Dec 31, 2017

The Eleventh Annual Inspiration List: 2017

This past year has been short on heroes.  But I still managed to find four people who have inspired and encouraged me.  Two of my heroes have been inspiring me for quite a few years now; recognition is long over due. The other two have made their mark this year. They are three men and one woman.  One is a missionary doctor, another a pastor, and still another a young man who was just recently sworn in to the U.S. military but has been a soldier for years, and finally a Jill of All Trades and Mistress of the them all!  One hero I've known since high school though we've never been close, and another hero I've known casually for a few years. Another I've known since he was in fifth grade. And one I've had the pleasure of working closely with this year.  This quartet makes me want be cool, love, and live more on this incredible journey called life.

A few other notes of interest.  First, I've nominated people more than once as my heroes before.  Joy Lacorte,  Keisha Paez, Virleshay Gayatin, & Anastasia Bailey all share that honor.  But this is the second time I've nominated the same person for two consecutive years. El-Ryck becomes the first male to join the Twice Nominated Club after making the list last year.  As long as I find new ways you inspire me, you can make this list multiple years!  Also in other "repeat" news:  For the third year in a row a member of the same remarkable family makes the list.  Three generations of heroism in one family! I don't know what they're doing over there in the Green family but whatever it is, it's being done right.  And here's the kicker.  There will be a fourth hero from this extraordinary clan, setting a new record for individual nominations from the same family (right now they are tied with the Paez tribe; Carol, Keisha, and Natalia were all nominated). But for reasons that I'll explain next year that nomination has to wait.  So stay tuned for the 12th Annual Inspirations in December 2018!

In the meantime here are this year's heroes and inspirations:

Dr. James Appel
Jasmyn Green
El-Ryck Kendrick
Pastor Bob McGhee

Jasmyn Green
I'm inspired by her calm spirit

"One thing about me is I try not stress."  So began a Facebook post by Jasmyn earlier this year. No big deal right?  We all try not to stress.  But as I've gotten to know Jasmyn over this past year I've found that she is remarkably successful at living up to that aspiration.  Her life is the definition of the full plate--it seems like she's got at least two different theater projects that she's involved in at any given time; she works full time at two jobs, does a bang-up job as the youth ministries leader at our church, and she may be working on writing a new play.  And she manages to do all this with her trademark calm spirit, good humor, and patient demeanor.  It's not to say that she doesn't ever get stressed.  She does on occasion.  Three hours before curtain of our debut performance of her play Lie in the Bed You Make was one of the few times I've ever seen Jasmyn sweat.  But far more than most she maintains an even keel, come what may.   The good news for me in aspiring to her zen-like approach to life is that I have access to the same One she credits for her ability to live mostly stress-free.  "That's what I have God for," she says, "He takes care of all my problems and then some!  Don't like stress? Try Him--you might be surprised how freeing life will be."

Dr. James Appel

I'm inspired by his life less ordinary

I can't say for sure, but I have this feeling that James doesn't see his life as one of sacrifice.  Most people would look at his work as a missionary surgeon in Tchad and think, "Wow what a hero.  Look at what he and his family have given up to serve the less fortunate."  But it's not the noble dedication  to going without Western comforts and family close at hand that inspire me about James. You see, I've lived life like James has and I can tell you there is nothing like it in the world. You feel so fully alive and the work, while difficult,  is so deeply rewarding.  James and his family inspire me because they remind me that it's still possible to live extraordinarily in the service of God and others. Right now circumstances don't allow me to live on the other side of the world but I hope that if and when the opportunity does arise, I'll have the courage to take the leap again. In the meantime, I want to bring as much of  that mindset of extraordinary service and love to every day of my life right now.


Bob McGhee
I'm inspired by his commitment to loving people

We called him Bobby Love. So much so that I kind of forgot his actual last name for awhile. Pastor Bob picked up that nickname some years ago when my sister-in-law and her husband visited his church, and as many people do, decided to slip out ahead of the communion service. He followed them out the door imploring them to stay, saying "I love you guys."  We thought it was funny, and a bit extreme and so he was christened him Bobby Love.  But we were wrong.  While his attempt to let those visitors know they were loved may have backfired, he couldn't be faulted for trying.  More importantly, I've learned that while Pastor Bob can be funny there's nothing funny about the compassion he has for others.  And while he might be extreme and offend the doctrinal purists who view "too much love"  with suspicion, I think Pastor Bob understands what following Christ is ultimately all about.  During his farewell Sabbath at Worthington Adventist Church, someone recounted how concerned Pastor Bob was about the people that most folks neglect but that he'd built relationships with over the years.  "Who will look after them after I leave?" he had asked.  That's when I got it.  Faith is great.  Hope is amazing.  But the greatest of these is love.  Pastor Bob understands that.  I never told Pastor Bob the nickname I had for him, but I like to think he'd wear Bobby Love with pride.

El-Ryck Kendrick
I'm inspired by his journey

I wouldn't say he started at the bottom, but he is definitely on his way to the top.  I am so immensely proud of El-Ryck.  I've known this young man since he was a loud fifth grader with a hot temper and whether he has known it or not he has always been a blessing in my life.  During fifth and sixth grade we butted heads over his classroom behavior and academic performance, but he taught me patience and despite my being hard on him, I grew to love this guy.  In seventh grade  he was one of the first students to run with me in the Buckeye Classic 10K.  He amazed himself with his ability to run 6.2 miles; so much so he did it again the next year.  In the eighth grade he made his mark as a powerful speaker and actor. He was the star of the school Christmas play and blew the audience away with his final monologue.  At the beginning of each school year throughout high school he would volunteer to come in and help  me set up my classroom before school started.  I always appreciated his help with the heavy lifting and fellowship over lunch from Sonic when the work was done.  And now El-Ryck has decided to join the United States Army.  For years, I've had El-Ryck's back; now he has all of ours.  El-Ryck has always had a sense of honor, courage, and service so it's no surprise to me that he's chosen to serve our country.  El-Ryck's journey so far has been nothing less than inspiring.  I can't wait to see where he'll go next.

Dec 28, 2017

Young Sean

Prompt: You read about yourself in your brother/sister, boyfriend/girlfriend's diary.  What did you read?

It took me a minute to figure out how to approach this.  In the end I settled on a nice weekend I spent with a dear friend in Chicago just weeks before I met Barbara.  Ours had been a tumultuous friendship and that weekend felt like coming into a comforting calm.  I still consider her a friend 22 years later, and I'm grateful for the growth I experienced through knowing her.  While I don't know if she saw me as having "grown up" from the Young Sean she knew, I chose to write about this weekend from her perspective because it had the narrative structure I needed. And because I'd like to think she felt the same way about the weekend that I did.  The biggest liberty I took was with the conversation snippet which I created.  We may or may  not have had a similar conversation. I've chosen not to use her name and I've changed the one name that I used in the story besides my own.  But if she reads this, she'll know right away that I'm talking about her.  I hope she remembers that September weekend of walking Chicago as fondly as I do and as I've imagined she did. 


Well, Sean has just left and I must say it was an absolutely lovely weekend.  I hadn't seen him in over a year though we did write intermittently while he was away. We talked on the phone a few times when he got back earlier this summer and I invited him to come out to see me in Chicago.  I was really looking forward to seeing him, but wasn't quite sure what to expect.  He's been a very dear friend since I met him in fall his freshman ad (and my senior) year of college.  But as I've written about ad nauseam in these pages, our friendship has been fraught.  A lot of ups and downs I guess you could say.  And when I last saw him, things were, I guess kind of tense. I think he was angry with me, and me, well I was trying to be patient (and probably not succeeding very well).  There's always been this weird sexual tension in our friendship.  Sometimes I've felt  it. More often he felt it. On a few occasions we both felt it at the same time and then things were always interesting.

He was so young. . .that's the thing that attracted me to him and also annoyed me about him.  Every now and then I'd call him "Young Sean" which he might have found insulting.  I only said it a few times, but he has no idea how often I called him that in my mind.

But this is all old news.  Back to this weekend.  He got here Friday night  around 8 and it was so good to see him. He looked the same, for the most part. Maybe a little thinner (which is insane because he's already the skinniest guy I've ever known.  Makes Todd look like Heavy D by comparison).  But other than that, the same neatly trimmed goatee, same big, intelligent eyes, same full lips.  Still very good-looking.  But there was something different about him, though I couldn't say what.  I hugged him for a long time and it felt so good just to be with him again.

We ate, went for a walk, looked at pictures from his mission experience, and  talked late into the night. It was like old times--the best of the old times. From the first day I met him as a bright eyed freshman in the student center at the university campus, I found he was incredibly easy to talk to.  He listened but he also had a lot to say, and not just talking about himself.  He was available emotionally in a way that I hadn't found in very many of the the guys I'd dated.  That hasn't changed, but something else has. Friday night I couldn't put my finger on it.

Saturday we slept late, had brunch at a great place near my apartment, and set out on a walk.  That's mostly what we did this weekend. Walked. In my neighborhood, downtown, and along Lake Michigan.  We walked all over Chicago, hand in hand, and talked. It was just so comfortable. And that was the first thing I realized.  That after all the hot and cold, the euphoria and aggravation, the attraction and annoyance, the passion and tension, we were finally comfortable.  It was, in a way, what I'd always wanted, what I'd hoped our friendship would be like and it was truly beautiful to finally get there after all we'd been through.  I don't think he knew it at the time, but I think it's what he always wanted too.  I think he knows it now though.

The second thing I realized was that the heat had cooled on his end if you will. I'll admit it stung a little, but only a little. Though I took his hand, leaned on his shoulder as we walked I no longer felt that tremble of boyish desire.  He seemed content, which was not something I think he'd ever been before.

Late Sunday afternoon we ended up walking along Lake Michigan with the sun low in the west, flashing through the canyons of downtown Chicago on our left, and the light glinting on the lake to our right.  He said he felt like he was done with the chase, a chase he'd been on since he was in middle school.  Always there had been a girl he'd wanted and if there wasn't one, he was looking for one.

"You were one of those girls," he said.

"I know," I replied.

"But I'm at a point in my life where I feel like I'm just happy with myself. I don't need the chase anymore. My focus in going back to school is on my classes, my work at the Behavioral Science department, and my friendships.  I've spent enough time wishing, wanting, hoping, praying. Now my plan is to live and be happy."

"You said friendships.  Does that include me?"

"Of course it includes you.  Always you."  And he looked at me with those beautiful, soft brown eyes and smiled this open-hearted smile. He was completely at peace.  And that's what when I knew.  My young Sean wasn't so young any more.  He had grown up.  This young'un had arrived at the beginning of his journey as a man.

 It made me really happy.

So earlier this evening he got in his Honda to go back to school.  As I watched him drive away, the sounds of Seal's "Bring it On" emanating in a muffled melody from his car, I realized something else.

We would always be friends but it would never again be like it was.  It left me a little sad, but also really proud. I didn't foresee that we might grow apart too, but in that moment I realized that was certain to happen.  In fact, it already had.

I will miss the boy, but always care for, and be happy for, the man.

Dec 26, 2017

Near Death

Prompt: Make up a near death experience (Unless you have a real one).  This story comes from my belief that I've likely had many near death experiences, and didn't even realize it. Whether you believe it's mere chance or believe, as I do, that we are preserved by the inscrutable will of God, we all live much closer to the edge than we are aware.  

"When did he have a near-death experience?"  Naes, looks at his fellow Guardians, and as if on cue they all burst into loud laughter.

"When did he not!"

And the guards all laugh uproariously.

The Interviewer says he's not sure he understands.

"Look, I'm just saying that a dozen times a day he comes with in inches of death.  Death is the default, man. It's what supposed to happen.  'In the day you eat of it you shall surely die.' Ever since Mada took the first shift, it's been daily delay.'"

Arze pipes up, younger than the rest, new to the job

"This is about the only time we rest--a little.  When they're sleeping. They can't get into to too much trouble then--"

"Unless they're driving," Arabrab interrupts, and they all laugh again.

"Yeah, well I don't have to worry about that yet," Arze says sheepishly.

"It's okay, little one." Naes says encouragingly,  "You've got enough to deal with right now.  The job is constantly evolving. You'll see."

So you're busy?

"Very," says Arabrab.  "Especially with the driving.  We are forbidden from outright controlling them so a lot of what we do is dealing with whatever decisions they make.  Especially with the new tool they have, the 'smart phone' a lot of it is coordinating with other Guardians so that when she changes lanes without checking her blind spot, I can either delay the turn of her wheel or the Guardian with the oncoming driver whose momentarily distracted by his phone can slow or speed up the car as needed to avoid a collision."

"They come within inches far more than they realize,'" Naes adds. "There's the close calls they're aware of but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the time they're blithely unaware that they are one Guardian and one command from the Lord away from eternity."

One command from the Lord?

"Yeah, the one we all dread, " Hajile  says, "Even though we've been through it all it more times than we can count."  Though his charge is young, Hajile is the senior Guardian of the group.

"I'm dreading that day," says Arze. This is his very first tour as Guardian.

"It's the worst," says Naes, "Even though you know that it's only temporary."

"Not for all  of them," Arabrab says glumly.

"We aren't permitted to know their final status," Hajile reminds them.

"Yeah, but sometimes it's hard not to feel like you know," Arabrab says.

"Better to just focus on our job," Haijle says.

Can you explain what you are talking about the Interviewer asks, puzzled by the change in tone.

"Well, one day you get the order to stand down," Naes says.

Stand down?

 "Yes.  We'll be given an order that at a particular time on that day, we are to stand down, to not intervene," Naes says.

"Of course many times that's not the way it happens. We are Guardians.  Healing is not part of our duties or skill sets.  But when you get the dreaded command, it's a very difficult day indeed.  To spend their lives focused on one goal only to voluntarily give it up at the end. . ..It's tough." Arabrab says.

Are you given a reason?

"No.  In that way, we are like them.  We don't know why this one is spared and that one is not.  But we know Him, far better than they do.  We know His love and trust His decisions implicitly. It still hurts but there's not the doubt that they struggle with so much." Hajile says.

"Yeah, we covered that ground eons ago and those of us that stuck it out with Him are more convinced than ever that He s not just right, but also good," Naes adds.

"And like we said before, we understand that we are simply agents of delay.  They think of us --when they do think of us, and not many do--as Protectors.  But in truth we are more like life support.  Keeping them going when the Enemy, the vagaries of the Dangerous Planet, the evil in the hearts of their fellows would snuff them out much sooner."

"Life, for them, is a Near-Death Experience."

"And they have no idea."

Dec 23, 2017

The Worst

Prompt: Write about your worst habit



Are you kidding me? My worst habit? Really?

My best guest for many human beings on this planet, especially those of us of the "upstanding citizen" variety; those of us who strive for the Gold Star, the Good Boy Award.  For us, the worst habits are the ones that are practiced in the mind, outside of the view of all but themselves and an all-seeing God.

And those habits are maybe more insidious, more dangerous, more destructive in the long-term than the public habits that get the bad rep. Or maybe they're not? No harm, no foul, right?  That's what I tell myself a lot, but sometimes I'm not sure about that.

There's a song by Switchfoot I relate to a lot called The War Inside:

"I am the war inside
I am the battle line
I am the rising tide
I am the war I fight
Eyes open, open wide
I can feel it like a crack in my spine
I can feel it like the back of my mind
I am the war inside"

Scripture talks about the pride of life, the lust of the eyes and of the flesh.  These are the battles we rage while the surface is calm, polished, and put together.  To talk about the truth of my worst habits is to reveal the worst of myself.  And I don't have the courage to do that.

What is my worst habit that people know about?  Probably interrupting people.  But what is there to say about that other than that I'm aware of it, working on it, trying to do better.

But the real battle?

Aint no killer like pride
No killer like I
No killer like what's inside

Dec 19, 2017

Witness

Prompt: Write a story about "What the Neighbors Saw"
The Millers: Faithful in their weekly Saturday morning church attendance and  Sunday morning detailing of the family cars.

The Millers were good neighbors, as good one as could ask for Mr. Ajaiyeoba thought.  They kept their place up, and always had a friendly wave whenever they saw him in his driveway or yard. They drove nice cars, which they cared for meticulously. Mr. Miller could always be found on a Sunday morning carefully washing and detailing the family vehicles during the warm months.  They were always well dressed, and carried themselves with the conscious dignity of those who have succeeded and are sure of their way in the world.  Their kids could be a bit loud when they were younger, but that's to be expected.  Mr. Ajaiyeoba's own children could make a ruckus and indeed once a few years ago, Mr. Miller had knocked on his door to ask if he wouldn't mind addressing the children on their screaming as his wife had a migraine.  Mr. Ajaiyeoba had apologized profusely, feeling quite embarrassed to have disturbed his neighbors so, and Mr. Miller had been gracious in accepting his apology.  After that Mr. Ajaiyeoba was careful to keep Tani, Griffith, Lola, & Priscilla inside whenever he saw the Millers shiny silver Mercedes in the driveway.

Saturday morning was always a great time for the children to play outside as the Millers were always away at church.  They attended faithfully, never missing a Saturday morning.  They often seemed stressed leaving the house on Saturday though. In recent years their had been fights with the older daughter about her clothing.  On more than one occasion she'd been ordered back inside to change her too-short skirt or too-revealing top or remove some offending piece of jewelry.  While Mr. Ajaiyeoba had daughters of his own and held fairly conservative standards for them as well, he found the shouting more disturbing than whatever it was the girl was wearing.

While Saturday was Mr. Ajaiyeoba's preferred day to work in the yard, the Millers were quiet on Saturdays, saving their yard work and home projects for Sundays.  More than once Mr. Ajaiyeoba had been awakened early Sunday morning to the roar of Mr. Miller's lawn mower in the summer or his snow blower in the winter.  Mr. Ajaiyeoba had to admit the Millers were an industrious clan, more than making up for their inactivity on Saturdays.  Speaking of  the snow blower, Mr. Ajaiyeoba had to admit to some jealousy over that snow blower.  He had to shovel his driveway by hand every winter, and the snow that got blown over from his neighbors neatly cleared drive didn't make his job any easier.  But he didn't begrudge them the snow blown his way; he knew it wasn't intentional. Just as it wasn't intentional that cars would often block his mailbox when the Millers had guests over for lunch on Saturdays.  Still because of the annoyance it caused him, Mr. Ajaiyeoba was always careful to tell his guests not to block the Miller's or anyone else's mailbox.

The Millers and the Ajaiyeoba's had lived next door to each other for 15 years, yet they'd had little interaction beyond those friendly waves.  Mr. Ajaiyeoba understood that this was the way of things in this country, but it would never have been this way back home.  Once, many years ago, the Ajaiyeoba's had a large social gathering on a Saturday afternoon.  Mrs. Miller was in the backyard with her children, who were then still small.  The children seemed to be looking for leaves, stones, or other natural objects and bringing them to their mother for her inspection.  It just seemed so rude to celebrate right in front of them, so Mrs. Ajaiyeoba had invited them to come over and join the party.
Mrs. Miller seemed startled by the invitation and hesitated over the invitation.  She said she would check with her husband who was inside taking a nap.  A few minutes later she'd returned to say that they would try to stop by after sundown if that wasn't too late. Ayoola assured her that would be fine.

True to their word the Millers arrived after dark.  They seemed uncomfortable and Mr. Ajaiyeoba understood.  Here they were, these white Americans amidst a crowd of Nigerians.  He did his best to make them feel at home, offering them barbecue and beer.  The parents swiftly but politely declined the meat and drink,  instead accepting cans of Sprite and plates of jollof rice, bean, and plantain pottage, and  akara.  With each item they asked if it contained meat, and smiled with relief at each negative. Nonetheless they picked at the food cautiously and left most of it on the plate.  There was a minor kerfluffle when one of their children was found with chicken on his plate.  The child cried, the parents whisper-yelled, and apologetically explained to us that they were vegetarians. After the whole affair, Mr. Ajaiyeoba came to accept that perhaps inviting the neighbors wasn't the American way.

Lately, after years of more or less undisturbed coexistance, things had felt a little more awkward.  There had been a presidential election this past year and the Millers had let their political loyalties be known, through the prominent placement of their chosen candidate's sign on their front lawn.  Mr. Ajaiyeoba, as a green card holder, could not vote.  Still he felt a bit alienated by that sign.  He felt it made clear without them having to say a word where they stood on a number of issues important to Mr. Ajaiyeoba, and it made him feel anxious.

More recently the Ajaiyeoba's had been finding flyers and tracts in their mailbox.  One flyer with pictures of snarling beasts and a tall statue promised "Amazing Facts" about the end of time.  A leaflet asked "What Happens When You Die?"  Mr. Ajaiyeoba had his own ideas about that, but had a feeling he was soon going to be offered the answer to that question.

Sure enough, one evening near dinnertime, the Millers appeared at his door.

"Hi, Mr. Ajaba," Mr. Miller said.

"Hello," Mr. Ajaiyeoba replied.  "Would you like to come in?"

"Oh no, that's okay. We just wanted to invite you to the meetings at our church," and he offered a flyer similar to the ones that had been appearing in his mailbox. "We've got some great topics and well, we'd love for you to come out and see what we're all about."

Mr. Ajaiyeoba smiled politely and said he'd see. It was a white lie, of course, to spare their feelings.  He liked the Millers well enough, but he didn't need to go to their meetings to see what they were all about.

He'd seen enough already.

Dec 18, 2017

Sleepless

Prompt: Write about the longest amount of time you've ever gone without sleeping.

About four hours, give or take, into my 31 hour marathon of sleeplessness

I don't like to sleep. I'm not a napper. And I'd prefer to stay up late every night if I could. Even sleeping in is something I "like" only because I need it.  I've often wished there was a pill I could take that would give me a good 8 hours worth of rest on an hour or two of sleep.  The longest time I've ever gone without sleep I got to live that dream for two days, and while I was absolutely wiped out and mentally and emotionally a bit off my rocker, it actually was pretty awesome.  If you're going to stay awake for two days straight, this was the way to do it: Doing awesome things and spending time with treasured friends--not slaving away at some work project.

When I sat down to write I couldn't remember the longest amount of time I'd gone without sleeping.  I've pulled a few all-nighters, usually long drives between Michigan and Florida in college, but in all those cases I usually went to sleep in the morning.  I was all set to write about the late nights in Tampa I spent during my high school days running around with Chris Cotta, Greg Wedel, Carissa Berard (now Cotta) and Heather Dunkel (now Rice) because that was the first time that I stayed up all night. But then I was in the middle of writing this sentence: "But I don't think I've ever stayed up for more than 24 hours" and I realized that I had.  And I've already written about it here.  But I'm going to go ahead and take a few minutes to recap and reflect on that time again.

It was the summer of 2008, nine and a half years ago. It was Farewell Season in Saipan, that time of year when the student missionaries were wrapping up their experience in Saipan and returning to "normal life" on the Mainland.  That year my regular running buddies were Jessica Lee, Judith Edwards, and Mai-Rhea Odiyar.  Lee and Jude were student missionaries going back to college, and Mai was an AVS teacher who had a two year contract and was transitioning to another mission field in Thailand in 2008, after some additional training in Florida.  All three were leaving the same morning and we developed a plan for what we expected would be our final run together. (And so far it has been.  Judith, Mai-Rhea, and I ran together during Thanksgiving Break in 2009 in Oregon but it wasn't the same without Jessica.  I don't believe I've run with any of these women since then.)

I woke up on the morning of June 9 around 2 A.M. and the clock started. I had risen early to see off another SM, Veronyka Perez, who was leaving on an early morning flight a day earlier than my running crew.  I spent the early morning hours  working on a playlist of music we were loading on to an iPod Judith, Jessica and I had pooled our funds together to buy for Mai.

At 4:00 A.M. we gathered at the airport to watch Vero take her Long Walk.  After that our plan was to head out Banzai Cliff to watch the sunrise and then run up Suicide Cliff.  We carried out our plan fueled by some highly potent (and also highly sketchy) knock-off of Red Bull. Twenty-four hours after I'd last slept, I was powering my way up Suicide Cliff.  We spent the rest of the morning checking off a few Saipan bucket list highlights-- watching the waves at Cowtown, exploring San Juan Beach, kayaking and swimming out to the tanks.  The afternoon and evening the women spent packing up.  I don't remember what I did but despite having gone sleepless for 18 hours  I didn't sleep.

By the time we saw Jess off, checked in Mai and Jude in for their flight and then headed over to J's Restaurant for an early morning breakfast I'd been awake for 26 hours. I was physically exhausted and an emotional wreck. 

I finally went to bed around 9 A.M.,  after I'd watched my fellow runners fly away, having gone approximately 31 hours without sleep.  I was 34 years old.  Ten years later, I don't think I could pull that off again. I'm certain I wouldn't want to.  I'm also certain that I'm glad I did. It was a special time and I have wonderful memories of my sleepless season that I'll always treasure.

Dec 17, 2017

Bat Gripes

The Prompt: Pretend you're a cartoon character.  What type of character would you be?  What would a day in your life be like?

I decided to go with one of my favorite cartoon series from my childhood, Super Friends.  I watched the show religiously for awhile when I was in maybe third or fourth grade until Mom made me stop because she thought I was getting "too obsessed " with the show.  I'm now wondering if she made me stop watching it because of how terrible it was! The ridiculous plot lines, stilted dialogue, and implausible and downright impossible things that happened in each episode were reason enough not to watch!  It took some sleuthing since there are no full episodes that I could find on YouTube, but I finally found a batch of old episodes on the Daily Motion website.  I chose the character of Batman and based my story on the episode "Terror from the Phantom Zone." You can watch it here if you've got 20 minutes to blow.  In my story Batman is harried and overworked, and in that sense his super hero life feels familiar.  

Wonder Woman took this snap of us as she and Aquaman were getting ready to leave for the Panama Canal. We should have all gone.  But you know the Super Friends. . .we always have to do things the hard way.

One thing most people don't know about me is how much I rely on coffee.  Alfred knows, of course.  He makes sure I have a hot cup to go every morning.   I admit to being more than a little jealous of my colleagues at the Hall of Justice.  All of their super powers also seem to come with unlimited energy.  Honestly, I don't think I've seen any of them sleep ever.   Granted I'm not the only one on the the team who is an ordinary human but Robin is just a teenager and has no responsibilities at all.  In my case, I'm an ordinary human with superhuman responsibilities.   Running Wayne Enterprises alone should be a full time job, but then add on my never-ending responsibilities as a crime fighter and enemy of evil, and you're looking at four hours of sleep being a luxury.  And I'm sorry but, writing up a few stories for deadline at the Daily Planet and whatever it is that Aquaman and Wonder Woman do doesn't even come close to what I have to deal with on a daily basis.

The day starts in darkness with me checking my e-mail and replying to Lucius on a number of questions that have come up at the meetings in London.  By sunrise, I'm ready to get into the city. On most days I prefer to fly to work, just to avoid the traffic, but today I need to work on the drive, so I have Alfred drive me in the unmarked limo.  The heavily tinted windows and unremarkable appearance ensure that no one will identify me entering the Hall grounds.  I climb into the back seat in sweatpants and a t-shirt and spend the entire time on the phone talking to Lucius about the acquisition deal he is laboring over in London.  Even with the early departure we hit heavy traffic coming in to the city, and I start getting text messages.

Robin wants to know if I'm going to pick him up.  I tell him no. I don't tell him that the reason is because I can't work with his constant chatter and "Holy This" and "Holy That, Batman."

He wants to know how he's supposed to get to the Hall.  I tell him to figure it out.

Next it's Superman, wanting to know when I'm getting in.

I tell him I'm stuck in traffic. Not all of us can fly.

He wants to know why I didn't take the Batwing.  I tell him I have to work, that we're working on a major acquisition and I really should be in London.

Can't Lucius handle it? he asks.  I ignore the text.  I hate it when he nags.

I arrive at the Hall a little before eight.  We pass through the security gate and down into an underground tunnel that takes us underneath the spacious grounds of the Hall and underneath the building to a large parking lot that only I really use. 

I take the elevator up to my chambers in the Hall.  Each of us have our own chambers and mine is the largest. It includes an office, bedroom, bathroom, and gym.  I'm hoping to get in a good workout before dealing with whatever the villains have to throw at us today, but no such luck.

Where are you?!?  Superman again.

I'm here. Going to work out.  What's up?

Just get up here.  

The guy gets on my last nerve sometimes.  And it's especially annoying that he has this super nice, patient public persona.  I'm not the only one who gets annoyed by his assumption that he's the defacto leader of our group. Wonder Woman will roll her eyes behind his back and Aquaman will gripe privately.  I'm the only one who will give him some push back.

No workout today, I guess. It must be nice to have supernatural strength and never have to put in any work to stay in fighting trim.  I try to tell Robin that he needs to stay on top of his fitness regimen but he tends to be lazy.  Typical of kids these days.

I doff the sweats and pull on my unforgiving batsuit.  My colleagues don't understand that if I let myself go, I won't be able to fit into this thing. The end of Batman will come with a whimper of too much fast food and not enough exercise.  Next is the snug briefs, my gold batbelt, boots, cowl and cape.  I'm ready for business.  My stomach is growling and I a grab a yogurt out of the fridge and wolf it down in the elevator on my way up to the main level.

I arrive in the main hall and everyone else is already there studying the massive screen where three skeezy looking characters are laughing maniacally while a volcano erupts behind them.  Everyone turns to look at me, as I join the group.

"Sorry, everyone.  Traffic."

It turns out to be another long day.  First Superman goes to Naples to take on three criminals from his home planet.  They blast him with rays from a chunk of red kryptonite confusing his abilities and turning him into a rapidly aging old man.  Aquaman and Wonderwoman face off against the villains at the Panama Canal but are thwarted and sent to the Phantom Zone, this fifth-dimension no-mans land somewhere in outer space.  Theoretically I could have gotten some work done while first Superman and then Wonder Woman and Aquaman were off fighting the bad guys, but we were too focused on monitoring our colleagues progress to do anything else.  I do manage to nuke a microwave meal for lunch.  Robin and I are next up.  We jet off to Switzerland to tackle the evil trio who are attempting to wreak havoc on an alpine village there.  I'm hoping for an easy victory, which would allow me time to stop off in London on the way home, but given the quick dispatch of the first three, I should have known better. Instead we're both zapped into the Phantom Zone too.

I spend a good portion of the day languishing in the Zone, which I have to say is about as boring as it gets.  Everyone is just a vague shadow of themselves outlined in dimly glowing light and our voices all sound robotic.  There's some discussion--especially once the Wonder Twins and their monkey arrive in the Zone as well--over whether we shouldn't have just all gone after the villains together rather than going in pairs.  We essentially chose to challenge these guys outnumbered.  We all agree that the approach was inefficient and didn't make much sense.  But then again, we often do things that don't make a lot of sense.  No one seems to be able to explain why.  Still the Zone isn't all that bad.  Wonder Woman and I talk for a long time.  It doesn't take long to get used to the robotic version of her voice and we spend a long time just catching up.  You don't get that kind of time very often in the Justice League.  It's also possible to sleep in the Phantom Zone and I take a long nap, which honestly is the best part of my day. You might ask if we weren't more stressed with the strong possibility of being trapped in the Zone forever, as the villains promised would happen.  After all, only a decrepit Superman was left to take them on.  But I've been in this line of work long enough to have learned that things always work out for us.  In the end, we always win.  Things do get a little hectic when some sort of phantom zone energy monster comes after us, but fortunately Superman somehow gets us out in the nick of time and beams us back to the Hall.  After that it's a quick trip to Space Sector Seven where I have the personal privilege of banishing the Kryptonian villains back to the Phantom Zone for at least the next seven thousand years.

It is close to dawn the next day by the time we all gather around our conference table in the Hall.  Superman has remarkably repaired all the crisis spots the villains had destroyed (and undoubtedly will receive all the credit in the press for defeating these goons. Not that I'm complaining of course.) and we wrap up our day with some foolish antics from that monkey that somehow got into the banana cream pie in my fridge.

I decide to catch a few z's in my bedroom at the Hall.  No point in going home, as the next assault on the forces of good will likely come with the morning light.

Oh, and one last piece of good news.  The deal went through.

Good work, Lucius.  Now if Robin doesn't forget to pick up my coffee at Starbucks, I should be ready to face another day in just a few hours.

Dec 14, 2017

The Wrong Key


Life turns upside down on the smallest of things.

"Hey!  Hey, man are you okay?"

I shuddered awake, my body wracked by furious shivering.  There is blinding light and the face of a white man with a reddish blonde beard hovers over me. He's wearing a blue knit hat and a puffy black coat.

"Are you okay?" he asks again, concern in his hazy blue eyes.

"Huh?" I ask.

"What are you doing out here?"

"Went for a run," I mumble, disoriented, shuddering, colder than I've ever been in my life. "Wrong key" and I hold up for proof the offending key still gripped tightly as if frozen in my numb hand.

"I'm gonna call 911 okay."

"No, no. She'll be here soon," I vaguely protests between paroxysms of violent shivering.  He disregards me and is on his cell phone.

"Yeah, I found my neighbor outside his apartment asleep. . . yes, I woke him up  and he's conscious.  He's shivering really bad. I can't tell for sure but I think he got locked out of his apartment.  He's got a key in his hand, but he said it was the wrong key."

I look down at my hand, and it's still there.  The wrong key.

"Okay, I'll bring him up to my apartment.  Yes, same street. Stone Valley.  I'm in 7340.  Ok. . .yes, I'll  definitely do that."  He hung up the phone.  "The paramedics are on their way," he said to me.  "Can you walk?"

I didn't know and I myself couldn't tell whether I shook or nodded my head, I was shivering so bad.

"Here let me help you," he said and bent to help me struggle to my feet. My muscles were stiff, and cramped and I felt I'd collapse if he hadn't been supporting me.  Together we hobbled up to his third floor apartment and I soon found myself sitting in a leather armchair wrapped in a heavy comforter that smelled of clean laundry. The neighbor place a mug of hot herbal tea on a coaster on one of his end tables for me to drink when my hands could hold the cup.

As warmth began to return to my body, the memory of what had led to this moment began to return as well.  I went out for an afternoon run.  Barbara and the kids were leaving for Dayton. I had a school event in the morning and would be driving down tomorrow night to join them.  I was looking forward to the solitude and the freedom to do as I pleased for a few hours.  Since they were about to head out the door, I took my key with me, knowing that by the time I returned they'd be gone.  It was cold that day--19 degrees and dropping, but I was bundled in multiple layers and even with temperatures below freezing I worked up quite a sweat.

When I returned to the apartment, Babs and the kids were gone as I'd expected.  I inserted the key in the lock and it wouldn't budge.  I tried it several times--our house key sticks sometimes--but to no avail. I began to wonder if I'd brought the right key.  I remembered feeling a sense of disquiet as I'd left the apartment--a vague sense that something wasn't quite right, that I was forgetting something.  I ignored the feeling.  A few minutes later when I was out on my run, Barbara called me on my phone to say that I'd left my keys.  I told her no, I"d taken the house key off the ring. Again I ignored that discomfiting twinge. 

And now, now I knew what I'd been trying to tell myself.  I had taken the wrong key.  A key to some obscure closet in my  school building looks just like our house key. More than once I'd tried to open our front door with that key and had been momentarily annoyed as it refused to open the door.  Momentary annoyance was all that extra key ever cost me--until today.  I'd called Babs who was already half an hour on the road and she agreed to turn around, and come back to let me in.  And so, I'd sat down by the door to wait for her.  At first, I was fine, since I'd bundled up for the run.  But slowly the chill been to creep in through my sweat soaked running clothes underneath my outer layers.  At the same time, the exhaustion from staying up half the night began to overtake me.  And so I'd fallen asleep, the wrong key still in hand, only to be awakened some time later by the neighbor gently shaking my shoulder and the far more violent shivering that marked the onset of hypothermia.

In short order, the paramedics arrived and as they checked me out, my thoughts became clearer.  With perfect clarity I realized that it was time to get rid of the extra keys in my life--keys that opened doors I no longer passed through. To hold on to them could cost me more than I cared to pay.

Dec 9, 2017

The Job

Prompt: Find a job ad in the paper. Write about your life if you had that job.

I started preparing for this piece the day before Thanksgiving.  I stopped off at a Kroger and picked up a copy of the Dayton Daily News.  This was literally the only job ad in the classifieds. Because I know nothing about the life of a truck driver I hit up Quora to get picture of life on the road.  Big thanks to J.W. Bruce Shaw, Rick Klugman, & Owen Lewis, real-life veteran truck drivers who generously took the time to share with me what their jobs are like.

My day starts early. On a typical day, I'm up at 4:30. I put on my work clothes, jeans, a t-shirt, a hoodie, and sturdy work boots. I sit in the living room with a single lamp on for some quiet devotional time, nursing my first coffee of the day. I try be out the door by five or shortly after to get to my first pick up ahead of rush hour traffic.  I park the rig in one of the large parking spaces on the boulevard that passes in front of our apartment.  We're hoping to buy a house this year and a big driveway is a deal breaker. 

I climb up into the drivers seat, start up the engine, check in with dispatch, and queue up my morning music . I'm not one to drive in silence. I always have something--a playlist of over a thousand songs curated for driving, various podcasts I'm faithful to, as well as NPR for the news.  I was never a books on tape guy but I've got the Audible app now, and I'm coming around. I'll even listen to a good sermon series that my best friend J recommends.

I'll usually get to my first pick-up around 6.  I just leave the empty trailer I was hauling and hook up to a new one ready to go.  After that it's pretty much driving from one point to another all day long mostly around Ohio but occasionally into West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan or Indiana. and end late.  Being on the road isn't terrible.  It can get pretty boring, especially since large portions of Ohio are flat, unremarkable farmland.  Still there's not much downtime. I'm paid by the mile and many of my deliveries are time sensitive. My eye is always on the clock. I tend to eat on the run.  I used to get a lot of fast food, but I rapidly grew sick of that kind of diet.  Babs is such a saint--she prepares the most wonderful healthy lunches, which she packs in a blue and white portable cooler.

Despite the pressure of on time deliveries, I am a conservative driver.  I stay in the right lane.  I don't feel a need to pass.  Unless there's a major traffic situation I prefer not to speed. It doesn't help me get there much faster.  The speed limit is faster than getting pulled over, or worse wrecking the rig. That's always been a great fear, especially early on,  losing an entire flatbed of pipe and causing a huge accident. Bad driving by non-truck drivers is regular annoyances. Cars cutting in front of me and then hitting the brakes, cars hovering in my blind spot, or cars riding on my tail, trying to "draft" off of me.  Before I became a trucker I did a lot of those things, not out spite but just because I didn't know better.


The hardest part about my job is the long days.  It's true that unlike my wife's job, when I'm done, I'm done. I never take work home with me.  The problem is when I get home. I wouldn't mind the early mornings if I was getting home in the early afternoon, or even the late afternoon.  The ad said I'd be home every night.  What they failed to mention is that every night doesn't mean coming home early enough to tuck your kids in. It's not unusual for me to come in from a day on the road well after midnight. It can be days where I don't see the boys at all.  Barbara pretty much raises them alone during the week, all while having to deal with her responsibilities as a teacher. I think my lack of involvement and my inability to provide her much help is a source of strain on our relationship.  I  also really miss having the chance to run (or really exercise at all).  Because I can't work on the Sabbath and thus always have Friday and Saturday off, I am always scheduled the remaining five days of the week.  Running once, maybe twice a week just isn't enough.

On the weekends, I try to catch up on sleep, try to make it to church spend time with the boys, spend time with Babs.  I should probably do more to help around the house, but I'm just always so exhausted.

Between my driving and Barbara's teacher's salary we're doing pretty good, but I wonder if it's really worth it.


Don't like having to secure loads myself. Prefer pre-loaded, where I just hook up and drive.


Dec 6, 2017

Vacation

Prompt: If you could only take one more vacation in your lifetime, where would you go and why?

A beautiful coastal town in Spain

This is a tough one.  Immediately, I start thinking about why I could only take one more vacation in my lifetime.  Is it just an arbitrary hypothetical where there is some sort of law of the universe that I can only take one more vacation?  Or is it because my lifetime is soon to be cut short, as in a terminal illness? And what do they mean by "vacation?"  Is the implication that after this last vacation I will have no time off from work?  Or that I can't travel anywhere?  Or is it referring to a specific kind of vacation--one where you travel just for the sake of seeing the place?  In that case I'd still be able to visit family for the holidays and enjoy staycations at home.

I  decided that I would consider this as a vacation where my lifetime is limited.  To me it seems the best way to address what I feel is the spirit of the question. What if there's only room in the bucket for one more trip?

 There are so many places I still want to visit and to narrow it down to one is just too hard to do.  So if I could only take one more vacation in my life time I would choose the region that Barbara would visit if it were her last vacation.  I'm gonna cheat it here and say the Mediterranean, rather than one specific country.  We'd begin in Spain, maybe make a quick trip to Morocco, and then make our way over to Italy before ending up in Greece.  Perhaps we could tag on the Holy Land and Egypt since it also borders the Mediterranean. That would be a grand tour!

Why? Because if I had to take one final vacation, I'd want to go with the woman I love. If I have only one trip left, what's more important than the destination is who I travel with.

Dec 5, 2017

Fast


He looks like Billy Crystal with a bit of John Leguizamo swagger. He likes to nurse a toothpick in his mouth.  He drives a boat-like Buick and plays Guns N' Roses loud on the stereo.  He's the kind of guy the girls turn to when they want try being bad. He's the kind of guy who can get the fellas alcohol, who will teach you to smoke, who is known to have drugs.

Why the church youth leaders thought he would be a good choice to help drive teens to the water park is a mystery.  Maybe because his car looks safe and his name is Robert, a perfectly ordinary name.  Maybe because he has the appearance of middle-aged stand-up comedian, wears ordinary clothes and has no tattoos. Maybe it's because he's older.  Or maybe they just bought his whole "You look so nice today, Mrs. Cleaver", Eddie-Haskell kiss-up to the grown-ups routine.

Whatever the case, a quartet of us young people are assigned to his car.  A couple of his buddies are transporting kids too, and this is not a good thing. We pile into his car and before we can even consider whether we should buckle up he has floored it, just to let us know how he rolls and to set the bar for his boys.  There's a long trail of tire tracks behind us on the parking lot and the acrid smell of burnt rubber hangs in the air. He takes a hard left at the end of the lot, flinging us against each other and the passenger side door.  We scrabble to buckle up as he careens directly out on to the main drag.  The tires actually squeal. He pumps up "Mr. Brownstone" and flattens the pedal.

The traffic on 436 doesn't allow him to really let loose.  His approach to this is to bear down hard on cars that are going a mere 15 miles over the limit, pump the brakes while he rides their bumper until they either get out of the way or he is able to whip pass them. His car jerks and sways as he applies this version of "stop and go" traffic.  Several times,  I feel the car is going to jerk out of his control and send us crashing into the vehicles he's passing or across the median into oncoming traffic.

 Once we hit the interstate, it seems like there should be less of this but instead it's worse because the speeds at which he is applying his technique are now well north of 80.

Glancing out the window we can see his buddies keeping pace with us; we can just make out the terrified faces of our friends.  Eventually, traffic, as it is wont to do on I-4, slows to a six lane standstill.  At last, we breathe a sigh of relief, he'll have to slow down.

We couldn't have been more wrong. If anything Robert is set free. Without hesitation he swerves over on to the shoulder and guns the engine. With no one in his way, the speedometer rapidly approaches and then passes the 100 mile per hour mark.  The  cars stalled in traffic fly by on our left in a blur.  Robert looks supremely confident, his hand lies carelessly on the wheel. I look back and his friends are right behind us, also barreling down the shoulder.  "Welcome to the Jungle," indeed.

We shoot from the median into the off-ramp, forcing other cars to pull to the side to  make room for us.  We are going far too fast to hear their horns or see their upraised middle-fingers.  We buck and rock our way down International Drive until we roar into the parking lot of the water park.

By the time the bus with the main group of youth pulls up sedately at the front gate, we've been waiting there for twenty minutes.  Robert discreetly puts out the cigarette he's been smoking and puts on his best smarmy grin.

"Wow, Robert, you got here fast," the pastor declares.

"Oh, I know a back way," he says with a wink in our direction. "By the way, Pastor I really did enjoy your sermon this past Sabbath."

"Why thank you, Robert.  And thanks for bringing the kids."

"Oh, my pleasure, Pastor.  Any time."

I start making plans to be on the bus when it's time to go home.

Dec 4, 2017

Well Done


The "Captain" in my story is fictional--though I gave him the name of a kid I've known since the day he was born--but the guy in this picture is a true-life hero who saved a woman's life earlier this year.  Read about it here; his story is better than mine and it's true!  It's the exactly the sort of thing Captain would have done.

He pulls into the parking lot on his street bike just as the sun is disappearing over the horizon.  He strides across the pavement, ready to do battle.  He picks up his head-set, fits it carefully, checks in.  Moments later, he's off and flying and right in the thick of it.

Almost immediately he discovers Thompson is in trouble--again.  Poor guy, new on the force, typically gets flustered any time things go sideways.  And things always go sideways.

"I got this," he says and dives in.

"How can I help you?" he asks the irate woman in the purple velour track suit.

"I asked for no ketchup, no tomato and this thing is gotta bunch of ketchup on it!"

"I'm so sorry about that, ma'am."

"Yeah, that's what he said. I don't need no sorry, what I need is my burger done right!"

"I understand, ma'am.  We're gonna get that taken care of for you right now. And let me throw in a $10 gift card for your trouble."

"Ten bucks ain't gonna make up for my lost time at work, waitin' on you all to do your job right," she gripes, but he can tell by the softening in her face that she's pleased with the offer.  "Make sure he don't spit in my burger cause he mad," she adds.

"I'll make the burger myself, ma'am," he calls over his shoulder, as he wheels away from the counter and moves smoothly into the kitchen.  It appears Fountain has called in sick again. He'll have to do it all himself.  He checks the monitor, and sees three orders waiting.  It's not a problem. He reaches into the freezer, knocks loose a quartet of frozen patties, puts them on the grill,  and then lowers the press.  He makes a pass of the line, swiping off scraps of lettuce, tomato, and pickle in one graceful motion.  He arrives at the pick up window and sees an order for a large sweet tea on the monitor.  He puts the 32 oz cup under the dispenser, and hits the button to dispense the sweet, brown liquid.  He hears a harsh jangling at three o clock, and turns to find Gray struggling with the deep fryer again.  He moves in to assist, gives the potato-filled basket a brisk jerk and sinks it into the vat of boiling oil with a gratifying crackle.

In seconds he's back at the pick-up window.  He picks up the full tea, pops a lid on it, both wipes and wraps the cup with a single paper napkin and hands it to the Hodge who is manning the pick-up window. 

"Thanks, Captain," she smiles.  He flashes his trademark, jaunty grin, nods and is off, back to the grill where the patties are done.  He pops them on to the line, and Lavalas swings up to help him put the sandwiches together.  His movements are quick, but precise: cheese slice melting on the hot patty,  pickle slices, a pinch of onion slivers, and a shot of mustard.  He wraps the piping hot sandwich in foil, gives the work surface a quick wipe.  Then he snaps open a sack with a sharp crack and slips the quarter pounder in. 

"Ma'am here's your quarter pounder with cheese, no ketchup," he says with his trademark smile. "Give me a second and I'll get your gift card ready."

"You're fine," the woman in the purple velour tracksuit replies.  She is charmed.  In a few seconds he's loaded $10 on a gift card, placed it in it's own little envelope, and handed it to the woman.  "Thank you!" she says completely mollified.  "Now that's what I call service," she declares to her friend as they exit. 

He allows himself a brief moment of satisfaction, and then his headset comes alive.

"Captain, the ice cream machine is down again," Lavalas reports.

"I'm on it," he says, and heads back into the fray.

Some will say that he just works at McDonald's.  Some will say that he's just eighteen years old.  But the guy they call Noah at school, but who they call the Captain under the golden arches, understands this truth, even if he might not be able to articulate it: Excellence is not found only on the athletic field.  Greatness is not found only in the battle. Brilliance is not found only in the ivy league laboratory. Creativity is not found only on the stage.  These things are found anywhere a job is well done.

Nov 28, 2017

To-Do List

Prompt: Write a list of 25 things you want to do in your life.

My first novel.  My sister had a couple of copies printed up and bound. Someday I'd like to publish this book for the whole world to read.

1. I want to write and publish a book.
2. I want to go back to Saipan whether to visit or to live again for awhile.
3. I want to take a road trip across the United States.
4.  I want to get in a car sometime and just drive down a road for awhile to see where it goes.
5.  I want to be a missionary again, and ideally I'd like for my children to spend some of their formative years outside the United States, but for a variety of reasons this looks unlikely to happen.
6. I want to learn how to massage properly so that my hands don't hurt.  Barbara loves receiving massages and ever since the very first massage I gave her when we were just barely dating, it has been an uncomfortable experience for me.
7. I want to live in Hawaii
8. I want take classes on creative writing, the theater and acting.  In short, I want to get some actual training in the areas of life that I'm passionate about but am entirely self-taught in.
9. I want to learn to dance
10.  I want to go to Europe with Barbara.
11.  I want to learn to play the guitar.
12.  I want to buy a house.
13. I want to run the San Francisco Marathon again and finish with a better time and feeling less miserable than I did the first time.
14. I want to visit my cousin in Sweden and many friends in California.
15. I think I want to skydive.
16. I want to be debt free (we should be there in about 4 and a half years).
17. I want to see more of my mom and siblings than I do now.  I want to fly down to Florida on a whim just to hang out with them.
18. I want to go back to the Grand Canyon and this time go to the bottom of the canyon and go to Havasupai Falls.
19.  I'd like to go on a multi-day hike somewhere beautiful.
20.  I want to meet Bono, the Edge, Adam, and Larry and shoot the breeze with them.
21. I want to meet President Obama and shoot the breeze with him.
22.  I want to spend lots of time with good friends, eating good food, and having good conversation.
23.  I want to keep hanging out with my beautiful wife long into old age.
24.  I want to watch my boys grow up to be men of kindness, integrity, and courage; I want to see them become men who love God and know without question that He loves them.
25.  I want to run, I want to hide, I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside, I want to reach out and touch the flame where the streets have no name. . . I want to run on greener pastures, I want to dance on higher hills, I want to drink from sweeter waters in the misty morning chill.  I want to go Home.

Nov 27, 2017

Guilty

Prompt: Create a character who is falsely accused of a crime.


Michael Goldwyn looks out the massive floor to ceiling window of his Toluca Lake home and wonders how much longer he'll be able to enjoy this view.  His trial begins tomorrow and his lawyers are talking about how much they can get his sentence reduced rather than how they can win the case.  It's a slam-dunk for the prosecution, the media crows.

It's quite a fall for a Hollywood power player for whom nothing couldn't be fixed to his liking.  But it seems there's no fixing this.  Not this time.  He still can't quite believe it.  Producer Bill Nicholas is dead and all the evidence points at Michael.  Security cameras caught him leaving Nicholas's office not long before he was found bludgeoned to death with his own Oscar.  Michael's DNA is on the award/murder weapon.  Michael, a long-time rival of Bill Nicholas, had never been shy about his hatred of the producer.  Michael is known throughout the industry for his volcanic temper and tendency towards violent display. And Nicholas's recent efforts to get Michael pushed out of his own production company give Michael the motive too.

There's only one problem.  Michael Goldwyn is innocent.  And there is one person in the world who can vouch for him, who can testify that while he  may have been at Bill Nicholas's office the day of the murder he was not there at the time of his murder.  Erin Merrill knows that he's not the killer.

Michael had not mentioned Erin to anyone for a number of reasons--mainly because for so long he'd been certain he'd beat this with ease.  Combine his clout in this town with the fact of his innocence and it hadn't seemed necessary.  But yesterday, without consulting his lawyers, he'd reached out to Erin, to test the waters so to speak.  So far there's been no response.

But then, his phone rings. It's Erin.

"Hi Micheal," she says, her voice flat.

"Hi Erin.  Thanks so much for getting back to me.  Listen I'm really sorry about what happened--"

"I know," she interrupts.  She sounds upset.  This is not good. "I read the e-mail."

"I'm glad.  Listen--"

"No, you listen.  I will not be going public with what you did to me.  Let me make that very clear.  Not only do I not accept the apology in your e-mail, I deny it's even necessary.  As far as I'm concerned you have never been anything but the perfect gentleman in every encounter I've ever had with you. You did not come to my apartment on the afternoon of April 28.  You did not sexually assault me and suggest that my chances of staying on the film would depend on my 'cooperation'.  And you know why you didn't do any of these things?  Because, if you had, sure you might lose your job like Weinstein did, but you wouldn't go to prison.  Like you should.  Don't even think about trying to confess, leak it to TMZ or something, because I will vocally deny that you ever did anything to me and it will be obvious to everyone that you're simply making up a story, riding the wave of what's happening to a lot of other nasty men like yourself in effort to get out of more serious charges.  You and most of the people in this sick town think that what you did to me is the lesser of two evils.  Doing what practically every one does to young actresses trying to make it in the business versus murder.  No comparison, right?  Wrong. Bill Nicholas was a known sleazebag--worse than you if that's possible. Him dead and you in prison for life feels like justice to me."

And with that Erin Merrill hangs up, leaving Michael Goldwyn alone with his guilt.

Nov 26, 2017

Ghosts

Prompt: If we assume ghosts are real, what type of ghost would you like to see?

I don't believe in ghosts.  I do believe in spirits--good and bad--but not the spirits of the dead returned to visit us.  This is pretty standard Seventh-day Adventist doctrine.  We are a rather materialist bunch when it comes to matters of death and the soul.  Our belief that a God of love does not preside over an everlasting hell makes not believing in the immortal soul a matter of necessity.

But for the sake of this prompt, I'm going to assume for a moment that ghosts are real. But first a couple of necessary caveats.  My assumption is still going to be based on a God of love.  And there are a number of things about ghosts the way most people think of them that I'm going to dispense with:

First off, in my ghost world, ghosts are not creepy.  I'm not sure what it is about grandma who was such a nice, sweet woman when she was alive suddenly becomes this unsettling presence who only shows up at night, never says a word, knocks books off the shelf and such.  This doesn't make sense to me.  Ghosts of people we loved ought to be friendly--like Casper--not spooky.  They ought to be able to show up in the daytime rather than freaking us out at  night.  And they ought to be able to talk.  And if grandma used to get on me for knocking things over, she's not going to start doing it herself now that she's passed on.  I think it's telling that the preponderance of ghost stories are scary, not comforting.  It's like people across cultures understand that something is not quite right about this spirits of the dead business (and of course we Adventists have a ready answer as to why we might find visitations from the dead so unnerving).

Second, in my ghost world, my ghost wouldn't be just wandering about.  Presuming a God of love and still presuming that he won't be tormenting lost souls for eternity, only the saved could be ghosts.  Those not bound for heaven would simply cease to exist, body and soul.  So all ghosts would be good.  There would be no ghosts of dead ax-murderers.  Also, all my ghosts would be happy since they would reside in heaven with the Lord most of the time and only occasionally visit earth.  There would be no crying babies or weeping mothers haunting places seeking closure or consolation.  There would be no poltergeists causing mischief.  All of these characters seem more devilish than anything else (and again, I think there's a reason for that).

So there are no "kind" of ghosts.  There are just people and of course it's not hard to pick who I'd want to see.

I once had a dream that Dad came back. I remember that he was sitting in the Leen's living room on the couch, not his usual chair and I remember knowing that he wouldn't be able to stay.  In my ghost world the visit would be something like that dream. I imagine that my  father-in-law and my grandparents would have become good friends in heaven and that they would visit us together.   Being the polite sort, they wouldn't just show up unannounced.  Maybe they'd appear in a dream or leave a note of some sort to let us know when they'd like to drop by.

When they arrived, at least for the first visit, I would barely recognize them.  I've known them all of my life as senior citizens.  But they'd return at the peak of their young adulthood, strikingly  handsome and blindingly beautiful.  Energetic and fit they would move with an ease and firmness I'd never seen before.  They would know all about our lives since they passed and when we asked them to describe heaven, they wouldn't be able to.  They would simply say that the Lord wasn't kidding when he said "eyes has not seen nor ear heard" and that's it far more amazing then they could have guessed.  I see their faces bright with joy and free from worry in a way that I'd never known them in life (and all three seemed to have the peace that passes understanding even when they lived in our world).  Honestly, they seem almost like kids--excited, quick to laugh, truly enjoying eternity.  They would encourage us to stay close to Jesus, assure us that He is so much closer to us and and loves us so much more than we can even begin to realize.  While we would long to be with them all the time instead of just for this brief visitation they don't share our impatience.  "It's hard to explain," grandma would say. "Time just feels different there.  It really feels like we just arrived yesterday, even though your grandpa has been there for 13 years and I've been there for three."



"Boy!" my grandpa would bark in a way that is reminiscent of when he was on earth, "don't you worry.  We'll all be together soon enough."



"Your grandparents are real fine people," Dad would say in a clear young man's voice that I only barely recognize.  "You know the Lord has us living right next door to each other!"

All too soon, it would be time for them to go and they would fade away as gently as they'd arrived.  And we'd be sad all over again.  And the world would seem especially dreary and the wait for Jesus' return or own death would or at least till whenever they could next visit would seem  unbearably long.

It would be nice to see Dad, Grandpa  and Grandma again but I think that the devastating aftermath of those visits are why God saw fit not do things this way.  For now they rest, and there are no visits, just a permanent reunion one day.  I'm looking forward to that!

Nov 25, 2017

A Valentine for Elvis

The prompt: Elvis still gets 100 valentines each year. Tell about one of the people who sent one.

I styled this story as if it were an interview for Esquire magazine.

One of the candid photos of Elvis that adorns Alyssa Allison's research room.


Alyssa Allison wasn't even born when Elvis Presley purportedly died.  She's thirty-six years old, from a generation for whom Elvis is merely a legend.

I say purportedly because Alyssa is one of that small cadre of conspiracists that believe Elvis is still alive.  He's living in hiding--Alyssa favors Argentina as his most likely place of refuge--and is now 82 years old.

But he can't be alive forever, I point out as I sit down to talk with Alyssa in her spacious kitchen in suburban Ohio. At some point, he has to die right? Even if he didn't die on his toilet in Graceland in 1977, whose to say he hasn't died of old age already?

Alyssa brushes this suggestion aside. "No, I'd know. . .it's not his time. Not yet."  She doesn't explain how she'll know it's his time, other than to reiterate that it's her destiny to save him.  He can't die until then, I guess.

"But, even if he responds to your valentine and you save him, I  mean he's old. He's like 46 years older than you.  Doesn't that bother you?"

She blushes and looks down at her coffee.  She is blonde, with gray eyes and a runners physique. "I don't think it will.  I don't love him for the reasons most people do."

  But for this Elvis obsession she seems absolutely normal. She makes good money working as an attorney for a law firm in downtown Columbus. She's an avid runner--she just finished her third marathon this past spring--and maintains a blog on the subject.  She's also a single mother.  Her son is ten.  She and his father split up after a few years.  She admits that Elvis was the cause.

"At first he thought he wouldn't have trouble competing with a dead rock and roll star, and I guess I was going through a period of discouragement.  I wanted to try to be normal, I guess.  I wanted children.  But inside, I knew that whenever Elvis finally responded to my valentines, I would divorce Jason immediately."

Jason eventually realized that he was losing to a ghost and called it quits.  Their divorce is more or less amicable and their son splits his time evenly between his parents.  Alyssa feels some guilt that her mother, who lives with her, seems to spend more time with her son than she does.  She works long hours at her firm--by all accounts she is an outstanding lawyer with a knack for digging deep into the details for a case--and many hours online scouring the web for signs of life, signs that Elvis lives.

I ask her about the valentines and she responds be offering to show me her research room. It's a bedroom on the ground floor, converted into a command center in a hunt for Elvis that's been going on for close to twenty years now.  The room is plastered with posters of Elvis, but a closer examination reveals that none of the photos are of him performing or professional publicity stills.  All the photos are candid shots--Elvis backstage,  Elvis relaxing at Graceland, Elvis with his mother, Elvis in the army.

"I don't like the pictures of him on stage and I really don't care for the movie posters, album covers and the publicity pictures.  They're not the real him," Alyssa declares with a startling certainty,  "That's what most people don't get. The guy the women screamed for , the sex symbol, all of that was image.  People fell for the image.  I love the man.  That's what I need him to understand."

"What makes you so certain that you alone really know and understand Elvis the man as opposed to Elvis the rock star? " I ask

"Simple.  Research.  I don't watch his movies.  I don't even really listen to his music that much.  Home movies, yes.  Even certain interviews.  And reading.  A lot of reading.  I've read everything that's ever been written about him."

"And?"

"And what the research reveals is that Elvis was alone. He was surrounded by sycophants, by people who wanted something from him.  After his mother died, there really was no one around him that truly loved him for him.  And part of it was his fault. He got rid of people pretty quick if they pissed him off or crossed him in any way.  People understood that you'd get knocked off the gravy train  if you tried to tell him no.  You asked me earlier if it bothers me that he's quite elderly now.  The answer is that I never loved him as performer, as a sex object, as a celebrity.  I love him the way you would love a girl you met in high school, who was unremarkable to everyone else, but to you she was everything. To me he's just a regular guy that I happen to have a connection with."

This seems like a bit of a stretch to me.  Does she really expect me to believe that she views Elvis Presely as just a "regular guy?"  Come on.

Alyssa seems to sense my skepticism but is undisturbed by it.

"You don't believe me," she asserts.  "It's okay. Most people don't.  But that's okay.  They don't have to.  It's our relationship. What other people think about it is not an issue."

How can a woman saying such crazy things seem so normal I wonder.  I ask her to tell me about the valentines.

"Well, every year around the first of February I'll start crafting the valentine for this year.  My goal is to create something that will catch his eye, for starters, and then the message  is crucial.  I need to make sure he's able to understand that I understand--that I'm not like everyone else he's had to deal with."

"Where do you send the valentine?"

"Well, I'll usually send three copies.  One to Graceland of course. It's the obvious choice, of course. Maybe too obvious.  So I also send one to the American Embassy in Argentina, which he would likely check in with from time to time.  Under an assumed name of course.  I also send one to the DEA. You know President Nixon made him an agent right?"

"Well,  yeah, not quite.  I think he just got him a badge."

"That's what the public was told of course. Whatever the case, as member of the agency they would likely have an idea of how to get information to him.  One of the prevailing theories is that he is he moved in to full time undercover work in Central and South America beginning in 1977.  A lot of the big take downs of drug kingpins down there have Elvis written all over it."

"So what do these valentines say?  How are you making your case to him?"

"Well, I prefer to keep that between me and him, but I can say that they're not typical Valentines messages "Be mine" and all that.  My goal is to let him know that I see the real him, that I will be for him what no one else could or would be--honest, not trying to get anything out of him, even willing to take his rejection rather than compromise my commitment to his best interest. And I also try to reveal my own reality--I don't try to sell him on a glamorized image of myself either.  For example, if I include a photo, I'm not going to be wearing make up or anything like that."

"You send pictures of yourself?"

She blushes again.  "I think it's important that he see me, just like I see him."

I find my interview is raising more questions than it answers about Alyssa and her odd quest.  I decide to ask one more.

"So, why did you agree to this interview?"

"Simple, really. If none of the valentines I've sent have gotten through, maybe he'll see this article.  It's been documented that he reads Esquire, and if he reads this then he'll finally know."

"So what would you want to say to Elvis Presley if he were to read this article?"  I ask

Alyssa looks directly at me and answers without hesitation, as if she's been preparing for this moment for a long time.

"I'm not gonna pull any punches with you.  I'm going to tell you the truth.  I don't want your money.  There's nothing you can buy me with.  Honestly there are times when you can be a real jerk and when you are I will call you on it. My commitment is to you, Elvis Aaron Presley, the person.  Not the star, not the symbol.  I am what you have always wanted and needed.  Let's make the rest of this life count, together."

Definitely not your typical valentine, I have to admit. But compelling in it's own strange way.  If I were Elvis I might bite.  And while I know this is the ravings of an attractive, and other wise normal lunatic, I can't help hoping that somehow she's right, that Elvis is out there.  And that he finally gets his valentine.


Nov 23, 2017

Missed Opportunity

Prompt: Write about a random picture you would find in an envelope of finished prints at Costco.

For this story, I did pretty much what the prompt described.  Since we no longer get prints at Costco I pulled out an envelope of Barbara's old prints from her time in Palau and pulled a photo out.  I couldn't imagine a less compelling picture.  It took me some time to come up with the "story behind the photo" and required me to make up an entire species of animal.  I'm sure anyone with even a passing knowledge of marine biology will find my story preposterous. But that's okay.  It was hard enough to come up with the idea without worrying about it's scientific plausibility.

When the engine cut off, we were engulfed in a sudden stillness.  The gentle washing sound of the water was all that could be heard. That and the occasional whisper or shuffling movement of the others on the boat.  We had all come all this way, paid many of thousands of dollars, for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the breaching ritual of the rare spotted porpoise.

 Unlike its gregarious close relative the dolphin, the spotted porpoise stays underwater seemingly all the time.  We know it is a mammal and thus must surface regularly to take in air, but it seems to have an uncanny ability to avoid actually being seen coming to the surface.   The spotted porpoise is also the only species of porpoise that lives exclusively in warm waters.  There are only four known locations where this notoriously reclusive marine mammal regularly breaches, and then only once every four to six years.

The waters surrounding of the island nation of Palau had the best track record of multiple breaches, .  The spotted porpoise doesn't appear to actually live in this region.  It's never seen in the area except during this breaching ritual.  It is assumed that this ritual is somehow connected to the animal's mating practice, but there is so much we still don't know.

The year was 1993 and I was a research fellow at the Marine Mammal Center and this was my chance.  I had flown into Koror the day before and atmosphere among the marine biologists that had gathered there from around the world was electric.  Scuba divers had seen pods gathering in the area of the last few days.  Everyone was certain that the breaches would happen in the next day or so.

And now the moment had arrived.  We were sure of it.  We knew it would be a wait.  The porpoises would have been spooked by the noise of the engines and it would take some time for them to feel comfortable to come to the surface again.  An hour passed. The hot tropical sun beat down on us.  But none of it mattered--all that mattered was that one moment. Eventually we noticed shadows in the water, dark shapes with light markings just visible in the clear water.  The porpoises had arrived.  I gripped my camera, a Nikon 4004. My job wasn't really to take pictures--there were professionals for that--but the opportunity was too good not to have my own personal keepsake, framed and mounted on my office wall for years to come.

The water started to churn.  The moment was near, it had to be.  I raised my camera, as did many others on the boat.

"Do you mind if I slip in next to you?"

Before I could even respond she was there next to me.  She wore an orange cap with her pony tail poking out the back.  Chocolate brown skin, with sweat glistening on the back of her neck.  She held a professional looking camera with one of those big lenses that come in its own separate case.  I saw a National Geographic badge dangling from her neck. She wore a light blue t-shirt, khaki shorts, and white tennis shoes. She hadn't waited for my response and was already poised for the photo. I couldn't see her face fully, obscured as it was by the camera, but in that moment she seemed the most rare and beautiful woman I'd ever seen.  And in that moment I heard the gasps of awe, the sighs of wonder. Out of my peripheral vision I saw the flash of gray and gold and immediately brought my camera up. I hit the button repeatedly, heard the shutter clicking in response.  I had been a little late but I felt pretty sure I'd manage to catch them, three leaping together in the bright sunshine.

We waited and waited, hoping for a repeat performance.  I had plenty of film left in the camera.  But the dark shapes vanished in the water, and eventually Mr. Whipp, our local guide signaled to the boat driver to start the engines.

"They are done," he announced with certainty.

It was incredible.  The photo taken by Shanna, the National Geographic photographer would become iconic, gracing the cover the magazine and reproduced countless times on everything from posters to jigsaw puzzles.  As for me, I finished the roll of film over the next few days I had in Palau, and when I got back to San Diego I dropped the film off at the Costco on my way home from the airport.  The next day I was back to pick up the prints.   I spent a few heart-warming moments savoring the memories of what would turn out to be my life-changing time in Palau, before arriving at the photos of that spectacular moment.  This was the best of the bunch:



It's framed on my office wall, as I always dreamed it would be, paired with another photo of my wife, taken that same day:  a beautiful woman in an orange cap and a light blue t-shirt, a professional looking camera in her hand.  The photo represents an opportunity I'm glad I missed and the opportunity I was smart enough not to let pass.