The Portion Of The American Electorate That Annoys Me Most: White Men

“How can you say that?” I can hear one of my former “Facebook friends” (read: antagonists) blurting in a comment at reading my headline. “Are you ashamed of being a white man? Is that why you’d write a blog like this?”

No, I am not ashamed of who I am, or the life I lead. I’m proud of it. But I’d wager to bet there are a good number of white men out there, whether they be young, old, or middle-aged, who hold a great deal of regret about their own lives. This leads them to a vote for Donald J. Trump. Let me explain.

What was it that Ronald Reagan so desperately wanted when he first came into office? For the government to get out of the way of progress, out of the way of the business owner. And government did this. Regulations were repealed. Oversite largely dumped. But this also meant one simple thing:

With government out of the way, there would be no safety net. And that was fine, because these businessmen (Donald Trump among them) didn’t need safety nets. The assumption being that those who worked hard would succeed, those who did not would fail. And all would be right with the world.

In the years since, we’ve learned that Reagnomics doesn’t work, the middle-class is all but dead, and now people wonder how it all happened.

My response: It’s not about how it happened. It’s about how we fix it going forward.

A house divided on itself. That is what we are. Divided by class, by race, by political view. And we can not be expected to stand if we allow this condition to persist in our nation.

So we must root out the causes of our division. And, in this country, that means the use of democracy. we vote for the person–man or woman–we feel is best qualified to take the country in the right direction.

As Mitt Romney won them in 2012, Donald Trump is up with white men, especially the non-college-educated set. They see in him a savior of sorts. Someone who actually stated, at the Republican National Convention, that the country is broken and he alone “can fix it”. They believe this because, on the surface, Trump’s record is business-y, and if he wasn’t good at business, at fixing things, at continually succeeding, would he have gotten to where he is today?

I argue that, when you’re allowed to not pay taxes for eighteen years, it’s awful easy to look successful. Whether you are successful is another matter entirely.

Another point: There is a subset of this demographic angry with our current president. Now, the question is, are they mad at him because they truly think he wasn’t born in this country? If they still believe that, there is plenty of evidence, including his birth certificate and a beautiful autobiography, to prove otherwise. He was born in Hawaii in 1961. Hawaii became a state in 1959. End of discussion on that point.

Here’s the stickier question. Are they mad at him because he’s been more successful than they have, and he has a different color skin than they do? I know how I would answer that question, but before you spit out a response full of vitriol, take a step back. This is not an attack on anyone. It’s just a question.

Moving onto a different subject, let’s take a quick look at Mr. Trump’s opponent. Mrs. Clinton is far from warm. Her attempts to appear so often fall flat. She is dishonest at times. Find me a politician who’s been working thirty years in Washington and isn’t dishonest, and I’ll find you a unicorn. A live unicorn!

Hillary’s handling of her e-mails is not the greatest, either. She’s not all that tech-savy, we can agree.

And if you want to go back to her time as secretary of state, hers was not a perfect term. We all know that. The facts surounding this term have been litigated. Whether she’s been been proven to have done something wrong is a matter of personal preference.

What can be said as a positive for Hillary is this. She wants the job. She’s been preparing her whole life, whether she knew it or not, to be president.

As for Mr. Trump, he has been preparing all his life, too, in a manner of speaking; surrounding himself with empty-suit yes-men and women comfortable telling him he’s the greatest thing since Edison invented the phonograph. Should anyone deviate from this belief, they are immediately jettisoned.

He is allowed to do whatever he wants.

Decry women.

Brag about grabbing their genitals and getting away with it. This is not “locker room talk”, by the way. No one I know talks like that. If you’re honest with yourself, no one you know does, either. And if someone you know does, maybe you shouldn’t know them.

Mock the disabled. I’m disabled, sir. Let me tell you that being disabled does not mean I lack intelligence. I’m intelligent enough to know you’re the kind of man who grew from an insecure, sad little boy. No one ever showed you what it meant to be “different”. If they had, you might be a different person, maybe even a tolerable human.

But probably not.

This election won’t turn on what white men do, who they vote for. I’m just confounded by their choice to do it. While I’d personally love for them to consider voting for someone else if they’re leaning Trump, I understand that’s a long-shot. I’m just asking them to step back and ask what it is about Mr. Trump that so energizes them. What will he do for me?  Forget his success. What will he do for me personally?(Admittedly, what energizes me about Mrs. Clinton is her not being Mr. Trump, and I have no illusions that she will personally do anything for me. How could she? She doesn’t know who I am. Donald Trump has no idea who any of us are, and he wouldn’t care if he did, unless you want to donate to his campaign or something you do can be monetarily beneficial to him.) If you’re socially conservative and you don’t like how this country’s leaning, let me offer you an alternative to Trump.

Sit this one out. Come back in four years. If you still badly want to remove Hillary, find someone who will speak for you and vote for them. But understand that Mr. Trump speaks now–and has always spoken–for himself. Giving him the power to speak for all of us is giving him the power to ruin a 200-plus-year experiment that has gone pretty well so far, all things considered.

Please don’t derail it.

As for the Clinton voter who’s still debating whether they’ll turn out on Tuesday, because can they really trust her, my answer is simple: Trust her drive. Trust that she wants this job way more than a man who is probably privately shocked to find himself in the running for it. Trust Donald Trump himself when he said Hillary would make a good senator that she will also make a good president. Trust that, while no one is perfect, least of all Hillary, she will learn fast and be up to speed before President Obama has cleaned out the oval office. Come home to her.

Because we didn’t work this hard defending this country to let a petulant, ill-tempered racially insensitive, sexually frustrated, not-as-rich-as-he-claims, not-as-successful-as-he-claims bafoon dupe half the country–the half in which non-college educated white men still think themselves superior to more successful people–and wrest the reigns of power from a capable steward.

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Open Letter To A Safeco Field Usher

This was a busy weekend for me. Attend the Mariners home opener on Friday. Hang with my mom and a couple of my siblings Saturday. Then hang with Mom back at the ballpark Sunday to see King Felix Hernandez make his first home start of 2016.

I go to a fair amount of games. This means that I–and the person I’m traveling with; on Friday my uncle, on Sunday my mom–are always well prepared. We bring a clear bag for easy searches upon entry into the park. In the bag is my binoculars and radio (important to me since I’m legally blind, and these implements greatly enhance my enjoyment of the game). Sometimes, you might be able to find a ticket or two to an older game loitering in the bottom of my bag, because I’ve forgotten, or haven’t had time, to toss the papers in my recycle bin.

Sunday I got tickets in section 147, row 10. Who knew my section marked the boundary line of the newly expanded King’s Court on days when King Felix starts? I sure didn’t. This seat location entitled me and my mom both to our own “King’s court” shirt and “K-cards” to wave like crazy people whenever Felix got to two strikes on a hitter. Mom was told to go to the team-store, take her ticket with her, and she would receive our merch.

So she did that.

While she was gone, a couple people came by and said I was in their seat. Now all of our stuff (my bag, my mom’s purse) were underneath the seats we had been occupying. I was sure Mom had simply made a mistake, and I told them once she came back and I could check the ticket for our exact seats, I would move. The people were fine with this. “We’ll go get something to eat,” they said.

The usher–the same woman who, not five minutes earlier, told my mom to go up and get the shirts, acted like she was about to blow a gasket. “You have to move! These aren’t your seats!” She then picked up my clear bag, saw the tickets for opening day that I hadn’t removed from the bag (I sat on the 200 level Friday night) and pointed out to one of her cohorts, “These tickets aren’t even on this level!”

“If you’ll give me a second to explain-” I tried.

“You need to move!”

“I get it,” I said. “My mom is-”

“Where is your mom?”

“She’s up in the team store, where you told her to go, getting our stuff.”

“Oh… and it’s probably busy in there, isn’t it?” she guessed.

“Probably,” I agreed.

Just then, a very nice woman came up to me, held out her hand and said, “I hear you might be moving down the row. My name is Cindy.”

I introduced myself and told Cindy I’d be down the row just as soon as my mom came back, and it was nice to meet her. The overzealous usher said, “What’s going on now? What’s going on?”

I felt like John Goodman in The Big Lebowski. I wanted to tell that woman to: “Shut the F**ck up, Donny!”

If the Safeco Field seating host (that’s a nicer title than I’d give this particular woman)  truly has the goal of making the Mariner experience the best in baseball, as the team claims, perhaps they could learn to respect the fans who occupy the park in which they make a wage and treat them like guests rather than unwanted trespassers.

It’s just a thought.

 

 

 

 

Internships And Spring Training Trips

Life has a way of changing, switching things up, and putting you right where you’re supposed to be.

The thing is, it does so with such a measured pace–sometimes that pace can still seem something akin to slow even when we’re living in a world that demands everything happen fast–that we might not even notice some of the changes it brings. Yet others are obvious, maybe even painful.

I’ve always been a writer. Truthfully, when I first begin dating a woman, my writing plus my humor are my secret weapons. I think they admire my forging on through life despite my cerebral palsy and eyesight that might not make Mr. Magoo jealous. But I have yet to find the one person out there who says, “I choose you. Above all others, and in spite of–or maybe partially because of–your struggles and the way in which you handle them, I choose you.”

Have you ever found yourself at a crossroads that you can only define as a crossroads looking back, after the fact?

I found myself at one of these crossroads recently. (It made me think of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, until I read a little deeper and realized that poem is not about what most of us think it’s about.) When my recent relationship of two years ended, I spent a while after the initial shock wondering what it had all been for. (Then I wondered, just now, why I felt the need to end a sentence with a preposition? My third-grade teacher is probably turning in her grave.) We had shared so much, this woman and me, yet I had not been enough. My writing, my humor, my sarcasm, the last of these a quality that feels built-in to me but was honed by my loving grandfather (a quality I would not trade for a chance to write a best-selling novel, or a poetry collection that gleams with something critics call brilliance, because doing so would mean having to forfeit the best things in my life; the joy of laughing even when laughing seems impossible and the love of a man who taught me the sentimentality that, certainly in part, anyway, defines me.). Those things, as much as I appreciate them, they had not been enough to keep a relationship I treasured afloat.

My relationship was a sinking ship taking on water before I ever realized I should be unhappy in it.

The contentedness I so rarely feel in matters of the heart that was my companion then was also the thing that blinded me to what was really happening, the way life was changing, switching things up without my knowledge or, more importantly, my approval.

A writer has control. His universe is what he makes it. What he writes it.

A man with cerebral palsy must give up control before he ever knows he lost it. “I’m a go-with-the-flow kinda guy,” I often say. Because that is who I am, but also because I don’t really have a choice.

I love words, and what they can do to people who read them, but I also love the control they give me. “Shape this world,” they say. “Make it what you will. Make it a world with great castles, or one with peasants living in tiny hovels.”

I know how to write. What I didn’t really know–until life let me know it–was how my ability to write could actually teach me about the business of writing.

The business of writing. To a writer, for whom telling stories is the ultimate escape and/or communication tool (Sometimes, a writer’s not saying, “Come with me into a magical land.” Sometimes they’re saying, “If you take the time to learn a little something about my life, it just might teach you about yours.”), thinking of writing as a business is not easy. But a business it is.

For me, loving the business of writing all began with TV. That’s right, that box that used to be square and then flattened out and lost its boxineess. Every May, the networks (whose relevance we can debate, if you’d like, though not today) hold what they call the “Up-fronts.”. They have new shows coming next September, and they want to get their friends the advertisers excited. They couldn’t be higher on their shows then. The network presidents will say things like, “This is the greatest show since Breaking bad.” (If you hear that, by the way, run the other way. Nothing will ever compare to Breaking Bad, and if a network tells you they have “the next Breaking Bad” they are severely over-reaching and should be punished with low ratings.)

Low ratings, of course, lead to cancellations. Shows that networks crowed about–that viewers knew to be crap–removed from eyeshot forever.

Books–and the business of books and writing–work a bit differently, yet there are similarities. An agent loves a story or a project. The agent is essentially a producer, whose job it is to then bring their new love and its author to an editor at a publishing house. (The publisher is the network.) If the publisher can be convinced, the book will see th light of day and the eyes of readers.

But before this can happen, an agent must read many stories to find those that they feel comfortable sharing with their publishing colleagues. And they might use a second reader to help in this endeavor.

That’s part of what I’m now doing as an internship, an opportunity that came to me through my father, an opportunity I never thought I’d have. I love forecasting which new network shows are doomed to fail, and I love even more reading stories and helping to determine their viability. Doing so makes me a better writer, because I can spot the “what-not-to-dos” in writing, and sometimes in my own writing.

This position is new, but I hit the ground running, and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done so far. There isn’t anything better than feeling productive and appreciated. The agent I’m interning for (for whom I’m interning, my inner-editor is screaming) went on vacation recently, and she asked me if I wanted to take a vacation of my own while she was out. I don’t usually take vacations, but March is a big month, and my dad, my uncle, my second cousin, and I have been planning a trip to Seattle Mariner spring training for months, so while I didn’t take my vacation when she took hers–I kept reading, and I actually read something I love–I would take my vacation a week or so later. Our crew would drive to Arizona to watch baseball, do some casinoing, and revel in In N Out burgerness.

And–Dad and I are both writers, remember?–we’d tell stories on the road, too.

Stories of Papa, the man who gave me my sarcasm. Who showed me that my cerebral palsy only limited me if that’s what I wanted it to do. Who loved my writing–and showed me where I could make it better–before I ever knew people did that for a living. He certainly didn’t. He simply liked to read stories, and he loved and encouraged his grandson.

I was twenty when he passed. A week shy of my twenty-first birthday, actually.

My second cousin knew Papa in the abstract way that really young people know really old people. (My brother once wrote on the white-board in his hospital room, “Papa smells old.” He got a kick outa that.) The wonderful thing about that is that I got to tell my cousin just how much Papa loved him, how overjoyed he was that this new person would share his name, how Papa delighted when he would come over in the morning asking for “Hot Chocate milk”.

And, while on this trip, we made our own new stories. Some of which almost defy explanation unless you were there in the car with us, driving the twenty hours from Arizona all the way to the Oregon border. (Just an observation. Between Vegas and Reno, there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING.)

On this trip–this shared experience–I found in my cousin one of the best friends I kinda never knew I had. I had watched him when he was very young, but now he’s about to graduate high school, he’s a smart guy, and we make each other laugh. And it’s nice to meet someone whose first question isn’t, “Why do you walk like that?” I actually really liked answering his questions. One of them was something along the lines of, What was Papa like? I’ll answer that question any day, any time, because he was the person I wish I could be.

So, in the space of four months, I’ve found something I love to do–that’s reawakened my enjoyment of words and writing–and in the space of a week, I was re-acquainted with family and found a pretty great friend. And it all happened because life has a way of changing, switching things up, and putting you right where you’re supposed to be.

 

 

 

What Guys Say… And What They Actually Mean

So I’ve found there’s something of a disconnect between what women will ask of us men, what we say in response, and what we actually mean. As we approach another Christmas, I thought I might be able to help. At least I’ll hopefully make you chuckle while you pick up that last trinket for Aunt Mildred. (Does she like clocks? She’s getting a clock, because F this, and the store is closing in five minutes, anyway.)

A woman asks a guy, “Would you mind if we had a dinner party next weekend?”

The guy knows what the correct answer is. He knows that saying, “You know, I’d rather not; I’d like a couple of nights in this weekend” will get him a couple of uncomfortable nights on the couch. So he says, “Yes, honey, that’s fine.” Do not confuse this response for enthusiasm. It is not.

She asks him to go anywhere on a Sunday in football season.

He says, “Okay, honey. We can take a drive up the coast.” (for example). He has either A. Figured out the game he cares about will be on the radio, is DVR-ing it and will do all he can not to figure out the score before he can get back home and set himself before his TV’s glow, or he has slipped into a waking coma, out of which he will come the following Tuesday, after all that week’s football is played, and he will think, What have I done???

She invites him on a hike. He senses this is a test, kind of an Am I important enough to him that he’ll do this? and he wonders, Why do women test us men? Do I like hiking? No. Will I do it? Yes. Because I like her enough to gut my way through it. Hopefully she won’t mind next weekend, which I’ve planned to be, and during which we will be recovering from any and all injuries sustained today, in front of netlix. And that’s non-negotiable.

If he says he wants to go with you to a ballet or an opera, it’s because you asked, not because he offered, and he’s hoping you’ll want to go with him back to his place after. He’s also hoping he won’t fall asleep during the ballet or the opera, since in doing so he would lose all points gained.

By contrast, if a man asks a woman if she wants to watch football and she says yes, figuring it will earn her points with him, she is mistaken. All he will think is: Sweet. I found me a woman who likes football. And he’ll offer her a handful of Doritos while they listen to Joe Buck drone on about how good Aaron Rodgers is.

I write this blog as a public service.

 

 

A Spoiler-Free Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The force is indeed awake once again. It went dormant in the ’90s because George Lucas forgot that what makes movies good has all to do with character and story and nothing to do with long-winded trade agreements (or whatever those movies were supposed to be about; the first one was about pod-racing, I think).

All our favorite characters are back. And we’re introduced to new favorites. I love the new droid BB-8. He’s cute without being cloying

I promised no spoilers, so there shall be none. What I will say, abstractly, is that this new Star Wars, from the mind (and clearly the heart) of director J.J. Abrams, is the movie we’ve all wanted for years. “This is the Star Wars you’ve been waiting for.” Forget the prequels. What we wanted to know is: After the empire is taken down, what happens next? We get that here, in a movie that feels one part New Hope, one part Empire Strikes Back, one part it’s own, new form of awesome. For one thing, the way this movie uses the force is the kind of thing we all imagined while playing with our Star Wars action figures as kids. (Why didn’t we leave them in the box? We’d be rich right now, if we had. Damn!)

By the end of The Force Awakens, all I wanted was more. I would have sat in my seat and watched episode 8, if the powers that be had let me. By th way, less than six hundred days until we once again can visit that long time ago in that galaxy far, far away.

The Blog-post I Didn’t Want To Write!

But I’m a writer, and a writer’s job is to write, so write this post I shall. With a heavy heart and a lump in my stomach.

You know that feeling you get when you meet a girl, and instantly you just know your relationship is bound to be awesome? It’s the look she gives you. The way she doesn’t mind holding your hand straight away. The way her saying your name makes your name sound better. Better than it does when anyone else says it.

Throughout the relationship, you fall for her. You can’t help it. The way she talks. The way she cooks. The way she goes for a walk every weekend-morning at seven-fifteen because she wants to better herself, and you’re supportive of it all.

You show her Breaking Bad. She loves it.  She helps you rediscover your love for writing, and just how wonderful Harry Potter is. Answer: Pretty dang wonderful.

You spend two Christmases together. She loves your house and your ‘hood. She teaches you how to do laundry, and this gives you a measure of freedom you never had before. She finds she loves the Seahawks and how fun it is being a 12, too. That’s because of you.

You guys have reading time together. The two of you can sit comfortably in silence just reading for an hour and a half, and it’s not weird. It’s just what you do. You watch Jeopardy and marvel at the wonky champ who can go for eleven days, jumping all over the board as he does so.

You go to museums and check out exhibits on the civil war and D.B. Cooper. You think it’s wonderful that you’ve found someone who loves stuff like that as much as you do.

She’s there for you when your beloved canine brother of ten years can’t be with you anymore.

And then. After all that and more. Tonight happens.

The memories whose flames burn so bright with life that you can jump back into any one of them at any time… those memories are officially confirmed as memories. She tells you this is it. This Friday marks the end of the awesome. You want to save it. To argue. To fight for the beautiful girl and the beautiful something you’ve got together. But there will be none of that. She will have none of that.

With deep love for a past that made me better, and a burning hope that desires a wonderful as-yet-unseen future, I give my best to the awesome girl who went with me to so many movies, bookstores, cafes, and ball-games.

She is a good person.

 

My Current Publisher–Fed-Ex!

 

What does it mean to be published?

Yesterday was a big day for me. Lots of stuff arrived in the mail. I always like getting stuff in the mail–though not that junk that says Resident or occupant or notice of past due payment. It feels like Christmas or some other present-y holiday, except I paid to have my latest present mailed to me. The price was quite reasonable, however.

If you’re new to my blog, you may not know but loyal readers will recall that I have been painstakingly putting together a novel for the past seven years or so. Last night I received my latest draft of that novel, via Fed-EX. It looked beautiful. The white (what Fed-ex calls “frosted” cover and the vynl black back-cover. 212 eight and  a half by eleven pages, coil-bound. I love holding the book in my hands and realizing that, without me, without my efforts, that just doesn’t happen. I created that moment through hard work and patience. Patience I didn’t know I had.

There are some authors who can write a novel per year. I admire this ability, and the work ethic it must both require and, eventually, engender. But that’s not me. It’s just not. This novel of mine took exhaustive editing, re-writing, re-positioning of chapters and evens, not to mention a few scenes that received outright deletion, and while I love writing and want to make it my career, there were many tears.

Many authors can write a novel and then quickly move on to the next. Some have to do this, to meet their deadlines (see the novel-a-year-paragraph you just read). That’s not me, either. Short stories I can do. Novels are a different story (literally!).

So I’m sitting here now, a copy of my book in hand, thinking, What does it mean to be published? Published. That word really does have different meanings to different people, doesn’t it? Some would say paying a company to release and distribute your book is publishing. And while I have done it in the past, and there is one book for which I did it of which I remain deeply proud (“Prose From A Grandson To A Senior Fellow, a collection of poetry I hope you’ll consider purchasing; it’s a small morsel perfect for stocking stuffers or e-readers), I contend here that is not publishing. Not the Print-On-Demand part of the process, anyway. E-readers are a little different these days, and that is a form of publishing, because anyone who wants your book can have it in moments. The on-demand-type is printing, though, in the same way that “On The Road” wasn’t writing, argued Truman Capote. “That’s typing.”

I don’t know when my actual release date will be. I don’t even know the people behind the company who will be granted the honor of releasing it. (I consider it an honor, anyway, not to sound pompous in any way, and I hope they will, too.) I can only hope that when it surfaces, all of you will be there to celebrate with me. And I can also thank my current publisher and bringer of joy and Christmas-morning-like smiles: Fed-Ex.

 

Why You Should Think Of My New Book As Our New Book!

The day is new and still dark. My favorite writing time. The house quiet, its dogs (they really do own the house) not yet awake and barking at everything, yet nothing in particular, at the same time. I think about how I came to be a writer while I sit at the appliance that allows me the vocation. It happened in my childhood, before I knew what my life would be.It gave me a freedom nothing else could match before I ever fathomed being or felt trapped in my body.

Before I wrote, I read. In this regard, I am my mother’s son. I freely admit I don’t read as widely as she, but it is from her I garnered a love of words. We particularly loved The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, which we read together, about the battle of Gettysburg. If you haven’t read it, you should. His use of internal dialogue showed me how it was done and would be a part of the road map for my own style. I enjoyed Hemingway (“The Sun Also Rises” perfectly captures that time, that place, those bulls, those people) but always thought him a tad too spare with his prose. Richard Paul Evans, best known as the author of a short story turned novel (you can do that, if you have a publisher willing to be liberal in their typesetting) called The Christmas Box showed me that anyone with something to say could write a book that could touch people’s lives. That’s what I want to do, I told myself.  Mitch Albom showed me an author could write about God and spirituality without openly bowing to God or religion. My friend Jenny Milchman–author of such wonderful books as Cover Of Snow, Ruin Falls, and As Night Falls, suspenseful stories all–showed me how I could engage readers by talking to them and being kind and real. I had been afraid that no reader would attend a “book signing” of mine in the future, since I can’t physically sign books. When I have my signings, I will talk to each and every reader. Everyone has a story, and I will be interested to learn what, in their story, brought them to my book(s).

A book takes a long time to gestate. Even longer when you type it using two fingers, my preferred method. I considered several titles. In the end, I happily settled on Even God Makes Mistakes. The title is not a comment on religion as much as it is a statement about the character of God that I created. Although religion and I have never quite seen eye to eye; I will admit that.

Seven years after its initial keystrokes, my book is ready. It’s ready to be read, seen, enjoyed, discussed, understood. And its main character has the same cerebral palsy I do, something of which I am immensely proud,  because, in all the books I read, for all the years I’ve been reading, I have not come across a character that I could look at and say, “That guy could be me.”

But please don’t think that means it’s a book solely for people with palsy. Even God Makes Mistakes is a book for everyone. If you’re a reader, I want you to read it. If you’ve never sat down to take in a novel before, I want this to be your first. A writer’s purpose for writing anything is to communicate. I want to communicate with you. I want to show you something you’ve never seen before. I want you to read and tell your friends about that novel in which God is imperfect and the afterlife is just as much a journey as the life preceding it. And I hope you’ll get lost in the characters.

Though it hasn’t been published yet–so some might say this particular blog post might have been composed a tad early–I believe in it with everything in me. I believe the god or gods governing words wanted me to write it, and I hope my fingers have done it justice.

And I believe it isn’t just my new book. It’s ours. Because once a writer has finished composing, editing, and putting the finishing touches on his work, there comes a point when it is no longer his, when it ceases to belong to any one person but can be shared by everyone.

Come visit me to learn more about my upcoming novel. http://www.facebook.com/evengodmakesmistakes. Tell anyone you think might be interested! We are going to change the world, one reader at a time!

MY Novel–Even God Makes Mistakes: Chapter 1

With apologies to my longtime readers, I have decided to repost the first chapter of my as yet unpublished novel, for the benefit of my new twitter and Facebook friends! I hope you enjoy what you read here and find inspiration in it!

Each chapter begins with a poem.

I could tell you life is fleeting.

But that’s a truth everyone knows.

It doesn’t bear repeating,

Isn’t worthy of a refrain

Read while a tired body lies in repose.

As it’s a fact that too often shows

How little control we mortals maintain.

-An excerpt from the poem Nothing Is Forever by Madeline Mailer

Chapter 1.

Death, Part 1

            

              Terrence McDonald is 55. The year is 2045.

      

       The TV is on, and I’m on the couch, leaning as far back as I can. My heavy, indecisive brown eyes—their lenses blurred ever since my tumultuous entrance–flutter between open and shut. I am half-watching half-listening to a football game on a Sunday afternoon. Was that the doorbell?

“Who is it?” I call out, expecting to hear my daughter Megan’s voice. These days she is the one person who visits me. The only person who knows I’m making my home in this little oasis fashioned from wood felled by my own hand.

“Terry, it’s Mom. I’m here to help you move.”

       My mom? That’s not possible. She’s…

       Wait, to help me move? Oh, God.

I rise from the couch and glance back at my lifeless body. Five-foot-eight standing up, but now it’s slumped over, grayish-blue. A few stray locks of the black hair my father gave me spill over into my unseeing eyes.

       Shit. I still had more I wanted to do, damn it! Was it my cerebral palsy? We’ve co-existed forever. Has it somehow—in its slow, indirect way—finally done me in?

I turn back around toward the TV, and I see my mom materialize in front of me, a concerned look on her face.

“Are you okay?”

“No, of course not!” I scream. “So is that it? I’m dead. Just like that?”

She doesn’t say anything, but her silence says everything.

“How? How did I die?”

Mom puts her hand on my shoulder like she always did when I was a kid and I was upset and needed some time to calm down. “You don’t remember?”

“No, Mom. If I remembered, why would I ask?”

She is silent for another beat. “If you don’t remember… then it’s probably best if I stay quiet for now. My job is to take you Home.”

“I am home,” I shoot back.

“You don’t understand. Where I’m taking you… this is a different kind of Home. This is the place where you’ll find out what happens next.”

“Is there any way around this? Any way at all?”

These words are as close as I’ve ever come to arguing with my mom. That’s because arguing with her does not come naturally to me. And, considering the life I have, I never thought I’d hear myself plead for it.

“No, Terry. I’m sorry, but there’s not. You know that, if there were a way, I’d tell you what it was. But this has been decided.”

I pull away from her. Am I frightened? No, not exactly. But I am… disheartened.

Before I can get too far away, she takes my hand. “Come with me, Terry. I love you.”

It’ s been so long since my mother said those words to me—I love you—that I’d forgotten how true and convincing they sound in her voice, and how much I missed them—and her.

Without warning, we’re not in the cabin anymore, and I find myself in a house so familiar I am comfortable in seconds. The smells are familiar. The floor plan. The art on the walls. This is a replica of the home I shared with my wife, before she got sick and I moved into the cabin.

“See, it’s not so bad,” Mom is saying. “I picked it out and furnished it myself. Just for you.”

It is a nice place. Much nicer than I’m used to these days, that’s for sure. Not that I have anything but a vague idea where we are.

Now that I’ve calmed down some, it isn’t just this new house I’m appraising. I’m also getting my first real good look at Mom in twenty years. Hers is a face looking as youthful today as it appeared in the photograph announcing her entrance into womanhood—taken in her eighteenth year. I remember seeing this picture in a family album decades ago.

“You’ve got all the comforts you’re used to,” Mom explains. “Along with a couple you might have forgotten about.”

“So this is where I’ll be living now?”

The frown on her face hints at the fact that things aren’t that simple. “Well, that depends on your appointment, but I sure hope you will. Your father and I are just down the street.”

“Dad’s here?”

“Yes, he made it.” She smiles.

“My appointment?”

“Everyone has an appointment when they first get here.”

“What happens? Who is the appointment with?”

“I can’t tell you, Terr.” Mom takes a seat in the first of three chairs arranged in front of my large television screen. This is the only liberty she’s taken in the design. The original home had two chairs in front of this television, because two was enough for Mattie and me, but I sense Mom gave me the extra seat in case I should have company over. “Those who have been through their own appointments, like me, are expressly forbidden from sharing any details with newcomers, like you. Each one is different based on the soul and the life it concerns.”

“Ah.” Now I’m nervous. And not just because I get the feeling at this moment that Mom is spouting some section of a well-rehearsed monologue. I wonder if, at this appointment, everything in a person’s life is considered.

“Yes, everything is considered,” Mom says.

I shoot her a confused glance. Did she just read my mind?

“Oh, I’m sorry. We don’t often use spoken words or languages here. I mean, we can. And we will, especially in cases when explanations or announcements need to be delivered to a large number of people. God prefers spoken language Himself. But it’s more common, for those who have been Home a while, to communicate telepathically. I thought that was what you were doing.”

I shake my head.

“Well, in a few days, once you’re feeling acclimated, let me know. You can call me on this.” Mom produces what looks like a cell phone. “That’s a direct line to me and me alone. When you’re ready, I’ll come and pick you up and take you to your appointment.”

“Okay.”

But first, she thinks, get some rest. You look terrible.

I am a little tired, but what do you expect? I’m dead.

“You’re getting the hang of our telepathy already.” She laughs, gives me a hug. “I’ve gotta get back to cook your father’s pot roast, or he might go a little nuts.”

Sounds like Dad. A hungry Carl McDonald means an irritable, hard-to-deal-with Carl McDonald (I was going to say hard-to-live with, but the word doesn’t fit).

Mom pats my shoulder and disappears. This new Home is going to mean some big adjustments for me.

                                   

                      ***

 

       I’m going to guess it’s taken me the better part of three days—spent resting and recuperating from life–to convince myself that I’m really dead and, secondly, that I’m ready to face whatever might be in store for me. I have to guess at how much time has passed because, as it turns out, this new home of mine–furnished by my mom–does not include a clock. Not one. I only discovered this flaw after she departed, so there was no way to readily remedy it. Stores specializing in electronics aren’t plentiful in The Afterlife.

Wait, that’s not true. Maybe they are. I don’t know what lies beyond these four walls yet. I’ve barely moved since I got here. But I am as prepared as I’ll ever be for my personal appointment, so I pull out the cell phone Mom gave me for just this situation. It doesn’t require dialing. My connection to her is immediate.

“Terry?” she says.

“Hi, Mom.”

“You’re ready for your appointment?”

“I guess.”

“Okay.” She pauses, a bit too long for your run-of-the-mill pause. Something’s bothering her. “Okay, I’m glad to hear it.”

“What’s wrong? You’re gonna pick me up, right?”

“I was planning on it, but it looks like your Grandpa Jack needs to be picked up today.”

“Oh, you mean he’s-”

“Yep.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. Boy, he lived forever, didn’t he?”

She laughs. “Pretty darn close. I’m just glad he got to go out the way he wanted; peacefully, in his sleep. Anyway, your dad and I have to be there for him, but I’m sending your old friend Charlie out to you. He’ll get you where you need to go, no problem.”

Charlie. How nice it will be to see him again. It’s been a long time. This isn’t the only thought I have upon hearing Charlie will be here soon, but it’s the only thought I feel comfortable sharing, in case Mom can read my thoughts through the phone as easily as she could standing in the same room.

“Okay, thanks. Tell Grandpa Jack I say hi.”

“I will. And you call me when you and Charlie get to your appointment. Otherwise, you’ll have me worried.”

“Sure thing.”

We hang up, and I wait. There’s the sound of tires churning gravel and then a knock at the door twenty minutes later… I think. I answer it.

“Charlie Ewell’s limousine service.” He smiles and nods his head toward a jet-black vehicle closely related to a town car that’s parked nearby.

I step back. Blink. Once. Twice. He’s still there. My mind doesn’t know how to make sense of this.

It really is Charlie. Well, of course it is. Mom told you he was on the way. Yet despite my mom’s assurance, there is this part of me that snickers at most religions, labels them NOT FOR ME, and I never warmed all the way up to the idea of Heaven. Therefor, even after seeing her again, I doubted that my old friend Charlie would show up. You’re telling me Charlie will be here! Charlie? Yeah, right.

Just like I couldn’t bring myself to argue with her—Charlie can’t possibly be on his way, Mom!–I can’t deny it now.

       “It’s you,” I say.

“Sure it’s me,” Charlie says, as though he’s just shown up to my most recent—and last?–birthday party, cheer on his face, a gift in his hand.

“Like, really you.”

“Yeah. It’s really me.”

       “How?”

“I know it’s a lot to take in when you’re new,” he says, “or when you’ve just come back. I was so glad when your mom called and asked me if I would pick you up. I’ve missed you so much.”

“Same here,” I admit. The initial shock of seeing Charlie is ebbing slowly, like adrenaline leeching out of my bloodstream after an earthquake.

“It’s so good to see you, Charlie.” We enfold each other in a backslapping, how-have-you-been hug.

When we’re apart again, he says, “And you, Terry. It’s just now dawning on me how odd this circumstance is.”

“True. But under what other circumstances would we see each other?”

“Good point. In one of your dreams, maybe. You ready to get going?”

“Sure. Is there a set time we have to be there? My mom always said it’s better to be early than late, no matter what the occasion.”

He throws his car keys in the air, catches them, as we make our way down my temporary home’s front steps.

“Don’t worry about time anymore,” he reveals. “Time is a human invention. It is seldom kept here.”

“That would explain the lack of clocks.”

“Which always throws newcomers off. And don’t be nervous. Sure, no one who’s been through an appointment can tell you what your appointment will be like. That’s because appointments are unique to each soul, but they aren’t to be feared. Your appointment is a place where you will get the chance to ask questions and learn.” Charlie flashes a quick grin. He opens one of the back doors for me, and I see that in the car rides an elegant woman. “Terrence McDonald, this is my wife, Patty Ewell.”

Patty turns in her seat, puts out her hand. “It truly is a pleasure to meet you, Terrence. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

I give her my hand, as is customary, but can find no words. I’ve never met Patty before. She passed away the night I made Charlie’s acquaintance.

A Trip To A Magical Place–A Short Story!

This post is a particularly fun one for me. Fun but time-consuming, requiring a good deal of concentration, and it’s taken me a while to complete. It involves me, being creative. I have taken the last few days to compose a story that, in my mind, epitomizes the kinds of stories I’d love to read and which I enjoy writing. I like to write main characters who are like me, because there just aren’t enough of them out there. I am also fascinated by the idea of time-travel. But you don’t have to share my fascination to enjoy this piece. At its heart I hope this story has and shows its heart. I hope you love it!
D
This story is for Scooter, Katie, Mom and Dad, and my new friends on twitter!

Looking back, it wasn’t as perfect as I thought it. It wasn’t as simple as I made it–as everyone around me made it seem. There were struggles and hardships and tough times, of which I had little more than an inkling, and I never knew the full extent. But that’s because I was a kid then, and kids aren’t supposed to know those things.

With this realization heavy on my mind, I step into the “machine”. I’m still unsure it will work as advertised. Even though it’s worked as advertised for so many before me. I look around, wondering if the inside will somehow be grander than its bland, barely-painted exterior. Short answer: No. It isn’t a phone booth, because I swear to you those don’t exist anymore and are all but fazed out, except in the most rural locales, but it isn’t much bigger; a compartment, let’s call it. It’s the size of a one-car garage with one red button and one green button positioned next to each other on the wall opposite its accordion doors. Their functions are easy enough to understand. Red: If you get cold feet, press this button, and the mission is scrubbed, and someone will be in to retrieve you post haste. Green means: All is a go, and the one-minute countdown will begin in ten seconds. All of this was covered in the mandatory “pre-flight conference call” of an hour ago. Other than the buttons, the little room is a sterile white-cream, no adornments whatsoever besides a little round loudspeaker in the precise middle of the space that lets only tinny sound escape it.
“You ready?” one of the mission-controllers calls over that loudspeaker.
“No. But it’s time, isn’t it?”
“It is, Mr. Spade. We need to go now. The window will close soon.”
“Then let’s do it.”
“You will have five days in your past to do what you need to do. We don’t need to know what that is. In fact, we don’t care what that is. Not to sound callous, but we just don’t concern ourselves with such things.”
Other than changing history. They hate the idea of any passenger even attempting to change history. Changing history is expressly forbidden. When they say “do what you need to do” I think they mean simple things. Moments. Maybe you want to relive a particularly memorable Christmas party, the moment you won the state championship and were the most famous person in your town for a good month and a half. A first date. A marriage proposal. The first time your child said, “I love you.”
“What about conversations?” I posed this question to Kelly, my “account executive”, as we talked by phone a few days before I made the trip out to the rural town in Nevada where the time-travel facility is located. (Yes, the place has a name, and yes, I know it. But I also know if anyone inside that company reads these words, I won’t be long for breathing. I like breathing. Maybe I’m being dramatic and  they’d just have someone break my legs, but that would suck, too.)
“You can have conversations,” Kelly counseled with what sounded like a smile, probably forced and probably worn daily. “Small-talk, for example, is fine, Mr Spade.”
“Colin. Call me Colin.”
“Okay, Colin. Yeah, small-talk is fine. ‘How’s the weather?’ ‘Do you have the time?’ That sort of thing.” I found her last small-talk example ironic and blinked at it, but I don’t think she noticed. “We just can’t have you giving away state secrets. You know, what’s going to happen in the future, who lives, who dies, which happy couples will be divorced within five years. That type of communication would throw off the balance of the universe.”
“How do you know?” I asked. I wasn’t challenging her. I was just curious. I wanted to know everything I could before I took my flight.
“It’s time travel, Mr. Spade. In order to get it to work, something once thought impossible, we have some of the finest minds in the world working with us.”
It was the kind of response that, while it came in the form of a statement, did not invite me to reply. My next couple of queries died on their vine, wilting in the open grasslands of my mind.
The thought of Kelly and of small-talk and what might happen when I press the green button fades, and my current reality returns. The disembodied voice in the speaker still droning on.
“In the unlikely event that you should break any laws while in the past, you will have to answer for them…”
I’ve tuned out that loud-speaker-voice. It isn’t hard to do, considering you really have to focus to understand it in here, anyway. Now I’m working on slowing my heart rate, breathing evenly and deeply, as entry into the past is supposed to be made easier if the passenger is as calm as possible. As an aside, if my past self, whom I’m about to go back and inhabit, saw that I was willingly using so many adverbs, he might try to have my writer’s license revoked. It’s a metaphor, there isn’t such a thing as a writer’s license, of course, but trust me. I was past me, and I know past me, and it would annoy him enough to turn his face red.
As for my mission and the flight I’ll soon be taking…
The window will close soon. What does that mean? Isn’t it cool how I not only know what I’m thinking, but I can guess, with alarming accuracy, what you’re thinking, too? Imagine time as a wide sky, its vastness nearly incalculable, encompassing everything that’s come before and all that will come after. Each “flight” along time’s skyway must take off within a specific window of time during which the time and events the “passenger” wishes to go back and relive are most accessible, best aligned. Think of the shifting alignments of the planets, and you’ve got a pretty good idea what we’re dealing with. Taking a flight to an event outside its best windows is not advised. It’s dangerous and could result in “the unexpected–and permanent–loss of the passenger to his or her time period and any and all others”. Essentially, they’re talking about death (without talking about death). It’s not clever. It’s lawyers speaking a language reminiscent of English.
My mission is a simple one. Or maybe it only appears that way because it hasn’t begun in earnest yet. I haven’t broken the tethers of my own time to float free among the eons. Tell Dad to go to the doctor. When he asks why and says he’s perfectly healthy, and besides he hates doctors, tell him you’ll be having a baby soon, and you want him there when she’s born. That’s what I have to do. It’s mostly true, and it doesn’t totally tear the small-talk rule asunder, if I am careful. I met my wife a year and a half after Dad passed (Mom loved her from the start and swore Dad would have loved her, too), and ten months after we met she was pregnant. We were married before the baby came, and we’ve been married twenty years now. Our baby is successfully navigating her way through collegiate academia.
Dad was gone. Mom was grieving his loss much differently than I was (she wasn’t eating lots of pizza and watching too much baseball, claiming it’s what she would have done with my dad if he were still here; that was what I was doing.) She had decided to go back to school for creative writing, something I’d always wanted to do but for which I’d never found the guts; she reasoned that Dad would have been proud of her, and it was a career-change the avid reader inside her had been calling for since she became a mother and began gathering material.
My mom was just as well suited for the work of writing stories as for that of raising a child. But her first journey into motherhood would prove to be her only trip, for which I’d always felt guilty. She wanted a kid, sure, but she didn’t want a kid with cerebral palsy. No one ever does. The fact that she couldn’t do better than me hurt, and I took it personally. Maybe, unbeknownst to me, the difficulties that came with my rearing took such a toll on her she couldn’t–or didn’t want to–have any more.
I met my wife, Ellie, at this point in my life, no doubt the lowest. There aren’t too many junctures competing for that crown. A trusted friend of mine, seeing how down-in-the-dumps I was, suggested I join a dating site.
“I don’t want to do that,” I argued. “I’m used to rejection–I send out queries for my stories, and rejection is a part of the deal–but that doesn’t mean I’m eager to invite it into my personal life.”
“You don’t have to tell anyone you have C.P. until you’re ready, until you think they’re ready,” she said on the rainy Sunday afternoon that she helped me set up my profile.
“You’re advising me to lie?” I shot back, surprised. We had been friends for a couple years by then, and this friend had never struck me as the dishonest type.
“I’m advising you to do what’s best for you. “I know you. You’ll tell anyone who needs to know that you have palsy, that it’s a part of who you are. But why reveal it until you absolutely have to?”
She had a point. I relented and let her mark (none specified) when the website asked for my body type, hoping that lack of a designation would weed out some of the more superficial people.
I found Ellie about a month later, following a succession of awful dates that almost put me off on-line dating altogether. Thank God I persevered. She responded to a note I’d sent after I came upon her picture–a cute brown-haired girl in a baseball cap with a dimpled smile wearing sunglasses and a real grin on a nothing-but-blue-sky day. She stood next to a black lab on a sidewalk, her hand atop its head, apparently giving the dog a good scratch behind the ears. In my note I mentioned that I, too, had a black lab, a fondness for baseball, and was a stickler for grammar, which she had correctly navigated in her profile. She wrote: “Thanks for writing me. You’re cute. (She added a smiley-face here.) My name’s Ellie. Hope I’ll hear from you again soon! Have a good night!”
I did. That night was wonderful. The joy of a relationship at its beginning. The projection you can’t help but participate in. Maybe she’ll love movies and books like I do. Maybe she likes the same music and believes in the same values and ideals. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. It always is. A relationship is a lesson in compromise. But on that first night you’re aware of the existence of someone who thinks you’re cute, compromise is the farthest thing from your mind.
By phone, I tell her that my dad just recently passed away. Instant sympathy points. She’s coming over! If I play this right, I might get laid. I have cerebral palsy. She knows and says it’s no big deal to her, as long as I’m the guy she’s been talking to for the past three months. I assure her that I am. If I play this right, I might get laid. Horay for beginnings.
The only problem with “getting laid” is that it might lead to having a child. She’s a little girl I hadn’t expected but for whom my heart just broke when I first saw her in the hospital nursery, and it has broken, overflowing with love and appreciation–the need to protect her–every day since. I’m not sad I have her, by any means, but if anything or anyone can make me instantly emotional, dissolve me into a pile of goo, it’s Casey. If you’re a parent, you know what I mean. There’s just this certain look she can give me, and I know that little Case could have–and will have–anything she wants.
Since her birth, and her ascent into teen-hood, she has learned from me a few things. At least, I hope so. She has learned that cerebral palsy is what I have and what I must deal with. It does not, however, define me. She has learned to love baseball and football, and that these sports are great times to sit in front of the TV or at a ballpark or a stadium and bond with Dad.
She has also learned that I miss my dad. And she’s encouraged me to do what I’m here doing today.
“Sure, Dad, you’ll be breaking the rules, but sometimes rules need to be broken. And I think this is one of those cases.”
“Why?” I asked, still uncertain as we drove–she drove, because I’m not allowed to drive, and I rode–towards my “free consultation” with the company, which Casey insisted on attending. “I’m no more special than anyone else. Why should I be allowed to break the rules, while everyone else had to abide by them?”
“That’s not what I’m saying, Dad. I’m saying it’s a stupid rule, and it should be thrown out. You might be the first person to break it, or you might be the fourth, or the fortieth. We just don’t know. You’re going to tell these people you want to go back to your childhood, to relive a day back in a simpler time. They’ll buy it, and it’s what you’ll write in your paperwork.”
Casey is convincing. And I know she’s right. That is what I will do. But I’ve always lived my life on the safe side of Caution street, and:
“What if it changes history? I could be in deep trouble then.”
“You could, that’s true. But there are also good things that might happen, if you manage it. If you change history, then I might get to meet Grandpa. To me, it’s a win-win. You get to go back in time and see him. Win. You might change history, and I might get to see him also. Win. Stop doubting yourself, Dad. You’re doing this!”
I look at the machine’s clock. It’s on the far wall of this room, one of those old things we all used to see in school that the teachers employed to show you how to tell time. The white face. The numbers. The two hands, Big and Little. It reads: 3:40, and I know Casey is glancing at her own clock, or will be soon. Home from school, her weekend just beginning, she’s aware my trip is about to commence. She’ll be cheering me on, my window at its widest. (She came with me for the consultation, we made a weekend of it, had a great time that involved a small theme park and some In N Out Burgers, but Elie wouldn’t let her be here for my “launch”. “You have school,” Ellie said. “And your dad will be gone longer than three days, we have to assume. I’ll go see him off, and then the two of us will be back home in no more than a week.”)
A week. Yes. That’s right. Lest I forget that, just as there’s a juncture when a flight’s window is at its widest, flight windows can also all but close. Mine will be closed in a week, which means I’ll need to return by then, or I likely won’t return at all.

I take a deep breath. Like diving into the deep end of a swimming pool. “Here we go,” I say, but I’m not sure anyone hears me.
I mash the green button. They can tell you what they think is going to happen when you launch your time-flight–“Your ears will probably pop with the change in air pressure. It is going to be loud. Rock-concert loud. Protect your ears”–but the people giving that advice have never traveled as I’m traveling now. Suddenly, a thunderous sound emanates from somewhere within–just over my right shoulder? It’s not so much loud as it is downright overpowering. The room expands and seems to wobble in front of my eyes, as though something, or somewhere, else is trying to replace it.
Then something does.
The machine is gone, but now I understand–remember–why it resembled a garage. That was explained to me sometime ago.
“You can find a garage just about anywhere,” Kelly, the account executive, told me. It was one of the last things she’d said to me before we hung up and I began in earnest preparing to travel through time. Somehow I’d retained everything else she said but forgotten these words, or tucked them so far back in my head as to render them almost inaccessible. “If there isn’t a garage nearby, maybe there’ll a barn, or a shed, and those types of places work just fine. Our technology finds the nearest suitable landing area–it has to be empty, mind you. If someone actually sawa time traveler materialize as time-travelers do when moving from time to time, they’d either be so surprised they might faint dead away. Or worse, they could run and tell an authority figure. Now, it depends on the time to which one is traveling, but if that person isn’t thought to be crazy, if they are taken seriously, that could put the company–all it does for the word, as well as its employees–in grave danger.”
I was tempted to ask, What does your company do for the world? Because that sounded like a reach to me, like she was overplaying a not lackluster but far from wonderful hand. Yet I stayed quiet. I have a mission here, and it won’t be helped if I piss this woman off.
I pick myself up off the dusty ground. I fell as the machine “landed” with a lurch and a shudder. Then I make my way to the garage door and wrench it open by hand, unsure what I’ll see next, or where I might go, and even shakier than I’m used to being on my feet; cerebral palsy compromises my gait and my muscles, but it is no match for time travel. Before I step from this garage, I give my legs and hips–both are screaming at me–a moment to acclimate. Good. Now you’re ready. Or as ready as you could ever be. Go do what you need to do, Colin. Staring at me as I exit, my appearance as unexpected for him as if his own deceased father just walked back into his life with no preamble whatsoever is my father. Still big and muscular. No gray in his hair yet. It is the color of a sunburned wheat field. He’s outside my childhood home gathering up fallen branches, casualties of a wind storm I don’t recall.
“Colin?” he says, his eyes full of wonder and… could that be worry?
“Dad.” I nod. As if to say, Yep. It’s me. You’re not seeing things. But I feel like I might be.
“Rick, what was that noise? Is everything alright out there?”
It’s my mother’s voice. Not that of the older woman I help take care of now, known family-wide as Grandma Sally, even though she technically has only one grandchild. She bakes cookies for Casey whenever my daughter gives her a day or two of warning that she’ll be stopping by the senior community where Mom resides, and where she has lived for a good five years now. Since it became too much of a chore for her to get around her house without the occasional–and begrudging–assistance of a walker.
“Did I make a noise?” I whisper to Dad.
“Yeah,” he whispers back. “It sounded like every single tool in there fell to the ground at the same time. Sally–your momprobably thinks I hurt myself.”
She is my mom. I can picture her without seeing her. Something about this ability makes me feel glad. We must be in the midst of a weekend, that’s why Dad’s doing around-the-house stuff, what he called his chores. I’m guessing I’ve gone back to a Sunday in… it feels like September or October. Football-watching is done for the day. So my tiny mother is wearing a comfortable sweater, the first time all year she’s gone into her sweater collection. “I like them because they’re comfortable,” she used to defend herself when I’d ask why she was always wearing sweaters. “I don’t always wear them, but I like them.” And she’s preparing the biggest meal of our week, maybe a pot-roast or a meat loaf.
I take in the full scope of this long-gone scene. I haven’t seen this house, or the property on which it sits, for five years, since I sold it, and when last I laid eyes on it, it was in disrepair. But I haven’t seen this house–freshly painted, the entire six-acre lawn mowed, and is that my favorite dog running after a goose out there in the distance?–since before I left for college. I couldn’t wait to leave then, to go off and meet new people, experience new things. Now I’d give anything to have those simpler days back.
“Is that Scooter out there?” I ask Dad, indicating the dog with a quick head movement in its direction.
He lifts his eyes to me. He’s in mid-stoop, picking up a monstrous branch (good firewood), but my words stop him mid-grab. He sets the branch back down. Then he ascends to his full height and comes to stand next to me. “Yeah. That’s Scooter. He’s been barking at those geese all day.”
As usual. I remember him doing that, the joy he took in goose-torment. “Can you call him for me, Dad?” I’d do it myself, but I don’t want my mom to hear my voice. Talking with Dad is one thing. I can keep the talk small. But if I see Mom… if she sees me… she’ll start in with her version of twenty questions, and who knows how that would end, or what history it might alter?
Dad calls the five-year-old canine. He’s five? How did I know that? That means I’m in the off at school, in the seventh grade. Middle school. Not the greatest experience ever, and if you think it was, you must be looking at your youth through glasses tinted rose. Scooter bounds toward his name. When he gets to me, he sniffs. He wants to bark–stranger, stranger!–but there’s something in my scent familiar to him, and instead he leaps up, which he doesn’t do often, it’s not in his personality, and licks me across the face.
“Boy, do you know who that is?” Dad says,
“I sure love you, Scoot,” I say quietly yet firmly. I let go a tear, just one, and watch it soak into his fur, as did so many of my childhood tears.
Dad brushes his hands on his jeans. He wants to ask me something, but I’m not sure he’s clear on how to put it. He gives it his best, though.
“When does Scooter… when does he… go?”
“Five years from now. He’s chasing a goose when his heart gives out.”
Dad looks down at the dog, his gaze now a knowing one. Pats the top of his head.
“And me? Am I still…. no, wait, I don’t want to know that,” he says, changing his mind mid-thought.
I don’t blame him. As I stand here, I think about how I wouldn’t want to know when I was going to go, either, neither the date nor the particulars, even if I could, assuming there was nothing I could do to change it. That’s just too much knowledge for a person to have at their disposal, and it’s knowledge that wouldn’t be all that beneficial. If someone told me when I was going to pass on to whatever’s next, I could imagine me taking in this information at the same time I inhaled a sharp breath… and then living the rest of my life frozen, unable to move. My body will fail in thirty years, and no matter how much exercise or healthy eating I do, that’s going to be that.
Dad rephrases his query. Something’s eating at him. That’s my fault.
Maybe coming here wasn’t such a good idea, after all, though it is wonderful to run Scooter’s fur through my fingers again. (The two of us were buddies. Towards the end, his end, right before I left for college, Scooter would sleep in my room every night. Sometimes, the two of us would share a nacho plate. I ate the nachos and most of the cheese. He licked up the leftovers gleefully with a look that said, I knew there was a reason I liked you.) To think about Mom making her pot-roast again. I wouldn’t be coming to dinner tonight. That would be tempting fate to an extent with which I wasn’t comfortable, because I’d have to eat dinner… with myself. History was sure to change then. I was trying to change it but to do so clandestinely. A gust of wind, a remnant of the former windstorm, rushes the air and tousles my hair.
“Colin… do you come from a time… that I’m not in?”
“Y-yes,” I say.
“Did you come here for a specific reason? To tell me something, maybe?”
Good. Dad gets it. He knows that, if an older version of his son has appeared, has time-traveled back to talk to him, regardless of how such travel was accomplished, this is something to which he should give his attention, undivided. He holds Scooter by the collar while he awaits my response, looking tense.
I have to remember exactly what I need to tell him, and I must be precise, yet intentionally a little vague on some details. I’m only gonna get one shot at this. Once what I’m doing is discovered–and it will be discovered, as all flights receive a post-flight report and de-briefing upon the passenger’s return–I will not be able to travel in time to anywhen ever again.
Out of my right pant pocket I produce a single sheet of typewritten paper. White. On it: All I wanted to say, so I wouldn’t forget a syllable. The words double-spaced and sized so that my bad eyes and I can read them easily, hopefully get through the recitation without stopping, without emotion hindering me.
“Dad, I’m not sure in what year we’ll meet–this technology is still an inexact work in progress, and you can never be sure when it will put you, although they insist its safe, and they always aim for a certain time period, but if I’m reading this, that means I’m in front of you right now.”
I wasn’t supposed to stop. I get that. But something inside me makes me lift my eyes from the page and wink at him. He touches my hand and squeezes a silent three-pump I… Love… You. Now keep going, Colin, his body language says.
“I need to tell you a couple of things. I am happy, and my health is good. I can still walk pretty well. I had been afraid my palsy would take my steps away eventually. It hasn’t yet.
“I am forty-five.” A tiny shiver runs up my spine. I’ve always been young. Always looked it, always felt it, except in my eyes and my legs, my two time machines into the future, activated well before the time machine was ever invented. In use in every waking hour. The idea of being middle-aged is not something I’m ready for, in the least. “I’m married now. Her name is Ellie. You’d like her. Mom does.”
“Ah, so your mom is still-”
I glance up at him. “Let me get through this, okay?”
“Right.”
“We have a daughter. You have a grand-daughter. Her name is Casey. She’s a chip off the old block, Dad. She loves sports. She and I watch them together like you and I used to. When she gets exasperated with a bad call, or when she jumps up and screams when someone makes a diving catch, I see you in her eyes. We’re a great family. We do everything together, yet we like our alone time. I think that’s key. You gotta let people be who they are, and sometimes that means letting them do things without you. That way, when you do things together, it’s even more special.
“But what I really came here to say… I don’t know that it will do any good, but I have to try.” I wouldn’t want to know when I was going to go, assuming there was nothing I could do to change it. “Dad. The day after your forty-eighth birthday, right after I return to college after the celebration, you’re watering the Christmas tree when something goes wrong and a fire starts. They never found the exact cause, but it was probably electrical. You don’t make it. I don’t know how else to say it, or how much more plain I should make it. I know it’s our tradition to get our Christmas tree on the weekend closest to your birthday. I’m asking you if, that one year, we might forgo the tradition?”
Dad looks into my eyes. Hard. He’s taking some unknown measure. For a second my spine tingles again as I think he might doubt me, might think I’m some inexplicable hallucination. But then he wipes away a tear of his own.
“Done,” he says. “Give me that letter. I want to hold onto it, put it in a safe place.”
That was easier than I thought it would be. I hold out the note, expecting that he’ll take it and then, as much as I want to stay for whatever’s cooking inside, as much as I want to spend the next week telling Scooter I love him, I’ll go back home. To my current home, my current family. But that’s not how things work out.
The moment he takes possession of the note, the ground begins to rumble. It starts into a violent fit of shaking.
An earthquake? I guess.
I look at Dad. No. Whatever this is, it’s not an earthquake, because he isn’t feeling it. He isn’t experiencing it like I am. His piece of ground remains still. But he does appear concerned. My expression must be communicating that something’s wrong. He reaches out a hand in vain, and I find my eyes glancing down at his feet, where five-year-old Scooter lays, content and curled.
With a shudder, I’m thrown to the ground. Dad and my favorite dog are gone. I’m back in the present-day version of the machine. My cheeks are hot. Alright, Colin, prepare yourself. They might want your head for what you’ve just done.
I think I banged my hip pretty hard. I must have. Ah, well. I’ll be okay, I decide, and walk gingerly to the door. As I swing it open, Ellie is looking at me, her face brimming with fright.
“Are you alright?” she asks.
“I’m fine,” I say. A few bumps and bruises are announcing themselves, but they aren’t visible. Not worth alarming my wife.
“What happened? Tell me everything.”
I’ve learned a man doesn’t get anywhere by arguing with his wife, except maybe a one-way ticket to The Dog House. So I tell her everything.
“Wow, you saw your dad and Scooter. That’s so special.”
Ellie seems to be talking a bit too loud for the kind of two-person confab I thought we were having. I quickly catch on that we aren’t the only ones participating in our reunion.
“How long have I been gone?” I ask.
“Three days.”
Three days. Three days lost in the present in exchange for twenty minutes in my past. I wonder if this equation stands for all trips, or if its unique to mine. I would bet on the former.
“Honey.” Ellie is holding her cell phone out to me. “There’s a call for you. It’s Casey.”
I took the phone, eager to hear my daughter’s voice. “Case. What’s up, kiddo?”
“Oh, not much,” she says, in a way that tips me off to the fact that there’s something she’s intentionally holding back from me. Whatever it is, she’s saving it for a surprise, and she’ll tell me soon. Maybe… right now. “I just thought you might like to know I’m sitting here with Grandpa.”
“You’re… you’re what?”
“Yeah. He’s here making me dinner. Chicken strips, corn and macaroni and cheese. He says that used to be one of your favorites, and that he’d make it for you on the nights when Grandma had had a long day and was too tired to cook. Says you asked him to come over and check in on me while you and Mom were out of town.” She lowers her voice to a whisper. “Dad, he just finished telling me the story of my birth.”
“What?”
“He was there the night I was born. He drove you and Mom to the hospital.”
“No, he didn’t. We took a ca-”
But just now a torrent of memories I’ve never had–but which I’ve always had–run like an angry river into my Bank Of Long-term Memory, whose vaults are open to accept an inordinate amount of recollections not to replace their predecessors but to stand alongside them. There’s the memory of that one Christmas season when we deviated from our tradition, and Mom never knew why, because Dad didn’t want to tell her. Kid me was against it, too. But Dad said he had his reasons. Then, years later, there was Casey’s birth, Dad driving us to the hospital. Dad and I together teaching Casey how to ride her bike. The three of us at Casey’s first baseball game. So many 45h Of Julys and New Year’s Eve’s our family spent with my parents that hadn’t been there before. Christmases. Birthdays. The last memory that comes, flashing, to me: The two of us, and a sobbing Ellie, moving Mom into her assisted living facility when it became clear she needed it, that Dad could no longer take care of her on his own, as hard as he tried. I guess you can’t change everything.
Life… revised.
“Thanks for letting me know, Case,” I say into the phone, my voice shaking a little. “Mom and I will be home soon, okay?”
“Okay. Love you, Dad.”
“You, too, sweetheart. Tell Grandpa I love him, too.”
“He loves you, too,” she says, and sounds farther away. She comes back to me. “He says he knows.”
“Bye, Casey.”
“Bye, Dad.”
I press END, and Ellie takes the phone. We fold into each other, a thankful hug soaked in disbelief.
“Shall we go home now?” she suggests.
I can’t get home fast enough. And that trouble I’d feared I’d be in, for changing history, never comes to pass. In the de-briefing, I am asked, “What was it like reliving a day in your childhood? Did you enjoy yourself?” I’m not sure if they realize how little time I actually spent back in time, and I don’t feel like correcting them.
“Yes,” I reply. “I enjoyed it very much.”
Then Ellie and I climb into our car. I wave a nostalgic good-bye to the building in which the time machine resides–a blank redbrick building. If you didn’t know what was in there, you couldn’t possibly guess.
They have a good marketing team. I never thought I’d thank God for a super bowl ad, but that was where Casey and I–and so many others–first heard time travel was, at last, possible.