Saturday, September 14, 2019

Phone Calls Interrupted by Life

I have wanted to talk to Annabelle for quite some time. We have had dinner, movies, and an afternoon at the park. We seem to be enjoying one another. I know her job is important and she has many friends, but really; the constant interruptions by text messages and phone calls leaves little time to end what we have started talking about or for that fact start. I can’t tell you how many amusing stories I told her and never have been able to get to the amusing part. When she returns to the conversation it is as if nothing was said prior.
The other day we met for coffee. I was not going to insist she put her cell phone away, but I was determined to stay on the subject.
We had a formal greeting, ordered our coffee, and sat on the sidewalk accommodations at our favorite place.
I smiled politely.
Her phone vibrated. “Excuse me,” she smiled. “I must return this.”
She thumbed a return text.
I wanted us to talk about…”
Her buzzed. “It’s a client.” She spoke and laughed for a moment.
There is something important we…”
The phone buzzed again. “It’s my partner. I’ve got to take this. We’re about to close a contract.”
She finished speaking and laid the phone on the table. She smiled and sipped her coffee. “Yes.”
You seem to enjoy my…”
Another text came in.
My mother, she just started texting,” Annabelle said. “If I don’t return it she’ll be crushed.”
I smiled.
She stashed the phone in her purse.
I smiled. “Relationships are funny things…”
There was another buzz. She fished the phone from her purse. “Oh, an old friend. Let me get this.”
I smiled and whispered. “Be back in a minute.”
I walked around the corner out of Annabelle’s sight and dialed her phone.
Hello,” she said.
This is Jonathan. I wonder if we could speak for just a moment?”
Actually, Jonathan,” Annabelle said. “I’m with somebody right now, can we talk later?”
Sure, we’ll talk later,” I said. “Bye.”
I walked back to our table and sat down. “Who was that?” I said.
An annoying young man who has been trying to get my attention,” Annabelle said. “Now where were we? You were about to say something important.”
Ah, it seems I forgot,” I said.
You know,” Annabelle said. “I really don’t like it when people start to say something and then it’s ‘oh, never mind.’”
That’s right,” I said. “That’s what I wanted to say, ‘Maybe we are not so compatible. Perhaps it‘s time we not see each other, move on.”
She smiled to cover the surprise. “Well aren’t we something. As soon as you leave I’ll call the man who just called me and I’ll have a date just like that.”
Don’t count on it,” I said and left.
Making my way to the corner I turned and looked back. She punched out a number on her phone. My phone vibrated. Wow, she had no idea who I was.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Aunt Sadie's Locket

She was the last in my family of her generation to die. Aunt Sadie lived to be one-hundred and two. She was actually a great-aunt, my grandfather’s sister.
Over the years my reasons for returning to a small Indiana farm town became less and less, but Aunt Sadie was always on my agenda. This year will likely be my last.
Aunt Sadie was dead and I set alone in a funeral home sixteen miles from where she was born, raised, lived, and died. She never married although it was said she was engaged many years ago. She was a mystery to many in the family and community. She lived a quiet life. She was the town clerk for fifty years and held all the town’s secrets.
She was special and kind to me. She had to ability to pass on a pearl of wisdom at the most opportune time.
The most precious things in life are no larger than your heart or a memory,” she always said and she would press her hand against a locket she wore around her neck. It was in the shape of a heart.
What is inside the locket, Aunt Sadie?” I asked her when I was very young.
She smiled contentedly and said, “A teardrop.”
A skinny young man with curly blond hair arrived with a hurried stride.
He extended his hand as he looked around the room with only me and a closed coffin. “I’m Reverend Archie, youth pastor at…,” he motioned with his head toward Aunt Sadie’s closed coffin and continued, “her church.”
I smugly looked over his attire of well-worn running shoes, jeans, a t-shirt, and a cross carved from wood around his neck. “I wasn’t aware she,” I motioned to the coffin with my head and continued, “I wasn’t aware she belonged to a church.”
Yes,” Reverend Archie said. “She never attended, but sent a hundred-dollar check the first of every month.”
Did you know her?” I said.
No,” Reverend Archie said.
Did anyone know her?” I said.
No,” Reverend Archie said. “I was sitting with the head pastor and the assistant this morning and they didn’t know her either. I’ve never done a funeral before so they sent me. They thought I needed the training.”
Yeah,” I said. “You gotta start someplace.”
Is this it?” Reverend Archie said.
Yeah,” I said. “So listen, why don’t you just go if that’s not asking too much?”
Sure,” Reverend Archie said. “But who pays me?”
Look, Reverend Archie,” I said placing my hand on his back and gently directing him to the exit. “It’s only the fifth of the month. She’s not around to use up her monthly contribution, take it out of that.”
Reverend Archie left and I sat for another ten minutes.
Before leaving I stopped into the office of the funeral director. He was a bald round man with a nervous manner.
I’m leaving now,” I said. “Thank you.”
Thank you sir,” he said. “And again, sorry for your loss.”
I smiled. “Is everything taken care of?”
Yes,” he said. “And you want us to take care of the ashes.”
Yes,” I said. “Per her instructions.”
I nodded and turned to leave his office.
Oh, sir,” he said. “There is something for you.” He reached into his desk drawer and handed an envelope to me.
Thanks,” I smiled.
I walked to the car and got in. I opened the envelope. Inside was Aunt Sadie’s locket and a note.
It read:
Inside the locket is a picture of a doughboy who lost his life in France six months after it was taken. He was my love. He was my passion. I should tell you that besides his photo is one teardrop. Possess nothing larger than your heart and a memory, my dear lad. It is the small things that bring you greatest joy and happiness.”
Aunt Sadie

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Welcome Home, Skip

Skip moved away from home in Rochester, New York when he was eighteen. There was a bitter argument between him and his dad. Words were said that should never have been said to a father, but they could not be taken back. He has lived with them for nearly forty years.
He never returned home after that argument. His father said he was an embarrassment to the family and would not amount to anything.
After that argument Skip joined the Army, spent a tour in Nam, went to college, married and raised a family. A few years ago he sold his medical supply company and retired to Loreto, Mexico on the Baja peninsula.
It was a quiet existence. Much time was spent walking the beaches, backpacking in the hills, and fishing the Sea of Cortez with other retired friends.
Skip liked times alone, visiting garage sales and second-hand shops. He seldom bought anything, but he had an eye for good things and when something caught his eye he bought it.
There was an old house near the beach. The front yard was full of interesting furniture. This was his kind of place. A place where he could find a curious item or two; claim it for his own or resale for a profit. Although not needing the money he needed the rush of making a deal.
A chest caught his eye. An old chest with leather straps. It was exactly like the one his mother had. It used to sit at the foot of his parents’ bed.
He opened it. Inside was a shoebox. He picked up the shoe box and removed the lid.
Inside, a picture, a boy with his father. It was him and his Dad standing in front of the family car. It was fifty years old. ‘How could that be? He thought. ‘It’s over three thousand miles from home. How did that picture get here?‘ It seemed as if the blood left his heart and his knees weakened. He felt as if he could collapse.
An old man came out of the house. “I’ll make you a good deal on the chest. I moved down here twenty years ago and got the thin some things out.” As soon as the old man saw the picture in Skip’s hands he said, “The picture doesn’t go with it.”
Is that you and your son?” Skip said.
Oh, yes,” the old man said. “He’s a successful businessman back in the states. I’m proud of that boy.”
Do you see him often?” Skip said.
The old man hesitated and smiled. “No, I don’t.” The smile fell into sadness.
Not good, eh,” Skip said.
I said some things best never said,” the old man said.
Yeah,” Skip said. “Me too.”

I knew it was you, Skip” the old man said. “Welcome home.”

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Madelyn's Laugh

Madelyn was as cruel as she was beautiful, but seductively so.

Kyle was a weird sort of kid, innocent as he was common. Perhaps beyond the stringy hair, dark rim glasses, and the teeth he had not grown into was a prince in the making. Yet for most of his academic career, he had been ignored by students and teachers alike.
Madelyn saw him as a project to introduce to the world.
She pretended to like him and eventually exchanged text messages. From a casual observer it would be apparent they were to the point of being in love, but no such word existed in Madelyn’s vocabulary.
After three weeks of texts with Kyle she had enough material to share Kyle’s most personal thoughts and fantasies. Madelyn posted them on here Facebook account and quickly and cruelly Kyle was the object of ridicule.
Deep inside he knew it was a hoax all along, but he wanted it to be true. And for a brief interlude, the imaginary text affair with Madelyn was the finest weeks of his life. In his heart, he had loved.
Kyle sat in front of Madelyn in English Literature. Just before the sound of the bell to end class Kyle leaned over the side of his seat to gather his books beneath. That’s when it happened. The muscles used to hold in the gas had been reassigned to maintain his balance in order for him not to fall to the floor. The gas sprung past the cheeks of his buttocks and through the fabric of his clothing like the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. It was immediately met with an equal force of laughter from the class.
Kyle had already endured the most humiliating and torturous week of his life. This outburst was nothing in comparison.
He turned to Madelyn, beautiful, cruel, and heartless Madelyn. Her laugh was the most hideous of the others.
If anyone had ever doubted why she played the hoax on Kyle it was now quickly erased, for it was now apparent to all that Kyle was meant to be an object of jokes and focal point of ridicule. He was born and bred to be such. He was born to bear the burden of everybody else’s shame. Everybody would now place their own insecurities on Kyle’s shoulders so no one would find fault with them.
Madelyn’s guffawing became so vigorous she snorted. Each snort became progressively louder. Before long the whole class took great delight in her painful, hideous, and nauseating performance.
Kyle said, as though he wanted no one else to hear - but everyone did, “That’s okay, my dear, keep it up and I’ll pretend I was the one who farted.”
Her embarrassing, disturbing, and bizarre style of laughter was picked up by five students’ phone recorders and before the school day was over Madelyn was a YouTube wonder.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Business Advice

Sol just graduated from college, an MBA. He was set but wanted real-world advice; advice that could only come from a trusted and successful family member.
Sol’s Uncle Mort was about as successful of a small businessman as you can imagine. Mort was the guy everybody in the family went to for advice. He owned a new furniture and appliance store on one side of town and a used furniture and appliance store on the other. He loved the used furniture and appliance business more than the new.
The problem is this with new furniture and appliances; you got snooty customers who want the best, they want service, they want warranties, they want the lowest price, they want credit, they want, they want they want. Now you take the used furniture and appliance business; you sell a refrigerator for $150 that you picked up for free, you don’t guarantee nothing except it don’t fall off the back of the truck by the time you deliver it. If it goes kaput and he wants his money back, you call the cops to get him out of the store. You sell a guy a mattress with bedbugs, how’s he gonna prove they ain’t his already?”
Uncle Mort was generous to the family. Nearly everybody worked there one time or another. He didn’t pay well but he paid consistently. He had a set profit margin; if you exceeded it you got to 50 percent of the excess but taxes came out of your 50 percent—yours and his. Mort had a few people who worked for him that did pretty good.
However, out of respect for his father, Sol decided to visit his father first.
Sol’s dad, Ira, worked for Mort 10 years. He saved his money and opened up one of those quick oil change places. Sol’s dad always said, “Oil out, oil in, sell them heavy when it’s thin. Customer come, customer go, have a special when business is slow.”
Ira was a man ahead of his time—so to speak. He recycled his oil. In the back of his shop, he had a filtration system. He dumped the best old oil into it—and sometimes not so good. The oil passed over a magnet and through a couple of filters. Ira said the oil was as good as new but he never put it in his own car.
Sol worked for his dad when he lived at home. One of the first days Sol worked at the shop he questioned his dad’s integrity of selling used oil for new. “My sign says oil change. It says nothing about new oil. The oil I sell them is better than the crap I take out of their jalopies. And don’t question my ethics; That filtered oil is paying for your braces and college.”
Sol walked into his dad’s shop. His dad was in the oil changing bay correcting an employee. “You never put the good oil in a piece of crap like that. Old car old oil, new will make the old car spoil. Idiot! There’s my son, the college graduate. I got to go talk to him.”
Ira walked away from the employee like he just finished giving directions to a blind man.
Dad,” Sol said, “I was hoping you might give me some advice. What kind of business should I go into?”
You got an MBA, you can work for anybody,” Ira said. “That’s why we sent you to college so you wouldn’t be hanging around the house until your thirty like your cousin Bernie.”
I don’t want to work for somebody else,” Sol said. “I want to make profits for myself.”
What! You want to open an ail change business and run your ole man out of business,” Ira said. “Never gonna happen, I’ll sue you!”
No, no, it’s not that,” Sol said.
Oh, the oil business is too good for you,” Ira said. “Well, it paid for your college education.”
Sol rolled his eyes, “and my braces.”
Good, you remembered,” Ira said, “and you’re mother’s Brazilian butt job.” He cupped his hand next to his mouth and said quietly, “but don’t say a word.”
I just want some advice,” Sol said.
I send you to school and now you want advice,” Ira said. “No one there at that college can come up with advice?”
They’re academics,” Sol said. “They don’t have real-life and business experience like you do.”
Well, you got that right,” Sol said. “I got educated people come in here all the time. They drive Volvos. I look at their oil and dump it right back in, change their filter, collect their $29.99 with their coupon, and say, ‘see ya in 3,000 miles.’ You’re right, you won’t get good advice from guys like them.” He added sarcastically, “Go see your Uncle Mort; everybody thinks he’s a big shot businessman.”
Sol left his dad’s shop with no advice.
I should go to Uncle Mort,” Sol thought. “Everyone goes to him. Look at our family; Toby’s a dentist, Jacob a lawyer, Lazzi is doing well in scrap metal, Chaim is into storage lockers and warehousing, and Bernie is still at home; he never went to Uncle Mort for advice. All of them said they got their start by taking advice from Uncle Mort.”
Sol entered Uncle Mort’s store (Mort Mart) and asked the girl at the accounts receivable counter where Mort was. She told him he was in the warehouse. Sol knew the way and walked back a long hallway and into the warehouse with stacked furniture and appliances.
Mort appeared exasperated with two of his delivery men. “What do you mean the leg broke on the couch when you sat it down? You grab a couple of books and level it out. The fabric will cover it; they will never notice until they rearrange the room. They’ll think, ‘I don’t remember doing that. I bet it was one of the kids.’ Next time it comes out of your pay.”
Mort looked over the shoulder of the men and saw Sol. Sol waved.
Okay, you two,” Mort said. “My nephew just walked in and I want to talk to him. In the meantime, deliver the furniture on the dock to the dump on Madison Street. It’s not what they are expecting but tell them it came from a doctor’s house. Sell it to them. That will make up for the broken leg thing. Now go!”
Mort walked away from the two as if he just finished talking to first graders. “What brings my nephew Sol the son of my brother, Ira? How are you doing, my son? And how is your father’s business going? A smart man your father is. He worked hard for me, saved his money, and got into the oil business. That was my advice, you know. I said don’t get into furniture or appliances; I’ll sue you. A fine man, your father and wise.”
I went to him asking for advice about what kind of business to go into and he sent me to you,” Sol said.
See,” Mort said, “what did I tell you, he’s a wise man.”
Advice,” Mort said, “here’s my advice; don’t go into the furniture or appliance business or I’ll sue you! There, hows that for advice.”
I was kind of hoping for something more specific,” Sol said.
Specific, specific, you say? What can be more specific than ‘don’t go into the furniture or appliance business or I’ll sue you!’ Did they teach you in college that had some other meaning?”
No,” Sol said, “I don’t even like the furniture and appliance business.”
What’s wrong with the furniture and appliance business?” Mort said. “It’s not good enough for you?”
Oh, no, it’s not that,” Sol said. “I don’t see myself selling tangible products.”
You mean stuff that requires work,” Mort said. “You are too good for the furniture and appliance business. It’s beneath you. I suppose you want to sell derivatives or junk bonds.”
Well, if I did, at least you wouldn’t sue me,” Sol said.
Not so,” Mort said. “I got a cousin on your aunt’s side in Poughkeepsie who sells that stuff. I gave him 50,000 to invest. It’s worth bupkis today. I sued him.”
Maybe I should be a lawyer,” Sol said in passing.
Jacob’s the lawyer,” Mort said. “You become a lawyer and he’d sue you.”
Is there any business I can get into that our family is not into so I can avoid being sued?” Sol said.
And what’s wrong with our family?” Mort said. “You act as if our family is just out for the quick buck.”
I just want to avoid conflicts,” Sol said.
You should go into housing construction,” Mort said. “Nobody in the family does that.”
I don’t know anything about building houses,” Mort said.
You think your dad knows how to change spark plugs?” Mort said. “He knows where the dipstick, the oil filter, and the drain plug is—that’s it. What do I know about appliances? I know a refrigerator needs a compressor. I don’t know what it does but replacing one or buying a whole new refrigerator is an option the customer must weigh. I can pull one out of an old unit, buy a can of black spray paint, and sell it as new. Either way, I make money. All I know about houses is don’t show on a rainy day.”
I just wanted some advice,” Sol said.
If advice is all you want, go down the street, you can find advice anywhere. It grows on trees. Everything is advice—everything. I wouldn’t do that. You should do this. Don’t do that. You oughta do this. You oughta do that. Eat less carbs. Eat more fiber. Buy low. Sell high. You should have been a proctologist. You should have been a bum, you're no good at anything else. You should have married the blonde. Join the Navy, no the Army, better to be in the Air Force, never be a Marine. Vote liberal. Vote conservative. Vote your pocketbook. Follow your heart. Does that about sum it up for you?”
Yeah,” Sol said. “I suppose.”
What do you take away from this little chat?” Mort said.
I’m not sure,” Sol said.

Go get some advice, you knucklehead!”