Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2018

Throwback Thursday from January 2016 – “Cereal Killer On The Loose”

Throwback Thursday from January 2016

Cereal Killer On The Loose

TOO MUCH EDUCATION CAN BE A DANGEROUS THING.

I know a person with a graduate degree in finance from an Ivy League school. He can squeeze so much value out of a dime that it makes FDR get up and walk.

Now, I like saving money as much as the next guy – maybe a bit more even. I grew up poor with cardboard in my shoes to cover the holes. Even today, at an overripe old age, I still wince whenever I spend money. But, the fellow of whom I speak has elevated money-saving to an Art.

Coupons 1

Earlier this week he told me of his latest trip to Kroger’s to buy some breakfast cereal. He had some coupons in his hand.

When he got to the Cereal Aisle he saw that the object of his hunt was also being discounted. He smiled I’m sure, bordering on a leer.

Many of the “discounts” on the store shelves are as phony as a politician’s promise – The item sells regularly for $1.49, they change it to $1.79 and slap on another tag reading, “Marked Down to $1.49!” Instant Non-Discount.

Sometimes the discounts are real – usually because a buyer screwed up and they are stuck with ten truckloads of the stuff. Of course, some discounts arise after a news report says that the product can make your kids grow extra thumbs or decide to go to college and major in “Organic Bongs of Medieval Japan.”

Back to my tale of Nuclear Couponing in the Cereal Aisle.

In addition to your garden variety discount was another tag offering even bigger markdowns if you bought the cereal boxes 10 at a time. The buyer must have really screwed up. My Friend The Shopper felt like he had just found the Lost Dutchman Mine. He made a trip to chat with the store manager to verify that everything, as he saw it, was kosher. The Manager said that he was entitled to all of the posted discounts – plus – another “Instant Coupon” that would be given to him upon checkout. The coupons he walked in with were those super-duper double coupons and all of this back and forth with the store manager meant that he was getting into some serious high finance negotiations with Kroger’s. For a guy with a degree from Columbia University and a resume that includes a lengthy stint on Wall Street, this was heaven.

Cutting to the chase!

This man, who just wanted to buy some breakfast cereal for himself and his daughter, ended up walking back to his

triple

car with 48 boxes of Post and Kellogg cereals – and a bottle of cranberry juice.

He hadn’t really wanted the cranberry juice, but after the dust settled at the checkout cash register, the store owed him $1.79.

The Manager was concerned that the Home Office in Cincinnati might pop an aneurism if the transaction showed up as a negative cash flow. To circumvent this he grabbed a bottle of cranberry juice off the shelf that cost $1.79 and they called the whole deal a push.

When I heard him tell this story my first thought was, “I hope you and your daughter really like cereal, because you’re going to be eating it every day for a year.

As he told this story I could see a fire in his eyes. This experience has spawned a monster. He said that he has found a cable TV show all about serious “couponing” and “It’s really interesting.”

I told him that I thought it all seemed like something that ended up with a very cult-like fanaticism.

If he keeps up with this “couponing”, I half expect him to shave his head, move to Battle Creek, and start banging a tambourine at the airport.

“Om, mane pay me coupon om.”

It Could Have Been Worse…No, That’s Not True.

TWO WEEKS IN TEXAS. LET ME TELL YOU. It is a lot like two weeks inside a cement mixer filled with marbles…and the odd brisket…and every microbe in the known universe.

For the entire two weeks my sinuses were in a war of attrition. There were no survivors. My head geysered more extraneous fluid than the Johnstown Flood. I predict that the stock in the company that makes Kleenex will soar like a rocket.

Two weeks in any one location can be a challenge, but spend those weeks in close illness sharing proximity with a couple dozen other people can be a true purgatory experience.

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What Kind Of Class Is This

 

UH OH, HERE IT COMES AGAIN. It seems like it was just last week or maybe five years ago. I’m starting to get ticklers about another High School Class Reunion. Aren’t these people satisfied that I show up once every fifty years?

I do admit that I sort of skipped over the first forty nine years worth of reunions, but I had a good excuse: I didn’t want to go. I broke down when it came to number fifty and I admit that it was a pleasure seeing some of the kids (now Geezers) that I went through grade school with. The thing is that I don’t remember them from High School all that well. Either I was in a fog or they were. They looked a lot different than I remembered them from 1952-1960.

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Bum Voyage!

I CHECKED TWICE TO MAKE SURE that I was reading it correctly. Unfortunately I was.

“Frenchman to float across the Atlantic – in a barrel.”

Me: “Geezer to get up and to not spill coffee.”

That Frenchman has his challenges. I have mine.

Some people just have more ambition I guess, but some of those people also have more in the way of daily medications.

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Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Ten

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Ten

 

When you can’t trust anyone what are you supposed to do? I couldn’t trust Van Swearingin or any of the other people who worked for him. I didn’t feel that I could trust the FBI either. One of the first things they said to me was that they could lock me up for years – and why – because I was giving them the heads up on what looked like a bunch of Spies. It wasn’t like I was one of the bad guys. I had on a white hat here.

I wanted to get out of town and disappear, but they sent me back into the middle of it all. Those Russians had already taken my skull for a ride. I don’t doubt that they’d bury me out there in the Salt Flats just for laughs. I was walking on tip toes around that plant. I was there, but trying to be invisible. And then van Swearingin asks me to be the babysitter for his kid who pulled a knife on me. I was starting to feel nostalgic for the peace and quiet of the Battle of the Bulge.

Even though I felt trapped I knew that I still had to show up if I wanted to get paid – and the money was good, very good. For the first time in my life I had a bank account that wasn’t an embarrassment. I put most of my pay envelope in the bank, but I still pushed some of it under my mattress – just in case.

My next trip to Salt Lake was one I was not looking forward to. Monday morning was supposed to be young Charlie’s first day with me. Doing what I wasn’t quite sure. The only sure thing was that I was going to be his Boss.

That Monday morning I was doing my usual routine in Salt Lake: check to see who showed up for work; stay away from any Russians that might be around; and meet up with any new people who were being pushed on me. And then there was Charlie.

It was a little after half past nine. I’d been onsite for two hours already when Van Swearingin walked into my little office next to the employee locker room. He had Charlie with him and neither of them looked too happy. When the kid saw me he tried to leave the room.

“Oh, no! No! I’m not gonna work for this cheap cop of yours. No way!”

His father grabbed him by the arm and pushed him into the chair by my desk.

“Sit down and shut up. You’re here and you’re going to stay here until those characters in San Francisco forget about you. So, shut up. You’re going to work here, earn a pay envelope every Friday and stay out of trouble for as long as I tell you.”

Charlie looked up at his father with a mixture of hate and resignation. It was not respect, but more like he knew that his father was calling the shots and that was that. I just sat there with my mouth shut. The Boss was the Boss.

In that morning’s mail I’d gotten a memo from Van Swearingin telling me what to do with Charlie. I was to train him to become part of my Security force – the lowest part. He was still only 17, had no legitimate job experience, and was there against his will. I didn’t have much hope that this was going to anything but a disaster.

Van Swearingin wanted me to work him nights and keep him exhausted so he wouldn’t have the energy to get into any trouble – not that there was a lot of opportunity for that in Salt Lake City. That was the start of my Monday morning, as if I didn’t have other things on my mind.

“Tim, I’m going to leave my son with you now. I have other business to see to.”

He looked down at Charlie slumped in the chair like a ten year old.

“Get him started, paperwork, uniform…”

“I ain’t wearing no uniform,” muttered Charlie. His father slapped the back of the kid’s head.

“Shut up” That was directed at Charlie and then his words were for me again. “…paperwork, uniform, and start his training. As long as I have to hide him here he is going to help pay his way.” He turned and left the room without another word or even a glance at his son.

It was just the two of us sitting there staring at each other. Neither of us was happy with the situation, but there was nothing we could do about it.

“Well, Charlie, here we are. Your Old Man brought you here. It wasn’t my idea. You’re no baby and I’m not going to be your babysitter no matter what he thinks. We’ve had a run-in, you and me, but that’s history as far as I’m concerned. We’re out here in the middle of nowhere so you had better forget our past and try to make the best of it.”

Charlie sat up straighter in his chair and glared at me.

“You’re right about not wanting to be here and I’m not too keen about being stuck with you.”

You’ll survive it – which doesn’t sound like your prospects back in San Francisco.”

The kid grinned. That was the first time I’d seen him do that.

“Yeah, well, there was this girl…”

“I don’t really care, Charlie. I’ve got my own problems. All I want to do today is get you set up so your father won’t be barking at either of us. Is that fair enough? I’m willing to deal with you like anybody else if you’ll let me.”

He shrugged. Maybe he wasn’t as dumb as he looked sitting there.

“So what am I gonna have to do?”

“It’s not a complicated job, Charlie – just keep your eyes open and your mouth shut.”

Charlie surprised me. I was prepared for a battle every step of the way and I hadn’t forgotten that he liked to carry a knife. After the first few days of sulking and his tough guy attitude toward me he resigned himself to the reality. He was stranded out there in Utah a long way from anybody he could push around. He was also a long way from anybody who wanted to take him apart. And I was his Boss.

He hated the uniform that he was forced to wear. I really couldn’t blame him on that point. He was skinny and liked to swagger and in that uniform he looked like a cartoon scarecrow.

As far as the other employees at the plant were concerned – they ignored him, just like they did any of the Security Unit including me. They took their orders from Van Swearingin directly or from a couple of the Russians who spoke passable English. The Russians were like a bunch of mosquitoes hovering everywhere, watching everyone, and becoming bolder every day. They usually talked only to each other or Van Swearingin, but I saw them yelling in Russian at some of the line workers as if they could be understood.

I started out putting Charlie on the overnight shift. It was quieter with fewer opportunities for him to get into trouble. He just had to walk his rounds, punch the clocks, and report any problems in his log book. The plant operated twenty-four hours a day, but at night it was mainly shipping and receiving. Trucks came and went.

When he first arrived I’d told him that he really only had one job – to keep his eyes open and his mouth shut. Being a sneaky little punk made that easy for him and it wasn’t long before he became all but invisible to everyone in the plant. He became my eyes and ears after dark.

 

– To Be Continued –

Putting On The Ritz Or Something Like That

I’M NOT SAYING THAT I AM A BUSYBODY, well, not full time anyway. Let’s just say that I have prehensile ears that can pick up snatches of conversations all by themselves without any effort on my part. I think that skill is a remnant of some prehistoric survival thingy where I could be hunting that big Mastodon, but my ears pick up the purring of a Sabertooth Tiger in the weeds. That can certainly come in handy.

These days in the middle of Indiana there are few Sabertooth Tigers around, just a few Insurance Salesmen and the odd Blogger. I think I did actually see a Mastodon by the Deli Counter at the Kroger last week. It was buying some Pastrami.

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Throwback Thursday from January 2016 – “The Last Biscuit Protocol”

Throwback Thursday from January 2016

 

“The Last Biscuit Protocol”

BY AND LARGE we are a polite society. Of course, the exceptions to that are loud, obnoxious, and to be avoided at all costs – particularly around dinner time.last biscuit

Whenever the family gathers, like at Christmastime, or other major events, we can have a considerable number around the table. And, for the most part, they are members of that polite society. But that politeness can lead to some interesting observations. Let me explain.

Around our table food can vanish quickly. Platters are moving clockwise at a dizzying speed and serving forks and tablespoons are dueling. But, when that part of the action stops and the serious eating begins, one observation can be made – nobody has taken the last biscuit. Sitting all by itself is one solitary biscuit, probably feeling like the last kid to be selected for the touch football game.

It might be that biscuit, or a slice of bacon, or last spoonful of that green bean casserole, but no one will finish it off. Why, I ask myself? Does everyone think that they have been playing Russian Roulette with the food and they have lucked out, leaving the loaded biscuit behind?

Perhaps they are so self-conscious, not wanting to be seen as being so hungry that they would actually snatch that last biscuit away from someone else.

I can’t believe that everyone’s appetites have been completely sated just one bite shy of an empty casserole dish.

Come on! I’ve seen this group go through a potluck supper like Sherman’s Army through Georgia. I have seen people around the table looking longingly at the last slice of pie, resisting the urge to pounce on it like a leopard on a wounded gazelle. If eyes could drool the tablecloth would be wet, but “The Last Biscuit Protocol” takes precedent and the pie remains, alone and abandoned.

I do know that before the evening is over that last slice will miraculously vanish from the refrigerator, leaving an empty pan behind. I’m thinking we should set up one of those cameras that zoologists use to count wolves or Yetis in the wild. Then we would be able to find out who scarfs down that remaining pie, or sausage link or biscuit.

All in the name of science, of course.

I’m sure that this phenomenon happens in other families, around other tables, and around the world. I’m sure that in Sweden there is “The Last Lutefisk Protocol,” and “The Last Monkey Brain Protocol,” holds forth in some remote Asian or African village. I do doubt, however, that there is a “Last Taco Bell Breakfast Menu Item Protocol,” anywhere, at any time. I have no proof of that. It is just a gut feeling – that feeling being a cramping sensation tinged with a need to escape.

I’m sure that we will continue to be polite and that the last biscuit will continue to die a lonely death on the plate. There is nothing I can do about it, and don’t expect me to be the culture-buster who reaches out and snatches it away with everyone else watching in horror. They already look at me funny as it is. I don’t need the pressure – and I sure don’t need the biscuit.

 

There’s No Place Like Home After The Holidays

 

We are just back from Texas and our Annual Christmas Extravaganza and Food Riot. Everything went well. There were about 28 people around that tree – just like last year. Next year we anticipate the number to be at least one baby higher. The little ones from last year are a year older, bigger, and more frantically active. Two Twin Two-Year Olds in Non-Stop Motion. Picture a crowded room and in the middle of it is a Perpetual Motion Machine on Overdrive.

Katie, bar the door!

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OK, So I’m Whining.

 

WHINE, WHINE, WHINE.

Excuse me while I whine.

WHINE, WHINE, WHINE.

There! I feel better now.

What am I whining about? I’m whining because it’s January and I miss Baseball.

I miss the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, and their collective gasp as the ball arcs through the air into the Gap. Ahhh, the sensual glory of The Game.

The Sights, the Sounds, and the Smells are all a vital part of the Baseball experience. Without reveling in these basic sensations the game might as well be on television.

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What Ever Became Of Her?

 

Alleged Nigerian Princess

HERE IS A QUESTION FOR YOU. Now, this is a bit of a throwback. It wasn’t that long ago when it seemed that every third e-mail that I received was from a “Nigerian Princess” who needed my help in unlocking a huge bank account in Africa…And for just a few thousand dollars of “Good Faith” money I would be given a payment of 67 Gazillion Dollars. I never answered her pleas. But now, several years after the fact I’m beginning to wonder – What if she was for real?

What if…?

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Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Nine

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Nine

 

It was just a few hours since I’d walked out of that FBI office and into their bear trap and now the man they were hoping to snare wanted to see me in his office – alone. He needed a “favor” from me, he said.

I stopped at the Men’s Room and washed my face. I was sweating. Van Swearingin’s idea of a favor might have me floating in San Francisco Bay if he suspects that I’ve ratted on him. I’ve faced the enemy before and walked away. This time though – I’m unarmed.

The walk down the hallway to Van Swearingin’s office felt like it was a mile long. I really wanted to get on the elevator instead, but I knew that if I did that I’d have both Van Swearingin and his Russians and the FBI on my tail, taking turns digging my grave.

The Secretary at the desk outside of the large corner office smiled as I came through the door. She always smiled, but this time it was different. She was smiling alright, but her eyes looked like she’d been crying. Did she know what I was going to run into on the other side of that big Redwood door? Was she a part of all this trouble?

“Mr. Van Swearingin said to send you right in.”

She looked up at me and I could see that more tears were on the way.

“I hope you can help him, Tim. I’ve never seen him like this.”

I had no choice. I opened the office door and stepped into whatever was next. I fully expected Van Swearingin to be at his desk with a gun in his hand – pointed at me. But instead he was standing looking out of the big window behind his desk that gave him a view of San Francisco, with the Golden Gate Bridge off in the distance.

He heard me come in, but he didn’t turn around. He kept on looking out at the city built on Gold and the rubble of earlier earthquakes.

“Thank you for coming in, Tim.”

He turned around. His face was flushed like he had been trying hard to keep it together.

“Have a seat.”

Van Swearingin moved to his desk and sat in his big tall back leather chair. I finished crossing the room and sat down in one of the leather chairs across the desk from him. I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t know what to say anyway. He looked at me and took a deep breath. He let it out ending with a sigh.

“Tim, when I hired you I knew that I was taking a chance. You really didn’t have the level of experience that I’d expect from a man for that job. But, Tim, I was impressed by how you did the job you already had and how you handled that…” He struggled to find the right words. “…That idiotic stunt that my son, Charlie, and the neighbor boy pulled that night. A lot of my security guards would have shot first and asked questions later. You didn’t. You took the time to analyze the situation and then used what tactics were called for. They were two boys, not hardened criminals – at least not yet. You impressed me.”

I nodded. I didn’t know what else to do or say. He kept talking.

“Tim, I need your help.”

Here it comes I thought. Was he going to open up and confess to me about what was going on with those Russian characters? Or was he going to tell me that I was up to my chin in all of the shady business with him? Or was he going to shoot me right there and then?

“I need your help and I want you to know that you can refuse, say ‘No’ and there will be no hard feelings. OK?”

Now I was completely confused.

“What is it you want of me, Sir? You want me to kill somebody or what?”

Van Swearingin shook his head.

“Actually, Tim, it’s the opposite. I need you to help me save someone. I need your help to save my son, Charlie.”

“Charlie? What’s going on? He and I haven’t …exactly been friendly.”

“He doesn’t need a friend. He needs a direction and someone to keep him in line – to keep him alive and I think you can do that.”

I didn’t really understand what he was asking me. He wanted me to babysit his kid or be his parole officer or what?

“Sir, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree here. Your son probably hates me. That night in your garage I roughed him up a bit. I don’t see how I can …” I didn’t know how to explain my feelings about this idea of his.

“Please, hear me out. He doesn’t hate you. He respects you. You may have ‘roughed him up’ but you were honest about it. He pushed you and you weren’t intimidated. You pushed back.

“What I want to do is to give him some sort of a job and have you keep him there. He has gotten himself in a real jam with some very bad and dangerous people here in San Francisco and I’m afraid that if I don’t do something…I’ll lose him.”

“But, Sir, I don’t know what I could do. I’m only a few years older than him. All I could do would be to ride him and keep him busy.”

“Tim, that’s what I want you to do. Keep him busy and maybe you can keep him alive. Please, I’m begging you.”

This was going to happen whether I liked it or not and I couldn’t just walk away.

Charlie Van Swearingin may have respected me like his father said, but all I saw from him was contempt and resistance. His father had assigned him to my Security Detail and shipped him off to the Salt Lake City facility. He figured that sticking him out there on the Salt Flats would keep him out of trouble. My job was a combination of Boss and Baby Sitter and I felt lost on both counts. Here I was an Ex-GI hired to do a job I didn’t know how to do; sitting in the middle of what looked like an island of Spies and Traitors; and now I was being asked to keep a smart mouth teenager from getting himself killed.

I had enough trouble keeping myself alive.

– To Be Continued –

Hello I Must Be Going

 

LIFE CAN BE NASTY, BRUTISH AND SHORT – depending on your neighborhood and what you eat. Even if you eat right, work and play well with others, and don’t take up burglary for a hobby, you are going to die. There is no escaping that fate – unless you know the same secret that George Hamilton knows. I think that he is about 300 years old and still looks pretty good – better than me that’s for sure. But at some point in the future even George is going to buy the farm.

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Throwback Thursday “I’d Like To Know The Rest Of The Story”

deer eating popcorn

GETTING OLDER IS NOT for sissies. It takes guts and imagination. But it also demands that, as Dirty Harry Callahan hissed in one of his films, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

I know that I can no longer play golf like I used to, and that is a blessing, because I was a terrible golfer. People always claim that it is such a sociable game. Well, the way I played it I was always off by myself somewhere. So – No more golf, no great loss.

A lot of the things that I can no longer do, I really don’t care about: golf, tennis, tap dancing (scratch that. That’s a lie. I never tap danced in my life).

I have had to use my imagination to add things into my life that give it spark and entertainment value while eliminating the need for special equipment – This blog being one of those things. Another being high-impact people watching.

Being a writer, in one way or another, I have always been a people watcher, but now I do it with the enthusiasm of Michael Phelps looking for a fresh bong.

This trip to Texas has presented me, the people watcher, with a target rich environment – The Airport!

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At Least You’re Getting Paid

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN START YOUR ENGINES!”

Today is that day when we really start the New Year. It is time to put away the Aspirin bottle and the Ice Pack. Get dressed in something other than your Snuggie and Hospital Footies. It’s time to get back to work – like it or not.

For me today is just a Wednesday. The only thing that could be considered “work” for me today is that I will have to take the trash down to the curb tonight. Whew! I’m exhausted just thinking about that. For just two people we sure do generate a lot of trash.

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Let’s Start A New Year -2019

We made it through 2018, more or less, and now that we have crossed into 2019 I suggest that we start it off correctly – as God intended.

Watch a lot of football.

New Year 2016 2

Spend time with Family and Friends

Nurse your aching head and make no sudden moves.

OK?

We’ll start over tomorrow!

Let Me Know If You Plan To Drive Tonight

WHOOP DI DOO! YIPPEE KAI YAY! Happy New Year and all that. 2019 begins shortly or not, depending on when you read this. Or – possibly taking into account the amount of alcohol you’ve already consumed – 2019 began some time ago. If you are an NBA Basketball player – welcome to 2027! You are coming out of your coma!

It has been a long time since I have been awake at midnight on New Year’s Eve. I just cannot stay conscious that late any more. I guess that makes me a true Geezer. Not being able to stay awake until midnight is one of the official symptoms and qualifications for Geezerhood.

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Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Eight

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Eight

I walked around downtown for at least a couple of hours. Every time I saw the Bus Terminal I had to fight the urge to buy a ticket to as far away as I could get on the money in my billfold. I was feeling like I was walking into an ambush – The Russians and Van Swearingin on one side and the FBI on the other, with me in the middle.

Van Swearingin wanted me to be stupid. The FBI wanted me to be smart. The Russians, I’m sure, wanted me to be dead.

The Ferry Building was down Market Street two blocks away.

I heard the coins falling from the slot into the telephone coin box. The Long Distance Operator made the connection for me.

“Pops” answered the phone.

“This better be good. I was just heading out the door.”

“’Pops,’ its Tim. We need to talk.” I heard nothing coming back at me.

“Are you there? Hello?”

“I’m here,” His voice was low, and he sounded leery. “Are you OK, Tim?”

“Yes, I’m OK. No, I’m not. I don’t know. I don’t know how I am.”

“Talk to me, Son. What’s happened?”

I took a deep breath and started telling about my talk with the FBI and what they wanted me to do.

“I’m feeling like I’m being set up to be the guy who throws himself on the grenade. I’m no hero and I don’t want to be one.” I could feel my shirt sticking to me. I was sweating like a stuck pig and my stomach was queasy.

“I can see how you might think that. They have put you in a sticky spot, but if you’re careful…you’ll be fine. I know that you’ve been keeping that journal.”

“Yeah, I’ve been writing everything down like you suggested.”

“Burn it.”

“What? Why? Isn’t that evidence?”

“Not any more. Now it’s the quickest way for you to find yourself on top of that grenade. Keep your eyes and ears open, but keep everything in your memory until you talk to the Feds again. Let them write it down.”

“This is all putting me between a rock and a hard place, ‘Pops.’ I’m scared that somebody is going to start taking pot shots at me.”

“Only if you get too nosey, Tim. Use your head, but keep it low.”

That sounded like the best advice he could have given me.

“One thing I want you to know, ‘Pops,’ I never mentioned your name to the FBI. I figured that there was no need to pull you into this, being retired and all.”

There were a couple moments of silence and then “Pops” spoke again.

“I appreciate that, Tim. I spent a lot of good years working for the Van Swearingins and I’d hate to end up testifying against them.”

“I can understand that and I saw no reason to get you dragged into this mess. This is my problem, not yours.”

“What are you going to do, Tim? You need to decide. If you play along with the FBI you’ll be putting yourself into a risky situation. If you cut bait and run you’ll have to hide undercover for a long time.”

“I know.”

“Either way you are going to have some pretty nasty enemies.”

XXX

I spent the next few hours walking the streets. I stopped in a few bars and looked at the bottoms of some shot glasses. That only made my situation seem worse. After that I opened the heavy wooden doors at the old Mission Dolores Church. I prayed. I prayed for help, for guidance, for a way out.

I must have been making noise – moaning, crying, I don’t know, but one of the priests came over and sat down next to me.

“Are you OK? Can I help you, Son?”

“Oh, Padre, I am in such a fix I don’t know what to do. I’m scared.”

I could feel tears in my eyes. I never cried at all during my three years in the war. I could have been killed at any moment, but at least I had some control, I could shoot back. Now I felt like I had no control. I was helpless, unable to do anything to protect myself – to survive.

Even though I wanted to tell him the fix I was in I didn’t. Everything I knew had to stay a secret, even here. The FBI had made sure I understood that. I could speak to God, but not to this stranger, this priest. I spoke to him in the most general terms about the situation.

I’ve never been much into any religion. I mean, I believe in God, but I never went to church much beyond Christmas and Easter, but there I was sitting in a pew spilling my guts out to an old priest who didn’t know me or anything about me.

“I watched you sitting here, young man. I could see that you were praying. What did you pray for?”

“An answer – what should I do? What is the right thing for me to do? Should I go back into that mess, with those people who wouldn’t think twice about killing me, or should I run and hide?”

“Did you get an answer?” asked the priest.

“No. I don’t think so. I don’t want to do either thing. I’m scared to do what the FBI wants and I don’t want to run and hide. I’m not a coward, I know that, but I’ve done my share. All I want is to live my life – get a good job, meet a girl and maybe have a family of my own. But I’m caught, trapped, no matter what I do.”

“I wish I could tell you what to do,” the priest said in a sad whisper. “I have faith in God and I trust in Him, but I know that He does not always answer our prayers, at least not in ways that are obvious or easy for us to understand.”

“Then I guess I’ve been wasting my time here.” I started to get up, but he laid his hand on my arm, stopping me.

“Asking for help is never a waste of time. You are wanting an answer to your problem. Our Lord speaks in His own time and in His own way. Your answer will come I’m sure, but when and how I cannot tell you. All I can ask of you is to have faith. You may feel that you are facing your problem alone, but you are not. Of that I am sure.”

With that the priest got up and walked away as silently as he had when he came and sat next to me.

I knew that I couldn’t walk the streets all day. I left the Mission and headed back to the Van Swearingin Building and my office. I needed to sober up and to gather my wits and my emotions. One way or the other I had to have my head clear and ready to act.

When I stepped off the elevator I found myself face to face with the one person I didn’t want to see, Mr. Van Swearingin, my Boss and my enemy.

“Tim, where have you been? I’ve been looking for you. Are you alright? You look a bit frazzled.”

“I’ve been at home. I think I ate something that didn’t agree with me.”

That was the first thing that came into my mind and I had been forced to swallow a lot lately.

“Well, I hope you’re feeling better because I need to talk with you. Come down to my office. I need you to do me a favor. Maybe you can be the answer to my prayer.”

– To Be Continued –

Too Much Time?

 

I HAVE, IF YOU BELIEVE WHAT SOME PEOPLE ARE SAYING, A SMALL PROBLEM. They are saying subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, that they think that I have too much time on my hands.

I don’t think so.

And since I have only one good hand in operation my time, extra or not, is somewhat limited in its disposal. The time I will take to type up this blog posting will use any temporal overage I may have. When I am at the keyboard my fingers (all five of them) are flying across the keys at a blistering 5 – 6 words per minute. That apocryphal group of typing chimpanzees is faster than me and often more creative.

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Throwback Thursday… From Dec. 2015 “Houston, We’re Cool – No Problems Here”

Today is Throwback Thursday… From December 2015

“Houston, We’re Cool – No Problems Here”

 

I’M WRITING THIS IN LONGHAND, on lined paper, in cursive, using one of those so-calledspace-shiba-inu-astronaut “Space Pens.”

The makers of this pen used to advertise all over the place when the pens first came on the market several decades ago. Now you have to do a Google search to find them. At least I did.

They called them “Space Pens” because; on some early NASA space flights they discovered that your basic, every day ball point pens didn’t work very well. Everything was weightless, including the ink inside the pen, and it wouldn’t flow onto the page. Apparently, in those early days of space travel, the Astronauts took a lot of notes. Or maybe they whiled away the long hours in orbit by connecting the dots or doing crossword puzzles.

Faced with this dilemma the brilliant minds set to work hunting for a solution. They found one.

The “Space Pen” is like other pens, with a reservoir of ink, but it is different in that the ink is in a pressurized capsule so that, no matter at what angle you hold the pen, the ink will flow. It even works in the weightlessness of space. Hence, the super-duper nifty advertising idea to call them – “Space Pens.” I’ll bet that name was coined by a graduate of the Wharton School of Business.  

I remember having a Space Pen decades ago. I think I got as a gift from some relative. It must have been a gift; because there was no way I was going to spend the money for one. When they first hit store shelves these pens were going for both an arm and a leg. I honestly don’t recall the actual figure, but it would have meant no lunch for a long time. No lunch? Not this boy!

It was like when the small electronic digital calculators hit the stores. I remember dropping close to a hundred dollars for one. (I was working by then and thought I could afford the calculator AND lunch. I was ultimately wrong.) Now you can find those calculators being used as give-aways to kids, or if you want to actually spend money for one, you can find a nice selection at your local Dollar Store. You can get one there that has the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on it if so desired.

Those cheap calculators put the slide rule manufacturers out of business. Those gizmos are museum pieces now. When I was in High School we had a Slide Rule Club – a group even Dorkier than the Audio-Visual Club.

There was never a Space Pen Club. When you get right down to it, the Space Pen is — a pen. It can do whatever one can do with a pen and do it at whatever angular orientation you choose. But it is still — a pen.

The odds that I will ever get the opportunity to test out its efficiency under weightless conditions are pretty slim. NASA doesn’t actively recruit Astronauts my age, unless you are a Senator or something equivalent – like a member of a popular, yet aging, Boy Band.

Why did I get this Space Pen in the first place?

Idle curiosity and access to the Internet. What brought it to mind in the first place is beyond me, but I did a search and, Eureka! – They are still on the market. The prices have dropped by about 99.9999%, so I figured, why not?

I am proud to say that I am the owner of three Genuine, blister-packed, patent and copyright protected. honest to Alan Shepard, “Space Pens.” It was four blister-packed pens, but I had to take one out of the pack so I could use it to write this.

Don’t you feel like you just rubbed eyeballs with history? Just a bit, maybe?

alan-shepard

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

 

IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN. People all over the world are busy making New Year’s Resolutions – you know what those are – lies we tell ourselves about things we should have done years ago.

At least half of the world makes the same resolution every year: Lose Weight. The other half of the world makes a different resolution: Don’t Starve to Death.

I’ve not made that Lose Weight resolution for years, decades even. Not that I don’t need to shed a ton or two, but I don’t need to try to embarrass myself into it. I have enough of that elsewhere in my life. If you’ve ever performed onstage you’ll understand.

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