Check, please.

check

Dopeman, he’s a real guy who hangs out close to where I work.   Although I have never laid eyes on the man, I know as sure as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West that he is real. There is a rich image of him in my mind, he wears a hoodie with baggie jeans and has tear drop tattoo on his face. Like the Boogie Man and Santa, my imagination has gone wild with who and what he is, with the difference being that he’s real; a man of flesh and blood with dreams and fears and a very real occupation.

My regulars have encountered Mr. Dopeman on trips to the gas station for smokes and snacks and report back to me of his movements. They know who he is and what he wants and for some reason, they continue to interact with Dopeman. I have done my best to teach them the basics of Stranger Danger. Just because you know his name and he seems friendly does not make him a friend; it’s a message that does not sink into their reality, but rather floats on top like oil on water.

He sounds like a warm fella, full of generosity and beneficence. Word has it that Dopeman offers his wares for free along with advice and networking for additional opportunities of all other sorts. Dopeman’s dark side is that there is a price of everything, whether it’s now or later.

Dopeman is just one moving part of the underground machine, invisible to those who don’t help to shift its gears or provide fuel, unknown to those who don’t provide repairs or new parts. Dangerous to all, regardless.

“So when Dopeman comes back and needs a favor, you better do it,” I was advised in the event that I ever made the mistake of accepting anything from him. Everything has a price, it’s the rule of the streets, I was told.

It makes sense but it’s not just a rule of the streets, it’s a rule of life.  You can’t get something for nothing.  If you do, you just haven’t gotten the check, yet.

Resolutions

treadmill 2

At the gym, a wizened little woman with white hair pounded the treadmill in front of me. She jogged while leafing through a magazine and leisurely looking around the facility. It was easy for her. The band continued to move. All she had to do was pick one foot up and then the other, like walking, but easier. There was no getting lost on a treadmill or being too far from the bathroom to make it in time.

The conveniences of modern society should amaze a woman of her age, surviving the dinosaurs and both world wars. Yet, it didn’t. She didn’t owe the world one single thing. As though reading my mind, she stepped off of the machine as nimbly as any gym-elf might and sized me up. Her mouth was smeared with bright red lipstick and her eyes glowed with blue eye shadow.

Fierce. Fearless. Ageless, sort of. She had my admiration. I lowered my eyes and gave her a nod of respect. Then, she was gone, escorted out by her caretaker or young lover like royalty. The woman was an enigma, a mystery, an unknown, like so many other sweaty, strange people at the gym.

A modern melting pot, bringing together all those who care about fitting into their jeans after the holidays, lowering their blood pressure, and can afford the monthly fee.

Long live the mystery of the people at the gym. Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

Fly Right

bird

When I was in kindergarten, my class took trips to the zoo and other places for young minds to learn. It was a privilege and opportunity for a country girl to get out and explore Indiana within a sixty mile radius or so. Sadly, the little brown stone building that I attended for my early education is closing this year with not enough hillbilly kids to keep it filled.

While I was there, I started to understand that there are two types of people in the world, those who follow the rules and those who do not. The realization came upon me like a slow sunrise, starting with a little light along the horizon quickly filling the sky with the big, hot ball of truth. Perhaps it burned hottest for me because it was not a fellow classmate or teacher illustrating this lesson, but rather my mother.

My class was preparing to go on a trip to some exciting town like Wabash or Andrews for an event which has now escaped my memory. We were each asked to bring in $5 and a signed permission slip. As a dutiful rule follower, I brought home the letter to parents and reiterated the request.

To my delight, there was no fight or complaint. My mother read the letter and signed with a smile.

“Let me get you a check,” she said still smiling. How could I have known her coy plan, as though a plan was needed for such a simple request?

She dug through her grungy purse and pulled out her worn checkbook. Through my childhood, I remember her thoughtfully staring at it, chewing on the end of a pencil, as she tried to balance the numbers. She never said anything about it, but I bet it never came out right. Somehow her motto, “Close enough,” ended up working out just about every time.

I carried the check and white permission slip in my little book-bag back to the school the next day. My teacher, an older woman with grey hair who wore skirts and loafers on the daily, collected the money and paperwork in the morning. She straightened the stack and retired behind her desk. We were left to a coloring project which I was in the middle of when she returned to my work area.

She squatted down, knees together and off to the side in the most lady-like-kindergarten-teacher-style and asked with the most serious face, “Is there something wrong with your mother?”

I set my crayon down and considered the question, “No, I don’t believe so.”

“She has been signing all of your paperwork with different names, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Jackie O, Barbara Streisand…. I have a list here of the alias’ she has used.” She waved a sticky note from the end of her finger to prove her point, like I had the capability to doubt a teacher at that time.

“We just need her to sign her real name or you can’t go on the trip to x,y,z place. It’s a liability for the school.”

Liability, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Streisand, this was all foreign, I shook my head. My teacher handed me a check, it was the same one that I had turned in that morning.

“And this, we can’t accept. It’s signed Dolly Parton.”

It was at that moment, I knew my mother needed fixing. She needed to be normal, to follow the rules; the easy, black and white ones as well as those living in the various shades of gray. Then another realization, the truth was out, it wasn’t at all what she needed, it was what I needed.

I needed her to fly right, something a bird with a broken wing can never do.

Suffer the Fools

yellow

The presenter wobbled across the room on tiny, child sized feet. Her ankles tipped towards the ground. With each step, she fell clumsily forward. A man wheeled in a chair into the middle of the circle. The woman gave a grateful nod and dropped onto the seat. Her legs dangled above the ground with her tiny feet swinging back and forth. Yet, she still continued with her presentation.

Her courage, confidence, and humility were inspirational. Public speaking makes my palms sweat just to think about it. My heart raced as I recalled my last experience with it, I forgot to breathe and passed out. It was the second time, after which, I stopped being asked to do the dreaded presentations. The presenter showed no signs of nervousness or fear, her wobbling was not about to slow her down or change her direction. She was in complete control of the situation.

The woman was as fierce and determined as the original Wobbles, a pet from childhood. I desperately wanted to share the similarity with her. Her struggles were familiar and different at the same time. Unique in being a human and similar in the struggle of a physical disability. I stopped myself from moving forward with my insight in class, opting for sharing in the virtual world.

Wobbles, an orange kitten, born just as slimy and weak as its siblings, never developed a sense of balance. He wibbled and wobbled back and forth through the grass and the garden, growing at the same rate at the other non-wobbling kittens. By the time Wobbles was fully grown, he was a beautiful, yellow Tom and his brothers and sisters had either been given away or met with an untimely demise.

The old neighbor man was over dropping off a bag of peppers from his garden and happened to watch the cat wobble up to the porch and start grooming himself. Wobbles fell over but continued his work on his side. A dirty job has to be done one way or another.

The old man shook his head, “I’ll put him out of his misery, if you like.”

What misery? I wondered in silence, it was still a time when children were to be seen and not heard.

My mother politely declined with a thanks-but-no-thanks and the old man left down the road with a backwards glance over his shoulder at the cat. Destiny would have her way with both the cat and the man, but not for years to come.

Wobbles grew into the best small rodent catcher in the area. Presents of his hunts were always left on the front porch rug: mice, rats, rabbits and an occasional mole. Sometimes he would be there proudly purring and grooming himself, but usually he was back on the prowl, wobbling down game.  He was in no misery and it was not for a stranger to decide.

Misery or happiness, fear or courage? They are all choices that start within ourselves. Do what makes you happy and walk away from those who would take your joy. Life is too short to suffer the fools.

Monday

ice

The horizon blazed warm shades of orange, yellow, and hot pink. The sun rose, a fiery ball, in the East. Yet, there was no heat from the sky. I shivered to think of my husband puttering to work in the old Hyundai with its sometime hot/sometimes not heater. Hopefully, he wore gloves, but I doubted it.

I returned my focus to the glittering road. Everything on either side of it was frozen in place. Trees were lined in white; their branches hung low with winter’s burden. Smoke curled from chimneys and hung in the air, too cold to hurry away.

The day felt brittle, as though one strike against the fabric of time and it would shatter into a million bits of ice to melt on the first warm day of spring. No one would miss it. No one would remember.

My car fishtailed as I slowed for a red light. I pumped the brakes as I scanned ahead and tried to remember if this was the very situation in which to not pump the brakes.

As the car spun around, I prayed all the prayers, promising to be good and kind, to keep New Year’s resolutions, to be a better person, in exchange for protection from what was about to happen. I closed my eyes and resigned myself to Fate.

It was a beautiful, cruel morning to start the week.

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