Notice that it doesn’t restrict all lying, just a specific type of lie: lying about someone to get them in trouble. That is a shitty lie to tell. But some lies are okay, and some are even necessary. The desire to tell the truth can really get you in trouble some times.
Oh, thou standard bearer of moral absolutes, dost thou wish to be told the truth about how ugly and stupid your children are? Or would you prefer that I be polite? Do you want to be told the truth about how fat the dress makes you look?
My standard answer, to put it in perspective, is this: Do you want me to tell you the truth, or do you want me to make you feel better?
One of my favorite writers, science Fiction writer Robert Heinlein, through a character in a book, explained some of the finesse to lying. There is an art to lying. Now, there are plenty of clumsy lies, approximately as many as there are mouths. But the real afficianados know there are at least three ways to lie.
One, the simplest, is just to outright lie. This is mastered in the preteen years, and then perfected in a life of politics.
Two, tell the truth, but not all of it. Favored among defense attorneys and adulterers.
Three (the hard one): tell the truth, but tell it so unconvincingly, that the person listening is positive you are lying. But don’t worry, I would never do that here.
I spent a long time as a manager of people. By definition, my job was to lie to them to get them to work. If any of you have a better method, I sure would like to hear it. But then again, you’re probably lying to me.
Having said that, there is a lot to be said for tact. I, myself, have a tendency to "over-share." Hello, I’m writing a blog and spilling all of my deep dark secrets. . .
Do I want to tell you everything? No. Do I want to make myself look good? Duh. Can you take it as a given that I don’t tell the whole story sometimes . .. ? Well, that depends on how carefully I craft my writing. We all have secrets, some big, some little. Some we should keep to ourselves. Is keeping a secret the same as lying? Sometimes.
Maybe it involves timing, I don’t know. At a later time, I can divulge certain things. One day it’s breaking news, six months later, it’s history. Of course I want to write about what I’m going through, what I’m feeling, blah blah bippity blah.
Or… do I want to say things in a certain way to get across a specific point for artistic reasons? It’s such a fine line, between art and lies. Then what is truth?
The strip, the main drag in Carbondale, was lined with bars and restaurants. Mostly bars. It is an unwritten rule, apparently, that all college towns have a puberty bar, a bar where underage drinking slips under the radar. This was 1983, after all. It seemed modern at the time, but hell–it was the stone age. the drinking age had only recently become 21 nationwide, and enforcement was lackadaisical.
It was also an unwritten rule that all college towns have a bar called TJ’s, too. That’s where we ended up. It was a big bar, and actually ahead of its time because it had a small bar on one end, with tvs and games and whatnot, and another bar, the large bar, with the live band. Separating the two was the entrance and ancillary items like the restrooms.
I had had two or three beers, so I needed to go to the bathroom. I leave the big bar, and head for the john. In this room it is less crowded, and quieter. As I approach the restrooms, I see a guy standing there, leaning against a video game. Tempest, one of my favorites. He is scoping the crowd apparently, so we make eye contact. He looks at me expectantly.
So I pause, and gesture like, "What?" So he looks at me like he’s trying to recognize me.
He says to me, "Don’t I know you from somewhere?"
I am a big, young, dumb goof. I am an innocent, a virgin, a hapless stray in this sofisticated contemporary urban setting. I reply, with a big stupid smile, "I don’t know. I’m a new student at the college here–"
He waved that off. "No,no. Somewhere else. Weren’t you in prison once?"
I would have to say that at that particular moment of my life, one layer of my innocence shed away. I replied slowly, "No, I don’t believe that I have been to prison. Maybe I look like someone you know."
With that, I spun quickly on my heels and headed back to the crazy sanctity of the big bar, where my friends were.
I had just been hit on by a man.
The reason I thought of this is that it may have happened again tonight. This guy comes into the restaurant late, right before close. He is a big guy, muscular, trim build, clean cut. Maybe in his mid 30’s. He is chatty and flirting–that’s right, flirting –with me. I thought he wa just making conversation, but he kept his eye on me and kept talking to me the whole time, which, quite frankly, unnerves me. One of my peeves is people watching me when I cook their food. Just fuck off, already, okay?
He is completely flattering, commenting about how I should do the open mike night at the comedy club, how great a cook I am, how I must be very experienced, things like that. Look, I know flirting, alright? Trust me. He was saying the kind of shit I would say to a woman in a similar situation. Not realy meaning any of it, just throwing it out there to see what sticks.
And then I left to the back to get away from him, and take care of some things. When I come back, he is posed by the door. That’s right, posed. (This is Joe looking thoughtful as he gazes out to sea, wearing our summer weight khakis and a strikingly bold sleeveless tee).
And, silly me, I knew what he was doing and still I played along. i can flirt with anyone. I was responsive, receptive. Was I teasing, getting his hopes up? Christ, I don’t know. I’ve never had sex with a man (except myself, and I’m pretty easy), so I had no idea what to expect. But I was thinking, it’s going to take several beers before I let him fuck me in the ass . . .
Which I can imagine is what is going through most women’s minds as well, when meeting guys in a bar.
I can say that, although I definitely was NOT attracted to him, I could see that he was good looking, without affecting my masculinity. I know where I stand. I am so hetero, I get a hard on over the girl in the drivethru in the morning. it keeps me warm. I love women. All women. Most, anyway. I would always pick a woman to have sex with over a man. In fact, I can only think of one man I would be willing to have sex with. Morrissey, the singer. If he wanted me, he could have me.
And that’s just the thing–if he wanted me. I really don’t see what a gay man might see in me. Women, thank God, are much less hung up on a man’s looks. Women are attracted by other things. Lucky for me, or I would never fucking get laid. Not trying to be self-deprecating, but I never thought of my looks as a selling point.But it is no accident that gay men are mostly good looking, fit, attractive men. They have to be. Because all men, gay or straight, are shallow as hell.
Seriously. I mean, I want to have sex with good looking women. If I’m going to have sex with a man, it’s completely natural that I would want him to be good-looking as well.
For all of their sensitivity and other feminine characteristics, even gay men are pigs.
Morrissey, call me!
Yeah, actually I’ve had several dreams. I get ideas, lots of them. If I had a nickel for every idea–and look, some of them are good, worth some money, so someone would make out ahead. But honestly. Let’s see. I have an idea on the average every 30 seconds. That’s a dime every minute. . ..that’s six bucks an hour.
Maybe having ideas doesn’t pay so well, after all. Crap. Anyway, one idea I had that I thought, at least, was pretty great, would have been a cooking show. Hosted by yours truly. (That would be me.)
Cause when I was a manager at Domino’s Pizza, we had just gotten cable, and there was a veritable plethora of useless and redundant shows and channels. (The Open Sore Channel? Artic Circle Live Feed? The Pavement Network? I sure hope no one got paid more than a nickle for those ideas. Christ.)
Rachael Ray wasn’t around then, which is too bad. I like the one where she does 40 bucks a day in some country. But I like it more when she is just prancing around her own kitchen, cooking. What a tasty little treat she is. She just seems so perky, yet soft and voluptuous, she wears those tight jeans so you can get a good shot of her butt, and those lips. . .I’d just like to smother her in marinara and —
Hmmm. .. .
Oh, shit, where was I? And why do I have parmesan cheese all over my face?
But my idea for a show came from working in a restaurant. If you have ever worked in one you know that even though there is a set menu, with little variation, but sometimes special requests can be accomodated–it is still a completely different story for the employees.
Some full service restaurants have it easier, there are more possibilities. Try a pizza place, though, with only the items to make pizza, and only a pizza oven. What other things can you come up with? I wanted to travel to different restaurants, and even fast food joints, and explore the creativity in the kitchen.
At Domino’s, we cooked steak in the oven. No big deal. We also made mushroom gravy, in the oven. I’ve baked 20 dozen christmas cookies before, in less time than you could do 4 dozen at home.
As long as it wasn’t for a customer, we would create all kinds of things. A program showcasing that would give people a greater appreciation for what goes on in a restaurant, even a fast-food kitchen. As well as give restauranteurs new ideas.
I would be the charming and beloved host, traveling from place to place, city to city, traveling the land like a vagabond with a camera crew and production team. Restaurant owners would trip over themselves to be on the show. I would chat and fuck around with the employees, let them show their wares, try to duplicate them, have a lot of fun.
My personality would be what carries the show.
TWO. Marry a man/woman you love to talk to. As you get older, their conversational skills will be as important as any other.
THREE. Don’t believe all you hear, spend all you have or sleep all you want.
FOUR. When you say, "I love you," mean it.
FIVE. When you say, "I ‘m sorry," look the person in the eye.
SIX. Be engaged at least six months before you get married.
SEVEN. Believe in love at first sight.
EIGHT. Never laugh at anyone’s dream. People who don’t have dreams don’t have much.
NINE. Love deeply and passionately. You might get hurt but it’s the only way to live life completely.
TEN.. In disagreements, fight fairly. No name calling.
ELEVEN. Don’t judge people by their relatives.
TWELVE. Talk slowly but think quickly.
THIRTEEN. When someone asks you a question you don’t want to answer, smile and ask, "Why do you want to know?"
FOURTEEN. Remember that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
FIFTEEN. Say "bless you" when you hear someone sneeze.
SIXTEEN. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
SEVENTEEN. Remember the 3 R’s:
Respect for self;
Respect for others; and
Responsibility for all your actions.
EIGHTEEN. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
NINETEEN. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
TWENTY. Smile when picking up the phone! . The caller will hear it in your voice.
TWENTY-ONE. Spend some time alone.
My yard has been fixed. Thanks to the builders, who waited a year and half. No, really. Thanks. Now that my yard has been leveled, seeded, and strawed, and the grass has grown, I have over half an acre of grass to cut.
Now, many of you rural folks are saying, "half an acre–that’s nothing!" while many of you city-types are saying to yourselves, "What the hell is an acre?" Well, I’ll tell you how much an acre is. Or at least, how much a half acre is.
A half-acre is the exact amount of grass that is too much to cut with a 20 inch pushmower. That’s how much it is. I got up early Sunday, because I decided recently to be a freak like my dad. He gets up early to have some alone time. That’s the only alone time I can get, it seems like. There is always someone home. Christ, don’t these fucking people ever go anywhere?
Actually, what it is, is I am gone so much, that sometimes they are gone too. But on the rare occasion when I am home, they are always there. Always. ALWAYS.
The back yard needs to be cut pretty badly. This will be the first time, in fact, that I have cut the whole thing. Mostly I left it alone, and occassionally spot cut some of the taller weeds they gave us in lieu of actual grass. The back is a big, flat, level, grassy plain, like Oklahoma. I start on one side, and just make a continuous loop, travelling inward.
I thought about my situation, and what am I going to do. Not what, I guess, but "how." I know I have to leave her. In fact, I know I must. I could–I–you know. . . I could have worked this out. Even three or four years ago, we might have. . .no. It might have been to late even then. I would have to go back over ten years, and start to change things then. It has been slipping away, very slowly, for a long time.
Whether or not it can actually be worked out is moot. I don’t want to "work it out." I am tired. Tired of it, tired of her. Tired of what my life has become. Eighteen years of being treated this way and putting up with it. There is no changing her now. Compromise to her is when I give in.
I still love her, just because we’ve been together so long. We’ve shared alot, good and bad, and she is the mother of my children. I still love her. . .But I don’t like her, I can’t stand her, and I hate her for what she’s done to me.
What has she done to me?
Aaaaaah–hmmm. I actually sighed here, as I write. Little by little, day by day, she’s broken me down. Tiny pieces, imperceptibly, removed from me. I’m not going to enumerate, in detail, what they are because I think it might be boring to the reader, and I think I’ve done it already, and I don’t want to sound like a bitch.
I’m not a bitch, I’m a problem solver. I have a problem, I develop a solution; it’s what I do.
So what is the problem, or what *are* the problems? Then, what are the solutions? Let’s list them, shall we?
I’m very unhappy in my marriage. Things will not work out, I know.
I’m going to leave my wife. I could kill her, but that hardly ever works. It just creates more problems. Plus, they just graded the back yard, and I don’t want to have to dig a hole. Not to mention her poor health, I can’t get much life insurance on her to make it worthwhile. Not only that, but the kids would miss her, and I don’t want to do that to them. Too many questions, I end up killing, like 20 or thirty people. Christ, is that ever alot of holes to dig.
Leaving her does create several problems, which I will list all as one, because I may have a solution that solves most of them.
1) We can barely afford the house as a couple. As individuals, we would lose the house, this house that I worked my ass off to provide for her. She would lose it much sooner than I; I make more money. Even with child support and alimony, she wouldn’t get as much as I put in now, which is every goddamn cent I make, minus gas money and lunch money. She would lose it, and she cares more about the house than she does me.
And, well, at this point, I do too. I want the kids to stay with the house, stay where they are for school. I am willing to let her keep the house, if she can, and (nominal) custody of the kids, as long as I am not restricted from seeing them. . .which brings me to the other problem:
2) The emotional well being of the children. Miranda is only 9, almost 10. This is going to hurt her alot. Mitchell is practically 18, or he will be by the time this goes down. He may be okay, or not. I refuse to predict how people will react.
3) The other problem is, how do I remain close to my kids? It is tied to 2, but has to do with my physical location.
My older son, Linda’s son Michael, is looking for a house. He is a single dad with four kids, ages 9-14. He had originally said he likes living where he is, not too close to the family, but 45 minutes away. Recently he said he would like to live closer to the family, closer to his mom. He as much said he knows he will have to be closer to take care of her as she gets older, problems with the arthritis and such.
I can sign over my interest in my house to Mike, and he can move in to the house. Here are the advantages for everyone:
Miranda: She gets along really well with Mike’s littlest girls, who are Miranda’s age. It’ll be like having sisters.
Mitchell: Can’t really see an advantage for him, except that he will definitely want to move out when he’s done with high school. He may want to live with me.
Mike: He will have a house, and not have to use any money, so he can use his cash for the business he wants to open up. He will have his mother to help take care of the kids–an extra eye, and they do what she says. He has three girls, and having a woman to help them with various "things" is a good idea.
His kids: They all benefit from being in a good school, closer to family, Gramma to watch them.
ME: My benefit is all of these benefits. If it works out for everyone, then I am supremely happy. I want to get out this without having to chew off my leg. If my wife can get past the anger and see everything I’m trying to do for her–hell. I just changed my health insurance and added her to it. I can keep it that way as long as I can get away with it. It’s a better plan, and cheaper, than the one she had at the small company she worked for.
I am even willing to come over and help Mike build a bedroom or two in the basement. What this will also allow me to do is rent a small place here in this tiny town–it would be cheap–and then I would still be near the kids. Mitchell could stay with me, if he wanted. Or Miranda, but I think Mitchell would be more interested. If we are just a few blocks away, it would work out pretty good. I know that much of this is a pipe dream. Don’t know, really, how any of them will react. Except Miranda, I know she will cry. I don’t want to hurt her, but I can’t stay. I can’t. That’s the reason I want to live as close as possible, for her. Did I say that already? I mean it.
How will Linda react? Don’t know. I just have no idea. Maybe she’s as tired of me as I am of her. Name calling, yelling, screaming, crying–all part of the daily adventure now. I think I can handle it. Throwing things, breaking things, hitting me–all the more reason to leave.
Someone who would like to travel, too. Maybe a woman who can handle going over the road–a trucker?–who knows? Someone I can communicate with. I feel, as much as anything, that is what I have lost. We have gone down two different roads. I need someone on the same road as me. The same page. I’m sure she’s out there. I can wait. I have a little time. I can find her.
From: Helen Liu
Sent: Friday, June 23, 2006 9:00 AM
Subject: Friday Fish
From: Bryan G. Bushong
Sent: Friday, June 23, 2006 9:09 AM
To: Helen Liu
Subject: RE: Friday Fish
They were always seeking instant gratification, and entertainment. Invariably the comment I would hear is "I’m bored." For whatever reason. My credo, and what I would always tell them, is: You have to make your own fun.
It’s your own fault if you’re bored, not someone elses. Be interesting, be interested. Do interesting things. Enjoy!
So, yeah, when I first came to work here, I thought the Fish philosophy was a silly thing, only because I didn’t know. But I began to see quickly that it’s how I’ve always been, already. So I embrace it.
From: Helen Liu
Sent: Friday, June 23, 2006 9:13 AM
To: Bryan G. Bushong
Subject: RE: Friday Fish
From: Bryan G. Bushong
Sent: Friday, June 23, 2006 9:19 AM
To: Helen Liu
Subject: RE: Friday Fish
From: Helen Liu
Sent: Friday, June 23, 2006 9:20 AM
To: Bryan G. Bushong
Subject: RE: Friday Fish
From: Bryan G. Bushong
Sent: Friday, June 23, 2006 9:21 AM
To: Helen Liu
Subject: RE: Friday Fish
From: Helen Liu
Sent: Friday, June 23, 2006 9:22 AM
To: Bryan G. Bushong
Subject: RE: Friday Fish
From: Bryan G. Bushong
Sent: Friday, June 23, 2006 9:21 AM
To: Helen Liu
Subject: RE: Friday Fish
So, I hope, when I post this, that the image goes where I want it. If not, it’ll be somewhere down on the bottom. But it started with, every Friday, our company sends out a Fish! message. We embrace the Fish! philosophy, and it shows. We have a prett great work place. So we get the one today–They CEO’s personal assistant is the one who sends them out–and I respond to it. The above is our brief chat.
What is so unusual about this is that I felt compelled to use an emoticon. I am not an emoticon user. This has nothing to do with an aversion to technology, chat, IM, or text messaging. I hemmed and hawed over this particular useage, and felt that, in context, it was the way to get my message across exactly as I wanted to. To create the right "atmosphere," as it were.
I originally started out with an elitist attitude about them, the smileys. I am, after all, a writer. A craftsman, trained in the art of word useage. A denizen of the literary jungle, bravely transforming bare words and phrases into painstakingly created imagery, forging–
I might have been a little full of myself. But my point was, I can create the right mood, setting, and voice, and communicate the idea I wish to communicate, using words and punctuation. At least, I always thought I could. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with punctuation, though. Sometimes I feel like I am using it as though it was the poor man’s emoticons. I do a variety of things with punctuation, mostly to set up the voice I speak (or write) with. Occasionally, certains aspects of punctuation I overuse. The reader may not notice, but I do. It becomes glaringly obvious, and then I try to use some other punctuation to get to the point, and usually end up changing the wording instead. This is perhaps for the best.
I have felt that, for all my knowledge, my wide-readedness (and for all you know, that may very well be a real word, so fuck off), that my vocabulary is lacking. I search for words. There has to be a word, or phrase, to say what it is I want to say. There must. Do I look it up, or use a less effective word, or just make one up? Well, why not? Why can’t I make up words. Other people do it all the time. I want to coin a widely used phrase. Dammit.
Having really overstated my point here, I’ll get back to my original point: That is why I don’t, or didn’t use emoticons. Now the reason I don’t is that I haven’t, and because of that I have developed a certain style.
If I’m going to be sarcastic, I’m not putting a smiley behind it. It is up to YOU, the reader, to determine if it’s real or if it’s bullshit. I’m not going to hold your hand as we traipse together through my verse and prose. If you take what I say the wrong way, perhaps that’s what I intended.
In fact, count on it.
Of course, times are different now, and everyone prosecutes. But back in the day, it was seen as a prank, or just a small problem, not dealt with as the serious issue it is today. I was raised in the country, but for reasons I don’t quite understand even today, we briefly moved closer to town for about two and a half years, into basically the suburban Metro east area. It was closer for the parents to go to work, but we still had the house in the country which we eventually moved back too.
So from half of fourth grade, and then fifth and sixth grade, we lived in a near-city setting. We lived in a tiny house on a tiny street. In fact, it was called Small Street. There were four houses on it, all on the same side of the street. The other side was the back yards of houses on the bigger street. Out there was also the Lutheran church and school. We hung out on the steps and in the school yard after hours, which, of course, is no longer allowed.
By "we," I mean my friends and I. We had a typical "Stand By Me" coming of age thing going on. It would probably make a good movie, except it’s been done over and over. One friend, Jay, was probably closest to the normal one. His back yard was across the street from me.
The first house on the street was the–hell, what is their name? Last names, I mean? Cause there were more than one name in the house. Now, listen, this was a tiny square house, and their entire yard, like ours, was a hill. This was Collinsville, IL, an area that had been extensively mined. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but after living there, I sure don’t believe the earth is flat.
So this tiny house had a kitchen, a living room, a bathroom, and two bedrooms. One or two rooms built in the basement. Later, the dad built something in the attic for the boys to sleep in, but it was an attic–no higher than four feet. I remember the kids, all of them, in order of age.
Gary, Brian, Tina, Greg, Randy, Donnie, Billy, Stevie, and Kevin. And the parents, Beverly and Donald. All living in this tiny two bedroom house. Greg was a year or two older than us, so we got into lots of trouble with him. Randy and Donnie were my age. Donnie was Donald’s son, and mentally retarded. Just mildly, but enough to ride the short bus. . . and be talked into doing incredibly inappropriate things.
Me and Jay and Randy, we were the Three Musketeers. In fact, when I moved away, they gave me a present that I still have today. A comic book, Huey, Dewey, and Louie–who are they, Donald Duck’s nephews? And Scrooge McDuck, the rich guy. He always had these three bandits that were after him, trying to steal his fortune. They had on their prison uniform, with numbers. Same numbers, different sequence, on each one. The comic book had the bandits on the cover, and they had written our names–Jay, Randy, Bryan–on the characters.
I was the only one with a bike, so I didn’t ride it–we walked everywhere. I mean everywhere. We walked uptown alot, and there was Dean’s liquor store. We went in to buy stuff alot. Candy bars were 15 cents each, or two for a quarter. Sales tax, if there was any, was included. The candy was up on the counter, on an angled shelf, so he could watch kids to make sure they didn’t steal anything. We still did, though.
With the older crowd of boys, we took to petty larceny. Parking meters had boxes on them where you could stick an envelope in them to pay your fine, like five or ten dollars. We would crowd around the parking meter, three or four of us, and two would be inside, working the meter with needle-nosed pliers, and pull an envelope out.
In 1976, between 6 boys, five bucks was alot, and ten was a fortune.
Also invovled in two B & E’s. The first time I smoked pot, it was me and Jay and these two other dudes whom I did not know, but they were older. We smoked it behind the library. I don’t think I actually got high that first time, who knows. But the older boys had a plan, and we were part of it. They were going to break into the library.
The logic behind this escapes me, but it had to do with the fact that they MUST have money in there–how’d they pay for all the books? Me and Jay stood watch. It was a scary few minutes, which seemed like an hour.
Suddenly, they came bustling back to us, and we took off through the woods behind the library. We heard sirens, which could have come from anywhere, and been for anything.
Quickly, they divided up the take. We each got almost a dollar in pennies, and then we split up, taking our own separate paranoia-laden path home.
The other time was a little more serious. Again, with some boys I didn’t know too well. How does that happen, exactly? Actually, I did know two of them, Royce and Reynold, two brothers. The only black kids I knew. There was a bar, or club, or VFW hall, or something, over on the side of town Royce and Reynold lived on. We broke into it, got a couple of cases of soda and some chips. As luck would have it, the only reason we didn’t get busted was that some one else broke into the place as well, and stole money and beer. They got caught.
This was a golden age, a simpler time–the mid 1970’s. Cigarettes were 45 cents, sold in a machine. We all smoked, all of us 11 and 12 year olds. Salem was the smoke of choice for young punks. We would sit on the steps of the Gym entrance to the Lutheran school, hang out, smoke, and spit. Pretty fuckin’ cool, every one of us. We could buy cigarettes at the store, too.
Or we could steal them.
Me and Randy were on a mission: Go to the Piggly-Wiggly, steal a certain number of packs of cigarettes. One fine Thursday afternoon in the middle of summer, Randy and I went to the store. We were each supposed to snag two packs. This was before they kept cigarettes behind the counter, and this is why, too.
So this was a rare occasion when Randy had a bike, so we both rode. It was pretty far, not in our neighborhood. We arrive in back of the store, I go up first and park, Randy waits about five minutes, comes up the other side, parks, and goes in. We ignore each other in the store: our own protection, in case one of us gets caught.
I eventually get my two packs, down the front of my pants they go. I wander the store a little, get a glimpse of Randy, and out the door I go.
This is stupid, how this happened. I was getting on my bike. SOme woman in the store came to the window and rapped on it to get my attention. I looked, and she waggled her finger at me, indicating I should come back in. So I did.
You know, I could have just left then. She’d never catch me. I go in, she has me almost by the collar, I think. She asks me sternly, "What did you do with those two packs of cigarettes you took?" Her eyes narrowly set on me.
I appropriately stammered. "I–I–uh, I put them in the back, in the frozen food section." I looked at her, and turned away. "It was just a joke."
She let me go, straightened up. "Fine. I want you to leave here, and you can’t come back in here anymore. Ever."
I answered sullenly, "Okay." and walked sadly to my bike. Then I took off like a bat out of hell.
Back at the steps of the Lutheran school, I recounted the tale. We waited for Randy to arrive.
We thought the worst had happened. He had gotten busted. After probably an hour, he returned. We cheered, and he showed us what he got. I don’t think he ever explained it, and to this day I wonder: How did a skinny little kid, wearing summer clothes, with the manager already on the lookout, manage to make it out of store–not with two packs, but two CARTONS of cigarettes!
It was cold, probably Christmas break or something. We trudged back across the highway from Venture to the mall, to catch the bus. we had some time to kill, and the bus pulled right up to Famous and Barr’s door, so I went shopping for a while in Famous. I had an identity crisis, at that early age. I had thought it through, and realized what I was in need of was a fashion accessory. Something I could put my ID in, if, you know, I ever got one. I was 12 at the time. I needed a wallet. that would make me feel cool.
I purused the leather accessories. I looked through the whole display, moving around so I could look around, without being obvious about turning my head. I left several wallets out as I looked through them, like I was picking several to choose from. And I was. I made my selection, and put the rest back. It was about time to get to the bus stop.
Randy strolled up from the other direction, no doubt thieving as well. We both waited inside, by the doors, with several other people. A woman with a nametag stood by casually, and watched me. Randy saw her watch me–he was like that. He could smell trouble. Trouble to him was Authority. He casually walked to the other side of the doors from me. The fucker was going to leave me hanging! But that was the rule. "All for one, one for all–but every man for himself, if you get busted."
The woman was staring daggers at me, trying to intimidate me. Ha! I had on my cool, bravado face. She knew I was waiting for the bus, so she had to make her move. She finally marched over, went straight to the bulge of my breast pocket on my jacket, flipped up the the flap, and pulled out–
The deck of cards I had lifted at Venture. Not a wallet. She was not backing down, however. "I saw you take a wallet. Where is it?"
I lifted up my arms. "Search me, lady. I didn’t take a wallet. I was just looking at them."
She looked at my front pockets, turned and looked at my back pockets. She muttered something under her breath and stormed off.
When we got on the bus, I showed Randy my new wallet, which had been down the front of my pants. It was pretty cool, and I had it for a long time. In fact, it may still be around.
So, if any of you think I may have stolen something from you–not that I would, I’m a good boy now–still, if you think I did, make sure you stick your hand down my pants, to check. You can never be to careful.
But I do know exactly what kind of a driver I am. I spent a great deal of time as a professional driver, delivering pizza. Pizza drivers get a bad rap. Everyone is an asshole in traffic, and then you see a guy with a cartop on, you can call and complain about him. Assholes. Chances are, if you feel the need to complain about someone, most likely YOU are the ass. This applies in all situations in life, without exception.
When I was delivering full time, I was actually a much better driver than I gave myself credit for, because I bought into the hype. I was a better driver then than I am now, also. When I was delivering, for money, with a guarantee, lots of things were at stake. Money, for one. Pride, for another. Other things trailed in the list. I did drive pretty fast, but never actually as fast as I appeared to drive. This is true for most seasoned professional drivers. Look, we were out to make money, and not waste time. Time spent in the store waiting is not time delivering. Time delivering is not to be wasted.
We all learned little tricks. As a driver, it makes you hyper sensitive and ultra-aware. My mind was going a thousand miles per hour when I delivered, so everything was in slow motion. I saw openings in traffic, anticipated and avoided situations, and was completely aware of my surroundings and completely in control. I knew the timing of traffic lights, and when my green was coming up. Pulling up behind cars at a light, I could analyse and tell which lane was going to move faster. I profiled drivers, and I know who is going to be fast and who is going to be slow, and who is going to do something stupid right in front of me.
That was me then. Me now, a little different. I’m a commuter. By definition, blissfully unaware. What I am mostly is distracted, and extremely lucky. The old skills have gone to shit. I’m sure if I started to deliver again, they would come back. Some of that stuff is just a habit. Put a pizza bag in the passenger seat, and I am ON it.
Shortly after I got engaged, Linda and I were driving around somewhere. Some one pulled in front of us, and then stopped quickly. Assholes. This is the typical suburban driving bullshit. I quickly stepped on the brake and clutch, and and the same time put my right hand on her lap. Later, she commented how sweet that was, that I thought to put my hand on her, as if to protect her. Sweet, yeah. Sure. If true. I explained to her, "I do it automatically, to keep the pies from sliding onto the floor."
I’ve had close calls, we all have. I’ve had a few fender-benders, nothing serious. But I had a serious close call many, many years ago. I was 17. so, what, was that about 6 years ago? Four? Twenty-four? Oh.
I was driving to school one nice spring morning. I had Jay with me, a friend who up until recently I just couldn’t stand. Living in a small town, eventually you have to get along or shoot it out. We lived about ten miles from the town we went to school in. We took the back roads, not because they were quicker, but because they were more fun.
I was driving a 1971 GMC full ton pickup. It was 1982. This truck had been through alot, and it had more power than a seventeen-year-old needed, that’s for sure. Because my brother had driven it before me, my dad had taken a clutch pedal spring and installed it on the gas pedal. This meant you had to work harder to make it go fast. But we did.
These backroads didnt really have names. It was "the road on the New Bridge," "the hard-top into town," "the two-lane by the highway," and other clarifying nomers.
So instead of taking the hard top into town, which turned by the railroad tracks and then hwy 177, we’d take the hard-top, turn off by the silos to the sassafras road, and it deadended on the road by Barnpohl’s farm, which was also called the main backroad. Turn by Stegmyer’s pasture, and that crossed the tracks closer to town, right near school.
So on that last straightaway–these are all paved, blacktop, nominally one-lane roads. You could pass a car coming the other way, but that about it.–On that last straightaway, there was a series of three bumps. Tiny little drop-offs, but if you were going about 50, you would get a little air. The truck would go "wuh. . . whump" in a series of three. Just my little "Dukes of Hazzard" moment that I looked forward to every morning.
So we hit the first one. "Wuh. . . whump."
Then we head for the second one. The third one is going to be in the middle of this little bridge. Really, over just a drainage ditch. The road actually narrows to one lane, and there are concrete barriers on either side, otherwise you dont know its a ditch. We hit the second one.
"wuh. . . whump. Clunk!"
That is not the usual sound. At the rate of speed we are going, we have about fifteen seconds to the last one. The reason why these fifteen seconds are important is because of the clunk sound we heard. As we are still clipping along at a pretty good rate, the truck gradually starts to veer to the right. We are looking really good for lining up the center of the truck with four foot high concrete bridge marker.
Jay, in the passenger seat, starts to panic, which is good, because it means I didn’t have to. He’s yelling at me to do something. The concrete is fast approaching. I had been pulling the steering wheel to the left, to no avail. I quickly turned it hard, and kept turning it, all the way to the left.
Very suddenly, with probably 10 feet to go until we hit, the truck *hops* to the left, and then it jerkily skids to a stop some forty feet down the pavement. Jay and I sit quietly for several seconds. I say, "Wow."
We get out to inspect the truck. The left wheel was turned all the way to the left. We go to the other side, and the right wheel is all the way to the right. They were splayed apart like a cheerleader’s legs on prom night. Further inspection showed a broken tie rod on the right.
The long and short of it was, we walked back to a farmhouse, and the farmer gave us a coat hanger which we tied the tie rod back up with, and drove slowly back home. From my house, Jay walked home. By this time we were about an hour or more late for school, and we decided not to go in after our brush with death. I was a pretty good kid in school, never cut or anything like that. This was my only unexcused absence of any kind.
This started with a guy I have working for me, Sean. Sean the Philosopher we call him. STP. He is about 25. Last year, I hated him. ACtually, maybe longer than that, about two years ago. He has a degree in anthropology, which explains why he is delivering food for a living. He talks at length about the most esoteric subjects, especially dealing with the origins of man, the aliens that brought us here and control us, Atlantis, the conspiracy interwoven in our DNA…you know, normal stuff like that.
But he said something the other day that made sense. He was getting ready to shack up with his girlfriend, and they had a talk about it. Sean said this to her:
"You have expectations of me that you haven’t told me yet. You may not even know what they are. Down the road, I will disappoint you, because I have no idea about these expectation. To me, that doesn’t make sense."
Maybe he got it somewhere or read it, because it is a pretty important statement dealing with relationships. We all have expectations, things we want, things we would like to happen, and so on. You think because you have talked in vague generalities about this to your partner, or worse, just talked about other things, so you thing you know each other concerning an unspoken topic, you have an expectation that your partner will know and understand this unspoken expectation.
Probably not wise. Along the same lines as that earlier crap about what you want in a lover, this might be a good exercise. What are your expectations in a spouse or partner? Do you want numbers, or limits? Try and keep it to under twenty, you controlling freaks. Any number is good. If you have 3, you have three. Sounds like you’re low maintainance, and probably a guy. If you have over twenty, some of them may be repetition–same topic, different specificity. Control yourself already. This is an original idea of mine, something I think my friends here on the blog should ask themselves. You may want to take this with your partner and discuss it, as well. It may strengthen a good relationship, to talk about it. It may smooth out a bumpy one, before its too late. It may help you understand what is wrong with the one you have, and help you not make the same mistake again.
Okay, well, fuck. Having said all of that, I guess it’s a good thing I had to rewrite this, because all of that wasn’t there before. Okay, children, here are mine. I am going to be honest–you have to be. What do you expect in a relationship?
2. I can’t read your mind, and I expect you to know that. If you can read mine, I expect you to let me know. That would be fucked up if you could and didn’t tell me. Of course, if you could read my mind, you would not stop slapping me.
3. I will try not to take advantage of you, and I expect you to do likewise.
4. I expect communication. I want to be able to talk to you, I want you to be able to talk to me. I don’t want to feel like certain things I say will make you mad, so I don’t tell you. I don’t want you to hold back from me, either. This is probably the most important one, one that allowed me to consolidate several others, because they were all about communication. Passive-aggressive? I will teach you to talk, whether you want to or not. If one of us is hiding something, it should be a christmas present. Otherwise, trouble is looming. Expect it.
5. I expect us to have the best intentions for each other.
6. I expect you to be there for me. You can expect me.
7. I expect an even-handed relationship, versus a one-sided one. One person shouldn’t be doing everything for the other, with no–here’s that word again–reciprocity. I expect reciprocity. In the emotional end, the physical end, the drudgery of day-to-day life.
8. I expect to have my own friends, and you to have yours, and some that may be our ours. I expect civility towards them, as I will be towards yours. I expect to be able to spend time with my friends, and you to spend time with yours. I expect us to strike a balance with our time. The same goes for family, maybe even moreso. There are family obligations that are important. They need to be discussed and worked out ahead of time.
9. I expect to have some common interests, and I expect that we will also like some different things. You don’t have to like everything I like, but I expect you to respect it.
10. I expect that if I have new expectation, or you do, that we can tell each other, discuss it.
11. I expect to do the things I have always done. Likewise for you. I expect you to tell me if it bothers you, and not just expect it to change.
12. I expect consideration for my feelings. I will do the same for you.
13. Love, honor, and cherish–? I expect us to have a committment to each other, and keep it. Not just being faithful, but being there for each other.
That should be a whole separate one.
14. I expect you to be there for me, when I need you. Emotionally, physically, be there–I will be there for you.
(–as opposed to outright lies, opinion, distortion, and bullshit. You see, the difference is, if it’s fiction, the way it’s written, you know it’s not true. Whereas my usual bullshit is written in such a way that you should believe what I am writing. The whole first person perspective, and things like that, lend an air of credibility to what I write. Nevertheless, it may be complete BS. What am I saying, "may"?)
–But the reason this is relevant is I wanted to write a novel that strings together the stories my dad told me about his life growing up. This is just one chapter, or part of one, even. One of his regrets is that his father died before I was born, so I never met him, and his dad died not knowing his family name would be carried on–except it would be, because my Grampa had more than one wife.
At the same time.
No, he wasn’t Mormon. Far from it. But from little pieces that my dad told me, I was able to string this together. There are lots of other stories as well. Most of it is just my fictionalized version of it, how I imagined it, but the conversation at the end, that was real.
And there are other stories as well, told to me over and over, giving me a flavor for a time that has long since past. The 40’s and 50’s, in rural America.
But this is what I wanted to do for my dad, so Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
(By the way, my dad is ‘Bud." Always has been, always will be.) For many days after the funeral, Clarence didn’t talk. Not a word. Didn’t raise a hand in anger, either, for that matter. The kids tiptoed around him, averting their eyes. Fern held Junior tight at bay, and kept a watchful eye on her husband.
His reaction overshadowed even her own grief. He was a time bomb, ticking, ticking. She feared for the kids mostly, and for herself, some. It left her no time to grieve. These were hard times, rough days. She was saving up her crying time. That’s what she reminded herself, as she rocked Junior into a quiet sleep.
Clarence stalked throughout the small house, back and forth. He had a bottle of whiskey on the table, unopened, untouched. Fern reflected how she had never seen a full bottle, only half-empties and empties, and broken glass on the floor. The kids did their chores straightaway, with no fuss, not even a reminder. It was easier that way.
It was much better to have something to do than to accidentally meet the eye of this man, this giant that was their father. They were still in shock, and the girls were teary-eyed, but never a whimper. They could not understand their brother’s death, but they could understand even less their father’s reaction to it. He was a powder keg, to be certain. Each child intuitively feared being the one to light the fuse. What would happen? What would he do? Who would get hurt? When will everything be okay? Will it ever?
When will the other shoe drop?
Bud was the oldest now. He was responsible. He didn’t like it. He feared for his little sisters, and felt that if—no, when—his father went off the deep end, he should be the buffer between his father and his sisters. And his mother, too. He was only twelve, but he was big. He would protect her, if he could. He had no idea exactly how he might manage that, even though dozens of ill-conceived scenarios ran through his mind.
He could take the easy way out—most of his chores were outside. It was nice weather, he could chop wood from now till doomsday and avoid the house completely, but it wouldn’t be right. Sooner or later, Bud, sooner or later. Fish or cut bait.
Clarence paced around. Slowly, as though he were looking for something. He paused, and realized he was in front of the pictures that hung on the wall. Him and Fern. His parents. The whole family. The kids. Each one. His son—
As soon as he looked he turned away.
Bud was now standing there, trying hard to be nonchalant. Trying hard to time things so his mom and sisters wouldn’t be in the room. Nina and Audrey were doing laundry. Actually, Nina was doing it and Audrey was trying to help. Gloria was doing busy work in the kitchen with their mother.
Okay, Bud, here goes nothing. Every morning in the summer, Dad would wake up early; have two cups of coffee, the second with whiskey, then wake up Bud. “Come on, Boy,” he’d say every morning like clockwork, “let’s go get a load.” Bud would rise up, get dressed, grab a sausage and some bread, chase them with a tin of water, and finish waking up on the way.
He tried hard not to stammer. He wanted to get it out while he had a split second of his father’s attention. “Uh- – We going to go get a load today?”
There. He got it out.
Clarence looked at him. Looked at him hard. Real hard. Bud had learned not to flinch, not to cover. Don’t raise your arm to protect your face, either, like you know its coming. Stand your ground, and take it. In a moment, Clarence’s face had softened up. Too soft.
He turned toward the door, away from Bud, and said quietly, “Boy, come with me.”
Clarence headed for the truck. Bud had originally expected the worst, but when he saw this, he knew everything would be okay. His dad was in a funk, that’s all. Just needed something to snap him out of it. Get back to work, things would be normal. Not hunky-dory, but normal. Tolerable.
Bud caught himself trailing along like a puppy wagging his tail, and caught himself, made himself walk normal, which turned into a saunter. His dad did not notice. Clarence got to the truck, opened it and hopped up, did not get in. Instead he grabbed his grip from behind the seat and stepped down as Bud approached, now with a quizzical look on his face. Bud could see that his father’s eyes had reddened, with traces of moisture. But not tears. Clarence sat on the step of the truck, looked Bud in the eyes.
“He was my favorite, you know. I wish to God it didn’t have to be like that, but it is. He was my favorite son, and now he’s gone. I wish it’d been you, instead of him.”
Bud’s ears began to burn, then roar. He felt both hot and cold on the inside. He felt a dull, jagged knife, slowly cut into his heart. And his father’s hand was on it.
He stood his ground, mute. Unable to talk, or to walk away. Or run. Or fly. If he could fly right now he would, and never come back.
Clarence continued to be in front of him, a shadow from the truck cutting sharply across his face in the bright morning sun. He squinted with one eye. “I’m going on a trip. I got things to take care of. I’ll be back in a week or two, maybe three.” He handed Bud an old wallet from his grip, dirty from the truck. “There’s forty dollars in there. Give this to your mother. Ya’ll will keep till I get back.”
Then Clarence took the grip and got in the Packard, not the truck, and then he was gone.
Bud stood there for a long time, not even turning to see his father leave. He wondered if he could cry. Then he decided he would not. Ever. Nothing can hurt this bad, and he could take it. He could take anything. I will never cry again. Never.
Bud stuck the money in his pocket, and went about his chores.