Sunday, August 5, 2012

What Two Dollars Can Buy

            Aaron was leaning over, pencil in hand, when he stopped. “Concentrate.” He said to himself. “This is important.” He cleared his mind and drew a deep breath that he held. The first number that popped into his head would be a keeper, then the next one and the next until he had the six he needed. He carefully filled in each correlating space on the betting slip, making sure not to mark outside the lines. When he was done he examined his work. It looked good, he thought, and he was feeling confident when he handed it to the cashier.

Ticket in hand he read the numbers. He wanted to see if they sang to him. People who have been extremely lucky always say that they had a sense things were going to go their way. Whether they survived a plane crash or found a million dollars they always knew it was going to happen. Aaron wanted to know if he was lucky and as he peered at the black ink drying on shiny paper he thought that just maybe he could hear something.

Twice a week for the last six months Aaron has purchased a two dollar lottery ticket at the same gas station and mailed it home to his girlfriend Jenny. He always encloses a little letter with news about what he’s up to and whatever ridiculous musings he might have. He tries to woo her too, just a little. Jenny is not the kind of girl that likes too much mushy stuff and if he went off the deep end she would think he’d lost his mind. That being said, she does like to know that Aaron loves her and he doesn’t mind saying it.

He calls her too, nearly every day. Everyone in America has a cell phone. The thing is he doesn’t have cable. He can’t afford it. It’s not that he would spend money on it anyways. What some people call frugal other people call cheap. Aaron is one of those. So, he has all the time in the world to write. Also, it’s the only way he can send her the lottery tickets.

He promised Jenny when he left that he would send one before each drawing and that she could check to see if they’re winners when she gets them. It’s a little dream whose cuteness should have waned some time ago, but as long as Jenny likes getting them Aaron is going to send them. Hope is like oxygen. You can’t live without either one.

Aaron and Jenny both grew up in the same Midwest small town. They didn’t really start fooling around until after high school. It was the best thing ever, but after three years Aaron still lived with his mom and Jenny still lived with her sister and her kids and life seemed to be going nowhere.

Neither one of them could keep a job, not that there were any to speak of. There was seasonal stuff that was alright. The rest were just minimum wage crap jobs that wouldn’t be so bad if only people realized that when you pay seven dollars an hour you’re gonna get seven dollars an hour’s worth of work.

Eventually, Aaron got frustrated. He used to joke that Nebraska was an Indian word meaning both shit and no shit, as in “There ain’t shit in Nebraska, but shit.” He decided to make a run for it and begged Jenny to come with him. Although she wanted to, the thought of leaving her sister and nieces was too much. He sold everything he owned, borrowed as much cash as his mother was willing to part with, and moved to the city.

Aaron decided to go it alone. He figured if he could get settled in and start making some good money Jenny would change her mind. If he couldn’t give her a future in Nebraska then he would do it somewhere else.

The first job he found was driving a taxi. He knew he was never going to get rich doing it and looked around for other work on the side, but he liked driving a cab. He worked as much as he wanted and he got to spend most of his time sightseeing along with his fares. He never got tired of it.

It did have its ups and downs. There were fare jumpers and a couple of guys threatened to rob him. There was a whole assortment of freaks too varied to mention individually. There were nice people and assholes. Sometimes they’d tell him stories he didn’t want to know. Sometimes he didn’t want them to stop. Some nights he made hundreds of dollars. Some nights he barely paid for gas.

All the while he saved like a miser. He lived in the smallest apartment in the worst part of town. He ate nothing but ramen and oatmeal. Sometimes he would steal fancy teabags from hotel lobbies, but other than that he only drank the cheapest coffee. He wanted to make sure that he had enough money when Jenny moved in.

He had it all planned out. They would get a new place in a nice neighborhood. She could take some time to get adjusted and feel out the place without having to worry about getting a job right away. They’d be together and it would be perfect. Jenny always said that there would be heaven on earth if people just spent a little time trying to ease each other’s burdens. He didn’t want her to have to worry about anything.

It was her worry that had him out so early on a Tuesday morning. He was on his way open a bank account. Since his arrival, Aaron had saved up over five thousand dollars that he kept hidden in a shoebox in his apartment. A couple of nights earlier he got home and found someone had broken in. They didn’t find the money, but Jenny freaked out all the same when he told her and he thought she was right to do so.

He got off at three in the morning, but couldn’t sleep. At home he tidied up his place, finished his letter to Jenny, and counted his money. For some unknown reason he could not unwind. That’s why four hours later he was back behind the wheel of his cab. It’s also why he was feeling lucky. There were forces at work in the universe. He felt it. Aaron decided to run a few errands and pick up a few fares along the way.

Aaron sat in his car and tucked the lottery ticket into the envelope, which he placed on the dash. He’d mail it from the bank. The money was stuffed under the passenger seat with some fast food wrappers and an empty mountain dew that had always been there. He never bothered to clean them out.

With a couple of hours to kill until the bank opens he thought he might get some early morning traffic. There’d be a bunch of businessmen in a hurry to get some place or another. They were lousy tippers, but he didn’t have to worry about them getting gangster with him. Aaron tries to be selective about who he picks up but cab drivers are horny guys at a bar. When they’re desperate they’ll take anyone home. At least in the daylight he doesn’t worry so much.

He barely even noticed the two guys get in the back of his cab. Perhaps it was because they looked so ordinary. He didn’t even glance at them when he asked where they wanted to go. This occurred to Aaron as strange and he paused for moment to wonder who he had let in his cab.

Aaron would say later when recounting this story that he knew that they had a gun before he ever even saw their faces and it was true. He claimed that he could feel the gun’s presence as the man behind him withdrew it from his coat pocket as if he had some kind of sixth sense. It is certain he knew it when he felt the hollow end of a pistol in the back of his head.

Aaron tried to stay calm and obliged when the men directed him to park in a tall dark alleyway. Although outwardly serene, inside was a tremor growing with intensity. Adrenaline coursed through his veins and he began to feel himself leave his body. He imagined that this is what daredevils must go through. It was a powerful high. He was kind of numb, but also super aware at the same time. In a weird way he had never felt so alive.

He handed over his wallet and lied face down on the concrete next to his car just as they asked. He didn’t make a sound as they tore through the car looking for anything valuable. He knew he was going to be alright. This is what the bizarre premonition had been about. He was going to be lucky. He just had to figure out how to land the plane.

After much commotion one of the men came over and kicked Aaron on to his back. He knelt over him and put the gun in his face and demanded, “Where is the money?”

The other man counted up their haul, “I only have nineteen dollars here.”

“I don’t have any more money.” Aaron pleaded. He knew they hadn’t found his savings. He weighed the odds. They may not kill him for nineteen dollars. It wouldn’t be worth it. They’d probably have to kill him for five thousand.

“Fuck you!” said the man with the gun.

“I just came on shift.” Aaron tried to reason. “It’s 7:30 in the morning. Who do you think I picked up before you?”

It was a logical argument and one they had not thought of while planning their caper. They guy with the money began to curse and beat the side of the cab. The man with the gun had a twitch. He looked to his partner and said, “I’m going to shoot him.”

“Wait, no!” Aaron pulled his hands in front of his face as if his fingers could somehow miraculously stop bullets. “I have something.”

They ceased their machinations for a moment, intrigued by what it was that Aaron might have tooffer.

“I’ll have to get it for you. You’ll have to let me up.”

The man with the gun said, “It better not be a gun.”

This struck Aaron as being funny and there was a lilt in his voice when he replied, “Man, if I had a gun in there don’t you think you would have found it? I mean you tore my car up. It was a mess to begin with. It’s definitely a mess now.”

The guy without the gun told him to shut up and get it, whatever it was. Aaron leaned in through the driver’s side door. He saw the trash poking out from under the passenger seat. He was still tempted with the thought of buying his freedom. Instead he reached for the envelope on top of the dash.

Most people who are killed by guns are killed by someone they know. That’s why they want to kill them. When a stranger kills it is because he doesn’t know the victim. Aaron was smart enough to realize that if these guys knew who he was as a person that they would be less inclined to shoot him. That, of course, is supposing that they do not get to know him well enough to want to shoot him.

Aaron held up the envelope. “It’s in here.”

The guy with the gun said, “We don’t take checks.”

Aaron smiled when he reached in and presented the red, white, and black ticket before them. “This is what I got.”

“It’s a fucking lottery ticket.” proclaimed the gunman’s sidekick, not amused.

“Yes it is.” proclaimed Aaron. “It is a ticket for the upcoming drawing. You wanted everything I have. With this you have everything.”

Aaron kept talking. “I buy a ticket every drawing and mail it back to my girlfriend in Nebraska. That’s where I’m from. We’re poor. We buy lottery tickets. That’s what we do. I came all the way here just to find work. I haven’t made any money. It’s tough for everybody. You know it is. The whole world’s gone to hell. This ticket cost me two dollars. Maybe it wins and it’s worth fifty million. Maybe it doesn’t.

The thing is you have got to believe in something. Right now what I believe in is going home and seeing my girl. It’s funny. Today is actually my last day in the city. I tried, but I can’t make it here. Not like this. My mom’s wiring me a bus ticket and by noon tomorrow this place is in my rearview mirror. And, I’m going to marry Jenny. That’s my girlfriend’s name. Rich or poor is not that important, not really. Family is and I can’t wait to see mine. That is if you let me go.

Keep the money and the ticket. I don’t care about any of it and I’m not going tell anyone. Do you think I want to hang around and deal with the police? Over nineteen dollars? Take the ticket. Take it. You need it just as bad as I do.”

The guy lowered his gun and reached out with his hand.

His friend tried to stop him, “You can’t take his ticket.”

Aaron placed the ticket in the gunman’s hand and said in an almost gentle voice, “I want you to have it.”

The gunman had a gracious yet bewildered look on his face as he thanked Aaron. The two men walked out of the alley at a casual stroll, as if nothing had ever transpired between the three of them to cause any concern.

Aaron kept his word to the robbers and left town the next day. He had been lucky just like he thought he would. He didn’t win a million dollars, but when he told this story during his first job interview back home in Nebraska he got hired. It was a good job too, with benefits and everything. He married Jenny. They have their own place and a family together. Aaron would often say that two dollar ticket saved his life and provided him with a future still unfolding, so it was a winner.

He never did check to see if anyone had won that week’s drawing. Every now and then he would wonder if the two thieves had claimed the jackpot. Either way, it was alright with him.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 34

Life never lets anyone have it all. Even the truly happy have dark corners in which they fear to tread. The best you can hope for is that the balance is in your favor. Heaven forbid that the scales should tip in the other direction. The last year had been the most difficult of your life, but you felt cautiously optimistic that things were going to work out.
When Heather told you she was moving out it obliterated your hope. You hardly heard a word she said. The blood rushed to your ears. The sound of your pounding heart drowned out the muffled words as they left her mouth. You thought you might pass out. The pressure was so great. You sat at the kitchen table motionless, speechless until long after she had left.
It surprised you that you were not angry. Instead the pain manifested itself as nausea. No one at work doubted you when you said you had to go home because you had the flu. You went home and curled up into a ball in your bed, gently rocking back and forth, trying to soothe your discomfort. You hovered all day between awake and asleep.
When you dream everything is fine. Your mother is alive. Your father is happy. Heather loves you. When your eyes open your stomach cramps with so much force that you gasp for breath. You clutch the pillow to your face to stifle your groans as you wait for slumber to return.
Noise in the hallway causes a panic. It’s late at night. There are several voices talking and the sounds of objects banging around. This is your fear, that all of this is real. Your back is to the door as it slowly turns open and a slender beam of light stretches across the room.
Heather whispers, “Mark, are you awake? I brought some people to help me get my things. We’re going to need to get in here. Can you get up?”
You turn to face her but she is silhouetted. “Okay,” is all you can muster to say before her darkened face retreats.
You find yourself standing in the living room in your shorts and an old tshirt while strangers you’ve never seen before place items in boxes. You do not even check to see what it is they are taking. That is not what you care about.
You only get to see passing glances of Heather. She is deliberate in her attempt to not look at you directly. She has decided you are no longer part of her life. There will be no reconciliation. You won’t be friends. The coldness causes you to shiver.
You find yourself fixating on one guy. Your eyes follow him everywhere. You see how Heather looks at him as they pass. You strain to hear as they speak softly to one another. Is this the guy? She never said she met someone else, but you know she did.
This is your anger. He did this. She did this. You are standing all alone half naked as your house is stripped clean. She is just going to go on with her life as if none of this ever even mattered.
Heather’s voice rings out, “I left the keys on the table.” The door shuts behind her and she is gone. This is all she had to say. You cry for the first time all day.

Monday, May 7, 2012


I speak for my audience

Of an uncertain people in an uncertain place

At an uncertain age

Brothers and sisters conjoined at the hip

Of self-doubt fumbling for misplaced roadmaps

As children we had clear expectations and clear courses

And clear minds and clear skin

That things were going to be a certain way

If we did things a certain way

If we wanted things a certain way

Our lives would have meaning and purpose

Just like our parents and grandparents and everyone before them

It was all laid out before us

And still we got lost

If only we’d studied harder

If only we’d gotten that job

If only we’d married our high school sweethearts

And had four babies and three jobs and two mortgages

And one divorce

We could be like everyone else

But we didn’t

We set ourselves adrift on a sea of sand

We ran screaming with delight as we escaped form middle class homes

With middle class values

And republican ideology

We imagined ourselves as free

Free from the certainty of back to school lunches

The perceived drudgery of picket fences manicured lawns

Old age and death

We kick flip Ollied through somber shouting matches

With well-heeled kin

Then set our own course through the wilderness

We aspired for inspirations

Dreamed of dream catchers

Tasted the future as succulent ripe fruit

We waited for nothing and then nothing happened

There are six billion people on this planet

Only a handful get to live the way they want

The rest of us compromise and struggle

We buy discount toilet paper and happy hour shots

We work crappy jobs for lousy pay and scratch off our lottery tickets slowly

To draw out the suspense

Those fools who fooled themselves

Into doing everything they were told are doing no better

With their daytime drama talk show chair throwing petty

Bickering family bullshit

The only thing they have are their beliefs

That they have a purpose

That they are following the path

We have just our unsatiated needs

That we fulfill as best we can

We all want to see Canaan

We deny our envy

But it would be nice to believe in something once and awhile

Wistful little cherubim

Innocent and beautiful

Guardians of sacred sanctuaries

Men dressed like boys and women dressed as girls

Cram themselves in into creaky sodden places

For jovial juvenile explorations of liquid psyche

They seek the sweet sanguine laughter of strangers

In parting flicker tape memories

We are none of us virgins

We are none of the whores we aspire to be

We are too anxious to give ourselves so freely

Though we talk about sex and allude to sex

And conspire for sex and whisper for sex

But never so often never so long

There is a recalcitrant reluctance that feeds our loneliness

Sweaty symphonic beats glisten on eager brows

And damp cheeks and red lips

We friend each other this way

Where cotton meets silk

Pressed against one another

Struggling to be understood

These are my false gods

Dj’s and bartenders and five dollar cover charges

We will lose each other in these crowds

Then find each other only to be separated

By other friends with other agendas

Tomorrow we may text and rendezvous in a quieter place

Where we can fantasize about happiness and true love

And doing it in the afternoon and all the things in life we fear we are missing

Tonight we can only steal glances across a parting multitude

Streaming towards exits

On the sidewalk I will stare at your programmed phone number

Intent clutching praying

Till a voice breaks my trance

Moses knows us every Friday Saturday night

He waits outside when we enter and he waits for us when we leave

With camels and newports  stumbling down the street

He waits because this is where he is

He really isn’t anywhere else

Moses knows us as friends

That’s what he calls us when his chaffed hands grab ours

Shaking vigorously wet red variegated eyes peering

Three tooth grin emerging

It is easy to like someone happy to see you

Moses knows us for a dollar

And whatever change we have

So he can get that meal

So he can buy his medicine

So he can put gas in his car

To save his pregnant wife sick mother crippled brother

He needs so little

We have so much

Moses knows us for the trouble we’ve caused

Foolish hooliganism

Foolish banter

Foolish boasts

About the projects we’re on

And how we are going to set the world on fire

With 5 million candle watt intensity

Moses knows us as great men

On the same step of the same stoop

Crouched in the same doorway

Cupping the same smokes to light a match as he does

Moses knows us because Moses once was us

What happened to you man?

It wasn’t always like this

Between you and I

At some time in your life you had an idea

There was a purpose

There was a plan

There were vo-tech courses and rent to own furniture

There was a woman in a tiny apartment

Who folded things and checked your finger nails for grime

She loved you

Why did you give it up?

Is this really easier?

I don’t want to be like you

All this wandering scares me

The days are shorter and shorter and go by faster and faster

With supersonic velocity 59 millimeter rubber wheels on a 15% incline

I am afraid to grow old with nowhere to stop

The dirty yellow cab is coming take me home

You can hold the door and help me in

But I don’t want you to lead the way

We are both lost in the desert

And it would do me no good to follow your path

Everyone knows Moses never set foot in the promised land

Sunday, April 8, 2012


     As a child I was obsessed with life’s great questions. Why are we here? What is our purpose? There are no concrete answers. Mankind looks to the heavens to fill a void that knowledge cannot traverse. Herein lays the basis of all religion.               
     I was eight years old when I asked my devoutly catholic grandmother what became of the souls who did not know of Jesus. After all, Christianity had only been around for two thousand years. Surely there were pious men and women who lived before Christ. Should they all be sent to hell for not worshipping a God they’d never met?               
     She struggled with an answer, but assured me that good people always go to heaven regardless of their beliefs. I should note that my preciousness did not make me her favorite grandchild. Faith requires absolute certainty. Believers do not like to be confronted with issues that require flexibility.
     When I grew older I learned as much as I could about the different religions of the world. I am not an expert on any of them. I have a passing knowledge not a scholarly degree. What I have been able to gather is that at some very basic points they all preach the same thing and hold the same purpose.                
     Since the dawn of time religion has been mythology, nationalism, and codified law. We use the stories to explain away our fears and weave elaborate fables about our origins. We identify ourselves by our beliefs as separate from other people. We use it as the basis for how we treat each other and behave in an organized society.               
     Religion is a concept created by humans, derived to fulfill human need. As such it cannot help but be corrupted by human pettiness. For the same reasons my grandmother would not attend my uncle’s wedding to a Baptist, wars have been fought, people have been subjugated, and tyranny has been allowed to fester.               
     This is why am convinced that all religion is baseless and all Gods are false as we know them. This is not to say that I do not have a moral compass and cannot differentiate between right and wrong. I take these things very seriously. The difference is that I do not honor justice because I fear for my soul. I do so because the concept of justice is the most noble of all human inventions. If I have a religion then it is based in the value of humanity.               
     If there is a God and there is a heaven, I do not know what they are. If my soul is in danger of being put on trial I cannot conceive of a judge. What I do know is that in this world of living people my actions carry weight and provide consequences. I am beholden to my fellow people to behave in a righteous manner. In a world where we are so close as to one another that even geography is not an obstacle the idea that all lives our intertwined and we live for the benefit of each other is not fantasy.               
     There is however great merit in these fables, even if in practice their spirituality is waning. Judaism is a chronicle of perseverance. Christianity provides us with the golden rule. Islam teaches structure. Hinduism is a quest for moral certainty. Buddhism seeks personal enlightenment. Each of these concepts is valid and none should be in contrast with another. They stand as a testament to the greatness of the human species.               
     I believe that for us to survive on this planet we must embrace the fact that none of us know what is the true religion. We cannot afford to be resolute about that for which we are all of us unsure. There is no man or woman alive who knows with any certitude what lies beyond the veil of life. Therefore, we should worship the life we know is real and find merit within it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 33

     Most bombs go off without a warning. There is no countdown. You don’t hear a burning fuse. There is no anonymous call to warn the innocent. There is just a loud bang and it’s over. If you pay close attention though, you can see the warning signs. Some are obvious. Some are not.
     When Sunday afternoon turned into Sunday evening and Heather had still not returned home you became concerned. You did not feel any panic. You were just curious. You called her phone. It rang, but there was no answer. You left a message on her voicemail. You shrugged it off and began to make diner for yourself. Then while hunched over the sink a bolt of electricity shot down your spine and made you stand straight up.
     You grabbed the phone and called again. This time it rang once and went to voicemail. She had declined your call. You immediately called back. This time it rang until you got the voicemail again. You were looking for her mother’s number when you got a call from Heather.
     The first words out of your mouth were, “What’s going on?”
     “What do you mean?” She replied in a hushed tone.
     “I called three times.”
     “I know. Mother is sleeping. I didn’t want to wake her.”
     “Aren’t you coming home? You have work in the morning.”
     “I took Monday off. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
     “You didn’t tell me.”
     “I forgot.”
     This confused you. Heather never forgot anything and she never missed work. “Is everything alright?” It all sounded like a lie. You strained to listen for any noise in the background that would expose it as such.
     “Yes, everything is fine.” She continued to speak in a soft voice. “I can’t really talk. I’ll be home soon. Love you.”
     She rushed off before you could reply. You could feel your heart beat fast in your chest. None of this made sense. You sat at the table and stared at the phone in your hands. You wanted to call her mother. You wanted to make sure she was really asleep and Heather was really there.
     If you were wrong Heather would think you didn’t trust her. Just thinking that she is betraying you is a breach of faith. Your mind wanted to go places you did not want to tread. You decided to believe her, but trust cannot be manufactured. You either have it or you ignore that it’s gone. You chose to be oblivious.
     That didn’t help you sleep any better. You lied in bed listening to the ticking clock. The click-clack grew louder and louder. It drowned out the sounds in your head and you counted along, one, two, one, two, until the alarm rang.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 32

     The distance between two people is hard to measure when you can’t use a map. You and Heather are still very much together, and there are moments of passion and closeness, but they are only moments. Sometimes you wonder if she is there, or if you are there, or if it would make any difference if you weren’t.
     You are spending a lot less time together. You are working earlier and staying later. She is spending more nights out with her friends. You are spending more at home with your father. Sometimes, she is the last to bed and the last to rise and the two of you will spend a whole day without passing a single word back and forth.
     One day when you are home alone together you decide to see how long it will take before she initiates a conversation. Between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. you circle each other. Not once does she make a sound. Finally you crack because it is painful to miss someone who is standing in front of you.
     Over diner you quip that Milo has a blood lust for squirrels and how you’re worried the dog might be the reincarnation of a serial killer. She ignores your funny aside and instead talks about herself, her friends, and her job. When you try to steer the conversation to the two of you she seems uninterested and returns to her food.
     The next Saturday you take Heather on a drive out to the suburbs. She spends much of the time on the phone with her girlfriends and is speaking to one of them when you drive down a remote tree enveloped road. You pull into the driveway of a little house, all by itself, carved out of the forest, and turn off the car.
     “Hang up the phone.” You whisper to her.
     She does and asks, “Where are we?”
     “What do you think?”
     “About what?”
     “This house.” You are restrained in your excitement. “In six months I can afford this house. I talked to the owner and he wants to sell. He doesn’t even live there anymore and he is willing to let it go cheap.”
     She scrunches up her face and squints. “It is so small.”
     “The first house is always small. It’s two bedrooms, one and a half baths, nice kitchen, and has a porch out back. It’s bigger than our apartment. There’s plenty of room for you, me, and the dog. There is even enough space for one regular sized child or two little ones if we have them back to back.”
     She sighs and says, “I don’t know, Mark.”
     “You said we needed a house before we could get married. This is a house. It’s clean. It’s relatively new. We have the woods. It reminds me of your parent’s house. Well, maybe their garage, but we can live here for a couple of years and trade up.”
     “It’s so far away from the city.”
     “It’s twenty two miles. I can commute. You can commute. Or, you can get a job closer to the house.”
     “I can’t quit my job. I love my job.” She is not interested in the house at all and tries to rationalize her decision. “Besides, I’d go stir crazy out here. There is no one around. It’s so isolated.”
     “I thought that is what you would like most about it.” You are crushed and finding it difficult to conceal. “I just want to get married. We have been engaged for a year. We have been together for a lot longer than that. It feels like we are stuck in a holding pattern and I want to land the plane. I’m afraid we’re going to run out of gas and crash if we don’t.”
     She strokes the back of your hair and comforts you. “It’s okay. I love you. I just think we need more options. Who knows what else will be out there in six months. We can look again then.”
     On the ride back you are alone with your thoughts. Heather spends the entire time with her face buried in her phone, texting her friends. The seed of paranoia that you have been keeping in the dark is starting to see daylight. You want to know what she is saying to them. Is she ridiculing you? You plead with yourself to not overreact.
     You have been so desperate to conform to the idea of what she wanted. You wonder what else you can do or if there is anything you can do. You had your hopes so high. You thought she would be overjoyed not underwhelmed.
     The next weekend Heather went to see her parents. You stayed home. She wanted some alone time with her mother. She said you’d be bored because her father was out of town on business and you’d have no one to talk too. You agreed halfheartedly.
     While walking the dog you took the time to figure the mileage to her parent’s house. Then you factored in the pace you and Milo kept on an average jaunt. You combined the two in your head to conclude exactly how long it would take the two of you to reach her. There is no way you could make it. She is too far away.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 31

     For the next couple of months you throw yourself into your work. You have always presented an eager face, but now you are backing it up with action. You stay late when needed and always ask what more you can do. You work at home. You work on the weekends. You want your bosses to see the effort you are making.
     It is not that you are any more enamored of your job than you have ever been. What has changed is the recognition of your fate. If this is your future, if this is your real job, and your career then you are determined to succeed at it. Your father was a tireless worker and although you had spent the better part of your life in the pursuit of leisure you could feel those worker bee genes ignite within you. All his idiotic books were beginning to make sense to you. You were going to bring greatness with you to this job.
     A bit of a buzz began to surround you. Executives that you did not even know would come by your desk just to say hello and get a look at you. Your boss started inviting you out to lunch, not all the time, but every once in a while. You enjoyed the small talk about office politics and whatever juicy gossip was floating around. You paid attention when he would talk about your future with FTP.
     “I’ve got to say, Mark, everyone is really impressed with the effort you are making. Myself included. Even my boss’s boss mentioned you yesterday.”
     “Wow! I must be doing something right.”
     “When V.P.’s start talking about you then yes you are.”
     “It looks like I better keep it up. I don’t want anyone saying, ‘Whatever happened to that guy?’”
     “I just can’t get over the progress you’ve made.”
     “My father worked at Traft for thirty years. He started at the bottom and worked his way into the boardroom. I want to do the same thing here. I’m going to do whatever it takes.”
     “That is exactly the type of attitude we look for. That’s the same way I feel. I started out doing what you’re doing. Five years later I got promoted. Hopefully, I’ll move up in couple of years and so on and so on. At the rate you’re going you’ll be the guy who replaces me when that happens.”
     “You better put in a good word for me.”
     “You know I will!”
     The idea of sitting at the same desk doing the same thing for five years takes some of the wind out of your sails. Even two years seems like a long time. For an hour afterwards you sit at your desk completely discouraged, not doing anything but sitting silently.
     You think about long distance running. At track meets they use a rabbit. He is a runner who starts out as fast as he can. He sets the pace and the legitimate contenders try to keep up with him. He’s there to make sure they don’t just save all their energy for the end. After a couple of laps the rabbit jumps off the track and watches the race conclude like any other bystander. You hope you are not a rabbit.
     Eventually, you shake it off and get back to work. The reality is if this is what you have to endure then this is what you are going to do. There is too much at stake to allow yourself to be swayed by a little frustration. You steel your resolve.
     Occasionally when you get home your father is in your apartment waiting for you. He is always in the living room watching television or asleep on the couch if you are very late. You cover him with a blanket or wake him up to say goodnight. In the morning the two of you talk over breakfast.
     Heather is always somewhere else. She is in the kitchen or already in bed. Sometimes she is out with friends. She was close to your mother. She does not have the same relationship with your father. It worries you, but it is a subject you do not know how to approach so you leave it alone.
     When you unexpectedly receive a thousand dollar bonus at work you celebrate by taking the two of them out to dinner. Over wine you toast your success and your father tells stories that may or may not be funny although he is sure they are. You laugh anyways and are having a great time. Heather says she has a headache and leaves early. The party continues long into the night and you walk home together. You are two of a kind, your father and you, but you feel that you are missing a third.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 30

     The following weekend you and Heather went to visit her parents as you did at least once a month. You had finally been allowed to sleep in the same room together, but Heather refused to have sex. She said that the idea of doing so close to where her parents slept was icky. You countered that because it was so dirty that you definitely should. It was an argument you did not win.
     The routine was predictable. You would drive up on Saturday, spend the night, and drive back Sunday afternoon. Usually, Heather would spend all her time with her mother and you were left to yourself. Recently though, the Colonel had begun to warm up to you. There was an odd look in his eyes. You were not sure if he really liked you or if there was something else going on.
     He took you horseback riding that Sunday morning, which was a feat in itself because you are terrified of any animal that has the ability to stomp you to death should it choose to do so. The two of you meandered through trails choked with new spring growth to a lake where you stopped for a rest. The Colonel would often take you aside to share his personal philosophies on politics or the working class, but this time it was much more personal.
     “I heard about your family, Mark. I am very sorry.”
     “My mother’s death was hard on everybody. You were at the funeral.”
     “I know. I can’t believe it’s been what, five months?”
     “I mean your financial situation. Heather says you’re poor. You’re father blew all his money and is living in a shabby little apartment. That has to be quite a shock.”
     Everything he just said angered you. You struggle to find a diplomatic way to correct his opinions. “We are not poor. My father owns a nice apartment. It is in a neighborhood that needs some fixing up, but it is not some pit. He spent his life savings trying to save my mother’s life.”
     “You took that all wrong. Or, I said it all wrong. Let me try again. Son, it is never easy when tragedy strikes only to be followed by more bad news. You spend your whole life within a certain circle and it never occurs to you that you are going to be pushed out of it and have to fight your way back in.”
     The fact that he called you son is lost on you because you are struggling to understand his metaphor. “Is this a sumo thing?”
     “It can be. It’s also a life thing. Right now you have a big fat Japanese guy pushing you around. You gotta get back in the ring. You were born a child of privilege. Like Heather, you didn’t go to public school. There are worries in life you haven’t had to face until now. I hope you are up to it.”
     “I’m doing the best I can.” You have warmed to the fact that he is trying to be sincere even if he is really bad at it.
     “This job you have with FTP, is it a good one?”
     “I’m making enough money. The longer I’m there the better I’ll do.”
     “I’ve checked it out. It’s a good company. Do you like it? Do you think you have what it takes to stick it out until you make the good money?”
     “Right now I’m just analyzing bullshit. It’s boring and they have a dozen people doing the exact same thing, looking at the exact same numbers, so it seems kind of pointless. But, I’m not going to quit. I need this job. I have to buy a house.”
     He makes an odd grimace and says, “Don’t worry about the house right now. Save your money and invest wisely. In a year or so you’ll have a better idea about what you can do with it.”
     On the way back you start to think that you like the Colonel. Even with his gruff exterior he means well. After all, he did call you son. It does not occur to you that this is the last time the two of you will speak.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Great Whatever (blog story) 29

     Your father lives in a part of the city that is filled with Caribbean immigrants. The area is known as little Haiti and it is filled with the smell of strange foods and strange dialects. His place is small, but well maintained. It is a far cry from the lavish house you grew up in.
     You were polite and supportive on your first visit, but you could not help wondering how things had come to this point. Growing up, if someone had asked you if you were middle or upper class you would not hesitate to say your family had plenty of money. Everything was top notch. You went to summer camp in the summer, ski vacations in the winter. There were no ostentatious displays of wealth, but there was never any worry about it either.
     It occurs to you that maybe all of it was an illusion. Your parents did not come from money. Your father had a good job that provided a comfortable life, but all of you were living at the edge of what that could afford. With your mother’s illness and your father losing his job it unraveled quickly.
     You wanted to ask what went wrong, but what your father needed was a friend and a son. If there was any shame he was feeling you were not going to be the one to expose it. Over time, he let pieces to the story leak out. You never prodded him for details.
     He claims he is happy, but behind the smile you think you can see a beaten man. He is not looking for work. You can tell that he does not care. He had you late in life and now pushing sixty he seems resigned to the idea that his life was winding down. He assures you that he is well enough to carry on. You suspect that with your mother gone he has given up.
     Heather joined you that first time. She would not return. The neighborhood made her nervous and she had trouble disguising her disgust for the graffiti and people loitering on every stoop and every street corner. It is a world she wants no part of. It is one that she has taken special care to avoid.
     A strange silence overcomes her. It is as if what she thought she knew and what was the truth wound up being very different things. You feel the same, but in very different ways.