The Unknown Life

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I was in a hurry, busily checking minor and mundane necessities off my mental checklist as I hurried through the building. The day was still unborn, and shadows blanketed everything that modern lighting couldn’t touch. To my right, a series of vertical windows rose above me. Ahead of me, someone sat in the shadows, in a small grouping of uncomfortable chairs, the type which serve their function but provide no real invitation to linger. His head was bowed, and his hands were clasped between his legs. His body language seemed to exude defeat. He seemed to be waiting for something unseen, an event to unfold, or for some greater force to expel him from his chair. The soft aura reflecting from the windows cast a curtain of gauze on the interior.

Despite my feet treading quietly on the institutional floor, his head rose, and he looked up. His eyes met mine. I noted a huge yellow, black, and discolored splotch around his right eye. His blond hair lay wildly around his features.

“Are you okay?” I asked, without even realizing I was about to speak.

“No,” he said, his voice cracking. Due to some triggered instinct, I realized that if he said a few more words, he’d likely either start shouting or sobbing.

I raised my left hand as if to stop him from speaking. “It’s okay.” I walked within two feet of where he sat.

“I think I need to leave before I react.” As he spoke, fifteen different scenarios filled the canvas of my mind. None of them were joyous explanations for his demeanor or appearance.

He fell silent in recognition of the fact that I knew what he meant without him saying the words of explanation. Because we’re human, it could only be one of four or five stories.

I removed my phone from my left front pocket. “Where do you need to be, other than away from here? By the way, my name is X.” I asked.

He told me. I typed the destination and found a ride that would be there in less than five minutes. I showed him the screen.

“I’m paying. Don’t stress it. I’ll go wait outside. When the driver shows, I’ll make sure he’s comfortable with it.” The young man nodded and didn’t speak.

As the sun burned the rim of the horizon, the driver pulled up. I handed him a tip and explained that someone needed a hand – and I was that hand. “No problem. He’ll get there.”

The young man slowly walked outside and opened the rear door of the waiting car. He did not look up, for which I’m glad. Seeing the side of his face again would undoubtedly cause me to commit the sin of asking questions.

“Thanks.”

Before he could say more, I said, “Pay it forward. You’ll remember this one day and have the chance to help someone.”

He shut the rear door and the car pulled away.

I don’t even know his name. But he knows mine. And that gives me hope.

An entire life, unknown and unknowable to me.

I fear we have things in common, though. I hope the young man’s journey is dotted with people interested enough to help him push forward.

P.S. I don’t deserve a pat on the back or words of encouragement. I needed this more than the young man did. Truth be told, my mind was filled anger that morning.

 

 

 

 

 

Extremely Unlikely Opinion

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Regarding ‘the’ video/picture. It’s easy for excessively wealthy people to overlook disregard from others. I absolutely guarantee you that if I had half a billion dollars, I could ignore the most heinous of considerations. You could call me anything you want, as well as vilify my very existence.

Let’s Trade

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I see so many social media posts from people advocating that young people choose a trade over college. These types of posts seem to be multiplying. It’s rare to see such a post from a young person, however. The memes annoy me a little, though, if it’s okay for me to say so.

Because I watch with a keen eye when my instincts get stirred, I turn my attention to note how much of people’s enthusiasm for a trade translates to their children or grandchildren. Whether it is my jaundiced eye or a convenient conclusion, my observations tell me that college is almost always the preferred ideal over learning a trade. Likewise, most parents don’t enthusiastically endorse the option of the military, either, even though it often provides multiple benefits for the person willing to choose it.

Ideology in the abstract is a strange, contradictory thing.

Why not both? Educated minds are to everyone’s benefit. What’s wrong with a plumber, electrician, or mechanic with a college degree? The odds we’re going to change careers several times increases with each generation.

A shadowy truth embedded in this conversation is that most people want careers that do not tax their bodies – and they wish the same for their children. It’s not a revelation of laziness. For some, it is a belief rooted in class distinction. For most, it’s merely reasonable.

It’s not denigrating to tradespeople to say that you’d like a job using your mental ability rather than your hands and back. Most technical trades take a toll on one’s body. Combined with long hours, a competent tradesperson is much more likely to harm his or her ability to do such a job well for their entire career. No one disputes that many people make an outstanding salary by choosing a trade.

Imagine a society in which 17 years of education is ‘free,’ rather than 13. How many would choose a trade if their educational path were open and guaranteed? How many parents would encourage them to select a trade instead of college? How many would embrace the option of the military?

I get that you agree it is a worthy choice to learn a trade instead of college.

First, though, let’s give everyone a democratic chance for college by making it universal for everyone. Afterward, we’ll see how many parents jump with joy when their children or grandchildren choose a trade instead of college. Or, let’s encourage everyone to do both. Getting an education won’t make you unable to learn a trade. You’ll still have the education – but more options once you’re finished.

I realize that there is an inherent imperfection in my argument. I’m not proposing an airtight, elegant solution – just a request that you think about the issue logically.

Our path toward college and careers itself is flawed.

As well as our thinking regarding the issue.
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Dust Eddies In Time

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While I will get the words wrong, my recollection is at least correct for tone and content. Many parts of the day I write about are a blur. It was a complex day for more than one reason. Like a few other days, the day sits on the calendar of our minds. I will write around the fringes so as to avoid treading upon the loss which brought us all together. All of our lives are complex. Our memories, reactions, and ability to interact fluctuate with an erratic ebb and flow.

I was in the geography of my childhood, sitting in the church that seems to ‘the’ church in my memories. It sits in silence off a highway between places travelers seldom slow enough to notice, surrounded by the relics which once thrived. Like so many rural places, it fights the bubble of time that envelopes the area. It is the nexus of memories for many people, benchmarking people’s faith and sense of family and togetherness. This church remains, across the highway from the place my dad once ran his gas station. The surrounding field has reclaimed every trace of the station. One day soon enough, it will overtake everything else in the area.

Those who can remember will fade too, leaving dust eddies as they pass through the area and this world. To me, this is a comfort, even as I am unable to exonerate the existential discomfort of the knowledge. We’ll all pass this place, regardless of the velocity of our lives.

In front of me, two older ladies sat, each nervously chattering about the multitude of overlapping recollections in their lives. The further back one went into the wooden upright pews, the louder people felt comfortable talking. Whether it is always fair, funerals serve as a social outlet and gathering place for most people. Oddly, even as we grieve or grapple with loss, we sometimes find our hearts swelling with the smiles and faces of people who were once integral to our identity and lives. Loss ignites our connection to the shadows of our past; the demands of daily life usually blur that enthusiasm soon after.

I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth countless times as I attempt to navigate the mysterious awkwardness of interacting with people, especially ones I either once shared a deep connection to, or strangers who echo an odd familiarity. I later found out that I got roped into a hurtful conversation without being aware of it. I can’t take it back, so I will forever be someone’s anecdote. In a roundabout way, that is also what each of our lives does for everyone else.

“I never attended this church. I only came here for funerals. White Church was the only church for us back in the day,” said the older lady on the left.

“We should get back to the cemetery there. Not today, though. It’s Hell’s furnace out there. The old church was something. I hated to see it go. We lost the community when it left.” The lady on the right half-whispered it with a bit of pain and nostalgia in her voice. “Remeber the potlucks? The summer singing?”

When she said it, I thought of the mosquitoes, the blistering heat, and the discomfort of hot, uncomfortable Sunday-best clothing that churches like the White Church once required of members. I also recalled celery in potato salad, mind-numbingly long sermons sending all to Hades for our indiscretions – and cars with no air conditioning. Nostalgia certainly and capably erases the memories that more accurately convey the complexity of living in the past.

“The last time I was here, it was Carolyn’s funeral. Kak or Kakky they called her. I remember playing with her when she was younger. Their dad was a mean drunk back then. Carolyn took after her papa and married that no-account Bobby Dean. What a mess.”

The lady on the left was unaware that Carolyn was my mother.

The lady on the right nodded her head solemnly. She almost visibly shuddered. “Remember how she looked? That funeral home that got caught stacking bodies in the hallway did her funeral. That place out of up north, wasn’t it?”

I knew what was probably going to be said next. I wasn’t mistaken.

In her best gossipy whisper, the older lady on the left leaned in and said, “That horrible gravestone with the Bud Light can engraved on it is still down there. Can you imagine? Lord knows she was a drunk, but can you picture someone’s daughter thinking a beer car is a good idea for a tombstone?” She laughed.

“That daughter! Remember when she about gave Harold, or was it Howard, a stroke when he tried to adopt those two precious boys?” They both nodded toward one another.

I leaned in and said, “She’s still alive, too. Hasn’t changed one bit.” I told them in case they wanted to know. Neither registered that I might be closer to the people they’d mentioned than they realized.

I was unbothered, however.

Before arriving at the church, I drove the long loop around Rich. The roads were scorched with heat. Though I half-expected it, I choked up a bit as I neared the place where my grandparents once lived, off Highway 39 near Cook Road. I stopped at Upper Cemetery. An older man was outside in the heat, spraying the weeds and ditches. His dust-covered truck blocked the arch entrance, so I left my car along the artery of Highway 49 and walked out over the slight rise to the place where my parents are buried. As I crossed the top of the rise, my lungs filled with a pungent dust cloud, clotting my lungs and rendering my throat raw. I quickly walked down to the edge of the swamp and pondered the place for a moment.

I noted the Bud Light can on my mom’s gravestone and laughed. I think my sister chose well; some of the reasons for my agreement are based on amusement and aptness. The Bud Light can, at least, is an open salute to an essential truth in my mom’s life: more than anything, she lived for a drink. Even now, so many years later, I’m still discovering the mass of hidden lies and secrets in my parent’s lives.

When I got back to the car, my voice was almost gone. A million little pieces of this place remained in my mouth, nose, and lungs.

The cemetery embodies the communities around it. If the traffic becomes still, you can hear the insects, fields, and marshes for miles as they simply pulsate. Time doesn’t interfere in that place. I can hear it now, feel it in my bones, and feel it call me softly across the distance. I suspect you can too if you focus inward toward the places of your youth.

Truth sits outside of us. Every other person on this planet carries his or her own idea of each of us, independent of the facts and circumstances of our lives. It’s a fool’s errand to attempt to amend their mental biographies of us.

I hope that you can find a good life if you don’t have one, embrace the parts that can enlighten and lighten you, and forgive or ignore all of us who may trespass against you. In this world, it is the only way forward.

Grammar Police Tripping Themselves

ERRORS GRAMMAR KERMIT

As a bona fide imperfectionist, I’ve spent time over the last couple of years preaching the futility of the bulk of our spelling and grammar rules. I’ve observed many lashings regarding language. One reason I’m careful of such hypocrisy is that we all make spectacular errors. Even using a professional version of Grammarly, I have to laugh at some of the glaring bits of stupidity that amazingly went past my eyeballs. Given that our language is needlessly complex on multiple levels, it’s a bit outlandish to presume you’re not making errors.

You are. We notice.

I’m throwing a caution flag at people who nitpick irrelevant errors of presentation.

I had a list of examples to include with this post. I opted to forego it though, in part because those wearing the badge of grammar police seldom have a light-hearted sense of humor about it.

As for me, I don’t mind when people point out I’ve made an error. They’re going to need a lot of free time though, given the volume of my nonsense and my lack of regard for errors when I make them.

Richard Jewell – A Movie By Clint Eastwood

I know it’s weird to be excited to see a movie about someone who was utterly annihilated by the media and law enforcement.

I’m thankful that Clint Eastwood is making the Richard Jewell movie. Movies like this, of course, cause my blood pressure to jump, but they always remind me that people can go amazingly wrong, especially when the are righteously convinced of the inerrancy of their conclusions and motives. People are accused of all manner of things for which they might not be guilty. We’d like to think that some imaginary justice will prevail to help anyone wrongfully accused. Our system doesn’t function that way.

If you’ve forgotten the mess that the 1996 Summer Olympics bombing in Atlanta created, I recommend that you start with the Wikipedia page for Richard Jewell, the man whose life was ruined by law enforcement and the media. Follow it by reading about the wacko anti-abortionist/ anti-gay Eric Rudolph, who was actually the culprit for the Olympic bombings – and others.

It’s challenging to fault Clint Eastwood when he narrows his focus on a subject. Some of his films have been both sublime and amazing. The movie, “Richard Jewell,” is supposed to be in theaters sometime in mid-December. I’ll make sure to take a double-dose of my blood pressure medication when I go see it.

If the movie is 1/4 as good as the trailer, we’re all going to be fuming.

 

Richard Jewell – A Movie By Clint Eastwood

Halloween Might Come Early

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I’m not generally a “Get off my lawn” sort of old person. I didn’t know that my neighbor was out of state until today when he wrote to me and asked me to do him a favor. Around 7:45 tonight, a ruckus outside drew my attention. A herd of younger kids was on our lawns, climbing over our vehicles, and generally misbehaving. I tried to be as cool as a 50+ person can be. I spoke to them in English, Spanish, and a bit of Marshallese, to ask them to be considerate and to be as loud as they wanted in the street or on the sidewalks. I felt old, though, doing the job that the parents of those kids should be doing. I know how this game is played and the adults always lose.

I guess I’m going to need to get out my Halloween mask and scare the absolute #$%! out of some kids as the October nights come early.

If my neighbor installs a camera, I hope the footage of the trespassing kids shrieking for their lives as I jump out from the dark keeps us warm at night – if not laughing.

Regarding Bathrooms and Other Trickery

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Because I have entered the wrong restroom many more times than I’d care to admit, I present this proof that I’m still an idiot.

My wife and I went to Crystal Bridges with people who’d never seen its mysteries. I worked hard to avoid tripping over the displays or falling on top of babies in strollers. I’m not a great driver and I’m equally prone to stupidity merely walking around. Whether it is symptomatic of Imposter Syndrome or merely an indication of my self-awareness of my own ability to do stupid things, nice venues like the museum sometimes trigger my survival instincts.

I’d rather not be on the nightly news for falling through a famous art display.

It’s going to happen, though. Seriously. I know it is. I’m going to be one of those dolts who walk into a fountain or back up over a railing into the Grand Canyon. Or hit the gas and hurl myself through a store window. It’s a question of when.

I waited a bit too long to use the restroom. The coffee, soda, water, and other beverages I’d downed sat in my gullet like a gallon of water.

I went around the corner and just as I was about to hit the magical “door open” square on the wall, I heard water inside. I froze. Was it one of those segregated restrooms with floor-to-ceiling stalls, or was it a devilish trick? The family restroom was on the opposite side of the vestibule inset, so I knew that I was going to run into some weirdness regardless of my choice. Because of my uncertainty, I stood, immobile, proving my idiocy to the stream of people passing by. My friend took a second to capture my indecision in the picture. My wife finally told me to go inside. I did. Luckily, there were no unprepared victims inside as I entered. Even so, I found myself to be in a huge hurry as if the door was about to burst inward with a swarm of chatting ladies.

My restroom visit was otherwise without surprise.

Yes, I know the emblem on the bathroom door is simple.

The problem? I’m simple, too.

Kvetch-22, Work Edition

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Last Friday, management put us in an impossible situation. It was a Kvetch-22. The details don’t really matter. It’s no secret that many people work in environments in which our humanity is an inconvenience.

Someone I work with got really angry and lashed out. I did what I do best and creatively turned it around on him. Because he’s a hothead, you can imagine how it escalated. Later, when I realized that he had fallen victim to being blind to how he had been manipulated by the circumstances management left us with, I reached out and apologized. We both then appropriately turned our disdain on the people who created the situation rather than each other.

Today, I presented him with a surprise gift. He opened it, his eyes went wide, and then he laughed. And then laughed some more.

I had printed a color 5 x 7 picture of myself making a god-awful face and smiling. In Spanish, I wrote: “With Love, From The World’s #1 A÷÷hole, X.”

Somehow, I don’t think he will ever forget my apology on Friday or the ridiculous follow-up today. Plus, he now has a beautiful picture of me, one suitable for a dartboard, the bottom of a urinal, or framing to put above his imaginary fireplace at home.
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