Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas short story

The Following is this year’s Christmas Short Story from Hayter. His 15th thus far..

“Lone Ranger, meet Joe Friday.”

    If the Christmas Spirit had already arrived, it had yet to visit Clayton Roberts. Clayton hadn’t felt a hint of good cheer for the past five years. As he climbed out of his ’98 Corolla, he was experiencing guilt, anger and fear. Oh, and desperation. He was eaten up with desperation

Clay quietly entered the Midway Vision Center right at quitting time on that warm, muggy Thursday evening. Could’ve been Tuesday. The days of the week were all jumbled in his brain. Likely the fear was doing that. “Anybody here?” he yelled in his whisper-voice. “Anybody?”

What was this all about? The facility was obviously open, but where were the people? He headed for the doorway leading to a backroom and that’s when he saw a guy sitting alone at one side of a two-seated booth.

“Oh, I didn’t see you,” Clay told the near-middle-aged gentleman. “Where is everybody?”

Jack smiled big. “Oh, I’m sorry, I was just daydreaming. Helen’s in the back, working on my glasses. I have fitting issues.”

Clay looked at the door to the backroom and wondered if he should go ahead and enter. Or should he deal with the guy at the booth. Nothing was simple. “Uh, so, what are, uh, what is, uh—“

The man stood and held out his hand across the table. “Jack Webb. And, you are…?”

Clay shook his hand. “Uh, Clayton Ro—uh, Clayton Moore.” Clay was too young to realize that he was now the Lone Ranger and was greeting Joe Friday of Dragnet. And, he was so scared and desperate he wouldn’t have cared had he known.

Jack sat back down and gestured for Clayton to do the same in the chair across from him. “Helen will be out any minute. So, what are you doing, robbing the place?”

Clay could hardly believe what’d he heard. “What? Robbing the— Why on earth would I rob a--“ Clay exhaled slowly and shook his head. “Is it that obvious?” he said.

Jack nodded. “Black hoody with the hood pulled down nearly to your eyes. A Raiders ball cap over the hood, sweatpants and mirrored-lenses. It was just a guess. Look, I could understand if you were robbing a fast-food place or a corner store, but this is an eyeglass place. They sell glasses. Nobody robs an optometrist.

Clay’s anger began to take over. “You want me to rob a drive-in grocery? This is Texas, for heaven’s sake! Everybody and his pit bull is packing heat! Everyone except an optometrist. Nobody robs an optometrist! And, considering the price of eyeglasses, they must have millions in here. And, no security. Wait a minute. Are you packing heat?”

Jack shook his head. “Oh, no. I’m one of 18 gunless Texans. And you? Are you carrying a gun?”

Clay reached around and pulled from the back of his jeans a plastic revolver with the end of the barrel broken off. He smirked. “It had one of those orange caps on the end, and when I tried to pry it off the barrel cracked. It’s been a really bad day… bad life,” Clay said.

Jack nodded. “Uh, I add to add to it, but I seriously doubt there’s much cash in here, ‘cause few people buy expensive stuff like glasses with cash.”

There was an awkward moment before Clay said, “So, how ‘bout giving me whatever cash you have?”

“No, I just don’t feel the incentive right now,” Jack said. “And, it being Christmas time and all, I really need to hang on to what little I have. Got the grandkids and all, you understand? Hey, let me show you my grandkids.”

Clay took off his cap and pulled the hood from his head. “No, no pictures. I’m not in the mood. Boy, it’s hot in here. I can’t believe this. Where’s the thermostat? It’s 75 degrees outside and they’ve got the heater on.”

He took his sunshades off and removed the hoody all together. “Look, you sure you don’t have a gun? Just shoot me, would you? I’m going to be dead outside of a week anyway. Gambling debts. Gambling cost me my wife, my kids, my job and -- I’d say that the day after Christmas -- it’ll likely cost me my life. What was it Lincoln said? ‘The world will little note, nor long remember…’ No one will remember Clayton Roberts, uh, Clayton Moore—Oh, what the %$#@, Roberts! Not even my kids will remember me.”

“Wow, you know the Gettysburg address? I’m impressed.” Jack said.

“Sure I know it. I know a lot of stuff. Just ‘cause I’m a lousy gambler and thief and bad husband and crummy father, doesn’t mean I don’t know stuff.” Clay put his elbow on the table and bowed and rested his forehead in the cup of his hand. “Look, if it’s okay with you, I think I’ll just go out and face the music. Do you think if I begged him, Earl would agree not to break my knees? That he’d agree to just go ahead and shoot me?” 

Jack nodded. “Oh, yeah, Earl Jones is a reasonable man. He’ll be glad to shoot you, if you prefer it.”

“Oh, &%@! I should’ve known it. You’re one of Earl’s goons. How on earth did he know I was going to be here? I didn’t even know I was going to be here until about 30 minutes ago. Ah, forget it. Tell you what, let’s walk over there to IHOP, I’ve got $20 in my sock and I’ll buy us some eggs and pancakes. After that you take me out by the motel dumpster across the street and do the deed… Wait a minute! You big storyteller. You said you didn’t have a gun.”

Jack told him that he not only didn’t have a gun, but he wasn’t one of Earl’s goons. Sure he had some business to discuss with Earl in the past, but Earl was too stubborn to listen to anyone but Earl. Jack told Clay that the IHOP idea was a jewel, though, and that he was a big fan of cinnamon pancakes. So they exited the Midway eyeglass place and walked to IHOP.

As they sat drinking the second carafe of coffee, Jack handed Clay an envelope containing a bus ticket clear to Alexandria, Virginia. Jack told him that he had visited Alexandria back in ’53 and he really liked the place. Clay knew that there was no way Jack was old enough to be in Virginia during Eisenhower’s Administration, but he said nothing. He was too shocked about the bus ticket. Shocked more when Jack told him that Earl was going to forget about the debt. -- No way was that happening. Earl was gifted at retaining exact figures of money-owed.

When they returned to the parking lot at the Midway Optometry place, they both got into Clay’s car and drove to the bus stop over by the bowling alley. Jack handed Clay a few bills and told him that he knew someone who could sure use a ’98 Corolla, and would he mind selling it. “I don’t mind selling it, if you don’t mind that I don’t have the title with me.” Jack told him that he’d take care of it.

As the bus arrived at the bowling alley, Jack told Clay that he should call his mother, that she had been worried about him. Clay said, “You know my mother? You are one spook, Jack Web!” Then he informed him that his mother would not care to speak to him. That the last time he had spoken to her was 10 years ago, after saying some horrible things to her.

Jack said, “Well, regardless, she’s been asking about you. Praying for you, actually. A gracious woman, Edna Roberts. She deserves to hear from you. She’s your mother, Clayton. But, it’s up to you. Call her, or don’t. Ride the full distance to Alexandria, or don’t. It’s up to you. I promise you, though, there’s a purpose for you being there. And, for calling your mother.”

Clay promised that he’d call his mom, but said nothing about making it all the way to Virginia. Before getting on the bus, he started to hug Jack, but in an awkward moment decided to just shake his hand. “You, uh… Thank you, Jack Webb,” he said. Said it with a tear cascading down his cheek.

As the bus, pulled out onto the town’s main drag, Clay looked from his window seat at where he had last seen Jack, but he couldn’t find him. Nor could he see the lady standing next to Jack.

“Well, what do you think?” Ellen said.

Jack, put his arm around his friend. “Well, Benjamin said he would appear at one of the stops along the way and encourage Clay a bit. Whether or not the Lone Ranger heeds the words of hope and grace… well, only God knows. As for me, I’ve got to go see Earl Jones. Try to get him to forget about a debt. “

Ellen spoke right up. “Tell you what, let me go visit Earl. I’d like to be a part of this. It’ll be my Christmas gift to you… and to Clay.”

Jack smiled and said, “Ellen, you’re an angel.”

He could hear her voice just above him, as she whispered, “I know.”

Merry Christmas to you and your family, from the Hayters. May you each get and give many hugs during the holidays. It’s such good medicine.



Saturday, December 21, 2013

What's next?

The something of which there always is.

    Okay, what happens next? There’s always something happening next. Have you noticed that? It’s been that way all my life.

    Kay and I just had some work done on the living room. We had the walls repainted, new molding put around the ceiling, doors and floors. Speaking of which we also had new flooring put in. It’s been something Kay has wanted to do for years. I’ve been putting it off ‘cause I knew we couldn’t afford it.

    Well, a month or two ago, Kay suggested that WE do the job ourselves. Have you noticed that there is no “I” in we? There’s not even a “me” in we. However, when Kay says the word “we,” it comes out with an “I” and a “me” right in the middle of it. I don’t know how she does it.

    Without arguing I told Kay that I would never paint another room with her… or without her for that matter. There is no “we” in painting. I did tell her that I would seek out the funds to have someone else do all the work. I found ‘em, too. Turns out, our savings account was set aside for the wrong thing. Instead of “Alaskan Cruise” it should have been designated for “Living Room.” 

    We ended up hiring the Dirty Birds Service for the entire job. Dirty Birds is the name that Kirsti Pollard and Theresa Hayes picked for their painting, cleaning, flooring, landscaping, and almost-everything-else business.

They did an absolutely marvelous job. Those two girls made our wish come true. Kay’s wish. Hey, it’s a living room. Now it’s an especially nice looking living room that Kay has long been anticipating. And, it all happened without my direct involvement. Life is good.

At least it was. Last night as Kay and I were sitting in our matching, newly purchased swivel, recliner rockers that took the remainder of our Alaskan Cruise savings, Kay said, “Okay, next we need to work on the study.”

The anticipation of getting a new look for our living room has now become a desire to revamp the study. That’s apparently our new “Next thing.” See? There’s always a next thing.

    I was on my way to school one morning a couple of decades ago when I made myself a promise. It was early October and the school year had just barely started. I had a bunch of papers that I had put off grading, and I had been up late at night working on my lesson plan. As I approached the Tamina/Research Forest Road freeway exit, I told myself that when I retired I was going to get up early one morning and pretend I was headed for school. Only instead of taking my usual exit, I was going to keep driving until I reached the seawall in Galveston.

    That was one of my “Lord-willing” promises. A decade later, God graciously let me make the trip. I wrote an article about the experience and have mentioned it a time or two. One thing I didn’t mention was the fact that as I sat there on the seawall looking at the gulls and pelicans and the sun rise to my far-left, I had a thought that made me feel a bit down. The sense of it all was -- What next, Mark? 

The one thing I had dreamed about for years had happened. I had been allowed to live to see the day, yet, I sat there and wondered – What next?

    It’s been that way forever. Always looking for the next thing. When I was a kid it was Christmas or summer or the annual trip to Bristow, Oklahoma. I don’t know about you, but I’ve lived entirely too much of my life with a “What’s next?” mood. I’ve missed out on a lot of “now” moments doing that.
    And, now that I’ve reached this part of my story I’m ready to reveal my “What next” part to the article. Anyone care to guess what it is?  Right, it’s the prayer that Antonio Banderas’ character prayed in the book and the movie, “13th Warrior.”  Okay, stay with me here.

Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan is standing in the mud and the muck behind a tossed together fortress wall. In anticipation of a soon-to-be-fought battle that cannot be won, he removes his sword and his armor; he falls to his knees and he prays:

“Merciful Father, I have squandered my days with plans of many things. This was not among them. But at this moment, I beg only to live the next few minutes well. For all we ought to have thought, and have not thought; all we ought to have said, and have not said; all we ought to have done, and have not done; I pray thee, God, for forgiveness.”

    It’s among my favorite prayers. One I need to keep in mind. Perhaps, you have use of it, too. -- Instead of focusing on life’s next thing, I want to dwell more on living the next few minutes well. -- Next time.

Click on picture to see the scene with the prayer

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Uncle Blaine Christmas

Be quiet and save a marriage

“Don’t say it”

    I imagine most of you realize that I love Kay. Love her a lot. She’s the light of my life, the Splenda in my coffee and my favorite sharer of movie popcorn. I’m sure she’d say at least one of those things about me. 

    Last week we had our 42nd anniversary. Some of you may not be aware, but the traditional gift theme for 42 years of wedded bliss is fuzzy socks with a tiny bit of rubber traction on the bottom. They’re not cheap, either. I got Kay’s pair at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Those people are not known for giving away fuzzy socks.

    In my defense for getting such a non-romantic gift, let me point out that Kay and I agreed that the two lamps we recently purchased would serve as our anniversary gifts. It’s practical stuff like that adds tremendously to the 42 years of wedded bliss.

For 42 years, Kay and I have never raised our voices to one another, thrown non-stuffed objects, or intentionally head-butted. That’s important in 63 percent of all successful marriages.

    The most important thing we do to maintain a good marriage is to heed the wise advice of Garry Trudeau, who said, “The key to a successful marriage is the two or three things you don’t say everyday.”

    I have gotten so good at not saying stuff that I sometimes scare me. Used to, I was liable to pop off at any time. -- “Darling, I’d love to play Santa at the church Christmas party, but I’m afraid I’ll be suffering from food poisoning. Speaking of which, do we have any pork products in the fridge that I can set out on the cabinet for a few days?”

    That was the old Mark. The new Mark is so much better. Take yesterday. Yesterday, Kay smashed her third lamp in two months. Two of ‘em were pole lamps. The other was the $120 matching table lamp I got her for our anniversary.

One of the pole lamps crashed because— Well, it’s complicated. It’s enough that you know that Kay did it. The other pole lamp committed suicide shortly after Kay entered the guest room. Kay said it just keeled over. Apparently, so scared that it lost its balance. They’ll sure do it.  

The table lamp she destroyed last night was an accident, pure and simple. Involuntary manslaughter of an inanimate object. Story being, I was in my recliner watching TV. I was just as happy as a roach on jellied-toast. Out of the blue Kay said, “Sweetie, do you like the way the room is arranged?”

I thought about it for a second and then said, “No, not so much. But, then I’m not too crazy about my boxer briefs that have no slit in the front. What is that all about?” That comment hung over the room till the next commercial. That’s when I said, “Darling, would you like to rearrange the furniture?”

She said, “Okay, if you’d like.” The dagger was inserted. This girl is good. During our rearranging project, the cord on Kay’s new lamp -- the one with the giant glass ball at the center -- crashed to the floor. She nearly cried. I reassured her that all was well on our small portion of Planet Earth.

After a major cleanup we got back to the furniture move.The last thing to move was an end table that held another lamp. I wisely unplugged the lamp and started to move it. That’s when Kay said, “Be careful, now. We don’t want to break another lamp.” Dagger twisted.

Had we been married a mere 35 years, I would not have let that cautionary comment slide on by. The statement was true. No doubt about it, we did not want to break another lamp. Had it been said three lamps ago, it wouldn’t have fazed me. But three lamps later, the implication stung.

WE? WE don’t want to break another lamp? “Darling, there’s only one lamp killer in this house, and it’s not the one wearing boxer briefs.”

But, I didn’t say that. You want to know what I said? I said nothing. I just let it go. In doing so, smoke slowly seeped from my right ear. I had sacrificed a portion of my frontal lobe.

It’s a wonder Kay has any brain cells left at all. The number of times that girl has kept quiet during my many disastrous moments is unhealthy as all get out. If a CSI team gave this house a once over, I’ll bet they would discover several impressions in the wall where it looks like a person about 5’ 6” did some serious head-butting. 

I said we never head-butted one another. Said nothing about the walls. A serious wall-butt now and again can actually save a marriage. Kay probably even did one after she got her fuzzy anniversary socks. Hey, did I tell you where I got those things?



Sunday, December 8, 2013

A beautiful evening on the roof.

“Shopping sends me to the roof”
They're starting them so young.

    ROOFTOP – Is it considered a bad omen when a black duck flies directly overhead? Anybody? One of you at ground level look that up for the rest of us perched atop the roof on this clear, cool, windless evening.

    Take this day and put it in Palo Duro Canyon and there would be nothing but camera clicks. Fortunately, cameras are banned from the roof. Too distracting. Carol, quit whining. You’ll get it back when we climb down.

    Over a period of a week House Hayter got 10 inches of rain. That’s not official, ‘cause the rose vase rain gauge was slightly tilted. An unleveled receptacle enhances drop collection. I think. Perhaps it’s the opposite. “Raymond! Yeah you, researcher guy! Look up “Effects on rain collection using angled rain catchers.”

    By the way, we’re on the roof today because of all the shoppers out there. There were so many of ‘em, that when I got home from town a couple of hours ago I had the shakes. Don’t get me wrong, I like people. Just not all at once.

    For the most part, the shoppers crowding me were civil. Some were even nice. I found nice people at Kroger, HEB, Lowes and Home Depot. Why two grocery stores and two retail home-repair warehouses? Because there is no perfect store. -- “What? No Yuban coffee at HEB? Back to Kroger! Khaaaaan!”

The only thing that really upset me about the shoppers was the fact that most of ‘em were walking right behind me. I could hear ‘em. I’m uncomfortable with people behind me. I may be related to Wild Bill Hickok. I keep thinking, are they trying to get by? Are they making silly faces at me? Are they pointing and laughing? Is any of ‘em packing heat?

The Walter Mitty in me wants to stop, turn and say, “Okay, everybody move along. You! Yeah, you! Put the can of corn in your cart and exit the aisle!” My kid brother, Big Al, could do that and everyone would see it as a joke. If I tried it, someone would throw a jar of mustard at me.

I don’t let that keep me from making ridiculous comments to strangers. When the comments fall on the serious minded, it never goes well? – “No, I do not know if Count Chocula is better than Coco Puffs. Why do you ask?”

I enjoy it so much when I say something silly to a stranger and he or she picks up on it. When I was headed for the customer service line at Home Depot, a lady came to the checkout just a step or two behind me. Being the son of Elsie, I motioned for her to go ahead of me. She declined, but I insisted.

I told her that if we were in line at my pharmacy, I would’ve shoved her down before I let her go ahead of me. She laughed. We spent our waiting time talking about our shopping experiences. The tough of us parted laughing. A good encounter.

I mentioned the pharmacy to her because I’ve found that pharmacists are way too patient with customers. They probably have to be, but that’s no excuse. – “Yes, ma’am you can eat grapefruit after taking this pill. Milk? Yes, that would be fine, too.”

“Hey, Mac, would you save my place in line while I go get a carton of Blue Bell, a scoop and some waffle cones?” Pharmacists. I could just punch ‘em out. – “Martha, I joke.”  

People behind me, people in front of me, people beside me pointing and grabbing. And, it’s not going to stop. It’s not even going to get slightly better in the near future. That’s why we’re up here today. I need the calm.

What I don’t need is bad luck black duck. – “Any word down there on the duck omen? Nothing?”

Forget the duck. Look at those birds! What are they? They’re shaped like quail, with the stubby tails, but they’re red from their necks to their belly buttons. And, they’re headed northeast. -- “Hey, Raymond, check out birds and belly buttons! And, we want to know what red-chested squatty bird winters in Newfoundland.”

Birds seem to get along all right, don’t they? That’s ‘cause they don’t have to shop. If they see a bug or a seed or a french fry in a parking lot they just take it. Birds are lucky ducks. Uh, just a second. – “Raymond! Forget about the black duck omen. Ducks are lucky.” I knew that all along.

Truth is, this brief time on the roof has eased my tension considerably. Venting helps. Something else that helps is a quote that I too often forget. It’s from Max Lucado. -- “What you have is greater than what you want. And, what is urgent is not always what matters.”

I’ll need to recall that a bunch of times during the holiday season. And, I’ll likely have to drag you up here more often. A prettier day, we’d be hard pressed to find. Thanks for sharing it. – Next time. 


Mark@rooftopwriter.com. You can listen to Hayter on the Mark and Cindy show live Mondays through Thursdays on irlonestar.com. And checkout the archives.