I keep lists of jokes, ideas, and amusing things to amuse my amusing self. Last year while I was walking before sunrise in downtown Springdale, I burst out laughing with one of them.
I’ve been secretly fantasizing about an idiotic prank for quite a while. I’ve browsed on eBay, Amazon, and retail clearance websites trying to get a reasonable cost to purchase several dozen mannequins. The best cost I could devise was about $750. Three weeks ago, I could have purchased an entire lot, clothing included, from a defunct retailer.
After purchasing all the mannequins and keeping them in a self-storage unit, I’d rent a U-Haul. Early in the morning, I would drive around downtown Springdale and strategically place the dummies in key places. (Benches, leaning on walls, astride Spring Creek, behind patrol cars, etc.) It occurred to me that I could create a story if I was creative enough in my implementation. (With the epilogue involving me getting bailed out of jail, I presume.)
I even had a list of explanations if I were caught. I’d say, “It’s an art project for the Revitalization District.” Or, I’d say, “Look at that!” and as the person looked, I’d run like hell in any possible direction.
If I keep my movements low-key, no one will think twice about dummies downtown. There are always several standing or loitering around down there and several have been elected to keep the city running. Just kidding, Doug. I’m a big fan, with the exception of that horrendous city logo – the one which invokes an image of the floor of a New York City Taxi when I look at it.
I’ve had more fun thinking about doing this than you might expect.
I’ll probably never do it now, especially after sharing it with everyone.
If there’s anyone out there reading this, though, it would make an excellent prank.
It would also make a beautiful art project if it were planned with care.
I’m writing this story in one sitting, one draft, and without polish.
I don’t know who they were or where they were from, the couple that forced my day into an uncomfortable U-turn. I’m still a little nauseated, an hour later. When I came home, I immediately took a shower and did my best to avoid throwing up. The perfume or cologne of the couple is still on me, even after. My “What Would You Do” moment did call me to action, though. It also exposed my hardened view of so many things. The older man of the couple demonstrated an incredible amount of patience in the moments we shared. I am hesitant to tell any part of the story as even the most gently expressed truth often wounds people in ways which are unintended.
My wife and I capriciously decided to find a Mexican food place to eat today on the 4th. We drove by several and found all to be closed, one of which we missed by 30 minutes. On a whim, I turned at the last moment to check Las Palmas. My wife and I smiled at each other when we saw the mismatched cars aligned in the parking lot.
While we were eating, a woman and her children were behind us. The older boy regaled his table with stories involving vomit, bathroom misadventure, and the sort of thing one would expect from such a tender idiotic mind. Dawn was especially taken with the stories, given that the back of her head was a foot away from the mouth sharing the stories as fajita-scented smoked wafted in the air.
The restaurant had some unusual characters in it. The oddest was an unlikely couple seated in front of me and to the right, back against the bathroom area. The man seemed to behave almost like a caregiver. The woman, a painfully thin middle-aged woman, sat with her face mostly turned away from me. She was wearing a summer dress and several things seemed not quite right about her. In front of her was an almost empty margarita glass, the frosted and salt-rimmed kind one typically finds in Tex-Mex places. Toward the end of my meal, the antics seemed to grow more pronounced, much like a play in which the actors start to feel the audience respond to their comedy. I watched as the woman tried several times to get the straw of her drink to connect with her mouth. I was wrestling with the question of whether the woman had a mental condition. The margarita seemed incongruous to such a hopeful conclusion, however.
As Dawn sat across from me telling me stories, I found myself increasingly looking past her at the strange couple by the bathroom. I watched in horror as the woman tried to stand, much like a confused flamingo might do if its frail legs were tied to bowling balls. The man with her grabbed her as she started to pitch forward into the basket of chips of the Latino man seated nearby. He had her purse in one hand and somehow managed to grab her like a striking cobra.
“She’s going to fall!” I fiercely whispered to Dawn. “Don’t look,” I added, as she, of course, turned her head to look. (It might as well be a law in these situations, much like the involuntary cringe in one’s neck as someone shouts, “Watch out!”) I didn’t know it, but I was finished eating for the day.
After six or seven additional dramatic steps, the woman simply collapsed onto the hard tile floor, her male companion helpless to stop her. It sounded like a half-empty bag of potatoes as she hit the floor. My heart stopped for a second.
I locked eyes with the Latino man who had been seated near them. He looked down and away. Because I didn’t want John Quiñones and his crew from “What Would You Do” to jump out of the pantry and stick a camera in my face, I jumped up and ran over to help lift the woman. I didn’t know that my call to action was going to be so graphic or consuming.
“She’s got a bad leg and is going to have surgery on it,” the man told me. My heart hurt for him a little bit at that moment. I could feel his pain. I knew then that the woman was drunk and probably had a little pharmacological help mixed in.
Being careful of my back, I helped pick her up. I wanted to sit her in a chair for a moment and to give her time to get her bearings. The man with her forged ahead, trying to walk her, so I continued to lift and assist. Everyone inside was now looking at us. The restaurant had come to standstill.
We somehow managed to get her near the door despite the constricted walkway between tables. We were basically carrying her by this point. I wanted to sit her on the door side bench while the man went for the car. Instead, he said he’d never get her back up if she sat down there. Despite the voice in my head threatening me to continue, the man and I kept walking and made it outside. It’s hard to change course once you’re swept up in what seems to be impossible momentum.
I assumed his vehicle was the one two spaces from the door, given the woman’s condition, one which I assumed was normal for her. “Is this one yours?” I asked him.
“No,” he replied. “You’re not going to believe this, but THAT one is mine.” He pointed to the literal edge of the parking lot. The vehicle was some type of conversion Jeep, and the bottom of the door was more than two feet from the ground. I should have run. If I could go back in time, I’d go back and slap myself for not doing so.
The woman continued her best to succumb to gravity and fall to the pavement as we fought against it, moving slowly across the parking lot. She mumbled incoherently as the man continued to ask her to use her legs, to hold herself up, to move forward. I assumed everyone in the restaurant was pressed against the tinted windows, watching us do the impossible. I could hear the opening bell of Rocky in my head. My back sent warning shots to my brain. I couldn’t put the woman down, though, because the pavement was incredibly hot. The man seemed relentlessly insistent on marching to his vehicle, even if he had to drag all of us there by sheer willpower.
As we neared the Jeep, I got one arm from her and opened the door. It was going to be impossible to get her in there given the access available past the door. I knew then that the woman was most certainly not in such dire straits before her meal. Whatever medical condition was present before her arrival was at most responsible for no more than 10% of our current predicament.
We tried everything to get the woman up. She stopped responding to basic motor commands. At one point, the man ripped the belt from his cargo shorts in an attempt to fashion a lifting harness for her hand. We lifted her up and down no fewer than ten times. It was blistering hot in the parking lot. I knew it was burning the woman with each attempt, if not breaking her legs. I asked about an ambulance and should have insisted on calling one.
Honestly, though, I cannot express the pain I felt for the man as he struggled with a total stranger like me. He struggled to maintain his composure and sanity as the situation became more and more outrageous. I knew how sharply he was feeling the concern for the woman, while simultaneously being embarrassed and upset. He told me I could leave and that he appreciated the help. It made me wince even more.
On our last attempt, the woman’s sundress went completely up to the waist, leaving her exposed. I could not imagine a worse predicament for either the man or the woman. The woman, though, wouldn’t know it had happened unless someone tells her later.
After a long interval, Dawn came outside and watched as we continued to struggle. I wanted to both run and burst into tears. The man agreed that he might have to call an ambulance, even though I knew as he said it that he wouldn’t, for a variety of reasons.
The woman was curled into an unnatural ball in the passenger seat and floorboard, her limbs in seven distinct directions. The man was pushing at the small of her back, trying to keep her inside. He couldn’t do anything about her dress being around her waist.
“I’m not going to call an ambulance if you don’t want one, sir,” I told him, putting my hand on his back. He was in great shape for being in his late 50s or early 60s; It probably explains why he was still making the attempt.
We gave one more try to push the woman far enough inside. It looked impossible, but she was ‘inside’ in the most loosely defined way possible. The man told me he’d pile her in there like a spilled bag of oranges if he had to. Without exaggeration, I think about 15 minutes passed between the first time I picked the woman up from the floor and leaving.
I said a few things to get him to reconsider. I don’t remember exactly what I said because I was upset, whether I showed it much or not. As Dawn and I left, we drove around the lot so that I could see that the man hadn’t dropped her. Thankfully, he was standing by the Jeep, looking at the ground, a look of despair on his face. I was trying to picture what it might look like when he got her back to her house or his house or wherever they would end up.
I turned right and went the long way around, trying to convince myself to go ahead and call the police or an ambulance. If a police officer had been patrolling, I would have. None was to be seen. It was a relief in a way. Those two people have unimaginable problems in their lives. I don’t know who they are – or even the man’s name.
Dawn told me as we drove away that the woman walked into the restaurant without assistance. It confirmed my suspicion that alcohol had mixed with something else.
I can’t tie this story up into a neat little bow yet. I’ll let you know how mad I become at myself for helping. I’m glad I helped when someone needed it. I feel a deep sadness for the man who was put into that situation. I know nothing about who he is or his relationship to the woman. The not knowing makes it easier for me to avoid anger at the woman. My youthful exposure to so much alcoholism and addiction sometimes brings up a vengeful eye in me and it is something I struggle with when I’m around the consequences of someone who desperately needs help but won’t accept it.
I forgot to mention one key detail: it was an unfortunate choice of days for the woman to fail to wear underwear.
This morning, I walked a route I’d never taken before. The block behind me can’t be accessed directly, so I walked the circuitous path out of my neighborhood and around. Despite previously driving down the dead-end road behind me and seeing it on Streetview, I never noticed a spur sidestreet jutting from it, truncated as it points South. Unknown places are a treat, especially in the early morning before life startles everyone from their cocoons.
As I rounded the bushes on the entrance, I saw a man walking toward me. I could smell marijuana in the air as if someone with low self-esteem and a bad haircut had used it as a perfume by mistake. Keep in mind that it was still mostly dark and I was walking in a strange place. I felt like Donald Trump might if he were accidentally transported to a library.
By the time I was within a few feet of the approaching walker, he took a drag from what looked like a vape pen and exhaled. Marijuana wafted through the air. The man said, “Hey,” and kept walking.
Tempted to shout, “Police” and run for my life as a prank, I instead kept walking, the distance between us growing.
For the remainder of my walk, I pondered the question, “Who smokes marijuana at 5:00 in the morning, especially when no convenience store lurks nearby?”
Maybe the man in question is getting his exercise and buzz simultaneously, having just completed a ‘GTD’ seminar.
P.S. The photo isn’t the man in question. It’s what I picture in my mind when I think of how it should have looked.
With the lengthening days, my inability to sleep soundly in the mornings once again dragged me from the bed and out into the morning. I chose to walk a byzantine and unplanned path through the bowels of Springdale’s downtown.
The brightest and most vivid storefront at 4 this morning was that of “Mr. Taco Laco.” I pitied those who would work there later today as the throngs of goofy Americans crowd in, each trying to eat their weight in appreciation of Cinco de Mayo, a dubious excuse to imbibe.
I stopped and admired the neon promise of salvation at the next corner. I was about to snap a photo of it but the inclination passed as I remembered that the worst logo in modern American history was just across the street. As I walked past it, I considered buying a large black sheet to hang over it, one to conceal its hideousness. The Chamber of Commerce is the furthest thing from a comedy club, though, so perhaps I’ll continue to just imagine doing so.
The store near the corner barbershop on Blair Street caught my attention. Despite the hour, its lights were blazing. The mannequins all seemed trapped in mid-step, waiting for me to pass and begin their secret dance. The store was strangely lit, like an aquarium.
As the theme song from “Stranger Things” started, an image of “The Langoliers” came to me. Though I was the sole owner of the morning, I knew that soon the streets would begin to hum with people as they began their days. I think the feeling was amplified by the empty and newly-renovated Tyson hatchery building. Its front was dark and I could see empty tables and chairs awaiting their occupants, each one preoccupied with whatever business they might be engaged in.
As I turned on to Grove Street, I surprised a man standing on the landing of his upper story converted apartment. He was smoking. The converted house he lived at was one I had lived in almost 30 years ago. Knowing the people who would need to live in such a place, I knew that his day was probably not going to be filled with pleasurable pursuits. When I lived on the lower floor of that place, the upstairs neighbor loved blaring “Opposites Attract” by Paula Abdul. He played it a dozen times in a row, day after day. He was one of the meanest and ugliest people I’d met and he certainly didn’t look like a person who would listen to Paula Abdul; his preference, based solely on his looks and personality, should have been a drum track against the backdrop of people screaming. (Not Top 40 material, I would imagine.)
When I passed the creekside behind the Montessori School, the one which began as First Baptist Church and then served as a drug rehab facility for years, the thickening mist on the creek rose to about shoulder height. As I passed the curve behind the fire station, I didn’t see the opossum until my foot was next to him. I did a stupid dance backward and the possum scrambled away. Unfortunately for him, he chose to run forward and was trapped against the black wire fence as it ran up to the underpass of the railroad trestle above it. I stood for a moment under the train tracks, unable to see where my new friend had hidden.
About 100 feet further along, a skunk was hunkered down on the rise to my left. He didn’t pay me any attention as I whispered, “Here, kitty kitty” to amuse myself. I survived another day without being sprayed by a startled skunk. I’ll tell my wife later that it’s a certainty that I’m going to get sprayed at some point. Walking in the deep dark has its benefits and dangers.
Crossing Johnson Street, I remembered a rainy Friday afternoon long ago when I was driving too fast and failed to stop soon enough at a stop sign. I hit the driver door of a souped-up Honda. The driver had borrowed his roommate’s car without permission and I had rewarded his bravery by hitting him. The owner never filed a claim. The policeman who came to the scene was a little irritated at me. Not because of my excessive speed, but rather due to his dashed hopes. He had spotted what he thought were empty beer cans in the back floorboard. He had excitedly reached for one with an “Aha!” expression about to pass his lips. The cans were non-alcoholic beer cans. I couldn’t help but laugh. And laugh some more. He ticketed me and I didn’t complain because I deserved it. The officer should have received a commendation for not screaming at me as I smiled at his diminished glee of catching me in the act of driving while drinking non-alcoholic beer.
The aura of older homes in the dark streets always appeals to me. The defects are hidden, the owners tucked away in slumber. I pass the houses, seeing only the splendor of the intricate woodwork, covered porches, and elaborate trim inside the living rooms.
My wife Dawn & I have a ritual of eating Mexican food on Thursday, when possible. Since we are eating considerably healthier than what used to be the case, there are times when it feels as if we are at risk of starvation by the time we reach the magical doors of the selected Mexican eatery. Today was such a day. Dawn has lost a lot of weight in the last weeks and I had to make another hole in my belt earlier this week. To say that we were anticipating our trip of culinary indulgence would be an insult to the word “exaggeration.” I was salivating so much on the way to the restaurant that I thought I might need to hang my head out the car window as I drove, much like a large and enthusiastic dog might. I had my extra bottle of Tajin seasoning next to me. (If you don’t know what Tajin is, please accept my words of pity and condolences for you.)
My stomach was not only growling but also filling out complaint cards of protest. A few things to note… We tip exceptionally well. I have tipped over 100% at some Mexican restaurants. If the staff plans just a little, they only need to visit our table once. (When it’s just us two, we never want a refill, for example.) Also, my favorite food in the world is pico de gallo, eaten in bulk and by using the food shovel of a chip to consume it. I constantly tell staff to feel free to charge me for an order of chips and salsa as most of the time the entrees aren’t interesting to me. I’ll order one for appearances but my heart belongs to pico de gallo and chips and salsa.
We’ll forgive any recipe disaster, including eyeballs in our rice or long dark hairs in our cheese sauce, as long as there are sufficient chips and salsa. I’ve been known to keep the wrong food if it’s brought to me or pay the bill even if I’ve been over-charged. Mexican food is that important to my mental well-being.
Today, we went to our ‘go-to’ eatery. In a bizarre twist, it wasn’t busy. It started out great but deteriorated from there. In a nod to those suffering First World Problems, we only had one less-than-full basket of chips. Given the volume of pico de gallo I requested, I hadn’t anticipated such a dramatic turn of events. The precise math necessary to calculate chip-to-pico enjoyment is difficult but it can be best summed up by the words “always over-estimate.”
We hit the bottom of our chip basket well ahead of schedule. Dawn and I exchanged horrified looks, as we had missed our opportunity to beg for a refill when the waitress walked away. As far as I know, she may well now be featured on a milk carton, so quick was her exit and noticeable her subsequent absence. Given the lack of chips, I had no choice except to eat from my actual entree. This is an unconscionable abomination. So disinterested am I in the entree selection that I’ve started almost ordering randomly.
For my selection today, my plate included a ‘chicken enchilada.’ Like the expectation of a loud scream or being startled by some unseen animal or person at the beginning of a horror movie, it did indeed contain that most vile concoction of shredded chicken, the kind that always smells like putrid chicken-in-a-can and looks like what a buzzard might regurgitate to its young. It is a rare thing to find shredded chicken anywhere that I can’t almost see the smell-waves emanating from it. Shredded chicken is too chickeny, in other words.
As we finished our available selection of edible portions on our plates, I noticed that it seemed as if our table must have an invisible solar eclipse above it. No one would look our direction. I stacked our plates on the outer edge of the table, an invitation to the perplexing “let me make room for you” offer that staff inevitably makes, even though the plates are never in fact in our way. No one succumbed to this universal call for retrieval. The plates and utensils remained there, stacked and immobile, adjacent to the forlorn and long-empty chip basket.
“We might as well go. We’re like people wearing Trump hats in here,” I told Dawn.
We both managed to avoid breaking out in tears. Our mouths watered with the mirage of further tortilla chips and salsa.
We drove home in silence, both of our faces locked in somber reflections of the meal that almost was.
Just kidding about that last part. We speculated about every possible scenario for the ‘why’ of The Great Tortilla Chip Famine of April 26th. My best guess is that on a sufficiently long enough timeline, you’ll not only be cheated out of enough chips and salsa, but also have to endure the presence of that vile ‘food’ known as shredded chicken.
P.S. I took my shredded chicken home in a folded napkin as an experiment. I threw it to a pack of wild dogs near the edge of Sonora. The dogs became so enraged at me for putting it anywhere near them that they almost tore my left arm before I could run and dive back into the relative safety of my wife’s Honda. As I drove away, I watched the dogs paw at the ground and bury the remains of that monstrosity known as shredded chicken.
As much as I like the pursuit of a bad customer service issue, I’ve found that people overlook those times when I highly recommend a business or service.
Today, one of the owners of Oasis Property Maintenance personally reached out to ensure that he could answer my questions and make things right. It was a literal delight to hear someone directly address an issue and offer to make it fully right, even if it bit him in the pocketbook.
I reciprocated and told him to pay it forward instead and that I didn’t want any refund, credit, or compensation. Just knowing that he was willing to go to that length to ‘fix’ a mistake was enough for me. It would have been a costly fix for him. As a consumer, I should have caught the issue when I bought this house, but didn’t.
Oasis is mainly a lawn company, one which charges based on lot size. They do online billing, which is a massive benefit to those of us who are antisocial. I’ve used them since they started. They’re not perfect, but they listen if there is an issue. Taking cost and intangibles into consideration, they are almost unbeatable, unless you have a cadre of teenagers to force to do your yard work.
If you currently have a lawn service, you can look online and ‘see’ what they will charge you without any misdirection. Oasis Property Maintenance
Even though you might not see or hear me doing so, I try to thank, reward, and appreciate good businesses. Thanks, X
I decided to take advantage of the weather this afternoon. I drove over and parked near the best dog park in Springdale to take a walk.
As enthusiastic as I was, I opted to forego taking a really long walk. It was a stupendous afternoon and I was able to give an older couple on their first visit a tour and explanation of the area. It should make everyone reading this nervous to think that in many ways I am an unofficial ambassador for Springdale.
Arriving back at the car after a decently long walk, I discovered that I didn’t have my car key in my pocket. In a moment of disgust, I realized that I had either locked the car and left the key somewhere in the front or dropped the key somewhere on my long and circuitous route along the trail and back road. I’m sure that bystanders wondered if I had lost my marbles because I checked my pockets at least three times and then inexplicably removed my hat to check it, too. You never know -at my age, it’s possible to put your wallet in the freezer so a car key in my hat wouldn’t be impossible. Besides, if Seuss can put a cat in the hat, a car key seems benign.
Having no choice, I walked the same route again, vainly hoping to spy my key lying somewhere on or near the trail. My plan for a “not so long” walk evaporated. I knew that if I didn’t find the key, I would be calling my German friend named Über to come pick me up.
As is the case in so many stories, the key was at the very end of my original walk, where both sidewalk and pavement ended. I had turned around there, pulling my phone from my pocket to check the time and change the music selection. This spot is very near an infamous hoarder house I’ve written about before.
I saw a little black object in the middle of the sidewalk from quite a distance, hoping that it would be my key and thus save me from dealing with the persnickety car dealer to obtain another one.
While I was glad to see that my temporarily lost key was indeed the object on the sidewalk at the end of the road, I was a little melancholy to know that I would have to walk the route again to get back to my car. These first world problems are such a nuisance.
I forced myself to walk back to my car, as the breeze lifted me, the sun warmed me, and the music accompanied my thoughts, lost in that beautiful March afternoon. My dogs were barking as I neared my car and the dog park. There were several human and canines shouting, barking, laughing, and cavorting. As I stopped to pet one of the dogs which ran toward me along the fence, my own dogs were forgotten, even as I reached over and laughed too, as the dog licked my entire arm in happiness.
I voted in the Springdale special election today. This city has impressed me beyond reproach. It’s a place with problems but what a delight to see it step away from the shadow of what it once was – and also attempt to navigate the shifting demographics of who lives here.
The dynamic of “what once was” versus what the city is becoming is a fascinating and uneasy study in politics and economics.
All I could think of was Ray Dotson’s hat as I voted “Approve” for each item on the ballot. No offense to Ray or his hat but symbolism plays a role, often at the expense of the person attempting to mold it to his or her end. In Springdale, we are a cowboy hat, sombrero, and zories. We’re not one or the other because we’re learning that we don’t have to choose one to the detriment of the others.
Listening to some Springdale residents reminded me that many weren’t going to vote based on a shared reality of progress. As much as I would have loved to sit on the couch, it seemed wise to venture out and let Springdale know that even though I don’t endorse everything happening, I can’t criticize what’s been done in the last few years, by those doing the mundane work, day after day.
I relish the opportunity to criticize, but voting “Yes” was a “thank you,” from someone who seldom sees the direct impact of my vote.
I’m hoping I wake up tomorrow to a city whose vote reflects the shift in the last decade.
This is a truish story and names have been changed to confuse the guilty.
A famous writer, an author of at least 20 books, died in Springdale a few days ago. He was well-known for his sense of humor and dry wit. At my recommendation, his family went to a funeral home of which I speak highly. Although he usually doesn’t do so, the funeral director Scott offered to view potential cemetery plots with the family, even though he hadn’t yet met them and didn’t know the recently deceased. His dedication to customer service is quite legendary. I doubt he would have helped me had he not owed me a huge favor – but that’s a story for another day.
The family chose to visit Bluff Cemetery in Springdale. The place is known for its beauty and proximity to the creek running through downtown. Scott pulled in behind the new Cadillac the family of the deceased arrived in. The Springdale Parks worker had already arrived in a white pickup, his camera and clipboard in hand.
After the family exited the car and straightened their respective ties and dresses, Scott accompanied them to the periphery of the cemetery, situated below the overhanging trees. It was certainly a beautiful spot.
To make small talk, Scott nervously asked the family about the deceased. “What did your loved one do for a living?” he asked.
The youngest son answered, “Our dad was a famous writer. You’ve never heard of him?” He seemed surprised. “In fact, all of us are writers.”
“No, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know him or know of him. I read a lot, though.” Scott wasn’t sure what else to say.
The parks employee pointed out the available spots and mentioned that the price was adjusted, based on the reduced size of the plots. “We can dig with much more accuracy than we once could,” he added.
After a moment of silence, the youngest daughter looked along the edge of the cemetery where there were remaining spots available, seemingly measuring their size by her careful steps. She immediately started shaking her head.
“This simply won’t do. Not at all. Dad was too important of a writer to tolerate this kind of mistake.” She seemed agitated.
“How so?” Scott immediately asked.
“The plot’s too thin!” The daughter said, and then laughed loudly.
PS Writers always get the last laugh.