Our “Brief” Encounter

Throughout history, there has been a dearth of volunteers to work kitchen duty. One of my wife's favorite sayings is, "We only have a kitchen because it came with the house." Being the parents of three children and having hosted a cadre of their friends, we haven't forgotten the mountain of work it requires to feed and clean up a kitchen after a party.

I remember one exhausting day during those teenager years, I looked around the house like it had been hit by a tornado and exclaimed, "We don't have children, we have locusts!"

Now that our children have grown and left the nest, we "feel" for those individuals who are left with a ton of work after the last of the party goers have vanished. So like the biblical character Martha, we tend to stick around until the end of a celebration to help clean up.

One night many years ago, we were invited to some church friend's home for a Christmas party. Their place was teeming with guests, most of whom we had never made acquaintance. To keep from mindless chatter and chit-chat conversations, we chose to work in the kitchen, it's safer and we always felt more productive. The night seemed to go on forever as sunset comes early in northern New England.  Finally the last of the guests said their goodbyes and we wrapped up our self imposed duties of cleaning up.

The soiree must have worn out the hosts because as we said so long to them, the outside light went off the moment we reached our car in their driveway. Moments later as we we began to strap our children into their car seats, our friends in the house did the most unexpected thing. Thinking everyone had gone, they rushed into their bedroom like they'd been shot out of a cannon and began to undress in front of their large picture windows. With lights still blazing inside, we saw them undressing faster than Superman finding an empty phone booth.

Before we could even get into the front seat, we watched in horror as pants and blouses were thrown about the room as if they were being ejected by a threshing machine. Now down to their underwear, it was then as the lady of the house began to unhook her bra strap,  I panicked. My wife with urgency said, "Let's get out of here before they see us!" I whispered back, "I can't! We're only 25 feet from their window, if they see our lights, they'll be mortified!"

Thinking quickly, I said to my wife, "Don't turn on the lights, scoot over into the drivers seat, I have an idea. Place the car in neutral and I'll push you out the driveway." My wife said, "But the house sits on an incline." I knew that if I could get a running start, the car could just go slightly up the hill as it left their property. I then could hop into the car and glide down their hill out of view, where I could then turn on our lights.

As I huffed and puffed our sizable car out their long driveway to freedom, I dared not turn around. I would have to change churches and friends if they reached their birthday suits. I'd always seen them in church looking so prim and proper, I didn't want to be educated otherwise. I'm convinced God gave me the extra oomph to get our beast of a car out of their driveway. My cheeks were doubly red as I huffed and puffed and eventually jumped into the drivers seat; one from the cold and the other from…..well you know.

Since that time I have had short, long, and small encounters with friends and acquaintances. It has been 30 years since that "brief" encounter, here's hoping for another 30 before the next one.

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Where is All the Laughter?

It has been a long time since I put pen to paper.  No I’m not ignoring you, but laughter seems harder to come by…excluding my paycheck of course.

It seemed only a few years ago, I could write funny stories with great relish. Now I start each day as if I’m looking at life through a circus mirror. You know the ones I’m talking about, you’ve seen them countless times and laughed. You’d stand there with your kids, pointing, looking at yourself bloated and out of focus, with a huge head and would then double over laughing. Except now I’m getting the same effect in front of my bathroom mirror and I’m only in a towel.

Nothing wipes away a smile more than seeing a caricature of yourself becoming…well, you. Recently because of a bum knee, I rented an electric scooter to traverse an amusement park. As my young acting wife and daughter energetically went from one roller coaster ride to another, I could be found sitting on my little zippy ride looking like an octogenarian. Getting bored and feeling self conscious, I found myself whistling over to the dipping dot ice cream shack for a space age treat.

I still don’t understand how an ice cream can be so therapeutic on a scorching day, but it miraculously minimizes even the embarrassment of using a geriatric  scooter. I felt like a kid. As I ate my treat and licked the spoon, I swung my legs and had not a care in the world.

I beg to differ with experts that say, “the first thing that begins to go is the hearing.” I believe it’s pride. By the late afternoon I had no shame if anyone was laughing or mocking me, I was popping wheelies and beeping my pathetic little scooter horn with abandon. It was extremely satisfying. By the end of the long day, I even reverted back to my childhood. My wife kept saying over and over again, “We can get another little scooter tomorrow Johnny, let’s go home now to beddy bye and night night.”

I’m not saying electric scooters are the cure for what ills the earth, but wouldn’t road rage be relegated to giggles and snorts if an angry voice were to be followed by the piercing sound of a Fisher Price horn?

Today I’ve decided to find my laughs riding a scooter at Walmart; now that’s a two-fer if I ever heard one.

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Here, Buy Some Chalk

Throughout my life I have been the eternal optimist. I believe that down the road of life a little further, good things will come my way. I am cognizant that on my journey, I will hit unwanted toll booths, breakdowns, and flats, but I always focus on the journey ahead.

Some years ago while visiting a church friend, he asked me how many miles I had on my car? I answered over 200,000 miles. He was aghast. I remember as I was departing he said to me, “If I had that many miles on my car, I’d be too scared to go anywhere beyond the county line.” I laughed and drove away. As I recounted that conversation, I felt sorry for him. If I had lived with that kind of fear, I would have missed out on a vacations to Florida, missed visiting New England, nor gone beyond the borders of my neighborhood.

Some might call it ignorance, others may say it’s blind faith. For me, I call it life. My friend often bemoaned that he couldn’t go anywhere. He thought I had a lot of money, I did not. What I had was no fear, an abundance of optimism, a sense of thriftiness and good choices.

Countless times in my life, I have helped individuals to the detriment of my own wallet. The reason I do so is because I feel blessed, I want individuals to have what I have. I want them to have a sense of adventure and a boatload of peace. Sadly often times my attempt at “blessing” them in reality hurts them.

Recently for the second time in four months a transient called me in the early morning hours and rattled off the same story he did before. Despite my assistance in January, his circumstances and story never changed. I made several phone calls to agencies who had served him, yet each time, his story didn’t add up. As I declined to assist him this time, he got angry. Sadly, that’s the response I’m getting more accustomed too.

I can’t explain why I’m often asked for money from strangers and acquaintances. Maybe it’s because I need to lose weight this year. I have a bowl full of jelly for a body, so I must be Santa.

I’m not immune to the sufferings of individuals, I listen to their hard luck stories with rapt attention. But sometimes I can’t help but think, we need to have some honest dialogue with those who seek our resources. Can we at least point them in the direction of some of their own life choices?

I recall the story of a woman who never addressed her own sad choices in life and it drove her boyfriend crazy; it was always someone else’s fault. Expecting a nice birthday gift from him, she was stunned to find that all she got after unwrapping her gift was a box of chalk. Furious, she asked why he had gotten her such a stupid gift. To which he answered, “You play the victim so well, I thought it was a perfect choice.” No word on if the relationship succeeded, but I applaud his bravado. If you’re short of chalk for someone like this in your life, ask me, I’m heading to Walmart right now, I’m buying a big box.

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Facing My Fear

It was my first full summer in the Lone Star State; I was a sophomore in college. I had grown up in New England where the thermometer flirted in the low 90’s maybe twice a summer. Now that I was a resident, I was not fully prepared for Texas’s hot summers. This was a whole another world from Vermont. I quickly learned that hell doesn’t scare a Texan. It’s due to the fact that when you leave the comforts of air conditioning, you feel as if you are bobbing for french fries with the fryer on.

I had met a kindly older couple earlier in the fall and they were desperate for one or two young men to mow their lawn while they sought cooler summer temperatures in Minnesota. Since the first half of my summer was extremely busy for me, I made an agreement with another young man that he mow their lawn in May and June, I would take July and August. It was early in July when I finally made it to their little old home. It was down a dusty dirt road. What pitfalls could I possibly run into? They only lived on a little country road called Copperhead Lane. As I pulled up into their driveway, my heart sank. The young man who had promised to be their caretaker of the lawn, had not only neglected his duty, but had not mowed it even once. The grass was almost waist high.

As I wheeled their trusty lawnmower out of their utility shed, dodging mutant red wasps in the process, I checked the fluid levels. Now several pulls on the starter and a kick or two later, I had the motor finally running. Before starting my swath, I raised the blade. I knew it would require a double mowing, the lawn resembled more of an amber waves of grain theme. As the lawnmower lurched forward, something surreal happened. The whole yard came to life. I repeat, the whole yard came to life. Like a withering mirage on a distant road, the blades of grass spewed within its stems hundreds and hundreds of tarantulas. Hidden among the grass was the largest colony of venomous  spiders I had ever seen in my life.

If they had run towards me, I would still be running to this day. My only point of reference for this creature was on a pillow in a James Bond movie. It would be planted there to kill an unsuspecting bad guy. As I jumped back to watch this mass migration, I noticed the noise and vibration of the mower had them teeming into the far side of the lawn.

Angry and fearful that this infestation would probably make my job far more difficult, I ran over one humongous spider the size of my palm with my lawnmower tire. Crushed, it rolled into a ball the size of my thumb nail. It was at this point that I felt foolish. Though the spider had seemed gigantic to me, it was a fraudulent portrayal. It was all legs and he was more frightened of me than I was of him.

As I contemplated my next move, I decided I wouldn’t be in such a hurry as planned. I resigned myself to the fact that the lawn would take forever to mow today, because these majestic spiders needed safe passage to wherever they were going next. I never became a lover of Tarantulas, but I learned to respect them; there is strength in numbers. I am in agreement however with the adage, “Whatever we fear, makes us stronger”. It’s ironic, it’s been 30 years since that day, and for me, it’s still a piece of advice that has legs.

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