Cross Country

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The AAU Cross Country Nationals were held in Rock Hill, South Carolina this year. My little guy, Coleman, is 8 years old and he qualified in his age group, the Sub-Bantams. I think that means little chickens and I try not to read anything more into it than that. Cole runs Indoor Track, Outdoor Track and Cross Country. He’s always been fast and annoyingly energetic but track has given him confidence, discipline, a team he loves and a place to belong. He identifies with his group, which can be a two edged sword but the coaches are adamant about supporting the sport through respect for all runners regardless of team affiliation.

Cole has qualified for The Nationals before but we never went to anything beyond the Regional Championships. It isn’t the kind of thing we can really afford but at the same time, he’s been running track for about a year and a half and this is his last go ’round as a Little Chicken. He loves it and we’re very proud of him; we just felt like he deserved it and once he moves on to Bantam, being on the younger end of that group, he may not qualify again for some time. We booked the flight, a car rental and the hotel. The whole team has a block of rooms at the Rock Hill, Holiday Inn, and we’re all set to go.

Why is it that just when you think you’ve got things pretty well figured out, that’s just about the time when they fall apart?

Two days before the flight we get a message on our answering machine. The message is from Randy, the manager of the Rock Hill, Holiday Inn. Randy says our 99 dollar room was booked wrong and do we still want it for 227 dollars. This is not good. It was a stretch to go in the first place. The added expense makes the whole thing suddenly seem like a bad idea. And by the way, what do they mean it was booked wrong? We called Holiday Inn’s 800 number and booked it more than a month ago. They gave us the room! They told us the price! It’s not like we haggled over it and they reluctantly accepted our ridiculously low offer. And why, a single day after the booking deadline, after mind you, not before but after, has this become an issue? I call the hotel and what sounds like a female parakeet with a southern drawl answers. I explain the message and she says she’s sorry but the manager has gone home for the night but we can call back in the morning. I can see our hotel room, with it’s plush kingsize bed and free continental breakfast, dissolving in front of my eyes and I launch:

 

“Look lady, you need to call the manager and he needs to call me and explain why
I am holding an 81/2 x 11 sheet of paper, complete with confirmation number
and price, that you are about to sell to the highest bidder. Now listen to me!
I do not want to get down there and find my room gone.
Do you understand me?”

~

“Yes sir, I’ll call him! Thank you for calling the Rock Hill, Holiday Inn.”

~

I email the coach and he says he’ll follow up. The next day I get his email; the hotel manager is immovable and the booking agent is claiming ignorance of the whole thing.

One way or the other, I always believe a claim of ignorance.

I don’t hear from the hotel manager or anyone else before the flight and I have to say I’m worried. I feel like my only chance is to have a face to face with this guy but in my heart I know it will be useless. There is money on the line and I have no leverage whatsoever.

The night before leaving I have a dinner date in Philadelphia with The Fungi Social Club, about whom I may write at a later date. I make my way to Philly and stop at my mom’s. I don’t write much about my mom. What can a person say about their mom that won’t end up sounding schmaltzy or maudlin or get everyone at the bar crying in their beer. Better to acknowledge the lady respectfully and move on. Everyone, or at least every son, knows what I mean. But setting all that aside for a moment, it is worth mentioning that my mom has a better Scotch collection than your mom.

I was sampling some of that collection and recounting my Lilliputian woes because moms always like that kind of thing; they always take your side and occasionally they even have good advice. This wasn’t going to be one of those occasions. Her logic was that Southerners are well mannered people and therefore I should basically throw myself on the mercy of a court that still seems to be licking wounds suffered during the Civil War and its apparently endless aftermath.

I have often wondered about that; how The Civil War seems to be a defining part of Southern identity, especially when compared with The North. I’ve worked with a lot of guys from The South and invariably there is a Confederate flag somewhere in the mix, often tattooed directly upon their person. In The North it is a non issue on every level. It is not on anyone’s mind in the slightest. Except as an academic matter, it is a fully forgotten event. No grudge is borne, no resentment nursed, no offense taken. There is no gloating or self satisfaction regarding the war. There are no meaningful reminders; nothing to jog the collective memory but even if there were, nobody cares. It is not part of how Northerners define themselves for the very simple reason that Northerners don’t define themselves as Northerners. Only Southerners do that.

There are monuments of course; there are always monuments. But Civil War monuments are few and discreet and really kind of anonymous. Monuments are meant to evoke history but in fact they seem to isolate and entomb it. Stone is noble and there is stately grandeur in the Beaux Arts and NeoClassic architecture typical of the period but that’s all you get. On the actual subject at hand, The Civil War, the stone is mute; bloodless; amnesic even.

Just to go that extra mile, because I’m an extra mile kind of guy, I have returned to my old neighborhood. For a time, I lived on West 89th street. At the end of the block, in Riverside Park, is Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Every time I walked the dog I would go look at it; try to imagine a past when it was new. When the war was still a memory within easy reach. Nothing.

Now I’m here in Morningside Heights, 122nd and Riverside Drive, to stand in front of Grant’s Tomb, just to check for residual emotions and I’m getting nothing. It doesn’t help that in 1865 my people were busy being persecuted in Eastern Europe but still, I’m an empathetic person and I have a good understanding of history; I’ve done my reading. Also, I’m a middle child; I see everyone’s point of view and they are all equal before me. I have no trouble putting myself in your shoes or anyone else’s shoes; the more so if you’re sporting an 11 1/2 wide, in which case we’re as good as siblings. When confronted with history I can usually force an emotion but then, I get choked up over the pastoral section of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture too. But honestly, Grant’s Tomb elicits nothing. A total blank. I mean, who the hell is buried here anyway?

Ok, so back in Philly I wandered off to my dinner, which included a Scotch tasting, a wine sampling and an excellent bottle of Port. I shall forever be grateful that the last bus back to New York was a 9 o’clock. Had it been an 11 o’clock, I may well be there even to this very day. An evening like that can so easily slip down that slope that can only end in Tequila and regret. I made my farewells to my fellow club members and scooted back to the safety of Brooklyn and the promise of an afternoon flight into an uncertain set of accommodations.

I spent a mostly sleepless night rehearsing the coming confrontation with the front desk. I tapped around the internet looking for a Bed & Breakfast in the Rock Hill area figuring that this event alone would probably use up almost every available hotel room. I was encouraged to find some beautiful spots at a fraction of the cost of my anonymous room; if that room was still even mine. The only real advantage of staying at the hotel is mixing with the other kids and parents on the team. It may not seem like much but really it is a very rich part of the whole experience.

The next day Cole and I made it out to LaGuardia without running into traffic. The plane ride was smooth and uneventful and my hangover was well within the nausea control limits recommended by the F.A.A.

So far, so good.

With the ultra-friendly chatterbox Dean, at the wheel of the Dollar Rent a Car bus, we headed out to the aptly named Rental Car Road. As a person who gets lost almost every time I get behind the wheel, I appreciate that kind of simplicity. I would recommend a trip to the Charlotte Airport based solely on the chance of getting a ride from Dean. He is too good to pass up just because you have no reason to be there. Personable doesn’t even begin to describe this cat. With the looks of an aging Rock-a-Billy star and a kind of affable southern charm, he strikes me as a man who, in another time, would have been a riverboat gambler. And not just any old riverboat gambler. A real cardsharp. The kind they used to hang. He would have worked the Proud Mary or the Natchez or the Mississippi Queen. And you know what? I would have considered it an honor to lose my paycheck to him. Dean seems to me to be an inhabitant of the new south but a product of the old. Not only that but he’s super helpful and inquisitive beyond anything that can be covered in a 4 minute bus ride. I want to tip Dean just for being Dean. As I reread these last sentences I have to wonder if I have an unusually low threshold for what constitutes acceptable entertainment. Whatever the case, this trip is starting out well even as we are heading towards the OK Corral of booking conflicts. We step out of Dean’s chariot and into the Dollar Rent-a-Car office:

 

“Welcome to Dollar Rent-a-Car. How are you today?”

~

“I’m good. How you doin’ ?”

~

“I’m fantastic!”

~

And you know what? She is fantastic! Her name is Shelae and she is an attractive black woman in her early thirties with an attitude so positive, so genuinely upbeat, that she makes me feel ok about renting a compact car. As if it really isn’t a reflection on my personal prosperity, not to mention my manhood. But I have my son, my smile and my strong chin; I can get by on that.

“How can I help you today?”

~

“Yeah, me and my friend are here to pick up our rental.”

~

At first she’s confused; maybe she’s thinking I’m schizophrenic. Then she leans over the high counter and spends a few moments exchanging pleasantries with Cole. She makes a nice attempt to seduce me into some unneeded insurance and points us towards the area where the compacts are. I ask her to repeat the directions because without a doubt I am going to get lost in the parking lot. Shelae cheerfully escorts us out to the compacts. She’s a sweetheart. I feel bad about not buying the extra insurance. I don’t need it but I feel like it would have made her even happier, if that’s possible. I’m starting to sense a trend here. Something about southern hospitality and being pleasantly separated from one’s money.

We’re in the lot now and there are no compact cars:

 

“Oh well.” says Shelae. “Take any car you like.”

~

I’m really beginning to like it here.

So let’s see. There isn’t a lot of choice. I can either take a Nissan Something-or-Other or a Dodge muscle car. Come to think of it, I guess there’s really no choice at all. We exit the lot, I put the pedal to the metal, skid around a corner and off into the North Carolina afternoon with squeals of terror and delight coming from the back seat.

We shoot down I-77 and cross into South Carolina. Over the border, I-77 becomes The Billy Graham Parkway. For an urban sophisticate, that’s creepy. It’s creepy for me too. A quick station seek on the radio reveals about nine stations. Most of them are religious gobbledygook, one is political gobbledygook and the remainder are playing the top 7 songs of their respective genres in lightning fast rotation. It looks like the genteel hand of civility is fixed to a strong arm of conformity. This does not appear to be an environment of competing ideas. Lots of black and white; not a whole lotta grey.

Exit 79 off of I-77, a left, pass a giant shopping center, two lights and another left, to the back of another giant shopping center and there it is, the Holiday Inn. The hotel looks the same as the surrounding car dealerships, the Sears, the chain stores, the chain restaurants and every other retail outlet I’ve seen thus far. I know that as far as I may travel in this state, every town will be dominated by a shopping center and every shopping center will be identical. I believe they call this Low Risk Architecture; not because it can’t offend anyone, or inspire anyone for that matter, but because it is built so economically that even a total business failure isn’t going to cost anyone a whole lot of money. Pour a concrete slab, throw up the prefab stucco walls, fill it with cool stuff from China, man it with low wage workers, open the doors and complain about how your culture is disappearing. Or, as I like to say, “Aim Low.”

Ok, so we enter the lobby and I see a young guy at the reception desk. His name tag says Randy. Randy is the manager. From my perspective, Randy has been the point man for the hotel in this debacle. Everyone who has tried to correct this situation, the booking agent, the coach, whoever all else, have had to deal with Randy but I haven’t actually talked with him yet. Randy is just finishing talking with a very large and clearly irate black man. I can see the hopelessness of my situation but Cole is by my side and I have to both spare him any anxiety about this, his first big trip, and get him to the bathroom because he’s turning yellow.

I am all smiles and urgency. I ask where the bathroom is and ever so nonchalantly slide our reservation across the desk. Who knows, maybe we’ll slip through the corporate cracks.

When we return, there is a local cop standing by the desk. I think the big black guy rattled Randy and he’s decided to call in reinforcements; a little bit of cavalry. Better to have and not need, than need and not have. Turning to me, Randy says there’s a problem. So much for corporate cracks. The details of the conversation are not interesting but the bottom line is that he, as the local representative of Holiday Inn, can not honor this reservation which was made by them, the Corporate Holiday Inn.

I’m calm and make my case; he recounts the recorded conversation of my wife and the Holiday Inn 800 number operator. Our mistake was not booking through the local, graft approved, booking agent. How that bears on the 800 number folks I can’t say; either can Randy. He parses the language but his case is weak, or would be if he weren’t holding the magnetically encoded key card to my room. I ask him if I’m the only one who is having this problem and he says no; not by a long shot. He’s had cancellations and arguments all day and most of the guests have yet to arrive.

My assessment of the man and the situation is rolling over and in all fairness I need to adjust my expectations. He’s not a bad guy but he’s been put in a bad position by a system that doesn’t integrate the local booking process with the national booking process. Throw in a wildcard third party like the booking agent and it’s time to call the sheriff. Randy’s kind of been left holding the bag by an uncaring machine whose executives would never dream of staying in one of their own hotels. I see him as just another little guy. Unfortunately, I’m littler still. Our conversation has been cordial but has come to an impasse.

Randy offers me the room at $227 a night and assures me that this is the discounted price. For that kind of money I could have stayed on Times Square but then, we’re not on Times Square. When handed this defeat I turn to the only option I have left and wouldn’t you know, it’s my mom.

You see, I’ve lived in New York City for half my life and I have found that New Yorkers have a very fine sense of injustice and are hair trigger adamant about their rights. When you live in an eat or be eaten environment it only makes sense to bite first but it can be cause for misunderstanding. However today, with my mother’s gentle guidance, and the good manners and quiet nature borne of my native Philadelphia, I have not bitten. Dean and Shelae have prepared me for this:

 

“Would you still like the room?”

~

I do not let slip any anger or resentment. He has won the battle and it’s time to move on. My tone is all good humor; our conflict, no more than a game of checkers:

 

“Well, we’re not gonna chase all over town looking for a room. Sure, I’ll take it.”

~

Randy prints up the papers, I sign them and he hands me the key card. That’s when I make my move; after the surrender of Fort Sumter. But here’s the thing, it wasn’t premeditated; it just came out:

“Hey man, is there anything you can do for me so that I won’t feel so bad about this?”

~

Randy takes a moment and I can see he’s honestly reflecting. Then he says:

“You know, you’ve been so nice about this, how about dinner for both of you.
And drinks. As much as you want.”

~

He hands me his card with instructions to the restaurant staff. It reads:

:

—Dinners free. Drinks free. Everything free—

~

“Wow, that’s great! Thank you so much. Honestly. It makes a big difference.”

~

“And full breakfast too. As long as you’re here.”

~

“Wonderful! Thank you so much!”

~

“I’ll tell you what. Let me change the price of the room.”

~

He tears up the contract and I get a much more reasonable rate. Coupled with dinner, drinks and breakfast, I’m shaking his hand across the fortification of the the front desk and we’re pals. Truly and honestly.

Randy notes that we are in a room with a single king size bed and he offers to upgrade us at no charge.

I say:

“Look Randy, unless this is the honeymoon suite and you need it, you’ve already been really good to us.

Really, we’re fine. Thank you.”

~

So I sign the new contract, he hands me the keycard and the last thing he says is:

“I gave you free Internet too. The code is inside your key envelope.”

——

When we get to our room I have to laugh. It was all so easy. Like the song says:

As easy as

ABC123

Which, perhaps not coincidentally, happens to be the access code to the Internet.

~

A little while later Cole and I are sitting down to dinner and the influx of guests has begun. Arguments are breaking out even as a second cop arrives. I have a nice piece of fish with lightly sautéed vegetables. Cole has a hamburger as big as his head. I am sipping a craft beer and Cole is working on a lemonade. We have a low angle view of the devolving state of affairs at the desk. The booking agent, wherever he may be, has outdone himself. Rooms have been changed, without notice, to other cheaper hotels but the booked price remains the same. Rooms have been given away without warning; tensions are escalating.

“Overbooked?!”

 

The word is spat like an obscenity; an outrageous question; an inconceivable statement. Voices are being raised and fingers are being pointed. It’s a profit taking frenzy and poor Randy has been left to fend for himself. He’s doing his best but he’s been surrounded. I find myself witness to one individual’s capacity for stubbornness as he fights off one assault after another. I am reminded again of Southern pride and Southern sensitivities. His professionalism and dedication to the cause of hospitality, whose motto could easily be:

 

The Customer Is Always Right In All Matters That Don’t Concern Money

 

are the only things that can explain his not yielding to a demand for unconditional surrender. That and the fact that he’s probably the only one here who is actually armed. Bottom line: Corporate policy sucks and the booking agent has clearly screwed everyone; communication between the elements is non existent and the situation is simultaneously unraveling in both an ad hoc and post hoc manner, which I guess is kind of an accomplishment.

I feel bad about it and especially bad for Randy but the parties have engaged and there is no turning back. Fresh skirmishes are breaking out all over the lobby; North and South are locked in a struggle, the scope of which neither understands and the forces of which are out of either’s control. Forces at a distance, powerful and determined, have set events in motion. Once again the result is conflict, played out at a local level between individuals who don’t understand each other. One party cannot let go of the past and the other does not recognize the past even when it is staring him in the face, asking for a credit card.

Cole and I were the sole exception. We the meek, we the pacifists, we the noncombatants. The generosity of our host was not just our good fortune. It was a peace offering to god, before the onset of hostilities; our dinner, a sacrifice cast upon the waters in hopes that the inevitable conflict could somehow be avoided. Of course, nothing inevitable can be avoided.

Later, after the money is shed like blood, the rivals will retreat to the bar. There, they will nurse their wounds, have a nice snack and wonder at the conflicts unfolding on the wide screen TV and at the ever present possibility of man biting man.

Time Is On Your Side

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Hey Drew,

Well it’s just about a year since you died; figured I’d give you an update. In some ways it seems like a lot has happened and in some ways it seems like nothing has happened at all.

I guess you can see where I’m heading with this.

But before I proceed, please forgive me for calling you dead. I mean, you are dead but it’s not my intention to be judgmental. I don’t consider it a shortcoming on your part and in no way am I suggesting that it makes you any less lovable; only less animated; at least on this side of the great divide. There are euphemisms for the dead and I like euphemisms as much as the next tiddlywink but not for the purpose of soft pedaling an idea. It does a certain injustice to the subject. An injustice I can usually accomplish without anything more than my own faulty powers of description.

So what’s new. Well, since you died, there have been a bunch of movies. Of courses there have. But I haven’t seen any of them. You have time. Me? No way! Not since the kids started arriving 16 years ago.

The ads make the movies look good and that’ll get you wondering about those ads. It’s usually a single image, a still taken from the movie; a single frame. It represents the first and possibly only sales impression plastered on a subway wall or roadside billboard. These days, the average blockbuster runs about two hours. When you figure 24 frames per second,1440 frames per minute and 86,400 frames per hour, we’re talking somewhere in the neighborhood of 173,000 frames to cull for that one frame that successfully captures and compresses the film into a single ad-worthy photo. One shot that tells the entire story. That’s a lot of pressure on one image and the person who picks it. That could explain why they almost always go with the shot of the hot babe holding an Uzi. Nothing succeeds like success, am I right? Of course I am because it’s not my saying.

But I digress. The movies, or at least the ads, look good; action adventures, historical dramas, romantic comedies but the fact is Drew, you haven’t really missed out. You seen one you’ve seen ‘em all. You saw High Plains Drifter; after that everything is redundant. Production values are way up of course but the stories are the same as the ones they were telling in the Paleolithic. The only real difference is in good grooming and teeth. Teeth never looked so good and doesn’t it kind of make you curious about what those actors’ skulls will look like after the autopsy? I know I’m curious so I figure everyone else is too.

What else? The kids are growing but when does that change? I guess there’s a certain point where they stop growing and you start shrinking but now that I have a teenager I feel like the shrinking has already begun. I may be the same height but it’s obvious that I’m getting smaller in his eyes.

I remember asking my mom a question when I was young; maybe 8 or 9. She said she didn’t know the answer and go look it up in the encyclopedia. You remember those things? Volume after volume of unread information. Clad in a cover of authority and utterly uninviting. The only cool part was the acetate see-through human body pages. Pull back the page with skin and there’s the muscles, turn the page and there’s the organs, turn the page and there’s the veins and nerves and last, the bones; the scaffolding for the whole bloodless affair. As I recall those pages were sexless but I’m going to have to go to the thrift store and look that up to confirm.

When my mom said she didn’t know the answer to my question, it was a shock. I don’t believe I had ever asked her a question that she couldn’t answer. That was probably, for me, the moment my parents started to diminish in size.

In retrospect I suppose the real shock is that it took me so long to ask a hard question. My shortcoming I’m sure but once I got around to it, it really put the pin in the bubble of parental omnipotence. Naturally I’ve never forgiven them. Come to think of it, it was probably my father. To this day my mom pretty much has a reasonable answer for any question shy of,

Why does a push broom work better when you pull it?

Don’t get me wrong, my dad has answers too, it’s just that none of them are plausible. With him it’s best to stick to the tried and true. Questions about photography, classical music, art before 1945 and his secret rice salad recipe; a recipe that is so secret that even he doesn’t know what it is but if he ever remembers where he hid the damn thing, look out! Your gonna love it!

What else can I tell you? The forces of reason continue to be heavily outnumbered by the forces of stupidity. I’m sure the same applies where you are but here we have laws against duct taping reactionaries to the hood of your Chrysler. I would say that people are more selfish than ever but I haven’t been around forever so I can’t state that with any kind of authority.

The weather has been unusually bad or unusually good depending on your preference for that sort of thing.

On that subject, one really big advance is that now the weather channels are naming storms that are not of hurricane or even tropical strength. For instance, right at this very moment I am at work and we are in the teeth of a light flurry called Saturn, after the Roman god of agriculture one would presume. We’re in our third day of this thing having already suffered through a day of intermittent drizzle followed by a day of humidity and expectation.

To say that it is ridiculous is to ridiculously undervalue the word ridiculous; to rob it of its awesome power of absurdity. I mean, what next? Shall we name fog? Yeah, let’s do that! Let’s name fog. We can name it Mel, after the Blue Fog himself, Mel Tormé. Or the overheated tempest in the teapot of Mel Gibson’s skull.

Let’s give people numbers and let’s give weather a first name.

In fact, we already give people numbers and we attach emotions to colors, so why not give weather a first name, you know, get on more familiar terms with it. Maybe even make friends. Treat it as a pet with all the goods and the bads.

~o~

Good evening this is your Channel 4 weather team.

I’m Brad Nailor and here’s our weather gal, Anita Kiss.

What’s happening out there Anita?

~

Well Brad, Once Upon a Time in the West, we would have been

Walking in a Winter Wonderland at this time of year.

But an atmospheric disturbance named Rascal is bringing a storm of

sunshine, moderate temperatures and gentle breezes throughout the Rockies today.

Such a good one, Rascal. So good, Atta boy.

~

That’s very clever Anita, but out here, East of Eden, Ohio, The Weather Outside is Frightful

and The Philadelphia Story is no better.  With gail force winds blowing North by Northwest,

the tail end of Superstorm Fluffy has been shitting all over the Coastal States and

pissing rain on the Central States resulting in a lot of hopelessly damaged floor coverings.

Meanwhile the front end of this same storm has been chewing the arms off of sofas

all across the South.

Bad Fluffy! Bad!

~o~

In the wide world of sports, everyone is  running back and forth and throwing things or kicking things or hitting things. Sometimes all of the above and occasionally it even happens during the game. The common denominator seems to be court time and penalties. Avoiding jail and paying fines for a near infinite variety of indiscretions; firearms, drug possession, adultery, assault. Unsportsmanlike conduct no doubt but all the evidence suggests that Drunk & Disorderly should have its own league.

In other entertainment news, the alternate reality of Television is better than its ever been and still it’s a complete waste of time. I would guess that time is not a big issue in the great beyond but here people treat their brief portion of it as if it was time in its entirety. I’ll bet where you are people wake up dead all the time and totally surprised.

As for politics, it is beyond imagining that it would hold any interest for you. For that matter it doesn’t hold any interest for me either. I know the difference between right and wrong and that means political news and punditry are superfluous. I may be alone among the living in that view but I’m certain it puts me in good company among the dead.

You were always an avid fan of music but unfortunately nobody makes music anymore. Of course, that statement isn’t true but sometimes it seems like it’s true. There is good music being made you just can’t tell by listening to it.

Jimi Hendrix came out with his 978th record this year. And in science, there are some theories brewing about what existed before the Big Bang. I don’t see how either one of those events is explainable. Asking what happened before time is about the same as asking what happens after time is done. I think you’re in a better position to answer that question than the rest of us.

One thing is for certain; Time the topic, unlike time itself, is a recurring theme. Growing kids, aging parents and a ” to do” list that won’t get done, conspire to keep a person busier than any grand design could possibly have intended. My “to do” list, even just around the house, is so much longer than my bucket list that I’m considering doing the latter first, just to get it out of the way. With any luck I’ll then die and avoid the chores altogether. Not a great plan but certainly a good plan.

In the year or so since you died, about 60 million other people have also died. In that same amount of time over 60 million new cars came off of assembly lines. I’m not sure what to make of that.

The same year saw an increase in world population of about 75 million and they don’t make Twinkies anymore. I’m not sure what to make of that either.

Look, I could go on quite a bit but honestly, you haven’t missed a thing. This holds particularly true because you’re dead but even if you weren’t, the world is still the world and it shall ever be thus.

In that respect I imagine that your average day in the land of the dead shares some basic similarities with your average day in the land of the living. One day is pretty much like the next; some laughing and some shouting, a lot of waiting around. An unaccountable urge to be productive and an equally unexplainable feeling that things that don’t matter could have turned out better but since they don’t matter it’s not a big deal.

I don’t believe in heaven or hell or god or satan or any of that other silly nonsense but I do believe that just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you have nothing left to give. In a way I guess that explains the Jimi Hendrix record and also this little bit of wordplay in your honor, which brings me back around again to you. The world is the same except for the corner you inhabited and in that regard the only thing that changed when you died is that your corner of the world misses you.

The Wedding Toast

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____________________________________________________________________________________

From:  themesanddeviations.com                                                                                             Hide 

______________________________________________________________________

To: freecyclenewyorkcity@yahoogroups.com

______________________________________________________________________

[FCNYC] OFFER: Wedding Toast; Brooklyn, 11218

April 2, 2013  5:27 AM.                                                                                   Mark

______________________________________________________________________

Offering a Wedding Toast in very good condition. Barely used. Just once and it was no one you know.

It is spring. The wedding season is upon us. Love is in the air and your best friend has thoughtlessly asked you to provide the toast. Fear not! I am offering this ever so slightly used toast. Please feel free to edit, change names etc., as needs be. If you are really backed up I can give the toast personally in exchange for yummy hors d’oeuvres.

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

Good evening everyone, I’d like to say a few words about the happy couple but, sorry to say, I am not a man of few words.

 

I hope you are all….uh  drunk. If not, now may be a good time to reconsider your sobriety and to help you along let’s start with a toast. Yes, I know what your thinking. You’re thinking that a toast hardly ever starts with a toast but I say damn the rule makers and their beady little eyes with the whites all……….white. So let us start with a toast to..to..uh… pretty flowers.

 

You know it’s not every day that I get asked to stand up and make an ass of myself. I mean, ordinarily I do it without any prompting at all. I just volunteer for the position.

 

Now, when I think of Jean and Clem, I think the same things that everyone else thinks. My but they’re tall……. And pretty…… And smell nice. But that’s not the half of it. They are also good and decent people. And that is a rare enough quality to deserve……. another toast!

 

While this is not a World Wrestling Federation sanctioned event, at least not yet, it seems to me that Love is like wrestling. In fact, when love is really good it actually is wrestling.

 

So let’s have a look at the contestants. In this corner, weighing in at a feathery, oh, I don’t know, 11 pounds we have “The Cat Woman” Lean Jean Shin.

 

Let’s take a look at her. A person could look at Jean for a long time and it would be time well spent. Fiercely loyal, obsessively organized and ridiculously responsible she is not a contestant to be toyed with.

 

Blessed with a voice like blue fog and a mind like a train whistle she can easily overwhelm the unprepared opponent. In the ring she has a sure sense of where she is, if not necessarily how she got there.

 

Of course like any woman Jean exudes a quiet reserve that promises swift punishment for any infraction of the ever changing rulebook.

But hey, that is a good quality in a wife and a great quality in a mother.

 

In the other corner weighing in at a respectable oh, I don’t know, 19 pounds, we have that crazy cocktail himself “The Mighty Mixer”, Duke Clement.

 

Fiercely loyal, somewhat organized and occasionally responsible he is clearly a challenger to be toyed with. When I think of Clem a lot of things come to mind but wrestling isn’t one of them.

 

Blessed with a mind like cotton candy and a voice like Barry White on helium, Clem charms his opponents, leaving them hopelessly confused but strangely cheerful. In the ring Clem has no idea where he is but hey, it looks like a good place to throw a party.

 

Like most men, Clem doesn’t know where the hell the rule book is or even how to read it.

But hey, that is a good quality in a husband and a great quality in a father.

 

So these are the contestants. This match, this union, of brains and beauty, love and companionship promises us the most important thing that life has to offer:

 

Entertainment

 

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Once Upon A Time

rose

I had a brief conversation with a gentleman on the subway stairs this morning. I was walking down to the lower level platform where the D, N and R trains stop. He was walking up to the 9th Avenue Bridge platform where the F and G trains stop. He wanted to know what train I had just gotten off of; the one he had just missed.

“G?”

“Yeah, G.”

I guess I could have just said “G” and been done with it but I must have been feeling chatty. I had the same question for him.

“R?”

“No, D.”

I could tell things were really warming up between us. But the fact is, I knew the relationship had no future. We were simply heading in different directions.

If you are not from here you may think that this was an exchange between two people, in a city of millions, who will never see each other again. But that isn’t really the case. Traveling very early in the morning, well before dawn, catching the same train every day, you do tend to see the same faces. Actually you rarely notice the faces but you know these are the same people, day to day.

Down on the platform I take a seat on a bench. Same seat, same bench, every day. I sit on that bench for about five minutes before the R train comes and during that time, most mornings, a not unattractive middle aged Hispanic woman walks by. She’s heading to the other end of the platform because that’s where her stairway will be when she exits the train at her stop. It’s a subway thing and if you don’t live in a city with a subway it may not have occurred to you but there you have it.

I don’t know the Hispanic woman’s name and I never will but she always smiles at me and silently mouths, “Good Morning.” I smile and nod back. It’s our little ritual. We’ve been doing it for about 3 years; maybe 4.

One time, on the ride home in the afternoon, I realized I was standing right next to her. We were sharing a pole; the train was crowded. The situation fairly demanded an acknowledgement. It was awkward but ignoring people on the subway is a skill learned early and practiced often.

I thought for a moment that I might say, “So, how was your day?” but we haven’t been formally introduced. In the subway, as in the supermarket, formal introductions are not strictly de rigueur but still, one has to properly read the situation. There are some people who will just break the ice and say “Hello.” Sometimes I’m that person; sometimes not.

But the fact is, I don’t know this lady and I don’t want to know this lady. I’m sure she’s perfectly nice, she’s got a pleasing little something going on in her walk and I know she likes to smile. But I don’t care what’s going on in her life and I don’t want to pretend to care what’s going on in her life. We already have a fully formed relationship. Perfect as a glass marble. Why ruin it with an introduction?

The R train comes; the doors open; I step in. It is the last car on the train; third door from the rear. When I exit I will be at the stairway that takes me to the escalator that puts me in front of the Staten Island Ferry. I sit in the seat by the door that has just been vacated by an overweight Hispanic man. Same as every day.

Across from me is a man who wears pre-washed jeans, a wine colored shirt and work boots that have never seen a day of what I would call work. If it’s cold out he will be wearing a jean jacket that matches his pants. A few stops later a tall woman will get on and she will sit with him and hold his hand. They don’t talk but they are contented in each others company. She is taller than he is and unattractively built but he adores her. He’s a little simple. She likes it that way. She wears a mix of blacks and grays. The colors of their outfits never vary. Season to season the clothes change but not the color scheme. I would guess they shop at Sears.

We will get off at the same stop, Whitehall Street. She will get on the escalator first. He will be one step back and therefore one step down, accentuating their difference in height. He will drum his fingers a few times on her lower back. Every single day. They are creatures of habit, as are we all. We are all headed to Lower Manhattan and I assume they work in the same building; a corporate cafeteria I’m thinking. They are both in their middle fifties. I think they probably met later in life; perhaps each is living with and caring for an elderly parent. It’s just a story I tell myself but it fits the evidence, scanty as it is. They recognize me because all of us that exit together recognize each other. I don’t know why they aren’t coming from the same place. I could easily ask them, but why? My explanation is as meaningful as theirs because I don’t have a pony in their race. And while truth is often stranger than fiction, sure knowledge lacks mystery.

And mystery is the dark matter that propels it all.

I used to have this girlfriend. We were in college together in New Hampshire. Back then, she was the love of my life because she was my first love. Her name was Carole and she was excellent in every way and through the good fortune of youth and my own inadequacies I was spared a life with her. We lived in a divided up old Victorian with 16 bedrooms. One person per room, except at night when a room might be empty and another room might have double occupancy. I’m still friend’s with one of our housemates, Dave. I think it’s my friendship with Dave that reminds me of Carole.

After I left college, Carole and I drifted without direction; further apart and further away until the distance was just too great to bother with. I was 19 and working in a factory. I quit and went traveling around the country. I did that a lot in my youth. I would just get in the car and go. My car or someone else’s, it didn’t matter. Backpack, sleeping bag, camp-stove. Sleep in state parks, bath in town pools, see my country, keep an eye out for local pies.

Heading east, I woke up one morning in a town park on the outskirts of Kansas City, Kansas. I was making my way towards Philadelphia to begin art school; my wanderings having run out of time. I sat over my camp-stove, boiling water for hot chocolate and instant oatmeal, studying the map and considering my options; fast and boring interstates or slow and interesting back roads? It was a Saturday morning. I needed to be in school first thing Tuesday. I only had 3 days but my search for the best route kept pulling me north.

I think detours begin somewhere in the chest. The heart, the lungs, the throat. That’s where you feel detours developing. Then up into the brain for calculating purposes; back down into the chest; double check with the brain. Decide.

Fueled only by beer, sandwiches and desire I drove straight through to Durham, New Hampshire; about 1500 miles. It took something like 28 hours but I wanted to see Carole. I missed her. I stayed for a day and then I left for school. I never saw her again  but I never forgot her either.

Years later, I moved to New York City and eventually, through Dave, I found out that Carole had also moved to New York. Carole is a redhead and every now and then, when I would see a redhead, I would think of her and look for her face in the crowd. I found her name in the phone book and it felt strange. Something we’d started had, to my mind, never been properly completed.

I had always wondered what ever happened to her. I don’t know why but isn’t that always the case? Don’t we always wonder what ever happened to the people who inspired so much emotion? Especially those relationships that  have no clear ending.

More years passed but eventually we did meet up though I don’t recall how that happened. I credit Dave but he calls it blame and doesn’t want any part of it. Carole and I met at a bar and she told me about herself. She asked if I was seeing anyone and I said that I was seeing Heather. She asked if I thought I would marry Heather and I said yes, I thought I probably would. That was only slightly dishonest because, although we were not yet engaged, I have always known that, given the chance, I would marry Heather. I would marry her yesterday; I would marry her tomorrow.

At length, I realized that Carole and I shared nothing in common but our history.

I want to say that this meeting with Carole satisfied the question of what ever happened to her, but in a way it really didn’t. I realized that the reason I hadn’t known, was the very reason that we hadn’t stayed together. I simply hadn’t cared enough and neither had she. The question of what had become of her was so much more interesting than any possible answer that it ended my curiosity about pretty much everyone I ever lost touch with. In a way it was a gift because it freed me to move forward without regret or regard for the past.

In retrospect, I guess the real question wasn’t, What ever happened to her? The real question was, What ever happened to us? but the same answers apply. People like to assign blame for this sort of thing but assigning blame is a pointless exercise. It didn’t work out. That’s all. We were simply heading in different directions.

These days I only think of Carole when I see Dave and only by force of habit. It’s the dried flower of memory. The softness is gone. The scent, with all its associations is gone. Its fertility and promise are gone. But still, it is a flower, worthy of a moments recognition; a reminder that once upon a time, something innocent held an impossible mystery.

 

Duct Tape

 mousey

A man, A mouse, A dog, A house

 

About a week ago I saw a mouse in the kitchen. Actually, the dog and I both saw it. The mouse ran out from under the stove, zipped across the floor and under the dish washer. The dog looked up from her food dish and tracked the intruder with her eyes. Then she looked up at me to confirm that we had seen something. Satisfied with whatever she saw in my face she put her head back down in her bowl.

 

I got out a bunch of glue traps and figured I’d have it all wrapped up by morning. Morning came; nothing. And the next and the next. Ok, so these critters come in from the garden now and then; it’s been another unusually warm winter so maybe it slipped back under the door and returned to the wilds of Brooklyn. Having mentally set the mouse outside for the moment, I am left to wonder: How long do we call something unusual that seems to happen every year?

 

Days pass and last night my little guy and I are in the living room, sitting on the couch, working on his math homework. He takes a break to get a snack which is something he does about every twenty minutes, pretty much ’round the clock. He returns from the kitchen and says:

 

“Dad, there’s a lizard in the kitchen.”

 

My little guy is kind of known for attaching the wrong word to things but I suppose it is in the realm of possibility that someone’s lizard has wandered in. Still, it seems like an unlikely coincidence. I ask him where he saw it, just to confirm what I already know.

 

“It’s right under the thing with the numbers.”

 

There is only one thing with numbers in the kitchen and it’s the stove clock. Uh oh! That doesn’t confirm what I know. I’m still thinking floor. I can feel the paradigm shifting; it’s making me a little bit queasy. The laissez-faire approach isn’t going to work. I’m going to have to kill something.

 

“There’s a lizard in the kitchen? Is it possible he saw a lizard?”

 

Oop, it’s The Wife. Her paradigm is shifting all over the place.

 

This needs to be handled gingerly. She hates rodents of any kind. She also hates lizards. And amphibians. She’s not altogether too fond of birds either. Or fish. Insects, of course. Come to think of it, she’s shown a diminishing interest in children and the vast majority of adults too. She likes me and the dog. The dog and I are about on an even footing; we are locked in a battle for her affection. If I’m the bearer of bad news the wife is gonna freak and the dog is gonna rule, at least for a minute. Thankfully I can pretty much count on the dog to soil the rug at regular intervals but let’s face it, this is also a test of my manliness. And while ordinarily I am an excellent test taker, manliness may not be my strongest subject. Forced to choose sides along the hunter-gatherer divide, I would much rather gather. You don’t even need to force me; I like it better there. It’s like treasure hunting for snacks. Sure I could hunt for my meat if I had to but the fact is, I prefer to do my hunting with a fork. At Peter Luger’s or Spark’s; Smith & Wollensky or The Capital Grille; Five Guys Burgers & Fries or even a nice, store bought pemmican. The only thing I’m really able to kill with any efficiency is time. But that’s not gonna put Chateaubriand on the table or rid me of Stuart Little here.

 

I’m a product of urban civilization; highly evolved with a specialized skill-set but subject to bouts of the heebie-jeebies. Now it’s time to bring that skill-set to bear on this mouse. My specialty is heavy construction and I’m not sure how cranes, gas powered tools and concrete are going to help me sort this out but I feel certain they will.

 

“Okay pal, show me where you saw the lizard.”

 

Off to the kitchen and …… look at that; there’s a mouse on the stove top. We make eye contact and he’s into the heat vent for the oven, directly below the clock. Oh, this is gonna be a snap. Out with the glue traps again, I surround the vents and fire up the oven. In a few minutes the heat will drive the mouse out of the vents onto the traps and voila, mouse on the half shell. Until then I get back to parsing word problems with my young Einstein.

 

Okay, so let’s see:

 

Sheena needs to bake 55 cookies for her sleepover. She has already baked 21 cookies.

How long before Sheena realizes that cookies are loaded with refined sugar

and saturated fats and that diabetes is epidemic in her demographic?

 

It’s the new, New Math. I’m just here for moral support.

 

I return to the kitchen a little while later to collect my prey and there he is scampering across the counter seeking cover behind the fruit bowl. How is that possible? Really, it isn’t. It’s Inconceivable! He was completely surrounded by space age adhesive. I don’t have time to figure it out. He’s cornered and cowering and therefore at his most dangerous. His lightening speed, his barely discernible claws and somewhat bucked teeth are nothing to mess around with. I know! I saw that first Alien movie. Ferocious things come in small packages that come blasting out of your chest cavity. He’s capable of anything and I need to carefully guard my internal organs and major arteries as well as be ready for a screaming retreat if he turns and attacks.

 

And that’s the problem. What I want to do is stand up on a chair and shriek like a little girl. Mice give me the willies. I think it’s the hairless tail. But I’m gonna be no ones hero up on that chair. So what I’m gonna do is release the inner predator. Ok, I’ve released the inner predator and he doesn’t want to come out. Mice give him the willies too. I’m gonna have to go in there and drag his sorry predatory ass out and apply a little shame and encouragement. That done, I am now ready for battle. In his corner, a half ounce of mouse. Possibly ferocious. You can never tell, you know? In my corner, 155 pounds of Hebrew National Bologna. Unquestionably loyal. Questionably brave. Ferocious? I guess you never know until you’re cornered but all the evidence points somewhere west of fearsome; closer I think, to squeamish and reckless. You work with what you’ve got.

 

I rearrange the glue traps at the end of the counter, blocking his way back to the stove. I rustle the fruit bowl and he’s off again and…. I don’t believe it! He has somehow made it tiptoeing at high speed (my goodness they’re fast) across the traps on their plastic rims? Is that what I saw? Unbelievable! Inconceivable!

 

He crosses the stove to the counter on the far side and squeezes into the alcove that holds the microwave. I remember when microwaves first came out. If I had one of those beauties, before the shielding was more or less perfected, I could have turned the microwave to high and nuked him like one of those little pink potatoes. Just another drawback of man’s mastery over nature I suppose. 

 

The important thing is, he’s cornered. The problem is I can’t get at him. Once again I surround the area with glue traps but I’m losing confidence. I need to flush him out and force him onto a trap. But if I walk away I know he will somehow make good his escape. Time to call in my helpmate. By now she’s upstairs in bed with the dog warming her feet. I call her cell phone from my cell phone so as not to arouse suspicion or curiosity from the kids. I don’t need them to see either possible outcome. The one where I waste the City Mouse of storybook fame or the one where the helpless little creature kicks my ass.

 

Hi Honey. Are you two cozy up there?

That’s nice.

Could you please bring me

 

The Duct Tape and Some Bleach

 

Oh Yeah!

 

Gonna bring down some Trench Warfare on his furry little ass!

 

In my one hand, I am armed with Duct Tape; the indispensable tool of homeowners, jerry-riggers and paranoid survivalists (is there any other kind?) the world over.

 

In my other hand, household bleach. Sodium Hypochlorite (NaClO) 5.25%, the A-list antimicrobial pesticide and corrosive. Gas Attack! Cruel but effective.

 

I tape the sides of the microwave to the wall, I tape the bottom to the counter, I cover the top. There is a single opening, with a large glue trap in front of it. Pop the top on the bleach, a half cup down behind the microwave and there he is dancing across the glue trap on his extended little claws. He’s on the counter, clear of the trap. He sees me and jets right back the way he came, picking ninja style, like he’s walking on water. Worse yet, like he’s walking on pavement. It’s Inconceivable. If I so much as look at one of those traps it sticks to my elbow.

 

On reflection, these many days later, it occurs to me that this little creature, with its awesome will to survive and its Fred Astaire like dance moves, might have made a fine little pet. But that is today. Last week my course was set. I was determined to follow it through to its hopefully bloodless conclusion.

 

For House & Family!

 

To paraphrase an old saying, if you can’t bring the mouse to the trap, you must bring the trap to the mouse. I seal the entire microwave to the surrounding wall and counter after dumping more bleach. It’s unconditional warfare now. People used to do this to each other so there’s a lot of historical evidence as to its efficaciousness.

 

Ok so that’s a wrap. I wash up and go to bed figuring to dispose of the mortal remains before I go to work and before anyone gets up tomorrow morning.

 

~O~

 

Rise and shine and let’s go see the carnage. Pull the tape, slowly pull the microwave out of its niche; it’s creepy, you know. Dead things are creepy. And mice give me the willies. I am facing down a case of the creeping willies here.

 

What is this? No mouse? Just an empty bag of Gummi-bears? You know, I was wondering where those got off to. So this is where the kids hide the evidence. Only the evidence isn’t so empty. Theres a live tail sticking out. It’s Inconceivable!

 

Thats it! I’ve had enough! I cover the bag with a bleach soaked dish cloth and an oven mitt to prevent escape and I start punching. This is maddening! It’s an outrage! I’m all juiced up with disgust and regret but the inner predator is out and he’s pissed.

 

I want it to be over but nothing is going to be easy about this one. No tidy package to slip into a bag and forget about. This will be a killing. In cold blood. Blunt force trauma. I’m shooting for the stars. Infinity and beyond.

 

I’d like to tell you it ended there but it didn’t. I went for the broom stick. Like an overhand pool cue I jab at the offending mass with the handle. One mouse in the corner pocket.

 

I read somewhere that mice have no bones. The whole thing is built on cartilage. But nowhere have I read that they have no internal organs. I pull back the dish cloth and I’m detecting life. It’s Inconceivable! I’m beginning to think that word does not mean what I think it means.

 

With my bare hands, I wrap the whole thing up in the bleach soaked dishcloth and pick up where I started off. Duct tape. I wrap the whole thing up like a homemade baseball and I am done. That was brutal. I kicked a rat to death at work not long ago but this was more hand to hand. More intimate.

 

Later, from work, I texted my wife:

 

The Mousey has left the Housey

 

 She wrote back:

 

Thanks!

 

Somehow “Thanks” does not seem like thanks enough. I think I have Post Traumatic Mouse Disorder. I’m still a little amped up.

 

I text her back:

 

It was a mighty battle

 

Her return text:

 

My Hero!

 

Ah, sweet victory!

 

Move over Rover.

The man of the house is coming home. 

Day #7 – Courtus Interruptus

And so it ends, not with a Bang but with a Powwow. True to form, we The Jury, are told to be in no later than 9:15 so that we may get closing arguments out of the way before the scheduled 10:30 fire drill. By 10:00 it seems clear that something isn’t going on. Even John, our Court Officer, seems to have abandoned us. I guess it’s about 11:00 by the time we’re called.

Another juror has fallen by the wayside. It seems her nails had dried and her makeup was finally right and so she decided to go to Boston with her boyfriend for the weekend. She had a lovely face and a voice like a sharp tool. I’m glad for her departure because her entire opinion was going to be based on her low regard for The Angry Fat Girl. It’s almost like I care; not for the plaintiffs or the lawyers or even The Judge, though we did exchange a friendly glance during the preceding day’s session. It’s the concept. It’s flawed (wow is it flawed) but it’s decent. And not decent like it’s just ok; decent like it’s endearing.

At any rate, John, our Court Officer, does finally come around and leads us to The Court. He enters and closes the door. We are left in the hall for awhile during which time we decide that our case is very likely being settled out of court even as we stand there. Well not exactly stand there. Actually we shuffle back up the hall a few paces to the next courtroom. The door is open and we are taking a kind of professional interest in the proceedings. At length, John, our Court Officer, opens the door, gets the go ahead from The Judge and we file in.

The plaintiffs lawyer has his briefcase on the table and nobody has any papers out. It’s obvious that it is over. The Judge asks us if we want the good news or the bad news first. We all say “The good news” except for the twenty one year old juror who would prefer the bad news first. I’m sure this has meaning but there is no time to deliberate on it. The good news is that the parties have come to an agreement. The bad news is that we won’t be able to deliberate on this and thus bring it to conclusion. I must confess that up until this very moment, that bit of bad news would have fallen under my definition of good news. But that was a moment ago, and now, now I am inclined to agree.

More good news, she tells us, is that we have been an exceptionally fine jury. I believe this to be a transparent fabrication told to 99 percent of all juries. Still, it’s nice to have avoided the One Percenters. There is some levity as she notes that another juror has dropped out and I tell her that only the good looking ones are left. And then the really good news. Both lawyers want to meet with us to ask questions. Even the Court Secretary wants to be there. This is great because it will give us the opportunity to ask some questions of our own as well as decompress somewhat from this pressurized atmosphere. Not surprisingly The Angry Fat Girl speaks first. The shocker is that she asks us if she comes off too strong. I am equally shocked to find the group generally voicing support for her but then, we aren’t cruel. We let her know gently that this is the case but I doubt that it makes much impression. This is her nature; let it be. That said, in this new air, she actually seems likable and we are glad for her company. JFK Jr. asks the same question and gets a modestly more approving answer.

Then we cover some real meat. Tactics, and how certain ones work though they are transparent and others don’t, even when they are well cloaked. Who has credibility and why. Why some evidence was introduced and why some experts weren’t. The atmosphere can only be described as jovial. I tell The Court Secretary that it is a shortcoming of the system that jurors are not informed of the rules of examination and cross examination. It makes it more difficult to understand the tactics which are being used and it prevents jurors from mining out deliberate omissions.

JFK Jr. then closes in on several of the members and in a low, almost intimate tone asks again about how we viewed his performance. I see him more clearly now, not just as a professional polishing his delivery, but as an unwholesome contagion trading on his good looks and easy manner. However, his vanity is a useable tool and I use it for leverage. I ask him if he knows the other lawyers. He says that he has just met them but that the Spiky Haired Lawyer has already asked him to take a case. It’s almost too easy. I tell him to pass on this message. “Stop with the coat buttoning thing. It doesn’t work.”

Day #6 – St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

A Juror dropped out today. His kid was sick and there was no one else to look after the little tyke. That was the story; as generic as it was unconvincing. This has the happy consequence of bringing into the mix the one other person in the jury-room I feel like I can actually communicate with. He was the First Alternate; one of three backup jurors assigned for just this kind of occasion. He works in the field of Corrections. His name is George and I only mention it because the Religious Lady inflects his name the way “Weezy” did on the Jeffersons. To get it just right you have to tuck your chin in to your chest, make your cheek muscles tight and thrust out your lower lip. Were these two married, it would be ample grounds for divorce.

The Religious Lady is an odd one. She reads her religious paperback but her true love is gossip. Any gossip. All gossip. She is dark, small and rather uptight in a loose way. It’s not easy to explain. She is a stereotype of sorts. She has patterned herself as an Evangelical emulating a Protestant who is satirizing a Baptist. She is full of manic energy and quick to judge; the more so if a condemnation is within easy reach. And yet she will change her tune at the very slightest sign of rational thinking. I’ve been trying to figure it out in terms of race because these issues are clearly at play as evidenced by her several hair styles. These hairstyles suggest that she is a fan of early Jane Fonda movies. Barbarella comes to mind. She wears a crucifix that has the stars and stripes waving diagonally through it. A clear conflict of the separation of church and state.

This morning we are sitting in the jury-room. One of our comrades is two hours late and so we tell stories, read and snack. Sometimes we are laughing and shouting and sometimes the time passes quietly. I’ve read two hundred pages of my book since court started. Finally we move into the courtroom and sit down. We are immediately dismissed for an early lunch because the Religious Lady has a doctor’s appointment. We are to return in one and a half hours.

The woman who was two hours late offers to drive the Religious Lady to her appointment to make sure that everything goes smoothly for the rest of the day. They arrive back from that appointment almost three hours later. It is mid afternoon and we have yet to do a thing. It feels like the group is falling apart around the issue of time. Meanwhile, across the hall another jury-room is alive with laughter and shouting and there are fast food wrappers everywhere. They are nearly out of control and their Court Officer openly keeps company with them. On the other hand, they have been here for seven weeks. I think they would make an interesting case study in group sensory deprivation.

We do finally get into court and we actually have an Expert Witness for the defense. He is eloquent and credible. In a matter of thirty minutes The Angry Fat Girl, with the help of an actual Doctor of Radiology, has completely turned the tide around. Again! The painstakingly assembled sand castle built by JFK Jr. is swept out to sea. You can feel it in the room like an ocean breeze after days of fly infested land breezes. It is somewhat thrilling. The Angry Fat Girl is wearing a heart bracelet and locket and I think to myself, “Somebody loves her.” Then I note the wedding ring on her finger, which I had noted the lack of up until this point, and I feel like maybe they are only props; a way to ingratiate herself to us. It is beyond explanation but because today is Valentines Day I indulge the idea that someone does love her.

The cross examination by JFK Jr. is all about undermining the credibility of the Expert Witness. But as the lawyer for the Injured Van Driver, I have to say, he needs acting lessons. He ends up looking mean and petty. Both he and The Angry Fat Girl use the tactic of saying things that are sure to be stricken from the record but nevertheless are heard by The Jury. The idea is to plant the seed in your brain, never mind how. I am all the way back around to where I started, which is basically to send the plaintiff home with enough money to buy a lotto ticket, but I know the rest of The Jury will not go there. At the end of the day, The Judge admonishes us, as she does every day, not to discuss the case, even with each other until the very end.

As we leave the building, George and I discuss it intensely. We walk together for five blocks; I am lobbying him and I know it. He is not fully convinced. I will give some and so will he. We are ready to take this up tomorrow after closing arguments. George and I take our leave and as I walk home alone, I realize that the plaintiff’s lawyer, JFK Jr., never brought in a live Radiologist to support his Chiropractor’s claim. The reason is obvious; he wanted the Chiropractor to be the one to interpret the MRI, not a Radiologist. If he had produced the Radiologist who wrote the report, it would have given the defense a chance to cross examine. There are some very specific rules about how to ask questions and what can be asked depending if you are examining or cross examining. The Jury doesn’t get clued in on these rules but given a little time you can figure them out. Once you know the rules, you can unravel the tactics and the tactics are everything. It is very much like chess but, given this case and these players, it looks a whole lot more like Scrabble for Juniors.

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