Category Archives: Gift

Because Time Is Short

Minutes before, I endured a needlessly hateful experience at the retail level. I’d done my diligence and arrived with everything from the company itself to keep the process simple and without hitches. I should’ve known that would have disturbed the gods of Inner Peace & Tranquility. In response to being treated terribly, I gave my creative side permission to unleash a little hell on them. It was gloriously fun. I’ll write about it some other time. I admit that while I engaged in frivolous tomfoolery to repay their savagery, I was disappointed a bit at humanity in general, as if the rest of us were responsible for whatever that behavior was.

Proposed rule: “The greater your belief that you have dotted every ‘i’ and covered every base, the greater the likelihood that hell will rain down upon your head no matter what. And triply so if retail is involved or the word ‘service’ is literally in the job title of the person causing you grief.” I know the spirit of this is already contained in several Murphy’s Law. Nonetheless‚Ķ

I ate lunch somewhere other than Mr. Taco Loco. (I wanted a lot of pico de gallo.) When asked for my order, I said, “Anything on special. Even cow hooves.” (Because I had no plans to eat it, anyway.) Two women were already seated closely nearby, to my right. Though I wasn’t eavesdropping, I could hear every word they said.

Something about the way they talked hinted at things that weren’t being said. I can’t put my finger on it – nor does it matter. I felt my mood flip to being grateful and for those in my life who could see past my stupidity and issues. It was Divine.

I told the waitress to bring me their check and asked her to say nothing to the two women. I spoke in Spanish, of course. The two women had carefully avoided speaking too loudly when they saw my little mountain of pico de gallo. I don’t know what they made of me. I ate quickly, too.

I paid for all three meals, tip included, and walked back to their table, placing one of my infamous index cards at the end of their table. “I included tip, too,” I said. I pirouetted quickly and marched quickly away from there before a torrent of thank-yous could envelop me. Near the front door sat a table full of construction workers. They looked up at me as I marched. The women behind me were excitedly commenting. I’m assuming the difference in pitch and enthusiasm, combined with me blazing across the floor after a dramatic pirouette confused the construction workers. I half-expected one of them to jump and prevent me from exiting. I laughed loudly and unexpectedly as I walked outside.

Behind me, as I left, I knew I’d surprised a couple of strangers. And that they had something to think about. All of us were a little more buoyant.

No matter who you are, take a moment and think about that sudden overwhelming flip of emotion I experienced at lunch, the one preceded by needless hatefulness and followed by sublime happiness. I hope you’re lucky enough to have people in your life for whom you can do the same.

A Day’s Work

Today, I climbed a tree and sat in it, probably higher than I should have. While I was there, I attached a surprise to one of the branches. Below, people ambled by, unaware that a middle-aged man observed them from above, half-laughing at the absurdity of it. Since losing weight, I’ve climbed several trees. When I climbed down, I wrote a message on a pink index card and propped it against a brick sign. A man walked over, curious. “That’s nice,” he said, as he read the card. In a lemon moment of overconfidence, I hugged him, and he laughed. I briefly told him that I put such cards all over. I also pointed a few feet away, to a rock that had a previous day’s message written on it. He laughed again. “Interesting. I never thought of that.” As he waved and walked away, I said, “You won’t be billed for the hug.”

PS Yesterday, I took a pristine new piece of thick chalk and wandered around, writing messages on the pavement. Some were cryptic, some were specific. A pair of women noted that I was writing. I watched them walk in an arc to read my musings. For my last one, I wrote, “Who is the guy in the green jacket following you?” I walked quickly away and turned once I was out of their line of sight. As they reached the last chalk message, they both immediately turned to scan the path behind them. No green jacket-clad man in sight, of course. And then they laughed. I wonder what they made of it.

Along, Into…

Today, I walked more than I have in a few years.

Because it was chilly and the sky was overcast, the atmosphere didn’t feel like May at all. It was glorious. My walk to get there was indeed long, but my feet floated on the grass and pavement as I made my way across town. As I walked, I witnessed several hundred drivers nervously hit their brakes as the increased holiday traffic police presence caught their attention. I passed a massive grove of honeysuckle, whose scent was unique and vibrant; the odd observation is that the same patch also contained more trash than any other single stretch I passed today. I noted that Magnolia Gardens is now Natural State Rock & Republic, a haven for cyclists. (Their website is top-notch, by the way.) The grounds at Magnolia are still beautiful, just like a few of my memories made there. A woman stood on her long, covered porch. As I passed, she offered me a cup of coffee. “Next time,” I told her, and she nodded. I found a picture of a young woman stuck in the criss-cross pattern of a chainlink fence – and couldn’t stop myself from conjecturing what led someone to place it there. (I’ve done the same thing countless times in my life.) I left the picture artfully placed there, hopefully for the next passerby to ponder. I wrote several index cards of messages myself, using a pack of multicolor ones I had forgotten that I had. Some of these I placed on fences, while others I left in cracks on the sidewalk, across tables in open spaces, and a couple in the branches of trees. Some were humorous, some serious. All of them contained hints of me.

On a last-minute whim, I decided to skip a usual walk and instead take a longer one to one of the main cemeteries in Springdale. I visited a couple of graves, including my cousin Jimmy’s. I spent a few moments spouting off one-liners to roast his absence. It’s not something that many people would understand if they overhead me doing so. Jimmy, though? He would howl with appreciation. I imagined his Mom, my Aunt Ardith, rolling her eyes and muttering, “Oh brother!” as I did so. Jimmy’s grave is the closest to the meandering creek on that end, and because of the recent rains, the stream echoed and combined with the birds squawking and announcing their presence.

As I walked along one of the main horizontal streets in the cemetery, I passed a group of men. They were smoking pot and drinking from tallboy cans. I could see them circumspectly look up at me. I’d already decided that my presence might make them nervous. So, I nodded and told them in Spanish to carry on and that no one would disrespect their moment at whomever’s grave they stood. They all nodded, and I left them in peace.

It’s a moment Jimmy would have appreciated. No matter how his life ended up, he was a devout admirer of marijuana when he was younger. For anyone who would mind me saying so, Jimmy wouldn’t. Now that eight years have elapsed since his death, I am sure that all truths, both small and large, bear him no harm. Whether he lies in eternal silence or walks in his idea of heaven, I know that he’d laugh and say, “F’em.”

I left the cemetery, trying to decide whether I should walk further. I walked quite a way in the opposite direction before opting to walk back to downtown. Emma was closed off, and people were setting up tables and chairs along the main street. Vendors were scattered along the same path, extending up to Shiloh Square and Turnbow Park.

I ate at Mr. Taco Loco (because life is too damn short to miss a chance to do so). I spent a few minutes waiting for my food and inadvertently listening to several tables full of people gossipping and saying things louder than they probably intended to. Though I had headphones on, I wasn’t listening to music, though they probably assumed I was tuned out to them. In honor of this, I’d like to give a shout-out to Nathan, who is never returning to the job he hates and is using the excuse of the holiday to miss all next week: his employer thinks he had a death in the family. Rock on, Nathan.

To my surprise, I convinced myself to forego an Uber back to my house. I’m glad I did, although my legs are complaining a bit already about my choice. I tried to focus on walking to the next traffic light and no further. Usually, as I make these small commitments, the walk doesn’t seem as daunting. I feel like there’s a metaphor or analogy for life in this somewhere.

By the time I made it back several hours later, the sun was out, and making my choice of wearing a light jacket a regret. I still carried the shadows from along the creek in my head, though. No one can see them, nor the smell of dozens of honeysuckle plants in my nose. I’m not sure why I know I’ll remember this walk for years to come. In part, it will be the length, yes. The other facet is that each of us is a work in progress, often unaware that we’ve shifted in ways both insignificant and transformational.

Love, X

Another Lemon Moment

I didn’t want to be awkward about it, but I needed the Lemon Moment in my head to become a reality.

As I wandered the aisles of Hobby Lobby, a dad with his daughter of about eight years of age wandered around near me. The girl asked a lot of questions. Her dad answered each of them attentively. Several times, she said, “Ooh, Mom would love this!” The dad then commented on the price and calculated how much of a predetermined amount might be left for the girl to spend as she pleased. It seemed evident to me that it was a ritual they often practiced.

Everything about the way they talked and interacted told me that they loved each other. The girl smiled often, and the dad wasn’t distracted by his schedule, phone, or other people.

On a whim, I took out my stack of index cards and wrote, “You don’t have to say anything. Take this $20 and surprise your daughter with something whimsical. And pay it forward? – X” On the next aisle, the dad and daughter meandered up the aisle toward me. I sat the index card on the shelf with the $20 bill. As the dad approached, I pointed at the index card. He reached to pick it up, reading it. His eyes jumped up to mine as I pulled my mask down and smiled. “Y’all are great together!” The dad said nothing as I walked away, though he smiled.


Whatever he might have thought, my Lemon Moment became a reality.

I wish I had a thousand dollars to reward them. I know they’d appreciate it and undoubtedly use some or all of it to surprise Mom, wherever she was. Somehow, I knew that they shared a lot of moments together.

Love, X

Two Gloves For Rosen

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As I neared the last corner on the way home, I saw my Marshallese neighbor in the lateral sideyard playing ball with his son. They were using a tennis ball and running across the yard, laughing. Unlike some of the neighbors, they were careful. It was a great late morning for such games, with a temperature in the upper 70s, a light breeze washing over them, and a sun uncharacteristically cool.

Seeing them frolic made me realize that I found a home for another of my keepsakes.

I drove past the few remaining houses to mine and parked in the driveway. I backed my wife’s car out of the garage and then used the drop-down attic staircase to go up. I shifted the bins around until I found the one with my two baseball gloves and a special baseball. A few years ago, I reconditioned both gloves and sealed them. It surprised me that I had not found a good home for the gloves before today.

When I was younger, I learned to catch using whatever glove was available. For most lefties like me, especially poor ones, I either used my bare hands or learned to rapidly remove my glove and throw the ball. The positive result of this was that I could catch perfectly well with either hand and bat right-handed.

Until today, I’ve waited to find a new home for my gloves. I didn’t want to give them to someone who wouldn’t appreciate them. Having them unused in the attic bothered me a bit, though. I’m violently opposed to owning such things without using them. Gloves are meant to be used. As terrible as a sports fan that I am, the simplicity of playing catch, hotbox, or hitting balls in the summer sun is something that I loved doing when I was young. Like most boys, I participated in versions of baseball anywhere that we could manage, from dormant municipal baseball fields to cow patches where large apartments now tower above the land.

I walked down to the corner. Rosen, the younger Marshallese owner of the house, walked up to meet me. His young son stood on the lawn, wondering what I was up to. Another smaller boy sat on the chair under the small covered porch on the front of the house.

“Hey, do you remember me? I’m the one who gave you the weedeater and spoke Spanish to you?”

Rosen nodded yes, and then said, “I know you have a strange name, but I can’t remember what it is.”

I showed him my work badge and told him, “X.” Seeing it written out sometimes gives people the right context to understand what I’m saying.

“Rosen, I want you to have my gloves. One if for lefties, and the other is for those who use the wrong hand to catch. And the baseball is a special one I’ve kept for many years. I want you to keep them and enjoy them.” The look on Rosen’s face told me that I had once again surprised him. When I moved to the new house a few years ago, I walked down and gave him a new weedeater. He was shocked then and surprised now.

“Wow, thanks X. We’ll definitely go to a ball field and play. We’ll use the tennis ball right now.”

I laughed. “Okay, but if you really want to repay me, you’ll break out a couple of windows of that neighbor’s house.” I turned and pointed to a house across the street, a house that is well on its way to becoming a version of Boo Radley’s house.

The residents of that infamous house are using every page of the ‘Asshole Neighbor’s Playbook.’ If the human underarm could become a house, it would be that one.

Rosen laughed, too.

He might not know the significance of that ball or what it meant to me, but if he uses it even for a single shared afternoon with his son, the honor will have been paid in equal measure.

I walked away and heard one of the boys say, “Dad, who was that nice man?”

I smiled, wondering what ripple effects I had unknowingly set in motion by my gift.

Random Act of Ice Cream

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Random Act of Kindness: I stopped the ice cream truck as it slowly trolled the neighborhood. I handed the driver a pile of money and told him to give the neighbors down the street a few houses on the left whatever they wanted. I don’t know the family, but there were 6 or 7 young children outside playing. The woman watching the passel of kids reluctantly approached the ice cream truck as he waved and said, “It’s free!” I heard one of the kids scream, “Papi! Free ice cream!!” All the kids ran en masse toward the van, dancing and singing as only young children can. Mom and Dad ended up with ice cream too. I went back outside a couple of minutes later to see the children still excitedly comparing selections and laughing with complete abandon.

I didn’t do much today, but I managed to give a few children a moment of complete joy. Not only did they each unexpectedly get a treat, but they were able to choose whatever their heart desired. Despite my age, I can remember what such a rare treat felt like when I was young in heart and body.

P.S. I teared up a bit.

Dunder Mifflin Canvas Art (Suitable for “The Office”)

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Because it is hard-wired into every white person’s DNA, I love “The Office.” (The TV show, not the place of servitude so many of us inhabit during a routine workday.)

We recently started re-watching the defunct series. Since we’re old, not only are we newly surprised by the antics of the workers of Dunder-Mifflin paper company but in many ways have found a new appreciation for the themes. Every story transforms into something new as you grow older. The hard-and-fast world of the known and certain turns to mist as the sublime supplants it.

Starting with another person’s concept and picture, I created a 16X20 canvas of the main characters of the show, as a gift for my wife. She certainly wasn’t expecting THIS. I’m going to have to nail it to the wall before she changes her mind. On the other hand, I still have my 16X20 wood panel in my bathroom, the one of Jeff Daniels from Dumb And Dumber on the toilet. It still gives my bathroom that touch of class that all American bathrooms desperately need, the kind that guest towels and little bowls of soap can’t seem to convey.

For those who find it to be sacrilegious instead of humorous, I say, “Look away,” an approach which works amazingly well for those who are capable of implementing it.

Signed,
X Teri, Amazing Artist & Doubtful Decorator

Happiness And the Flimsy Bath Towel

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Oddly, one of my biggest Christmas surprises this year was a gift that arrived a few days late. My wife Dawn managed to find the most horribly perfect set of bath towels, ones so flimsy that they can be used as Confederate flags of surrender. Naturally, I love them. Unlike normal people, I prefer smaller, non-plush towels. Some people use hand towels bigger than these bath towels. The towels are white with a single blue stripe on them, similar to what you might find at a really bad massage place or in a bathhouse frequented by savages. The towels probably shipped with a little white slip of paper marked, “Failed by Inspector 456.”

Years ago, I used a similar set until they were so threadbare that you could play tic-tac-toe in the threads. I had visited Tulsa, staying at a Ramada Inn near downtown. After showering, I was amazed at how small and flimsy the towels were. Naturally, I wanted a bunch of them, no matter what the cost. The housekeeper had left her cart down the hall and I took a stack of them. I left an outrageous amount of money on her cart, to let her know that they were in payment for the towels I had no intention of returning – or a tip for her. Later that afternoon, as we passed in the hallway, she smiled a huge and knowing smile at me. I just nodded, a happy co-conspirator. I’ve forgotten almost everything about that trip to Tulsa except for the handsome set of hotel towels. I’ll also bet that the housekeeper in question remembers the crazy hotel guest who paid her $50 over cost for the worst towels ever made.

Once those towels turned into loose threads, I’d catch myself asking at places like Target, “Do you have anything THINNER?” The clerks invariably looked at me like my cheese had slid from my cracker. “Uh…no,” they would utter. I’d reply, “These are too plush and comfortably large. Anything smaller?” These conversations tended to go badly, as the average person thinks towels are supposed to be as plush as bed comforters and fit four per dryer load. Over the years, I gave up hope of ever finding a suitable set of replacements. I forced myself to use good towels, even as I cursed the universe for my first world problem.

I threw in the towel, in other words.

I won’t bore you with arguments regarding ease of use, storage, cleaning, or laundry bulk. The truth is I don’t care about any of the utilitarian arguments in favor of using smaller, thinner towels. I just like them, like burned toast or popcorn, or dry fruitcake.

My wife Dawn solved my problem, though. This new set of towels is so perfectly thin and small that I shall delight in their use. As you foolishly use the equivalent of your grandmother’s quilt after your shower, I’ll be laughing and enjoying the worst towels in human history.

The picture is of all 6 of them, stacked no higher than a plate of Waffle House pancakes. It’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it?

Most of you will look back and remember your new television or instapot. Not me. I’ll be nostalgic for this beautiful stack of horrid towels, the ones which made me instantly happy.

I think I need another dozen of them, though, just to be safe.

A Photo Puzzle Gift and Evening of Espionage

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My wife Dawn & I have decided that our nascent career in spookery and espionage has already faltered. Just attempting to quickly and efficiently exit the vehicle in an attempt to switch places was almost enough to do us in, never mind the furtive ‘chase’ across multiple lawns or the horrific sight of me as I ‘ran’ to escape being caught ringing a friend’s doorbell and fleeing.

While I scampered away to avoid detection, I imagined a neighbor calling the police and excitedly telling them, “There’s an old man wobbling through the middle of my yard. I think he might have done something he shouldn’t have, like have an extra serving at supper.”

By the way, we know our careers in sneakery are additionally suspect because it would have never occurred to us to attempt such a surprise under the cover of darkness.

I had spent an inordinate amount of time devising the perfect 1008-piece customized puzzle iteration, using a couple of hundred distinct pictures, and it arrived unexpectedly today. The finished puzzle is 20″ x 26″. It seemed like a moral imperative for us to drive over and surprise our unsuspecting friends with it. I think we had more fun devising our plan than actually being able to say “mission accomplished.”

Portrait Puzzles does astonishingly great work if you find yourself in need of a really, really complicated and personalized puzzle. They’ll customize the tin the puzzle arrives in, too, if you think that it’s advisable that the people intending to assemble the puzzle might need to know what the finished picture might look like.The one I had made will probably cause either partial blindness or intense bouts of spontaneous vomiting. It’s pretty complicated, is my point. At my age, though, getting to the point is more of a goal than a requirement.

Despite my strong desire to remove one piece from the puzzle in the gift tin, I resisted. I think I might have killed someone doing this a few years. How was I supposed to know her chronic OCD would flare up if she spent 22 hours assembling a puzzle only to find that it was missing one critical piece?

The friends getting the puzzle are two of the nicest people one could ever hope to meet. I didn’t get to know them until fairly recently, in part due to their wise aversion to hanging out with people like me. I lived a little of their lives with them, though, all these years later, as they trusted me to digitize thousands of pictures of their lives. It was an honor and I hope they get a little bit of the magic of the lives back as they relive it, piece by piece. I hope they have enough sense to go lie down for a moment if they begin to hallucinate from the effort.

To the residents who live over by Pin Oak, I apologize if you were unlucky enough to peer out your window while I was up to my usual shenanigans in your neck of the woods. I think I lost a shoe in one of your yards. You can keep it, though, to remind yourself that not everyone should run through wet grass or attempt to commit acts of sneakery in broad daylight.

Love, X

 

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Another Beautiful Wood Panel from Snapfish

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My latest 11×14 wood panel/picture, which Snapfish custom-made for me. Just in time for Season 2 of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” this picture will remind me of not only the perils of an authoritarian government but also the dangers of letting me have photo editing tools at my disposal. I must admit that I totally rock the dystopian red outfit, though.

When asked how my wife Dawn sees the future with me in it, she replies, “…with eyes closed.”

 

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