well, if you get the all club, you can go to any club—all over the country.”
“I understand that. I really only use one club.”
“Well, clearly, you don’t, if you want access to this one now.”
I sighed.
“No. I just moved. That’s why I need to switch clubs.”
“But if you switch to the all-club—“
“I don’t want to switch to the all-club. I want to keep my one-club. I just want to switch clubs. I’ve been going to that club, but now I’ve moved and I want to go to this club.”
“Well, ok, but you can only switch clubs once.”
“Once in my entire life?”
“Yes. What if you move again?”
“Why don’t you let me worry about that? If I move again, I’ll buy the all-club. OK?”
“Ok. Well, I can’t do it. A manager has to do it, so as soon as she gets back, she can do it.”
“Fine.” There were a few moments of silence.
“So, seen any good movies lately?”
I frowned. “No.” I looked at my watch. I’d been there almost 20 minutes.
“You on your lunch?”
“Sort of.” I was salaried and didn’t really have a traditional lunch hour. Sometimes I ate; sometimes I didn’t.
“Where do you work?”
“The Burnham Institute—just down the street.”
“Oh, touché.”
What? Did he just say touché?
“So, do you have any friends that you’d like to refer?”
Oh, right—like I wanted to sic my friends on this guy.
“No, Eric, believe it or not, everyone I know goes here. My husband, his parents, my boss—everyone.”
“Oh, you’re married?”
“Yes.”
“Oh, touché.”
‘Do you even know what touché means?’ I wondered.
“Well, your husband isn’t on your membership.”
“No—we weren’t married when I joined.”
“Oh, touché.”
This was getting ridiculous.
“Well, why didn’t you just join under his membership?”
“Because I joined before him.”
“Oh, touché.”
Where was that manager? I had to get away from this guy.
Finally, the manager, Melissa, shows herself.
“Hey Melissa, can you do a club change for me?” Eric asked.
“Yeah, sure. Do they want to upgrade to the all-club? It’s only $5 more a month.”
They looked at me. “No.” I was trying not to scowl.
“Ok. I just need your membership number and the club you’re transferring from.”
That’s it? I had to come in for that? Touché boy couldn’t have just written that down for me half an hour ago? Heaving a sigh, I gave him my membership number to copy down and headed back to work. The only refreshing though I had was that now a member, I didn’t have to worry about those annoying sales people anymore. If there was one thing about 24 Hour Fitness that I could trust, it was their lack of interest in me once they had my money.

The next afternoon, I had my gym bag packed into my car, ready for my noon workout. I was energetic and ready to go! I headed to the locker room to unload my gear. I had everything I needed to transform my sweaty post-workout self, back into my pristine, post-shower self. However, upon surveying this new territory, I was taken aback. This gym was much smaller than my previous gym. There were plenty of lockers, but no place to organize myself while I changed clothes. There was nowhere to change clothes, for that matter, either. I’m not really down with that whole, “let’s get naked together, girls!” attitude. I preferred to keep myself to myself. I took my shorts and sporty bra into the toilet stall and did my best not to step in the bowl.
Donning the proper gear, I headed out to the floor. I found an empty elliptical trainer and got to work. As I huffed and puffed, I noticed that both the weight area and the cardio area were very small. In fact, I was practically staring the man next to me in the face. His elliptical was right next to mine, but facing the opposite direction. Rather than having our backsides face each other, we were nearly nose-to-nose.
I could only handle this for about 20 minutes. The weight floor was equally crowded, so I decided to skip it. I was most likely to work out in the early morning hours anyway, so this would not likely be a problem in the future. I headed back to the locker room for a shower.
I’d had plenty of opportunity to perfect my shower routine at the old gym. I would change into my flip-flops, take off my t-shirt, wrap myself in a towel, and carefully shimmy out of my shorts and panties. I took clean under garments into the shower with me, carrying them in a plastic bag or hanging them along with my towel over the shower curtain. Once in side the shower, I’d take off my sporty bra and shower in private. Post shower, I’d put on my bra and panties, and walk safely covered in my towel back to my locker. I could easily step into pants or a skirt while still in my towel. At this gym, however, such a routine was impossible. I had managed to get shower ready with no problem, but when I walked into the shower room, I starred in horror at the stalls—they had NO shower curtains or doors—just wide open doors. Many a bare buttock was displayed. Group showers were not for me. I elected to stay sweaty, changed back into my work gear and headed back to the office where I promptly called the corporate office and cancelled my membership.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Virginia

“Entertainment?” I asked, astonished.
“Sure! You want people to come here when they’re bored, right?”
“Well, yeah.”
“Then you’ve gotta give them a reason to think it’s not boring here.”
I frowned. He was right. We needed something to draw a crowd and I didn’t want to resort to the Authentic Lunatic.
“Ok, entertainment,” I began. “Any ideas?”
He nodded. “I know just the act,” Nick said with a grin.
“Who?” “Virginia Wolf.” He was beaming at his own genius.
“Virginia Wolfe?” I frowned. “Are you kidding?”
“No. Totally serious.”
“Ok, look Nick, I’m not sure that Virginia Wolfe has the kind of material we’re looking for. For that matter, I don’t think she’d be particularly interested in entertaining the crowd I’m hoping to bring in.”
“Oh, so you’ve heard her?”
“Well, no, but I’ve read her. Her books aren’t exactly boring but I’m not sure they’re bar material.”
“No! No! Not the author, the musician.”
Well, that was a relief. For a second there I was having second thoughts about Nick’s expertise.
“She used to sing at the place on Broadway I worked at. She didn’t really fit in there, but she’s perfect for this place.”
I was starting to feel better about this. “What’s she like?”
Nick scrunched his face up. “You really have to experience her first hand. I could try to explain it to you, but it’s much better if you hear it. I’ll see if I can track her down.” He took off and left me standing alone in the middle of the room. I decided to check on Crazy Angie.
She was back in the lab working on a few new drinks. She had taken on a new look: white lab coat, pocket protector, and goggles over her glasses. She was huddled over a set of beakers and as I approached her I could hear her mumbling, though I’ve no idea what she was saying.
“How’s it going in here?” My voice must have startled here because she jumped when I spoke.
“Oh! Fine,” she said, out of breath. “Really great, actually. You wanna try it?” I narrowed my eyes at the peculiar liquid she was stirring.
“What is it?”
She shrugged. “Not sure yet. I’m still waiting for inspiration.”
“I think I’ll wait until it gets here.”
Not sure what else to do, I went back out front. I took a few moments to take in my accomplishments. I was really starting to feel proud of myself. Here I was, not even a high school graduate yet, and already an entrepreneur. An inventor! I was creating the cure for boredom. Sometimes I think I lost focus of that goal.
“I found her!” Nick came running back into the bar, breaking my solace of reflection. I could only assume he was referring to this musician he’d spoken so highly of. He was so excited that he forgot to duck when he came in the front door and was knocked flat on his back with a loud thud and then a still louder smack. I gasped in horror, rushing to his aid.
“Oh! Are you ok? Nick?” He made no sound or movement. I knelt on the floor beside him and tried to revive him with gentle, and then not so gentle, slaps to the face. Nothing was working. I was starting to panic.
“You might try throwing water on his face. That always works when I pass out.” A strange voice spoke and I looked up. There, walking up to the bar was what I least expected. The voice belonged to a large furry creature making its way up the sidewalk. I was speechless. I was so shocked at what I saw that I could neither speak nor move. I just stared at it.
“I said you should try throwing water on his face.”
“Wha..wa..”
“Yes, water. Splash some on his face.”
“Wa-ter.”
“Spreckenzie English? Par lay voo English?”
“Are you talking?”
“Oh, so you can talk.”
“Yeah. So can you.” Just then, Nick started to groan. “Nick! Wake up!” I slapped him again.
“Ow! Quit hittin’ me will ya?” He sat up slowly and rubbed his forehead. He looked at me, then at the furry thing and suddenly remembered what he been in such a hurry to tell me. “Oh! I found her.”
“What? Found who?”
“Virginia! Virginia Wolf.”
Virginia Wolf. So, this thing was a wolf, and a musical one at that.
“This is the entertainment?” I asked in shock.
“Yeah. Just wait ‘till you hear her. She’s great.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to think of all of this. I was supposed to believe that this thing was not only a wolf, but a talking, singing wolf at that. Right!
“So, you want me to audition now or what?” Virginia asked.
“Uh, sure,” I said, not knowing what else to do. “Uh, Nick, can I have a word with you for just a sec?” I pulled him off to the side and began shouting in a whisper. “What is this? You expect me to believe that this thing is a musician? And what’s the deal with a talking wolf anyway? Are you out of your mind?!”
“Hey, now, just a minute. You told me to find entertainment. She’s the best there is in my opinion. You haven’t even heard her sing yet!” I scowled at him. He was right I suppose. But the whole thing was just a little too weird for me.
“Well, fine then. I listen to her sing, but I’m not making any promises. I still own this bar and I still make the final decisions. If I don’t like her, she’s out.” With that, I stormed off to the lab to fetch Crazy Angie. If nothing else, this might be her only chance to see a real authentic lunatic.
We all assembled at the back of the bar where the entertainment area was. The construction workers actually did a great job on building us a little stage. It had great lighting and a not-too-shabby sound system too. Virginia stepped up to our sole microphone on her back two paws. She stood about as tall as Nick, which was a little frightening, but she seemed friendly enough, so I tried not to worry.
“You want me to sing something traditional or some of my own stuff?”
“Let’s go with originality. Traditional screams boring,” I said.
She took a few moments to loosen up and tune her voice. When she started singing, I was truly amazed. It definitely wasn’t anything in English. I couldn’t understand a single word she said, but her voice was incredible. To say she could carry a tune would be an understatement. She made Roberta Flack sound like a mouse.
When she’d finished, Crazy Angie and I were both speechless. Nick just sat there grinning, like he’d just won the Pulitzer Prize.
“Wow.” Crazy Angie said.
“It’s much better when I have my band with me. I’m not used to this acapella stuff.” Virginia had not need to make excuses. I was impressed.
“No, no, that was really great. What language was that, by the way?”
“Language? No, just gibberish. This way I get to change it every time I sing it and no one knows the difference. It’s on of those songs that can never be recorded or it will loose its originality.”
Well, that was creative. It certainly couldn’t be classified as boring. I liked her. I liked her a lot. Virginia and I discussed terms of her employment, with Nick’s guidance of course. Only one thing worried me about Virginia. Sure, she’d draw a crowd. People would definitely want to see a singing wolf. But I didn’t want her drawing too much of a crowd. We didn’t want the cops on our hands. We certainly didn’t want our liquor license revoked. I would have to keep a tight lid on her; that was certain.

Friday, December 02, 2005

On Duty

Nick was a better asset than I had ever imagined. He was a veritable library of research on this business. However, I was facing a tough decision about him. Should I try to get the information out of him indirectly, keeping my cards close, or should I trust him and tell him what I want to know and why I want to know it? Crazy Angie and I were in a delicate position. We didn’t exactly have the law on our side. True, we had the necessary paperwork and licensing and they were all legal, but it wasn’t exactly legal for us to have them. If we weren’t careful we could loose it all or even end up (GASP!) incarcerated. Trusting Nick could be dangerous. He would have quite a bit of leverage on us and could do serious damage. Still, we needed to open soon. We needed to get this thing going. I didn’t have time to develop trust or to winkle information out of him. I decided to consult my partner since it affected her too.
“Ok, we need to figure this out. What do you think of Nick?” I asked her.
“Hmmm.” She frowned and cupped her chin in her fingers, deep in thought. “I think he must wear large shoes, which suggest big feet.” She said it as though she was being especially insightful, which no doubt, she thought she was.
“Yes, I’m sure he has large feet. But what do you think of him as a person? Can we trust him?”
She paused. “Well, you must have thought so on some level or you would’t have hired him. So if you trust him, I trust him.” With that, she went back to her broom.
Crazy Angie is an amazement to me. Sometimes the things she says are so strange, they make me wonder if there’s even a brain in her head. Other times, she makes so much sense that I have to remind myself of her illness.
So that was it. Trust him. Grill him. Pick his brain. Make him assistant manager! What a brilliant idea!. Yes, that was it. Perhaps then he might not think my inquires so odd. Perfect!
The next morning, Nick arrived right on time. I decided to give him the grand tour first, which took all of ten minutes. I saved the lab for last so we could talk privately.
“Ok, Nick, here’s the deal. Our little bar here is part of an experiment. Crazy Angie and I are attempting to gid the cure for bredom. We’re convinced that this is it. “I paused for effect, also giving him time to soak it all in. “Unfortunately we have a few disadvantages. The most obvious is our age. How can two fifteen year olds have a bar? I must confess, I didn’t think we’d make it this far. But, luck has smiled on us and here we are. Luck aside, we still have the fact that neither of us have any clue how to run a bar Lets face it, we haen’t been to many bars in order to observe them. That’s where you come in.”
“Me?”
“Sure. You’ve done this sort of thing. You know whot it all works. You’re way ahead of us. That’s why we need you.”
“I’m not sure I understand. What exactly do you want me to do?”
“Teach me the bar business! Give me your insight. Let me know if I’m making a monumental mistake. Can you do that?”
He didn’t say anything for a moment. I suppose he was absorbing what I’d just said. I could understand his position. Try to picture it—here was a guy, about 24 years old, being hired by a teenager, eight years his junior. A sixteen year old asks him to teach her the bar business. It wasn’t exactly something that happens every day.
Finally, when he’d had a moment to think, “Yeah, sure I guess.”
“Great!”
We got started right away. Nick showed me the ins and outs of stocking the bar. Within a few hours we’d found a supplier and scheduled our first delivery. The rest of our day was spend ordering glasses and traditional bar snacks. They all sounded boring to me and I told Nick as much. We argued over it for a while. In the end, I pulled rank. It was my bar and we weren’t serving beer nuts. They’re boring. No potato chips, no corn chips, no pretzels—we’d have to come up with something better than that. I passed that chore onto Crazy Angie. She protested at first, insisting that she had her hands full with the drink menu, but when I promised to help her she gave in.
After the first day with Nick, I finally felt like I’d accomplished something. Over the next few days we were going to go over OSHA rules, accounting, business operation and the opening. As the days passed, things were really taking shape. By the end of June, the construction was finished, except for the bar stools. The Reverend had finished painting, our ar wa fully stocked and I felt like an old pro. Crazy Angie was hard at work in the lab, mixing and testing.
“Well Nick, are we ready?” I asked.
“Almost.”
“Almost? What’s missing?” His face grew stern and serious. He looked at me—straight in the eye and with one word, made me understand his severity—
“Entertainment.”

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Shining Moons

I had to crane my neck just to see his face. Were there people this tall? He must have been near eight feet. Aside from his height, he looked normal. Thin but not skinny, neat in appearance, clean cut, but slightly forbidding. He was intimidating enough to anyone shorter than him, but his expression seemed to say ‘mess with me and I will step on you’.
I was sitting on the floor, going through the books.
Being especially low to the ground, I felt unbelievably short. I decided to take charge of the situation and mustered up my most confident, authoritative voice.
“May I help you?”
He looked down as if he just then noticed that I was there.
“Oh! Yes! I’m here about the job.” His own voice wasn’t nearly as intimidating as the rest of him. That alone made me feel better, if not taller. I stood up, increasing my confidence.
“Great. You are?”
“Oh, uh, Nick. Nick Hortnorter.”
“Ok, Nick. I’m Robin, the owner. My partner, Crazy Angie is over there. I motioned to where she was inspecting a broom, no doubt looking for defects or some explanation as to its apparent malfunctions.
“You’re the owner?”
“I am.”
“Really?”
“Yes.” I said, trying not to sound annoyed while still sounding annoyed. He looked at me skeptically, as if I’d said the strangest thing he’d ever heard. I suppose it’s possible that me, a fifteen year-old telling, him that I was the owner of this bar might just be the strangest thing he’d ever heard, but I was determined to brush it off as though it were only natural for me to own a bar.
“Ok.”
“You say that as if it sounds strange.”
“Oh, well, it’s just that I expected someone older.”
“I see. Well, I hope that’s not going to be a problem for you.”
“Oh, no ma’am. Not at all.”
Nick sounded to me like someone with uncharacteristically good manners. He was very polite and addressed me as his superior despite his height and apparent age.
“Well, then, shall we start the interview? Step right this way.” We walked over to the bar where I had planned to offer him a seat before I realized that there weren’t any. I walked around to the back, looking for paper. Finding none, I settled for a nearby napkin. Removing the pen I had lodged behind my ear, I prepared myself to write something. I hadn’t figured out just what yet, but I was sure that would come to me.
“So, Nick, tell me about your work experience. Have you worked in a bar before?”
“Oh, yes ma’am. I have a resume here detailing my experience.”
“Wonderful. That should be helpful.” I took the piece of paper he handed me and looked it over. It was actually quite impressive. He’d worked at several area bars, most of which I’d seen in passing. Having no idea as to what they were like on the inside, I didn’t consider myself to have any valuable knowledge of any of them, but at least I knew they were actual bars. “Hmm,” I said, trying to sound as if I was thinking something specific. “So, why did you leave your last job?”
“Oh, I was just there temporarily to help out with the busy seasons. I didn’t work a regular schedule—just filled in when they needed me.”
“Busy season?”
“Yeah, sure, like the playoffs, Superbowl, Sumo Wrestling Championships, the Daytime Emmy Awards—things like that.”
“I see.” I certainly did not see. I had no idea there would be busy seasons. It just then occurred to me what a valuable resource I had standing in front of me. This man had worked in several establishments such as my own. He probably knew more about the business than I did. He’d worked in several other bars and would likely have an idea as to how they were run and what sort of allowances to make. Still, I couldn’t hire him just yet. I had to at least make a pretense of interviewing him. I continued on with my questions.
“So, then you’re looking for something more stable?”
“Yes.”
“Hmm. You’ve been a bartender at these establishments, correct?” He nodded. “What would you say is the most important thing about being a bartender?”
“Oh, well, you’ve got to know how to make everything and make sure you collect the tabs, keep the bar area clean—I guess there’s no one important thing. It’s all pretty important.”
Not bad. Good answer. Ok, now I had to think of something else to ask.
”When can you start?” It seemed like the most natural thing to ask, perhaps a bit premature, but natural.
“Uh, well, anytime really.”
“Great. How about tomorrow?”
“Sure.”
“Fabulous! Be here by 9am. It’s gonna be a long day.”
“Really? Oh wow! Thanks a lot.” He was genuinely grateful and so was I, for that matter. I could see the possibility of this being my greatest business decision yet.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

My Heart

My wife lay dying in the hospital bed and I could not leave her side. We’d been so careful. We knew her heart was bad. We knew. We didn’t try to get pregnant. We tried hard not to. Birth control, condoms, rhythm—all of that. Everything but abstinence. That wasn’t possible. We were so in love that keeping away from each other was almost painful. Through the years when our work schedules didn’t co-inside and we had to schedule “dates” and the years we spent apart and spent only a week together every three months—we were so in love, beyond the depths of anything I’d ever dreamed possible. She was part of my soul. My very being would crumble without her. She was all I had and all I wanted. Now, she was about to leave me but not for want of staying.

She needed a new heart. If it were up to me, I’d rip my own chest open and take the beating muscle from within me and give it all up to her. Just to keep her breathing. Just to keep her alive to love me. But I couldn’t. No matter how much I wanted to. My heart couldn’t be give to her. We had to wait for someone to die so that she could live. Days and weeks passed after the baby died. His tiny body couldn’t develop and her ailing body couldn’t hold on to him long enough to give him the chance to live. I’d lost my son, just a few months before we were expecting to welcome him. Now, I faced loosing my wife. It was all slipping away.
The hospital around us didn’t exist. We were still each the only thing the other saw. When we were together, nothing else existed. It had been that way since we started dating. We were just kids then, in college, waiting to take on the world. We’d been through all those same struggles that all young couples go through. Post graduate separation, when she moved to Kansas and I went home to California—the long distance between us seemed easier at the time. Now, when I was facing a lifetime ahead without her, I didn’t want to get started. We used to drive each other to the airport after a short week of exquisite bliss and say that the sooner we got on that plane, the sooner we’d get started on the inevitable time apart. I knew I’d see her in Heaven, on the other side of this life, but I didn’t want to get started on that time apart. I wanted this short visit to last for 1000 more years.

I sat in the chair beside her bed, listening to the beeping of machines that kept her lungs breathing and her heart, however fragile, still beating. She wasn’t ready to give up. She wasn’t ready to loose hope. Having her fight so hard kept me optimistic. If she was willing to go on waiting, then so was I. The thought of taking her off life support never crossed either of our minds in those days. She was a fighter and, I was going to fight right along side her.
One dreary October morning, things changed. There were no donors. None. Nothing that could reach into the darkness and save her. We prayed and prayed, but nothing was coming. Still, my beautiful wife hung on, clinging to my fingers as if they were feeding her life. As though she knew something was about to happen, she turned to me and said,

“Baby, I need you now. I need you to fight for me. Don’t let me go.” I just looked at her, not understanding what she might have meant. When her machines stopped their steady rhythm of beeps and went into one long beep, I panicked. I let go of her had and screamed for a doctor. They were with her in seconds and managed to bring back the familiar beeping, but she didn’t wake back up. Her eyes closed and her hands limp, my angel looked peaceful.

“What was it?” I asked. “A heart attack?”

“Listen, Jack, you’ve got to prepare yourself. She won’t take much more of that.” The doctor had told me, just minutes after she’d stabilized…sort of.

“What are you saying?” I demanded.

He sighed, stripping off his gloves. “Jack, your wife is going to die. She’s going to. You need to get ready for that. You might have to make a tough decision in a few days. Those machines will keep her alive, but it won’t be much of a life to live.” He put his hand on my shoulder, but I just stared at him, my eyes narrow, my lower lip quivering. I wanted to punch him. I wanted to strangle him…but his heart would be no good for her, so I didn’t. This man, this doctor was telling me that soon, I’d have to make the decision to let my wife die.

But wasn’t that what I’d promised God I wouldn’t do? When we said our wedding vows, we promised to love each other in sickness and health. She was sick and I still loved her. Nothing he said would change that. Shouldn’t I do whatever I could to keep her alive? Hadn’t she just asked me to fight for her? She couldn’t fight anymore. She was tired. She needed me to take over and keep the fight going. She needed me to wage that battle and fight for her. Fight as long as I could. There was nothing wrong with me. I had all the energy in the world left to fight. But what could I do?

I went back into her room and sat with her, holding her hand and brushing her hair. I finally let the tears fall. They came washing over me like a gentle waterfall, washing me clean and emptying the sadness, even for just a moment. I needed to cry with my wife. I needed to hold her for just a little while. As I looked at her, I willed her to open her eyes and look at me. Just look at me. Just let me see those grey eyes that I get lost in day after day.

“I can keep going if you can.” I said to her. But she didn’t open her eyes. She didn’t look at me. But those beeps kept on beeping and I knew she was in there somewhere. She’d told me to fight for her. She’d told me not to let her go. I’d wait for her. She waited four years for me to come around and finally tell her how I felt about her. I could give her just as much time if not more.

We’d met in college, living in the same building. We flirted shamelessly but I never had the nerve to ask her out. Once in a while, I’d “run into her” in the cafeteria and we’d have breakfast together. I think she “ran into me” once in a while too. We would talk for hours about nothing, just looking for an excuse to knock on the other’s door. For a year, I tried working up the nerve, but I just never got there. The next year, she moved to another building and I rarely saw her. Once in a while, somewhere on campus, but it was just a casual, ‘hey, how’s it going?’ and that was it. College was almost over when we wound up in Introduction to Earthquakes our senior year. Of all the electives in all the world, she walked into mine. Cliche, I know, but that's what I remember saying to myself. We had study session after study session in the campus coffee house and talked about everything except earthquakes. When the class was over, I promised myself that I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. God had brought us back together and I wasn’t going to let her walk away from me again. I kept calling her and we kept our “study dates” even though now we were studying different things. Then one day I just kissed her. It felt like coming home after a long walk, falling into bed after an eighteen-hour day, a hot bath on a cold January afternoon. It was the beginning for us…again. We had six months before jobs separated us, and even though I was sure it would end somewhere in the middle of Kansas, she kept us going. She put out so much effort, writing me letters and sending me big bags of M&M’s—they were my favorite. I’d told her once how I wanted to buy a bag of each kind and separate them by color. She said I was silly, but for my birthday I got five canisters of M&M’s—one of each color. I don’t want to know how long it took her to sort them. But she listened to my silly ideas and the ones that were possible, she helped to make happen. She made my dreams come true. I couldn’t let her leave me. I just couldn’t.
She hung on in that hospital room for months, peacefully sleeping, her breathing in rhythm with that same beeping. Both of our parents told me that it was over. I should let her go. She wasn’t really alive any more. She wasn’t really in there. She was gone and had been gone for a while. It was gentle at first, but then they got angry. Demanding that I put an end to her suffering. The doctors even said that she might be experiencing some pain. But I just couldn’t. I couldn’t. She asked me to fight for her. She told me not to let her go. I still felt her. I could still sense her love behind the closed lids of her eyes. Her heart was still beating and I knew what she wanted. I knew she wanted to keep going. She just needed a little rest so she could continue the fight when she got just a little stronger.

I was adamant in keeping her. I didn’t want to let her go anymore than I thought she wanted to leave.

And that’s all I have! I’m stuck. No idea what happens next. If anyone has a suggestion, I’m willing to explore it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Yes, My Boyfriend is Bisexual

The walls in my room had begun to close in on me. I’d been sitting there, staring at those walls a lot in the past few weeks. I had to get out. I didn’t really enjoy driving, but the thought of a long stretch of highway ahead of me made me long for it. It was a change of scene and it was far away from my problems. I could think much clearer if I got out of that room.
I’d done so much thinking lately that it was making me sick. I’ve known for months that my boyfriend was bisexual and it was never a problem until now. For a while I didn’t know that what was the problem and now that I do know, I wish that it were anything else.
We had built such a strong relationship. God knows we had tough times. But those rough spots didn’t have anything to do with how we felt about each other. He lost three jobs since we’d been together—all for the wrong reasons. He always came to me. Together we fought for them. Together we held each other up. Always together through everything. He told me everything. The one thing that he thought would drive me away—telling me who he was—seemed only to make us realize that it was each other that we cared so deeply for and labels and names didn’t mean anything as long as we could truthfully say “I love you.”
What happened to that? What happened to calling me ten times a day for no reason at all? What happened to singing to me on my answering machine? What happened to the long, deep kisses we had shared just enough times to make me miss them so much? So quickly it all vanished.
I’d cried enough for a lifetime. The idea of loosing him hurt so much, I could hardly stand it. But what could I do? I drove faster down the highway, scared, angry and hurt. Maybe if I ran fast enough it would get tired and let me go.
A couple of weeks ago we’d had a nice, long conversation about ‘taking some time apart’ he’d called it. He couldn’t explain what it was that he wanted to be different, but things were just too serious and he was just not ready for any kind of commitment. Apparently he thought I was. We talked for a while and I cried a lot. In the end, he just said to forget we’d even had the conversation. He was too confused and didn’t know what he wanted. I went home feeling so unsure of what had just happened that I could barely sleep, let alone stop crying. “Everything’s fine,” he’d said, but I knew it wasn’t.
The next morning he had called me and said that he loved me just before hanging up. I saw him that afternoon and he put his arm around me, which he never did on any kind of basis. This was all so confusing to me, especially when we were having another ‘talk’ about a week later.
This was when it all came out. Of course he still cared about me, but right now he just had an overwhelming desire to be with a man. He would never cheat on me. He didn’t want to be with another woman. He still wanted to be with me. He’d hidden this part of him for so long and he was curious. What’s it like to kiss a man? How dies it feel to have a boyfriend? These were things he wanted to find answers to through his own experience.
I understand this. I truly do. I don’t want him to hide that part of him anymore. It’s not his fault how he feels and it’s not fair to ask him to suppress it.
Ok. So he wants to date a man. Fine, go ahead and do that. We didn’t break up and he seemed relieved with our decision. I knew that his desire for a man had nothing to do with me. I could never compete with a man, but it’s not because I’m lacking in anyway. This part of “us” has to run its course. I knew all of this, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. And it did hurt so very much.
Saying that I love him isn’t saying anything. It’s beyond love. He’s my best friend. He’s the one person I most want to talk to, even in spite of all of this. Nothing will ever make me not love him. He’s the most beautiful person I know, inside and out. He makes me laugh when all I want to do is cry. He’s tried to protect me from all of this because the last thing he wants to do is hurt me. He can’t change the way he is. It’s not his fault. I don’t blame him for my pain. He’s confused too. He’s struggling with recognizing that this is part of him and it’s ok. No matter what anyone says, no matter what his mother thinks, no matter what his church has taught him, he’s fine. There is nothing wrong with him. He doesn’t need a cure and he’s not going to Hell for being bisexual.
Yes, my boyfriend is bisexual. I know how hard it is for me to say that. As hard as it is for me, it’s harder for him. He has to live this. I don’t even have to stay and watch. But it still hurts.
The driving doesn’t really help. I always think it will because it’s what I feel like doing. It never really helps. I was driving way above the speed limit, but who cares? What could be worse than the aching emptiness that consumed every part of me? If I could just go to sleep and wake up when I’m so beautiful, not even he could want anything else. It was wishful thinking of course, but no sooner had I thought those thoughts when a brand-new, gorgeous black Mustang came barreling into the side of my car.
I wasn’t technically sleeping after that, but it wasn’t much different. I was dreaming of the beautiful days when we were happy—those first days when everything was new and perfect. I couldn’t get enough of him—of those beautiful brown eyes smiling at me. I dreamt of our first kiss—how it had caught me completely off guard and nearly knocked me over. It was so soft and gentle, over almost before it started. Those were the happiest days of my life. How had I lost them?
The driver of the Mustang was drunk, not hurt, and in jail, while I was lying in the hospital bed with a concussion and several broken bones. I wasn’t out for very long. I woke up with my parents by my side, praying long prayers of thanks as I opened my eyes. Everyone was talking to me at once. Someone asked how I felt. Someone asked what had happened. Someone said they’d called my boyfriend and he was on his way. That got my attention. But then, why should it surprise me? None of them knew what was going on with us.
Doctors and nurses ushered everyone out insisting that I needed my rest. Everything hurt. Now I had physical pain to go along with the emotional. More pain led to more tears.
There was a knock on the door. Hadn’t they told everyone to leave? I just wanted to wallow privately in despair.
“Come in,” I croaked out between sobs.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hi.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Worse than I look.”
“I came as soon as I heard. Your mom called me.” He was so beautiful. Why did I have to love him so much?”
“You look dressed up.”
“Yeah, I was out.”
“Oh a date?” He didn’t say anything. “It’s ok.”
“Yeah. He’s outside.”
“You brought him with you?!” I couldn’t even have his complete attention if I were dead. He’d probably bring a date to my funeral.
“Well, I needed a ride. Would you rather I’d gotten here later?”
“Never mind. Just forget it. I don’t want to fight with you.”
“I’m sorry.”
“No, you shouldn’t be. I’m glad you’re here.”
“How did this happen?”
“Oh, I was just out driving and some guy hit me.”
“Out driving?” He knew I only “just drove” when something was upsetting me. “What’s wrong?”
“I was just thinking. That’s all.”
“About what?” I paused. Did I really want him to know? Was this really the time? He had someone waiting for him. Maybe I should just let him go. But then where would I be? Still here, alone, wanting him and only him, wishing I’d said what I had to say. How many opportunities would I have?
“I was just trying to figure out when you stopped loving me.” He put his head down and walked over to the bed.
“I never have. I wish you could understand that. It’s isn’t you. It’s me.”
“Thanks. I feel much better.”
“I love you more than you know.”
“Then why is there another man out there waiting for you? How can you love me and not be satisfied with me?”
“I don’t know. Please don’t think that I’ve ever stopped loving you. There’s no way I could feel about anyone else the way I feel about you. You’ve stayed with me through this. You want to share it with me. You’ve put my happiness ahead of yours, even when it hurts.”
“Well, where is all of that getting me? All I want is you and you’re the one thing I can’t have.” His face held a sad expression, like he wished I wasn’t in so much pain.
“I don’t want to hurt you. I’m not trying to hurt you.”
“I know that. I really do understand why you want to be with a man. I just don’t like it.” How could I possibly be expected to like it? I went along with it because it was what he wanted. I thought it would make him happy and making him happy was important to me. He still wanted me and I still wanted him. It made sense to stay together. This one condition was just a little hard to swallow.
“I just don’t want to loose you. You’re the most important person in my life—my best friend. I don’t want to be without you.”
“I don’t want to be without you either. Do you want me to tell him to leave?” I looked at him. I knew he’d do it. I knew he’d let that man walk away so I’d feel better.
“Of course I want you to. But don’t. If you do, this will all be for nothing. You have to do this. We need to figure this out. Everything is up in the air right now. If you told him to leave, you’d only prolong everything an I know you don’t want him to leave.” He didn’t say anything. “If he left, I’d be happy, but you wouldn’t.” I was glad I said what I’d said. It always felt good to tell him the truth.
“So, what now?” he asked.
“Now, you walk out that door and finish your date. Then when it’s over, you call me and tell me how it went.” He smiled. I tried to smile, but it only turned to tears.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Don’t be. You haven’t done anything wrong.” He turned to walk out the door.
“Hey,” I said. He turned back and looked at me. “Don’t forget about me, ok?”
“Never.” I think he might have been crying. Maybe just a little.
When I was a little girl, I used to catch ladybugs and butterflies and keep them as pets. They were so pretty and I just wanted to look at them. They never lived very long and I didn’t know how to take care of them. My mother used to tell me to let them go. If they came back to me, they’d be mine forever. If they didn’t come back, they were never mine to begin with. Remembering that made me let him walk out the door when all I wanted to do was hold onto him. I knew if I held him back, whatever was left of us would die before too long. I’ll wait until I can’t wait anymore. Whether he comes back or not, I’ll know it’s forever. If he comes back, this will all be worth it. If he doesn’t, then I’ll never again have to say, yes, my boyfriend is bisexual.

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Hiring Process--Well, Part of it

The Authentic Lunatic brought in enough money to finish any leftover construction we needed to do, the cost of supplies, and at least the first pay period for one bartender. If for some reason our bar made no profit, we could at least pay the help before we laid them off. Now, all I had to do was hire one.
I had absolutely no idea as to how one went about hiring a bartender. Given that I was only fifteen, I’d never had a job other than babysitting the neighbors. I decided that it might be a good idea to consult someone with experience. I trotted down to Bill’s Bar and Grill to see if Bill was in.
It was the middle of the afternoon—not quite Happy Hour, and not very busy. I got a few strange stares from the bar as I sat down, but I did my best to ignore them.
Bill was behind the bar, where I expected him to be. He saw me right away and came over.
“Whatalya have?”
“The usual.” He set a Diet Pepsi down in front of me. I took a big swig and then nearly choked on it.
“Whoa! There caffeine in this?” I asked, a little taken aback.
“Yeah. I’m out of the other stuff. Sorry about that. Too strong?”
“No, no. I can handle it.”
He tried to suppress a mild laugh. I knew he was making fun of me. I was used to it by now. I had come to realize that most people would not see my little business venture as a step up. Oh well. I was here for a reason and I had work to do.
“So, what brings you in? Lookin’ for the judge?”
“No. I need a bartender.” Bill looked shocked.
“What?”
“Oh, ya heard me. I need a bartender. How am I gonna have a bar without a bartender? I can’t do what you do. I don’t know the first thing about tending bar. I need to hire someone. I thought maybe you might have a few ideas as to how someone like me might go about accomplishing that task.”
Bill was staring at me in wonderment. I don’t think he expected what I had just said.
“Wait a sec,” he said, getting his bearings. “What about your liquor license?”
“Oh, we got that a while ago.” I was lying, but he didn’t need to know that. “I’ve got it all—a bar, storage room, liquor, well, the money to buy it anyway, tables—no chairs yet, but we’re working on it. I just don’t have a bartender.”
Bill frowned, shook his head and pulled a shot glass and a bottle out from under the bar. He poured himself a drink and downed it.
“Ya know, I have had some strange people in here in my lifetime, but you have got to be the strangest yet.”
I frowned. Was that supposed to be an insult? If I wanted to be insulted I’d go back and discuss art with the Reverend.
“Look, Bill, you and I are obviously not on the same level. I have no knowledge of bartending, and you have no tact.” He looked surprised at my statement. I took no notice and went on. “Whether or not you have any interest in tact, I don’t know and I don’t care. I do, however have an interest in bartending and I would appreciate your assistance. Now, do you have any suggestions as to how I might come by a bartender?” I sipped my Diet Pepsi as I waited for him to answer. He took a deep breath and let it out through his nose.
“Well, you might try advertising.”
“Yes, but how? Where would you suggest I advertise? I can’t just have any old bartender. I need someone interesting, someone exciting, someone who is not boring.”
“What do you mean? It’s just a bartender!” I gasped in horror.
“Just a bartender? Bill, I wonder how you’ve stayed in business with an attitude like that.” I paid for my Diet Pepsi and walked out. I was completely aghast. Just a bartender! I would have thought that someone in the business would have understood. The bartender is the second most important piece, second only to the liquor he serves! One can have a bar without a building, stools, even glassware. But without a bartender, there is nothing.
I took the long walk home and thought about what I might have a “bartender attracting” advertisement read. I thought out loud.
“What’s a good eye-catching headline? Desperate? No, Urgent! No, not for a job. Wanted sounds too much like we’re looking for a criminal. Needed—boring. Ready to hire! Uhg! Ah! How about “Expertise Required”! That just might work. It specifies that we have to have someone who knows what they’re doing—and well, they do, because if all then can do is pour drinks, they might be pretty boring. But if they’re an expert in bartending then they might have valuable experience which would keep us abreast of other, less unborified bars.” I stopped walking, surprised at myself. Had I just used the word “unborified” out loud? What was happening to me? Desperation! I continued on.
“Ok, now for the job title. Bartender—it’s so ordinary. Drink pourer? Too descriptive and not complete. Entertainer. No, too misleading. They might think we want them to sing and dance—which wouldn’t be so bad unless they were terrible, which I’d want to know upfront. Better to leave that aspect out. Alcohol specialist—hmmm. Maybe. Re-cap: ‘Expertise Required! Alcohol Specialist—‘ Then what? ‘Alcohol Specialist needed to aid in the introduction of a new establishment.’ Not bad. ‘Previous experience as a bartender is essential. Must be interesting and exciting.’” I stopped walking again. I reviewed in my head what I had just put together. Well, it would do. As the evening wore on, I could think of nothing better. I decided that if it didn’t work I’d try something else. This would have to do for now.
The next day, Crazy Angie and I made up a few flyers and posted them throughout the Central West End and a few places in the city as well. We could do nothing now but wait.
I wondered how long I’d have to wait for any kind of response. A few days went by with nothing. Just when I was starting to give up hope, the tallest man I’d ever seen walked into the bar.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Lunatic Returns

Construction was almost over and the decorating was underway. The Reverend was truly working magic with her paintbrush. I’d never seen such a colorful bar (not that I’ve seen many drab ones). The general construction was finished. All that remained was the furniture. I had worked out a deal with Al for bar stools and tables. He and Sarah were getting quite curious about what exactly this bar would be like so I was able to buy him off easy with a few free drinks. He was even going to throw in a cabinet in which to keep our glassware (once we had some).
The summer was rapidly approaching. With school almost over as well, Crazy Angie and I were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to spend more time working at the bar. Still, with the crowd we were planning to attract I didn’t think the two of us could handle it alone, especially given the mental capacity of my partner.
“We need to hire some bartenders,” I said while gently wiping the sawdust off of our beautiful new marble slab bar.
“What for? We can handle it.”
“Actually, I hope not. I hope we draw such a crowd that there are just too many for the two of us. Besides, I don’t know anything about drinks or how to make them. Do you?”
“Well, no. I see your point. I could whip up another ad.”
As much as that thought made me cringe, I was afraid that would be all we could do. We had pretty much depleted all of our earnings on the construction of the lab.
“Well, we’ve got a little while. Let’s not jump the gun. Our liquor license isn’t even here yet and everything is dependant on that. Besides, we have tons of other things to do. We need to get going on the cleaning up. There’s sawdust everywhere. Why don’t you work on your sweeping?”
Her eyes lit up at the prospect of being useful. I handed her the broom and dustpan and watched for a few seconds while she tried to recall the instructions I’d given her before. It wasn’t long before she was slowly making a pile of dust in the middle of the floor.
I looked around the bar. The Reverend was really doing a spectacular job. Covering an entire wall was a picture of a wolf baying at the moon. I walked over to where the Reverend was still painting.
“Wow. That really looks great.”
“You like it? I call it, The Sadness of the Lonely Wolf.”
I stood there, analyzing the painting. “How do you know he’s sad?”
She looked at me strangely as if to say, ‘how dare you question my interpretation of my own painting’.
“Well, it’s obvious. I mean you can tell just by looking at it.”
I studied the painting again. There was the wolf, the moon at which he was clearly baying, an open green field—that was really all.
“I’m sorry, Rev. You’re gonna have to help me out on this on.”
She let out a heavy sigh. “Well, if you must have things spelled out for you—the wolf here is very sad because his lady wolf has rejected him.”
“What lady wolf? I don’t see anything else except the moon.”
“That’s because you have no artistic vision.”
“What?” I stood there, shocked and appauled. “How can you say that? I’ve created the cure for boredom for pete’s sake!”
“Yes, well, that is quite creative and artistic. I’ll give you that. Though I must say the Authentic Lunatic was far beyond the boundaries of modern creativity. That truly was a brilliant interpretation of the mentally diseased.”
“You have got to be kidding me!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I looked at her, and she seemed to display an aire of complete seriousness. “Fine. You like crazy people. But how on earth can you expect someone to look at this and so easily derive that the wolf is pining for his female version?”
She was clearly exasperated and let out a noise that was a cross somewhere between a sigh and a grunt.
“From the other wolf!” She was near shouting and had extended her hand toward the painting.
“What other wolf?”
“THAT ONE!” Now she was shouting. I looked carefully at the painting. Near her had far away from both the moon and the baying wolf, was a small grey speck. I got as close as I dared to the painting to get a better look. I suppose if I stared at it long enough and had an incredible imagination (which I do) I might be able to conceive of the possibility that this grey speck was another wolf.
“Whatever. Looks great.” I walked away, fearing that I might have an outburst of my own if I stayed to argue for much longer. I guess artists are supposed to be a little deranged, but given that she was a minister I guess I expected more. As long as it looked good, what right did I have to complain?
I went back to polishing what little furniture we had when all of a sudden Crazy Angie came running up to me waving her arms above her head shouting. I’m not sure what she was shouting, but it was definitely very loud.
“What! What!” I said.
“It’s here!”
“What is?”
“Our liquor license!” I gasped my excitement and tore the mail from her flailing arms. Sure enough there was an official looking envelope. I ripped it open and unfolded the contents. We were now licensed to sell liquor. The judge had come through for us. I decided that a little lunacy was in order and I joined Crazy Angie in her wild flinging of arms and shouting of undeterminables. We danced around the bar, caring not for the strange stares from the construction workers or the Reverend. Our dream was fast becoming a reality.
That evening, I took it upon myself to review our financial situation. Now that our liquor license was finalized we had a lot more work to do. Money was low. We were going to need to buy liquor in which to sell and I was convinced that we would need to hire a bartender, who would need to be paid. It was time to break out the authentic lunatic. We needed a fund raiser. After that, we would advertise for a bartender.
I felt so blessed at that moment to have a friend like Crazy Angie. I knew I could depend on her to work as hard as she could to get our project going. Her total devotion to our mutual venture was uplifting.
At school the next morning, we met at our usual spot—my locker. I don’t’ know why we always me there. It was sort of our congregating place. Our high school had three floors and a basement. Her locker was on the third floor and mine was in the basement. Almost everyone stayed in the basement when classes weren’t in session. Maybe that was it. I don’t really know, but that’s where we met.
“I’ve done a lot of thinking and I think we need the Authentic Lunatic. How do you feel about another show?”
“Great! Amen Hallelujah Chunky Peanut Butter!”
“Right. Well, how about this weekend? That will give us a little time to organize and prepare. I’d like to observe it this time if you don’t mind. I’m really trying to explore the artistic vision that everyone says you have with this thing.”
“Yeah, sure. Actually, you could help me out if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Ok. Wait—what would I be doing?”
“Well, it’s kinda hard to keep things going with my art while trying to remember who has paid and who hasn’t. Plus, I don’t like the idea of trusting strangers to take the pictures. Hey, I might even find a place to use you as a prop or something.”
I didn’t mind the camera thing or taking the money, but I was not thrilled at the prospect of being used as a prop. Still, I agreed. I told myself that it was necessary and that was that, though it was the first time I can remember dreading the weekend.
On Saturday morning, Crazy Angie and I headed down to the Central West End with the biggest refrigerator box we could find. I borrowed a Polaroid camera from my dad and a big pickle jar from my mom to keep our earnings in.
We had painted in big red letters on the side of the box “Experience the Authentic Lunatic, Encore Performance”. I was hopeful that this humiliation would net a large sum. Almost immediately after we’d set up our box a line started to form. I could hear the chatter of the gathering crowd.
“Oh I have been dying to see this!”
“Yeah, it’s better than Broadway.”
“Wow! A real authentic lunatic! That’s something you don’t see everyday.”
“I cried the first time I saw it. It was so beautiful.”
I was confounded by what I heard from the surrounding people. It reminded me that life in the Central West End is on a level of its own.
I had brought a chair to sit in while Crazy Angie performed. People were generous with their tips in our pickle jar. It started to fill up before she got started. I had the best view possible, so I sat back to watch.
She started out in the box, just sort of peaking out the side. As soon as everyone saw her, they started cheering. Slowly, she crept out of the box. Once she had fully emerged, she started shouting, spitting, jumping up and down—it was all very strange. The crowd surrounding her was almost silent and completely engrossed in her performance.
The shouting continued for a few minutes and then just suddenly stopped—as if she had just realized what she was doing. Crazy Angie went back into her box and came out with an alarm clock. She set it on the ground and sat down in front of it. She started talking to the clock as if it were a person. What she was saying didn’t make sense—it was more just a jumble of words, but her tone of voice and pitch changes actually gave some indication of the conversation. Suddenly, in the midst of the conversation, the alarm went off. It seemed that the authentic lunatic took that as an offensive turn to the conversation and started shouting with the clock, eventually ending up smashing it on the concrete. Crazy Angie then stood up and bowed to her audience.
The response from the public was overwhelming. There were cheers and shouts of “encore” and “bravo”. Everyone was putting tips into our pickle jar. Several started to form a line next to the box, awaiting photo opportunities. I must have sold at least 50 Polariods. It was incredible. I made a decision then never to question the artistic qualities of the mentally ill.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Ordaining of the Reverend LeArteest

I awoke the next morning to a violent jostling of my entire body. I opened my eyes and saw that it was Crazy Angie trying to rouse me from my slumber.
“What? What? Who let you in here?” I shouted to her once I had my bearings.
“Your brother,” she said in a frantic rush. “But he said not to tell you it was him if you got mad. So are you mad?”
“Uh! What do you want and why does it require you to rattle the insides of my body?”
“Ok, good, you’re not mad. Well, I just had to show you this!” She thrust a half crumpled piece of paper in my face. I had to back up just to stay in focus. It had scribbled writing in big letters on it.
“What is it?”
“It’s an advertisement.”
“For what?”
“For the arteest.” She mocked a French accent (very poorly, I might ad, but what can you expect from a lunatic who has never been outside the state of Missouri?). I took the paper from her and read it:
“Wanted: French Arteest to unborify a bar. Please call soon!
It then listed our contact information and the address of the bar. I frowned.
“Unborify?” I asked.
“Yeah!” she said. “I got it from the dictionary.”
“Which dictionary?”
“Some guy having coffee at the table next to me this morning.”
That explained it. It was probably some weird slang thing. You never know who you might run into in a coffee house.
“Yeah. Ok. Well, I think you have the right idea. We definitely need to advertise. I think your ad just needs a little bit of revising.”
“Revising? What for?”
“Well, unborify might be too complex of a word for the French.”
“Gee, I hope not. I already posted tons of these.”
My eyes widened in astonishment.
“You did what?”
“Well, I thought it was such a great idea that I just made up a ton of them and posted them all over.”
“How many is a ton?” I asked.
“I dunno. Like fifty.”
I let out a troubled, frantic, sigh.
“Ok. This is not a tragedy. Maybe it will work. Maybe we’ll get one or two people. And it’s not like you spent a ton of money on them—you didn’t, did you?”
“No, no I did it all myself.”
“Ok. Good. I may recover from this relatively quickly.”
I got out of bed and started to slowly walk in circles around my room to calm my nerves. Crazy Angie was watching me, obvious concern and shame showed on her face. I looked at her and immediately felt sorry for having made such a big deal out of this. I tried to reassure her.
“You know, this really was a pretty good idea. Maybe the wording was a little rough, but you saved us a lot of money by doing it yourself. I’m sure we’ll get lots of responses. We should get down to the bar incase they start showing up early.”
I got dressed and we walked over to our new business venture. As we got close, I noticed that someone was standing outside the front door. I though, perhaps it was one of the construction workers, but as we approached the figure, I realized that I had no idea who it was.
It was a woman, dressed in a long black robe. She had long blonde hair, wore no makeup or jewelry, and had a stern look on her face. She wasn’t much older than either Crazy Angie or I, but she had a certain older, more knowledgeable look about her.
“Hello,” I said. “Can we help you?”
She eyed us curiously. “Have you heard the call of Jesus?”
“No, we don’t have a phone.” Crazy Angie said. “What number does he have for us?”
I tried not to laugh, but the only result was a brief sputtering, which I was able to turn into a relatively convincing cough and then a clearing of my throat.
The woman looked at us strangely and frowned. “Are you ready for the end?”

“Well, no. We just got started,” Crazy Angie said.
“I’m sorry. You’ll have to excuse here. She isn’t mentally sound,” I said. The woman only looked at me more strangely. “Is there something we can do for you?”
“Well, I certainly have doubts now. I’m here in response to your advertisement.” The frown never left her face. I however, showed incredible shock.
“Our ad? You mean you saw that?” I was in utter amazement. Crazy Angie’s ad worked after all.
“Yes. Is the position still available?”
I was about to answer that it was when Crazy Angie interjected.
“Well, that depends. Are you French?”
“Now, I’m not exactly sure that matt—“ but I was cut off.
“I am French.”
“Are you an arteest? A real one?”
“Ok, you can’t expect her to decipher your babble—“ again, I was cut short.
“I am.”
“Do you have documentation?”
I decided to stay out of that one. The woman pulled out something resembling a wallet and from it, an identification card issued from the French government. It listed her as Amy LeArteest, from Nice, France.
I could not explain to you my astonishment. My only rationalization for the preceding events was that this Amy person was as crazy as Angie was. Of course, I couldn’t fault her for that.
Crazy Angie looked at her identification with intense scrutiny.
“Wait a second. This isn’t right. There is no nice France.” She thrust the id back. Of course, she was pronouncing it nice and not niece, not that she knew much about France, but I thought it necessary to interject.
“Um, Angie, that Nice—Neece.” I drew out the vowels for her. She took another look at it.
“Oh right. Well, wouldn’t you think that being the French government and all that they could spell their own cities right? Sheesh!”
“Yeah,” I said. “Um, so, Amy—“
“It’s Reverend.”
“Huh?”
“I’m an ordained minister. I prefer to be addressed by my title.”
“Oh, sure. Ok. Reverend, what sort of artwork or design have you done?” She pulled out a portfolio full of some of the most vibrant paintings I’d ever seen. They were truly beautiful and anything but boring.
“Wow! These are really great.”
“Yeah. See, I told you my advertising would pay off,” Crazy Angie interjected. “When can you start?”
“Oh, anytime really. I don’t expect much in the way of payment. I’m really mostly interested in spreading the gospel. I think a bar is the perfect place to start.”
Crazy Angie and I exchanged glances. I didn’t think that our bar would generate a particularly receptive group to the Gospel, but hey, if she worked cheap that was fine with us.
Crazy Angie and I showed the Reverend around and told her what we were looking for. She seemed receptive to our ideas and had a few of her own. By the time the construction team arrived we had plans for the whole place. Things were really starting to shape up. It was making me nervous. I truly never thought we’d get this far. Still, we were waiting on our liquor license. I was worried that I’d have to go find the judge and pray that he was still drunk.
Our quest for an artist was over. On to the next obstacle!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Hayride

I used to be in love with my husband. I used to be so desperate for him that the eight hours he spent every day at work seemed so lonely and empty. What happened to the man I fell so in love with? How did he get this way? How did I let it happen? He works so much more than eight hours a day now. He seems so removed from my personal life. He is the man who provides for our son and me. He brings home the money so that we can have a house to live in and food to eat. That’s all he is. That’s all he wants to be. His stockholder meetings and client lunches are what stimulate him now. I am no longer a distraction. He doesn’t stay away because he’s tempted by me. He stays away because he feels no reason not to.

Jimmy is eight. He’s in the second grade and he is my life now. I feel what most mothers feel for their sons—pride and a touch of fear that something might happen to him if I’m not watching closely. He fills my heart and I can’t get enough of him. I do whatever I have to do to be a part of his life. Sometimes I worry about his teenage years when mom will suddenly be uncool. But that is a few years off. For now, he’s happy to have me around. He seems to know that Dad just isn’t available to do things with him. When his Boy Scout pack had their annual hayride this year, he didn’t even approach my husband. He came straight to me.

“Mom, will you go with me? They need lots of parents to help out and I thought it would be fun if you could come.”

“Sure. Sounds like fun.”

The idea of a hayride with my son warmed me. Fall had some of my fondest memories, especially with my husband. Chandler and I met on a hayride. His fraternity sponsored one while we were in college and one of his brothers had taken me as his date. He ended up drunk somewhere, not long after we arrived, and I don’t recall spending any time with him. Chandler latched on to me and we spent most of that October evening together. I remember it as our first date. When people ask me where he took me, that’s the story I tell them. It was a hayride in college. We sat on hay bales and roasted marshmallows, drinking hot cocoa, huddled together, partly to stay warm, and partly as an excuse to be as close as possible. Once we were together that night, we never left each other’s side. It was an amazing first date. The kind that leave you not wanting the night to end. It seemed like something out of a movie. The feeling stirred up inside of me. The strong attraction I felt to this man—not just because he was good-looking, but because of the inner connection we made, almost instantly. We talked about everything—things that I wouldn’t have brought up after just meeting someone seemed to naturally fit within the conversation. After that day, people were jealous of our relationship. They compared their own to ours and feel something lacking. Chandler and I never fought, rarely disagreed, but still shared everything. We seemed to fit so perfectly. We were the couple that would last forever.


What would those people say now? How would they feel if they knew that I barely spoke to my husband? We never went out together anymore, never shared the events of our day or even had a real conversation that went beyond, “what do you want for dinner?”

Chandler hadn’t taken much interest in Jimmy’s Boy Scout events. That was left to me. He was always at a meeting or some out of town conference. Jimmy had learned not to expect Dad for things like this. Chandler spent much of his nonworking time, still at work, ether mentally or dealing with social things. I used to go with him to dinners and parties, but since Jimmy was born, we both thought it would be easier on me if I just stayed home. There was no worrying about the baby at home or making sure to be back by the time a babysitter needed to leave. Plus, who’s better to care for a child than his own mother? I wouldn’t trade a second I have with Jimmy. We bonded so much in those earlier days and now, I feel an integral part of his life—even more so when he asks me to do things with him.

Hayrides are always fun for me. I so enjoy the fall season—leaves falling, the smell of fireplaces on a crisp night. Hayrides are the epitome of fall. They seem to encompass everything that is descriptive of the season. Smores, campfires, warm sweaters, hot cocoa—all of it meshed to create a sensation—a feeling of being home. I could never live somewhere like California or Arizona where they have no fall—not really. Fall can only be defined as not summer. The main characteristic of fall is school being back in session—that’s it. No real season change, no leaves changing color, no cool weather. No fall.

The night of the hayride was perfect fall—cold enough for sweaters and turtlenecks, but not cold enough for a coat. The sky was clear and full of stars, with the moon full overhead. Jimmy was excited. He held my hand as we walked from the car to the big bonfire blazing in the center of the clearing. He was bounding up and down as we made our way over to the crowd of boy scouts and their parents. He ran off to meet his friends and I found a hot cup of cocoa and sat by the fire.

“It’s Jasmine, right?” A male voice approached me.

“Uh huh. You’re Clark, Aaron’s dad.”

“Yep.”

“I remember you from the Christmas play last year. Both our boys were trees.” We both laughed at the memory. Clark was the more active parent in his family. His wife Jane was a lawyer and worked a lot. Clark had a more laid-back job—he was a writer and worked from home. “How’s Jane?”

“Fine. Busy as always. James?”

“The same. He’s been working a lot lately.”

“Never get used to it, do you?” I looked at him, quizzically. “I certainly don’t.” Clark had just said out loud what I would never admit that I thought. I hated that James was always away. IT made me mad that he didn’t take more interest in our son. I would have never said that to another person. But Clark just did. It was refreshing and relieving to know that I wasn’t the only one out there who felt this way.

“Always at work—even when they’re home.” I said, staring into the fire.

“Jane was planning to come. Of course, something came up. Some appeal or motion—I’ve stopped trying to justify her reasons.”

“She still gives reasons? James seems to just assume he’ll be working and doesn’t even plan to be available.” I took a long swig of my cocoa. “I’d like to get a reason now and then. IT would give me something to tell Jimmy.”

“It wouldn’t matter to him. Aaron has stopped thinking that Jane will be available for him. I guess I should too, but I hate it. I don’t want to get used to it and have her start to think that it’s ok.”

“I know what you mean. It’s as if if we stop expecting them to be around then they’ll think it’s acceptable not to be. Like we’re excusing them from being parents.”

“Right.”

We both stopped talking and sipped our drinks.

“I can’t believe we’re actually discussing this in public.”

He laughed. “You mean, admitting that our spouses are jerks?”

I smiled. “Yeah. I mean, I hardly know you, other than through your son. We’re practically strangers.” He didn’t say anything, just nodded in agreement. “Still, it sort of feels good to finally talk about it. I mean, why not? Why not talk about what’s bothering us, right?” I started to feel…liberated, I guess. I started saying whatever came into my mind. “Why not tell it like it is and just say that I hate that my husband spends so much time at work and hardly notices me anymore. Unless dinner’s not ready when he gets home. Then he notices. Wants to know how much longer ‘till we eat. Not, hwo was your day or how’s our son. Because he is our son. I wasn’t alone in creating this life, but I sure seem to be in raising it and taking care of it.” I paused to take a drink. “But he just doesn’t seem to care. He probably wouldn’t are if Jimmy was out on the streets selling drugs or even just misbehaving at school. He’s a good kid. He does what he’s told, but that doesn’t get so much as a pat on the back from dear old dad.” I stopped, realizing that I was starting to get really angry. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s ok. I know exactly what you mean. I feel the same way. Jane doesn’t take notice of anything that doesn’t involve a criminal. She’s so absorbed in their problems that she doesn’t even notice her own. Like the fact that her son now needs glasses. She wasn’t home when he went to the doctor and wasn’t home when he started wearing them. I don’t think she notices them at all. He’s eight years old and he wears glasses. His own mother hasn’t noticed his face long enough to recognize the difference. She has no idea that her husband has spoken to a divorce lawyer—one of her colleagues, actually. They work in the same building. I actually went to see if she wanted to have lunch one day—you know, sort of a surprise. She waved me off and said she just didn’t have time. I was so mad I walked down three flights and made an appointment.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I don’t think I could do it. Not with Aaron so young. I’d hate to have something like that happen to him. Still, how am I supposed to live like this? Am I just supposed to take it? What can I do?”
We both sat silent for a moment.

“Thanks,” I said. “I fell much better.” He smiled.

“Me too.” We both shared a chuckle. It felt great to have just a moment to vent, even if it didn’t solve anything. It was nice to have a friend in the same situation, feeling the same way, who wasn’t trying to solve my problem. We sat and watched our boys playing in piles of hay and leaves, thankful not to have to be the one to clean up the mess later.

“Despite everything, though, I love having so much time with Jimmy.” I said. “He comes to me for everything and I love that. I know him so well. I know everything about him and that’s something James will never have. Maybe that’s selfish and childish, but I know I’ll always have that over him. I’ll always be the better parent.”

“Think so?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Me too. Aaron is my whole world. I’d drop everything for him. I feel like the polar opposite of Jane, who would drop him for everything.” We talked for a long time about our boys and how much they meant to us. How much we’d rather stay in an unhappy marriage than have them suffer for even a split second. Nothing was worth their pain. Nothing.

“Now I know all about your son,” Clark began, “but I know so little about you.”

“Not much to tell, I’m afraid. My son is my life. I gave up everything to have him and I don’t regret a bit of it.”

“But what were those thing? What did you give up?”

Hmmm. Did I want to do this? Did I want to relive those memories and dreams? James never asked me about them anymore. He didn’t seem to care. I felt compelled to tell him, though. As though I needed to. Like telling him might make them seem more real, more like still a possibility. My dreams. I had so many growing up.

“I always wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved animals. I even started veterinary school, but I had to quit when I got pregnant.”

“Sure, but you could have gone back.”

I sighed. “I could have. But James didn’t really want me to. He wanted me to be a full time mom with Jimmy. I didn’t want to disappoint him…and I was completely addicted to Jimmy. I didn’t want to leave him for a second. It was easy to just quit. For a while anyway. I started to get a little restless as he grew. Wanted more adult conversation and to get out of the house more. James was very supportive for a while, but once things started going really well for him at work, he lost interest in me. You’re lucky—you have a job that you can do from home.”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t always like this. Jane used to stay home too. I’ve never made a lot of money as a writer, but it was always enough for us to get by, especially while she was in law school. She had Aaron between degrees. The timing was really perfect. She didn’t have to put school aside to have a family. Of course, now she puts her family aside for her job.”

“Have you ever tried talking to her about it?” I asked him.

“Oh sure. But that’s a can of worms I wish I’d never opened. She started going on about how women have been oppressed for years and expected to stay home with the kids while their husbands went off to work. Well not her. How could I ask her to give up her job? How could I ask her to stop working so hard? Did I know that she had to work twice as hard as the men in her office to get noticed as much as they did?” He was getting angry. It showed on his face. “She actually told me that she’d been so happy that I understood her working so much. She’d liked having a more modern family—one that wasn’t stuck behind old traditions and one where the man didn’t mind staying home with our son. OF course, that made me feel guilty. Sure, I know it’s hard for career women and I would never ask her to stop working. She spent years in law school to make it where she is. But we spent years together to build our marriage. Isn’t that worth anything?”

“You didn’t say that, though, did you?”

“No. Wish I would have. I wonder what she would have said.”

I laughed. “Careful—she might have thrown you out.”

“You think? Would you have thrown James out if the situation were reversed and he was asking you to give up your job that you worked hard for?”

“Yes. But that’s not what you were doing. You weren’t asking her to quit—just spend a little less time at work and a little more time at home. You missed her, that’s all.”

“Yeah. I guess. I do miss her. I miss all the fun we used to have. I miss seeing her all the time and having dinner together. I miss falling asleep with her at night. That hasn’t happened in a long time.” He stared into the fire, as if remembering days past and happier times.

“The little things.”

“Hmmm?”

“The little things—that’s what I miss. Holding hands. Snuggling up on the couch with a good movie. Cheering in the stands at one of Jimmy’s soccer games. James and I haven’t done that in years. I miss that.”
Aaron and Jimmy came running towards us, huffing and puffing all the way.

“Come on Mom! The Hayride is starting!” Jimmy grabbed my empty arm and pulled as hard as he could, trying to get me to rise quicker. I did my best not to spill what was left of my hot cocoa, deposited it in a nearby garbage bin, and allowed him to pull me along. Clark and Aaron were right behind us, chattering away.

The tractor, which would be our steed on this adventure, had a wagon filled to the brim with loose hay. Boys were already bounding into it, with steady lifts from their parents. Clark had Aaron up, grabbed Jimmy around the waist and hoisted him up too. After climbing in himself, he extended his hand to help me in. That was the first time he touched me and it will be forever engraved in my memory. His warm hand surrounded mine—swallowed it up, even. His strong arms pulling me up, into the wagon.

We found a seat along the side and waited for our boys to join us. But they were having too much fun throwing hay around at each other. When the wagon started to move, they sat down, Jimmy was on my right and Clark sat next to me. The wind was starting to pick up and we huddled together to keep warm. Someone started throwing blankets out to us, and mothers grabbed their sons to hold them close under the covers as the wagon headed for the path in the woods that would take us through our autumn journey.

Clark grabbed a nearby blanket and stretched it over the four of us. Underneath the warmth of the quilt, he found my hand. As he entwined his fingers with mine, I felt a rushing sense of urgency wash over me—like I needed this to happen. I wanted it. I should have felt guilty with Jimmy so nearby. I should have been worried about what he would think if he discovered our hands folded together under the blanket. But I didn’t. I didn’t think about that. I wasn’t feeling guilty. I didn’t look at Clark. I just returned his grasp as best I could. I felt warm all over—like sinking into a hot bath after a long walk in the snow.

As the wagon found the path through the woods, the boys got a bit rowdier, perhaps a little frightened of the unknown, lurking in the shadows of the trees surrounding us. My own unknown was more exciting. How far would I let this go? What if he tried to kiss me? Would I let him? What if he wanted things to continue? What if this was just a friendly gesture? A way of showing me that he understood and knew how I felt? Was that enough for me?
I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t do anything. I just enjoyed the moment. It felt like a first date—new and exciting. I felt like a teenager, not daring to look at Clark as long as his fingers clasped mine.

As the wagon continued on, we went deeper and deeper into the woods. The only light came from the lantern guiding the tractor along. The only sounds were from the boys’ excited cries and the slow turning of the wheels as the wagon was pulled along.

The darkness made me even more daring, and I decided to see how far I was willing to let this go. I squeezed Clarks hand and with my other hand, I reached over to grab his arm. We were in almost total darkness. He let go of my hand to pull me closer, his arm wrapped around me and we snuggled together. I could hardly see in front of me. The moon, hidden by clouds, gave almost no light at all. The soft glow of the headlights was so far ahead that it provided no light at all to us in the back of the wagon.

My heart was beating much faster now, thudding in my chest. Clark reached up to touch my cheek and pressed his lips to mine. This was it. This was over the line. This was being unfaithful to my husband. It felt wonderful. I didn’t want it to end.

His tongue pressed against my lips, parting them. As our kiss deepened, I became less and less aware of our surroundings. I wasn’t thinking of my son, his friends, or my husband. Only our kiss existed in the darkness. It covered us, protecting us from whatever might threaten our togetherness.

I have no idea how long it lasted, our silent kiss. But as the light drew nearer, we separated, returning to the world and our children. The wagon slowed and stopped, back where it had picked us up. We threw off our blankets and headed back to the fire for smores and camp songs.

I sat with Jimmy wrapped in my arms, Clark and Aaron next to us. Every so often, we’d glance over at each other, but said nothing—just a knowing smile. At the end of the evening, we said goodnight as any other adults might. Just a fond farewell, no promises and no obligations. That was it. The night was over.

I drove home with Jimmy chattering away in the back seat about how much fun he had and how he couldn’t wait to do it again next year. I joined in as much as could, but my mind was on Clark and what had happened between us. A brief encounter between two lonely people who, for just a moment were able to forget their lives and enjoy each other’s company in a separate place, set apart from the reality we were going back to.

I’ve seen Clark and Aaron several times since that day and we’ve never mentioned the kiss or our conversation before it. We talked as parents might, as friends even, but that was it. I don’t regret it and I know it will never happen again. But for one night, I was free. I was a girl again, able to follow her heart and live for the moment with no regrets and no consequences.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Why I write…

I write because I can’t not write. I write because the stories in my head are so wonderful that I have to share them with the world, whether the world wants to read them or not. Writing makes my daydreams legal—I’m working when I daydream.
I write because since my very first story that I wrote in the fourth grade, it has been the one constant goal I’ve ever had. I still want to be a writer when I grow up. I’m not sure I’ve grown up yet, but I am a writer.
I write because I love the English language and how the words sound when strung together just right. I love knowing all of the rules of writing and speaking—and then breaking them all, just for fun.
I write because it is the one thing that I know I can do well without having to think too much. A letter, a story—whatever. I know it will be good.
I write because I’m addicted to stories and no one has stories like mine, so I’d better get them down.
I write because there are bad writers out there making tons of money on their crap. If they can get rich writing crap, I can be a millionaire with my well-crafted prose. Now, if only I can get someone to pay attention…
I write to be remembered. Years after I’m gone, my words will live on, even if only through my children—if they are my only readers. I’ll have something to say to the generations beyond them and make my mark on this world.

Endless October

     I had been scared to death of planes all of my life.  I’d only flown once (to
San Diego) the summer after my freshman year of high school.  I’d spent the week before my trip telling everyone that I only had a week left to live.  I even marked in on my calendar—“the day I die”.  How morbid.  I was convinced that the plane was going to crash.  If is didn’t crash on the way there, I still had a backup—it was a round-trip flight.  Needless to say, the plane didn’t crash and I’m still alive.  However, the plane was every bit as horrid as I convinced myself it would be.  All we did was go up and down, over and over.  It was like the elevator from hell—up and down forever, but never close enough to the ground to risk jumping off.  
     It was because of my dreadful, totally irrational fear of flying that I took the train to Warrensburg.  My brother was going to school at Central Missouri State University and I needed a vacation.  Of course Warrensburg isn’t the ideal place for a vacation.  Central is known fondly by its students as Call Me Stupid U.  Not exactly a tourist attraction but it only cost me the thirty or so dollars for the train ticket.  
     I was in my first year of college and hating every second.  ‘Maybe I’ll transfer,’ I thought.  ‘Maybe I’ll love Central and just have to be there.’  Maybe not.  
     October is an amazing month.  It is supposed to be beautifully gloomy.  Those cold rainy days are magnificent.  Leaves of various shades with the brilliant rays of the sun beaming down on them are enough make me need to stop and catch my breath.  But it is the cold rainy days I love.  They’re perfect for train travel.  Not too cold—warm enough to leave the heaters off and the windows cracked, making sweaters comfortable, but turtlenecks too hot.  The sky is full of whitish-gray clouds that aren’t thick enough to form cute little shapes that don’t really look like anything.  It’s those days that most people look out of their windows and frown at.  Those are the good days that I can’t wait to get out in.  They call to me—we crave each other.  Maybe I was a rainy October day in my former life.  No—this must be what Heaven is like.  When I die, I’ll sit by my window in my mansion on the streets of gold, watching the rain fall while I sip hot chocolate and eat broccoli cheddar soup, curled up in a purple sweater at least three sizes too large.  I love purple.  If fall were purple I’d love it even more.  Not lavender or plum, but the deep dark royal purple shade that sometimes, when the sun is setting, fills the sky.  If October had skies like that, I think I’d never want to leave it.  That had to be Heaven.  Maybe even Chris Rice or Rich Mullins playing in the background.  After all, what was Heaven without Christian music?  Chris Rice reminds me of fall—especially October.  
     It was a day like that when I waited at the Kirkwood Amtrak station to board the Southwest Chief.  It was a 5:00 evening train and the sky was just beginning to darken.  As I waited for the train to pull into the station, I decided to do a little research.  I had a twenty-page paper to write for my theology class on religious cults, so I pulled out my library copy of Jesus and Jim Jones.  All of that stuff fascinated me.  My parents once thought I had joined a cult when I converted to Pentecostalism.  After researching the Peoples’ Temple, I could see why.  Let’s face it, radical Christianity is a little weird, but it’s home to me.  Religion is a personal thing.  Each person’s relationship with God is different.  If I want to clap my hands and shout to the world how much I love Him, then I should be able to do that.  At the same time, if someone finds no closeness with God in a church, but would rather spend quite time alone with God, that should be fine too.  God has created us as individual people.  He knows us better than anyone else ever could.  
     The Jehovah’s Witnesses were making their rounds on the platform.  They were passing out booklets to anyone who’d listen.  A tall man in a dark perfectly pressed suit approached Jim and me as we sat on top of my luggage.  
     “Would you like something to read on the train?”  
     “No thanks.  I’ve got something.”  I showed him the cover of my book and watched as his eyes grew wide and he backed away in fear.  Unfortunately the train arrived before I could watch him relay what had occurred between us to the rest of the cavalry.  
     I got on the train and found a comfortable window seat.  I could look out of my window for perhaps another hour and still enjoy the scenery.  The train rarely went through a city.  We stuck to raw nature for the most part.  Rows of trees surrounded the tracks, their near naked branches shuddered in the cool breezed.  I stared out of my private window with a sleepy grin on my face.  I could ride the rail forever, perfectly content.  Perhaps in Heaven, I’d leave my mansion on the streets of gold and ride a golden rail in the endless October.  Or perhaps I’d simply ride after I die on my way to my new mansion.  I can’t wait to get to Heaven!  I hope I die on the first day of November.  
     When finally the lights inside the train made it impossible to see the October splendor outside, I resigned myself to reading.  Jim told me all about how he brainwashed hundreds of people and fed them all poison laced kool-aid.  Fascinating!  Jim couldn’t have been too captivating because I must have fallen asleep at some point.  When I woke up, I noticed that several people were no longer on board.  I looked at my watch, which indicated that we were late.  As I sat puzzled by the time, the conductor walked by.
     “’Scuse me,”
     “Yes?”
     “This was only supposed to be a two hour trip for me.”  He looked at me like I was not quite all there, then suddenly snapped back into politeness.  
     “Oh, yes.  Well, we had to alter the course.”
     “Alter the course?  This is a train.  How do you alter the course?  Aren’t the tracks pretty permanent, being bolted down and all?”
     A calming smile spread across his face.  “Don’t worry.  Everything will be explained.”  He walked away, leaving me bewildered.  I frowned in confusion and decided to go back to my book.  Jim wasn’t on my seat, so I looked on the floor.  Still not seeing him, I got out of my seat and crouched down in the isle.  Still, no Jim.  Great.  I’d lost Jim.  How could it just be gone?  Dag-nab-it that was a library book!  There’d be a fine!  Swell.  Just swell.  Now what was I going to do?  I hadn’t brought L. Ron Hubbard or David Koresh with me.  Only then did it occur to me that I had been nearly handed free research only hours before and had turned it down.  Gosh darn it to heck!  I should have taken that stuff from the Jehovah’s Witness Cavalry.  Note to self:  whenever someone—anyone—offers research of any kind, TAKE IT!  You’ll need it someday.  
     Now resigned to life without Jim, I tried to peer out the window and catch some glimpse of the scenery.  It was far too black.  ‘If only they’d turn the lights out.’ I thought to myself.  I dozed off again, this time to awaken when the train came to a rather abrupt halt.  The few of us left on the train gradually proceeded to the front.  The door ahead of me was open and a blinding light issued forth from it.  I couldn’t see a thing as I walked down the steps off of the train.  ‘This is too weird,’ I thought.  I was supposed to be in Warrensburg and I would up in Sunnyville.
     When my eyes adjusted to the intense light, I could see that I was a long way from Warrensburg.  The ground beneath me was made of shining golden bricks.  They were so bright; I could hardly look at them.  Everything else around me was sort of a white blur—sort of cloudy—hey!  Is that an elephant up there?  Oh, no, it’s just a cloud shaped like an elephant.  
     The golden path led up to a pearl-white gate that was guarded by a young man in denim shorts and a Jars of Clay t-shirt.  I walked up to him.
     “Excuse me, can you tell me how I got here on my way to Warrensburg?”  
He laughed.  “Don’t you know where you are?”
Yeah, I got a pretty good idea, but I don’t remember the train crashing or catching some fatal disease—unless this is the rapture.”
“No, no, nothing like that.  Just one of those things.  No one ever knows when their time is.  Hey, did you hear that joke about the Baptists who died in a car wreck?”  I looked at him, confused.
“Uh, no.”
“Oh, you’ve got to hear it.  It’s so great.  See, I’m standing here at the gate and I call all the Baptists to enter.  We all get on the elevator and I push sever.  Then I say, ‘everyone be really quiet when we pass the third floor.  Don’t even breathe.  Not a sound!’  Then they ask why.  Well, just then, we pass the third floor and everyone gets really quiet.  ‘Whew!  That was close,’ I say.  ‘The Pentecostals are on three.  They still think they’re the only eon’s here!  HA!  Isn’t that great?  I love that joke.  ‘Course, we don’t have an elevator.”
“Ok, I get that you’re St. Peter…”
“Call me Pete.”
“Sure.  What’s with the shirt?”
“What?  Don’t you like Jars of Clay?”     “Sure I do.  I just pictured you as more of an—Andy Griffith sings his favorite gospel hymns—kinda guy.”
“Oh, well, Southern gospel is ok, but I’m more into the alternative Christian music.  Besides, I can’t wear this stuff on the inside.  Everyone dons a white robe in there.”
“So, what happens now?  Do I have to convince you I’m a Christian now or something?”  
“Oh, no.  You’re in.  See?  Got you’re name written down right here.”
He showed me the mother of all guest registers, and sure enough, there was my name.
“Lemme guess—this is the Lamb’s Book of Life, right?”
“Hey, wow!  Most preachers don’t even know that.”  He was genuinely amazed.  
“Well, we Pentecostals aren’t as dumb as you think.  So what now Pete?”
“Well, first you’ll head on over to the mansion and get changed.  You can go on over to choir practice if you want to.”  I thanked Pete for all of his help and walked past him through the gates.  
It was warm in Heaven.  If there was a sun, it was shining brightly.  So much for an endless October.  Finding my mansion was easy.  It had my name on the door.  Since it was my house, I didn’t bother to knock.  
The splendor inside was unimaginable.  Everything was purple.  Purple carpets, purple furniture, purple window coverings—whoever built this house knew me well.  There must have been a dozen rooms, all beautifully furnished in an elegant Victorian style.  It was a little elaborate, but I wasn’t about to complain.  The long winding staircase in the foyer led up to several more rooms.  In one of them I found several long white robes made of the finest silk.  They were nearly the only things in the house that wasn’t purple.  I changed into one and found that it was the most comfortable thing I’d ever worn.  It was warm and fuzzy, yet not stuffy or heavy.  If I were still alive, I’d market these things.  They’d be more popular than jeans.
I perused all of my new rooms, not quite sure what I’d do in them.  When I came to the last room I was hesitant.  It was different from all the rest.  Every wooden piece of furniture in the house was made of mahogany.  This door was made of pine.  It smelled like a Christmas tree.  I opened the door and watched as my silk white robe transformed into a huge purple sweater.  It reached down to my now denim clad knees, peeking out from beneath.  The room was chilly despite the crackling fire built in the fireplace on one side of the room.  There was one window in the room with a seat attached to it.  Sitting on the windowsill was a steaming bowl of broccoli cheddar soup and a huge mug of hot chocolate.  Amazed and thrilled, I sat down on the window seat and looked out of my window.  The sky was gray.  The trees below were various shades of reds and browns. Perhaps it would rain.  It was October in Heaven from my window.  It was clear to me at that moment just how well God knew me and how much He loved me.