Simon hated the coleslaw job. Each order at the Blue Fish Inn came with an order of the slaw. People could choose from either the thick slaw or the runny slaw. Both were gross to Simon. All day long, he was putting a scoop of the gross cabbage stuff on a lettuce leaf that was supposed to be some kind of symbol of life or something. He didn’t know for sure, all he knew was to scoop and deliver. Soon he would have his license and the money to buy his first car.

Occasionally, the thick coleslaw got too think. Simon would mix a little of the runny slaw into the white vat of grossness and all would be well. On this Sunday at brunch, the thick stuff was proving to be too think. So as he often did, Simon poured some runny in and got a long handled spoon to mix it up.

As he began to stir the yuck, the normally smooth consistency of the Blue Fish Inn’s coleslaw was not right. Simon felt like there was something in the slaw. Maybe a spoon or a fork from the kitchen dropped in. He got out his long, black rubber gloves, put them on, and began fishing around in the coleslaw which now held the consistency of the high standards set by the owner, Manny and the chef, Felipe.

Feeling something in the tub, Simon grabbed ahold and lifted the object out. He was shocked to find that he was holding a human arm, elbow to wrist, with no hand. He stepped back in shock. Felipe, the chef, noticed Simon’s reaction and asked him what was wrong.

“There’s an arm in this coleslaw,” he said.

“Oh, that, there’s always one in there. Manny, saw Motel Hell and thought the idea of putting body parts in the slaw would be funny. I guess we missed taking that one out. Don’t worry about it.”

Simon was a bit confused. He ran through as many thoughts as he had at such a young age. None of them brought any danger to him and all of them interfered with his ability to save for a new car, so he threw the handless arm back in the vat of thick coleslaw and went back upon his business of loading up the lettuce.

***I’ve been taking MasterClasses for the last few weeks. Often, there are assignments given out. This one was to write about the saddest moment in your life. One other note, I allowed ten minutes for writing, so the essay might seem short for such a heavy prompt. Here it is…

The Rental

Honesty in sadness is a tough one to write about. Trying to find the saddest moment of a life seems so disrespectful to all of the sad moments a person experiences. For me, the end of February 1998 had to be about the worst. There was a confluence of events that took me away from being happy and culminated in somber dash to get rid of a rental car.

My grandfather died that month in Texas. We were all together for his funeral. We learned things about him that are only things you learn when someone dies. That weekend was tough because of my grandfather’s passing, but it was not unexpected. He had been sick for a long time.

Two weeks later the shock hit. My brother was gone. We had just been together for my grandfather’s funeral and everything seemed fine with my brother. It wasn’t and I had missed whatever clues he was giving out.

Before I had gone to Texas, I was renting a car because mine had been smashed by a kid driving on ice. His car had gone full on bobsled and crashed into mine. The rental had some problems and when I returned from Texas, I made arrangements to exchange the car.

Then the phone call came that my brother had ended his life.

I felt a shock that I cannot explain. By nature, I am a problem solver. In stressful moments, I just get on with the business of moving through the situation. I rarely take time to grieve and if I do, I’d prefer to be alone. The morning after the phone call, I had to drive across our county, about an hour long drive, to change the car. While I was driving, I had to fight back the tears, but somewhere over on Route 100, I lost it at a stoplight. I cried about as hard as I could. When I looked to my left, there were kids in their car laughing at me as I wailed.

I felt nothing for them. My brother was gone.

Twenty or so minutes later, I had changed out the car. The new car smell of the next rental was more of a cherry bomb scent, cheap and hurried. The rest of the drive home was a blur.

A big, fancy non-profit bought a cemetery. They did so to make sure that their manicured lawns were not associated with a rotting burial place that so many cemeteries become over the years.

This cemetery was the final resting place of many local historical figures. There was the writer. His plot had a wrought iron fence around it. There were the conductors of The Underground Railroad. Their plots were right next to the road waiting for the next person in need of help.

The problem with the big, fancy non-profit was that they over promised on how they would protect the cemetery. They, in the interest of tax free land protection, made mention that they would repair damaged headstones, that they would keep the grounds clean as if they were behind the stone walls and high admission prices of the foundation, and that the cemetery would be brought to the forefront of historical discussions about those who found their final resting place now stuck between DuPont’s highway vision and a fire station.

The years passed and more headstones began to fall. The ground began to sink. The prices next door continued to grow and the apathy of what were promises made on the hopes of the living for their dead were ignored.

Then, something happened. There was a blight that began hitting the trees within the hallowed grounds of the manicured nature center of the big, fancy non-profit. The water that spewed from the gaudy fountains began to trickle. Something was happening to all that unnatural development and it was eating into the profits of the organization dedicated to keeping itself going.

No one could understand what was happening. A fear began to seep into the administrators of the non-profit money making organization and the fear became desperation after the pandemic. In the hopes of getting some guidance, a soothsayer came to the grounds and offered some advice.

“Respect the dead. They deserve your integrity. Help them.”

The next day, crews were sent to the cemetery. They cleaned up the grounds and got rid of the weeds that were taking over. Leaning headstones were reset. Those that had aged to a point where the names could not be read were cleaned and the names cut back into the stone. Promises were being kept.

Strangely, the infestations and sludge like water on the other side of the street began to clear up. The grounds were being restored to their previous profit making level. The big, fancy non-profit would be able to survive and the souls of the those laid to rest across the street would be able live the way their ansestors had hoped they would.

Note: I’ve been taking Master Classes during the shutdown. Currently, I’m taking one by Joyce Carol Oates and in it, she has given an assignment to write for 45-minutes without stopping. I used the program, Flow State, to keep me writing the whole time. This is the rough draft. I have not done any editing but I thought I’d see if there was any reaction. It’s about 1,600-words, a little out of my comfort zone.

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Perfect lessons travel like express trains. The problem with learning is that there are often more trains on the track than can be handled and often that leads to some sort of derailment or headon collision. Such is the life of a teenager in townhome community. As if it wasn’t already hard enough to be be a kid, nature or China or some other entity threw a novel virus into the world and locked everything down for the unforeseen future. Kids were left out at what is supposed to be the most important time of their lives, at least as far as social development is concerned.

So the kids were left to the devices, literally, phones, tablets, computer screens, and gaming consoles became their only way to communicate with friends or go to school. Luckily, the start of the lockdown came when it was still cold and rainy, but then there were a few May days where the sun invited the kids outside, the need to hang with friends was greater than social distancing, and outside beckoned to the youngsters.

Back to the community thing, the kids live in a neighborhood that is notoriously polar. There are long time families without kids, senior citizens who have mostly forgotten what it was like to have children. They walk around eyeballing every little thing in the community and reporting back to the association any and all violations of the bylaws. Mostly, they have nothing else to do and are left to making themselves feel important in their waning years.

At the other end of the neighborly spectrum are the young parents. They have kids who are just beginning to walk and talk. For these families, life during the pandemic must be a nightmare. To have screaming, attention seeking, young and impressionable minds, and their insatiable need to love and learning around all the time have got to be insufferable. These families get out and walk with their large, three-wheeled strollers talking on the their phones, chatting with a walking partner, or baby talking their babies. They don’t have a care for the community at any junction of their walk because they are free, able to walk wildly, without the worry of entertaining the little rugrat who is bound and gagged in the over priced stroller.

So, it is at these two ends of dementia, I mean life, that teenagers get squeezed. The old farts don’t want them climbing trees. The young upstart parents want to make an example of them to impress their children. All in all, both are asinine.

I grew up in an apartment complex. I was loud, played outside most of the time, and I am absolutely sure that people were not happy that we were out so much. If I could go back an apologize to the people who lived where we played football, I would, but they’ll have to be satisfied with a big point to the sky because, well, I actually don’t feel like I need to apologize for being a kid. If we had been out tearing things up, I would feel badly, but for playing, no, I’ve got nothing to apologize for. The problem is that today’s adults have become little “bitches” who think that the world is only about them. Their memories have been crushed by the politically correct, my feelings matter most, I empowered to have my right trump yours, kind of thinking.

The older sect, their empowerment comes from the belief that the fifties were the golden years of America. I don’t think they remember that the Civil Rights movement was finally gaining steam, that wars would bookend their decade, and that John Wayne and John Huston were creating some of the worst stereotypes in the name of cinema. It’s that inability to disassociate themselves from the worst of their youth when they judge the kids of today that drives me crazy. Bad stuff happened when old people were young. I bet they did some of it themselves. Today, they’d call their actions, mischief. When the describe today’s kids, they call them hoodlums.

It’s the younger ones I have trouble with. These parents who are just starting out are not too far removed from the indiscretions of their youth. Heck, the little ones in those fancy strollers might even be mistakes. For these just out of adolescence parents to be so uptight about what teenagers are doing is beyond comprehension. What happens to us when we make another? Do we lose all sense of reason? Are we so desperate for control that we lash out at others in an egotistical power play?

I don’t know, but I do get tired of hearing people bashing kids all of the time. Please, don’t get me wrong, I equally hate excusing childish behavior as, “Ah, shucks, they’re just kids,” but so much of the hate put on kids is really a distorted perception on the parts of adults with nothing better to than the be… adults.

All of the issues that people are having right now relating to people are understandable. Covid-19 and the shelter in place orders have put everyone on edge. The lack of money flowing has got to be stressing people out. Then, they have to interact with others, either on a walk, in a store, or watching kids play outside of their windows and they have no idea what it means to be a human being. It means we support each other. It means we take on challenges. It means we are not dicks to each other.

Maybe that sounds a little difficult to some, but you’ve got to get over yourselves and understand the patience goes a long way right now. The walls are closing in for everyone, but having kids outside might be the best thing for them. They need to be outside hanging with their friends. They need to be outside running around strengthening the bodies. They need to be outside getting exposed to whatever germs there are so that their immune systems will get stronger. They don’t need to be sitting around anymore. A lot of adults who are wanting kids to stay inside once thought this way. Get them off of their X-box. They should be outside like we were when we were kids. You didn’t hear about people in our generation dying from stuff. We were tough.

Ah, the good old days, when a little bit of dirt was just enough to figure out what to do, but now, these young as parents who were raised in programmed play, travel sports, and play dates don’t know what can be done with a little dirt. It can be a base, turned into a place to play with cars, gotten wet and turned into a mudpie that is good for throwing on someone. What do I know, I’m just a guy who is somewhere between old head and young parent watching two teenage kids deal with the malaize that is adults who forget what it was like to be a kid.

Maybe we should send them back to school. After all, you need a license or certificate for just about anything. One major exception is becoming a parent. Any couple smart enough to dip a wick can make a kid. Any couple smart enough to want to do should have the wisdom of the past and be able to know that sometimes kids make mistakes.

But wait, they should also have the grace to accept that adults do too. Things are not what they seem. Maybe the events of a situation didn’t happen quite the way they thought. The adults should spend a little time watching Law and Order, the witness usually mess things up with some lapse of memory. Instead of jumping to conclusion, they should remember the lessons Elmo sang about taking a breath and go back to their recliners or quality time with their dirty diaper training wheel organic Kryptonite kids and learn what is real. Kids make mistakes. If they didn’t, there would be no need for diapers.

As my time here winds down, I’d like to thank twenty-six years of working in public schools for my warped wisdom. I spend a great deal of time with kids, mostly teenagers now. I look at them knowing that they are in learning mode. They have to be taught and as hard as it is to get through to them, I’ve got to be as patient as I can be. I’m not always good at it and I’m sure it will be tough to get back in the groove one the pandemic subsides, but I can sit back and laugh at my neighbors who have no clue what it means to raise other people’s children. They don’t know the effect they are having on their kids by yelling at other kids. They don’t know how their baby talk and coddling is creating some manipulative little mofos. Maybe then, I’ve found some sort of Maslow certainty where I’m comfortable with kids. I don’t really have to worry about the neighborhood kids. One, most of them are too young to bother me. Two, their parents are always hovering over them.

That’s not good…

There is an idea,
That we are capable of anything
When we set our minds to it.
Putting together a process
To help find that success
Is not quite as easy
As believing it’s so.

Dr. Frazier used to say, “Read.”
She knew the answers were in the research,
In all of those stacks of digital articles
Full of hypotheses, and research methods,
Conclusions, and statistics.
Collins might say, “Observe,”
He’d sound like Bruce, “looking out any window,”
Seeing the squirrels, watching their play,
Writing how it made him feel.
Spike might say, “Immersion,”
Soaking in the culture of the time,
Doing his own dance to the music,
Sporting the threads of the an era,
Becoming versed though research.
Each knows,
Each has a process,
Each gets it done.

I have an idea,
I’m capable of a lot more.
I’ve set my mind to it,
Relying on discipline, curiosity, and challenges
To show me the way to that arbitrary ideal, success.
The good doctor, Billy, and Mr. Lee
Are showing me that it can be so.