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Category Archives: Stories and Writing Prompts

The Teddy Bear With The Red Bow Tie

The Teddy Bear with a Red Bow Tie

By Jillian Wood

What follows is a 5,600 word short-story written by my 15-year-old daughter for her Creative Writing class. I thought it was pretty special. I hope you do too.

***

“What were you thinking of ordering, French toast?” Matthew Davis had asked his eighteen-year old daughter, Alexa, as he scanned over the menu and took a sip of his water. He knew it was her favorite to order as a child whenever they had come to the local diner for breakfast. Due to her seemingly tense mood, he believed she really needed this carb-filled dish with sugary coating, in which she’d probably complain later on how much she regretted eating her days worth of calories for breakfast.

Ever since Maddy Harlow had commented on her maroon, strapless dress (which took forever to find) saying it looked a bit snug in the stomach at homecoming in her sophomore year, Alexa had been avid about how many calories she consumed in a day, the percentage of carb-intake, and adding at least 30 minutes to an hour of cardio to her daily routine. Although in her father’s eyes, she was always stunningly beautiful.

“I’m not really hungry, I’ll stick with my coffee,” Alexa stated softly, looking down, and rimming the edge of the porcelain mug in a circular motion with her fingertips.

“You’re not starving yourself, right? Because then that would require me to send you to a shrink to talk about your feelings and what not,” Matthew had an edge of humor as he spoke, trying to slightly lighten her mood.

Alexa scoffed, and rolled her eyes with a slight smile, “No Dad, I’m not starving myself,” she shook her head slightly, and sighed, “But maybe a shrink would be nice right now.”

“What makes you say that?”

She could hear the genuine concern in her father’s voice, igniting a small feeling of comfort within her; it’s been a long time since she felt that with him.

“It’s stupid,” she mumbled.

The loud chatter of early breakfast goers muted her voice, creating a struggle for Matthew to hear. He hummed faintly and looked out the large window for a brief moment, studying the murky water that stretched out along the harbor of Cape Ann, Massachusetts.

For the middle of March, it was not surprising that the morning wasn’t very bright. There was more of a gloomy aura with light grey skies and dampness permeating the misty air…almost the perfect scene for a time as it. White sailboats with arrays of different colored flags dotted along the small waves. Some boats that were larger docked into the wooden posts, with miniscule buoys bobbing up and down in the surrounding water. There was a stretch of a steep hill that protruded out from the horizon of the harbor, with neighborhoods accompanied by old, wooden homes that would make one imagine it having a screened in porch and a swinging door for those summer nights near the water.

The Davis’ had lived together in a small, two story, rustic home. It was a picture-perfect cliché for being near the water, with its wrap around porch, large windows, and a hammock hanging from a large Maple tree in the front yard. On the inside, you would find a small kitchen attached to an even smaller dining area accompanied by plain, eggshell white walls, as it was throughout the rest of the house. Matthew thought the choice of white walls brought positivity and a brighter atmosphere, but Diane, Matthew’s wife, believed it was too bland. Yet, Diane always had something contradicting to say. With only being about 10 minutes from the harbor, the location of the house offered a great view of the water.

Matthew knew Alexa loved the beach, and with just moving into a new home, he offered to renovate the attic space for his then six-year old daughter to room in. Together, the two hung fairy lights, sheer curtains over the bed to replicate a canopy, and painted a small picture of flowers opposite to the window wall. Some of Alexa’s greatest memories were in that room, having Matthew read “Goodnight Moon” to her every night before bed and acquiring the chance to build forts with Sammy, her younger brother.

As Matthew reminisced on the times spent within the house, he realized that he probably had been dazing off for a while now, “I bet you it isn’t,” he argued, snapping back from his thoughts, and glancing at her.

Alexa pursed her lips, “You would probably think it’s stupid if I said it, it’s not important.” She sipped her coffee, pinched her mouth in distaste, and reached for another sugar packet. The taste of bitter coffee always made her slightly cringe on the inside.

A bell chimed as a family of four walked through the door, distracting Alexa from her expectant father. The mother wore an olive green parka jacket, a cream-colored scarf, and beige boots paired with high socks peeking over the knees. It was something Alexa’s mother would probably wear; Diane always loved the Earth tones. A small infant lay in the woman’s arms, tugging at her dirty blonde strands and sucking on a pacifier. Alexa’s eyes travelled to the father placing his hand on the lower back of his wife, with a young girl, more than half his height, reaching to hold onto his jean jacket. The young girl’s free hand held a teddy bear with a red bowtie around its stuffed neck, similar to the one Alexa had once owned as a child.

Once the family of four had followed the hostess to their seats, Alexa returned to the paper sugar packet, tearing it open with her slender fingers, and pouring it into the creamed coffee. Matthew continued to look at his daughter with a look of expectancy masking his unshaven face and raising his brows. The inspection made Alexa uncomfortable as she shifted in her seat, and subconsciously played with the seashell necklace around her neck; it was a comforting mechanism.

“Does he actually care?” she asked herself, “Guess we’ll find out…”

“I feel that I didn’t live my life to the fullest. Nothing spectacular or amazing happened. All I’ve done is gone cliff jumping at St. Mikes with a few friends, and I didn’t even jump off the highest edge…I was too scared. I haven’t gone to one single party, smoked weed, gotten drunk, had sex…” Taking a slight pause, she shook her head slightly, “Like how lame am I? I only ever cared about school, and working almost every day of the week at Joe’s by helping rude customers just to try and make some cash for college. Oh, and lets not forget about taking care of Sam every night when Mom wasn’t around, but now he’s goanna be 14 and thinks I’m a lame sister! He basically called me a “goody-goody” for not wanting to have a good time like all of the other screw-ups in my school!”

It seemed to Alexa like the whole diner had quieted down after she had ranted; only the sound of plates clattering and utensils following was heard back in the kitchen. Slightly out of breath from her hurried speech, she turned her head slightly to peer at the booth behind her, trying to reassure herself that they weren’t looking at her like some clown…in which she was right. All of a sudden, a deep and contagious laugh escaped her father, his palms coming down to slap a few times on the wooden table.

“A-Are you serious?” He stuttered between chuckles, his front crooked tooth coming into show, “Is that what you think life is about? Partying and having sex?”

Alexa flushed in embarrassment, “Well, no. I don’t know, it just seems like it sometimes.”

“Mm, okay. You sure are lame for wanting to succeed in your future and taking care of your younger brother. Maybe if you did coke, you would be cooler.”

As she sensed the sarcasm Matthew exhibited, she began to question whether she should have said anything in the first place. He might find it funny, but this was no joke to Alexa. With a small frown, she picked up the menu lying flat on the table to the right and scanned over it again. She had been ready to get her reoccurring order of French toast,
Where is the damn waitress?” Alexa questioned this to herself, peaking past her father to see if anyone was coming, but unfortunately saw no uniformed waitress coming her way.

“Listen,” Alexa’s hazel eyes snapped back to the voice of her father, settling back down into the burgundy, cushioned booth, “Just because you didn’t party, get drunk or high, and didn’t do the stupid shit most of the kids in your school probably do, doesn’t make you lame. In fact, it makes you smart and considerate.”

Alexa scoffed at this, and with a sigh escaping her father, he continued, “Seriously, Lexis. Life isn’t even about that anyways. You don’t need spectacular grand moments to be fulfilled. As long as you’re enjoying the times you have with the people you love, you should be happy.”

She took his words into consideration with great thought, and ran her fingers through the roots of her brunette waves; Alexa tended to do this while thinking, “Yea. I guess you’re right.”

“I know I’m right,” Matthew said confidently, “How about this…you tell me your greatest memory with your favorite people.”
“I don’t have many people in my life…you know that. All I have is Sammy and Claire. Me and mom…well…we don’t have great memories and she definitely isn’t one of my favorite people.” Alexa stated hesitantly and in consideration.

“Okay…and? What does that matter? Now, go on.”

“Well, alright,” Her front teeth clenched down to slightly bite the side of her lip, “I remember it was sunny outside, although we had been in the therapy facility, the day Sam was able to walk. You weren’t really there for much of his life, but damn, I wish you could’ve seen the smile and excitement on his face. We were all excited that day…even mom and especially Uncle Chris since he had been the main one, besides Sammy’s physical therapist, to help him into getting back on his feet.

Before that though, Mom was hopeless. The doctor said Sammy would need to see a specialist for his cerebral palsy, but she couldn’t afford it at the time. We had been struggling with money anyway because of the treatment for you, so I offered to try and start babysitting and walking dogs to earn some cash, but at the age of 11 that’s pretty tough I guess. Plus, Mom told me she didn’t want her 11-year-old daughter having to work and make money for the family yet…it was embarrassing in her eyes. By some chance, Mom earned a bonus at work a few months later and found a wallet with only cash inside on the side of the road… I always thought you might’ve had something to do with that day.

With gleaming eyes and a small, closed smile, Matthew interrupted, “Possibly.”

A short moment later and with a roll of the eyes, Alexa continued with her memory, “After that, everything was a quick blur. At the age of six, Sammy visited the specialist and began to attend physical therapy three times a week over the course of three years. He had to do a few home exercises as well, which I always helped him with, unlike Mom. There were some tough nights where he got frustrated with himself…being so young. I understand why. He pulled through thankfully, and the day came where his therapist informed us that he could try taking a few steps with his walkers. I remember how big his braced smile was, with his brown locks all messy because Uncle Chris mushed it together.

When Sammy began to lift himself out of the wheelchair, I recall going to his side to try and help him, but he pushed me away and informed me that he wanted to do all of it himself. I made sure to watch him carefully, almost going over again as he wobbled a bit while getting on his feet. Sammy looked at us with his big, bright eyes and yelled out, “Lexi! Mommy! Look at me!” I praised him while Mom just smiled, and in great anticipation, Sammy took his first step. After all that hard work, I was immensely proud of him and I made sure to show that by picking him up and giving the biggest hug I could muster.”

Alexa had a brief smile on her face as she recalled on the memory. Everything about her younger brother made her happy, she wished that she would never have to leave his side. The relationship had always been strong between the two, except the one time when Sammy called her a prude for not wanting to go to the biggest party of the year. She had been angry with him for a few days for protruding into her business, but eventually forgave him when he consistently apologized; it got annoying.

“I can only imagine how happy he was,” Matthew stated, drifting his words off slightly, and looking out the window again. She was slightly taken aback with his lack of words and was about to reach out to tug on his light wash, jean-jacket sleeve to pull his attention away from the quiet harbor outside, and back to her, when he began to speak again, “I miss him, you know? I wish there was a chance I could see him again and watch re-runs of Full House together.”

There was a stutter of silence between the two, both beginning to let their minds drift. Alexa studied her father; she hadn’t seen him in a while. He looked as he did when she was slightly younger, definitely better than the last time she saw him, with his chestnut mop of hair, brown eyes, and thin lips. Slight aging under his eyes could be spotted, with a few stray lines beneath a cluster of masked freckles. More color in his skin and liveliness in his eyes could be spotted, if looking hard enough. She felt at ease with the man in front of her, knowing that the time did him well. Alexa wondered if time would do the same for her.

“Should I continue?” She asked, breaking the silence and taking yet another sip of her coffee.

“Yea, sorry. I didn’t mean to daze off like that…I was thinking of Sammy,” Matthew stated, with his face filled of sorrow and nostalgia, “But continue, tell me about Claire.”

With Claire in mind, Alexa’s best friend, she began to speak about her greatest memory with the girl, “It had to be almost the middle of July when Claire and I almost killed a bunny in the middle of the road. We had fallen asleep in her room watching Netflix and completely missed my curfew, which meant when I actually did get home, Mom would probably throw a fit and lock me in the house for two months. I think it was almost midnight when Claire and I tried to speed back to the house, her driving. We were bickering with one another, our voices overpowering the music playing on the radio in her mom’s old Volkswagen.

While I was blaming her for missing my curfew, she was blaming me because I didn’t set an alarm in case we had fallen asleep. It all happened so quickly, but as Claire looked over at me to yell once again, I spotted a bunny in the middle of the double, yellow lines, with the car heading straight for it. I screamed at her to hit the brakes, but it was too late. When Claire comprehended what happened after the small thud under the car, she instantly slowed to a stop and hopped out of the car quickly. I followed her of course, and there she was, walking towards where the bunny had been. We had both been looking down at the limp little guy; standing in the middle of the road, when all of a sudden it twitched its leg! I was shocked it wasn’t dead, but I remember feeling extremely relieved due to the fact that there was a chance it would be okay. Its little chest was rising up and down fast, probably scared out of its mine, and struggled to get up. Claire asked me what we should do about it, so I offered to take the bunny home for Sammy to help nurse it back to health. She agreed with me, but then, all of sudden, Claire busted out laughing, which eventually turned into sobbing.

Unfortunately, whenever she starts crying, I start too…we were emotional wrecks looking at the bunny. I was trying to console her, through my own tears, because she wouldn’t stop saying how terrible of a person she was for almost killing a bunny. When we both calmed down, I went back to the car and looked for some type of cloth or shirt to wrap its body in. Claire watched over me as I wrapped the bunny in an old scarf that I found behind the passenger seat, and bring it into my arms. Surprisingly, the bunny didn’t freak out or try to escape, but just let me take it to the car. Let me just say, Claire visited that bunny everyday after that night, and made sure Sammy was taking good care of it. After officially naming the bunny Roady, in honor of where the little guy was almost killed, we bought a cage for it to sleep in Sammy’s room. Roady ended up living two years with us, but all he did was sit in a cage so…”

Matthew watched his daughter as she explained the story, using her signature Italian hand gestures and great facial expressions; she sure knew how to tell a story. Even though he had been gone for the past seven years, he still had the chance to watch her grow and become a young woman. Alexa had changed her hair a bit, going from her original dark brown to a nice auburn. She stuck a piece of metal in her nose, which his parental instincts didn’t agree with of course, but it wasn’t too noticeable. It was true that she definitely had dropped a couple pounds, admiring her already petite figure, but it was good that she lost it in a relatively healthy way. The woman in front of him was no longer his little girl.

As her words trailed off to the ending of the story, Matthew took the moment to interrupt, “So almost killing a bunny is the greatest memory with your best friend?”

Alexa laughed at his question; the story did sound pretty morbid when she thought about it, “No! It wasn’t about almost killing a bunny; it was about the situation in general. The whole night was a classic Claire and Alexa moment. We tend to bicker over the smallest things, and will always end with one of us apologizing or the both of us laughing it off. It was my greatest memory because it was a night that truly showed our entire friendship, and the Claire that I grew to become my best friend.”

“You guys seem to love each other a lot,” Matthew stated, resting the top of his chin on the palm of his hand.

“Yea…we do. She’s the only person who’s stuck by me all these years and vise versa. I wonder if she’ll be okay when I’m gone…” She trailed off, feeling a bit disturbed by the thought. Claire didn’t have many people in her life, just as Alexa didn’t either; the two were each other’s best of friends. Alexa would miss the Netflix marathons they made sure to do once a month and the long drives they took along the coast of Cape Ann beach, jamming out to 80’s classics and drinking the normal, vanilla frosty that they would pick up from Wendy’s.

“She’ll be okay. Time heals all wounds,” He gave the questioning girl in front of him a warm smile, trying his best to reassure her.
“You’re right. As time went on after you passed away, it became easier to deal with the sadness,” Alexa said softly, coming to terms with how content she began to feel about everything. “Claire would be okay,” she reminded herself, “and Sammy too.” With all the talking about her father, Alexa was brought to another memory, “Do you want to know my favorite memory with you?”

Matthew shifted in his seat, straightened his back, folded his hands together, and smiled at her, “Go on.”

“It’s a bit random, but my 11th birthday, you took me down to the beach even though you weren’t feeling up to it. At the time, I might have been in denial that the cancer was soon going to get to you, but subconsciously I think I knew. I remember I really wanted to spend the day at the beach for my birthday, and I had continuously begged you. Mom wasn’t in the house…like usual. Uncle Chris had taken Sammy to his therapy appointment, so you were the only one there to take me. Now that I look back, you were probably really annoyed that I had pestered so much. Because you were too drained to drive, you insisted that we take the bus.

Matthew took a sharp inhale and snickered, “The bus ride is a whole memory itself.”

A look of confusion crossed the once again, interrupted girl, as she tried to recall what he meant. She let out a small hmph, while in thought and instantly began to laugh once realization crossed her mind, “Oh, yea! The woman that decided to argue with you about her seat. You were trying,” struggling to find air as she laughed, “so hard not to curse her out in front of me.”
“Trust me, it wouldn’t have been good to do that in front of my 11-year-old daughter,” He stated, laughing along with her, “But, continue.”

Gathering herself up from the funny moment, Alexa wiped her minimal tears and began again, “I instantly wanted to go into the water with you once we got there, but you told me it would be too rough on your body at the time. “These waves definitely aren’t Miami ones,” you said, although I had no idea what that meant at the time. Even though you hadn’t gone in with me, you let me go in by myself anyway. I made sure to scoop up a bunch of seashells while I was in the shallow area of the water, because you seemed unhappy and I wanted to cheer you up. You were sitting by the water watching me play, when I ran up from the water and plopped the seashells near your feet.

Each shell I had brought up you inspected carefully, and chose the smallest one. It was almost too small with a very clustered shape, that I thought it was ugly compared to the rest of them…then you informed me that’s what made it unique. In the moment, the shell was very insignificant, but you suggested that we poke a hole in the end of it and pull a string through it to turn it into a necklace. I learned a good lesson that day because of you; to not judge others by the first glance, but what essence lies behind them.”

Alexa twiddled with the necklace as she explained the memory of her father. Somehow, when she would glide her fingers over the small ridges and bumps of the bluish shell, it brought great comfort and soothed her. While she had found the necklace so important to her as a young girl to now a young woman, Matthew didn’t completely understand why she had held onto it so long, “What do you mean the essence that lies behind them?”

“Well, after you had passed away a few months later, that necklace we made reminded me of the last good moment we had shared. When I began to miss you, I would hold onto the shell, think back to that day, and remind myself that you were at peace; it helped me move on. Yea, it’s still not the prettiest shell, but what’s behind it is beautiful,” She explained, and looked at her father.

“I never knew you were so deep,” Matthew chuckled, “but I’m glad that it brought you comfort for when I couldn’t.”
“Yea, me too…” Trailing off, she looked down at her half-full cup of coffee again.

“What about your mother?” Matthew asked this hesitantly, he didn’t want to hit a touchy subject and bring her back to the tense mood.

“What about her?” Alexa said sharply.

“I’m assuming by that tone of voice missy, that you don’t have a great memory with her?”
“Maybe as a child, but I can’t remember any off the top of my head. You already know that when you were diagnosed, she changed.”

A disappointed sigh escaped his lips as he heard this, “Yes, I know. It’s sad isn’t it? She used to be so happy, and loved spending time with you and Sammy. We always used to come to this diner when you were a child…it was kind of a ritual every Sunday morning before church.”

“She’s the reason I’m dying and talking to you right now,” Alexa stated bluntly, not letting the mention of a good memory from her father budge the way she felt.

“Technically, you two were both argu-,”

“Diane was the one drinking and driving with me in the car,” Her harshness cut him off, and he instantly silenced. Tears began to brim in Alexa’s eyes, as she felt the sting in her nose begin to approach, “I would be alive right now if she hadn’t picked me up from Claire’s drunk.”

Alexa loved her mother and tried her hardest to forgive and forget, but the way she acted when Matthew was diagnosed and after his death, changed her view of the woman she once had a close relationship with. From the passing of her father, she had been the one to basically raise Sammy and put food on the table, with her own money, while Diane stayed at the local bar and reappear every few days to stay in her room, and then leave once again. Yes, there were some not so bad times with her mother, but the bad always outweighed the good when it came to Diane.

“The only way you’ll find complete peace is to forgive,” Matthew said kindly, sympathizing for the young girl he left many years ago.

“But I’ve forgiven her so many times. Why should I when this could possibly be the worst thing she’s done to me?” Desperate filled her voice…she wanted to forgive but she did not know how, “She should have known not to drive with me under the influence; what kind of mother does something so ignorant?”

Matthew slid from out of the burgundy booth and stood up, extending his hand outward, “Let me show you something.”
She looked up at him hesitantly, began to slide out of her side of the booth, and put her smaller, feminine hand into his extended one. When their hands molded together, Alexa instantly felt at ease to be in the smallest touch of her father. Matthew guided her towards another booth in the back, dodging a few coming people heading towards their seats, and passing the front door of the diner.

“What is he doing?” She began to question to herself.

He began to slow down in front of her and came to a stop in front of a small table in the back corner, with another large window on the wall. Once Alexa comprehended the sight in front of her, she tensed and let out a small audible gasp. There, sitting in front of the two standing, was the family of four that she saw walk in earlier enjoying their breakfast. But this was not any random family; it was Alexa’s.

Recognition became clear as she took notice of the young girl seen before, as herself at the age of six, eating a small plate of French toast, and holding onto the teddy bear with the red bowtie. One-year old Sammy sat in a high chair across from young Alexa, nibbling on dry cheerios. A slightly youthful Diane was sitting to the right of her, holding Matthew’s hand from across the table and sipping on her coffee. The young girl kept asking Diane for a sip of the coffee in her mother’s hand.

Seeing his persistent child, Matthew smiled, “You always loved coffee, even at the age of six.”

“Explains why I’m constantly choosing it over water,” Alexa said with a slight laugh.

“This was my greatest memory with you two. I think this morning was when the ritual of going every Sunday began. It was a couple years before I was diagnosed…your mom was still happy…we were still happy.

As she watched the young family interact, she began to remember everything about that morning. Six-year old Alexa had been complaining that morning because she wanted her mother to make French toast, but they didn’t have any of the right ingredients to make it. To make her daughter happy, Diane suggested they go to the diner and eat there for breakfast. She bought Alexa a plate of French toast, which the young girl complained about eating at first, but became convinced to because then she wouldn’t be able to try the coffee her mother was drinking.

Alexa watched her younger self finish the plate of French toast and turn to her mother, reaching for the coffee.

Diane quickly pushed her hand away, “Hey! We don’t grab, we ask and say please,” she reprimanded in a strict voice.
The six-year-old didn’t let that drop her mood, “Sorry, Mommy. Can I try coffee, please?”

Seeing the gigantic grin on her young daughters face, she passed it to the girl hesitantly, “It’s a little warm, remember to blow first.”

Listening to her mother’s words, Alexa blew slightly on the coffee, and carefully took a sip with her small fingers wrapped around the stained mug from the previously, multiple times it had been filled with coffee. As soon as it entered her mouth, the young girl’s face twisted up in distaste as it did earlier with older Alexa and the bitter coffee. She quickly spit it out and the whole family began to laugh at the child.

“Oh honey!” Diane said laughing and reaching to wipe her face off, “I knew you wouldn’t like it yet.”

Looking at the past memory of the family made Alexa tear up slightly, as her heart swirled with nostalgia, “I remember it was too bitter, that’s why I spit it out.”

“I know you might’ve had complications with your mother, but she wasn’t always the way she is now. She was happy, but sometimes people take traumatic situations differently. Your mother didn’t have the seashell necklace like you did,” Matthew explained to her, and gripped her hand a little tighter.

With this entering her mind, Alexa began to feel less agitation towards her mother, but more forgiveness and understanding. The thought about how hard the death of a husband must be had never crossed her mind, and it wasn’t her place to judge due to the fact that she couldn’t relate. Yes, she felt a great loss towards her father, but Diane experienced something quite different than Alexa had. No longer did Alexa want to hold this grudge against her mother; she was ready to find peace.

Light began to flood through the windows, forcing the two to squint their eyes slightly to block the harsh rays, and bring their free hands to make a small shade over their eyes. As the light became less bold, Alexa peered out the window to the sky and became aware that it was no longer grey. The water was not dark and murky, but a strong blue with the reflection of the sun expanding along the small waves. Seagulls were flying around the harbor, some perched on the flags peak of the sailboats that were docked at the harbor, and squawking at the town’s people walking down below. It was a peaceful scene.

Everything around the father and daughter became silent, as Matthew guided Alexa towards the door of the diner. The two stood for a second, observing the surrounding area of the diner.

“Are you ready to go?” Matthew asked with patience, but with readiness laced in his tone of voice.

A small smile of content rose on her face and she answered to him, “Yes.”

With their hands intertwined, Matthew pushed the door open to the outside and continued to walk into the appending light. Before Alexa stepped out into the field of unknown, she took a quick glance back at her younger family with joy spread on their faces; enjoying each other’s company. Six-year old Alexa was coloring in a placemat from the diner, seeming to be focused intently, when she took notice to the older girl looking at her. A smile played on her lips, as she stood up on the chair to wave excitedly; the teddy bear with a red bow tie dangling from the young girl’s free hand. Alexa waved back, a final sense of ease overpowering, as she turned back to the front and stepped into the calm light with her father.

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The Aperature

Aperatureap·er·ture  (noun):
1. an opening, hole, or gap.
2. a space through which light passes in an optical or photographic instrument, especially the variable opening by which light enters a camera.

***

It was underneath the smell of cut grass and gasoline that I first noticed the hole. A medium-sized perforation about the size of a tennis ball that was sticking out like a pockmark on the face of my freshly manicured lawn.

On first glance I estimated its size to be approximately three-inches wide by four-inches deep. A perfectly shaped cylinder unlike any of the typical oblong-shaped chasms that are dug by man. On the contrary, I was certain this particular hole was delivered by one of the masters of dirt and dig – a varmint. The enemy of perfectionist yard enthusiasts everywhere.

Now, I’ve always prided myself in keeping a tidy yard and have been mowing my one-third of an acre plot religiously every Saturday morning during the mowing season. Always making a point to follow-up the proper mow with a good trimming around the base perimeter of the fence line as well as going the extra mile to get every rogue dandelion that curiously survives the spraying by the professional weed service I pay top dollar to in order to make my lawn the envy of the neighborhood.

And now — there’s a freaking hole in it.

For the last twenty years mowing the grass has been the only thing that has really given me any sort of happiness. During that same span of time the long, blondish lawn on my own head has disappeared and the chiseled abs I once had have succumbed to the inevitable phenomenon I like to call age mass. I’ve been in and out of jobs over the years, habitually single and even survived a bout with colon cancer at the tender age of thirty-six. For the most part you could say that my life has been pretty much status quo.

But I wasn’t always the lawn-loving, bald, thick in the middle-man you see here before you. At one point in my life I actually had dreams. Dreams of becoming the next Edward Van Halen as guitarist for the hair metal band, Silent Rage.

You’ve heard of us, right?

Don’t worry. I won’t shed a tear if you haven’t. But I will say that Silent Rage was one of the 80s most well-known hard rock groups. I mean, we played gigs everywhere from Maine to South Florida; opening for bands like Winger, KIX and Heaven’s Edge. We even had a showcase for the Adverse City Records honchos in New York City, who promised us a two-album recording deal in early 1991.

Yep, the world was going to be our oyster. That is until Kurt Cobain, Alice in Chains and the rest of those Seattle grunge lunatics shot that dream to hell. Forcing the band to dissolve and me to have to sell off most of my gear and take on the first of countless jobs just to make ends meet. Eventually leading to the middle-aged conundrum I now find myself in.

In a world where age, health and hair have forsaken me, mowing the lawn is the only thing I have any sort of control over. So you’ll have to excuse me if I get a little upset when a rabbit or groundhog comes into my inner sanctum and decides to dig a hole.

How did I not notice this obtrusive hole while I was mowing, you ask? Good question. I pondered the same thing myself. Surely I would have seen a tennis ball sized hole as I was making passes over it with the lawn mower, yet I must have somehow overlooked it.

But what made the whole thing even stranger was the fact that there was no dug-up loose dirt in the area surrounding the hole. In fact, the earth near the hole was hard packed and completely dry. Giving every indication that the hole had actually been there for a long, long time.

Now, I may be forty-five years old and been diagnosed with presbyopia at my last eye doctor visit, but even I would have noticed a blatant hole sticking out like a sore thumb several weeks into the mowing season. I decided to kneel down to get a closer look at the intruder’s work, hoping to find a clue as to what brand of rodent had been infiltrating my land.

As I started moving loose grass clippings out of the way a drop of sweat slipped off of my brow and fell into the hole. There, beneath the warm June sky something began shining out of its depth. At first I thought it might be a quarter or some small piece of glass or stone reflecting off the hot summer sun. Instead, it turned out to be nothing material at all.

It was a beam of light. A light shining out from somewhere within the hole. It was almost as if someone was on the other side of the hole shining a flashlight outward and into my eyes.

A lump began to develop in my throat and I actually felt my heart skip a beat. I’ll be honest with you here. I seriously gave consideration to making a run for it. Something about this whole thing just didn’t seem right. But instead of running, I decided to do what only a fool would do. I laid down flat on my stomach and peered my eye right inside that cantankerous hole.

Screw you, Alice in Wonderland.

What I felt when I first looked into the hole was reminiscent of a pirate who had been lost at sea for months. A pirate who would spend most of the day peeping through his spyglass in a vain search to find land but only finding endless sea. Until one day, just as he’s about to run out of food and water, he discovers the thing he had been searching for. The only thing that mattered.

As I looked down into the hole I could see a white-colored, cloudy canvas. Like I was flying through a sea of cumulus clouds, with edges clean and soft. A canvas whose brightness covered the entire spectrum of my senses and then; as if on cue, having already known of my intentions to see what lied beyond, the canvas of clouds quickly parted into some dream-state dimension

From a third-person perspective I saw myself in this surreal state just as clear as day. Only it wasn’t the forty-five year old me I saw. Instead, it was a much younger version of me, no more than twenty-one.

Nearly forty pounds from my midsection had all but disappeared and every last one of my long blond hairs had miraculously returned. The real me had a sense of confidence he hadn’t felt in a long time.

For all intents and purposes, it felt like the year 1990. Like watching some old home movie, but in the highest of definition. One where every nuance of every movement was noticeable – the sights, the sounds, the feeling. From that moment, I realized I no longer wanted to just look into the light inside of the hole. Instead, I wanted to become a part of it.

I watched from above as this younger version of me stood somberly next to his idling, green, 1976 Chevrolet Vega wagon. A dark brown suitcase sat next to the car as it sputtered in and out of stalling. I was certain that it wouldn’t be long into my trip before the car would leave me sitting on the side of the road.

Vega1

It was 1990.

The familiar sounds of Westminster Chimes began to play from the St. Agnes Church a few blocks away. I had enough time to count each chime as it signaled the hour of day.

One…two…three….four….

By the time it reached the ninth chime I had already determined that it was early morning based on the positioning of the sun in the eastern sky and by the faint sounds of another lawn mower leveling the landscape some distance away. It was also at that moment that I realized I was at West Chester University again and even more importantly, I was fully aware of what was about to happen next.

A young, attractive woman slowly approaches the vehicle. She had fair skin, a creamy complexion and the familiar long brown hair that ran down beneath her shoulders. With deep blue eyes that breathed a life in me that I’ve never felt before nor ever will again. She wore the blue denim jacket her parents had bought for her in high school, with matching jeans and scuffed up Chuck Taylor’s that have seen a lot of miles from the long walks we had taken together over the last two years. The smile she had that could light up a room was now replaced with sadness. I knew going in this was not going to be easy.

Christine is was my everything.

“Have everything you need?” Christine asked in her casual, nonchalant fashion. The faux me was already quick to answer.

“Yes. Enough to get me through to Scranton.” I said. Of course, I was lying. As Christine already knew from our many journeys in the beat-up old wagon, the Vega constantly burned oil and overheated. I figured I might only make it as far as Allentown before I’d have to stop.

“Did you get all of your paperwork complete?” she said, hoping that somehow I might have overlooked something. Something that would have delayed the inevitable.

“Uh-huh. Got the final papers from the bursar’s office yesterday. It’s all done. Turned in my keys to the resident advisor this morning, gassed up the car and here we are.”

“You know, you don’t have to do this.” Christine said solemnly. “Can’t you at least stay until the end of the semester and see what happens?”

Tears began to fill her eyes.

“ I can’t.” I said. “You know I’ve waited a long time for my music to take off. This gig up north promises shows for the next three months. Good pay too. Mike our drummer even says that it may lead us to a showcase in New York City if we’re good enough.”

There was an odd silence and then she said those same five words I still ask myself in my darkest nights.

“Are you good enough, Jim?”

Am I?

Even though I already knew the answer, at that moment someone greater than me had pressed “pause” on this supernatural VCR.

“Choose.” a voice said.

“Choose?” I asked looking at the now frozen in time Christine. I could not take my eyes off of her.

“You can change the outcome. I’ve given you the choice.” the voice responded.

“But I already know what happens” I thought to myself, now knowing that whatever voice was speaking to me could also read my mind.

“Twenty-five years ago you decided to leave college for music.” the voice responded. “You now have the chance to change it.”

“Change it?” my conscience said. Could I really sacrifice these last twenty-five years? Is it possible to get a second chance in this life?

It’s true. I did turn my back on college and Christine [who was already halfway through her second year of pre-med] in exchange for a chance to become the guitarist for Silent Rage – the next great hair metal band. But instead of staying in school to get my teaching degree, marrying Christine and living happily every after, I took my beat-up Fender Strat on the road for two years performing to semi-packed crowds before the advent of grunge destroyed me and nearly every other 80’s hard rock band that existed and ended my musical dream.

During those ensuing years Christine and I fell out of touch. I don’t know if she ever did become that doctor but I am sure that her end result was better than mine. I did try looking her up on Facebook and LinkedIn after my battle with cancer [being face to face with death has a tendency to make you want to tie up loose ends] but came up empty-handed.

“Are you good enough, Jim?” the voice asked me again.

“This isn’t that movie, ‘Groundhog Day’.” my conscience told me. “No one can really go back. You only get one life and the trick is to make the most of it.”

Sure, grunge was a setback. And I know that if I had been made that decision back in 1987 instead of 1990 things might have been completely different. But age, health, relationships, job-hopping and even that little drinking episode I had that led to a night in the drunk tank were all setbacks. But none of those things really destroyed me. They only made me who I am

“Are you good enough, Jim?”

I looked at the frozen Christine. I looked at the frozen twenty-one year old me. I looked at the idling Vega that would wind up stalling out halfway to Pottstown, leaving me stranded on the side of Route 100 for two hours. Until a friendly trucker came by and offered me a lift into town where we talked about music and The Gulf War over a six-pack of Coors Light.

What happened next I can’t explain. It was as if the dream sequence I had become immersed in had suddenly become a puddle and a huge omnipotent hand had disturbed the still water. I saw Christine and the Vega and the young me ripple away into darkness while the real me drifted off into another stream of consciousness. I woke up lying face down next to the hole on a warm bed of freshly cut grass.

As I was pulling myself up off the ground I noticed that the sun had already begun its soft descent into the deep western sky. I smiled. The light and hole that once seemed so painfully intrusive to me was now gone and in its place was a breach that no longer seemed like it was the end of the world.

 

After School

by Mark A. Hicks, illustrator

Here’s a little writing prompt. Would love to hear your thoughts:

It’s Wednesday afternoon and I’ve just gotten home from another ruined day of high school. By ruined, I mean having been told in the lunch line that “Johnny Marzetti”, the name given to a Hamburger Helper wanna be, was replacing pizza as the main entree.

Pizza day was something high school students looked forward to. When you saw “Pizza” on the lunch menu you knew that it was not a day to ditch school or go out for lunch. Pizza was THAT important. And being told at the last-minute that it would not be served was equivalent to telling a child there was no Santa Claus.

After dropping my books onto the kitchen table, I slowly made my way upstairs to my bedroom, a ritual I’ve been following since my scholastic career began.

I sit down at the foot of my bed and untie my sneakers, my white stocking feet now relishing in their new-found freedom. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the black electric guitar sitting on the stand in the corner. The only thing that has been the outlet for my teenage angst during senior year. The instrument I’ve put so many hours of practice into and one that will eventually lead me to bigger and better things, that being: rock stardom!

It was going to be a few hours before my brother got home from work and invade his half of the bedroom, plenty of time for me to work on guitar scales and the Mel Bay book. But first, there was another matter that needed my attention.

I opened the top drawer of my dresser and shuffled behind pairs of socks and underwear until my fingers felt it, the spiral bound notebook. The secret journal I had been keeping all year, this most important final year of school. The last year of my high school career and my last chance at any kind of romance.

You see, when you’re going to be eighteen and have yet to find any semblance of true love, writing is the only therapy you have. I’ve never so much as gone on a date, let alone kissed a girl, so almost every day since last November, I’ve been writing.

It’s not that I never wanted to find love or anything like that. It just, well, it just never happened for some reason. And the strangest part of all was, I would write about anything and everything that was going on in my world, everything of course, except for the one thing that wasn’t: Love.

My writing ritual was always the same: right after my brother fell asleep and before my own head hit the pillow I would write about my day. Nothing long or drawn out, just something to remind me of what was going on in my life. And the entries would always be the same too: A quick refresher on what was going on with me musically followed by an update on homework assignments, car trouble or some other teenaged obsession.

Certain details of my day I always kept hidden, even to myself. Some things were better left unsaid. But today would be different. Today, aside from the fact that I was going to be writing in broad daylight, was the fact that today’s entry was going to be a doozy. One for the books. So with pen in hand I feverishly began to write:

3/18/1987:

I’ve gotten close to three hours of guitar practice in yesterday and hope to accomplish the same today. Pit band rehearsal at school seems to be going well. I’m going to master that part of “Leader of The Pack” even if it kills me. Not too much else happening….

There was a pause. Actually, there WAS a lot happening. My hand began to shake and my heart began to beat faster. What I was about to write was going to be something I’ve never written about before. Oh sure, I’ve thought about it many times but never put it down in words. And for a moment, I began to think about the consequences of my actions if my brother were to ever discover the journal and the words that would soon adorn the page.

You see, there are a two unwritten rules every boy follows on his journey to manhood. The first being never, ever keep a diary or a journal. Those things are for girls to draw rainbows on and write down school crushes. Boys should be more concerned about Michael Jordan and Ozzy.

The second, but just as important, never, EVER show your sensitive side. The fact that I was about to break both commandments at once should have raised the red flag for me. I was risking eternal ridicule, but in the end, I knew this was something I had to do:

I’m still after her. Yep, I think just sitting two tables away from her at lunch and moving my chair near her in choir class isn’t enough. Even though I know she looks at me and smiles, there are times when that Bon Jovi lyric comes to me:

If only she would look my way (Hey Hey)
But, “She don’t know me. She don’t see me
She can’t hear me. Heaven help Me!”

Somehow I wish she would notice me. Deep down, I know she’s right for me. In all of my seventeen years I’ve never felt this way before. Maybe time will tell.

Guest Post: Why I Admire My Mom

My daughter Jillian, a ten year old aspiring writer herself, penned today’s post. Enjoy!

“Sweetheart, breakfast  is ready!” Mom would call from downstairs. “Be there in a second!” I would say. My mom is a great cook that’s why I admire her! My magnificent mom is lovable, glamorous, and helps me tell the truth!

My snugly bunny is very lovable! If I’m ever scared or sad she’ll snuggle with me and of course that makes me feel better! If were ever watching a scary movie, I’ll hide in her arms or under the blanket  and she’ll say “Why are you so scared?” I’ll try to tell her the reason and she’ll snuggle! She will always say sorry. Sometimes my mother and I play tickle monster/ fight. If she accidentally hurt me she’ll feel really bad and say sorry, I would never say I didn’t forgive her.

My mom is nice to everyone she meets, if somebody needs help she’ll offer to, once a person lost their dog by it running up the street. My mom saw the dog while she was driving and she slammed on the breaks and got the dog, put it in the car and drove away to its owner. The owner was so happy that my mom caught the dog! My mom was so proud!

Cameras the lights THE fashion! My mom is glamorous, she is like America’s Next Top Model, and she always matches! OH NO there’s green and brown, that doesn’t match, black and green (The perfect match) “Black goes with everything!” she says! When me and my mom are in a hurry or late for the bus, she always makes things match. Once it was 7:05 and she still needed to take a shower. She got a shower, dried her hair, put her make up on, and made the most nicest outfit. It was a nice pretty pink flower shirt with white Capri jeans and some nice sandals! My mom always picks the best style…EVERYDAY! She always has something to touch it up! I love her sense of style.

My mom influences me to stand strong settle arguments and be strong willed! One day when me and my mom went to the park, a bully came up and said “Hey give me your snack!” I ignored him and walked away!  Sometimes when somebody is being mean to me or my friend I’ll stand strong stick up for my friend and I will kill the bully with niceness. That’s what my mom told me to do. She settles my arguments.

“Well Mommy has to go to work now. Time to get in your pen”, she would say.  I put on my best sad face and walk in.  Sure I’m sad but I’ll see her when she comes home. I may live a dogs life, but I still admire my mom.

My Imaginary Friend

At first I wasn’t sure if I should even tell you this story. Quite frankly, I was afraid that you might think I was crazy. I’m not talking “Oh, well we all have our moments” type crazy. No, I’m taking “put on the white straight jacket and throw me in the rubber room” crazy. But in the end I surmised that the notion of you thinking I was crazy pales in comparison to what actually happened to me and therapy hasn’t helped.

My doctor believes that writing this down might be cathartic for me since our sessions of late haven’t been going all that well. Sure, there have been some breakthroughs and revelations since my breakdown six months ago, although I’m still not even sure how I was able to suppress the memory of it for twenty years. He’s been wrong before, like the time he upped my medication and I slept for three days, but for the sake of my own sanity I’m willing to take his advice if it brings me closure.

You must understand that the thought of reliving events about my childhood and things that go bump in the night isn’t something that really appeals to me, but if it somehow brings me solace and gets me off of these meds I’m willing to take the chance. So here goes.

To tell this story properly requires a little explanation. Growing up, some children are prone to having imaginary friends. Some invisible person that comes to play with them, listens to their problems and talks to them in a voice only they can understand. A rite of passage some doctors believe may fill a void that exists in a child’s life. Something that’s very common and also quite healthy if you ask my shrink.

I too was one of those children who experienced the imaginary friend phenomenon growing up. But having the experience is where the similarities end. In those cases, the children all grew up to live normal lives. But in my case, the “friend” wasn’t invisible, didn’t come to play and surely didn’t give a damn about my problems. In reality (yeah, now there’s a funny word for it), my “friend” also wasn’t a person. Mine was actually a “thing” if you really want to know, and very far from imaginary.

When I was eight years old the visits started and they continued twice a week every summer for years. Always starting on the Summer Solstice, June 20th, and always the same way.

Deep in the night while tucked under the covers of my bed I could hear it. The scuffling from underneath. The sound that broke me out in sweat like a Pavlonian dog, making my heart race. Coming from the place I promised myself I’d never peek under for fear of what might come out and pull me down into darkness.

From the moment the sound began I quickly dismissed notion that it might be a mouse in the wall. Looking back, I wish it had been an army of rats. Anything would be better then what was coming.

I also quickly discovered that first summer that Spider Man wasn’t real either. The night light with the wall crawler on it that sat near my bedside, the one my Mom had bought me for Christmas, the one that religiously guarded me in my bed and vanquished all foes, would be of no help.

So I pulled the covers up to my nose and prayed to God to make it go away. Promising him that if he’d help me just this one time I’d be in church every Sunday for the rest of my life.

Telling myself that if I just close my eyes suddenly the sun would be shining and my mother would be yelling for me to come down for breakfast. I’d hear the sound of birds chirping outside my open window and the swaying of bed sheets hanging on the neighbor’s clothes line in the warm summer breeze. The smell of bacon would fill the air and I would reassure myself that last night was only just a bad dream.

But this wasn’t a dream. I was still under the covers in the middle of the night and could hear rain pelting the window outside. Worse still, I was too scared to call out for help as the shadow began to rise from under my bed.

Dear Jim Letter

It was a rainy Saturday morning and very apropos if you ask me. I awoke to the sound of thunder and could sleep no longer. As I stumbled down the stairs listening to the rain pound on the rooftop the grumpiness I once had for the Sandman’s lack of personal attention slowly began to subside.

You see, the routine I have every Saturday morning is simple and never changes. I like to sit on my nice comfy couch, drink coffee and read the morning newspaper. My wife and daughter would still be asleep and there’d be no television or phone calls. Just peace and quiet. Caffeine and news print. This was definitely “ME” time. And the idea that I was awake even earlier than usual only reinforced my joy. I knew that now I’d have even more quiet time alone then usual. So all I could think about was getting the old Keurig fired up, grabbing the newspaper and curling up on the couch. The fact that I could also listen to an early summer rainstorm in the background was a bonus.

The kitchen seemed darker than usual this morning. Natural light had just begun to fill the room and I could see the rain pounding the outside window above the sink. The sound of the refrigerator turning itself on was comforting. But that’s when I noticed something was missing from the nearby family room.

The big comfy couch. The one that I spend my Saturday mornings reading newspapers and drinking coffee on was gone. Surprisingly, all of the end tables and lamps were still in their places. Even my beloved 50″ flat screen television that was my portal to Hollywood and grid iron games was still mounted on the wall untouched. Only the couch was gone.

My heart sank as I thought immediately that my home had been robbed overnight. I thought of all the things that would be missing and all the horrible things that could have been done to my family while we slept. I reached for the phone to dial the police but noticed a simple white letter lying on the kitchen table. The hand writing on it was one that I didn’t recognize. Too neat to be my daughter and not in the style of my wife.

Something told me to pick it up and read it. The paper was white and crisp and the ink on the page barely dry. I’ll read it to you now verbatim:

Dearest Jim,

I know this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be done. Writing like this. But it’s the only option I have left. I’ve put up with a lot these past few years and I am left with nothing but tears.

Being with you has been wonderful at times. You’ve taught me so much and for that I will always be grateful.

But the time has come to say goodbye. We’re simply not meant to be together.

I’ll always cherish the way you’d leave crumbs from your sandwiches and popcorn lying in my cushions. The long naps we’d take together. The laughs we’d share when you’d “accidentally” break wind on me. But most of all, I’ll remember our Saturdays together.

Sadly though, you have your ways and I have mine. Nothing in the middle seems to make sense.

I do still love you. But the pain that lies beneath the happiness has become more than I can take. We are too good to settle for something that will just never be.

I wish you everything good life has to offer and a happiness that will endure.

Goodbye,

Couch

A tear came to my eye and there was a feeling of emptiness in my heart. I won’t sugar coat it.  I’m the first to admit that I’m not perfect. And I’ve had plenty of relationships end badly before. I can’t remember if I’ve ever received a “Dear Jim” letter before but there is one thing I do know. I’ve never been dumped by a couch. Ever.

As the Keurig finished brewing I took in a deep breath and blew it out. Rain continued to pound on the roof and for a moment I felt like dashing out and finding my beloved. In the end though I realized I had to just let it go and move on.

I dragged a chair from the kitchen table to where the couch used to be and sat down. The coffee didn’t taste as good as it normally does. I only hope this isn’t a sign of the way Saturday mornings were now going to be.

The Phone Call

I decided to try something a bit different. Let me know what you think:

Chicago has always been my kind of town. I’ve been there several times, mostly on business or training, and did not regret a single minute of it.  From the moment I enter the subway at O’Hare and take the Red Line south there’s a familiarity about it that almost feels like home.

Here I was again arriving alone for more training on software the hospital I work for uses. No one ever goes to training with me at work and, quite frankly, it doesn’t really bother me. I actually like flying solo on my excursions. But I never realized that this visit would change me in ways I didn’t think possible.

I had just finished eating my usual deep dish pizza at the original Uno restaurant. Yes, the one that started it all. Don’t bother going to the chain ones you see. Those just aren’t the same. Corporate always has a way of ruining things. But I highly recommend the original if you’re in town. I like to sit at the bar and order a Chicago Classic when I’m there. That and a Goose 312. The deep dish and beer is more than enough to put me into food coma for the rest of the night.

As I waddled outside into the twilight I began to take in the whole Chicago vibe. The lights on the Harley Davidson store down the street caught my eye and although they don’t actually sell the motorcycles there it was a place to go to get some swag. A way to be biker even if you didn’t ride. I began to wonder how a store like that stays in business in downtown Chicago. I surmised that just the presence of Harley Davidson in the big city was more than enough for the company to just pump endless amounts of cash into an unprofitable store.

I thought about the possibility of taking in a Cubs game if the conference sessions got out at a reasonable time.  That is, unless the sales guy wants to take a bunch of attendees out to dinner. I was never one to pass up a free meal. And in my world free food trumps baseball every time. I could easily find time to hob nob and chat with other people from different hospitals I’d probably never see again. Provided of course, a steak was involved. 

And that’s when I noticed it.

It was all too familiar but something I hadn’t seen for a very long time in it’s natural habitat. I was standing next to what was probably the last phone booth on the face of the Earth. The same one that has the word “Telephone” etched across it or the one that Clark Kent used to change into Superman. The ones I thought had gone the way of the dinosaur since cell phones became all the rage. 

I’ve always loved using the old school phone. Even when I was around eight or nine and would only receive maybe one or two calls a week from the neighbor kid across the street, the whole telephone process fascinated me. As a child I loved how you could pick up a receiver and roto dial (we’re talking “old school” here) a number and someone else would answer. And when my family finally talked AT&T into giving us a push button phone, I was living in the big time for sure.

I even have some battle wounds to show for my phone touting experience. But the scars are in a place I usually keep covered. You see, I used to like to dial the operator just for the hell of it. There’s something about dialing a zero that was just too good to pass up.

Of course, when she would answer I would always giggle and then hang up.  And after about the third or fourth time doing so my father would later receive a phone call from her scolding him for allowing children to dial the operator. Let’s just say it didn’t end well for me.

And don’t get me started about those old “Dial a Joke” Jim Backus commercials on television. “Just call 976-JOKE for today’s joke… CALL NOW!”, Mr Howell would plead. And who was I to pass up anything when the guy who also played Mr. Magoo told me to call? I think at one point my ass was red for a week when the phone bill had an extra $25 on it from me half listening to his stupid jokes at 99 cents a minute. Funny now, not funny then.

Even before Dad passed away three years ago I still remember us having a good laugh about it at his bedside. As the IV’s pumped morphine into him and he was in so much pain it was unbearable something about me telling him the red ass phone stories made him laugh so hard it was infectious. And for a moment I wondered if  laughter could possibly be the cure for cancer. It was not.

But yeah, me and the phone go way back together.

This booth actually still had the phone book dangling from one of those little chains and I imagined how many people let their fingers do the walking over the years. I had a strange urge to see what year the phone book actually said. My guess would be 2001. But before I could verify and claim victory for my guess the phone abruptly started ringing. Ringing and no one there to answer it. No one but me.

Ring one.

Now I was never one to pass up an opportunity. Or maybe it was my subconscious telling me that it was Jim Backus calling but that deviant young kid who liked to have his phone fun started to come out. I’m in a big city, there’s no possiblity of a red ass and besides, I have absolutely nothing to do until my training conference starts tomorrow.  So I began thinking of ways I would answer the phone. Would I say something like “Dave’s Pizza – We Deliver”? Or maybe I could talk in a Chinese voice and be the dry cleaner down the street. Either way, this was going to be good.

Ring two.

Just to be sure, I  looked around again  just to verify that no one else was there waiting for a call and slowly stepped into the booth. I could feel the claustrophobia of the small booth and the smell of old cigarettes engulfed me but I was on a mission.  

Ring three.

When I finally picked up the receiver I had already decided on being a rep for Dave’s Pizza.

“Dave’s Pizza – We Deliver. Can I take your order?”, I said.

That’s when my heart-felt like it stopped. I could feel a vacuum in the phone booth taking out all of the air. It was hard for me to breathe. Dave’s Pizza was out of business and everything turned to black and white. The person on the other end simply said “Jimmy… Jimmy it’s me”…

“Dad?”….

How I Got Out Of Mowing The Lawn

So..

I’m sitting down in the basement watching a MASH marathon. Something I don’t get to do too often since the show went off the air thirty years ago and is now on television in syndication only rarely.  And before you go and say anything about why I don’t just go and get the complete collection on DVD or streaming it someplace let me spare you the trouble.

Having every episode on some disc sitting around to play whenever I want is NOTHING compared to the euphoria you get when flipping through the channels and finding your favorite show on. Because when it comes my faves, I still get giddy when I turn on the television and there it is. And I also like the randomness of not knowing which episode it is too. Don’t judge.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes…. So there I am watching Hawkeye and BJ putting shaving cream on Frank Burn’s face for about the five billionth time when in walks my miffed significant other.  I know she can see the happiness in my eyes watching my boys from the four-oh-double-seven.  She is fully aware of my love for the show. I’m eating nachos and enjoying the good life of reliving the Korean War through the eyes of guys named Trapper, Radar and Klinger.  I am in my happy place. She none the less isn’t so amused.

Apparently, there is a jungle growing out in the yard. A runaway lawn has gotten too out of control and must be addressed. For me, such things do not take precedence over watching Klinger dressing like a woman and trying to eat a Jeep to get out of the army. She had been wanting me to cut it for the longest time. I said I was going to, but that was before I stumbled upon MASH.  She didn’t say a word though. Just stood there. Staring at me.

So after the stare down has gotten to be too much I did something I rarely do. Please forgive me Colonel Potter….

I put the TV on mute.

That’s right, turned off the sound to one of my all time favorite television shows. There was another ten or fifteen second  moment of silence. The tension in the air was so strong you could cut it with a knife.  Then finally, she spoke.

“You know, you are wasting your life away watching a show that you’ve seen a thousand times already…”

Again, more silence.

I slowly took another bite out of my nacho. The beef and cheesy combination only reminded me that I needed to get back to Korea as soon as possible. So after washing it down with some cold beer,  I cleared my throat and responded with the following:

Honey? I did some research. The average person spends approximately 8-10 minutes every day going to the bathroom (both number one and number two). Mind you, the time could increase depending upon many factors such as drunken nights or eating bad Chinese but let’s just use “ten” as a baseline. This includes the act itself and assuming you use proper hygiene methods afterwards. That equates out to more or less an hour a week.

I multiplied that by 52 and got 52 hours for a year. Follow me? Then I multiplied that again by 75 for the years of an average life span. (I didn’t tell her, but I would have subtracted some time for those early years where we all have incontinence issues and Mom and Dad had to take care of hygiene. But I didn’t want to make this issue too complicated).

Finally, I divided this number by 24 for hours in a day.

Do you know what I discovered Sweetheart? The average person spends almost a full half year of their entire life either taking a leak or dropping a deuce. Yep, we spend 6 months in the toilet. Amazing isn’t it? What a waste of time (pun intended).

Now I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather spend that time watching MASH then sitting on the pot. Wouldn’t you agree?

Silence.

She shook her head and walked away. I raised my bottle of beer and gave myself a toast. Looks like the grass will have to wait. At least until MASH is over.

Oooh…King Kong Vs. Godzilla is coming on next….

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