Strategically Placed Chewing Gum

TV remoteJimmy woke with a start. He checked his watch. Just in time, the game wasn’t starting for another ten minutes. He could make himself a sandwich, open a bag of chips, grab a beer and be all ready when the game started.

As he opened the refrigerator he remembered he’d been chewing a wad of bubble gum when he fell asleep. He hadn’t planned to fall asleep, but it was the rhythm of chewing the gum that lulled him to sleep. He didn’t know why that happened, but for as long as he could remember chewing any kind of gum, in fact chewing anything sticky like caramel or taffy, always made him drowsy.

He wondered what he’d done with the gum. It wasn’t in his mouth. He checked back in the living room. Not on the table. Not on the floor. Not stuck anywhere on the sofa. Jimmy felt his hair, face, and clothing. No sign of the gum anywhere. He must have swallowed it.

Back in the kitchen he peeled off a couple leafs of lettuce, spread some mustard on the bread, added four slices of ham, two slices of cheese, and just a dab of horseradish. He was ready for the game. Packers – Cardinals, should be a good game. It was in Green Bay, so the Packers had the edge, but he was expecting Arizona to win. In the pool at work, he’d picked the Cardinals to win the Super Bowl.

By the time he sat down and had everything arranged it was just two minutes to game time. He pressed the remote, but nothing happened. He made sure it was pointed straight at the TV, pressed, saw the little red light go on, but nothing happened.

“Damn, wrong time for the TV to go out,” he thought. “One way the tube TVs were better, they always started flickering when they were about to die.”

Jimmie opened the small door over the controls on the TV and pressed ‘on.’ The TV sprang to life. “Must be the batteries,” he said to himself.

First, he turned the game on, then went back into the kitchen and got a couple batteries. He pried open the remote, pulled out the old batteries, put in the new, and as he was sliding the remote battery cover back into place he found the chewing gum. Somehow he’d stuck it over the remote’s infrared LED.

Back in the living room he put the gum back over the LED and pressed off. The TV stayed on. He removed the gum, pressed off, and the TV went off.

He chuckled, not just because it was funny, but because he was already picturing his brother’s face next time Jimmy visited.

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Sometime Awhile Ago, Maybe

Bradley parked the car, then walked down the driveway to the mailbox. The latest issue of the New Yorker magazine, the usual weekly collection of local advertising, a couple letters from AARP, and a letter from someone named Mitch Hedberg. Bradley studied the envelope to be sure it was addressed to him, which it was. It was handwritten, the Forever stamp was placed at an angle to the corner, and the letter was postmarked two days ago in . It didn’t look at all like a mass mailing.

Once inside Bradley poured himself a scotch on the rocks, rifled through the local advertising and recycled everything except the letter from Mitch. He opened it, expecting to see a sales pitch of some kind, maybe a pyramid scheme. Inside was a carefully written letter.

Dear Brad,

          I’m expecting you will remember me. I found you on Facebook. I signed on to it last month. Giannini is on it too. Drew told me Jerry was in Texas I thought — still in the food business. Drew’s running a golf course. Turns out I probably drove right by him last year when we were visiting my wife’s cousins in CA.

          As to what I’ve been doing. As you remember, I was in prep school (Phillips Academy, Andover, MA), only because my folks could afford it, not because that’s where I wanted to go. I did okay there and could have gone to Harvard or almost anyplace after that. Lord knows dad wanted that, but I joined the Navy and stayed in for 6 years. Then dad got his wish, but it was Dartmouth for me. Planned to be a doctor, but instead of going right into med school after getting my BS, I took a job as a Patient Service Representative at St. Lukes in New Bedford. Figured it would give me a better idea of what I was getting into before I got into it. After two years I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor, much less a neurologist. I know a couple doctors here Utica, but that’s about as close as I am to being one.

          How did I get to Utica? I have spent most of the last 30 plus years in the health field. Fourteen years as a chemical dependency counselor/administrator, and the last 13 as a behavioral treatment unit manager at a long-term care facility in here.

          Been married to Maggie (Margaret) for 29 years and nine weeks. Have one son, Allen, who is 19. Been living in Utica since 1974. Can’t tell you how many times we’ve been up and down hwy. 49 between here and Rome, Vienna, Jewel and points north. I just remember it’s not four lanes like 90. My best man at our wedding, Tom Tolbert’s folks used to have a place on Oneida Lake north of Sylvan Beach just off Hwy. 13. I remember a sporting goods store in town that had a freezer case out front that held a trophy size fish. His folks sold the place about 10 years ago.

          What got me to look you up was your daughter’s art show. I noticed the name in the local paper and remembered Drew mentioning you had a daughter who was an artist. Brilliant as I am, I put two and two together, went to the show and asked her. She is indeed talented! You must be awful proud.

          I had no idea you were so close. Last I heard you were working in Jersey. Maybe we can get together sometime, maybe golf or lunch. I don’t get over there as often as I used to, but I could make the trip.

          Anyhow, that’s a brief history of me since we last met — which must’ve been in 1964, because that’s when I left for Phillips.

Be well,

Mitch

Bradley wrote back,

Mitch,

I’d love to get together for lunch sometime, anytime at your convenience.

A few corrections: I’ve never worked in Jersey, have lived here at least twenty years. I do not have a daughter who is an artist unless you consider accounting an art, but you’re right I am very proud of her. I also have two sons. One, Karl, is the News Director at a radio station in Oneida. The other, Dustin, teaches math at Oneida High School. I was a fifth grader in 1964. You sound like a person I would like to know, however. Lunch sounds good. we could meet half way. I know two or three good places in Rome unless you’ve got a favorite there. You mentioned a trophy size fish. Do you do any fishing? Maybe we could go out on my boat sometime. It’s an 18 footer, plenty of room for both of us.

Brad

The Kid Couldn’t Dunk

Tony was 6’10” tall and weight just 191 lbs. When he was young and still 6’8″ he was told he would fill out as he under the basketball hoopgot older. He never filled out, though. He tried strenuous exercise including weight lifting. Even though he was able to bench press 225 pounds with ease he hadn’t filled out much. He was still thin enough to squeeze through spaces the size of a basketball.

When he was ten other kids called him beanpole. Now he was tooth-pick, even though he hated being called that. Being skinny was not the most embarrassing, though. He wasn’t very good at sports. He could catch a football and his long legs and long arms were an advantage, but he couldn’t block and he was easy to take down. If there was a defender around when he caught the ball, it didn’t take too much to disrupt the catch. So, he spent most of his high school football career sitting on the bench.

He liked baseball and he could catch, but couldn’t hit. Getting the bat around quick enough was a problem, so he usually played at the end of the game when his coach put him in the outfield because of his defense.

The worst was basketball. Shooting wasn’t a big problem. He was about average and unlike football, he was good defensively, mostly because he was big enough to get in the way, but he couldn’t jump. Guys shorter than him often dunked over him and that was the rub. He never dunked over anyone. He never dunked. Never. For some reason when he jumped he barely left the floor. He spent hours in the gym squatting as low as he could, then launching himself as high into the air as his body would allow, but it was never very much. Now, he was 22 and he’d been trying to strengthen his legs ever since he was 12 and tall enough that other kids smaller than him were already dunking, but something was wrong. His coaches thought maybe his legs bent wrong or maybe it was his ankles or maybe he just had white guy muscles. Every 6’10” white guy he knew could dunk.

“Wish I could help one of his friends said one day. Maybe it’s your shorts. You’ve been wearing the same kind of shorts as long as I’ve known you.”

Tony laughed.

“Or maybe it’s the shoes,” his friend said. “You remember that commercial when we were little. Michael Jordan and it’s the shoes. You been wearin’ the same brand your whole life, right.”

“It ain’t the shorts and it ain’t the shoes,” Tony said. “It’s my body, God just made me wrong, that’s all.”

A couple weeks later Tony was in a sporting goods store. He needed a new pair of shoes. He picked up a pair of his usual shoes, but as he did another pair caught his eye. They had a pair in his size. He tried them on. They felt good. Most of all, they looked good. He put his usual shoes back and even though the new shoes were a lot more expensive, he bought them. He might not be able to jump, might not be able to dunk, but at least he’d look cool. 

That afternoon all the guys oohed, aahed and whistled over his new shoes. Now they felt even better than they had in the store. The first time down the court he took the ball in for a little layup and to his surprise when he went to bank the ball off the backboard he realized his hand was over the rim. He moved his arm a little and for the first time in his life, dunked the ball.

Got This Craving for Pizza

Five topping veggie pizzaSo I’m at the pizza place. I ordered a 16″ thick crust with green peppers, black olives, and tomato slices. It should’ve been ready five minutes ago, but there’s four people in front of me.

When I walked in the guy at the end of the line took a good look at me, as if he was taking my measurements. I thought maybe he was gay, but so what. Anyway, the guy at the front is placing an order. The guy in front of me who might or might not have been gay starts talking.

“I really got this craving for pizza, but I’m not supposed to have pizza. Doctor’s orders? Not exactly. Ex-wife’s orders.”

The he turns a bit and looks over his shoulder. That’s when I realize he’s talking to me and is expecting me to say something back.

So I say, “Yeah,” as if I understand.

“She says,” he continues, taking a big breath as he does. “She says pizza and pasta and almost any kind of bread product is not good for me and if I got any hopes of ever getting her back I’ll stop eating stuff like that. Says I should eat mostly vegetables and fish. So I been eating lots of Salmon and Tuna. Can’t stand most other kinds of fish. Stuff stinks and I got sick, deathly ill, thought I was gonna die, was kinda hoping I would last time I ate shrimp. Ain’t had shrimp in more’n ten years.”

Again he turns back toward me. “I’m not a big fan of shrimp either,” I say.

“Anyway, since I’m on this diet I thought just a plain cheese pizza couldn’t hurt too much, but tomorrow, you know, she’s gonna casually ask what I ate. So, I got a can of Salmon at home, gonna warm it up and put it on a five-topping pizza. Tomorrow I can tell her I had some Salmon with a side of cooked mushrooms, green peppers, black olives, onion, and tomato with a little cheese. Eh?”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” I said.

“Damn straight. Fish and veggies, just like she wants.”

Short Story: Thanks for Listening

Tyler was a radio announcer. He did a three-hour live show. He tried to be funny. He thought he was funny. He worked very hard at being funny. He thought his audience loved him. After almost a year on the air, no one had ever told him he was terrible. A few people said they enjoyed listening to him.

Then the program director, his boss, called him into the office.

Radio Studio“We’ve had a couple complaints about you lately. I was going to let the first one slide, but I just can’t overlook the second complaint.”

“What did I do?” Tyler couldn’t believe anyone had complained about anything he’d said.

“Well, the first complaint was from the newspaper. It seems you were making fun of them, but they’re a competitor and I thought maybe they were just trying to cause trouble.”

“Oh yeah, they deserved it. They often end their stories in the middle of a sentence, sometimes in the middle of a word. I don’t know if it’s a copy editor or someone who does the layout, but whoever, they’re lazy. I know they’ve got to fit the story into a specific space so I pointed that out.”

“I understand, maybe lay off them for awhile. The other is a big problem. Two of the churches called, the pastors. Seems some of their parishioners are upset you said something about wanting to wring God’s neck.”

“Oh gee, I didn’t say that. I did the weather forecast. It rained all day Monday. Tuesday we had sleet and rain, and yesterday it was sleet and snow. I just said, “I’d like to get hold of whoever ordered this weather and ring his neck.’ I wasn’t talking about God. I was talking about the weatherman or whoever makes up the forecasts we read here.”

“I guess rather than saying ‘the guy’ maybe you should have said ‘the weatherman’ or something like that. I know you’re from Chicago where they’re maybe not so religious, but this is the Bible Belt, lots of Baptists and Foursquare Bible here. You can’t be saying stuff like that.”

“That’s ridiculous. If I was going to be that careful, I’d have to say nothing at all.”

“Exactly. That’s why I’m putting you on notice. Stop trying to be funny. I’m going to be listening to you every minute of your day for the next two weeks. If there’s anything I think anyone might complain about, I’ll have to fire you.”

“Is that it?”

“That’s it.”

Tyler had an hour to prepare for his show. He tried putting together some things that were entertaining, but couldn’t be construed by anyone as offensive. It took a little while, but by the time he went on the air he was ready.

Usually, by the time his show started, his boss had gone home for the day. When he sat down that afternoon, he adjusted his microphone, got his show opening, the first few commercials, and the first couple songs ready. He looked through the window across at the bosses office. As usual, the lights were off and the room was empty.

He played the recorded opening for his show, and thought, I hope I make this boring enough. He read the news, weather, live commercials, and station promos exactly as they were written. Whenever it was his turn to ad-lib, his turn to ‘do his show’ he always said some variation of this: Whenever he spoke that afternoon he said some variation of this: “Thanks for listening and thanks to everyone who wrote. Also, I want to say hello to all my new listeners. That is all. Back to the regular programming. Here’s a song you might like…” Nothing else.

That night when he got home he checked his answering machine. There was one message. It was from his boss. “I hope you thought that was funny. I didn’t. When you come in tomorrow, pack your things. I’ll have your final check ready.”

To himself ,Tyler added, “Thanks for listening.”

A Not So Wonderful Life

James was depressed, to say the least. His business was failing. He’d hung up on four bill collectors today. It didn’t matter to them what time of year it was. They wanted their money now. He had just enough money left in the bank to pay his employees. At least they could have a good Christmas.

When he got home his wife was gone. There was a note on the table. “I can’t take it anymore. I have to get away.” That’s all it said.

So now, she’s left me too.

Jimmy left the house and trudged down the street to Frank’s Tap. He downed three whiskeys in a row. Then sipped the next two while he thought about his problems and how to deal with them. There was only one way. He finished the fifth whiskey and left. As he was heading out the door someone said, “Hey, Jimmy, Merry Christmas.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Jimmy mumbled back.

He walked slowly down the street toward the bridge over the river. He didn’t really want to do this, but it was the best thing to do. At least there’d be the insurance money, that was the best Chrismas present he could give his wife and kids.

When he got to the bridge. It was snowing, “Perfect,’ he thought, “A white Christmas.”

He climbed up on the railing and looked down at the water swirling below. Just then a man walked up and stopped behind him. Jimmy stood there, balancing himself against the winter wind, waiting.

“You gonna jump?” the man asked.

“Why would you want to know?”

“Cause I ain’t never seen anybody jump off of this bridge before.”

“But you’ve seen people jump off of other things?” Jimmy asked.

“Oh yeah, sure have,” the man said. “My little brother jumped off the garage roof when he was nine. Broke his leg, he did. Said it hurt like hell. Sprained an ankle, too.”

“So, you’re going to try to talk me out of jumping,” Jimmy said.

“Oh no, not at all,” the man said. “I ain’t never seen anybody jump off of a bridge and I’d like to see what happens, how big a splash you’ll make and all.”

“You’re an angel, aren’t you?”

“Me? Well, I go to church every now and then, but that’s mostly for the donuts after. I work down at the window factory. Ain’t nobody ever thought I was any kind of angel before.”

Jimmy looked out over the river. Along the shore, he could see some of the houses lit up with their Christmas decorations. “Now, I’ll have to jump,” Jimmy thought.

“Hey mister,” the man said, “I don’t suppose you’ve got any money in your wallet. Hate to see you jump with a wallet full of cash.”

“My wallet? Oh my gosh, my wallet,” Jimmy said. “I left it on the bar.”

He jumped off the railing, landed on the sidewalk and ran back toward the bar. As he faded in the distance the man on the bridge shrugged his shoulders and disappeared.

The Best Thing He Ever Did

drops of blood on the floorPushing the pile of dirt down the school hallway, John Casey noticed a few drops of blood. He stopped his sweeping to clean up the blood. As he looked at it, he thought about the day is life changed, forty-five years ago.

He was eleven years old. His father was sitting on the front porch reading the newspaper, not paying any attention to him. John, who was called Jackie then, was tossing a ball into the air, hoping his father would stop reading and play catch. It didn’t happen very often, maybe once or twice a year, but it was like everything else. His father was there, but he wasn’t close.

Jackie tossed the ball and it wasn’t a very good throw. Instead of going up in the air it went backward and slammed into his father’s newspaper.

“Damn it, Jackie. You’ve got a whole big back yard. Why aren’t you playing back there instead of out here, pestering me?”

Jackie shrugged his shoulders, but as he turned toward the back yard he noticed a kid about his age coming down the street. It was somebody new, a kid Jackie didn’t know. He walked casually toward the boy until he was just two steps away.

“Hi,” Jackie said, then he punched the kid in the face as hard as he could. Jackie’s father jumped off the porch, shouting. The kid was wailing. Blood was pouring out of his nose. Jackie stood there just looking at the kid. His father jumped off the porch shouting, “What the hell are you doing? Why did you do that?”

Jackie shrugged his shoulders.

His father took the kid inside, got him cleaned up, stopped the bleeding and gave the kid a soda and some ice cream. Then they talked. They talked for almost an hour. The next day when Jackie checked on his father sitting on the porch after dinner, the kid was there, talking. The kid and Jackie’s dad met Just about every day, for the next few months. The kid never wanted to play catch or do anything with Jackie. All he wanted to do was talk with Jackie’s dad. Whenever Jackie took the time to listen to what they were talking about he was soon bored. The kid was crazy, always talking about money and investing and the stock market.

Then one day the kid disappeared. After a couple weeks not seeing him, Jackie asked his dad, “What happened to that kid who was always here?”

“Elliot?”

Elliot, Jackie thought, that was about right name for a weird kid, “Yeah, him,” Jackie said.

“His dad was transferred, so Elliot has moved away.”

Years passed before the two boys saw each other again. Both went on to college. Elliot earned an MBA from Wharton. John dropped out, had alcohol problems and spent ten years in jail. There he became John and learned enough about plumbing, heating, and electricity to get hired to do maintenance work when he got out.

Elliot made a lot of money and was eventually hired by John’s father and became one of the company’s VPs. When John’s father died he left each of the boys ten percent of the company. Elliot took over the day-to-day operation of the business and it thrived.

Since then another ten years passed. Both boys were married and had three children, although each of Elliot’s children was with a different wife. His alimony and child support payments left him with little more money than John was making.

As John cleaned up the blood he thought about how well things had turned out. Based on their respective births, Elliot was the one who should have been fixing the radiators and sweeping the halls and John should have been running the company. For years John thought he was trying to impress his father when he punched Elliot. Looking back on what had happened to the two of them, John wondered if there was more to it than that. He wondered if he had seen something of the future that was in store for him, a future he knew he would never want. Maybe when he saw Elliot he also saw that Elliot was perfect for that future, but first Elliot had to meet John’s father.

As he threw the rag with the blood on it into the trash, John smiled. Punching Elliot in the face was the best thing he’d ever done.

#Bespoke