Taffy Man

ImageHe’s just 20 and he will likely spend the next five to 10 years in prison.  Of course, it all depends on his behavior and if the court system finds his missing paperwork that actually sentenced him to rehab and then to have his case reconsidered in a year.  The missing paperwork is yet another mishap in a long line of “whoospies” and “my-bads” in his life that may or may not have led him down the path of crime, with landmarks like juvenile detention and DUI’s marking the way.

Is life unfair to certain people?  It  certainly seems to be the case for this young man who happens to get caught in wrong doing at every turn.  He’s the kind of guy who can’t speed without getting a ticket, show up late someplace without being asked to leave.  If he makes a new friend its with a guy who just robbed a bank and is looking for trouble.  It’s as though a little dark cloud hangs over his head and follows him throughout the day.  We all know that no one is owed anything in this world, including a fair shake at the future.  Fortunately, he’s a good student of life and never has expected anything except more bad luck, which he was bound to receive.  Plus, his resourcefulness and likability were just enough to get him out of one scrape and into the next making his life seem a little more fair.

Since being sentenced to prison, Young Fella, as I’ll refer to him, has been able to use his strengths and experience as an entrepreneur in a most inspirational way.  From age 13, Young Fella was a successful pharmaceutical and holistic product distributor (drug dealer).  Soon after relocating from the county jail to the state correctional facility (prison), he was taken under the wing of an experienced business man who was also wise in the ways of prison culture.  He was an old timer in Young Fella’s new living situation.  Old Timer recognized a fellow entrepreneur who was in need of direction and help and he offered a piece of advice with both business and personal application.

Sagely, Old Timer explained, “Kid, you’ve got to have something they want in here, other than your ass.”

As any good student in the pursuit of knowledge and thereby the keys to his freedom, Young Fella asked more questions. “Like what? What can I possible have that they would want?”

“Young Fella, I like you.  You remind me of someone I haven’t seen in 20 years. I hope to see him real soon when I get out next month.  If you’ll make the most of it, I’ll give you my business.  Teach you everything you need to know about it and let you take over when I’m gone.”

Without any better offers on the table and with a sound head on his shoulders, since entering the vivid world of sobriety, Young Fella agreed to the apprenticeship.

Soon, Young Fella had a job in the kitchen with Old Timer a few hours a day, but his real job, the true business, involved taking a few pinches of this and tablespoons of that back to his cell.  Collecting ingredients in the right proportions took time to not draw suspicion and to maintain his job but Young Fella was clever and made it work.  Under the careful guidance of Old Timer, Young Fella perfected his own version of Old Timer’s recipe.  He memorized every aspect of the business, like who could help with extra ingredients and which guards were more cooperative than others.  He slept very little while he was an apprentice and tried to lay low until he he could have something that the others would want.

Finally, Young Fella was ready.  He knew his craft and Older Timer was confident that his legacy would be continued.  Old Timer made it clear to the other men where to go for their craving and that he was leaving the business to Young Fella.  It didn’t take long for the men to begin to trust Young Fella and to seek out his product just as frequently as Old Timer’s.  They came to trade cigs, socks, other snacks, toothbrushes and stamps, all hoping just for a taste.

When it came time for Old Timer’s release, he left the business in Young Fella’s capable hands with his full blessing.  Finally, Young Fella could do something that he was good at and it was respectable.  It was something that he could do when he got out in a short five to 10.   Young Fella had something that others wanted, and he had something that he needed, a sense of self-worth and a new identity.  For now, he had all the time he needed to create new recipes, tweak his products, and dream of the future.  He came in as a lost kid and was called Young Fella; but now he was proud to call himself, Taffy Man.


Feral cats and tomatoes


A kitten ran out in front of a woman walking on the sidewalk, nearly tripping her.  The kitten had left the lonely cover of a sickly bush that had lost all of its greenery in the summer drought and was heading for safety underneath of an abandoned car.  The woman screamed startled at the grey blur that nearly brushed her leg and crossed her path.  She was wearing shorts and tennis shoes and shuddered at the thought of the wild creature biting into her fleshy calf.

Wondering if it had rabies, she crouched down to see where the kitten was hiding.  The seemingly abandoned car was afflicted by a spreading disease of rust over the doors and hood, and but one of the tires were totally flattened. A yellow pineapple air freshener dangled from the rear view mirror, the woman noticed with a smirk.  I doubt its freshening anything at this point, she thought to herself.  After she crouched down, she tilted her head to one side for a better view and two pairs of glowing cat eyes stared back at her.

“Kitties,” she said. “Kitty, kitty, kitty,” she tried calling them and stopped as they gazed back at her without changing position.  Although not hissing or baring teeth, she noted that they did not appear to be friendly kitties.  Shrugging her shoulders, she stood up to continue her walk and screamed again.

She was already jumpy and suspicious of every man whom she encountered.  It was a new neighborhood for her and from what she had been told, a rough area.  Her mother advised not to wear any jewelry, carry mace and avoid eye contact with everyone.  A friend contributed to her fears by relaying a story about a recent rape a few streets away that happened the week before she moved.  The ladies in the leasing office sealed the deal on the woman’s mistrust for all whom she encountered by suggesting that she only walk outside before noon and preferably with someone and “you should be fine,” they reassured her.

Suddenly, a man was standing a few feet from her on the sidewalk loosely holding a cigarette between two grubby fingers.  His face was unshaved and bore the telltale pockmark scars of teenage acne. Holes were in his black Van Halen t-shirt and his jeans were filthy.  His hair was a dry brown and stuck out in tufts from the sides of his head.  He wore an expression on his face that seemed to say either, I’m bat-shit crazy, or I’m pissed and now you’re gonna pay. The woman had a hard time reading his face but she was also panicking which may have impaired her judgment.

Oh God, she thought to herself, it’s happening.  He’s going to rob me and rape me, right here in the parking lot.  Oh God, oh god, help me think.

“You messin’ with my old lady’s cats?” he demanded to know of her and took a deep drag from his cigarette while looking her up and down.

Blood pounded in the woman’s head and her heart beat wildly against the inner wall of her thin chest. Be brave, she silently rallied with herself.  Taking a deep breath, she shot off running away from the awful smoking man and his bad intentions.  Leaving both behind in a cloud of smoke, the woman kept running around the building and ducked underneath of the wooden walkway next to a pond and on the back of her apartment building.  The walkway was connected to the apartment building and was built up high enough to create lean-to type shelter underneath of it.  She crawled all the way to the edge of the makeshift shelter and waited for pursuit.  Surprised that no one came after several minutes, she exhaled after realizing that she had been holding her breath and began to relax.

Glancing around at her new surroundings, she noticed a solitary flip flop, crushed beer cans, a tube top, and five white buckets with wire cages on top of each one.  They were pushed out to the very edge of the walkway’s protective overhead cover, and were sitting halfway in the sun and shade.  Movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention.  It was another kitten scampering away followed by another one, both alarmed by the woman’s presence in their ‘hood.  She shuddered and wondered if they were possibly related to the two underneath of the abandoned car. The buckets drew her attention away from the feral creatures and the woman crept forward.  They were old paint buckets filled with dirt, delicate green tendrils snaked out towards the light.

Extending her gaze, the woman scanned the edge of the pond and had a rather good view of yet another cat hunting in the weeds.  This one was fully grown and well fed with a thick orange coat, just about to close in on its helpless prey.


With still no pursuit from the madman of the parking lot, the woman felt secure enough to creep the rest of the way out of her hiding spot when she heard, “Kitties, kitties!  Come for dinner, kitties!”  The voice belonged to a female but it was raspy and that of a life time smoker, like from age 12 to present, which was perhaps 50 or so.  She was a small woman, with thin, dirty blond hair that was pulled back into a greasy pony tail.  In her hands, she carefully carried bowls of food and water, walking slowly enough to not spill a drop.  A silky black cat was wrapping itself around her legs and purring in hopes of a few bites to eat.

“My God, another damned cat,” the woman exclaimed without thinking and saw a skinny tabby cat with a sagging belly trotting up at the cat lady’s call.

“Are all these cats yours?” the woman asked the cat lady who was still holding the bowls and leading a parade of cats.  Inwardly, the woman recoiled at the thought of the combination of the cats’ diseases, fleas, and intestinal worms. And that’s not to mention the dandruff and fur.

“Yeah, they’re mine, and so are those tomatoes down there,” she replied and nodded her head in the directions of the paint buckets.  “They’re all I’ve got, next to my no-good-for-nothing husband.  There are 10 cats all together, sometimes 11 or 12, and five buckets of tomatoes.  The apartment manager is after me because of them. He wants me to stop feeding them, calls its feral cat community,” she explained.

“He wants you to stop feeding the cats or the tomatoes?” the woman asked, snickering to herself.

“The cats,” she spat out, “of course, the cats.” She set the bowls down and took a few steps back to give her cats room to move in for dinner.

“They’re my life and if the manager here evicts me, then I’ll just pack up my cats and tomatoes and go where we’ll be appreciated,” she declared.  Instantly something became clear to the woman, this was more than just a cat lady.  This was a cat lady who also loved tomatoes and was willing to give up her apartment for the well-being of a horde of wild cats that she had collected and from which she would never benefit.  With much to consider, the woman waved and walked back to her apartment away from the cats and tomatoes.  She resolved to get a rabies vaccine in the very near future.


Be careful about reading health books. You may die of misprint. – Mark Twain

Close Encounters of the Sweaty Kind

Dear Asian Guy at the gym,

Why do you wear hiking boots and dress pants to jog at the gym?  Your heavy plodding feet confuse my ears.  Based on your slender physique, I would expect light and cat-like steps but instead I am bothered by the thudding of your boots on the rotating treadmill belt.  Do you realize I can hear your boots pounding the rubber of your machine through my ear-buds and the latest edition of This American Life? While your poor decisions regarding appropriate gym attire do not directly affect me, I am further disturbed by the thought of working out so vigorously in dress pants that I assume have been recently dry-cleaned and pressed based on the sharp pleats and cuffs.


Actually Asian guy, your noisy boots and nice pants give me cause to reflect on my own judgmental hang ups and human nature.  I can only speak for myself and from what I’ve observed in others, but it seems that we go about our lives in various states of fear.  We are afraid of what others will think, afraid that we don’t have enough or are enough of this or that, afraid of the past and more afraid of the future.  If we could find ways to walk away from that fear, we would be happier in our ability to do more and try new things, meet different people and embrace the person we are today.  Maybe walking or jogging, in this case, away from that fear could lead to a greater level of understanding and tolerance for others.    In any case, thank you Asian guy for the lesson in living fearlessly in doing what you want, when you want, and in the way that works for you.


Your new sort-of friend because you smiled at me,

Puney Bones


The Soft Spot

Let me be clear, we aren’t talking about that unprotected gap between the still forming bones of a baby’s skull.  The discovery of this soft spot came as a total surprise, especially since it belongs to my husband, a strong and handsome man with a very well formed head (no unprotected gaps).  He is a fair and balanced person and treats everyone with the same dignity and kindness.  As a part of being so fair and balanced, no one receives special treatment or exceptions.  He’s just that level.  Or so I thought.

Recently, we were discussing what’s to be done with my mother when she is unable to live alone.  I proposed an apartment in a cozy assisted living facility.  We could visit regularly; she could socialize with the other residents and never have to worry about lawn work again.  Much to my wonder and amazement, my husband countered with a simpler suggestion, something far more mother-in-law friendly than I could have previously imagined.

“She can live with us,” he said.

Immediately, my eyebrows and blood pressure both shot up.  I asked him to repeat himself, in disbelief at what he had just stated.

“Sure,” he explained.  “We’ll fix her up a shed in the backyard and run her an extension cord from the garage so she can have power.  She can use the bathroom inside until we set her up with an outhouse type of arrangement.”

It was heartwarming to hear such generosity towards my mother.  What an ideal situation, to have my mom camped out in our backyard with multiple extension cords running from the garage because one would never be enough for her, and an outhouse to top it all off.  I imagine she would start a small compost pile that would eventually grow and result in an eventual visit from the Board of Health.  Stray cats and dogs would know which shed in the area to visit for a meal and a few friendly pats on the head.  Of course, she would start a vegetable garden and would need to borrow a shovel, rototiller, scissors and the hose to water her plants.  Doing laundry inside would be a given, but then she would enlist the neighbor kids to help her dig holes to pour concrete and set up poles to string a clothes line and leave her underthings to air dry for all the world to see.  Sunshine is the best thing for underwear and sheets, you know.

Yes, I could imagine all of this and more and had to smile at the discovery of my husband’s soft spot, my mother.

Quitting: not just for losers

Quitting is not just for losers anymore, which runs contrary to the opinion of my dad.  No, no, no, I feel comfortable declaring that quitting is for everyone and anyone, without discretion.  It’s healthy to quit things and highly recommended by this weathered old traveler of life.  I guess I’ve always been a quitter at heart but so often meddlesome family members or friends intervened with their good intentions and well-wishing.  “Of course you can’t quit the swim team”, my mom explained after watching me splash and splutter through a meet in which I finished a soggy last.   After tripping over every hurdle at a track meet, I dragged my aching body and bruised ego over to my dad, he said “I know you want to quit because that didn’t go so well, but you can’t.  You’ve got the stuff winners are made from; you just have to keep at it.” The good advice followed me into adulthood, weighing heavy on my own decisions and happiness.  I worked my way up to a good paying job in insurance with benefits, invested in a 401k, went in early and stayed late because that is what potential winners do until they’ve made it, right?  “Puney Bones, you can’t quit that job.  You’ll never make that kind of money again.  You know the kind of people who quit jobs like that don’t you?” my most helpful advisors advised.  I heard what they were really saying, and it was loud and clear, quitting is for losers.  It was around that time that I decided to officially become a quitter and shed the things that I most hated, as I wish I could have done twenty years earlier.  I’m a much better quitter now than I was when I first started, I quit bad friendships and habits, rotten jobs and people.  Surprisingly enough, even with all of this quitting and fear of what I might become, I’m not a loser.  I’m liberated.


Waiting in line at the gas station, a woman shifted her heavy weight from one side to the other and craned her neck to see around a large man in front of her.  The man waited with his hands stuffed inside of the pockets of a worn leather jacket with the patience of a mountain.  The woman in line had been on her feet all day running the cash register at Church’s Chicken.  The smell of fried grease lingered in the air around her, clung to her collared and stained shirt, and weighed heavy in her hair.  Her nose shone with grease and sweat under the harsh store lights.

She was tired, sick and tired of people wanting and taking things from her, especially without her permission.  At this particular minute, 11:25pm, she noted after checking on her cell phone, a woman at the front of the line was not only stealing but also wasting her time. “Hey, what’s the deal?” she shouted from behind the man.  “Hurry it up!  Selling gas and cigarettes shouldn’t take all night!”

Standing at the counter, a woman with gray hair and a long purple coat had just dumped her oversized purse out spilling pennies, pieces of candy and scraps of paper out onto the floor.  “I’m looking for my money. I know it was here when I left.  This is so embarrassing.”  Checking in her purse one more time, she shook her head and looked back at the line that had formed.  Apologetically holding her head down, she pushed the quart of milk and box of crackers forward and whispered, “I’m sorry, I can’t pay”.  She turned to leave with her eyes cast down but the man stopped her.  “Hold it!” he demanded in a deep voice.  “Give her the dammed milk and crackers, and give me the money in your register at the same time!”  Pulling his hand from his pocket, he produced a small black pistol.  “Do it now!”

In an irritated voice, the cashier said to the woman, “Fine, take the stuff.”  The woman crept back to the counter around the man, grabbed the things with a rushed “thank you”, she crept back out the door.

Then to herself and anyone else listening, the cashier said, “This is the second time this week that some asshole has help up this stupid store. Gawd, I’m quitting.  Take what you want.”

Still holding the pistol up, he pointed it at the cashier and pulled the trigger.  “Wait a minute.  Where’s your sense of adventure?” he started laughing uproariously as a small stream of water came out of the pistol.  “I’m not robbing you; I just bought this gas station and wanted to see what goes on after 11:00 around here.  I’ve heard it’s a rough area and wanted to protect myself.”  He squirted the gun again into the air and pulled out a thick wad of bills.  Peeling one off the top, he handed it to the cashier.  “That should cover her things, and you can keep the change for your trouble.”

He turned back to the women who had been standing behind him, “And you ma’am, could use a greater sense of decency towards others and let’s not forget personal hygiene, you stink of chicken.”

A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way. – Mark Twain