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.