Sunday, May 5, 2013

Another post created for our Writing Group.  I hope you like it.

The clock radio clicked on as the local Top Forty DJ announced the time.

“It’s six o’clock.  Get up and at em sleepy heads.  Time to get ready for work!  Another Day another dollar.  It won’t happen if you don’t get goin!”

Hearing the cacophony, Jimmy was instantly awake.  This was no ordinary day!  It was Monday.  THE  MONDAY!   He had been preparing for this day since Kindergarten.  Today his adult life took a new direction, one that would shape his future.

Hearing his mother in the kitchen preparing breakfast, the memories of high school came flooding back.  The last six years away in college at Notre Dame and then at Villanova in graduate school, studying business seemed to instantly fade away, shrinking into insignificance as the aroma of bacon, eggs and toast drifted through the door into his old room.

Looking at the familiar surroundings, he could see his mother had kept everything just the way it looked the day he left.  It had never been part of his plan to return and live at home, but his old room gave him a feeling of comfort and stability considering the challenge that lay before him.

His father sat him down in the living room the night before while his mother washed and dried the dishes and for the hundredth time, gave him the “speech”.  Thinking back, the first time he remembered hearing it was when he was in the fourth grade.

Jimmy was pretty certain the words had never changed.  “Son, you know, you have the opportunities in life that I never had.  You can go as far as you want to be successful and your mother and I have tried to make sure you have had every chance to succeed.  We hope you take advantage of your education and make the best of it.  You need to study hard and make something of yourself.  There are no limits to what you can achieve in America.”

His father, an immigrant with only a high school education, worked hard all his life after coming to America, saving and going without so Jimmy could go to college and have a better life than he had.  “This was the land of opportunity”, he told him. “You can even become President of The United States if you set your mind to it.”

Now the day had finally arrived, fresh out of graduate school with his Master’s Degree in hand and ready to take on the world.  Living with his parents was a temporary but necessary stop on his journey to success.  His father had paid for all of his college and grad school.  He knew he was a very lucky guy.  Most of his friends were burdened with student loans and years of debt.  Not Jimmy, he had listened to his father and now all those years of studying and prepping for the SAT tests had paid off and allowed him to get into a great university.  He had even qualified for a partial academic scholarship to help offset some of the expense to his parents.

After a quick shower, Jimmy shaved taking care there would be no cuts or missed spots and afterwards he checked carefully in the mirror just to be sure.  Then, combing his slightly unruly hair, he took an extra step and applied some of his mother’s unscented hairspray to help keep it under control. He also took particular care in choosing his wardrobe.  It was his first day of work in the real world and he knew the impression he made would be important.  Finally satisfied with the person staring back at him from the mirror, he could hear his mother coming to the bottom of the stairs.

“Breakfast is ready dear.  Don’t dawdle now.  You need to give yourself time to let it digest before you get to work.  You don’t want your stomach to growl and embarrass you, do you?”

“Okay Mom, be right down.”  He knew his father had already left for work and his mother was making a special breakfast just for him.

Sitting at the table, he could see the pride in her eyes.  Her son was a man today.  She prepared the eggs, toast and bacon just the way he liked them along with home fried potatoes and fresh squeezed juice.  It was her way of showing him her love and support.  His mother had always been there for him.

Finishing the feast, he ran back upstairs to floss and brush his teeth one more time before leaving.  His mother was waiting at the door with a smile on her face that stretched from one ear to the other when he came downstairs.  She hugged and kissed him.

“I am so proud of you.  Your father and I could not have wished for a better son.  You have always worked hard to live up to your potential and I know you will be a success.”

Seeing the tears welling up in her eyes, he quickly said, “I love you Mom”, gave her a hug and a kiss and rushed out the door before either of them started crying.

The bus stop was full of people, but he felt confident and unafraid as he boarded the Number Seven and searched for an empty seat towards the rear.  Finding an open row, he flopped down and let out a sigh of relief.  The tension would soon be over.

The ride was short.  Soon, from his window seat, he could see the newest corporate location of his employer as the bus neared his stop.  The facility had just opened and it was not far from his parent’s house.  Walking from the bus stop, he admired the shiny new building.  This was where his new career was about to begin and he could not shake the feeling it would change his life.  Entering the door marked “Employees Only”, he felt an instant sense of belonging.

Making his way down the hallway, he searched for the office where he had been instructed to report.  Finally, there it was, with the nameplate, George Wilkins, General Manager.  Hesitantly, he knocked and heard a voice beckon him inside.

“Good morning James.”

George Wilkins stood and offered his hand in greeting.

“Come in, sit down son.  Right on time I see.  Getting off to a good start.  Can’t tell you how happy we are to have you on board.  I hope you feel the same. The opportunities here are unlimited you know.  You can go as far as perseverance and hard work will take you.”
“Once you are through with the paperwork and Human Resources, I’ll show you around and introduce you to one of our seasoned veterans who will show you the ropes.  Let you ease into things and get you off on the right foot with your training program. We want to be sure you understand all your duties before we put you on the front line. Our customers expect the best from us you know.  Oh, before I forget, let me be the first to say, Welcome to McDonalds.”

Monday, April 15, 2013

A new post for those of you bored with only two.  Want to let everyone know we are living and loving it in Cuenca, Ecuador for over a year now and not only has the move given me a new locale for part of my new book, it has also prompted me to learn Spanish.  Very slowly I might add.  I will try to entertain some more and keep the updates more regular.  Any comments are welcome. If sales of Methuselah's Secret continue to improve, I may even put a few more chapters up or maybe something from the sequel, Methusela's Promise.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A little Flash Fiction (maybe not fiction) A little humor and a little pain.

How the Fourth Grade Changed My Life

Last week during my Spanish Class, I realized I was unwillingly, re-living a life changing experience from the Fourth Grade.

That’s right.  1954.  I was eight years old and there were lots of changes in my life that year. 

It was the first time I ever left my home state, Connecticut. 

My first trip on an airplane.  We flew to Florida for vacation. 

I had my tonsils out, my first stay in a hospital.

You remember eight.  The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny were fading memories, just like Santa Claus.  The world was opening up. Everything was changing.

Oh, and, then there was the thing that changed everything for me. Yeah, it was a thing.  The Accordion. 

My little town was growing and the baby boomer children were straining the local school district’s capacity.  Building new schools took time, so some of us were transferred to a neighboring town, Oakville, for one year while our new school was constructed. 

Fourth Grade.  New kids, new principal and a new teacher, Mrs. Strockbine.

Nancy Strockbine was a pleasant middle aged lady who defined the word frumpy.  Her standard dress looked like a lumpy tent with some lace on it.  Her hair was always pulled back in a bun so tight it looked like when she smiled, her skin might tear.  She was nice lady who maintained order with the threat of the Principal’s office where we all knew, the STRAP was kept.  I never actually knew anyone who got the strap, but we were all sure it was there behind the principal’s desk and we all knew it could be used on us if we did something bad enough to warrant a trip to the OFFICE.

I started having trouble with math in the Fourth Grade.  We had moved on from addition and subtraction to fractions and it got so bad that one day my mother got a phone call summoning her to a dreaded, parent/teacher conference.  It wasn’t my fault, fractions and I did not get along.  I was having a hard time with the whole concept and my mother had to make an appointment to meet with Mrs. Strockbine.  At the conclusion of the meeting, my mother promised her she would take charge and see to it my grades in math would improve.  After that I vowed I needed to do something to make my Mom proud of me to offset the shame of  her having to come to see my teacher.

That year, part of the school day was devoted to Music.  For me anything was better than math, or so I thought.  We got to listen to records and sing and it seemed things were okay for a while.  I could not sing a note but that was okay, I just moved my mouth and kept quiet.  Then came the announcement we would all get the chance to learn to play a musical instrument.

  On my first trip to where the instruments were kept, I saw immediately spotted three Accordions in the corner.  Passing up the clarinets, the trumpets the violins and the Tuba, I headed straight to where they were.  They were shiny and cool.  We were made for each other, or so I thought and there was mine, waiting for me in its own genuine simulated leather case lined with blue velvet.  There had been an old player piano in our back kitchen that my sister taught me to play chopsticks on when I was five, so I figured if it had a keyboard, I could learn to play it.

Up until a week or so ago, I have for the most part, successfully suppressed that memory as well as the ones from the weeks that followed, but Spanish Class here in Cuenca has caused it to come flooding back. 

You know Spanish, purportedly the easiest of the Romance languages and the first real challenge I have been faced with since moving to Ecuador.  Our teacher is a certified language expert.  She is a patient, intelligent Cuencana who works very hard to teach me something, actually she works very hard to teach me anything, about her native language.  At first I figured if she could learn English, I should be able to learn Spanish.   I’m not stupid.  At least until now, I didn’t think so.

I actually believed I was making progress with the program until we got to Reflexive Verbs.  It was that day in our Spanish Class that Fourth Grade and the challenge of learning to read and play music came rushing back to haunt me.

Oh yes I remember the DAY.  A dreary, rainy, Thursday.  It was the day I picked up my Accordion so I could take it home to practice.  I should have sensed right then I was doomed, but I was just a kid, what did I know? I wasn’t into omens and Karma yet.

I remember thinking,  “…playing the accordion would be easy, a piece of cake”. Then slowly, I realized you had to learn to read music in order to actually play the damn thing.  You had to identify notes and translate that into pushing the right key on the Accordion. 

Okay, I can do this I said to myself, only I couldn’t.  It didn’t help that I was tone deaf and have no rhythm either.

I remember the shiny white keys with the black ones in between.  I remember taking it out of the case and trying it out. I expanded the bellows and it groaned.  That should have told me something.  Then I noticed all the other stuff on it like the bass buttons on the other side of the bellows and the treble switches and so on.   I gave it a shot anyway and I found I could really make nice sounds, I just couldn’t make real music. A lot like Spanish, I can’t make real conversation.

So there I was.  My mother was so proud of me. She was convinced I would soon be belting tune after tune of her favorite dancing music, The Polka.  That’s right, her son would soon be entertaining everyone who came to visit with “Roll out the Barrel” and displaying his prowess with the Accordion.

My father on the other hand was not so sure about my abilities or the Polkas, but he signed on and coughed up the money for the rental and music lessons.

Every Tuesday and Thursday Mrs. Strockbine would send me down the hall to the music room promptly at 2:00pm so I could take my music lesson for one hour, before I had to get on the bus and go home.  You may not believe it, but try as I can’t remember anything about the lady who actually conducted the lessons, Nothing.  I can’t recall a thing about her, not her name, what she looked like, not a thing.  I wish I could have been as successful about blocking the rest of it out.

To begin with it seemed pretty easy.  I could play the scales and pick out some chords.  Kinda like Spanish.   A word here and there and you are speaking the language… Right?  Well NOT really!

I guess when I was eight it was my time to begin to see there were things in life I could not do.  Oh, there had been hints.  One day after watching the latest installment of Superman on TV, I decided the only thing keeping me from really being able to fly like Superman was my lack of a cape for takeoff.  So I climbed to the second floor of one of our barns and jumped out the door with one of my mother’s best bath towels using a safety pin to hold it around my neck.  Well, that day I proved to myself I could not fly, with or without a cape.  That failed flight resulted in a badly sprained ankle not to mention crushed pride.  The cape, (towel) and the takeoff failed, but I did not fail to piss my mother off.  Unlike that harmless fun, failing to learn to play music was a real disappointment to the important people in my life, my mother and father, not to mention me wanting to kill my sister who by then was laughing at me every time I tried to play the thing.

There it was.  I had hit my first wall in my life and I didn’t know how to deal with it.  I was embarrassed to discover there was something in the world I could not do.  Since then, there have been other things I have found beyond my abilities, like landing a plane on an aircraft carrier, but I thought I had learned to deal with stuff like that.  I was wrong. 

So, regarding learning Spanish, I am realizing the wisdom of the cartoon, character Pogo, uttered the famous line,” We have met the enemy and he is us.”