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.

She walked into the coffee shop a full facade of anything real. There was a perfect tan all over except her hands, feet, and swaddle of skin under her neck. There was the big jewelry, the costume of it all put together at a Macy’s counter. The earrings, necklaces, and bracelets all playing second fiddle to her two carat diamond wedding ring. Her mid-level heels pushed her retirement aged curves beyond the point of where they had been twenty years earlier when teachers her age thought she was the hottest thing going. Now she survived on the  guise of confidence and the miracle of foundation that hid her deep set lines of age.

She was pushing sixty-two, but but she led a social life that took advantage of every moment. Today she was meeting a man her age, but he carried himself in a different way. Where she sported a mini-skirt and low cut blouse, he wore Dockers and an Oxford shirt. His hair was cut like his clothes, conservative and business casual. He was holding onto an old man look in a most relaxed way, no wrinkles, no paunch, and no formerly buffed muscles. He looked good and had no idea why because he just went about life in a direct way.

Their mid-morning meeting had the feel of a first date. There was a bit of awkwardness when they said hello. There was also a bit of familiarity as he grabbed the back of her arm as she balanced against him for a kiss on her cheek. They ordered coffee and leaned in over their cups taking stock of their public situation. Perhaps this was a coming out party. Was it possible that they had been carrying on secretly and this was their first time alone in public?

“I’ve been playing a lot of golf,” she said.

“Really. How is that?” he said.

“It’s great, different from tennis. I can play a round with anyone and don’t have to be matched with someone.”

“I never thought of it that way.”

“I’m better on the course now, too.”

“How so?”

“I don’t throw my clubs anymore. I used to get so mad. One time I dumped all of my clubs right there on the golf cart.”

“Probably not the best place for that kind of display.”

“No and learning to control my passion has made me a better player.”

She felt the need to talk. He listened.

“Tennis, though, that’s how I stay in shape,” she said.

“And it works very well for you.”

She smiled, “Thank you.” She was a little embarrassed for with all of the work that she put into looking the part of a sexy lady, her true feelings were anything but confident. She knew her arms were sagging and her hair was only salon bottle dark. She knew her time was passing, so she covered for her lack of confidence with a self-centered focus on the accomplishments of everything she had done, was doing, or wanted to do. She went on with a stream of her nervous talk. He listened patiently projecting interest while masking whatever it was he was thinking about behind his poker face and timed nods of affirmation.

“I love going to the movies. I just saw Dory at the dinner theater place.”

“I’m not sure about this election. I used to take my students to Richmond. We would meet the most important politicians.”

“Broadway is the greatest, don’t you think. My daughters and I just saw Hamilton. Did you and your wife go?” This was her not so subtle check on his marriage in an effort to gain insight into his intentions.

“Yes,” he said.

She kept going, “My father was in the military. We moved around a lot. It meant keeping friends hard. I think that’s why I do so much. When we settled in Williamsburg, I knew this would be the place for me.”

“Us, too.”

“I’m not a big fan of the climate. I prefer Arizona, but this is home.”

“Did you ever live in Arizona?” he asked.

“No, but we went with my daughters and grandkids last Christmas. It was perfect.” She was making sure he understood she was still married. He knew this was a weak proclamation.

“You hardly look like you could be a grandmother.”

“It’s the tennis, I guess,” she said.

“Or the new golf attitude.”

They sat looking towards each other with less first date nervousness and more of a “now what” agenda. As the coffee cooled, so did her energy to keep things moving. She leaned back and took in all that he was. He was handsome and professional. He was also married to a former colleague of hers. While she had been friends with the other teacher, she always had more interest in him than she did for his wife. She was nice enough, but she could never put her attraction to him in a place that would allow her to be close friends with his wife.

“Why are we here?” she asked.

“Can you to come over Friday night?”

“I’m not sure what to say. I’m flattered and I would love to, but what about your wife?”

“She’ll be there.”



With about an hour until my son’s band’s show, I decided to hit a local bar for one beer. Lancaster is not my home town, so going to an unknown bar can be sketchy. I had driven past this old building hundreds of times, but tonight would be my first time going into the Swan Motel. The outside of the building was all Strasburg, vintage brick and 1800s charm. The parking lot was an unpaved dustbowl with plenty of room. I figured I would be the only person there since it was only about five o’clock.

I was wrong.

The door opened into a room with a pool table. A couple of long haired dudes in jeans and t-shirts where talking trash and eye balling what seemed to be an impossible shot. I didn’t stick around for the result, but judging from the yelling, one of the guys was really happy with the outcome. Instead of waiting, I had turned left and headed into the darkened room where the bar was. The Swan was a typical L-shaped Pennsylvania bar. A seating area ran along the back wall and then the bar extended into the middle of the room. As I passed from the pool room into the bar, a group of similarly long haired men and women were well into drinks and dinner. After them, two women with voices strained by a lifetime of smoking sat waiting for what would be a white bread turkey sandwich and fries. I sat at the end of the bar next to them. Beside me on the corner of the “L” sat a mother and son. She was creaky with white hair and I guessed she was pushing 80. Her son was loud, balding, and probably in his mid fifties. Next to them was a millennial who never looked up from his phone. Straight across from me was a walking tattoo parlor who could have been a hipster and he was totally into the bar tender. She walked inside the bar with the purpose. She brought the drinks quickly, leaned in when she talked, and wore the tightest most gravity defying suspension possible. Sitting in the crotch of the L was a Bermuda shorts, white tank top wearing perpetually smiling dude. He seemed more surfer than motorcycle and I attributed his smile to the speed with which he gulped down the drafts. A guy with baggy jeans, a tank, and a backwards baseball cap sat in at the other section of the bar. Finally, two couples sat at the only table. The women could not stop talking and the guys did not say a word to each other. It was almost as if the women worked together and the guys were just along for the beer.

The air was light and heavy. If it was a beer, it would have been a black and tan. The heaviness came from the cigarettes. Other than the bartender, I was the only person not smoking. Normally, I would have avoided a bar like this, but given the short amount of time that I had it was no problem soaking in the second smokes from all around the room. The lightness of the air was in the conversation. Everyone sitting around the bar, except the baggy pants guy who was off on his own, took part in the conversation. The focal point of the of all the talking was a soccer game on television. The United States women’s team was playing France in the Olympics and every so often the old son to my left would let out a loud statement that would be judged by all of us sitting around the extended section of the bar. Jason was unfiltered and probably had been since his mom had brown hair.

“I used to coach soccer,” Jason said.

“We heard you earlier, dork,” said Ellen, one of the smoke strained vocal chord ladies.

“Oh, I didn’t know. How hot do you think it is in Rio?”

“We don’t know,” said Jenny, the other lady, “why don’t you look it up?”

“Siri, how hot is it in Rio?”

“The temperature in Rio is currently 88 degrees.”

“Just like here, hot,” he said.

At that moment, one of the soccer players got kicked and went down hard. It’s hard to tell the severity of a hit in soccer because they all flop and this was another one of those times. The old son had his an inconsiderate opinion of her discomfort. “Get up, you p_ _ _ _! She got kicked in her…”

“We know,” grunted his mother in between her whiskey sip and long drag on a short cigarette.

“I’m just saying, mom. She can’t be such a…”

“I know, pussy.” Everyone started laughing. There was something about an old lady using such graphic anatomical language that was bar funny. Nothing that Jason would say for the rest of the night would be a surprise, neither would his mother’s protests over his inappropriate-speak.

The smiling guy, Walter, walked for the ATM. The bar was old school, cash only.

Ellen had finished her half of the white bread sandwich. She and Jason had either know each other for life or had a barfly like friendship. They spoke to each other frankly in an attempt to expose every nerve and push every button the way friends do.

“Jason, why don’t you buy him a beer so he doesn’t have to tap MAC?”

“You don’t even know his name. Why don’t you show him your tits? You’ll know his name then.”

“My name is Walter,” said the smiling guy. “You don’t have to show me your tits.”

“Just for that, I’ll pay for the first fifty cents of his beer,” said Jason.

The bartender took two quarters off the table from Jason and the rest from Walter. Everyone got caught up the game and there were several minutes of bar quiet until one of the pool table guys started the juke box. Robert Plant started belting out “Angel Dance.” This wasn’t the type of music that I thought would be played in this bar, but I was appreciative of the choice. The game was nearing the end when Walter threw out a curious question.

“When do you think it will be over?”

“The game?” asked Jason.

“Yeah, what time do you think the game will be over?”

“Well, when I coached the games were ninety minutes. I’ll bet you a beer it ends at ninety minutes.”

Walter played it off well. He took his time making it look like he was confused and then said, “Well I guess I’ll have to take the over. I’m betting the game is longer than ninety minutes.”

“That only happens if they go to overtime. It won’t happen.”

With the United States leading 1-0 late in the game Jason was feeling pretty good about his bet. Time wound down and the referee added the obligatory three minutes of extended time. Jason went ballistic.

“WTF?!! Why are they still playing? The game is over.”

Walter was laughing. The millennial looked up from his phone and said, “They always add extra time to these games. That was a dumb bet.”

Jason looked at Walter. Walter looked at Jason and said, “Gotcha.”

There is something about being taken in such a way that removes the remorse and solidifies enjoyment of being stung. Jason stood up and bowed. The smoke stack sisters added to the smoke in the room with a post dinner butt. Walter drank his free beer and stretched his sudsy smile as far as his mouth would allow. I finished my Bud and stepped back into the heat and cleaner air. I survived one beer at the Swan. I couldn’t wait to tell my son.

Summer vacation had barely started when George made the decision to give up on his summer resolutions. He popped the cork on a bottle of Kentucky’s finest and got serious with a race to beat the melting ice cubes. He also gave up on reading, instead turning to Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and watching with hazy intent Jerry Seinfeld and Margaret Cho amuse the hell out of each other. George thought, “It’s cool when comedians laugh at each other.” That only lasted thirty minutes and there was more ice to race, so his glass was conscripted for another battle and the channel was changed to AXS and Bruce Springsteen in the uncomfortable position of having to watch people sing his songs while he waited to accept an award. George, bordering on foggy, could almost hear Bruce say, “Beautiful,” as Emmylou Harris sang with her angelic voice. He thought of Bruce, “That’s cool that he likes what she’s doing with his song.” All too soon, that show was over, but the bag of ice still offered a challenge and George was home alone, so he decided, “What the hell,” and flipped to PBS. There were the Highway Men, kind of a cross between the Beatles and Cream for country music. Each member, Willie, Waylon, Johnny, and Kris, sang a song of their own and songs written for the group. The guys all stood in awe of each other, appreciating the skills and magic of the others to make music that was cutting through the whiskey and showing George what gratitude and appreciation for the craftsmanship of others was all about. The PBS fundraising barkers came on and George’s pit bull needed his last nightly walk, so George broke from his search for cowboy boots on the Internet and waddled down the hall. They went into the soupy night and walked to Crick’s favorite spot. George looked to the sky, recently cleared of smog and clouds by quick hitting storms, to see the Big Dipper, it was so close that he thought he could almost drink from the gourd. A smile broke his momentary spirits inspired delusion. He smiled because of his realization that the beauty he saw in the sky was the result of another artist, One making it all possible. George and Crick headed back to the house. Willie was picking his raggedy looking guitar and letting loose with a most beautiful tune. The guys looked on, strumming and smiling, on-stage witnesses to Willie’s inspiration. George wondered if Bruce would like this song and how Jerry and Margaret would appreciate the talent of Willie. He quickly swallowed the last of the whiskey, crunching a thin piece of ice just before it melted, and turned off the television. The stairs proved to be an inconvenience, just as moving the dog off his spot would be. With his pillow just starting to find the right shape, George thanked God for everything and fell into a deep sleep, smiling, of course.

An IT-band can be an awful running mate. The fibrous tissue runs from the hip down the side of the leg to the knee. It’s the gathering place for muscles in the front and back of the thigh. I bet the IT-band thinks of itself as community builder with all of those muscles coming together under its protection. Today I think it is a scam or trap for it has brought a pain to my knee that has stopped me in the middle of a trail about six or seven miles from my car. To go forward on the loop would allow me to finish the miles I needed for my training, but the distance back to the car was shorter if I simply turned around.

How had it come to this?

People run for many reasons, vanity, health, competition. I was running for vanity. My son commented that I looked like a whale and I believed it was true. Sure it hurt, but honesty is best, right? Running was cheap, I could do it at night by myself, and it was an old demon I thought I might exorcise. High school cross country had put a mark on me that I never really ever got over. I started running minutes, then miles, and one day on the White Clay Creek trails in Pennsylvania I had the bright idea to run a marathon. My health was good, the whale was back at see, and after a couple of marathons the competition virus took over.

I set goals. I followed crazy running programs. I went faster, harder, and farther than I thought possible. Things at home had become bad, so I also ran angry. My running face was more of scowl than expression of effort. I had become sick of the nagging, tired of the union, and afraid to move on. To compensate I ran more, raced more, and generally scheduled my runs so I would be away from the one who caused me such pain.

There were morning runs in the dark before work. Runs in the dark of night. Long runs on weekends at far away trails. Distance charts and heart rate graphs became my support system. A shoe rotation system became my higher order thinking. Running was about all I had. My barber used to laugh at me and say that I was too big to run marathons. Soon my body would agree and on a visit to my parents’ house I decided to hit the trails for an extra thirteen just because I loved running in York River State Park.

My legs were beginning to feel the wear and tear of all the running. My hips were tight, my hamstrings were short and there was a knot in my calf that I just accepted as normal. Despite all of the aches, I laced up my trail shoes and shouldered my Camelback and took those first few ginger steps towards something I have a hard time explaining. I don’t think I conjured this up, but who knows.

A normal run started as a struggle until the blood and breath found a balance that let the parts move freely. The first few miles of a long run are about the mind finding a peaceful message and then thinking only of that. Sometimes I counted. Other times, I concentrated on the sound of my breathing. On this day, my mind raced from argument to argument. The energy of it all becoming an obstacle that I could not avoid. To quiet my thoughts, I picked up the pace exerting an energy my IT-band would not ignore. I brushed off the first shooting pains and then there was one step that might be the closest I will ever come to being hit by a musket ball. My knee locked and I hobbled to a stop. After resting and stretching, I tried a few more steps, but the pain was too great. Even walking was too much. All I could do was wait the pain out and then get back on the trail.

“Hey, Chris, what’s going on?”

There is no way that after six miles on a cool and cloudy day that I should be hallucinating, but I had to be. Standing in front of me and dressed for a run was my grandfather, Big Daddy. I knew this could not be true because he had been dead for two years and before that suffered with cancer and lung issues that made him more sloth than trail runner. Besides those obvious maladies, my grandfather would never have worn shorts or a headband.

“Why’d you quit running? You were fast today,” he said.

“It’s my leg. I have a kind of tendinitis,” I said.

He nodded his head like he always did. His eyes were penetrating, but my grandfather was a man of few words. I’m not sure I ever had a conversation with him. He would ask a question and get an answer and that was it. The same worked in reverse, no extra words. He would take me on jobs and errands with him and all that either of us heard was the wind coming in the windows. He always had his hand resting on side mirror and I started doing the same just because it seemed like that was what I was supposed to do.

“You know, I ran ten miles to get to a football game once,” he said.

“I heard that story at your funeral. Why didn’t you just ride the bus?”

“My father made me work all day and I missed the bus. He was a tough man. Anyway, I just had to run. Come on, let’s go.” He held his hand out and helped me up.

Standing was tough. My muscles had cooled and the IT-band was tighter than ever. There was no way I was going to be able to run. Big Daddy had other plans.

“You’ve already been there,” he said pointing back down the trail, “let’s go somewhere new.” He started running down the trail with the bullish gate I would have expected from an old, dead man. I still had a hard time believing he was there, but I followed dragging my pain along with each excruciating step.
“Yep, my father was a tough man. He was until I put him in his proper place.”

I knew very little about my great grandfather. He seemed to have been a rough man who got what he wanted with force and very little sympathy for the feelings of others.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I let my father go. I made a life without him,” he said.

“And what did that do for you?”

“It made me happy.”

On the word “happy” my grandfather began skipping. He was smiling and light in the air. His movement was infectious and I found myself skipping too. Each step-hop took me further down the path with a physical ease and an uncluttered mind. There was a joy the skipping that had been absent from the hundreds of miles that I had run over the last few years.

I lost track of time. It was like we were riding in his tar splotched Dodge listening to the wind whistle through the cab with one arm out the window. Before long, he made a turn and we were heading into the parking lot.

We stopped skipping and he turned to me and said, “Life’s too short. Run away.”

Then he was gone.

I quit running for many years. I never stopped skipping though. His advice was solid and my new life has brought the kind of joy I felt that day on the trail. Recently, the vanity returned and I’ve been running again. This time, though, there is no reason for for aches, pains, struggles, or angry faces. I may as well be skipping because life is happy and if running is not in it for the day, I’ll row.

Thanks, Big Dad.

There is a fine line between being a teacher and a friend. Teachers are old enough to understand that being friendly does not mean that students are extended the same rights as friends. Sometimes, though, students assume that cool teachers can be treated as if they are adolescent equals.

So it was on April Fool’s Day in 1985…

Of all the classes I have taken in my educational career, Drama, in high school, was the most fun I ever had. My acting was average, my singing was awful, but my enthusiasm for the class was high. There was something about being in the drama room with the different levels, no desks, and freedom to move around that made the day enjoyable. Memorizing the lines was a hassle, but it sure beat math and science.

As we filtered into the room we all found our favorite places. The room was set up like an amphitheater with a stage area down low and three levels. I liked to camp out on the, second level, left side of the room opposite of the teachers desk which occupied a fairly messy space stage right. There was an old, gray couch on the stage that had seen it’s share of life and probably harbored some biological weapon deep within its cushions. Most of the time, we all came in and started trying to learn our lines while we waited for our teacher, but with it being spring and April Fool’s Day, there was a different energy in the room.

Steve, who had known our teacher outside of school since he was a little kid had a crazy idea, “Let’s set a trap.”

That was all it took.

All of the kids who were on the swim team jumped into action. They started piling stuff in front of the lower level entrance. Their goal was for our teacher, who they were very comfortable with, to open the door and be blocked from coming in. Somehow that morphed into the couch being leaned against the door and the cushions being held in place by the door. This was a serious trap and when our teacher entered all of that grossness was going to fall right on his face.

Why I didn’t get involved in the construction is a mystery. I guess I was too lazy or maybe a little scared, but I couldn’t wait for that door to open. For some reason our teacher was running late and we had a bit of time to think about what we had done.

Jennifer asked, “What if he comes in the other door?”

“He never does,” said Steve.

“What if someone else comes in first?” she asked.

“Then they get smashed!” said George. He got a little laugh, but we were starting to think that this was a bad idea.

“Let’s take it down before something happens,” said Mary.

It was too late for that. The door flew open and the cushions came crashing down. Mr. “About-to-Freak-Out” stood there looking at the mess. A tuft hair hung over his eyes as evidence that the trap had gone as far as we had hoped and feared. The redness on his face was not from the cushion, that was pure anger. There was an uneasy laughter on our side of the room as we had gotten what we wanted from the joke, but we knew it was about to get bad.

The door shut with our teacher stepping back into the hallway. He walked up the ramp and burst into the upper level door. I thought the buttons on his shirt were going to pop off because he had morphed into some kind of puffer fish pit bull looking thing. He pointed to the mess and people began scattering.
“You guys!!!”

That was all he said, “You guys.” I thought, “What was that?” The swimmers were at work like it was some kind of sprint workout. Everything was put back in it’s place and everyone went back their spaces without looking at out teacher. He walked to his desk, threw down whatever he was carrying, and worked the moment for every bit of dramatic effect he could squeeze out of the moment. Then he said it again, “You guys,” only this time he said it out of the corner of his mouth.

For three years I had been in this room. I knew the corner of the mouth rant well. I was the target of this teacher’s particular idiosyncratic behavior several times. The worst had been when I flat out admitted that I never read Julius Caeser, instead relying on Cliff’s Notes. Mr. Side Talker let me have it that day, mostly for being a smart ass and being lazy. So today, I was ready for him to go off on his prized swimmers.

“Do you guys know how stupid that was?” Someone could have gotten hurt. In all my years, you guys,…”

“You guys…” I could not let it go. He was saying “you guys” too much. He did it with his teeth clinching and his hands making a fist. I gave it back to him just the same way, side mouth, teeth clinched, fists, and all. Again, his shirt buttons appeared to be about ready to give way. All eyes were now on me. So was the target.

“Excuse me?” he asked.

“It’s kind of funny the way you talk out of the side of your mouth when you’re mad. I shouldn’t have said it, but I couldn’t resist.”

“Did you put the couch there?”


“Who did?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Then you’re going down for it.”

He started heading to his desk for a referral. I looked across the room to the true construction culprits. We were all friends and they were all stand up people.

“It was me, Jack,” said Steve. “I did it. Brad had nothing to do with it.”

Well played, Mr. Teacher Man. He got what he wanted. He lit into this longtime protege and completely forgot about me. After a bit of acting histrionics our teacher calmed down enough to get us back to rehearsing. All of these years later, I’m not sure I agree with the “Sacrificial Lamb” theory of figuring stuff out, but to borrow from Chris Rock, “I understand.” Occasionally, my students will cross the line between teachers and students and use language or comments not appropriate for such a relationship.

I wonder what they write about me…

I got to the restaurant early and picked a seat in the corner where I could see the whole place. Sitting with my back to the wall allows the best view of all the happenings going on. I had not been to Drip in several years, so it felt like my first time there. If Starbucks is the Wal-Mart of coffee, Drip would have to be the idea that Starbucks wants to market, a cool place to hang out and have good coffee.

My friend arrived and we had the usual banter, work, The Wire, kids. From where I sat I could take it all in. There were suburban moms who had just finished working out before heading home to the family. They didn’t care a bit about the sweat or their sweats for they were confident in their lives. Then there were the suburban, recently single moms who came in all dolled up trying to impress with their heals and straightened hair. While Drip was a step up from Starbucks, these woman were way over the top.

There were men there too. Some were old guys who were out to read the paper, have some eggs, and just enjoy the quiet time that the diner atmosphere provided. One guy could not pull himself away from work and sat with his plate on his lap while he tapped numbers into some spreadsheet on his lap top, which was on the counter for some reason. For awhile I thought the crowd was too vanilla, but then I remembered I was in Hockessin.

Then the place got interesting. My friend was talking about sports memorabilia when I had to interrupt.

“Bernard Hopkins,” I said.

My friend looked back and our conversation turned to the history of this great boxer. I kept an eye on him and wondered how he might answer some questions about success, failure, and resilience. I wondered how he thought his experience as a boxer might transfer to someone who had never boxed.

As I looked around the room, I also wondered how many people knew who he was. We were sitting next to one of the all-time great boxers, yet he was moving through the restaurant without an entourage or anyone going over to him for an autograph or selfie. It was cool that everything was so low key, but kind of sad too, because he is such a great boxer.

When it was time to go my friend dared me to walk by Mr. Hopkins and fake a punch. There was no way I would want to inject myself into his life while he was having breakfast. That would be rude. Really, though, I wouldn’t want the punch that might come back because I’m really just a corner man.