Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How May I Help You?

I consider myself more patient than most people. I typically avoid things and places, like the super-center  that I know will likely annoy me. If I go into a super-center  then I do it during off-peak hours and for only one or two specific items. That was the case today and I went straight to the garden section. It was only 9:00 AM so I expected that the store would not be very busy.

The first thing that I noticed in the super-center was that the employees weren't wearing those ridiculous vests, with the sign on the back that reads HOW MAY I HELP YOU? I've been a firm believer that it should read CATCH ME IF YOU CAN because they’re always running away from me. I have never experienced a super-center employee volunteering assistance unless they thought that I was a 911 possibility. Even then some of them had tunnel vision as I sat on a merchandise shelf with my head hanging in the boredom of waiting on my wife.

I found the plastic garden hose fittings that I wanted in the garden section. I prefer plastic fittings as our well water contains sulfur and tends to corrode brass and copper fittings. When I got to the check-out in the garden section there was a woman waiting in line in front of me with groceries.

I understand why customers bring non-garden section items to the cashier there. It’s one of the main reasons why I avoid the super-center. There is always a log jam at the check-out.

The sheeple don’t seem to mind waiting in lines 4-8 sheeple deep. However, real people, who value their time, are naturally going to seek an alternative, such as the jewelry counter or garden section cashier if they only have a few items. Therein is the reason that I became annoyed.

The woman in front of me, at that garden section check-out, had the shopping cart chuck full of, what must have been, her full week of grocery shopping. I usually don’t complain. I just leave and don’t come back, at least, for a long while.

I put my stuff back on the shelf and left. As I passed the grocery shopper on my way out I couldn't resist saying something.

“That’s bullshit to bring that much stuff in here.”

She babbled something about letting others go ahead her but she just had to get going. I showed her the back of my hand with four of my five digits curled and tucked into my palm. No, I’m not proud of it. I always get angry with myself when I let my temper dictate my actions.

There was another super-center a few miles away and near a home store that I planned to stop at. I was calmed down when I walked into the second super-center garden section. Unfortunately, the specific fittings that I wanted were not in stock on the shelves. I left for the home store.

When I walked into the home store I was greeted by a friendly fellow who offered me a shopping cart and asked if I needed help to find anything.

“I’m specifically looking for a bladder tank for my well system I know the general area where they’ll be. If you can narrow it down more, I’d appreciate it.”

“Uh… a bladder tank… uh… that would be in plumbing!”

“Hey, that’s great! You’re even more help than a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest.”

The guy looked confused. I doubted that he had picked up on my sarcasm. I nocked another arrow and took better aim.

“Was your previous job at the super-center?”

His face twisted even more. It was as if his face was just a paper target over an emptiness incapable of receiving and holding anything that was sent into it.

On the way to plumbing, I was intercepted by an air conditioner tout. One the local air conditioning service and installation companies is in bed with the home store to fatten the margins of both companies. The air conditioning people use the home store as a backdrop to give themselves more exposure. In turn, the home store gets a cut of sales.

“ I've talked you people before,” I told the guy. “You should put my mug shot up on your wall with a note that says to leave me alone.”

“Why? What happened?”

I told the story of how one of their people had chased me down the aisle until I agreed to get an estimate for a new energy-saving air conditioner. I was having air conditioner problems at the time but couldn't afford a totally new installation. I was told that the only way to do the job was to replace the entire unit at a cost of $4200.

I disagreed and asked for an estimate to repair or replace the leaking evaporator coil. That estimate was $2200. I ultimately got the job done by another service for $1100. The guy laughed.

“One of us thinks that is funny,” told him. His grin faded and I walked off.

I found the area of the two plumbing aisles, near the pumps, where the bladder tanks should be but didn't see any tanks. Two store employees were stocking shelves in other plumbing aisle. I walked over to them and realized right away that I forgot to leave my Harry Potter invisible cloak at home.

“Can you tell when to find the bladder tanks?”

Luckily, they could near me, even though, they couldn't see me.

They’re in the next aisle over.” He pointed to where I just came from.

“Okay, I was just there. I must have walked by them.”

Now they acted as if they were deaf as well as blind.

The bladder tanks were, in fact, near the pumps but six-feet up on a shelf. No wonder that I didn't see them. To make matters worse, they were double stacked so I had to reach another two-feet. With my finger tips, I inched the box off until it fell and then I caught it before it fell to the floor.

On my way home I decided to go a little distance past home and stop at another super-center  I really needed the plastic garden hose fittings. It turned out to be a bad idea.

At the check-out there was a customer at the register and man behind her who had come in from the main store. I was behind him. There were two registers and two store employees but only one employee was working a register. I assumed that the other employee was a leak in the payroll.

I don’t know what the issue was but the customer at the register was taking much longer than a normal transaction. Meanwhile, the line was getting longer with more customers from the main store. When the line was about ten people deep, the payroll leak decided to go to work. She opened the second register and offered to assist the next customer in line.

That was the man in front of me. He simply nodded to the people at the end of the line who were nearest to the second the register and told them to go ahead. The people at the end of the long line hurried up to the second register with their non-garden section items.

It’s not their fault. If there wasn't a log jam in the main check-out then they wouldn't need to come to the garden section check-out. Nonetheless, by now I had experienced all of the fun that I could stand for one day. Everyone has their limit.

I tossed my garden hose fittings onto the top of the soft drink cooler beside the check-out and walked out. I may get over it someday but right now I’m prepared to starve, go naked and without garden hose fittings if the super-center is the only place on earth where I can buy food, clothing and gardening supplies.

The super-center boasts of being the largest retailer in the world. So was Sear’s once upon an ancient time. If their history isn't enough make the super-center rethink their retail practices then they might be advised to review the Kmart syndrome.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Showering Naked in Public

Angie got off of the bus at her usual stop and was walking the rest of the short distance to her office when something seemed odd. There was a bicyclist securing his bicycle to the bike rack. That didn't seem odd but there was, nonetheless, something that was causing a very strange feeling in her.

She walked by as the bicyclist finished locking up his bicycle. He was a good looking man about her age with fair skin and red hair showing around the edges of his helmet. The spandex bicycling clothes accented his fit body.

Angie felt physically attracted to this man but it had to do with more than his handsome appearance. Whatever it was, he was still eye candy. Her eyes, as well as her steps, followed him as he picked up his bag and hurried ahead of her.

The bicyclist went a short distance up the sidewalk and turned off of the sidewalk toward the parking garage. It was there that Angie saw what was different. She had walked this length of sidewalk everyday for years and had never before noticed that there was a shower set back off of the sidewalk and slightly into the city-owned parking garage.

The shower was designed like a beach shower with six shower heads in a circle that faced outward from the center post to which they were mounted. There were no walls with exception of a partial wall that separated the shower area from the parking garage. Along the partial wall were some coin-operated lockers and a bench that ran the length of the lockers.

Completely forgetting about going to work, Angie’s curiosity led her toward the shower area in continued pursuit of the man. There was a park bench just outside of the shower area but facing toward the shower. Angie stopped in front of the park bench as the bicyclist opened a locker and deposited his bag.

The next thing to happen would have seemed obvious in a less public context. Whether it was from the shock of seeing this man strip in her full view or her carnal desire to watch, Angie didn't know. Either way, her knees bent to place her sitting on the park bench with her eyes shamelessly locked on the show. The man peeled off his last article of his sweat-soaked clothing revealing that he did not have skivvies under the spandex pants.

Angie recalled an experience when she had picked up her brother at the airport upon his return from Marine Corp boot camp. A voluptuous woman in her early twenties was walking toward them and Bobbie’s eyes were locked on the girl like radar on a hard target. The pretty young woman was dressed such that there was no way that she could bend, stoop or sit without giving up some secrets. If she had sneezed, she would have spilled her minimally fettered melons.

Angie had been embarrassed by her brother’s leering and chided him for it in a low voice. Lacking any of her discretion he had spoke his opinion loudly and boldly.

“If she’s proud enough to show it, then I’m proud enough to look at it!”

The young woman had heard Bobbie’s indiscretion and was openly embarrassed. She had glanced at Bobbie and then quickened her step away from him. Angie had been furious with him.

Today, however, as she looked at this handsome naked man, showering in the parking garage, she had empathy for Bobbie’s attitude on that day in the airport. The man did not seem to avoid looking her way but, at the same time, he didn't make eye contact with her as he bathed. It was as if the park bench was empty.

The man’s body was taut and fit but it was not body builder muscular. With his back to her, Angie admired full and solid gluts below a strong back. The man turned to face in Angie’s direction.

The chest and shoulders were not especially broad but they were lean and strong looking. There was distinct shape to his pectorals, deltoids, biceps and triceps. Unblemished white skin stretched deliciously over these fit forms.

Angie’s eyes followed the man’s red down-covered chest and tight stomach to the thicker red bush below. From within the soap and water saturated hair poked the cool-air-shrunken version of what made this man a man. Her imagination wandered to unmentionable regions as this length of flesh danced and flipped from side to side with the man’s bathing of himself.

Angie felt her mouth turning into a pleased smile as the man looked her way again. This time he made eye contact, nodded and smiled at her. Her budding smile blossomed with her pleasure of his acknowledgement. He never looked back again, as he bathed, but that had been enough to embolden her. She wanted to leave her phone number with him. At least, if he called, she would know that this had not been a dream.

Trying not to be obvious, Angie dug into her purse for her business card wallet. No, she thought, that wouldn't be a good idea. Giving out her cell phone number was one thing but if this guy was turned out to be a pervert and a stalker then she didn't need him knowing where she worked. The man was toweling off now.

As she dug around in her purse again, all notions of discretion left her. She just had to give this gorgeous naked man her phone number. Then she amused herself with a thought. It wasn't that big of a rush. She should, at least, wait until he had on a pocket in which to put her phone number before she handed it to him.

Angie found an old cash receipt in the bottom of her purse as the man dressed. She wrote her first name and cell phone number on it. The man was dressed now in business attire minus a necktie and jacket. Angie froze with ambivalence as he took his bag, closed the locker and turned in her direction.

Was she throwing herself at the guy? Would he think that she was going to be an easy lay? Maybe this was how he picked up women. She was torn between desire and defense.

As he walked past Angie’s park bench, the man made deliberate eye contact with her, smiled big and told her to have a great day. She brightened from her confusion and returned his smile with equal enthusiasm.

“And the same to you,” she replied without allowing her eyes to follow him as he passed. She was regaining her sense of reality and she didn't get up from the park bench immediately. If he turned to look at her again she was going to appear occupied. She didn't want to appear needy or na├»ve.

With the man’s second acknowledgement of her, when he left, Angie took it to mean that the game was on and she was offered first serve. She was definitely interested but she wasn't going to throw away all sense of caution. As she was feigning preoccupation, Angie checked for her revolver in the hidden pocket of her purse.

Satisfied that the man had enough time to be well on his way, Angie left and headed for work. She casually scanned the surroundings for signs that the man might actually be a stalker.

About mid-morning Angie confirmed with Lisa, her best friend at work, that she could go out for lunch and it would just be the two of them. By the time that lunch came around, Angie was ready to bust if she didn't tell somebody what had happened to her that morning, whether it was believable or not. Lisa was very primed for the fact that Angie had emphasized that they go to lunch alone.

Angie went through the whole story about the gorgeous guy on the bicycle but left out the part about the shower. Lisa was naturally curious so she probed for more information. She could tell that Angie was holding back something.

The nice thing about Lisa was that only half of the office would know what Angie had told her before the end of the day. With anybody else in the office, she might as well just make an announcement on the building public address system. On their walk back to the office, Angie routed them past the shower at the parking garage.

For curiosity and a reality check she had to see the shower. It was there, and so much for reality. For the curiosity, she pointed to the shower and asked Lisa if she was aware the shower was there.

“Oh yes! It’s been there for several months or more. The city put it there to encourage alternative commuting and fitness.”

“The bicyclist that I told you about went in there and showered naked.”

“Yeah! So?” Lisa looked confused.

“Lisa, he stripped down and showered naked right there in public! Doesn't that seem, at least, a little odd to you?”

“So… what did you expect him to do Angie, shower with his clothes on so that he could do laundry at the time?”

This is the first story of a series. The second story can be found here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

One Smile Makes the Day Shine

Another day of shopping and there is no shortage of rude, inconsiderate and possibly plain stupid people. As I was cruising along a two-lane roadway, at a little less than the 45 MPH posted speed limit, the driver of a mini-van ripped rubber off of his tires to come out of a parking lot in front of me. I slowed a little more but it wasn't necessary. He continued to accelerate like he had just had an argument with his wife and was showing her what for.

This type of driving behavior doesn't bother me. This people are eventually going to have an accident but, when they do, I won’t be participating. Curiosity made me look in my rear-view mirror again, though, as the traffic didn't seem heavy enough to warrant such risk just to enter the through-way.

Sure enough, there was nothing behind me. The driver needed only wait for me to pass for a safe entry. Whatever he had going on was, evidently, more important than the safety of himself or others on road.

In the parking lot of the supermarket, I came up behind a pedestrian who was walking dead center in the traffic lane. With my car only 10-15 feet behind her she walked along as if she were the only one in the world. She didn't stop at the stop sign, either.

In my less tolerant days, I would have blasted the horn at her in hope that one of her bodily functions would manifest betrayal on her jeans. I couldn't help but wonder if she was deaf. It’s a real possibility with the way that she was behaving. Then again, if she didn't see the stop sign then maybe she was blind too.

Inside the store, the free morning brunch crowd was at the free sample troughs as usual. I wouldn't mind so much if they’d just get their free food and move on. But no, they have to oink down two or three samples before getting out of the way.

When I came back out of the store, there was mini-van that seemed as the driver was having great difficulty negotiating the turn from the parking lane to the stop sign at the cross walk in front of the store entrance. I hesitated at first as I was unsure of what was happening with the driver. He finally made the turn, stopped for the stop sign and then drove in front of me as I started to cross.

He grinned big at me and waved. Then I saw the problem. He was teaching his dog to drive. A flat-faced, bug-eyed, yapper-sized dog was in the driver’s lap with two front feet on the steering wheel.

It seemed kind of odd to me. I won’t even let my dog ride in the front seat for fear of the airbag hurting him in an accident. He’s a very smart dog but I just never thought of teaching him to drive.

As I was leaving the parking lot I came up behind a pick-up truck that I assumed was second in line at the stop sign waiting to get out into the street. I waited patiently but then I realized that there was no traffic passing on the street. I eased out past the pick-up truck enough to see that he was about 20 feet back from the stop sign with nothing in front of him.

Thinking that maybe he was broken down I eased on around him. The driver didn't see me pass. His head was down as if doing something stupid with a smart phone. The worst of it was that he had stopped next to a line-up of empty parking places that he could have pulled into to avoid blocking the traffic lane.

With all of these people to test my abundant patience I was blessed with the glow of an angel with two cherubs in tow. When I stopped at the crosswalk stop sign, in front of the store entrance, a young mother was there with two toddlers and full shopping cart. She had her hands full.

The younger of the two children was in the child seat of the shopping cart. It took both of the mother’s hands to control the cart so the three-year-old alongside of her was not tethered by a parental hand hold.

By the mother’s movements I thought that she was going to pass behind me instead of in front of me. I waited, nonetheless, in case that I was wrong or in event that the toddler bolted in front of my car. Toddlers are highly unpredictable in such situations.

I know this because I was, long ago, a toddler myself. In addition, I reared three toddlers safely to the challenge of teen age. I also have had refreshers on toddlers by being around my grandchildren.

What made this situation special was that when the mother passed beside my car to go behind me, as I thought that she would, she gave me the sweetest smile and said, “thank you.” That little bit of glowing thoughtfulness was worth all of the tolerance that I had afforded all of the jerks that I had encountered during the rest of the day.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ridiculous Labels

Yesterday, while I had the dogs outside for stretch, one of them rolled over on the driveway and writhed around in an effort to scratch his back. I reached to scratch his belly for him too and noticed the letter N in the form of a tattoo near the sheath of his penis. The county shelter put this tattoo on him as an indicator that he was neutered. It was a good thing that they did this too.  No one would ever have noticed that just an inch from the tattoo, his scrotum was shrunken to nothingness for lack of testicles.

Cups containing hot drinks have warnings on them to indicate that one might be scalded by the contents. Personally, I think that when you are handed a cup of hot coffee at a drive-thru window that you should be given a verbal warning also.

Think about it. Nobody makes a habit of reading their coffee cup. Even if you were handed the morning newspaper at a drive-thru window, you’re not going to read it right there.

Sooner or later, somebody is going to dance the scalded privates mamba immediately after leaving a drive-thru because they set the cup between their legs. Then an overly zealous ambulance chasing lawyer is going to try to bring another civil suit against the restaurant like was done to cause the printed labels on hot cups in the first place. Drive-thru restaurants need to be a little more proactive.

Back during my first memories of my father smoking they didn't have warning labels on cigarette packaging. I don’t think that practice started until I was a teenager. However, I didn't need a warning label to know that smoking was not a good thing to do. My father told me over and over and over while he carried on his four packs per day habit that I should never smoke.

If that wasn't enough to convince me then witnessing my father suffering the effects of smoking in his mid to late thirties should have been. I remember seeing him totally incapacitated for a few minutes at a time while he coughed his lungs inside out in an involuntary effort to rid his chest of the foreign matter from cigarette smoking.

Witnessing my father’s experience wasn't enough to deter me from the first time that I took a drag off of a cigarette as a teenager and actually inhaled. I coughed and became dizzy but that didn't stop me either. It was just lucky for me that the federal government, in all of their dubious wisdom, had mandated a label to be placed on cigarette packages to tell me that smoking might be harmful to my health. That was it! I had to quit and right now! Uh huh! Right!

I should mention that my father succumbed to lung cancer at the ripe age of 41 years. The turning point that convinced me to give up tobacco came when I was a father myself. My three-year-old was sitting on my lap while I was reading to him.

Next thing that I knew, he picked up my cigarette pack and read the newest federally mandated label. The new label made it unquestionably clear that the US Surgeon general knew, for a fact, that cigarettes caused mortal diseases. He took my cigarettes, climbed down from my lap and put them in the trash.

Actually, I fired up a cigarette and smoke got into his eyes. With that, his story reading was over. He climbed down from my lap. That was a more powerful motivation to me than all of the things that should have stopped me from ever smoking as a habit. I haven’t smoked cigarettes since then.

Here is another label that was mandated for alcoholic beverages by our federal government in 1989.
GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon general, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems. 
I have never been a mother and it’s not likely that I ever will be as I’m well beyond the child-bearing age. However, I have to believe that if any caring woman even remotely has the possibility of becoming pregnant (IE: She is diddling around with the opposite gender without aid of contraceptives.), then she shouldn't need a written warning if she has ever experienced an alcohol buzz or hangover in her life.

That second warning has some merit in content but needs an effective delivery. Have you ever tried to tell a drunk that he’s too drunk to drive? Good luck with that. Now what makes you think that he’s going heed the warning on a beer can label.

Besides that, he might have been drinking draft beer and they don’t put these labels on beer mugs. Leave that to congress, though. Sooner or later, they’ll pass a law. Last, if a guy is too drunk to drive then he’s probably also too drunk to read the warning labels.

Somehow I just can’t visualize a drunk, with his glasses cockeyed on his face and unable find the car keys in his hand, reading the warning label of the beer that he just finished for the road. What do expect him to do next? He’s not going to say, “Oh goodness! I’m glad for that reminder. I’d better call a cab since I’m intoxicated.”

If we’re going to be label stupid then we have a lot of other places that warning labels should be. Take a step or curb, for example. The curb or step might be painted yellow but shouldn't it also have written warning. CAUTION: Failure to safely negotiate this curb could result in you getting a busted ass.

What about the blind guy in a Hov-a-round? There should motion activated verbal warnings for them when they come to curb. CAUTION: You are approaching a curb that will put you on your nose with that Hov-a-round. Please re-evaluate your route and use the ramp for access between the sidewalk and parking lot.

You know, when you think about it, did you ever wonder why they Braille buttons on the drive-up ATM machines? They all have them. You have to wonder. Imagine getting rear-ended by a guy wearing dark glasses. His only excuse for hitting you is because he couldn't see.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why You Ride Is More Important Than What You Ride

I was on my motorcycle for the first time in about five month yesterday and today. If you live in a northern climate then you might be wondering what the big deal is. Some northern regions have had snow storms in this very month of April of this year.

In the south Florida there are only two weather related situations that keep me off of the bike. One is torrential summer rain. The other is tropical storms and hurricanes.

I’ve been off of the bike for at least five months due to a knee injury, surgery and re-injury before the surgery healed.  Winter is best season to ride in south Florida because rain showers are minimal and it is much cooler. I’ve missed it all this year.

Yesterday, I had to recharge the battery because the bike had been sitting for so long. With that done I took a short ride to return a library book. All went well. I had enough strength and range of motion back in my knee to drive without difficulty.

Today, I threw a leg over the bike again to get to my appointment with the physician’s assistant at the orthopedics office. It was a little bit of heaven to be twisting a throttle rather than stepping on one. I squeezed the hand-operated clutch and popped through the gears with the foot at the end of my weak leg without issue.

It was great to stick out my left had to wave as I passed other bikers. I drive a Harley Davidson now. Back in the olden days I had Yamahas and Hondas. In the seventies, we used to call the Harley’s exercise machines because the riders were either kicking them to get them started or pushing them because they wouldn’t start.

I wave to all riders. I don’t care if they are riding Japanese, European or American made bikes. I don’t care if they’re riding a cruiser, a crotch rocket or scooter. I’m going wave at them. Anybody that is out there on two wheels knows feeling of the independence, freedom and excitement of being on two wheels. They have my respect.

Bikes are great conversation starters. Most riders always want to admire other bikes. The x-ray technician, at the orthopedics office, asked what I was riding when he saw my helmet. That started some conversation. He was a California boy who had grown up on dirt bikes. It was the same with the physician’s assistant. He has a Harley, too.

Occasionally, I’ll meet a metric bike owner who almost apologizes that he isn’t riding a Harley. My reply is always the same.

“More important than what you ride is why you ride. There are bikes out there better than contemporary Harley-Davidsons. I almost bought another metric when I moved to Florida but I rented a few Harleys before I decided. When my butt hit the saddle of a Heritage Classic Softail, I was done looking. It fit me perfectly and I loved the nostalgic look of chrome and leather."

The Abduction

The girls quickened their step as it started to sprinkle.  The pre-rain chill perked up Kristin’s tea cups against her spaghetti-strapped knit top.  Her sheer bra did little to conceal the effect of the lower temperature to her budding nipples.  The breeze tossed her red hair away from her face. 

The more endowed Amber seldom wore sheer undergarments but her push-up bra enhanced a form that was beyond her fifteen years.  Frequently worn low necklines and her summer-streaked mouse-brown hair never failed to turn the heads of the boys at Lincoln High School.

The sky darkened as the sprinkles increased to a soft, steady rain.  A silver Crown Victoria with dark tinted windows blocked the two fifteen-year-old girls at the crosswalk.  The front passenger window was down and a woman, in her late twenties, smiled at them.  Thunder cracked in the distance and the rainfall increased.

“Need a ride, girls?”

“Yeah, thanks!”  Amber recognized the woman as the aunt of one her friends.  She met her at another friend’s birthday party recently.

“Amber!  No!  Are you crazy?”  Kristin did not know these people.

“It’s okay!  I know her,” said Amber.  “Do you want to get drenched?”

Another crack filled the sky and this time a bolt lit the dark clouds.  Amber pulled open the rear door and got into the car.  Kristin followed reluctantly.  The driver of the car, also smiling, was a muscular man in his late forties.

“I thought that I recognized you,” the smiling woman said, turning to look at Amber.  “So, how have you been?”

“Fine, thanks,” said Amber.  “This is my friend, Kristin.”

“Hi, Kristin, how are you?”  The woman directed her smile to Kristin but did not offer her own name. 
“I’m fine.”  Kristin’s tone betrayed her trepidation.

In the rear seat, to Amber’s left, sat a girl about four years older than Kristin and Amber.  Her expressionless face gazed out of the window.

“Hi!”  I’m Amber.” 

The girl held her gaze out of the window. 

“Now, Carmen, you shouldn't be rude to our guests.”

The girl turned to the woman for moment but did not change her expression. 

“Let’s go, Amber!  Something is wrong here!”  She pulled on the door handle but the latch didn’t release. 

“Oh!  Those ‘darn child safety locks again,” said the smiling woman.  “Take it easy, honey.  You’re going to be fine.”

Looking from her friend to the woman and the man, Amber felt her friend’s fear now.  A look of pure evil had replaced the man’s smile.  Kristin fought the handle and shouldered the door trying to open it!

“We have to get out of here!”

Amber started screaming hysterically.  Like a striking cobra, the back of the man’s hand uncoiled into her face.  Blood erupted from her nose and spilled onto her shirt front.  In a sick pleasure of seeing someone else suffer, the previously quiet and emotionless girl sitting next to the Amber smiled now.  A pistol menaced them from the hand of the woman in the front seat.

“Introductions are over.”  The woman wasn't smiling anymore.  The man turned back to the wheel and put the car into gear.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Flutter of Snowbird Wings in South Florida

It was shopping day today. If I kept a journal on shopping day every week I could probably do a written version of funniest home videos. The traffic was extra heavy at one particular intersection today.

One direction from this intersection goes to the Red Sox spring training stadium. Another direction goes to the Twins spring training stadium. Past the Twins stadium will take you to the beaches and barrier islands so it gets kind of busy. Even when the Twins and Red Sox aren’t in town there is often something going on at the stadiums.

Starting at about a quarter of a mile from the intersection the traffic was crawling, I had to make a left turn to go past the Twins stadium and toward the beaches to get my wife to work. To give an idea of how busy this intersection is, there are three through lanes, one right turn lane and two left turn lanes in both directions of the highway that I was on. The cross highway has two through lanes and two turn lanes in both directions.

I finally got into the tail-end of the line-up in one of the two left turn lanes. The green arrow came on for left turns. The driver in front of me didn’t move. His head was down.

He had either fallen asleep, which is very possible in congestion like we were dealing with, or he was making use of a smart phone at a stupid time. It was remotely possible the he had broken down but at those times a driver’s head is usually darting around with the anxiety of what to do next. It was also possible that he was engaged in a self-massage of rapid reciprocal motion but he looked way too relaxed for that.

I always dislike horn blasters in these situations. A solid and long horn is blast is just another way of cursing someone. “Get that $@#**% car out the way you &%@*# idiot,” might be typical translation.

My preference is a soft beep, beep and beep. This translates to “Hey… did you fall asleep?” Or maybe, “Time to put down smart phone and drive.”

When I did the beep, beep and beep, the driver’s head popped up and he accelerated toward the intersection and our left turn just in time to meet a red light. We stopped and waited through another light cycle. He head went down again which put my vote in favor of his using the smart phone at a stupid time.

I guess that it could have been worse. I might have been rear-ended by another smart phone user while the one in front of me held me in position for taking it in the behind. Would you call that getting sandwiched?

When the light changed again the guy’s head popped up without a sound of my horn and he barked his tires as he accelerated away from me. He put some distance between us. I guess he was afraid that I was one of those road rage types that might catch up to him and flip him off. It was no surprise that about half of the traffic took a right into the Twins stadium.

At least the smart phone guy had local tags on his car. I’ve often thought of writing a snowbird handbook to help the locals better understand and deal with northerners who come to south Florida for the winter. It would be full of short tips something like this.

If you see a car with Yankee license plates then expect him to do something stupid. It’s not his fault that he had to cut across three lanes in front of you to make a turn. He saw the set of three sequential directional signs saying that there was a left turn coming to get to the beach. He just didn't realize that he should get into the left lane at least a few hundred feet before he got to the intersection. They don’t do it that way in New England.

If a car pulls out from a side street and then pokes along in front of you, try to be patient. He is probably just awed by the palm trees planted in the median. They don’t have those in the Adirondacks of New York where he is from.

If the driver of a luxury car with Yankee plates does something aggressive, that puts you in danger, just get over it. He fancies himself as entitled.

If you’re waiting to fuel up your car and the old man that gets out of the car in front of you is wearing a wide brimmed hat, clip-on sunglasses, a Columbia shirt, baggy khaki Bermuda shorts, knee socks and sandals then have some patience. He will likely take longer to run his credit card at the pump than you will take to fuel up, do your grocery shopping and get a haircut.

If you see that same old man at the supermarket heading for the check-out at the same time as you then you had better yield to him. He’ll run over your heels to be first to the register.

If an old woman comes up to you in a supermarket or department store asking where to find something, the safest thing to do is say, with a fake accent, “Eh… sorry… no Ingles.” Otherwise, you could be there for hours looking for cinnamon-flavored Metamucil “in those little packets.”

If your supermarket sets up those little stations with someone handing out free samples of food items then don’t go down that aisle. The snowbirds in south Florida go to the supermarket for free brunch. It wouldn’t be so bad if they would just take a sample and move on.

Oh no, they’re like hogs at the trough. They have to have a conversation long enough to get a second sample. The fat ones will be stuffing the third sample into their face while they’re grabbing the fourth. There I am behind them going “beep, beep and beep.”

Remember that old man wearing a wide brimmed hat, clip-on sunglasses, a Columbia shirt, baggy khaki Bermuda shorts, knee socks and sandals at the fuel pumps? He’s even slower when trying to decide which flavor to try first.

Your ice cream could melt and be leaking from the carton before you get through. I've had lettuce wilt before I could get to the safety of the check-out line. On my worst day, the sweet potatoes sprouted and sent vines all through the shopping cart. I had to run next door to the hardware store and buy a machete in order to unload the cart onto the check-out conveyor.

Monday, April 15, 2013

When It Is High Time

My wife and I went out to get the yard work done on Saturday. With my bum knee, I’m kind of limited as to what I can do and how long that I can do it. Therefore, chasing the lawnmower is her task. I usually do the edging and trimming and take a few breaks before I get done.

She was outside a little ahead of me. When I stepped out of the garage, I found her with one of the Do-All ladders at the base of the palm tree with a bow saw in her hand. I know how much she hates climbing but I really didn't want to go up the ladder with my bum knee if I could help it. She also has a burning intolerance for palm fronds that have fallen against the trunk of the tree.

When I say that my wife hates climbing, I mean that she is so fearful of heights that she is an incorrigible ladder hugger. She had the ladder set as an A-frame but adjusted to only five-feet of height for ten-feet of reach. I knew that she wasn't going to get her waist level over the top level of that ladder.

She went up two rungs and was able to reach the hanging palm frond with the tip of the bow saw. She couldn't get enough leverage to make the cut with the long reach. Down the ladder she came with the intent of stretching it up higher.

The most that she was going to get was another two feet and, even then; she was going to struggle to reach the hanging frond. Worse, the ladder was on an uneven surface and more likely to kick out when reaching from the additional height. I intervened and showed her how to flip the Do-All ladder into a straight ladder. This put the top of the ladder ten feet up and at even height with the hanging frond and two blossomed seed pods that also needed to be cut down.

The sad thing about people who fear heights is that they trust an A-frame ladder over a straight ladder that is leaned against a structure. The A-frame ladder has four points of contact on the ground. Therefore, it is much more likely than a straight ladder to tip over with a shift in weight at the top.

The straight ladder has only three points of contact. Two are on the ground. The third is on the structure to which it leans. Even with an uneven base the straight ladder is going to settle into three points of contact better than four points on an A-frame.

My wife was trying to get a task done so I certainly give her credit for that. There are just some people that don’t belong on a ladder. I learned to climb ladders as youth when helping my father to paint houses and farm buildings so I know what to expect from them.

She put her weight to the first rung and the ladder shifted to settle into the uneven ground surface. That is quite normal. Had she continued, without fear, the ladder would have held just fine where I had set it to cut the frond and seed blossoms. Instead, she moved the ladder to other side of the tree where the ground was more level. This time she made it up three ladder rungs before coming back down.

Bless her heart. She was trying to get the job done so that I wouldn't climb the ladder. However, watching her on that ladder was a lot like watching a groundhog trying to copy a squirrel running across a power line.

I took the saw and went up the ladder while she threw a fit for fear that I might fall. She tried to steady the ladder for me with a death grip. Then when I came back down I almost tripped off of the ladder because I didn't see her hand in my way.

I had to move the ladder back to where I originally had it in order to cut the two seed blossoms down. When she moved to hold the ladder this time, I chased her away.

“If my 200 lbs falls from this ladder and you’re below then both of us get hurt. What’s the sense to that? Somebody has to be able to call 911.”

She didn't like my logic so asked her another question.

“How much experience do you have in climbing?”

“Not much,” she conceded.

“How much experience do I have?”

“A lot.”

“Okay. I would not attempt to tell you how to hem a pair of pants so don’t tell me how to use a ladder.”

She had heard me tell stories of stepping across ladders 30-40 feet in the air with a paint spray gun while my dad moved the ladders ahead of me from the ground below. We could make much faster time with two painters this way than by having each painter up and down the ladder to move his ladder over.

The next thing I shouldn't have done but I couldn't resist. I finished cutting the seed blossoms down and, while at the top of the ladder, I pulled it away from the tree trunk and shifted it first to the left and then to the right. She had another fit while I grinned down at her.

I don’t have the balance that I did years back or I would have walked the ladder away from the tree like a pair of stilts and tipped it back down to the ground. In addition to my lack of balance, I’m sure that my knee wouldn't have suffered the impact very well. Worse, she might have tried to step in to catch me and we both would have been hurt. Some stupid stunts are better left just talked about.

All in all, I think that it’s normal for two people to depend on the other’s strengths. At the same time it’s good for them to be as interchangeable as possible in case a situation requires it. Then there are some things that just need to be left alone. A shark will never hunt on land and wolf will never learn to scuba dive.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Parents Say the Stupidest Things

There were no words from my childhood that I hated more to hear from a parent or other authority figure than “because I said so.” It was my mother’s favorite response. If any of us were stupid enough to utter the word “why” after we were already told, “No,” then that was the answer. What kind of a reason is that?

Can you imagine how far it would go if a child tried that line?

Parent: “Go take out the trash.”
Kid: “No.”
Parent: “Why not?”
Kid: “I don’t want to.”
Parent: “Why not?”
Kid: “Just because I said so.”

First of all, I would have had to be suffering from some sort of involuntary speech disorder to even get the word “no” past my lips when addressing one of my parents. Second, realizing the folly of such an action, I would have been immediately running for my life with the trash in hand and begging for mercy all the way. It’s fun to wonder about it though.

My father’s favorite saying was little more elaborate. It went something this. “If I have to tell you again then me an’ you are gonna’ be goin’ to the hospital to get my foot taken out of your butt.”

Just try to visualize that for a moment. Here is a child walking kind of stooped over for the discomfort of the forcibly placed foot in his backside. Hopping on one foot behind is the father and owner of said foot. How are they even going to get in and out of the car or an ambulance, for that matter, to get to the hospital? This is more of a Squad 51 job that would require separation at the scene before transporting to Rampart.

Once at the hospital, the dad is going to be in big trouble. Child protective service is going to take issue with a boot in a child’s bootie. Therefore, the threat is a non-threat. He ain’t gonna’ do it. He’s gonna’ do something, though. You could count on it.

Then there was the line, “Don’t you lie to me. If you tell me the truth, you’re still going to get it but you won’t get it as bad as if I figure out that you’re lying to me.”

Okay, so let’s weigh in on this. If I tell the truth then I’m going to get beat. If I get caught lying then I’m going to get beat. If I lie but don’t get caught then I won’t get beat. Any kid with the good sense that the good Lord gave him is going to go for the lie every time.

How is he going to know that I lied anyway unless my little sister knows? If she did know, we wouldn't be having a discussion because she already would have spilled the whole story complete her own embellishments. She was always more than willing to step forward with her version of the truth. I don’t know if she just loved sibling suffering or it was simply the attention that she won for herself. Maybe it was some of both.

I remember one Saturday that my cousin and I left a Boy Scout patrol meeting that ended early. Instead of going straight home we went down to the river for some quality time away from adults. There is nothing better to hold the attention of 12 year-olds than hanging out at the river.

Unfortunately, we lost track of time as we were cleaning all of the flat rocks off the sand bar. We found some nice skippers, too. Our parents began to worry and called the patrol leader’s parents to find out that the meeting had ended hours ago.

I walked into the house, after being gone for about six hours, to the roar of, “Where have you been?” I should have known by the fury in his eyes and voice that I was already busted. However, since I was certain that my little sister didn't know, I went for the lie. That was it. Game over!

“Alright, if you’re going to lie to me then you’re going to get a beating.”

After the fact, it was amusing how he said that. It wasn't like I wasn't going to get beat anyway with my dad having had hours to build up a rage. I have to give the old man credit, though. He always gave me chance to defend myself before he beat me.

A few years later, when my cousin and I had our own cars, my cousin stayed out too late one night. When he got home there was no immediate discussion. As soon as he walked in the door, his face collided with a fist full of fatherly knuckles. When he came to, there was a discussion, but no dialogue.

My dad also had this other theory that if he couldn't figure out who was lying then he would beat the whole bunch to be certain that he got the right one. Then whoever didn't do it could beat on the one that did it in order to even things up. I don’t think that Dr. Phil would have approved of that theory.

The plan had two serious flaws anyway. The younger siblings weren't strong enough to beat on the older ones. If an older sibling got caught beating on the younger ones then one of my parents would beat them for that. My little sister wouldn't take a beating for you anyway. She would rat you out in a heartbeat, whether you did it or not, and then beam with satisfaction while she told on you.

I remember once, in one of my less than sterling moments as a parent, I tried that idea of whipping all of my kids for lack of finding out whodunit. It started as a bluff. I thought that somebody would give up the culprit. The problem was that my little sister wasn't there.

I told them to line up and bend over just like my dad used to do.  I seldom spanked my kids and I really didn't want to go through with it. I laid the folded belt across three butts but I was careful not to hit too hard.

I swear to this day that one of the boys launched off like he’d been mule-kicked before the belt even touched him. He went into the air like he was doing a swan dive. He tucked and rolled before he hit the floor and sat there screaming like he had been soccer-kicked in the man parts.

I stood back in complete awe. I didn't know whether to laugh or make him get up for a replay. I talked to his mother about it later and she wanted to enroll him in private gymnastics lessons. She was certain that we had a gold medal Olympian on our hands. At least, a stunt man for the movies, I agreed.

One of the stupidest things that both of my parents used say was, “Do you want me to give you something to bawl about?”

Picture this. You've just had the living crap kicked out of you and you’re, quite naturally, wailing and carrying on from the emotional, as well as, physical trauma of it all. Then you hear the most ignorant question that a parent could ask a kid in this situation.

“Do you want me to give you something to bawl about?”

What are you supposed to say?

“No, Dad. That won’t be necessary. You've done a pretty fair job of that already.”

Friday, April 12, 2013

Then She Said, "No."

They were both seventeen. They had been dating for several months. At first, there were boundaries. Gradually, the boundaries gave way to curiosity and good feelings of being touched in certain places and in certain ways.

With practice of the intimate touching, the want of mutual excitement and pleasure sometimes became irresistible for both of them. Whenever they could find some private time, buttons, hooks, clasps, snaps, buckles and zippers were no barrier to the new found skills of each partner’s fingers and hands. One boundary, however, remained intact.

As enjoyable as the kissing, petting and hand-manipulated climaxes were, she was determined that one line would not be crossed. He, too, enjoyed the pleasures that they shared but his hormonal urges drove him on. He was patient with her while he pressed for the ultimate prize.

They loved each other, didn’t they? They would be married someday, wouldn’t they? What difference could it matter, when they accepted each other fully, as long as they were in love and committed to each other for life?

He finally wore her down. She agreed to go all the way for the boy that she loved. It was much like all of the other intimate times except that the clothing fell away a little faster this time. They giggled, frolicked and petted in their youthful infatuation for each other as they always did.

He promised not to hurry her. He said that he would be gentle. When she was ready she turned onto her back, opened herself to him and pulled him to her.

As he poised above her, about to part her hymen, she saw the look in his eyes change. His eyes no longer showed the love that she was certain was there and that she had seen so many times before. The look in his eyes was more of one about to conquer another.

Then she said, “No.”

Seeing his look change to deep disappointment, she expressed her regret and empathy. Clearly, if she was going deny him then the timing was the absolute worst. He turned onto his back beside her and quietly stared at the ceiling.

Like a scolded puppy’s tail, his erection settled between his legs. Cautiously, she snuggled next to him and continued to express her regret. She didn’t mention the look in his eyes that had changed her mind at the last moment. She fabricated other reasons for stopping him that had to do with family and values.

He continued to listen patiently until she had nothing more to say. Satisfied that she had spoken her mind he pulled closer and kissed her forehead.

“It’s okay.”

That was all that he said. They lay in the each other’s embrace for a time and then she began to pinch one of his nipples while her tongue flicked the other.

The reaction was immediate. She leaned to look into his eyes. They both smiled.

“I don’t want you to go home with blue balls. May I take care of that for you?”

He smiled again and nodded before kissing her passionately. His body was soon convulsing with pleasure. They quietly lay together a little longer before getting dressed. Then he took her home.

They continued to date but, with the dawn of their adult lives after high school graduation, they went in different directions. Eventually they lost touch with each other as they had made separate lives. From time-to-time a thought of the other would pass through each of their minds.

The thoughts are of memories cherished of times long passed. There are no strings and there are no regrets. It was simply very special.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ballad to the Ohio Family Everglades

(To the tune of the Gilligan's Island theme song)

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, 
A tale of a fateful trip 
That started from this swampy dock 
Aboard this air-boat craft. 

The mate was a mighty Super Mom, 
The skipper was the Dad. 
With three sons they left the dock that day 
For a three hour tour, a three hour tour. 

The fishing had been very good, 
But then the boat was caught, 
If not for the courage of the fearless crew 
The air-boat would be lost, the air-boat would be lost. 

The boat got stuck in cypress knees of a narrow waterway. 
With Mother Schreck 
And Father Schreck, 
A nine-year-old, who was a son, 
Two brothers were
Aged seven years and four, 
Here in Everglades Park. 

So this is the tale of a family lost, 
They're here for an overnight, 
They'll have to make the best of things, 
To endure their swampy fright. 

The first mate and the Skipper too, 
Will do their very best, 
To make the children comfortable, 
In the tropic swampy mess. 

No phone, no lights no iphone apps, 
Not a bit of technology, 
Like the Survivors on TV, 
As primitive as can be. 

So join us for the rescue, friends, 
You're sure to get a smile, 
When the family of five is found all well, 
Here in Everglades Park."

Planning a Family Outing in the Everglades

Let’s say you have the family all together in Florida and a friend there offers you the loan of his air-boat to go on a self-guided tour of the Everglades. Keep in mind that most everything in the Everglades is going to scratch you, stick you, sting you, bite you or eat you. How would you prepare, being that this is your first time ever in the Florida Everglades?

First of all, we have to assume that, even though it was 44 year-old Scott Schreck’s first time in the Everglades, he was probably a skilled air-boat pilot. That is a skill that would have easily been picked up in his native Ohio. If not, then likely his 42 year-old wife or one of their three children, aged 9, 7 and 4 were skilled in air-boat operation.

Next, be certain to take along plenty of food and water in case you unexpectedly spend the night in the Everglades with your family. That turned out to be the one of the correct things that Scott did. He, at least, didn't have to bed the kids down hungry that night. If one of them wanted a drink of water before going to sleep, well, he had that covered too.

Take a lot of gear for fishing. The family actually had great fishing. According to Scott, they caught several nice bass. Young boys love to fish.

Take extra clothing. If you’re in the Everglades overnight, then shorts and T-shirts won’t be adequate. Campfires are not allowed in the Everglades even if your young children are freezing in their shorts and T-shirts.

If you’re a novice in the Everglades then camouflage might not be best choice of colors for your borrowed air-boat  Search parties have a tough time seeing camouflage in the lush tropical setting. If your air-boat must be camouflage then maybe you should take to a good sized plastic tarp in bright orange, blue or other such color that can easily be spotted by a search party.

A good tarp could also second as shelter when you and your family are huddled for warmth in the overnight tropical rain. Tarps tend to shed rain water a lot better than life jackets stacked on a makeshift lean-to. The family will love you for the thought.

Personally, I've never been into the Everglades off of Interstate Highway 75. Even so, I have a pretty good idea that those huge white on green directional signs that guide motorists on our interstates probably aren't duplicated in the pristine wild of the Everglades. After all, the Everglades were violated quite enough when they built I-75 across the virgin beauty of saw grass and wetlands.

As for signs, let’s be realistic as to their value. Even with the HUGE white-lettered on green reflective background signs, motorists still get lost on our interstate highways if they’re not familiar with where they are going. I have to believe that the same possibility applies to novice air-boat pilots without an experienced guide.

We have to give kudos to Scott Schreck for thinking to bring noisy horns and whistles. Without those or a bright colored tarp the search parties may never have found the stranded family. How the rescuers heard the whistles and horns over the sounds of their helicopter and air-boat engines is a pure amazement, though.

No doubt, fear of another night in the Everglades without shelter was a strong motivator for making a LOT of noise to attract rescuers. It only took one night huddled under a pile of life jackets in the rain and wearing only shorts and T-shirts to know that Tom Bodette didn't leave the light on for them. Noise like that had to make the wildlife wonder if it a tropical Armageddon was upon them.

In all seriousness, we have to give credit to the Schreck family. In spite of the any shortfalls in planning or preparation, they remained calm and did their best with what they had. Their ability to survive a dark, rainy night among the mosquitoes and various frightening critters of the Everglades without panicking is highly commendable. They must have thought that they were very far, far away from Ohio. We're glad that they were rescued without negative incident.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fear Meets Empathy

The sheriff turned off the county blacktop onto a gravel road. The young man in the backseat of the cruiser was both handcuffed and blindfolded. Fearful already, the sound of gravel under the tires put a quake through his body.

Blindfolded or not, Matt Engle sensed the rolling hills and curves as the cruiser traveled about eight miles before stopping. When the car came to a stop the engine was shut off. Night sounds came in through the sheriff’s open window.  He turned toward his passenger.

“Now son, I’m gonna’ get you outta’ this car and walk you a short distance. You are not to speak nor make any move that might cause me to believe that you want to do anything but cooperate. Do you clearly understand me?”

“Yes sir.” Matt wanted to ask what was happening and why he had been arrested but he thought better of it. For now, he would follow instructions.

The rear door of the cruiser opened and he felt a hand on his arm draw him out. Another rested on his head and pressed down gently as he stepped out of the car. Once on his feet, the gravel crunched under Matt’s boots as he was guided about fifty feet from the car.

The hand that had guided him let loose and he heard footsteps on the gravel going back to the direction of the sheriff’s cruiser. A car door opened and closed. An engine was started and sounds of the car faded into the distance leaving only the night sounds of the woods.

The music of crickets played in the darkness around Matt. A bullfrog called out. There was a faint owl hoot from somewhere far off.

With his hands cuffed behind him Matt couldn't remove the blindfold. Then, through the blindfold, he sensed bright lights upon him. A silhouette moved toward him from the lights. The silhouette had a familiar voice. It was his girlfriend’s grandfather.

“Young man, I have some questions for you that have to do with your interest in my granddaughter. All that I ask is that you answer my questions honestly and completely. I will not tolerate any attempts at deception.”

Matt did not immediately respond. Fear sent a quiver through his body.

“Do you understand me, boy?”

The tone of the old man’s voice was calm and even but the words that he spoke clearly imparted his intended meaning. Ashley and Matt had been dating for about three months. She was a high school junior and he was a senior.

“Yes, Mr. Johnson.”

A hand removed Matt’s blindfold from behind him. Ashley’s grandfather, though silhouetted, was identifiable by the car headlights behind him. Matt squinted into the bright lights.

“First let me explain some things to you, son. You see, my wife and I were blessed with five wonderful sons. It took another generation for us to know the pure joy of having girls in our family. They were given to us as granddaughters.” The old man paused and studied Matt’s face. “Now, Ashley’s father, my son, has the responsibility of two other daughters and their mother. Therefore, as much as he is obligated to protect his family, he has less room for risk than I do. You see, son, I’m just a crazy old man in the autumn of a very good life. Are you beginning to get my meaning, son?”

Matt’s mind raced with worry as to what the old man might know of his intimacy with Ashley and what might not have been acceptable to the elders. His first attempt to respond cracked in his throat. He cleared his throat and was successful on the second effort.

“Yes sir.”

“Are your intentions with my granddaughter honorable?”

Matt couldn't lie but he feared telling the truth. Unimaginable fear triggered his bladder to empty. He could feel the warmth spiraling half around and down his left leg under his dungarees. His body involuntarily convulsed with the fear that was tightening around him.

Leon Johnson didn't miss the scent of fresh urine but he didn't let on. He was trying to be patient. He repeated the question but, this time, the words were much more deliberate.

“Are your intentions with my granddaughter honorable? Answer the question, son.”

The three words “answer the question” echoed in Matt’s mind. That was it. All he had to do was answer the question.

“Yes sir, Mr. Johnson. My intentions with Ashley are nothing but honorable. I like her very much. I would never intentionally hurt her.”

Matt thought that the old man’s face was beginning to relax and soften. The two men each gazed into the other’s soul through the depths of the eyes looking back at them.

“Are you absolutely certain?”

“Oh, yes sir!”

The two men, one young and one old, continued to search the other’s eyes. Then the old man raised his right arm in a circular gesture. Five more pair of headlights lit up the night in a semi-circle around the two men.

No less than twelve silhouettes were closing around them now. In addition, Matt heard the gravel crunch under footsteps behind him. Two hands gripped each of Matt’s wrists from behind.

This time fear let his bowel loose into his whitey tighties. His knees started to buckle but, with a steadying hand on his arm, he regained himself enough to stay standing. A key turned in the handcuffs and they were removed.

“I ain't gonna’ need you men. You can go on home now. Thank you for being here, though.”
Without another response, the silhouettes turned back to the headlights. All but Leon Johnson’s vehicle filed out and down the gravel road toward their homes. Leon’s nostrils twitched.

“Did you have another accident, boy?”

“Yes sir… you had me scared half to death.”

A younger man came from behind Matt with the handcuffs and stood alongside of his grandfather. Matt recognized him as Ashley’s cousin. Jeff was about Matt’s build.

“I have some clothes at the hunting cabin that will fit him, Grandpa. He can shower there.”

“A’ight. Matt, we’re gonna’ take you to clean up but you’re gonna’ have to ride in the back of my pick-up as you are now. I am sincerely sorry for the trouble but I just cain’t have you in my cab like that.”

Too embarrassed to speak, Matt nodded. The cabin was just a mile farther down the road.

At the cabin, on Jeff’s suggestion, Matt stripped in the yard. Most of the mess stayed with his whitey tighties. He made use of a garden hose before Jeff showed him to the shower and clean clothing. 

The two men were waiting for Matt in the great room of the cabin when he finished. The ride back to town was quiet at first. Feeling some confidence, Matt broke the silence.

“Mr. Johnson, may I tell you something?”

“You certainly can, son.”

“I understand your desire to protect your granddaughter more than you may know.”

“How is that, son?”

Matt went on to tell the story of his older sister, of whom he had only vague memories. Most of his memories are from what his mother has told him. His father has never talked about her.

Matt’s sister, Jeannie, became pregnant when she was seventeen-years-old. The man was nineteen. What Jeannie said of the incident clearly made it a date rape. She had said “no” over and over throughout the entire ordeal.

Jeannie didn’t tell her parents anything until she realized that she was carrying a child. By then, there was no evidence to bring charges against the man. He denied forcing himself on her.

The young man made Jeannie out to be a slut. He insisted that he was only taking his turn with a toy that had been around for quite a few rides. In fact, he had taken her virginity and much more.

 Jeannie lost the baby in mid-term. She went from being a top achiever in school and extra-curricular activities to a drop-out and began using drugs. It took her eleven months to destroy herself.

At the burial, Jeannie’s father saw the catalyst, in the crowd of mourners that had caused the last year and a half of misery and loss. Some say that it was guilt that brought him there. To Jeannie’s father, in the pain of his losing his beautiful daughter, it was pure and blatant audacity.

Jeannie’s father beat that young man nearly to death right there at his daughter’s burial before she was lowered into the ground. Several other people were injured for trying to stop him. The man did actually die a few days later in the hospital.

Matt lost his father while he served jail time for manslaughter. At the end of his sentence he came back home to continue taking care of his family but he was never whole again. The light was no longer in his eyes. He had given up his soul to avenge his daughter.

The family moved to another state in order to start fresh when Matt’s father returned. They were provided for much better with the father home but Matt never had a father again. His love of life had died with his daughter.

“You see, Mr. Johnson, you didn't need to scare the shit out of me. Whether or not Ashley and I devote our lives to each other remains to be seen. We're still very young. One thing is certain though. I’ll never do anything less than honorable toward your granddaughter or any other woman. I can’t be a part of the pain that I've seen for somebody doing less. I've seen beauty wither and die before it could fully blossom. I've seen a mother go on in spite of the permanent pain of losing her child. I've seen a shell of man, who couldn't protect what was most precious to him, continue in his duties while incapable of joy for his efforts. I've suffered because these were the people closest to me.”

Matt paused. As he continued his words were of empathy and sincere respect.

“Do you believe now that my intentions with Ashley are honorable, Mr. Johnson?”

The old man would not turn his head toward Matt. He didn't want the young man to see his glazed eyes. He spoke softly, yet deliberately.

“I reckon I do, son... I reckon I do.”

A tear escaped down the tough old man’s weathered cheek.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Shower and Drip Dry

We had a small, out of town, family reunion this weekend that involved my son, two of his daughters and I sharing hotel accommodations. On Saturday afternoon, the girls were preparing to use the hotel pool with their cousin. They had towels from the hotel bathroom under their arms.

I stopped them before they left and encouraged them to use pool towels in order to keep the bath towel for showers. They acknowledged.

Everyone except I did their bathing before bed on Saturday night. The next morning I woke early and quietly gathered my toiletries. In the bathroom were four blue-striped pool towel in corner on the floor.

Unfortunately, every other piece of bath linen, with exception of one used towel, was also in the heap. My son had hung his towel over the shower curtain rod to dry. I considered my choices.

In theory, the hanging towel had dried a clean body and thus was clean itself. This was my son so I could get by with that towel. It wasn't like risking the transfer of a skin disorder from total stranger.

At least, a contagion from this towel would be kept in the family. I didn't get a lot of comfort in the notion though. It reminded me of few paragraphs in 'Tis, the autobiography of the late author, Frank McCourt.

Mr. McCourt described living in a rooming house where he shared a bathroom and one towel with several other men. The landlady had drawn a line across the towel with the intent being that one end of the towel would used above waist. The other end was to be used below the waist.

Here I was, in a similar situation, except that this towel had no line drawn on it. Even if it did have a line I was struggling to recall how the men in 'Tis knew which end of towel was north and which end was south. Drip drying was another option.

This thought was not very pleasant though. There I would be with arms raised and turning slowly for full air flow. Then one of girls would knock on the door needing to pee.

If the bathroom had been equipped with a large electric hand dryer, like they had in some public restrooms, then that could have been an option. There was an electric hair dryer. I considered using that.

To my instant horror realized what could happen. I could be the victim of split ends on all of my body hair and itching, dry and flaking skin. That could cause some serious suffering for me.

Finally, as I recovered from the temporary trauma of the thoughts, a third idea came to me. I put on a shirt and pants and went down to the hotel desk. The nice lady there was happy to give me some fresh towels.