Try to Remember

 

The bumper sticker in front of Tom read, “Try to remember what you wanted to be.” Tom thought for a moment and then the light changed. He remembered that he didn’t want to be late for his date with Sherry. Pulling up to the next light Tom remembered that he wanted to be a missionary and a band conductor and a secret agent and a shortstop and an army guy and someone other-worldly, like a saint or an astrophysicist. At the next light he coughed as he said, “I never thought I’d end up as a welder.” 

Tom knocked and Sherry came to the door. “Dinner’s almost ready. C’mon in.”

“Wow what a day. How about that heat? I had to keep lifting my helmet to wipe the sweat off my face. I came home drenched.”

“You did take a shower, didn’t you?” Sherry joked.

“Yes, my dear. I see you did, too.”

“Yeah. I had the same problem you did. Welding that half-inch plate, I couldn’t see for all the sweat burning my eyes.”

“Maybe we should be welders in Alaska.”

“Yeah, and then could eat fresh wild-caught salmon and caribou.”

“You know the way to a man’s heart, don’t you kiddo?”

“As long as we are on the same path, I’ll know the way to your heart.” Sherry smiled.

Tom and Sherry sat down, gave thanks, and started eating the chicken tacos Sherry had prepared.

“I saw a bumper sticker on my way over here.”

“What did it say?”

“‘Try to remember what you wanted to be.’”

“I remember wanting to be Weather Woman on TV. I wanted to tell everyone what the weather would be while wearing nice clothes. I was ready. All my clothes were solids and not patterns.”

“You can tell me the weather forecast anytime you want Weather Woman. I hope I’m on your radar screen.”

“Yeah, you’re a blip.”

“Ahem. I remember wanting to be more than a blip. I wanted to save the world from the bad guys and run fast like Flash and play baseball like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Look at us now. We are both welders. You know, I read in Welder’s Weekly that…”

“Welder’s Weekly?” Sherry looked puzzled.

“Yeah, I am the only subscriber. Anyway, the Bead Column said that welders should date welders. “

“And why is that?”

“They’ll carry a torch for you.”

“I see why you are the only subscriber.”

“And there were bumper stickers for sale, too: “Be the Bead” and “If the Weld Smells Like Pork You’re on Fire.”

Sherry choked on her food. “That last one is hilarious.”

Sherry cleared her throat and said. “Well, you had me at first arc. C’mon. Help clean up. We have work to do.”

After putting the dishes in the sink, Tom and Sherry went to the garage. They set up the gas welders and the welding rods. They worked together creating a sculpture for a nearby church garden.

After a couple of hours, they came in for dessert – Key Lime pie. It was then that Tom gave Sherry the ring and said, “many are called, one is chosen.”

 

Later that night, while sitting together on the front porch, Sherry asked Tom a question.

“Tom, have you ever wondered why you and I were born in this time and place?

“I usually ask that in the middle of laying a bead and the temperature is ninety-degrees. But, what are you thinking?

“When I think of the millennia of time which has passed and the millions of people who have gone on before, I think we were born here and now to be a who we are-man and wife-to continue what God has begun, to continue creation.”

“Well, when you put it like that, welding makes sense in the cosmos. Joining two metals to become one creates something greater than the individual pieces.”

“You’re a philosopher now, Tom?”

“A stitch-er of thoughts, more likely. When I was on the road in New York and Indiana and Louisiana MIG welding together these towering static mixers I told you about I had time to think. There inside a hollow eighteen-foot diameter shell of twelve-gauge steel I realized that I am here for a purpose greater than me and greater than me welding together something that will benefit somebody today but will fall out of use some day. I saw that I am. Why that happened right then, I don’t know. But after what you just said, we make sense together. I better get home. I am exhausted.” 

Sherry looked at the ring on her finger and then looked over at Tom. Tom reached over and gave Sherry a kiss and asked, “Do you know how diamonds are created?”

“No, Tell me.”

Diamonds are made from the residual carbon of the earth’s first land plants. The carbon is exposed to extremely high temperature and pressure in the earth’s mantle. They are pushed up to the earth’s surface by volcanic activity.”

“Did you read this in Welder’s Weekly?”

“No. I read it in A Brief History of Welding.” Tom grinned like Alice’s Cheshire cat.

“So, to reach our Diamond Wedding Anniversary we will be subjected to high temperature and high pressure?”

“There’s only one way to find out and we’re going to go through it together.”

Tom gave Sherry another kiss and said, “See you in the morning. Don’t forget to wear cotton. It’ll be another hot day. Oh, I just thought of another bumper sticker: “Welders keep you in stitches.”

“You are exhausted. Good night.”

 

A year later, Tom and Sherry began marriage counseling with pastor Dave. The wedding date had been set.

During the first session with Pastor Dave, he asked them, “How did you two meet each other?”

Tom responded. “We met at Marsh Technology Center. We were both in a welding class. She flipped my lid.

Dave laughed. Now you have my interest. Explain.

“Yep. It was the first time I put on a welding helmet and I was trying to adjust the tension. Sherry flipped my helmet up and showed me how to adjust it. The tension has to be just right. When you are ready to weld you need to flip the helmet down to cover your eyes. Your hands are full so you flip the helmet down with a jerk of your head.” Tom showed Dave “the flip.”

During that first session pastor Dave asked about their family back grounds. As the session was wrapping up, Dave said, “Everyone who gets married comes to marriage with a lot of baggage. Each of you can share the load of the other but don’t think that the other will somehow resolves whatever issues you brought to the marriage. You own those issues like you own your credit report. It is yours to correct. Your spouse is there to support you but is not there to fix you.”

The second session was about finances. “You each come to your marriage with a certain way of dealing with money. Marriages break apart over how finances are handled. Marriage is a coming together-an intimacy-of finances where you must hold each other accountable. Set up a budget spreadsheet. Set up an accounting of debits and credits using available software. Set up financial goals for a home, for children, for retirement and most importantly-for giving. Remember. You cannot give what you do not have.

Look at each other’s credit report now before you get married. Look and see what each of you has done with their money. Love covers a multitude of sins, but a pile debt sticks out on credit reports. Stay away from consumer debt. It will eat you alive. Become financially savvy.”

During the third session Pastor Dave talked about in-laws–keeping one’s marriage separate, away from meddlesome in-laws. He said that becoming one takes focus. What Tom remembered was “Location, location, location.” What Sherry remembered was the ache in the pit of her stomach.

The fourth session: “long live intimacy.”

“Intimacy is the every-aspect-relationship that you have with your spouse. You have to work this out together day by day, minute by minute. And, don’t compare. Don’t ever read a couple or watch a TV show and say to your spouse, I wish we were like that couple.

Your marriage will face a test of wills. Your goal is to become one. That doesn’t mean the one is dissolved into the other. It means that the understanding, forgiveness and love you each bring to the other is forged-welded, is the better word for you two-to become one stronger whole.

Intimacy is broken when there is no forgiveness. Do not got to bed angry. A root of bitterness likes to grow in that kind of harsh unyielding soil. Do not apologize and say, “I’m sorry. I said it because of what you said.” You might get slapped. Holding grudges will quickly destroy your marriage. If you are angry, take some time to cool off and think about why you are angry. Are you angry because of what happened reminded you of something that happened earlier in your life that your spouse doesn’t know about and had no hand in? Beware. Unresolved anger is self-justifying as means of protection. Unresolved anger places others into exile. True forgiveness removes people from exile and embraces them. You may feel strongly about some wrong done to you. If so, tell your spouse that you are angry and why you are angry. Tell your spouse that you need some time to process your anger and that you do not want to reman angry with him or her. See what happens next. And, deal with your past baggage now so that the present and future are given to your spouse.

Intimacy is not sitting in front of a TV with your spouse. As it says, “make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Find a church community which supports this truth. I recommend staying away from TV. Don’t make TV a third person in your marriage”

Tom interjected. “Neither of us own a TV and we don’t plan on having one after we are married. I think of the irony that so many people will go buy organic foods or be vegetarian or try to eat healthy and workout and yet they fill their minds with all kinds of trash from the TV. There is too much in this world to explore and to wonder about for us to sit in front of a box.”

“Good.” Pastor Dave replied. “Now let’s talk about sex.”

Both Tom and Sherry looked at each other and then rolled their eyes up to look at the ceiling.

“My wife Karen will talk to you, Sherry, and I will talk to you, Tom, alone. Let’s go.

Sherry met with Karen. Karen talked about sexual intimacy with a man and how to prolong a man’s excitement.

Pastor Dave talked to Tom. He began by drawing a picture of a vagina and then asking Tom to draw in where the clitoris was. Tom had no idea so, Dave drew it in and circled it. Dave then talked about how women are in no hurry to achieve orgasm but men are. He said that the two becoming one must find a happy oneness.

During the fifth session Pastor Dave talked about having a faith community that will support your marriage. He said to find a church where truth and beauty are combined into the daily life of the church. A church which is all preaching and teaching is missing the inexplicable and the transcendent. Find a church, he said, that loves mystery and encourages adventures of discovery. Find a church where art, music and drama play major roles in worship and teaching and are not considered asides to some pulpit ministry.

Pastor Dave’s sixth session: “When children come, life is turned upside down. Be prepared. Your marriage will be put to the test because everything you are came about during childhood. Having children is like attending a therapy session: the past is brought up and you are forced to confront it as little Tommy Jr. decides he will not obey, no way and no how. Rearing children requires patience you don’t think you’ll ever have enough of. Rearing children requires discipline for yourself and for your children, so know what and how that looks like. Listen to other parents. Learn to set and enforce proper boundaries for your children. Children feel secure when they bump up against sure and solid.

Their wedding day was a month away when Tom and Sherry came to Pastor Dave’s seventh and final marriage counseling session. Tom wondered why he was sweating sitting in Pastor Dave’s air-conditioned office. Pastor Dave surprised the couple by showing them the Princess Bride wedding scene. Tom was no longer sweating. Instead, his Cheshire cat grin reappeared.

“Alright then. You’ll need a sense of humor for your marriage to survive all the stuff thrown at it. Now, I want you two to focus on what I am about to say: Marriage is a rose that enfolds the mystery of truth and goodness and being within itself and then opens for the world to behold its beauty. A Kingdom marriage means taking vows-a sincere and binding promise made with full understanding. Together you will help each other to flourish. You will witness and worship together. Together you promote the glory of God. Together you will discover and uncover the mysteries of the universe.

And you should know that God created the gender identities of male and female not just for procreation of the human race. I believe that God’s creation of two distinct gender identities, both rooted and fixed in sexed bodies, was also for the creation of mystery.  You see, men and women who come into a marriage relationship begin a journey of discovery. Men discover and grow into their maleness and women discover and grow into their femaleness. Within the give and take of a marriage relationship the mystery of your gender identity and the other’s gender identity is explained and affirmed. The same thing also happens for a single person in a healthy Christian community. God created mystery for us to discover Him and each other and His whole creation over a course of a lifetime. We should never be bored.

God, in His infinite-personal love, created mystery and romance. Look at how much we do not know about the universe. Our God is surrounded in mystery.  Clouds and thick darkness surround him. God does not do boring, to put it another way. Reason alone cannot tell you all you need to know. Emotions and your senses cannot tell you all you need to know. No, we discover what we do not know when we are in relationship with Him and with others. Your marriage, the dancing embrace of male and female, will venture off into God’s uncharted universe to go where no man or woman has gone before.

“Bead me up,” Tom replied.

Pastor Dave looked over at Sherry. “Do you really want to marry this corny guy.”

Sherry looked over at Tom who was grinning his cat grin, “Well, he does keep me in stitches. That’s his welding joke.”

“You two were made for each other. Now for the welding. I mean the wedding.” Pastor Dave prayed a blessing on the couple and then dismissed them after discussing the wedding details.

 

At the wedding Pastor Dave again prayed a blessing on the couple. As Tom and Sherry drove away from the church Tom noticed the same bumper sticker that he saw before: “Try to remember what you wanted to be.”

“I remember what I wanted to be. It is what I am with you.” Tom leaned over and kissed Sherry.

Their car’s bumper sticker read: “With This Ring, I Thee Weld.”

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

The Dreamer

 

Charles pulled open the door to the Gravity Pub and went in. The near campus bar was dark and full of conversation coming from TVs and crowded tables. Charles found Dimitri and sat down next to him at the bar. The bartender placed two beers and two shot glasses in front of Dmitri and Charles. The bartender returned to fill the shot glasses with vodka. Dimitri placed a twenty on the bar and the bartender made change. “To respect!” Charles toasted. The two drank down the shots.

“Congratulations Charles.” Dimitri gave Charles a slap on the back. “Now that you have a master’s degree in social justice, the world is your oyster, as they say.

“So far the world is my headache.  I have received no job offers since graduating.”

“Give it time.  Here, let’s have another shot”, Dimitri offered and threw a twenty-dollar bill on the bar.

After two beers and several shots of vodka, Charles stood up next to Dimitri and pointed a finger in the air above him.

“My friend, for too long the one perthent have exploited tax loopholes making them richer. The rich are taking their wealth and all of the income and moving their profits overseas making the poor pay the bills. Their gain is our sthruggle!”

Conversations in the room stopped.

“Sit down tiger”, Dimitri pulled on Charles jacket, “These jokers already heard all this stuff.”

“I’ll not sleep until income inequality is error…radicated.”

“Give it time.  Here, let’s have another shot”, Dimitri placed two twenty-dollar bills on the bar. He told the bartender that he was ready to settle their bill.

Charles sat down again. He looked despondent. After an hour he said goodnight to Dimitri.

Charles pushed open the door to the Gravity Pub and went out. The brisk night air in his lungs made him yawn. Looking up at a sodium streetlight he proclaimed, ” A mather’s dugree…now maybe I’ll get some re…thpect …Joe …he rethpects me… I gave him a two dollar thip!” Charles stood colorless under the yellow light proclaiming to passing cars his grand achievement.

After some time, Charles made his way home. He plunked down on the futon in the basement. He tried to remember how he got home. His thoughts were not working in any order. He lay down. His eyes, heavy with sleep, closed. The room settled down, became dark and then a large room opened before him. A room with chandeliers. A room with a large audience. The audience was looking at him. There were cries of “Speech! Speech!”

“Friends, today is a good day for the world. You have recognized my worth. I want to eradicate inequality…for too long the rich have stuffed their mattresses with wealth. The rich have the entire world’s money and their trickle down has never worked. When the rich get richer, the middle-class doesn’t benefit. No, the rich stash their cash. They buy trinkets. Their money was made on the backs of underpaid workers. Automation technology destroys the working class…Save the …”

In the next moment, a man in a tux looped a medal around Charles neck. It was the Nobel Prize. The audience stood to their feet applauding. And then a white figure with a halo came toward him. Inga was bringing him roses. As he reached for them he found himself in a ballroom dancing with Inga. She asked him, “What are you going to do with all that money?”

“I will buy a drum set. Yes, I will buy a drum set!”

“Charles, wake up.” Mick, Charles’ younger brother, thumped Charles on the head with his forefinger.

“Ow! Wh…what do you want?”

“You were talking in sleep. Hey, can I borrow a dollar?  I will pay you back with my allowance.

“Aw, go away. My head hurts. Bring me aspirin and some water.”

“Aw, go away.

 

A week later Charles met Dimitri at Gravity.

“We’ll have another beer, Joe.”

Joe the bartender set the beer in front of Charles and Dimitri. Charles looked at him and asked, “Joe, how much do you make?’

“I make enough to take care of my wife and two daughters.”

“I mean how much do you make?

“I make minimum wage plus tips. This is a second job.”

“See what I am saying Dmitri? The greedy one percent has drained this man of his humanity.”

Joe gave Charles a puzzled look and walked away.

“Those rich greedy bastards. Those fat cats hoard money in Swiss banks.  Wait till the world sees what I can do to make things right! I have no patience for the rich. Who are they to have so much when Joe has so little?

“See that framed dollar on the wall”. Leon pointed to a 4 x 6” frame above the liquor bottles, “I will frame the first dollar I take from a rich man.”

At that moment Charles phone rattled on the bar. He picked up the phone and saw that this mother had called. He pushed 1 and his mom’s number was dialed.

“Mom, what is it?”

“Several boxes arrived today for you. What are they?”

“It’s a drum set. I’m gonna play drums in a band.”

“You are also going to start paying rent to stay here.”

“Mom, not this again. I need to pay off my student loan. I have no job. The rich have made it almost impossible for people like me.  And why should I work for minimum wage when I have a Master’s Degree? Look how much I have invested in myself.”

“You have to start somewhere. Your dear departed father worked for fifty years so that you and I had a roof over our head. He wouldn’t want you to be a leech. Now, either you pay rent or you are out. Get home now and get these boxes out of the living room.”

“Mom, I’ll talk to you later.”  Charles ended the call.

“Dmitri, can you buy me one more beer and shot?’

“Sure. Trouble at home?”

“Ah, my mother wants me to pay rent. As if I was made of money.”

The bartender placed two beers and two shot glasses in front of Dmitri and Charles. He returned to fill the shot glasses with vodka. Dimitri placed a twenty on the bar and the bartender made change.

The two raised their shot glasses. Charles toasted to the end of the oppression and they drank. When the beer was gone Charles stood up.

“I better get going before my mother has a conniption fit. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Charles walked out. Pushing open the door to the Gravity Pub he went into the night air yawing.

At home Charles moved the boxes down to the basement. He opened them and checked the contents. When he couldn’t stop yawning he lay down on the futon and closed his eyes.

In the descending blackness he came upon daylight. He saw himself outside his mother’s car in front of a store.  The car was running and the car keys were locked inside. His Nobel medal hung around the rear view mirror. Frantic, he looked around for help. His professor came by and said, “You shouldn’t have done that”. A politician walked by and said “Someone will come along to help, trust me”. A man in a Mercedes pulled up and said. ”Hey I’ve got just the thing you need.” The man opened his trunk and pulled out a Slim Jim. The man proceeded to unlock the door through the car window’s weather stripping. When the door opened the radio blurted out, ”Mama may have, papa may have, But God bless the child that’s got his own, That’s got his own.”

Charles opened his eyes, winced and held his head. “Damn”, he moaned, his mother was playing her music again.

As years went by, Charles went on to become a respected professor of Social Justice at his alma mater. After tenure Charles received a six-figure salary. He summers in Costa Rica where he gives lectures about the one percent and income inequality. He went on to write “Structural Marginalization, Social Justice and Solidarity Action for the Education Challenged”. The book was well-received by his peers but did not sell in the open market. Soon after the book release Charles became the owner of Gravity Pub. Dimitri went on to start a hedge fund that gave away fifty percent of its profits. Charles’ mother died in her home with an unused drum set.

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

Soul Woman and the Chosen Remnant

indiana storm

Saturday morning and the wet putty-looking sky appeared ready to ooze. The drive to Urbana from Chicago would take Daniel about three hours, three monotonous hours, he decided. Driving Fear and Trembling, his ’74 Toyota Corolla past the 200,000-mile odometer reading might provide an unwanted distraction. But then again, Daniel pushed himself and everything around him.

An automation engineer for a major utility, Daniel spent his week days programming relays and SCADA systems. Today’s trip would be a welcome break from the uncompromising detail of parameters and protocols. The Preacher would be speaking at three that afternoon. If all went well, Daniel would make Kankakee, the halfway point between Chicago and Urbana for a quick lunch and then head out to find the location of the tent meeting. He hoped there would be some signs along the way.

Heading south on I-57 the FM reception became intermittent and garbled after several miles. Daniel poked the AM button. The AM reception offered farm reports – corn, soybeans, wheat and livestock futures. He rolled up the window. The smell of hog farms was overpowering. “No wonder the prodigal son came to his senses,” Daniel chuckled trying not to gag.

Daniel recalled his early church years. They seemed no different from driving in this morning’s grey sanctuary. Every service was a font of recycled baptismal water. Sing a hymn. Listen to the choir or a soloist. Sing another hymn. Welcome and announcements. Then, pass the offering to the organ’s melodramatic droning. Sing another hymn and then settle in on a hardwood pew for evangelistic preaching. At the coda of the sermon there would be the invitation from the pulpit to come forward. You were told your options beforehand: one could receive Jesus; one could rededicate their life to Jesus or; one could choose missionary service in the name of Jesus. A trifecta of submission was sure to put smiles on the faces of those still sitting in the pews. Not unlike those folks Daniel had imagined who, at the end of a prescription commercial on TV, had received their medicine and were now brimming with wellness. It seemed to Daniel that placebos were being doled out by the Great Physician’s assistants.

Daniel cringed at the thought of the same words, the same preaching and the same altar calls week after week – a stagnant pond that never saw fresh water. Wash, rinse and repeat with the same water, the same people, Sunday after Sunday. Come thou Fount of Every Blessing!

But in the Bible Church the Lord’s Supper, a Remembrance only, was thrown in at monthly intervals. The hiatuses were necessary, as Daniel was admonished from the pulpit by Rev. W.E. Staputis, so as to not make the congregation too familiar with the Lord’s Body and Blood. But it must have been OK that the rest of the hidebound dog-eared script would be acted out week after week until “we all get to heaven.”

Later, when Daniel began to attend an Anglican church, the irony of attendance to ritual wasn’t lost on Daniel. But inside the liturgical tradition he found sacred beauty, a beauty that had been stripped from the Free Church. And he found at its center the Eucharistic Feast.

Multiple times each week the Eucharist was provided. The rector had told him that he could meet the Real Presence of the Lord in the Body and Blood. This resonated with Daniel like nothing else had. The search for the Real Presence was how Daniel had begun his pilgrimage to wholeness. The journey would end at the feet of Jesus.

When Daniel told his family about his new church, they wondered about his Christianity. “Just so long as they preach the gospel and sola scriptura,” Daniel’s father said.

Daniel told his father that there were Scripture readings. He told his mother that he benefitted greatly from The Book of Common Prayer. And he told everyone who would listen that The Great Feast was the pinnacle of the service and not the sermon. And he told them about the altar call – Christians who wanted to meet the Lord in the Body and Blood.

 

Rain splattered in waves onto the windshield. The wipers were squeaked into service with a twist of the steering column arm. Bored, Daniel turned the AM dial. He tuned in a commercial.

“Today, the Covenant Faithfulness of God Church will hold a tent meeting near the Urbana campus at 3:00. The Preacher will be speaking: “Many of you have been raised under a nuts-and-bolts systematic post-enlightenment dispensational theology or Classical Mechanics. And with those Mechanics your theologians have built a large palace surrounded by high walls. But they live in the guard house! They want you to live in the guard house, too! The church’s Classical Mechanics are ever vigilant against non-rational elements, against non-mechanical elements. But you, if all you are under the microscope is DNA, then you are of all men most pitiable!

Mystery and paradox have been turned away from the gates of your theologian’s Rational Mansions. Newtonian preaching does not allow for uncertainty and mystery in such a clockwork universe. Wonder and beauty have been scrapped. Instead, canned Post-Enlightenment theology feeds the church’s ennui and anti-intellectualism. And did God create the world in seven days? No! Was creation recorded in seven cartoon strip panels so as to satisfy idle Sunday minds? No!

Now many of you who are world-weary have made a leap toward Epicureanism. You avoid pain of thought and persecution of the sensate by seeking pleasure and positive reinforcement from mega-church preachers who demand nothing of you but your time and dollars. My work among you is to be a corrective to your loss of passion and the subjective, to help you discover something thought cannot think – a Quantum Theology, if you will. I will be making difficulties everywhere. I will not be talking theological niceties!”

Daniel tried to make sense of The Preacher’s words. Daniel tried to make sense of The Preacher – Mary Nard, formerly Mark Climacus. What was a woman like Mary doing in the same man space as Jesus?

By now, though, such absurdities were welcomed by Daniel. They posed a mystery outside of the color-inside-the-lines Bible Church. And, the radio sound bites of The Preacher had pinged his very soul. This presented another mystery that Daniel hadn’t made sense of: the fact that he felt like crying at odd times.

It wasn’t the aloneness. Daniel had lived alone for many years. He had come to see this peculiarity as a blessing. Why, even some of his best friends had once talked of living as ascetics and becoming monks. And, in the solitude Daniel’s imagination had come alive and with it a desire to seek revelation.

Daniel thought of his past church life as having been served within the cinder blocks of reason and the mortar of sentimentality. Beauty and extra-Biblical anything had been “Calvanized” for fear of idol worship, of worshipping the creature and not the Creator.  Worship of the Bible was considered OK, though, as were the Sunday School’s coloring pages of Jesus. And how could he forget the huge sign above the choir loft: “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” Maybe that was why he felt like crying at odd times.

Or, was his sadness due to anticipating getting what he deserved or the dread of what he desired? He was convinced there was something to his inopportune melancholy. It had him dragging his feet but never to work.

Daniel embraced the complexity of automation engineering. He had coded SCADA systems which captured and controlled information. The system’s end process would conduct electricity from place to place. It was honest and rewarding work. Still, something had found his soul’s cyberspace address and was pinging.

Daniel pushed the radio buttons looking for another AM station. Finding a signal, he tuned the station and out came Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It had been years since he had played trumpet in the university orchestra. He pursed his lips and began to buzz them.  Then suddenly the steering felt light and loose. He tightened his grip on the wheel, eased off the gas and muttered, “God help me.” The car came under control but the pavement’s accumulated rain continued to slosh up under his car. The force created a loud “scrusssh” that every few seconds wheezed up through the passenger side floor board sounding like cardboard tearing.  He had been divorced because of his snoring.

And since the divorce it seemed to Daniel that his life had been remanded over to purgatory, his ex-wife signing the decree. His children had weathered the excommunication trial but held their judgment inside parsed sentiments to their father who was to remain in exile.

“Classical hour’s programming has been brought to by Illinois Generational Farming. See their website for more on centennial and sesquicentennial farms, agriculture and Illinois family farm history.”

“I screwed up, God. I know. You needed to remind me today?”

“Today, the Covenant Faithfulness of God Church will hold a tent meeting near the Urbana campus at 3:00. Here is The Preacher: “And if your right hand trips you up, cut it off and throw it away. Yes: it’s better for you to have one part of your body destroyed than your whole body to go into Gehenna. And there are some of us who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. If anyone can receive this, let them do so.”

“Hear The Preacher today at three. Now back to our program.”

“Well, that will be an interesting. Now back to the classics. Here for you now is Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture led by Dmitri Shostakovich.”

“Ah, something I played in high school. Daniel wiped off the fog from the windshield. The Toyota’s defogger wasn’t keeping up.

“Kankakee” the sign read. “Gas and Guzzlin’” the next sign read. Daniel pulled into the service station. While the gas tank was filling Daniel checked the dipstick. It was down a quart. He looked under the Toyota to see if there was any oil on the wet pavement. There was an oil and water mix that reflected a spectrum of colors. A promise?  Of what? Daniel walked into Gas and Guzzlin’, paid for gas and bought a quart of 30W. Outside he pulled some paper towels from the holder, removed the oil cap and poured the oil. Daniel figured that at 200,00 miles his old friend had a right to be incontinent. Rain began to pound the canopy over his car.

Inside the Guzzlin’ part of the service station Daniel pulled a bottle of water from the cooler and paid the cashier. He reckoned that he didn’t have time for a sit-down lunch. The rain wasn’t letting up. And now there was wind. The rain was slashing through the air sideways. Reports coming out of the TV above the counter warned of a hail storm in the next county. “Swell.” Daniel wasn’t worried about the Toyota other than more rusted parts detaching. But he was worried that he would miss the tent meeting.

He opened the station door and looked around. To his left folks were scurrying from their cars toward the door. To his right was a row of potted Petunia’s. The rain was pummeling the blossoms. At the end of the row and next to the door was a pot of defiant-looking cigarette butts. He ran under the pump canopy and then got into his car. Once inside he noticed a sharp smell that reminded him of the time he spent working near a paper mill.  He looked over to the passenger side floor.  The red placemat from Lom’s Garden restaurant had become stuck to the cardboard.  The cardboard covered the softball size hole in the floor where the floor board had rusted through. The placemat’s red ink had leached onto the cardboard creating a blood-red mishmash of running words and figures. The semi-pulp smelled like rotten eggs.

Daniel carefully lifted the cardboard. He took one last look at the placemat before tossing it. He read out loud: “1952. You are a Dragon: You are eccentric and your life complex. You have a very passionate nature and abundant health.  Marry a Monkey or a Rat late in life. Avoid the Dog.”

The torrential rain meant he had to drive slowly. He turned the headlights on and the AM station and began driving.

“Today, the Covenant Faithfulness of God Church will hold a tent meeting near the Urbana campus at three o’clock. The Preacher will be speaking. Here is a short clip of The Preacher from yesterday’s meeting: “Wonder and beauty have been sieved from the living waters of the church. Many of you have joined the Church of the Four Newtonian Spiritual Laws and the Church of the Distant Shore. Many of you have joined the Church of Cheap Grace. What of your lampstands?

There are those in the church today who are mirroring and abetting a deist, an agnostic and an atheistic culture. They offer nothing of the Kingdom of God and the New Creation. The Kingdom of God is here and now. This is the age to come.

The threadbare intellect of many Christian is alarming! And where are the Christian artists, the composers, the writers, the playwrights and poets? God’s recreation of his cosmos is taking place here and now.

Forget the “We’re-Gonna-leave-this-screwed-up-world-behind” Manichaeism of the paperback novels. The world must know that we are here as God’s recreated recreators. We are to bring God’s restorative justice to His cosmos here and now! As it says, “God has created us in King Jesus for the good works that he prepared, ahead of time, as the road we must travel.”

Now, someone once told me that I would never be beautiful. But it was God who looked at my heart. And it was God who created me in his image and is now recreating me to conform to the image of his Son, to fit into His vestments, since I have clothed myself in Christ. So, how could I not be beautiful? Or, accepted by God?

And it was in the law courts of God where I was declared righteous. This was not because I was assigned or imputed righteousness. Rather, I was declared righteous when I trusted in God’s covenant faithfulness! God keeping His word from ages past is all the predestination you need to know about. God’s covenant faithfulness has been recorded in Scripture for all to see. Yet many theologians today have systemically parsed Scripture imputing Post-Enlightenment meaning onto Scripture. The whole of Scripture must be read in its context to begin to see the whole plan of God for renewing his cosmos.

Now, we must learn to be Kingdom people who walk in synchronicity with the Spirit. The flesh must not have its way. That is how all of us used to behave, conditioned by physical desires. We used to do what our flesh and our minds were urging us to do. What was the result? We were subject to wrath in our natural state just like everyone else.

We are to put off the flesh and become whole. And the church – the body of Christ – is to be the composite of each individual’s wholeness in Christ. With our differences and backgrounds, we must come together to glorify God with one mind and one mouth and tell all creatures the good news.

The church is not for itself. It is for the mission of bringing God’s Kingdom restoration to His creation. The church is not a supper club or a country club or a club of positivism thinkers. It is for equipping the saints to do this mission. It is to send us unto all creation to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord.” That is the gospel.

“Today, The Preacher will be holding a churchyard tent meeting at the Covenant Faithfulness of God Church, Urbana, at three o’clock.” The AM station then returned to music.

The rain never let up until Daniel crossed Urbana’s city limits.

 

It was past 4 o’clock. Daniel asked for directions to the tent meeting. Within minutes he was on the church grounds looking for The Preacher. The meeting had ended. The assembly was dispersing, heading to their cars. A woman holding a young child noticed Daniel craning his neck outside the car window. “If you are looking for her, she’s over there,” pointing to The Preacher standing in the far corner of the church yard.

Before he had a chance to shut it off the car’s engine shuttered to a stop. Then the car produced what sounded like a gassy sigh.  Daniel bolted out of the car and had to leap over a large puddle outside the car door.  As he did there was a loud popping noise under the hood and then a hissing sound. Turning toward The Preacher he began taking long zigzagging strides over the slick ground.  He reached The Preacher.

““Hi, I’m Daniel. From Chicago.”

“You have been listening to me on your way down here, Daniel.”

“How did you know that?”

The Preacher laughed, “I paid for a ton of air time on the AM stations and you are late. What can I do for you?”

“Well, yeah, I missed the meeting so I just wanted to give you thanks and a hug. You seem so down to earth now that I see you in paradox. I mean… in person.”

“Come here.” The Preacher and Daniel hugged.

“Have you found what you were looking for? The Preacher asked.

“Well, I need to find another car.” Daniel pointed across the yard to a cloud of steam and the onlookers.

 

 

©Sally Paradise, 2016, All Rights Reserved

The Housekeepers

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The five-day conference, “Alethea Lit Conference – Form without Substance? brought Irene to town. She was to lead the symposium O Still Voice of Calm on day three.

On Sunday evening Irene checked into room 351 and got settled. Pulling back the drapes she could see a terrace and beyond that the wooded campus of Indiana U. The late evening August sun etched the campuses’ limestone buildings with long sepia shadows; the heat of the day was receding.

After unpacking Irene went down for dinner. She returned an hour later anxious to kick off her shoes and put her feet up. Before retiring Irene was in the habit of reading. She chose Paul’s letter to the Romans for this week. But soon the day’s travel caught up to Irene and she fell asleep in the armchair. She awoke later with a terrible kink in her neck. She moved to the bed for the rest of the night.

 

Irene woke at the sound of her alarm clock, at 5:30. She showered, dried her hair and put on a jersey tank, an A-line skirt and a pair of flats. She was to meet her publisher Mark for breakfast. She gathered her loose belongings into her suitcase, left her open Bible on the desk and headed downstairs.

Antonia knocked. When she heard no answer she entered 351 and began her routine. Hotel housekeeping began at 7:30 during the week with the previous day’s laundry to clean. When finished, Antonia would then clean rooms until 2:00.

As was her habit Antonia turned on the TV when she cleaned a room.  She switched the station to her favorite talk show.  “Today, two couples each recount the loss of their child,” announced the host. Antonia’s turned up the volume and headed into the bathroom to grab the wet towels.

While dusting, Antonia saw the open Bible and moved it to the bed to wipe the desk top. She then changed the bed sheets after replacing the Bible.

“My son was eighteen when his car flipped over and he was killed,” the mother of one of the couples related.  The police found nothing to cause the accident. There was no rain, no alcohol, no other car – nothing! It just happened!”

Antonia watched the husband put his arm around his wife as she began to wipe her eyes. Tears welled in Antonia’s eyes.

Antonia adjusted the sheers and then went in to finish the bathroom. Seeing the makeup kit on the sink reminded her of what had happened the other day.

After work last Tuesday Antonia headed to her car. She grabbed her car keys from her purse loaded her soiled uniforms into the back seat and then drove off, leaving her bag sitting on the pavement. When she got home she couldn’t find her glasses and suddenly realized what she had done. She raced back to the parking spot and found that the bag was gone. Now she was frantic. The bag contained her wallet. The wallet held her ID, 40 dollars in cash, her credit cards and her hotel pass card.

Not finding the bag in the parking lot, Antonia went to the front desk to see if her bag had been turned in. It had. With that she breathed a huge sigh of relief, but then made sure everything was still there. It was. Antonia shuddered at the memory. Finished, she grabbed her cart, turned off the room lights and headed to room 353.

 

Tuesday morning Irene woke with her alarm at 5:30. She washed her face and then slipped on a pale blue dress and a pair of flats. After making a cup of coffee she sat with her Bible. This morning she would meet author Janice Fillmore for breakfast. Seeing it was 6:30 Irene placed her open Bible on the desk, gathered her loose belongings into her suitcase and headed down to breakfast.

Antonia knocked. When she heard no answer she entered 351 and began her routine. She turned on the TV and found she didn’t have to change the channel. After turning up the volume she proceeded to vacuum the floor.

“Today we have Chance Parlance, Senior Pastor of Broadway Church here to talk to us about his new book, “The Power of You.  Before we talk about your book, our viewers would like to know…You are asking each of your 200,000 followers to donate $300.00 so that you can purchase a luxury jet?”

“Yes. We want to safely and swiftly share the Good news of the Gospel worldwide…I declared it and God will do it!”

Antonia moved the Bible from the desk to the bed and began to dust.  As she gathered the garbage she noticed a brochure in the desk trash bin. She lifted it out and read the title out loud. “Alethea Lit Conference – Form without Substance?  Monday – Birthing The New Creation in Christian Lit.”

Looking at the time, Antonia put the leaflet into her apron and finished her cleaning. She had been given several more rooms to clean today. She turned out the lights and headed to the next room.

 

Wednesday morning Irene awoke before her alarm.  She showered, dried her hair and carefully applied her makeup. This morning she would lead a symposium before three hundred people. She put on a gray suit while coffee streamed into a cup.

Irene sat down with the coffee, her Bible and her notes. She had chosen her topic, O Still Voice of Calm, after spending several years practicing listening prayer. It had become her habit to sit in silence and to let God speak to her. She expected God to speak to her; God was constantly streaming His words to her. And Irene had come to realize that her creativity, her art, was born out of such times. Today she would introduce authors and publishers to listening prayer. At 6:30 she gathered her things and headed down to breakfast.

Antonia knocked. When she heard no answer she entered 351 and began her routine. She turned on the TV and found she didn’t have to change the channel. The volume was the same so she turned it down.  But she didn’t feel much like listening today. Monday’s program had left her unsettled, like she had lost something she couldn’t afford to lose. She even discussed the show with her best friend Lily, a biology major at IU, the day before.

Lily’s dogmatic reply came out of nowhere: “Now, how could any god permit the death of any child? You saw the pain those families had to deal with! And there is so much injustice in the world. My god, it’s like the gods are off somewhere uninvolved and angry and just waiting to jump all over us with patriarchal oppression. The god nonsense is a placebo for the weak.  These things happen, you know.  Just live, laugh and party on if you can before you leave.  Make the most of your time. And who knows, maybe when you die you will be reincarnated as a god and you can do some good in the world.  And don’t forget about me, your best friend.”

That conversation had left Antonia more unsettled.

Antonia moved the open Bible from the desk to the bed and began to dust.  As she gathered the garbage from the bins she noticed another brochure in the desk trash bin. She read the title out loud. “Alethea Lit Conference – Form without Substance? Tuesday– Uncommon Grace: The Life of Flannery O’Connor, a documentary film and discussion

Looking at the time, Antonia put the leaflet into her apron and finished her cleaning. She then turned out the lights and headed to the next room. Her work for this week ended at 2:00.  She would start work again on Sunday morning.

 

Bonita knocked. When she heard no one answer she entered 351 and called out “Housekeeping!” No answer. She began her routine. Bonita would clean the hotel rooms until 2:00. Then, her kids would need to be picked up from her mother’s house. Little Alphonso and his older sister Lupe would be anxiously awaiting mom.

Bonita had worked for six years as a hotel housekeeper. The housekeeping hours allowed her to work while her kids were in school and then be home for them in the afternoon. During the spring and summer months Bonita’s husband, Alonzo, a landscaper, was gone from six in the morning until eight at night. During those times Bonita would bring her two kids to her mother’s house.

While dusting, Bonita saw the open Bible. She carefully lifted the Bible and read out loud, “In the same way, too, the spirit comes alongside and helps us in our weakness. We don’t know what to pray for as we ought to; but that same spirit pleads on our behalf, with groaning too deep for words.”

Bonita set the Bible down on the bed. She wiped the desk top. She then changed the bed sheets after replacing the Bible. She turned her attention to the bathroom.

On the bathroom ledge was a makeup kit. Bonita cringed. It was twelve years ago, in Sonora Mexico, that Bonita lost her first child Esperanza. The child died from pneumonia six months after her baptism.  For the funeral the mortuary had applied rouge to the Esperanza’ cheeks. Bonita’s eyes welled with tears as she cleaned the sink.

After Esperanza’s death, Bonita grieved for many months. After coming to live in Indiana she decided to remember Esperanza in a painting. Bonita had become a watercolorist after leaving Mexico.  She had seen many art fairs in her new home town. It was the water color portraits that had so moved her.

Bonita painted Esperanza in a white Easter dress, purchased in Mexico. Bonita applied a faint Cadmium red to Esperanza’s cheeks.

Bonita dried her eyes with a towel, gathered the towels, tossed them into her cart and sighed.

Being at home with two kids every day, Bonita appreciated the room’s silence. It felt like she was in the presence of something much more than herself.

Bonita turned out the lights and headed to the next room.

 

Friday morning Irene awoke before her alarm.  She showered, dried her hair and carefully applied her makeup. She would participate in a final symposium this morning and then head out. While coffee streamed into a cup Irene put on a jersey tank, an A-line skirt and a pair of flats. She gathered her belongings into her suitcase. When she reached for her Bible she noticed what looked to be a watermark on one of the pages. She closed the Bible, placed it into her suitcase, took one last look around, shut off the lights and went down to breakfast.

 

 

 

 

 

© Sally Paradise, 2016, All Rights Reserved

Good to the Last Drop?

 

That Terry thought he was a vampire didn’t seem to faze Teresa.  It did faze his parents and friends.

A mother tugged a small boy through the outside door.  A teenage girl came out the inner door, crossed the room and left behind the mother and son.  A therapist stuck his head out of the inner door and looked around the room and saw his next client, a thirteen year-old boy.  “Hi, come on in.”  The boy dutifully followed the therapist.  A fiftyish woman came in the outside door and proceeded over to the glass window to check in with the clinic’s receptionist. Terry no longer paid attention to the ebb and flow of people in the clinic’s lobby.  Waiting for psychologist Teresa to claim him, Terry sat in the lobby as he had ninety-nine times before and always dressed in black.

“Hi, Terry, come on in.”

Carrying his dog-eared Virtual Gamer magazine Terry shuffled through the held door.

At the beginning Teresa was made aware of his parent’s concerns, their disbelief. When Terry had started to cut his arms and stomach to collect and consume his own fluids, they called N.B. Clinic.  They hoped for some reparative therapy that would bring back their child from the “grave.”  So, Terry’s parents sat down with Teresa.

They wanted to know what triggered Terry’s transformation:  “Was it us?  And what makes Terry sleep walk every night?  And why did he only want play outside at night?”

Terry’s parents related how they would wake in the middle of the night, every night now, to find that Terry had left the house.  He would roam the neighborhood in his black pajamas hissing.  It had to be more than simple parasomnia.

When they did find Terry his face would be covered in blood and the remains of dead cats and dogs were scattered about. The sight and smell of blood gagged them. Terrified by Terry’s manifestation, Terry’ parents wanted to do anything to bring their son back to from this state. He used to play so gently with his stuffed animals.

But after ninety-nine sessions, Terry’s parents were now told to accept their son’s “vampirism”.  As Teresa had explained it on the phone, vampirism was becoming an accepted behavior and that Terry’s self-image and his dignity depended on his being a vampire.  “It is something that he cannot control and it makes him feel human.  Besides,” she said, “it’s likely genetic – Terry’s need for plasma.  He believes that has the ability to extract some kind of energy from living things to strengthen him. I see this kind of thing all the time at N.B. Clinic.”

 

“I wish my parents would accept me the way I am.”

“They are trying, Terry. I met with them recently.  Give them time.”

“I wish everyone would accept me the way I am.  I was born this way, you know, and it’s not what they think.  I know who I am now.  You can see that.   Why can’t others?”

“Well, Terry, the world is not always friendly to minorities.  But there are social justice warriors who are advocating for you right now.  They are making a difference.  Still, there are so many fundamentalists who reject the notion of nocturnal plasma-sucking activities that it is an uphill fight.  Give it time.”

Teresa continued, “But you need to be secure in yourself, Terry.  Last week I gave you information about a local Vampire Community support meeting.  Did you go?”

“Yeah, it was alright.  I got to be myself without having to hide my feelings.  A lot of the kids said they came out of their coffins to their parents.  I just wish my parents and friends… I just wish the whole world was a safe place for me and my friends.”

“You and I both wish that Terry.”

 

 

 

© Sally Paradise, 2016, All Rights Reserved

“And what we must not do, what we must never do, is turn on our neighbors, our family members, our fellow Americans for something that they cannot control and deny what makes them human,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch

“This is about the dignity and the respect that we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we as a people and as a country have enacted to protect them, indeed, to protect all of us,” Lynch said

Five Day Notice

 

When Janet first saw Dashawna, Dashawna was walking up the front sidewalk to the apartment building gripping a baby carrier in her left hand, a diaper bag in her right hand and over her right shoulder was slung a large bulging sack which seemed to stabilize her mid-step.

The apartment building complex where Janet and now Dashawna lived housed a “mix” of those with and without identity clauses.  The “mix” included Hispanics, whites and African-Americans.

Apart from working singles like Janet and Sally, who lived across the hall from Janet and down the hall from Dashawna, most of these residents were low income working class families with a mother and father.  And from all appearances, the apartment families had two parents who each worked. The mother and father could be seen coming and going at different times.

One assumed that the families were saving for a down payment on a house.  And after a few years, as their families and savings grew, they would move on. Janet saw them load up and go.

 

With her boyfriend’s help, Dashawna moved into the single bedroom apartment six years ago.

In such close proximity, Janet had tried to make the acquaintance of Dashawna but Dashawna did not open up much beyond “Hi.” Janet, though, was able talk to her son Kurtis when he passed by in the hall.

One night about two years ago, around 8 PM, the hallway fire alarm sounded. The three single women, Janet, Sally and Dashawna with her son Kurtis, who was now three-years old, bolted out to the hallway to see what was going on.  There was no smoke and no fire was reported by any of the residents.

The alarm had tripped falsely and nobody could shut it off.  Management and maintenance were called.  Finally, the men of the fire department came.  They had to break into whatever they break into to silence the pulsing alarm.

As they waited in the hallway the three women and the boy sat together at the bottom of the stair well, away from the deafening alarm.  Speculation about what set off the alarm created most of the conversation. Janet and Sally learned that Dashawna had called 911 when she heard it. After that Dashawna said little to Janet or Sally.  She huddled with her son. After the first six months, the boyfriend hadn’t been around.

 

A year and a half ago, Janet again saw Dashawna. Dashawna was walking up the rear sidewalk to the apartment building gripping a baby carrier in her left hand, a diaper bag in her right hand and over her right shoulder was slung a large bulging sack.  The sack seemed to stabilize her mid-step. Kurtis skipping, followed his mom.

Twenty-three-year-old Dashawna had no boyfriend to carry a baby mama’s belongings up to the second story apartment. In fact, no boyfriend ever appeared at Dashawna’s door. It occurred to Janet that a boyfriend hadn’t been around since the first year.  But in Dashawna’s twenty-third year a baby came around. The new baby girls’ name:  Nevaeh.

 

A month ago, Janet again saw Dashawna. Dashawna was being carried down the apartment building stairs by men to a stretcher on the front sidewalk.   Dashawna was gripping her face. Anguish and the word “overdose” were what Janet could hear through her blocked door. The paramedics had to balance their steps as they carried the wheel chair down the steps.

Dashawna’s mother arrived hours later to gather her grandchildren from the policemen who had waited. The next day DCFS left their card on Dashawna’s door.

 

Two days later, Janet saw Dashawna’s mother in the parking lot.  “How is your daughter?”

“She’s alright.  She’s down the road at Central DuPage Hospital.  She’ll be coming home on Sunday.  She was just overwhelmed.”

Janet offered to be of help to her daughter, “Dashawna can knock on my door any time.  Two small kids can be overwhelming.” Dashawna’s mother then wrote down her name and cell phone number for Janet to keep “in case.”  Janet has that card today.

Now Janet was aware that Dashawna’s mother, always alone, picked up Dashawna and her kids every Friday night, bringing them to her Chicago home. And every Monday night she, alone, would bring them back to their apartment.  Each journey required the loading and unloading of plastic bags filled with clothes, diapers, toys…a weekend’s needs. The racket of the return home usually awakened Janet from a sound sleep.

 

A week ago Friday, Janet saw Dashawna walking on the front sidewalk to the apartment building gripping a baby carrier in her left hand, a diaper bag in her right hand and over her right shoulder was slung a large bulging sack which seemed to stabilize her mid-step. She was moving out.

A U-Haul was parked on the grass. The man in the front seat smoking a cigarette got out when he saw Dashawna. He followed her up the stairs.  Soon others appeared and began carrying loads to the truck and to their cars.

 

The next day, Janet saw Dashawna’s mother in the parking lot.   Five-year old Kurtis and the year-and-a-half year-old Nevaeh were in the back seat of her car. Janet got out her car and went over to say “Hi” to the kids and their grandma.

“Hi, Kurtis.”  “Hi Nevaeh.”  “Why those baby tears?” Janet turned to grandma.

“How are you?”  “Fine.  We’re moving to a three-bedroom apartment just around the block.”

“It’ll be nice to have more room.”

 

Dashawna’s old apartment was cleared out over the next few days.  Two days ago a notice was placed on the door by the landlord. Yesterday Dashawna and her mother and a thirtyish male helped her complete the move. When done Dashawna tore the notice off the door.  Before she did, Janet came out to say goodbye.

 

Janet had a shelf unit that was perfect for her kids “stuff”.  She brought it out to the hallway, knocked on the half-opened door and called to Dashawna. Dashawna finally came out and looked at Janet and said “Oh, Hi.”. It was now apparent to Janet that beneath the zipped hoodie that Dashawna was wearing that she carried another baby. Janet offered Dashawna the shelf unit and her phone number and then wished her well.

Janet saw Dashawna for the last time. Dashawna was walking down the rear sidewalk, away from the apartment building, gripping plastic bags.  The bags seemed to stabilize her mid-step…until further notice.

 

 

 

© Sally Paradise, 2016, All Rights Reserved

This is a true story; I am “Janet”.

Work

WORK

(a short story)

So last night I watch this movie, “Into The Wild”, about this young guy who leaves everything behind and heads to Alaska. I sit back in my chair and I cry. I was headed in that same direction in 1972.

In those days, I left my dorm room at Moody Bible Institute one night and walked home. I just kept walking. I walked fifteen miles. I walked from the Des Plaines EL station to Addison, fifteen miles. My mother cried that night. The school called my father. He called his friends. I show up at the house at 10:30 pm. I hugged my mother and I went to bed.

So the next day, my father makes me scrambled eggs and then he drives me back to Moody. I talk to twenty people. I talk to the men’s assistant dean of students and he tells me that men have cycles like women do. I listen but my head is in Alaska. He asks me if I want a new roommate. I say, “Yes. I don’t want to room with someone named Tim.” I tell him that my first year roommate was Tim from Indianapolis. My second year roommate was Tim from Pennsylvania. The school gives me a new roommate. His name is Steve. We become good friends, in fact, great friends. One Friday night, in my dorm room, I get a call from the men’s assistant dean of students. He tells me that Steve was killed in a car accident on the way to his wedding rehearsal. He fell asleep behind the wheel of his car driving in Kansas. I stay at school to finish the semester and then I leave and I don’t come back.

Three months later my dad comes in my room and wakes me up. He says, “You gotta get up. You can’t sleep anymore. You gotta work. You gotta find a job.” So I get dressed, eat scrambled eggs and I walk to the industrial section of Addison. In the industrial park I look for signs in the front yards of factories. “Help Wanted. Machine Operator” the sign says. I apply.

Inside the factory a man tells me my job. “Take the plastic pieces that come out of here and then grind them over here.” So I take the plastic pieces and I grind them but my head is in Alaska. I walk away from the job during my coffee break. The man calls my dad and he tells him that I walked away. I go look for another job.

At another factory a man hires me. He tells me that I will operate a plastic extruder on the second shift. I say “OK” and I show up that night. Someone shows me the end of the extruder. There are strands of hot plastic coming out of the extruder’s die. The strands are pulled under water to cool and then a blower dries them off. Then, the strands are chopped into pellets. The man tells me to keep my hands out of the pelletizer. I remember this. My job is to keep the extruder hopper full of regrind, keep the plastic strands in their path and empty the pellets into a box. I do this until the third shift guy appears. He is a tall, lanky black man in a jumpsuit. He is carrying a Yankee Doodle Dandy Hamburger in his hand.

I process plastic for the next six years. I also get married to someone I meet at church. We have two sons. I tell my bride-to-be that I want to live in Alaska. I tell her that I have collected maps and books about how to live in the wild. She tells her mother. Her mother tells her that I am crazy. Her mother wants her grandchildren to be close. We divorce after five years and two sons.  Alaska is on hold until the majority age of minor children.

So I work and I work and I work. I become a designer of plastic machines. I become director of engineering. I become a partner in a manufacturing company and I get married again. I tell my bride-to-be that I want to go to Alaska. She tells her mother. Her mother says that I am crazy. Her mother wants her grandchildren to be close. So, I work and I work and I work. I work night and day as a partner. I make a six figure income. I get a Suburban. I get a company credit card. I have twenty-five people working under me. I work so much that when my wife takes the Suburban on camping trips with the kids she says that she doesn’t know if she wants to come back. I went to work and I came home to an empty house. When she was home and I was home, my wife and I would fight. The way I figured it, she wanted more of what my well-paying job offered her but she wouldn’t stand me at the same time. I worked and worked and I worked until one day I told my partners that I wanted to quit.

So, I left the company I helped to start fourteen years before. I left the partnership and the perks behind. I came home and looked in the paper in the help wanted section. I looked and I looked and I looked but there was nothing. I refinanced our home to pay the bills. After three months my wife tells me, “I want a separation.” I cry.

So, we go to marriage counselors. First we go to a male counselor and then we go to a female counselor and then we go to a male counselor. My wife is convinced that I have something on my mind, that I don’t love her. I don’t mention Alaska. After some counseling, we agree to live to together again. My wife says, “I’ll see how you do.”

So I find a job and I go to work. This time I build electrical control panels. I work and I work and I work but the money is not the same as the partnership money. One day the manager takes me in his office and tells me, “Things are slow. We are downsizing. We are closing this branch. We don’t have any openings in our home office in Janesville, Wisconsin.” I say, “Oh.” I call my wife and we meet at a restaurant because I want to tell her in person what happened. I drink two gin and tonics while I am waiting for her to show up. I look out the window and see her pull up in our rusty family van. She comes in and sees me drinking and she wonders what’s up and I tell her. She asks me what I am going to do and I tell her, “I will look for work.”

So I look in the Help Wanted Ads in the newspaper. No jobs. I file for unemployment. Three months later my wife says she wants a separation. I say, “No.” She says, “Get out or I will force you out.” I leave. I go to a hotel. I get a room and call my kids.

So that night I watch this movie, “Into The Wild”, about this young guy who leaves behind everything and heads to Alaska. I sit back in my hotel chair and I cry. I was headed in that same direction in 1972.

© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved

*****

Hard Sun – Eddie Vedder

Wild Horses

Wild Horses

(two guys take a road trip)

1971 and counting…

The journey of a lifetime was being nixed at the first intersection. Boyd pulled up to the red light in the middle of our town.  He braked and the Caddy stopped dead.  There was nothing lit up on the driver panel – no “BATT” light, no “CHECK ENGINE” light, nothing. The Marantz stereo we placed on the back seat hump coasted to a stop.  As it did the Lizard King’s voice churned down Riders On the Storm with a demonic basso profundo until the needle stopped sucking sound.  Could a journey of a thousand miles end with a single stoplight?

Before the trip my mom had said “Go.” Boyd’s mom handing Boyd the Amoco gas card said “Go,” They both said, “Be careful.” So we went. So we thought.

 Boyd and I sat in the Caddy facing a green light with dashed hope silence. There was no crank of the engine, no radio, no stereo rush, just a mortifying silence a half mile into our road trip. We looked at each other and then over at the Saint Jude medallion dangling from the rear view mirror.  The “Pray for us” entreaty quickly came out of limbo. A horn blast broke our abject reverie and we jumped out of the car.

 Boyd popped the hood and looked into the vast Caddy cavern. The engine gave no indication of changing its mind. The emergency light wasn’t working so I stood behind the car and waved folks around. Boyd ran over to the library and made a call home: “Mom we are stuck at the intersection of Kennedy Drive and Lake Street.  The car just stopped dead.”

The Caddy was Boyd’s dad’s idea.  He thought we would be safer driving the massive armored vehicle instead of Boyd’s sporty cruiser, a Chevy Caprice.  But the journey of a thousand miles would restart with the Caprice.

Boyd’s mom drove the Caprice over to where we were stranded.  We unloaded our gear from the Caddy into the Caprice.  Boyd reconnected the AC cord of the Marantz to the dc to ac converter plugged into the cigarette lighter.  We were good to go musically.  Hope started charging the moment the Caprice cranked over.  We thanked Boyd’s mom and drove off leaving her to wait for the tow truck.

After a couple of hours driving we had left Illinois behind.  Boyd drove the whole first day and night of the trip.  No-Doz, Dr. Pepper and a BTO album kept Boyd’s hand thumping the dashboard for hours on end. We puffed on Dutch Master Panetelas as he drove us through Wisconsin and through Minnesota and then into South Dakota, clicking off mile after mile, ash after ash. While he drove I lay back in my seat, eyes half-open, as the day turned to night before us.  When it became dark I wondered if Boyd could stay awake the whole night staring at the two-lane monotony always just headlights away.   As DJ Denny I was soon charged with changing the records and keeping him alert. Bumps in the road and lane changes kept me busy returning the wandering needle to its groove.

South Dakota:  grasslands, vast open landscape, not a building in sight. In the early morning hours back-lit by the sunrise, the tall wheat grass looked like golden blond hair as it was brushed by the wind.  After fourteen hours we let the turn table go silent.  When we did I heard other music playing outside the open car window – ancient music streaming in the wind.  The cessation of all that I knew from a life in Chicago and the revelation of sights and sounds I never knew somehow caused ancient memories to stir up in me, a mystical vision of a boy running free – no shirt, no shoes, just earth and boy and wind.  Snap! A Wall Drug billboard appeared and then another and another. Burma Shave Lives on:  GET A SODA…GET A ROOT BEER…TURN THE CORNER…JUST AS NEAR…TO HIGHWAY 16 AND 14
FREE ICE WATER…WALL DRUG.

What great wonder of the world awaited us?  Boyd drove us past the endless signs to that middle of nowhere – the town of Wall, South Dakota, home of Wall Drug.  The promise of free ice water noted on the drug store’s ubiquitous billboards along I- 90 had wetted our interest.

Wall Drug was just what my post card thought’s had pictured: Indian lore and artifacts packaged for tourists along with food, souvenirs, polished stones, rubber tomahawks, prescription drugs and the free bottle of ice cold water. When we got back to the Caprice a Wall Drug bumper sticker was affixed to the rear bumper – a billboard to go:

“WHERE THE HECK IS WALL DRUG?”

We set off with our free ice water and our newly labeled rear end and headed for the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands and the Corn Palace.  I queued up Paul and Linda McCarthy’s Ram album. Out came “Too Many People,” “Three Legs,” “Ram On.”   The Beatles were breaking up in our back seat.

“Looking for a home in the heart of the country….Heart of the country, where the holy people grow, Heart of the country, smell the grass in the meadow.”

We exited I-90 at Rapid City and drove south to Custer State Park.  After scratching our heads we left. We followed Iron Mountain road out of the eastern gate of Custer State Park.  The road’s corkscrewing “pigtail” bridges and three narrow honk-your-horn-through-the-rock tunnels wound us through the Black Hills to Mount Rushmore. As we drove out of one tunnel the chalk-white “Shrine of Democracy” appeared before us in the receding aperture.  We had come out of the rabbit-hole of the sixties and face to face with our forefathers. We sat up straight in our seats.

As we stood on Mt.Rushmore’s viewing terrace I was hoping to see Cary Grant or Eva Marie Saint but not James Mason.  I was in a North by Northwest latitude of mind.  With some intrigue in mind I did put some tokens into a telescope. I was hoping to catch someone hanging from the nose of a president but all I saw was a few eroded pores. Stone faces don’t do anything for me.

That night we decided to camp at Mount Rushmore National Park. Red – eyed and saddle-sore, we had been driving since 2:00 in the afternoon the day before.  It was now 7:30 pm Saturday.  Fortunate for us the gods behind the stone faces smiled down upon us:  we were able to get the last open spot on the campground.  After pitching our two-man tent on a floor of pine needles we crawled into our sleeping bags.  We let sleep overcome us – screaming kids, barking dogs and banging pots not withstanding.

The next morning’s commotion gave us a start.  Folks were packing kids and camping gear into their cars and leaving the park. We didn’t start a fire or make coffee.  We pissed, packed the tent and drove back to Rapid City where there was a Waffle house and breakfast.

After some scrambled eggs and toast and plenty of coffee we pulled onto I-90 heading northwest.  I put the needle down on BTO’s groove “Taking Care of Business.” Boyd again thumped the dashboard as we drove past Sturgis into Wyoming.  We drove past Sundance and then Gillette.  We turned south and headed to Casper passing the Hole-In-The Wall hideout.  We had heard that Butch and Sundance were out of the country so we didn’t stop and say “Hi.”

After an early supper in Casper we made the Grand Teton National Forest by twilight.  On a bluff that overlooked Jackson Lake’s Spalding Bay we set up our tent. The once-in-a-lifetime view: the cerulean blue lady of Jackson Lake had put on a string of diamonds that sparkled as the sun set.

The air that night was crisp and clean, full of promise. We slept like two bears in hibernation.  I finally woke the next day when I stretched out my legs and my feet touched the cool damp edge of the tent.  I poked myself out of the tent and found the same morning dew had been soaking the bottoms of my shoes. “Hey, Boyd wake up.  Look at this.”

With one last snort Boyd roused and fumbled out the tent, one leg in his pant’s the other caught in the tent.  “What?”

“Look!” I pointed.

Boyd’s jaw dropped.

All around our tent there were huge paw prints in the damp earth.  A bear had been stalking our campsite during the night.  “Whew!” –  our collective thought blurt out from our ashen faces. We were relieved that we had not been mistaken for food and that the cache of food we had brought with was safely packed in the car’s trunk ~ a two-week supply of beef jerky, spam and bottles of Dr. Pepper. As far as I was concerned, though, the bear could have the jerky.  GIGO, as they say.

Now Boyd liked to keep moving. He was not ADD.  He was ASAP. His mom told me one day that “you never know with Boyd.  Boyd goes wherever the wind takes him at the moment.”  Boyd was my Dean Moriarty. So every day, On the Road, wind at our backs, we drove like the world was holding out on us.

For the both of us movement meant music.  Boyd brought his LP and eight track collection and I brought my LPs: Boyd’s road tunes: Bachman Turner Overdrive (BTO), the Beatle’s White Album, McCarthy’s Ram, The Bee Gees, Barry Manilow (yes, Barry Manilow), Jefferson Airplane. Mine:  Chicago Transit Authority, Blood Sweat and Tears, Bill Chase:  Chase, The Doors, Sargent Pepper Lonely Heart’s Club Band, the Woodstock soundtrack, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River, Moody Blues Every Good Boy Deserves Favour .  Mile markers, grooves, tracks and flashbacks – we let the RPMs take us.

Driving up to Yellowstone was a panoramic delight.  We “aw”-ed at the sight of Old Faithful, we laughed at the “blup blup” of the Mud Volcano erupting and pinched our noses at the rotten egg smell of the Sulphur Caldron – the bounty of good earth filled our senses.

From Yellowstone we headed south to Wind River Indian Reservation.  We set up our tent in the early evening in a nearby campsite and started a fire.  Boyd stirred up some Sanka. 

We sat by the crackling pine needle fire until the reflective light of the moon flooded directly down onto us through the towering jack pines.  Branches scratched each other in the night breeze. After a while we decided to hike over to a treeless area we could make out at the edge of our forest canopy. As we did we came upon a creek bed lay that lay at an opening in the side of a deep ravine. 

It appeared that a mighty river had once flowed through the rock, its torrent gouging a deep channel through the sandstone and later breaking out the gulch before us.  But now instead of a large swift river forcing it way upon the landscape, a shallow unhurried stream silently passed over a bed of smooth stones and sand. The desultory shimmer of wet stone offered teasing glimpses of the moon’s face from earth.  Boyd and I sat down near the stream on a fallen grey tree trunk. Our short shadows floating on the stream.

I saw her then, a silhouette of a young woman with waist length hair.  She was kneeling at a bend in the stream.  She looked to be a cutout of the Indian princess on the Land-O-Lakes butter package. (My fantasies always include food.)  Kneeling about twenty feet from where we sat she turned toward us.  I met her gaze.  The next thing I knew my legs were carrying me over to where she knelt.  Funny things, legs, but I guess when you are seventeen and having just graduated from high school the torrent of impulse is unleashed within you moving your legs before all else.  

The moon,” was all I got out and I sat down next to her feet.  The moon’s ethereal light dappled our faces with faint glow. We sat silently for a while, my fearlessness now speechlessness. And while I waited for my impulse to catch its breath I hoped that she would say something.

 “I’m Anna.”

“I’m Denny. Hi.”  I looked over at her hoping to see more of her face but it was in shadow.

“Hi.”

After a couple of awkward minutes she said, “My folks are taking us to California for vacation. I’m from Rapid City, South Dakota.”

“I’m from Chicago.”

“I can tell.”

“How’s that?”

“Guys from Chicago talk like Chicago. You know, like their chewing on meat and potatoes when their talking to you, like regular guys. That’s what my mom says about her dad.  He’s from Chicago.”

“I didn’t know I was regular until today. I do like my mom’s pot roast.”

“Regular is good.  It means you are who you are and not something else. I could sense it before I walked out here alone.”  She turned quickly toward the trees. “I am not alone.  My parents are right over there in the camper, so I am not alone. See?”

I looked where she looked and nodded.  “OH.  OK then. I am regular.” I said looking at her. “Regular is good. So be it.”

From behind me came the sound of a small rumble and then a loud splashing of hoofs followed by neighs and whinnies. A herd of wild horses ~ Mustangs ~ appeared out of the east ravine passage. They stopped right in front of Boyd to slurp up the clear water. 

It was midnight and a dreamscape: wild horses standing in a quick sliver stream, my hand now in hers, the moon’s pale illumination casting a black and white surrealism onto the ravine walls and Boyd, a shadow, sitting alone on a log.  I shook off my dream.

I said good night to Anna telling her that I hoped we’d meet again in another dream and walked over to where Boyd sat.  He had been whittling a pine branch into what looked like a spear.  I sat down and together we watched the horses until they chased each other down the stream and out of our view. We returned to our tent for the night. The Dream followed me there.

*****

One fine morning, girl, I’ll wake up
Wipe the sleep from my eyes
Go outside and feel the sunshine
Then I know I’ll realize
That as long as you love me, girl, we’ll fly

And on that mornin’ when I wake up
I’ll see your face inside a cloud
See your smile inside a window
Hear your voice inside a crowd
Calling, “Come with me baby and we’ll fly”

Yeah, we’ll fly-y-y, yeah, we’ll fly
We’ll fly-y-y, yeah, we’ll fly

*****

Later, Boyd said he didn’t mind about me and the girl.  But he did begin to mind when I met another girl on our trip to England and then another on a trip to Miami and then another on our trip around the Great Lakes. I was happy when began to talk about a girl he liked at church.  I hoped she liked him.

*****

Wyoming was a state of mind that I didn’t want to leave.  I vowed to return and make my home among the broncos.  Denver was next on our road trip.  Our former pastor lived in a suburb of Denver and Boyd decided that we should surprise him by showing up at his church office.  The pastor gulped when he saw us.

Pastor Renz greeted us and then invited us to his home for lunch. We ate PB & J sandwiches and drank lemonade.  His told us that his wife was out-of-town so we sat with him and his three sons on their patio. During lunch we chatted about our trip and about our home town and then we said goodbye.  This side trip was important for Boyd.  Years before I had brought Boyd to our church.  This pastor had led Boyd to the Lord.  Boyd wanted to see him one more time and thank him. As his mother said Boyd was impulsive in every way.  The high RPMs of his soul kept us moving quickly in some direction – a direction we’d figure out on the way.

After lunch Boyd’s compass pointed northeast and to Estes Park, Colorado.  We made our way to this mountain town where the bindle bums of the sixties had come to find a Rocky Mountain High – hippies and tie-dye shrines were everywhere among the polished stone and incense shops.  Guitars were being strummed by glazed eyed folk singers warning of the world’s destruction at the hands of the Man. We quickly left town after stocking up on a supply of beef jerky and Mountain Dew.  We soon found a campsite along Silver Creek.

Our rented patch of earth for that night was no more than six feet by five feet. It sat right on the edge of a small bubbling creek.  All the other campsites were taken for the night. With no space to build a fire and an itch to do something we left the tent and drove around until we found a sign for a drive-in movie theatre nestled within the steep mountain valley.  An hour before the movie began we bought our tickets. To pass the time we sat on the hood of the Caprice eating popcorn watching the sunset gild the mountain ridges.

By 9:30 the mountains had shuttered off light on all sides except for the corona of moonlight directly above us. The previews began to roll and then came the main feature:  Le Mans with Steve McQueen. There were Porsches and Ferraris burning up the track.  There were more wild horses, more RPMs. All good until the screen went blank after the credits.  Everyone had driven off except us.  The Caprice wouldn’t start. Then the drive-in manager shut off the food stand lights. Our race car wasn’t going anywhere.  Boyd wiggled the battery cable but the battery had been DOA.

After talking to the drive–in manager Boyd made a phone call, this time to AAA.  An hour later a tow truck chained our fate to its cantilever pulley and hauled us over to a darkened Amoco gas station.  The sign on the door told us the station opened at seven am.  We got back into the car and slept restlessly wondering if seven o’clock MST was ever going to show up like it did in CST.  I also began to realize that Beef jerky and popcorn don’t come together for your enjoyment.

At seven-o-five a mechanic pulled his pickup into the driveway of the gas station. He got out of the truck, dropped his mouth open at the sight of us and then spat some brown liquid twenty feet behind him.  He then walked over to front of the gas station and unlocked the garage door. He then set about brewing some coffee. When the muck he was brewing had finally stopped belching he offered it – an oily looking residue with islands of powdered cream floating on top – in a grimy Styrofoam cup. The lack of air at that altitude must have deprived my brain of needed oxygen. I drank the coffee.

While the mechanic installed a new battery we called home.  We wanted to let our parents know that we hadn’t fled the country to avoid the draft. We were “OK” we told them, “just more battery problems.”  We set out again confident that we were firing on all electrolyte cells.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet.” The drive through Rocky Mountain National Park lifted our spirits skyward but the dizzying drop offs and the struggling out-of-breath car are the things I remember. And the feeling of being at the top of the world with eagles, soaring.

After descending the mountains our trip began to take on a deliberate speed.  We had tired of sleeping on the hard ground and the endless ribbon of highway unreeling in our sleep. We drove across Colorado to a town on its western edge, the town of Dinosaur. This small town and its streets were so named because of their proximity to Dinosaur National Monument – the home of prehistoric fossil beds. The rocky ridges along the highway leading to Dinosaur gave the appearance of exposed dinosaur backbones.

After a brief glimpse in the direction of epochs and eras Boyd pushed the “Fast Forward” button on the floor of the Caprice.  From Dinosaur we drove into Utah so we could say that we had been to Utah. We found a campsite east of Vernal. In the morning we headed southeast to Grand Junction Colorado and then up and around Denver and straight for Kansas.  We camped that night outside Salina Kansas, under a large oak tree.  The next day I wondered if I would see Jim Ryan, the first high-school cross-country runner to break a four-minute mile, run past us as we drove through his home state.

Topeka came and went.  We drove into and across Missouri. We spent the night at a St. Louis West Route 66 KOA campsite.  After breakfast in St. Louis we sped a northeast diagonal across Illinois prairie up to our homes outside of Chicago. Even wild horses need their batteries recharged.

© Sally Paradise, 2012, All Rights Reserved

“One Fine Morning” lyrics by Lighthouse, © OLE MEDIA MANAGEMENT LP

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lighthouse_(band)

It Bears Repeating

… a short story about a man’s final hours, as related to me.

 It Bears Repeating

 The first time I heard the news was right here in the parlor of Moore’s funeral home.  I’ll tell you what happened because I need to hear it again myself.  I find it hard to believe.  Please allow me this last chance to tell my story.  I don’t have much time. I’ll be brief. The last cocktail is kicking in.

 Being dead, I must note before I move on, has its once-in-a-life time privileges: I can stretch out my legs and nap all I want. I don’t have to bother with bill collectors and more importantly I don’t have to listen to my ex-wives blather on about how horrible a husband I was. They did stop talking bad about me though.  That was on Thursday the day I died. Before that day these women were probably right about me but there were times when I tried my darndest to love the heck right out of them, damn near killing myself in the…

 “I don’t want you. I want your money.” 

 Yeah, that was what I heard at the end of two of my trilogy of marriages. That kiss of betrayal twice laid on me would be enough to break any man’s spirit, let alone his pocket-book. Heart and money gave out last Thursday and I wound up here looking at the insides of my stapled eyelids.

 Now, I’m not looking for sympathy, just an ear, so lean in close, because my mouth is wired shut, too. There are things that need to be said, my side of the story, before the cover comes down and this chapter ends.  And if there is another chapter, the gods, who must all be female because I’ve been a man of constant sorrow, may very well have taken note of my male deficiencies over the course of sixty-five years.  They will not rule in my favor.  And God help you if you snore or if your nose whistles while you are still alive and breathing. In fact, the gods may certainly deign to send me back as a woman – a large squat cat woman wheezing with asthma and having no idea the cat box litter needs to be changed – Pearl Purgatory.

 Is there life after women? If there is I am pretty darn sure that there will be retribution for my lack of mind reading:  “Because if I have to tell you, it doesn’t count.” And that will mean that I will be reincarnated en femme.    As such I will be made to learn what women need, what women want and, more importantly, I will learn how to demand tele-empathy:  holding every man accountable for every woman’s unspoken thoughts.

 As I formerly live and breathe, if you don’t know what a woman wants before she opens her mouth you are already in the death’s hollows. And because I could not read the minds of the three females in my life I spent twenty-six years in the dog house barking at shadows and howling at the moon. My only reprieve being a weekly escape to the local tavern, a tavern serving dead-beat husbands like me. Thank God there was a “Joe” the bartender at TKO Tavern. I could read his mind.

 And Joe could read mine.  Tuesday nights the Miller Lite would stand waiting before my stool: tall, cold and gushing with anticipation.  In that room filled with nodding imbibers, tattooed torsos and limbs and shouting TVs I would tell my story of woe to unknown people of every color and stripe. It was easy there.  Everyone at TKO was in my corner for those couple of hours a week.  Going home afterward I felt as if I just had therapy.  Sleep would come and I would start again the next day. But the truth was always there standing over me in the morning.

 Where was I?  My feet are cold.  They feel like lead. Did I own a suit and tie?  Oh, yes.  I wore a suit for the studio picture of me with my four kids last year. I see it now in the picture frame sitting on the top of the casket.  But I’m starting to ramble, a foible also despised by the women in my life.  What can I say? My mind became mush on women.  But let’s go on before the fat lady sings my song.

  Wife number one.  After six months of marriage wife number one didn’t hang around for further conjugal visits.  The umbilical cord between mother and daughter snapped her away from me like a bungee cord recoiling

 I met Andrea at a Bible college.  We dated while at school and then after graduation we camped out at her family’s home outside of Crown Point, Indiana. Every weekend I would drive from Illinois to her parent’s home in Indiana.  I was hoping that her father would say just take the girl and get out the hell out of there. Her father, a straight arrow of a man, was predisposed to disposing with unnecessary words.  His remaining words were pounded into arrow heads meant for a bullseye.

 You see, Andrea’s father was native-American – an Apache.  He liked him his TV, his Pabst, his pipe and his solitude. He made no demands on Andrea’s family other than “be quiet,” “shut up,” “get me some dinner,” bring me a cold one” and “don’t ever touch my pipe tobacco.” In this denizen of dysfunction Andrea stayed close to her cowering mom while avoiding her father. It would take me several harrowing attempts to ask him for Andrea’s hand in marriage. When her father said “Yeah, take her” I had hoped to leave the dystopia behind.  I married Andrea in her family’s GARB church – that’s a General Association of Regular Baptists church for all of you outside of the Bible Whiplash Belt (No, I never had a crew cut). 

 The “hallelujah and amen” of nuptial bliss lasted about six months.  Andrea’s father took a job transfer to Arizona – Arizona or Bust.  I figured that with the transfer Andrea’s father could get back to his native-American roots.  Being an oil refinery pipe fitter in Gary, Indiana was not the proper place for this son of the earth.  He saw the transfer notice posted on the lunch room bulletin board and applied the same day.  He never consulted his wife.  I figured, too, that the desert would be a good place to drink, shoot a gun and fall down drunk. I gathered all of this from his stolid stare which told me everything and nothing.

 In the moment when Andrea’s her mother told Andrea about the transfer Andrea decided that she and I had to move from Chicago to Arizona to be near her mother: “Or else.”   It was The Ultimatum Express for me or the highway for her.

 Now, I hadn’t mentioned this: before Andrea and I married I had a solid job in the Chicago area.  Andrea and I had settled in an apartment an hour away from her mother.  Things seemed quiet and sane apart from her family – us in Illinois, her parents in Indiana. But that was the problem:  way too much sanity for Andrea.

 So, without further discussion and a half-year after making our eternal vows to each other, vows which I found out would not indemnify the oath taker from the pain and loss of separation and subsequent divorce, our marriage was torn in two. I came home from work one day and found that Andrea had taken all her things and had left for Arizona.  There was a note:  “I’ve gone to Arizona.  See ya.”  She certainly had her father’s eagle-eye determination and his paucity of words.  Suddenly I was left with my job, an apartment lease and dozens of unpaid bills. I was uncoupled and alone but mother and child were reunited, a co-dependency I probably should have seen coming. 

 After six months of being married in absentia and being surrounded by the four walls of loneliness I decided to go out to Arizona and plead my case for our as yet “unwrapped” marriage. I flew out to Phoenix.

 The sun has finally moved behind the curtain.  Good. Oh, there are lilies. I wonder who sent those.  Maybe it was my daughter Anna.  I wish she was here.  My nose must be stuffed up. There’s not a smell in the house. Who are those people looking at me?  Are you still listening?

 The day I arrived in Phoenix the temperature was 121 degrees F.  I couldn’t sit down in the rental car until the air conditioning had cooled the seats and steering wheel.  Standing next to the idling car I thought my feet might stick to the black top taffy.

After checking into a room at the nearby airport Holiday Inn I immediately phoned Andrea and told her where I was. She sounded out of sorts when she told me that she would leave work at 4:30 and then drive up from Globe, Arizona where her parent’s lived.  When I called her the week before and told her that I was flying out to see her she balked, “Come but don’t expect anything.” I came expecting everything.  I bet it all on “See ya.”

 The drive to phoenix took about an hour and forty minutes.  I waited in the restaurant lounge of the Holiday Inn.  I asked the bartender what he would suggest for someone waiting to be disappointed once again and who never had a drop of hard liquor. He put a Manhattan in front of me – a cherry about to drown in a sea of bourbon.  Between the ebb and flow of Manhattans I would ride the elevator up to my room to see if I had any phone messages.  Upon opening the door if I saw no red light pulsing in the dark room I would return downstairs to my drink.  The waiting bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters consoled me.  The bitters and I were now comrades in arms.

 At nine o’clock I finally saw the pulsing red light.  Andrea had left a message:  she’d be there in five minutes.  I splashed some cold water on my face and headed downstairs. 

 Once back at my seat Andrea appeared at the door of the dining room.  The soft knit turquoise dress she wore gathered all of my attention.  The hands on her hips said, “Let’s go.” But after five Manhattans I was in no shape to go anywhere but up to my room.  Andrea insisted that we get in her car and go back to Globe.  But the liquor, now speaking on my behalf, failed to get my tongue to form syllables. “I rave de…,” was my only response so she relented and we went up to my room.

 There Andrea and I sat on the edge of the twin beds and talked for five minutes. I can’t recall the things we talked about. At one point I got up, leaned over and kissed her. Shapely turquoise and stultifying bourbon would continue to have the same effect on me up until last Thursday.  Now if I have one saving grace to present to the gods it would be my kissing ways.  Playing trumpet for forty years puckered my lips into the perfect embouchure for kissing.  A few nicely placed notes would make any woman’s ears wiggle.  Actual levitation would occur.  You’ll have to trust me on this.

 I did try to sleep off the bourbon but luck wouldn’t have any of it.  After a couple of hours we set out on Superstition Freeway and then U.S. 60 heading east toward Globe, Arizona.

 I remember the full moon transforming the rough cut desert landscape into a B & W western.  I half expected to see Tex Ritter or Roy Rodgers galloping along with our car.  In the distance I could see saguaro looking like they were in a holdup, both arms up. Gila monsters and tumbleweed lurched into and retreated from the light of the headlight “projectors.”

 We finally reached the town of Globe, a community of workers from the sliver mines.  Up north in the Tonto Basin there was an oil refinery where Andrea’s father worked as a pipe fitter. His nature had taken its course.

 I found a room at the eight room Globe Motel.  After checking in Andrea and I grabbed breakfast at the Mother Lode diner. It was there at the diner that Andrea’s older brother showed up, a pack of Luckies rolled up in his tee-shirt sleeve. He had a pock-marked face and his jaw was set.  He sat down across from me, flicked the ash of his cigarette into the ash tray and ordered a coffee.  I didn’t know what to expect. His demeanor was always silent tough-guy gruff.  He finally spoke:  “So, you’re here to take my sister home?” “I respect that.” I breathed a sigh of relief but then he said, “I don’t think my mother wants that to happen.” My stomach tightened. After drinking his coffee down in two gulps he stood up and walked out. That was it.  I was disposed of.

 I looked at Andrea.  She looked back at me over her glasses as if to say “don’t you see?”  She went off to work and I returned to my motel room to ponder what just happened.  I spent the rest of the day watching TV in my room hidden from the sun’s death rays.  The tepid water in the motel’s outside pool offered no relief.  I had lost my cool, too.

 After passing a couple of monotonous days in the Globe Motel Andrea offered me a room in their parent’s guest house – a tiny adobe bungalow at the bottom of a steep gully shaded by mesquite and jojoba trees.  That was better. Andrea would be closer but she could be a tease.

 When Andrea finished work at 4:30 she would come down to the bungalow and spend hours kissing me like I was her best beau.  She’d coo and I’d plead. Later she’d go back up to her parent’s house to sleep.

 My return flight was on Sunday.  Nothing had changed in the status of our marriage. Andrea said nothing about returning with me.  I was perplexed to point of “Enough already.”

 On Thursday I found a Globe Yellow Pages and looked for the name and address of her company.  I bought a Rand McNally map at the Texaco.  The place where she worked was on the outskirts of town. I drove my rental car to her office and walked right in. Andrea was nonplussed. She grabbed my arm, turned me around and took me out to the parking lot.  She told me to stay away from her work.  After some futile begging where I asked her to come home with me, I drove back to the bungalow feeling despair. I felt it where I never felt it before – in my feet.  Later that night, though, she told me that on Saturday we would do something together. Hope and pace revived among the kissing.

 Saturday morning we drove north to Tonto National Forest and Apache Lake.  The reflection of the midday sun off of the bleached rock was blinding.  We got out of the car and stood together on the bluff that over looked the cobalt blue lake.

 “Denny, I have something to tell you.  I have a boy friend.”

 “What? What’s his name?”  (What did it matter?)

 “His name is Scott. I’m not coming home with you.  I have divorce papers coming. I don’t want alimony. I just want to be here. I have to be here.”

 There it was, that unspoken word that pulled the bottom out of everything: “over.

 On Sunday my dad was waiting for me at an Ohare Airport’s arrival gate:  “At least you tried.”  

 “Yeah, I have that going for me.”

****

Who’s that? Do I know you? Someone please open my collar. It’s stuffy in here. Someone please open a window. I need some air. I promise the next bit will be shorter. I’ll have to rest soon.

 Wife, part two.  Melanie is a good woman. She didn’t get the best of me, though.  I had become jaded after my first marriage to Andrea – philandering took the place of fidelity.  I figured that I couldn’t count on just one woman to be there for me.  At any moment she could go off the reservation and perhaps return to her mother’s womb. I didn’t trust any woman even though Melanie deserved it. Regrettably, I decided there was safety in numbers.

 Melanie gave me two roly-poly boys.  I never thought life could hold such inimitable joy as when these two were born.  Fatherhood set the responsible part of me in stone forever.  But the marriage part remained free-floating. And though I had two beautiful sons I kept up my selfish ways until one night. I came home and found all my belongings sitting out at the curb.  I knocked on the front door but no one answered.  I sobbed and knocked and no one answered. I had been locked out of the marriage.  Later the sheriff would knock on my door with divorce papers: “I don’t want you. I want your money.”   I had blown it with Mel and all of my change-of-heart soul-searching wouldn’t bring her back.

 Wife, part three.  Yes, I tried again.  Once again I succumbed to the elixir of physical attraction.  But this time I thought I had also found someone who didn’t just love me for my kisses. I met Bethany at the Pacific Club dance bar where on Friday nights a friend and I tried to hook up with the dancing queens.  She and I met on a Friday night when I came alone.

 After returning to my seat that night I heard a voice behind me say, “That’s my chair.”  I turned around and looked into the face of a model. I said “Sorry. I went to dance and came back to my seat.  But you can have it.”  She sat down.  We ended up going out to eat that night and talking for hours.

 Bethany liked photography as much as I did.  We both liked fine wine and gourmet food. And kids.  She had a son from a previous relationship and I had two sons from Mel.  After whirlwind dating for six months we decided to elope.  I was pushing for this, perhaps unknowingly, thinking about the final net cost should there be a divorce – still jaded after all these years.

 We set up shop in a suburban town west of Chicago.  Two years later Bethany would give birth to a beautiful baby girl and then a boy two years later. Four kids now on the payroll.

 The first Lamaze class with Mel awoke fatherhood within me.  I was right at home with kids.  But marriage relationships, no, no, no, they would not come home to roost.  As it turned out Bethany was a very needy person.  Instead of mother issues Bethany had father issues.  The effects of family dysfunction had come full circle. There was also the bane of Bethany’s PMS.  Every month I wanted to go into the husband protection program the moment Bethany’s voice took on the other-worldly tone of a candidate for exorcism and her eyes became blue steel beebees and her dissatisfaction with me amounted to me just being alive.

Beyond this, in her own special three Margarita way Bethany would let me know that I was never “man enough.” She went on to tell our marriage counselor that she didn’t “feel loved,” by me, that “Danny is clueless.  He doesn’t know what a woman wants or needs.”  In lay person’s terms, I wasn’t woman enough to be a man. And from what I could gather as a mere mortal Bethany had also been looking for the Old Spice-John Wayne-gladiator-movie-watching father-figure who lathered on the macho during her childhood. What she got was a Ward Cleaver-turned-Casanova-turned-“give-me-a-break” type.

 Fourteen years later my marriage to Bethany ended with a prolonged, painful separation and a matter-of-fact divorce.  With that cut off point came the demand for support: “I don’t want you. I want your money.” 

 That’s my “trilogy of women” story – the troika that did me in.  In the end, emptiness is what’s left of me.  It can be found everywhere in my life:  empty vows, empty pockets and empty rooms to kick around in.  I had emptied my emotions, too.  This final loss was not paid for with tears.  This loss was paid for with my health.  I would soon break down, the hemlock of sorrow and depression working its diabolical alchemy. The only thing not empty in my life is this casket. And that brings me to my final state – death by marriage.

 Who is that strawberry blond with the turquoise pendant? Is that Andrea?  Who is that young guy with her? How did she know that I passed on?  I wish someone would stop playing that damn organ. I want to hear what their…

 Andrea:  “Scotty, say goodbye to your dad. We have to go.”

© Sally Paradise, 2012, All Rights Reserved

Hinterland of Youth

Hinterland of Youth

 On that rapidly growing dark afternoon of November 23rd, 1972, two friends called on me. They came to take me to Mauston, Wisconsin, a nether-land up north.  The trip would be a get-away weekend of exposed anima with just the guys. We were headed to a hunter’s cabin on loan to us from a local town alderman. The three of us, Jack Kerouac, Bill Caulfield and me, Tom Merton said goodbye to my parents.  We then hit the road and headed north on I-90, leaning forward into the “next crazy venture beneath the skies.” So Jack began the scroll of our trip.

Just across the Illinois-Wisconsin border and somewhere on an isolated back road Bill had Jack stop the car. Bill got out and went around to the trunk.  I watched him not knowing what he was doing. He pulled out a small insulated lunch bag.  Apparently Bill hid the bag in the spare tire cove of the trunk.  He returned to the front seat, opened the bag and handed me my first cold beer – a Pabst Blue Ribbon. I figured then that Bill had made off with a six pack from his father’s beer refrigerator in his family’s basement.

I tasted my first beer in the backseat of Jack’s ’69 Ford Galaxie.  I slurped it slowly thinking it smelled strangely familiar, something in the order of wet wheat-germ or chilled sweat. I dug its mystic cold smarminess.

As we drove north drinking beer we listened to Bill’s eight track tapes.  The eclectic collection included Woodstock, Jethro Tull’s Hard as a Brick, The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, the Beach Boys, Jimmy Hendrix and many others.  I had to beg Bill and Jack to get them to listen to my Chicago CTA album and to my Simon and Garfunkel Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album. When I did get to play them, I do so with the Marantz turntable sitting next to me on the back seat. The road yielded to the beat.

After three hours and thirty-one minutes of driving and several “Nature’s calling” stops we arrived at the cabin, about ten miles outside of Mauston. It was around 10:30 pm. The cabin was dank and cold. We found the thermostat and switched on the furnace.  There was a small hutch filled with firewood and so we started a fire going in the brick fireplace. Not long after that we hit the bunk beds strained from the day’s massive carb-loading and the red-eyed myopia of night driving.

The weekend at the cabin gave me new insights into what the body can and cannot handle. Drinking alcohol for the first time in my life and without reservation had me revisiting the first seventeen years of my life from the inside out. My stomach doesn’t suffer fools well. In the morning my brain pummeled me with its version of smashing clay pots filled with forget-me-nots on my head.

It was during this next morning that I came up with a throbbing new insight:  I told Bill and Jack that we should buy milk shakes to coat our stomachs before drinking again that night.  They mumbled an agreement and we drove to Dairy Queen that afternoon. We drank large vanilla milk shakes in hopes of staving off the stomach sucking creatures of the night. The ultimate effect, though, was thorough expurgation. I was to find out later that a more prudent trade-off was to not drink so much that one would up running around in twenty degree weather in their underwear howling at the moon.

One of the more sober highlights of our weekend was using a .38 special to shoot at beer cans and bottles lined up on a fence behind the cabin.  The gun belonged to Bill’s father. His father was a Brink’s truck guard. As I learned Bill had secretly taken the gun and some ammo from his father’s bedroom. We used the gun to shoot at bull’s eye targets nailed to unsuspecting trees. The exhilarating effect of shooting a handgun though quickly wore off. I wanted more and more fire power. I eagerly wanted to shoot a shotgun or a bazooka or a cannon or an ICBM – anything that provided a flesh-shaking ear-deafening “KER-POW!!!!”

This was the first time I had ever shot a gun. In my hand the cold hard steel loaded with more cold hard steel sent a hot rush of testosterone through my extremities. I had to pull the trigger to release the pressure or I felt that I would have exploded.

The cabin, being a hunter’s paradise, was filled with Playboys – Playboys which included Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield. This was not the first time I had been exposed to these magazines. Men seemed to keep them in places where boys would find them. All I needed besides the Playboys was a smoking jacket and a pipe. Instead of those Hugh Hefner type accoutrements Jack supplied me with Tiparillos. A blanket would be my smoking jacket.

At night Bill and I looked at the collection of Playboys by the light of the glowing fireplace. Reading the ‘articles’ warmed our sensibilities and the centerfold’s siren call would make drooling cave men of us all. Well not all of us.  I found out a year later that Jack was gay. I realized then why he would want two guys alone with him up at the cabin. I do remember being especially thankful at the time for Marilyn’s company and being curious about Jack’s ambivalence toward the women who were stapled down for our viewing pleasure.

The weekend in Wisconsin with the guys worked out all of my unexercised stupidity. And it all happened under the gauzy star-filled night pointed at by thousands of towering conifers just outside of Mauston, Wisconsin.  Fire-in-the-belly embers would burn through the fabric of my being leaving my satin youth singed.  The weekend was a rite of passage of sorts which thankfully didn’t regress into a Lord of the Flies sequel.

If I had a time machine I would not go back to Mauston and the cabin. I might, though, go back to that Thanksgiving dinner, say “Thank you” to my parents, push away from the table and go take a long nap, not waking up until November 24th, 2011. I wouldn’t miss the self-obsessed oblivion of those in-between detached days.