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.

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.

________________________________________________________________________________

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…

The wind blew too many trees down for the power lines to handle. My dog, scared by the silence of power outages, and I sat at the dinner table. His ears were pulled back, a sure sign that he was afraid of the arrival of nature’s next indignity to hit in April. While his ears were low, his eyes were alert for any crumb that might fall from my dinner of bagels dipped in olive oil. He patiently waited until I offered him a small saturated piece. With no grace at all, he brutishly plucked it from my fingers. Delicious.

I spent the last hour raging,
Letting anger out about some bullshit,
An effing health club,
A place that should bring joy,
And then my friend texted me,

It was out of sorts for him,
Code for something is wrong,
Sappy, sentimental, vulnerable
Everything my anything but humble goat herding brother
Brings to our friendship.

It’s not that we are emotionally detached,
But we live in an old-school bro code
Where feelings are hard to express,
But age has a way of bringing life to a halt,
Making the bullshit seem a whole lot less important.

So the text was inviting, I inquired,
Two of our classmates died,
Sisters, two weeks apart,
One I knew super well,
Pearl Jam was playing, “Last Kiss” in my headphones.

My old friend, our basketball manager,
All around loudmouth who kept us straight,
Super sure that she knew she was always right
And I knew better than to question because
Sherri was Sherri. Today, she left.

Her sister passed two-weeks ago,
I imagine Sherri was heartbroken,
I don’t know what happened, I just know
I’m sad, sad for their family, sad that their energy is gone,
Sad that I won’t get that bear hug at homecoming next year.

This distancing, this aging, this whole mess,
An opportunity to reach out to those you know,
The people you might have lost touch with,
The ones you don’t talk to enough.
Do it.

I’ve been doing six-word stories for a couple of years and never done anything with them. These are the ones that I’ve written since my school was shut down on 3/13. There’s one extra for my peeps from the Y…

3/13: Dark acoustic folk raised his spirits.
3/14: Oops…missed that day…
3/15: The virus brought fear and panic.
3/16: Spicy food brought him greater immunity.
3/17: Everything will change after the virus.
3/18: Hanging out required some social distance.
3/19: Is Earth self-correcting with the coronavirus?
3/20: He was riding across America…virtually.
3/21: Deep breaths filled his lungs easily.
3/22: Tensions started to rise with time.
3/23: Losing Twitter set his mind free.
3/24: He wore out another writing pen.

And the bonus…

2/20: Deepwater squats are borderline fitness enemas.

Fred’s week went down right after he had his best swim. The water pushed him along, nearly parting as he pushed his newfound pace. There was a post-exercise rush that ended as soon as he got to work. The weight of shutdown culture came crashing down. The drowning nature of the fear existing from the defense of other people’s feelings pulled Fred under. He did the only thing he knew to do. He held his breath, dropping out of sight and stewing about what life was becoming, an unfortunate set of experiences that stole the good from a super swim.

“To him who in the love of Nature holds Communion with her visible forms, she speaks a various language.” William Cullen Bryant

“America has always been a country of DDDDDD and ddddd behaviors.” Steven Almond

This post is the culmination of many influences. It started several days ago with a walk on a hot summer day. It’s been assaulted with intellectual thoughts brought by podcasts. The words were given their genesis in my upbringing. And finally, they represent a suffering to get them written. So here, goes…

David Goggins is a man who has served in the toughest branches of the military. He also is a badass when it comes to fitness. I’ve only recently been introduced to his particular philosophies regarding exercise, but I think his ideas about getting in shape are less about the physical and more about emotional/mental fitness. Goggins suggests that we experience “suffering” to understand what we are capable of. The suffering is a sign that we are strong, that we have the ability to persevere, and if we are able to survive those moments of dread, fear, or dropping confidence, we can achieve our personal greatness.

I share that because I am writing this post under those ideas. I am using Flowstate a program that forces the writer to keep going for if I take too long of a break between words, I will lose everything. I set the time for thirty-minutes, a time that I have never attempted. I will be suffering, I’m sure, but hopefully, the post reflects a true accounting of my walk the other day.

About the walk. I’ve been involved with sports and fitness my entire life, as an athlete, recreationally and professionally within the sports and fitness industry spectrum. Lately, and I am guessing over the last ten years, I have been less committed to working out and it shows. I’m taking on that middle-aged paunch and feeling the effects of a lack of exercise when I walk up the stairs around my office. I have fought the laze from time to time, but I’ve never been able to commit to keeping things regular.

The walk was day one.

I left my neighborhood with a goal of three to five miles at a comfortable pace. I plugged into a podcast featuring Jamelle Hill, an ESPN writer/commentator and hit the road. Ms. Hill is an exceptional writer. She is also a person who is unafraid to call things as she sees them. With her candor, she has been caught in some controversies that have not necessarily worked out in her favor, but they revolved around important issues, so she is okay with the consequences.

My walk took me through my modest middle-class condo neighborhood, up a hill into a higher middle-class single-family home neighborhood, through a fifty-five and older community that is spotted with plenty of Mercedes cars of various classes, and ultimately onto the main drag the leads from my small, socially confused town.

Standing at the intersection of the roads leading into and out of town, had me thinking about the path through affluence I had taken. It had me thinking about the marginal path of comfort I had lived. It got me thinking that not everyone had the same opportunities that I have been afforded simply due to the color of our skin at birth.

With that, I made a hard left onto Ways Lane to see if I could work my way up to five miles. The podcast was over and one of my favorite singers came on, Bruce Hornsby, The Way It Is, and as you are reading this you’re thinking, “no way,” but rest assured that’s how it went.

There are two buildings at the top of the long hill that is Ways Lane. On the right side in the Boy Scout’s hall. It looks like an old school or church. There are three large windows on each side, a sagging roof over the addition in the back, and one of the most industrial doors I had seen in some time. On the left is the stone Italian American Social Club. There is ample parking and fine picnic space behind with a covered porch and a cabana separated by nearly twenty-five picnic tables.

Curiously, I noticed that through a thin line of trees behind the cabana, there is a financial management company that is full of cash. They often contribute to causes they deem worthy, but the parking lot, with its high-end cars, did well to hide behind the trees for as I passed the first two buildings, the scenery began to change.

Next on the tour was a barely functioning tractor-trailer repair shop. On this day, all of the bays were closed and all of the junker tractors in the lot were open and rusting. Next was a hovel of old houses packed onto a clean lot. Some of the houses were adapted from old mushroom houses and the biggest house was in the greatest disrepair. Its glassed-in front porch sported cracks and missing panes, while the front door had cardboard tapped over its window.

Again, curiously, directly across the street was a new mushroom growing facility. The clean cinder block, shiny HVAC units, and giant electrical converters showed that this farm was state of the art and it seemed to me an insult to the people living in the ramshackle that was across the street.

Finally, I made it to the bottom of the hill and saw where all of the old mattresses and couches go when the sanitation companies won’t pick them up. They go on tracks that once brought people to my home town. Now, it’s just freight trains passing through.

I turned and made the walk in reverse. I talked to my voice memo app with anger and the differences in the classes all over. I got angry thinking that this one street is marginalized because of the people who live there, because of the work they do, because of the location of their homes. My angst didn’t pass as I passed through the affluence back to my house.

It was a walk of suffering, a suffering of realizing that “me” is the prevailing attitude everywhere, yet, there are so many who don’t really have a chance for no reason other than they are able to get communion with the rest of nature.

We can do better.

colorful clown toy

There were a few minutes left in the longest school day of the year. My students were deep into a battle of kickball when the emergency lights around the gym started blinking. The calm and panic-inducing voice commanding everyone to leave the building. We went out into the blinding sun and winter’s wind. Luckily, the sun was winning and it wasn’t too cold. The students walked to the safe zone and we waited to hear what could have caused the unexpected building evacuation. Fortunately, nothing was too wrong. A bag of microwavable popcorn burned. The smoke ended the day.