Brokenhearted

 

“Anything broken can be fixed. Although, sometimes it’s better in disrepair.” JSM

Chapter Twenty Five

Lost

During the brief time between graduation and the print shop, I never found solid roots in any employment offered. I started at the Summer Printing Program, moved to Friendly’s, then left the restaurant for a grocery store.  I was terminated from the store and found a sandwich shop which I helped manage for two years.  Things got crazy in the sandwich industry and I quit.

Shortly thereafter, I assisted a friend with a garbage truck and piled trash for a period of time. I picked up a position as a bottle clerk and tossed empty cans for a stint before landing at the steel mill which I invested five years of life.

After the layoff from the mill, I juggled a few miscellaneous odd jobs before finding home within the walls of a print shop.

At a gas station is where I spoke with the owner. It just so happened we knew each other, but not well acquainted. He was tall, had a dark goatee streaked with gray, matching the hair on his head, and I didn’t recognize him with his sunglasses on.

“Hey.  You’re Jeremy, right?”

“Yes, sir. Good to see you again.  Been a couple years.”

“I talked to your old instructor a few months ago and he said he had no clue what you were doing now.  Are you still in the business?”

“No.  Haven’t found anything in the area. Well… one… but it’s quite a haul from home.”

He placed his items on the floor so we could chat, “You knew we’re moving the old building to Vikery Street, right?”

“Are you still working in law?”

“No.  That’s the point. I’m getting into graphics work now.  Give me a few weeks to finish settling in and I’ll call you.  I’ve opened a print shop and the copiers are on their way. It’s a growing business and I couldn’t resist. I only have to get the remainder of the staff to the new location, set up shop, get some training done and I think I may have the right spot for you.  If you don’t hear from me in two months at the latest, call this number.” He handed me a card and pointed to an office line.

“Hey, that’s great, Kurt.  I’d love a chance to be on the team. That sounds awesome.  Do you work with any presses?”

“Two as a matter of fact, but not like the ones you’re used to. They’re already set up and running.  We picked up a contract with a state department and we change new data and information as the details trickle through to us. It looks as though we’ll be picking up more within the next few months, but the presses are run by seasoned operators.  We’ll mostly be doing design work locally, and running high-speed copiers.  That’s where the money is.”

Bummer.  

I nodded my agreement. “That makes sense. I look forward to talking again, Kurt. Thanks a lot.”

He paid for his items and smiled to me, “Next time we talk, I’ll be your boss.”

Good enough.

We shook hands and parted ways.  Three weeks later he called me and we set everything up, and the senior staff placed me in a work station that suited my experience. I received a decent evaluation after one month of service and an increase in wages.

Which led to this point in the tale.

*****

What the… Oh no.  Oh no! Oh nononononononono.  What is this?  Where did it go? Refresh.  Home screen. Click, drag. Open, open, open. Where are you? Is it in here?  No.  Here? You gotta be kidding me.  Be cool, be cool.  Don’t lose it.  It has to be here somewhere.

You’re a dead man.

I glance to my co-worker, “Uh… Lewis?  I may need your help.”

My immediate supervisor had his face inches from his terminal, squinting at magnified details on the screen and had to clear his throat before replying. “What is it?”

“I can’t seem to find File 005.  I was just in there a second ago and now it’s gone.”

He kept his focus on the computer and his back to me, “It just doesn’t disappear.  Did you look in the directory?”

“Yes, and the trash and the home file and opened other folders to see if it was dumped elsewhere by accident.  I can’t find it.”

“Move.”  He pushed away from the terminal and rolled his chair across the small room to replace me at my spot. Lewis looked in all the same places, applied the same searches, ran the same troubleshooting techniques and leaned back in his seat. He pushed out a sigh between pursed lips and shook his head. “Hold on, let me try this really quick.” He hit a series of buttons, crossed his arms and looked to me, “Yeah.  This isn’t good.  There’s like… a million bucks worth of contracts in 005. What did you do?”

My hands raised and my eyes opened wide, “I have no idea. Can we call support?”

“No choice.  It has to be found. Kurt will lose his mind if we can’t get it back. What did you do?”

Four hours later it was determined that whatever I did was permanent.  File 005 had vanished from my computer.  No shred of it’s remains could be recovered from the hard drive. As though it never existed in the first place.

However, it was real.

I used 005 often through my work week so I know it wasn’t a figment of my imagination. 005 was indeed a real file.

I knew it was a real file, because the owner was pulled away from his family fishing trip to address the issue.

He arrived during the third hour of tech support; watching two technicians plugging and connecting machines together to find what it was I lost. Searching feverishly for any scraps of data.

The owner paced throughout the factory; arms crossed with his gaze to the floor. Kurt was devastated and I could tell he was sick with nerves every time I looked his way. At times a quivering hand would rub his stomach as if he was attacked with a wave of nausea. He’d look to the roof overhead and whisper a series of words then disappear around the corner to sit in the office with the door closed.

All I could do is wait.  Watching the staff dart their eyes my way, whispering to one another from their individual office spaces. They could’ve been discussing work, responsibilities and daily duties, but my gut told me I was the topic of conversation. I couldn’t handle the stress any longer and I slinked out the side door to pace around the backyard.

After a few minutes of alone time, one of my co-workers poked her head around the corner and asked, “Are you alright?”

“I don’t know.  I feel like I was punched right in the stomach.”

Now more comfortable she approached me and lit a cigarette. “It’ll be fine. They’ll find it.”

“That sounds good,” I sat on the surface of a picnic table and dropped my feet on the sitting bench, “but what if they can’t?”

“Well, my guess is they’ll recover the data elsewhere.  Contact the department and reissue the old files. Maybe start it over again. We can fix it. Anything can be fixed.”

She put my mind at ease for a moment. Everything can be fixed. It sounded good in theory.

What’s the worst thing that can happen? Oh yeah… you’ll get fired.  That’s what.

No.  They won’t let me go.  He sought ME out, not the other way around.

She dropped the smoldering mentholated filter in the sand filled bucket beside us and smiled, “Let’s go back inside and see what’s up.”

I walked slow beside her, my hands stuffed deep in pockets, and within the factory and surrounding office spaces the tension in the air seemed to vanish. The employees were bustling across the floor, carrying products, pointing to documents, nodding agreements while detailing designs.

As though nothing happened.

When the owner exited his office, followed by his senior staff and two technicians, the blood drained from my face and my heart thumped and fluttered in my chest. He stopped at the center of the room, pressed a number on a phone connecting him to a loudspeaker for downstairs employees and bellowed, “Everyone out!  Take lunch or whatever break you haven’t had yet! I want this building empty in thirty seconds!”

I turned my back, weaved into the crowd to follow suit, blending in with my head hung low like everyone else, but when I heard in a lowered tone, “Everyone but you, Jeremy,” I felt the oppressive overbearing sensation of suddenly weighing two thousand pounds. Both legs morphed into concrete pillars and my back arched pulling my attention to the colored tiles between my feet. All my energy drained, my shoulders slumped and the inside of my mouth turned into a barren desert. I had the inability to pull my hands from the pockets of my slacks, and I was unable to pick my head up to address the senior staff to look them in the eyes. Lewis was the last to walk by and he patted my lower back with sympathetic taps on his way out the door.

The factory foreman spoke first, “Let’s go downstairs and have a talk.”

Yup.  You’re a dead man.

>>Thank you for continuing along this journey with me.  Please subscribe, like, share or leave a comment and I’ll see you at the next one.

Victorious

 

 

“Despite what you may have heard, I am not crazy.” JSM

Chapter Twenty Four

Standing Tall

Last chapter I briefly mentioned choosing the path of least resistance. Finding an easy route to navigate through life. Why make it difficult when alternatives can suffice?

Sophomore year of high school wasn’t any different. Every possible method short of ditching and skipping out was tried on my end. My desire to finish high school ranked at the top of personal necessity.

Once I’m released from this nightmare, life will be better.  Just get through it as fast as possible. What ever it takes.

If something can’t be explained to me in a method that makes sense, I won’t have the capacity to understand it. Plain and simple. If the answer is akin to, “This is the way it is, and it’s right because it’s right, and the answer is accurate because… reasons… and I can’t explain the why, accept the facts as facts.”

I won’t get it. I’ll only have more questions.

Therefore, math was my Achilles’ heel.

The instructors couldn’t drill it into my brain. They’d sigh and frown, shake their head reeking of exasperation, pacing around the room, rolling eyes and loosening ties.

“Look,” He’d lean across my desk and drop a shaking finger on the equation in question. “Carry this over. Deduct blah blah blah, multiply the square route and additional math terminology, and solve for x-y-z, etc.”

“But… why?”

“Because.  That’s the way it’s done.”

“Just because that’s the way it’s done, doesn’t make me understand why, Mister Strictmath. Can you explain why the equation is broken down this way, to provide the answer? Don’t show me how to go through the motions to solve it, show me why it’s done this way. Educate me. Please?”

Whether the instructor was incapable of finding a way to force my understanding of it, or I outright refused to absorb the knowledge provided, either way, I still have yet to use any of what was taught to me in school, in the subject of high school math. I have yet to find a need to solve for X or Y, or incorporate the number Pi into anything.

Since misery loves company I luckily wasn’t alone. I was among a handful of students who struggled in this area. On my second attempt in algebra (first attempt, Freshman year, failed miserably) the teacher graded me on a curve so he wouldn’t have to deal with me and my ignorance for a third time.

Thank you, Mister Strictmath. You are a blessing in disguise.

Then he was stuck with me for geometry my Junior year. I remember saluting him with a smile on my lips as I sauntered through his door on the first day back from summer vacation.  He crossed his arms and chuckled, “Well, Jeremy. We meet again.”

Back in the day (can’t believe I can say that now) graduation requirements involved at least two years of math and four years of English, plus everything else. I plowed through my history classes, science, “shop” and whittled down the criteria to the bare necessities.

Because I managed to get through science fairly unscathed, was not a reason or an invitation to pursue higher science in any capacity, such as physics. No thanks.

The mandatory subjects were completed and my Junior year consisted of geometry, a fine arts course, and English. My Senior year,the only primary requirement for graduation was high school English.

It was the glorious morning, entering the wide spacious area of my fine arts class, where ultimately I found my first love.

I had a passion so fierce it can’t be explained. All my thoughts, attention, unwavering focus and utter devotion centered around one thing.

In 1993 it was called, Graphic Arts.

Today, it may have the name, Graphic Communications.

My friends and I had a ball in that class. We silk screened tee shirts with fake logos, which we thought up from scratch. Created business cards and school fliers.  Helped with the yearbook, sketched fun comics, animated flip books, and designed invitations for school functions; such as prom and sporting events. Our imagination was the topic of discussion for the entire class each and every day, and the results thereof.

After some time in that classroom I was provided the option to attend a nearby vocational school for the remainder of my time in prison. Attendance at VoTech would provide extra credits towards graduation and look good on future transcripts.

Whatever it takes.

I found some freedom at the new school.  Everyone at vocational found a subject they could focus on exclusively and were able to commit to their subject of interest. Auto-body, metal work, wood working, law enforcement, nursing.

That’s where I met her.

Janet.

An ABD 360, offset, multi color printing press.  I was familiar with Janet’s sister, Heidelberg and enjoyed her company and capabilities, but Janet consumed me.

I knew her inside and out.  Every gear, chain, cog, pulley and belt. Every sound she made was memorized, and I could anticipate impending issues and troubleshoot in real time. I could tear one down to the floor into little pieces, rebuild it, and make it run better than it was before.

Before everything transformed to computer software, super fast photocopying and high tech devices, printing a product from a press involved multiple steps.

Photography was first, making intricate adjustments to aperture and shutter speeds as needed. Developing the negative in a darkroom.  Manipulating clip art on a computer screen to suit our needs; cutting and pasting (with scissors and glue) and designing a template.

Then, through a series of intense lighting and developing the solid image onto transparent plastic, we could then utilize magnifiers to zoom in on pixels, dust spots, rough edges and problem areas and scrape away black, extraneous material with sharpened tools. The picture  on the plastic is then “burned” onto a thin metal plate and washed with a series of chemicals.

The thin plate is then stretched around a metal drum on the printing press, ink is applied on rollers and drawn into the machine through a series of smaller drums and controlled pressure, the ink sticks to the image on the plate, a sheet of paper is guided onto a conveyor belt, shoots under the metal plate and the ink transfers the image to paper.

(whew)

As long as the ink and paper is consistently fed into the machine when needed, the press will print non stop until the time the metal plate stretches, breaks down, and deteriorates.

Janet was my baby.

My instructor spoke with a school committee to have me compete in a regional competition. To this day I don’t know if he knew what my battle would entail, and did what he did as a favor, but I agreed and trusted the man and signed right up. My only advanced knowledge– I’d be starting at the design phase and produce X number of flawless finished products.

The judges would review the end product from each of the competitors and declare a winner based on a lengthy checklist of details.

It was the strangest battle I’ve been in, and I’ve been in some tough scrapes.

I ran unopposed, as there were no other local signups. No schools in the area wanted to participate in that specific subject.

I worked a quick small job at my own speed, just to say I did it, and the committee granted me a gold medal by default.

Even if the end product was garbage, I’d still win. Ha ha ha.

Goody goody for me, everyone.  Yeah… Look what I did.

It’s sad and pathetic, but the win allowed an opportunity to compete at the state level. I was automatically provided a chance to battle against all the schools in the state, technical, high school and other vocational institutions. Some competitors working at a college level.

I was terrified. From zero opposition to battling it out with eleven diverse students I’ve never met.

I had no idea what to expect when I stepped off the bus at the hotel that Saturday morning. The events of that weekend was my first ever competition.

My instructor guaranteed he’d attend and watch each event and he hovered as close to the sidelines as possible; cheering me on in his own quiet way. He was a hell of a guy.

The weekend was sectioned into blocks of time.  The finished product was expected on Sunday and the award/dinner ceremony for all competitors lasted through Sunday evening.

I had flawless marks in all categories. A perfect design.  The perfect negative, transparency and plate, and rumor had it a CEO of a large local print shop was in attendance scouting out college students.

Sunday morning I slapped the plate on the drum, worked the ink into the machine, stacked my paper, went through the motions with switch flipping, dial turning and lever pushing, and ran some test sheets to find my ink balance.

I had twenty minutes to complete the job.

If memory serves, we needed to produce fifteen perfect sheets.

The issue with time is the perfection of the product. The test sheets are the most vital to the process. Once a test sheet spits out the other side it’s checked to unsure the image is centered, blemish free and the ink is flawless.  The first sheet spells out any adjustments that may need to be applied to the machine. Shifting the plate, decreasing drum pressure.

The actions that burn up time.

Not until the test sheet shows perfection can the worker feel comfortable allowing the machine to run at full force.

The judges made a bunch of excuses as to why the machine failed seven minutes in, but my competition ended as quick as it started. The rest of the students continued on with their battle and time stopped dead for me.

My instructor came to my work station and the judges gathered around my machine.

One judge lowered his voice, “It’s been beaten up pretty bad this past week.”

My instructor spoke back, “Can you grant him extra time?  Have him start over on an available machine?  When someone else is done?”

“No, no. All competitors compete within the allotted time.”

I looked to a corner where an unused, slightly broken printing press sat collecting dust and glanced to my instructor, “Can I use that one instead?  I’ll use parts from one and fix the other.”  I looked to the clock, “please, I can finish in time if you let me fire that one up.”

The judges looked to my teacher and he half shrugged, “if he says he can do it, then let’s see if he can.”

I lost two minutes while chatting.

I cannibalized parts from one press and created a workable machine and when ‘thirty seconds remaining’ was yelled out from the bystanders, my last sheet came out and it was almost flawless.  One border along an edge had a hair width line partially out of place.

I was granted a gold medal that afternoon. Deemed the best in the state. The judges couldn’t believe I was able to fix it mechanically, run my tests from scratch, and produce a finished product in the time remaining.

I was on top of the world.

My Senior year was devoted to an hour of English in the morning and the rest of my day hanging out with Janet.

After graduation, I worked with a small group of students through the summer, at VoTech, and we made some money working small jobs for local businesses. Fliers, tri-fold brochures, business cards, and three of us designed and printed statistic booklets for a sporting goods store. We called it the Summer Printing Program. My actual first paying job.

I had a diverse portfolio, two gold medals and credentials. My name and picture in the newspaper. I sought and researched employment in local print shops that operated with high end models and expensive gadgets.

I eventually landed a position at a printing shop and after my orientation phase, I was placed with another gentleman in a computer and designing station. The presses were housed in the basement and it was an elitist position.

Based on my findings, the only way to run a printing press around these parts is to wait for someone to quit, get fired or die.

One month later, while manipulating  and working on a preexisting template stored inside a folder on a desktop computer, I accidentally destroyed (as in gone, not retrievable, disappeared into the aether, could not be recovered by IT services, destroyed) over one million dollars worth of company files.

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The Root of All Evil

 

“It’s easier to ride the ride, than fight the tide.” JSM

Chapter Twenty Three

Back and Forth and Back Again

While hammering through my first degree program at the local university, I worked part time as a mechanic at a recreational facility.

Bowling, arcade, late night light and laser show events (with a DJ and a fog machine), killer sound system, indoor restaurant, party nights and functions with two full bars. One of the greatest benefits of employment as a mechanic there, was the ability to focus on my studies (with permission) in my own little work space during down time. It was perfect. Job priorities first–study and read when not working and catering to an issue.

Not a problem.

One day, out of nowhere, something hit me while passing by a common room off the main hall at the college.

Moving between classes, I stopped at an entryway and overheard cross conversation among other students.  The hairs on my arms prickled up and a shiver shot from my lower back straight into my neck.

The bulk of the talk was centered on job possibilities after graduation. Who was doing what, where, who is furthering and continuing their education, internships, starting own business, and so on.

The level of excitement was high and the enthusiasm was obvious to everyone in the room. While casually listening to their dialogue, I found the nearest chair and lowered myself in it.

What hit me wasn’t jealousy or envy of any kind, I wasn’t even that curious or interested in what they had to say.

I felt overwhelming waves of confusion. Dizzying and gut spinning. As though I was struck with a sudden bout of dehydration. I forced myself to sit down before I fell into the wall.

By default I have always chosen the path of least resistance. I attempt to find the easiest route through a problem. I cut corners. I seek and attempt to apply common sense. If I can’t do something or figure it out, I find someone who perhaps can, before I make matters worse. If money needs to be spent to solve the issue, so be it.

My dislike for math is over the top. I mean… over… the… top.  I avoid it like the plague.

Not long after being handed a termination slip at the steel mill, someone planted a seed in my head on the idea of attending college, and how awesome an experience it is.

Money in loans, pay off debt, pay ahead the bills, potential grants.

Hmm.  That could be the way to go.

Therefore, as I’ve also been a follower for a good portion of my life and have always considered myself a “yes” man, I joined the college experience, through a suggestion, and chose English Lit based solely on the fact that the math requirements were minimal.

I know right?  Idiot… 

At the time, I never thought it through to completion.

Sitting in that chair in the common room, I waited for the dizzy to dissipate and once it did, I was finally able to compose myself.  I then had a good heart to heart chat with my alter ego.

What are you doing?

You were told college was a good idea.

Is it?

What are your options in all this?

Think about it.  English Lit… What do you want to do with that?  Write?  Teach? Traveling journalist?

When you put it that way, I don’t really know.

Can’t do the latter that’s for sure, can’t leave the family… So what’s it gonna be?

Out of the conjured possibilities, it seems this is a huge waste of time and energy.  Maybe it’s time for a degree change.  Sleep on it.

Soon thereafter, I switched from English Literature to Mental Health and Human Services. Transferred all my credits, moved some things around, and started from scratch. A family member had received a degree in mental health and was working a great job with amazing benefits.

I’ll follow that path.  See where it goes. 

After finding out I was about to be a father for a second time, it was suggested that I leave my education, drop it completely, and find a way to snatch up a full time working gig. The money needs to flow. I asked my boss if I could get more hours and it wasn’t in the cards.

I quit school and found full time employment within a handful of days.

Almost a full year invested in English Literature and two semesters in Human Services, flushed right down the crapper.

I snagged a job installing office furniture.  Decent money setting up new buildings, and replacing worn out equipment.  Two of us driving all over the state constructing work desks and petition walls. Slapping together swivel chairs with lumbar supports and piecing together conference rooms.

We spent a month on the coast preparing a technical college with brand new desks, chairs, student equipment and various other needed chores. Loaded up the box truck early in the morning and returned in the evening.  An entire university all to ourselves with a coastal view from every window.  Lunch breaks wherever we chose.

My co-worker didn’t have a licence, and as such, I was the primary driver; classified as an installer in training.

After each location was completed for the day, we’d return to the warehouse and rearrange the orders for the up-coming deliveries.  Using the unlimited overtime opportunities to rake in as much as possible.

Because… ya know.  Give someone a chance to make a bunch of money, no questions asked? Who says no, right?

It’s safe to say we probably “milked the clock” a little here and there, but the upside was the fact we were never micromanaged. No unexpected visits from the boss.  No phone calls asking about progress. Trust bestowed upon me with nothing other than the words, “I don’t care what it takes, get the job done.”

“You got it boss.”

As I labored through my day, I felt a sense of accomplishment.  A good honest days work.

In actuality though, the overtime felt like I was ripping off the company. It was great for a span of time.

Here’s the conundrum. You become accustomed to your environment.  Leaning on a broom, chatting about movies, TV shows, moving a crate to a different location and then moving it back ten minutes later… and getting paid for it, feels normal after a time. You become numb to the idea that it’s no longer honest. You get used to it.

Like so many other things in life. Numb to it all.

Just as long as the cash pours in, life can move forward.

Regardless, a small itch in the back of my mind continued to warn me that what I was doing wasn’t right. I’d always find a way to fight it off.

No, Jere.  It’s OK.  This is normal.

But it doesn’t feel right.

This is the way things are done around here.  Go with the flow.  Listen to your superior. Take the cash and run with it. It’s a gift.  You deserve it. Come on… It’s easier to ride the ride, than fight the tide.

No.  Leave early… this one time.

I turn to my superior, “Hey man, I’m going to take off and call it a day.  See you tomorrow.”

He grabs my hand before I can punch my time card, “Wait, wait.  The boss said he wants the attic swept out and last years equipment stored upstairs. A full stock rotation.  Come on.  Snatch up another hour with me.”

“… Alright.  What’s another hour?”

I shrug my shoulders, force a smile, and return to “work”.

When the attic job could be done at any time, I’d give in and stay anyway. The devil on my shoulder always shot the angel square in the face.

From that point forward I felt like a pawn in someone else’s giant game of chess. My decisions and opinions were irrelevant in every nook and cranny of my universe.  My feelings on specific issues were ignored and shrugged off. As though I was remote controlled by an outside force. I couldn’t say no. I was embroiled in other people’s lives, and my life stopped being my own.

Life is more than merely existing.  Life needs to be lived.

I forgot what it was like to live and feel as though I’m still healing. Incrementally waking up from a decade long coma.

And all of it is my own damn fault.

>>Thanks for reading and please subscribe below.  See you at the next one<<

 

Stormy Skies

 

“Step one–Never change. The moment you change is the moment you stop being you.” JSM

Chapter Twenty Two

 The Deep Freeze

In January of 1998 my state was crippled by an ice storm.  In fact it’s named, “The Ice Storm of 98.”  A variety of YouTube videos can be watched if interested and it has it’s own Wiki page .

Four million without power across many states including portions of Canada, and the damages were in the billions of dollars.  The National Guard was sent to assist. Seven hundred thousand Mainers without electricity. Thirty five people were killed, most by hypothermia. Cascade effects of transmission towers collapsing from the weight of accruing ice, falling into one another like dominoes. Grids had to be rebuilt from the ground up. In some places power was non existent for weeks and months.

So much devastation.

Like a nuclear shock wave plowed across the state, and everything froze solid in it’s wake. Declared a state of emergency by Governor King and I remember the day the President of the United States took a helicopter tour to view the damage himself.

Trees that didn’t break bowed low and fused at their bases. Thankful to be alive but defeated and trapped in an icy tomb. Millions of trees brought to the ground.

Hundred year old pines toppled across main roads, blocking travel; power lines snapped free from their poles, merged with the frozen earth.  No phone.  No electricity. No way to communicate with anyone, anywhere.

Driving resulted in accidents. The ice piled up faster than could be melted. Salting, sanding and plow trucks were useless. Cars pulled to the side of the road and abandoned. A layer of sand was applied to a slippery street and the falling freezing drizzle coated over it as though it was never deposited. Then a layer of snow.  Then more raining ice.

A race that couldn’t be won.

The cleanup took weeks. At it’s end, three to five inches of solid ice and snow blanketed my beautiful state and unless the sun was breaking through the clouds and spreading its melting warmth around us, there we remained.  Trapped in ice. Normal life came to a standing halt.

We’d wake from a dead sleep in the middle of the night to the sounds of cracking, splintering, or falling trees in the distance and all around surrounding properties. No one slept on their second floor. Always a lingering concern. At times, with the snapping sounds echoing through the silent night, it seemed as though Godzilla was walking around outside.

My community rallied together and helped those in need.  Those with generators invited others to join in a meal, or play a game; providing locations to keep infants warm and safe. Those with chainsaws cleared debris.

Some folks were able to sleep with their children snuggled close, wrapped up tight in a sleeping bag in the comfort of a stranger’s warm home.

Food was delivered to those in need.  The elderly were helped.  People made friends with one another. The teens of the neighborhood would chip and chisel inches thick ice away from stairs, basement bulkheads and walkways, going door to door asking if they could provide help in some fashion.

The schools were closed.  Gas stations were shut down.  Businesses empty and work cancelled indefinitely. Grocery and convenience stores devoid of needed items. Banks restricted to paper and pen for money transactions. Thankfully, the local library remained open.

Smack dab in the middle of chaos

It was surreal. Like being trapped in a frozen wasteland.

Once the main roads were open again for travel and danger levels were lowered, a group of us drove around town and for the most part we were speechless. Emergency crews carved paths through the widespread debris, using saws to hack away thick trunks of uprooted trees; sections wide enough to allow a car through, and to the gang of us we felt as though we were cruising through a war zone.

An experience I’ll never forget.

I was one of the lucky ones though.  The landlord of the apartment I was residing at allowed a brief spurt of electricity twice a day. But that was it. He fired up the generator mostly for maintenance reasons.

During the worst of it, folks huddled in rooms with candles lit and do-it-yourself heating contraptions and tried to make the most of a bad situation. Wandering around outside during the early days of the storm was considered dangerous so friends and families grouped together in familiar homes to “ride it out”.

Unless I was asked to do something specific,  I sat in my small bedroom.

Alone.

Intentional isolation. My own personal igloo.

I can deal with the cold quite well.  It’s oppressive thick humidity and scalding heat that makes me uncomfortable.

Something inside my mind instructed me to stay put and work on a project.

Having  candles, multiple blankets, a hat, scarf and gloves, an oil lantern, surrounded by my hobbies and interests, made it easy to withdraw to a place of isolation and run rampant with my imagination.

My friends had to drag me out of the house. During two weeks of uncertainty and not knowing when life will return to normal, I found the time to be me.

When the wheels of life spun once again, the walls of my room looked like a disorganized map created by an obsessed and overtired detective searching for clues; connecting suspects to their ring leader.

Paper taped and tacked displayed across each wall, connecting edge to edge. Three sheets covered my TV screen and the door was wallpapered with rough sketches. Lines drawn to other papers halfway across the room. Disproportionate maps with varying boxes highlighting important locations and nameless structures. Circles around stick figures and organized lists. Lines of triangles indicating a mountain range bordering a misshapen oval, which my mind conjured up to be large body of water.

I’m not an artist. Easy to admit. My skills are limited to stick figures and basic geometrical shapes. I try to add detail to my drawings but I can never make it come together from what I envision in my head. I envy anyone with any artistic ability.

During the ice storm, for two weeks straight: I ate, slept, finished chores, read books and doodled in a sketch pad.

I had absolutely no idea what I was creating, but there it was.  In shoddy detail staring at me from each wall and corner.

A year later that universe disappeared from memory and the “Light Switch” flipped me into robot mode. And there it stayed.

I became a parent and reality changed. The imagination vanished and all those sketches were filed away in a box and stuffed deep into a closet. Literally and metaphorically. Priorities kicked into overdrive, robotic routines were instituted and a new journey began.

From that moment forward, within a ten mile radius between the backwoods of my hometown to our state’s capital, I’ve lived in thirteen homes. I’ve attended college twice for three different degree programs, and if my math is correct, I’ve held seven wildly varying jobs and two of those job positions, during that time, were return employment.

It would be fourteen years before I could once again be “me”.  While I can say I was made to be a parent, parts of me slowly disappeared. I became accustomed to what I was supposed to do. The ability to do the things I wanted, were seemingly lost. I’d scramble for all that which was slowly vanishing from memory, but all focus and dedication was now exclusively on my daughter(s).

Sacrifice is scary and life can be pretty messed up sometimes. Funny how things work out.

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The Great Beyond

 

 

“Continue exploring. Never stop searching.” JSM

Chapter Twenty One

Trees of Knowledge (Cont.)

Turn around and walk away. Pretend you were never here. If dad finds out, you’re in trouble.

Heart racing and mind scrambling I jumped out of my skin when the thin wooden door creaked closed behind me. The contents of the room were an assault on my senses.

I whipped my head back to the walls and darted my eyes around the cramped space, attempting to take it all in as fast as possible.

Pictures and posters overlapped one another. A single bulb dangled from the center of the roof, dimly lighting the room with a dull white glow yet revealing bright and colorful tapestries splayed across the ceiling and wooden floor.  In the corner, a cassette player whispered music I didn’t recognize from the speakers mounted to the corners of the room. Books crammed spine to spine covered a shelf nailed to a wall, and below the makeshift bookcase was a derelict recliner.  The handholds of the old chair covered with duct tape, holes worn into the fabric and a frayed brown blanket was draped across the back cushion.

Trinkets and statues and figurines littered nooks and crannies in the available spaces. Watching me from their hidden spots. Some hand painted, pewter or carved from wood. They sat on low shelves and end tables made from scrap materials, and tucked inside what appeared to be a milk-crate resting on the floor was a tightly packed assortment of LP records. Across the room from the crate, was the record player.

My parents owned a record player.  I was allowed to use it and listen to what we had on hand. Growing up, our collection was mostly gospel music, but I could lay on my parents bed and listen if I wished.

While my curiosity guided my every move at this point, I didn’t play any records in the black shack.

I pushed the milk-crate back into it’s cubbyhole and turned my attention to the walls again.

Depictions of ancient Egyptian deities, golden temples in lush forests illuminated by the setting sun, and bizarre mythical creatures and carvings. Bright yellow chariots soaring above a great city. Dante’s Inferno. Hand sketched renderings of fantastical worlds and mystical locations. Science fiction magazines and comic books were scattered across a centralized table surrounded by incense burners and scented candles. Pictures and drawings of other realms and places that only exist in the mind. A black trunk beside the chair, housed a variety of Dungeons and Dragons material.

Astrology and numerology. Maps of the Milky Way and the planets. Buddha and Shiva. Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead. Pink Floyd and psychedelic musical artwork covered every square inch of the room.

I was in a candy store.  I couldn’t get enough. The newness and intrigue of what I was being subjected to opened my mind and sparked adventure.

As if I was an observer in a new museum my eyes dragged across each piece of foreign artwork, up high to down low, all the musicians, paintings, and archaic illustrations, knick knacks, novelties, ancient maps from books stapled to the walls in random spots, and my young mind tried to make sense of it all.

Utterly fascinated.

I was once introduced by a member of the church to an author named, Frank E. Peretti.  A supernatural fiction author. The two books were titled, This Present Darkness, and it’s sequel, Piercing the Darkness.

The story of the realm of angels and demons fighting over humanity.

I read each book multiple times and was drawn deep into that story.  The idea of angels and evil demons flying above a person and battling it out. Invisible to those they’re trying to protect or destroy.

A human driving through a mountain pass drops his wallet on the floor of the car and while reaching for it, the demon gets the upper hand and the car veers towards the shoulder and certain death over the edge. As the angel fights back, sword clashing against sword, the demon backs off and the vehicle jerks back onto the road to continue on.

I loved it. My first favorite book series.

After scouring the inside of the black shack and leaving no stone unturned, I approached the door to leave hopefully unnoticed. Nestled within the corner to my left, hiding in shadows on a short table was a book with a marker sticking out of its center.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Hobbit.

I withdrew it from the surface as if it would crumble in my hands and turn to dust.

I’ve heard of this.  I think the library has it. I opened it to the first page.

That’s when the door ripped open and a tall man appeared, blocking the afternoon light from fighting it’s way inside.

He towered over me and bellowed in a thick, gruff voice, “What are you doing in here!!??”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,  I’m leaving.  Don’t tell mom, OK?” I dropped the book back on the table, looked to my feet and stuffed my hands in my pockets.

Totally busted.

The door closed behind him and a chuckle came out. “I’m just kidding, Jeremy, come on in, come on in.  Have a seat.”  He pointed to the recliner and dropped down to his haunches.

He withdrew the box holding the records and reached to the center of the pile. Eyes still soaking in my surroundings I continued browsing the room while he pulled out Ozzy Osbourne’s, The Ultimate Sin.

In all sincerity and honesty, it scared the crap out of me.  I’m laughing while typing this because I must have seemed like a fool with my reaction, but the cover was terrifying to this kid, who had never experienced something like it before.

Everything about it, based on my upbringing, screamed evil.

He saw my reaction, flipped it over out of sight, and placed it to the side. His hand raised as if to say, no, no, it’s OK.  I’ll get something else.  His face devoid of expression and his lips never moved.

His next pull was Stairway to Heaven.  Because of my approval of the title and artwork, I nodded my agreement and he half smiled his reply. He understood my train of thought.

Pushing from the floor, he gingerly removed the record from the sleeve and handed me the cover, “Yeah. I like this one.  You know something cool about these guys?”  He placed the LP on the turntable and flipped it on. “Some of their music talks about Tolkien’s characters and the world he created.”

“Like from the book?”

“Yeah.  Like from his books. Neat huh?”

While the record spun and played the songs he showed me a map of Middle Earth, talked about his experience with the author’s work, topics he and his friends discuss and we chatted about surface mythology, unique ideas, ancient religions and authors I’ve never heard of.  He explained the backgrounds and history of some of his collections and meanings behind some stories and art work. Most of his replies beginning with, “Some believe that… I’ve read in a book… I learned this in school…” Never saying what he observed or learned was true or false.  Only that he garnished some knowledge and attempted to express it in that way.

“I learned/read/researched/saw…”

Before I left, and he swore never to speak a word to the folks of my intrusion, I was unfortunately denied the borrowing of The Hobbit.

But I smiled and thanked him when he handed me a different novel in its place and told me it was a gift. Early in the summer of 1987 I was introduced to Stephen King’s, The Eyes of the Dragon. (I know he’s not reading this, but Mister King’s book was with me for years and years.  It never left my side.  Literally a part of me)

Having only moments earlier, a conversation about dragons in the ancient world, symbolism and alternate ideas and Tolkien’s dragon character, a nervous chill tingled through me while staring at the book’s cover.

I felt as though I was breaking some unorthodox rule. Treading on some seemingly forbidden territory. Will I get in trouble for reading this?

That book for me was like an iPhone for others.  You couldn’t pry it from my cold dead hands if you tried.

A whole new universe was opening up.  I was ready to explore that great beyond.

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The Taste of Forbidden Fruit

“Rejoice in all you’ve accomplished! Not everyone gets an eleventh chance.”  JSM

Chapter Twenty One.

Trees of Knowledge

Have you ever consumed forbidden fruit?

Knowing you shouldn’t partake in it’s sweet temptations? Despite the nagging, overbearing whisper in the ear, “It’s alright, no one will ever know,” and you fight the urge, internally debate, battle with emotions and fear, then plunge your teeth in anyway?

Perhaps I should reinforce the question.  I don’t speak about forbidden activities such as breaking into a neighbor’s home and stealing coveted forbidden items, or going out side a relationship and keeping a forbidden secret from loved ones.

I ask in regards to:  Reading a sibling’s journal/diary.  Listening to a heated argument through the vent connecting two rooms, or with an ear pressed against a locked door. Finding something that was never meant for your eyes to see and rummaging through it anyway out of sheer curiosity.

I get that people like their secrets. I’ve seen some secrets kept using the craziest of methods. However, the secrets I speak on are much more trivial. Little, dark, hiding in corners and closets–secrets.

Five key events have laid the groundwork for determining who I am as a person: The day I legally adopted my eldest daughter.  The birth of my second daughter.  The day my divorce was finally finalized. Finding something my eyes were forbidden to see.

The last of the five we’ll discuss later.

The first three events mentioned in the above list are kind of obvious, so I probably don’t need to go much further in detail for the moment.  Today, however, I share my first taste of forbidden fruit. Something I wasn’t meant to see but my curiosity got the better of me and I ventured out of my comfort zone for the first time. I was either eleven or twelve.

That age of exploration.

*****

Half way between my state’s capital and the coast, is a town which fits the description, “if you blink, you’ll miss it.”

A single two pump gas station, one church, a hardware store and a small cemetery. The fire department and police station were combined into one building, a coffee/pastry shop across the road and a deli/grocery store within walking distance.

Nestled off the side of the main road camouflaged by trees sat a saltbox style, two story home, painted onyx black.

Members of my large extended family resided here and when the family got together for a barbecue or a gathering, it was quite a crowd.  Children inside and outside through the front and back door, running up and down stairs, sneaking into the surrounding woods to play. A congested kitchen and claustrophobic hallways. Wide open backyard with blazed trails, and at the outskirts of the property sat a junkyard.

The junkyard wasn’t guarded by a mean old man or a frothing menacing dog tied to a stake. The doors were wide open and we could explore and wander freely, as long as we were careful.

“Don’t you kids get into anything!  Be careful down there!  Don’t go where you’re not supposed to!”

“OK!  No problem!  Sure!”  Was our usual reply.

Having already explored the junkyard in it’s entirety throughout my youth, I made the decision one afternoon to go back to the reunion and find something else to do for fun.

Off the side of the trail leading to the scrapyard sat two out-buildings, painted the same color as the home. One was the size of a large smelt shack and the other was a small, open concept one room house.  While we were able to see though it’s windows, a padlock hung from the outside of the larger building and only adults were permitted to enter.

The smaller building slowly approaching to my left had the door slightly ajar.  It was always locked up tight as well. Something isn’t right about this.

Growing up in a religious household I wasn’t exposed to much in the realm of the secular. Certain books weren’t allowed.  Specific music wasn’t allowed or encouraged.  Some games were frowned upon. Halloween was restricted to just nearby family visits. Dungeons and Dragons was out of the question and as a result I played it elsewhere.

As a child of the church, I didn’t know who certain celebrities were, or who was popular in today’s music scene.  I was only shown what I was shown. I read what was provided to read. The TV shows I watched, were determined at an early age.  I was raised on 1980’s PBS programming.

Hanging out with the neighborhood kids I was asked, “Did you know so-and-so is coming to the Civic Center next month?”

“No.  Never heard of em.”

“WHAT?  Never heard… do you live under a rock?”

With that kind of response, I suppose I can say I do.

I don’t want to say I was sheltered from the outside world.  I believe my parents did what they thought was right by me.  The knowledge received in their upbringing, was in turn then passed on to me. A protective veil was created to cover my mind.

When I reached a certain age, however, I was asking questions that couldn’t be answered. Contradictory statements that morphed into debates. “What if” comments were spouting left and right from me.

I wanted to know things. My curiosity was bursting at the seams. I spent considerable time at the library looking for answers to my questions and ultimately when I reached that age, I fell into what I call, limbo.

Limbo is a difficult place.  Never knowing.  Always guessing.  Fearing the worst but hoping for the best. Partially empty.

I knew something was beyond that protective veil created around me, but I couldn’t guess what it was.  I felt I was missing out on something. Why can’t my questions be answered?

My wheelhouse is “what if” and I struggled to understand.

Regardless of where I spent my time, rules were always in place. At one family’s home, the attic was forbidden. At an uncle’s home, the upstairs closet was a no-no.

At the home where the junkyard was located, the out-buildings were violations of family privacy.

“Go anywhere you want.  Stay out of the shacks.”

“Why?”

“It’s not yours… that’s why.  Everyone needs their own personal space.”

Having the doors locked during each visit made it easy to stay away.  I knew my extended second or third cousins, twice removed, or older family members spent time in the shacks, but I didn’t know why.

Seeing the door slightly open and no one in sight, I crept into the bushes and made my way unseen, to the back of the small cabin to get a better look.

The protective veil ripped in half when I worked up the courage to go inside the dimly lit room and see for myself what all the secrecy was about.

I can’t recall how long I stared, but it seemed like time stood still and I was rooted to the floor, eyes wide, mouth agape, and shaking with nervous shivers. Everything within me told me to leave.

The other side of the veil was something I never expected.

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A rare archeological find

“Magic is a state of mind. Magic has no true definition.” JSM

 

Chapter Twenty

The Poet Tree

 

 

Lots to discuss today and it centers around an ancient relic.

Well, not really an ancient relic.  It’s not a golden mask or a chipped and weathered arrow head or a tarnished coin, but more along the lines of something found at the bottom of an old filing cabinet I keep stored in my basement. Happened across it while looking for something else.

Long ago, before I adopted the role of full time parent, I was bereft of purpose. I only existed in this life. Searching for meaning (but didn’t really care), and trying to find my place in the world and fit in (again, not truly caring).

I had ideas of what I wanted. Those wants usually included another drink, a party pad to crash at or an alternate substance to alleviate stress. Often I thought about goals and ambitions, but at that age and time I had no ambition or tangible goals.  Work, pay out, party, plod along, play, pass out and repeat.

Then I became a parent and everything changed.

I know for a fact my singular purpose in life is to be the best parent I can be. No gray area there. Nothing can sway me otherwise as I’m fully aware it’s my sole purpose for being. My personal universe revolves around them.

Before I took on the role of parent, the worst that occurred in life was breaking up with a girlfriend, or arguing with a buddy who’s upset because I couldn’t come over and hang out for the day. Which couch was I crashing on this time? Hope the boss doesn’t call me in on Saturday. I’ve already worked my thirty hours this week. They’re starting to cut into my social time. I hope they take me from the back of the warehouse and put me on cash someday. It sucks back there.

Academically and grade wise I sailed through my education. I did all my homework at the school, finished above average with all areas except math (hate math) and the second I moved out of my parents and “became my own man” I turned down an opportunity to attend a technical college. That continued education would have allowed me to settle into a trade I enjoyed.

Instead, I decided it was then time to experiment with the darker side of life.

And that’s just what I did.

I’ve done my stint for king and country.  I’ve survived the mandatory prisons and all my obligations and it’s now time to explore.

My explorations guided me through some rough and rocky terrain but along those travels, someone in the party group named a location off the beaten trail, “The Poet Tree.”

A fallen oak, down a steep embankment. Perfectly level and wedged between two other trees to form an enormous chair.  Thick enough to sit underneath and lounge in the shade, or walk along the top and have access to easy climbing.

Maybe some poetry was written.

Typically though, it was a place to hide from the public and plow down some beers and generate a ruckus or two.

As I wandered this leg of the journey, I carried a backpack.  Packed with snacks and drinks and among my possessions I kept a composition notebook.  Usually I would draw, or doodle or create strange little designs, but one time after a “bad day” I returned to the Poet Tree alone.

Lost in my own little world, and oblivious to everything outside my field of vision, it was here I managed to write my first poem.

Mind you… I was quite out of my head, had more than likely ingested something I should have avoided, and while I regret my actions, I learned from the experience.

I was nineteen and going through a “bad spell”.

While rummaging through the clutter in the basement recently, I stumbled across some old drawings among other objects and polaroid pictures within the bowels of a filing cabinet, and within the pages of an old notebook I retrieved my poem scribbled so long ago. An ancient relic of my old life.

*****

“Star date unknown. Maybe midday. Impossible to convey what I wish to portray. A handful of colors, no blue, no gray. Among the peace of the ruins I desire to stay.

Crystalline twinkles through the branches creep. The trees come to life and begin to weep. Sway side to side, roots buried deep. My eyes, wide in awe, puts them back to sleep.

I believe my thoughts are losing focus. What I need is a dash of hocus pocus. The daylight will fade when night encroaches. The dark of the mind, an image approaches.

I say to myself it’s a chemical reaction. My cloudy subconscious projects the distraction. Withdrawn and alone, no satisfaction.  A need, not greed for human compassion.

The wizard will say it’s all in your head.  We all have something to fear.  It’s good to explore and strive for more and allow those sights to appear. The mind is a maze with unlimited doors, some marked but most unclear. We need to open them wide and step inside no matter how severe.

To control the wild is the greatest gift, a concentration strong. We search for a voice or the obvious choice and ache to get along. They say silence is golden, but today it rings, and sings it’s evil song. This state of mind, this place to hide, I know I don’t belong.

The pain, it fades, and the wizard smiles. Always rubbing it in. Imagine a movie screen over the eyes and the reel begins to spin. When life gets you down, just reach high above and don’t be afraid to sin. We can all come together, no matter the weather, and strive for the ultimate win.

The dancing stars, these wandering lights, point the way back home.

Only me at my side, this endless ride, alone I’ll continue to roam.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Live for moments. There is no future, there is no past, there is only now.” JSM

 

Chapter Nineteen

Merlin

 

 

Merlin joined me on the park bench as the last of the fires burned out. The one remaining building at the end of the nearest street fell into a pile of rubble and dust.

“Fancy meeting you here,” he smiled and withdrew a pouch of rolling tobacco from an inside jacket pocket as my mind watched a husband and wife running for their lives away from us.

Merlin packed the dried herbs into the thin paper and glanced at the destruction I created. “Beautiful day to be outside.”

Knowing where he was going with the conversation I snapped back, “It’s freezing out here.” I leaned my head back on the bench and looked to the gray smoke filled sky directly overhead. The screams of the population around us finally dwindled and vanished on the passing wind.

“Nah. I love the chill. Cools us down. You look like you could use someone to talk to.”

“What are you doing here, Merlin?”

“Sitting with you obviously.”

“That’s not what I meant. Why are you here?”

“Just passing through on my way to the store. Saw you sitting here by yourself in the cold. Thought I’d join you.”

“I appreciate that but I’ll probably be sour company. Besides, you’re wearing shorts. Not the best day to be sitting around outside in shorts.”

Merlin shot his eyes around the leveled city and snickered, “Well, perhaps we can just sit and not speak. Sound good?”

“Sure.  I don’t feel like talking.”

We sat in silence. Two grown men planted firm on a crumbling bench at the outskirts of an obliterated public park. One pouting and the other taking long pulls off his rolled smoke.

After a few minutes of quiet and half a cigarette, he asks, “What are you doing tonight? Want to go down to the watering hole and grab a drink?”

The last thing I should be doing. Especially today.

I caught his stare from the corner of my eye, “No thanks. I’ll probably be sitting around the table at home, planning the future, trying to fix what’s broken.”

Seeing his opportunity to get through my wall, Merlin pivots to face me, “What needs to be fixed?”

“What doesn’t need fixing is the question.”

“OK then. Spill it.”

I whipped around to face him. “Let me ask you a question. When I came to you asking if you wanted to join me in BizarroTech, why didn’t you?”

He scrunched up his face and tilted his head to the side. The question was obviously unexpected. “It’s not for me. That’s why.”

“Do you think it’s for me? I could call Bill anytime and get reinstated.  It seems like the easy way out.”

“You didn’t take the offer… so I’m assuming it’s not for you. What does me, not drinking BizarroTech’s Kool-Aid, have anything to do with why you’re sitting out here alone, pissed off, in the cold.”

“Then you think it’s a scam. A pyramid scheme.”

He snuffed out the cigarette on the bottom of his shoe and thought it over. “No. Not a scheme.  It obviously works, but it didn’t feel right.”

“That’s where I am, Merlin. Nothing feels right.  It’s like being on the brunt end of a colossal joke.”

“How so?” He leaned back, nestled his frame into the wooden seat and draped both arms across the backing.

“If I said, three steps forward, three steps back, would that make sense?”

“Sure it does. No matter what you do, you can’t get ahead.”

“Exactly. Can’t seem to catch a break.”

He pondered his reply before looking away, “and all because of a car.”

“I can’t tell if you’re being sincere or sarcastic.”

Merlin stood and stretched. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked down at me.  “Of course I was being sarcastic.  But I was doing it sincerely. Are you defeated? Is your life over now? It’s just a car.”

“Just a car?! Dude.  My life revolves around a car.  Without wheels, I can’t do much.”

“Horseshit. Work is a fifteen minute walk, and it seems like the family is helping out with everything else. Hell… I’ve given you rides to the store and back…”

“OK… I get it Merlin. But if you’re not experiencing it… you can’t possibly relate.  I hate asking for help.  I don’t want to feel like a charity case.”  It was my turn to look away.

“Listen. We all go through stuff.  What’s important is how we react to the crap that’s happening. Everything will be fine, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.”

“Merlin. They may be laying off at the mill. You’re the only one I’ve told. I’m low man on their totem pole”

“Do you have a plan?” He sat down on the edge of the bench and opened his pouch again.

I laughed out loud, “Why do you think I’ll be home planning instead of hitting the bar? I could be in some serious trouble here.  Decent money, great bennies… gone.  Without a car, if I do get hit with a layoff, I may be back to retail.  Not cool. I can’t take a cut…”

“But if it happens… you’ll have to.” He lit a second smoke and smiled.

“That’s what pushes me towards Bill and the gang. They gave me this concrete plan and instructed me to stay on it, and the money will come. And apparently it will come quick. Look. Bill gave me this paper. I haven’t read it yet.  He told me to save it till the time was right. I keep yanking it out, but I have yet to read it.  Bill said to read it when the first big check comes in.  Now I’m more curious than anything.”

Merlin clamped his hand over mine and scrunched the paper up into a little ball. He locked eyes with me and shook his head.  “No.  You’re done with them.  Stop living in the past and standing in their shadow.  You made the decision. You have no need to read this.”

I chuckled through my response, “OK, OK. Damn.  All right.  Throw it away. I’m all done.  It’s not for me.”

“Nope, you throw it away.”

I peeled my backside from the bench and tossed the crumpled paper into a nearby trash can. I looked back to Merlin, he smiled and rose from the bench. “See? That wasn’t so bad. Now we move on. You want a ride home?”

I waved him off, “Nah. Not that far.  I’ll hoof it.  Thanks anyway.” I turned my back and waved again over my shoulder. My friend opened the car door, beeped his horn twice and left for the store.

Once out of sight and around the corner I hurried back to the trash, reached half way down and retrieved the crumpled ball. Watching over my shoulder I folded it back up, smoothing out the creases, forcing myself to ignore its contents, and crammed it back in my wallet.

The moment I reentered the home, I pulled a black box from my closet and placed the BizarroTech letter inside. A safe place for my personal items I hold dear. The one thing I can say has never left my side and this box has been with me since my youth.

There it sat. BizarroTech’s mystery letter. Under a lavender velvet material, accompanied with four additional Knick knacks, completely ignored.

In one week I’d receive a notification from the boss man saying that my job was secure and all is well. Life was back to normal.

Two weeks later I’d receive a pink slip. “We’ll call you if we need you.”

I don’t open the box for thirteen years.

 

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“The imagination is a playground of unlimited potential. A place without borders or rules. The ultimate sandbox.” JSM

 

Chapter Eighteen

Downward Spiral

 

 

While the imagination may be a powerful tool, it means nothing if ignored.

My imagination has become an ingrained part of my day to day life. I call my imagination the “3D Overlay” (I know, everything has to have a name, right?).  It has other titles too but for the moment, the Overlay will suffice.

My simple philosophies and outlooks unfortunately make me to see life as “boring”. We wake, we eat, we work/attend schooling, we deal with the mundane, forced to maintain routines, we sleep a portion of life away, and it’s even to the point where available social time and recreational activities can be viewed as repetitive and structured.

The Overlay allows me to see life in a diverse fashion. Call it a coping mechanism.

The origin of the 3D Overlay is deeply rooted in the old life, and I’ll chat about that in upcoming chapters because I feel as though it’s a story that must be shared. It was developed with the assistance from a man who, for the purpose of the tale I have named, Merlin.

To explain the Overlay, I will keep it as simple as possible.

Each time I enter new surroundings or unfamiliar territory I go through a process of “scoping everything out”. I look to the ceiling, I search out emergency exits, elevators, and I jot a mental notation of everyone around me.  I examine the architecture, the art hanging on the walls, details of the room, the signs posted above and beside doors and once I feel as though I’ve covered it all, I bring up the Overlay.

Now, while sitting in a waiting room or the lobby of a bank, the doctor’s office or where ever, and glancing to the posted beams crisscrossing the ceiling overhead, I see Jackie Chan fighting mafia assassins and ninjas; dancing silently through the air above everyone in the room.

I peer through the windows of the twentieth floor office building and ponder, if the structure was suddenly captured by evil doers, or caught fire, could I make the jump to the roof on the other side and survive?

It’s involuntary. Bringing up the Overlay now is as normal as breathing. No matter where I am, or what I’m doing, I see my world through this virtual shroud.  While I snicker and smile at my superimposed conjured concoctions from time to time, the Overlay can indeed be distracting.

At the end of the meeting with the government officials, I stopped fighting the battle in my mind and allowed my imagination to consume me. Everyone has a breaking point right?  There are indeed straws that break the camel’s back.

After today, I would never be the same again.

 

*****

 

“Please have a seat. Does anyone want a glass of water?”  I asked the two well-dressed men as they helped themselves to the table and opened their cases to withdraw important documents.

A simultaneous robotic “no thank you” came from both.

I sat down at the head of the table, folded my hands on the surface and the man closest to me sighed, “Ok, Jeremy, according to the statement and the diagram, the plow truck was on the right side of the road in the breakdown lane, then proceeded to back up and cross both lanes of the street, correct?”

I glanced over my notes on the paperwork that was filled out on the night of the accident, my police report, double checking the drawings and details and nodded my agreement, “Yes, that’s correct.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to amend it in anyway? Are you sure this is exactly how it happened”

“Of course that’s how it happened. I was sliding down the road, breaks locked up, and the driver cut into my path.  I had to decide what to do. Even the driver admitted he was in error.”

One lawyer looked to the other and butterflies wiggled in my stomach.

“Very well,” the other replied straight-faced as a calculator device was pulled out from a briefcase, “As lawyers representing the state, we are obligated to inform you that we’re willing to ‘negotiate in this manner’. (I won’t put you through the legal crap) As the state accepts the blame and fault in this case, we are willing to provide you with ‘This’ reimbursement.”

The lawyer across the table punched a series of numbers on his calculator and a total was deposited on a small slip of paper where everything was categorized accordingly.

What the calculated amount equaled to was what the state believed a person was worth in a dollar amount based on finances, loss of material possession, and social stature. “With the cost of the damages and the loss of personal items accompanied with the financial situation, here is what the state is willing to take care of.”

“So… I’m still without a car. You’re willing to recoup the cost of the damages, but not replace the vehicle. Even though it’s your fault. Admitted…”

“Yes. That’s correct.  What you see is what you get.”

“Which totals nothing. OK… what would happen if I wanted to fight this and have you replace the car, plus pay off any existing debt? An actual lawsuit if you will. That amount is obviously flawed and absurd.”

He leaned forward and attempted to hide a growing smile, “That’s not how this works. You see, this is the way it is. We have contingencies in place in the event situations arise such as this one, the procedures and protocols will always be the same. Nothing is going to change. If you decide to fight it, like you say, it could be years and years before it even sees court.  Are you willing to go years, waiting, hoping, and thinking?  Lawyer fees, paperwork… Quite a gamble. This is what’s offered and we suggest taking it. If you decided to take it to court, then what is currently being offered is no longer on the table.”

“End of story?” I replied leaning back, crossing my arms in defeat but wanting to remain defiant.

“End of story,” He responded devoid of emotion as the paperwork was stuffed back inside their containers and they rose from their seats. “You’ll be seeing documents and paperwork arriving in the mail which will show and explain everything.  We suggest keeping them for your personal records and if there are any other questions, here is a card, we’re available if needed.  Have a nice day.”

A family man with no vehicle. Back to relying on others while saving up money. Bastards. Sure could use a miracle right now.

No miracle. It’s never that easy.

The lawyers drove away and I turned to the garbage can. The corners of my mouth turned down as I gave the business card a once over before tearing it in half and tossing the pieces in the rubbish.

Another unwinnable battle.

My legs felt weak and wobbly as options continued to diminish and a heavy blanket of despair wrapped around my brain. Waves of nausea ebbed and flowed in my guts and I felt the need to sit on the floor.

Can’t fully be sure of what happened next but I tapped into an event from my past, shot up from the cold tiles and went outside. Snapped maybe? Did I snap?  In hindsight, I believe I may have cracked under the pressure.

Cracked to the point where I left the house on foot, wandered into the heaviest and most populated area I could find, sat down on a park bench… and destroyed an entire city.

I leveled it to powder and smoldering ash with nothing more than the power of my thoughts.

 

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“Don’t try changing the world. The world doesn’t care to change. Focus positive energy on your own personal universe and everything will change around you accordingly.” JSM

 

Chapter Seventeen

The Last Dance

 

Today I feel like I’ve achieved a level of status. Mind you, that’s not always a positive thing.

Not long ago I was chatting with a buddy and made it a point to say during our conversation, “Nothing negative to report thus far.” That may sound cryptic, but the gist of our dialogue was centered on those six words.

That being said, moving right along.

Last night I met my first “troll”.

Wait… Let me retract and rephrase that. Always have to give the benefit of the doubt.

For the moment we can name this person, Schrodinger’s Troll. S/he had the potential to be a troll and I believe at the get go it was intended to be a trollish encounter. It’s tricky to communicate with trolls. They’re not always easy to chat with. I always have to remember there’s a purpose for everything and now I can add “this” interaction to that list of things I’d never thought I’d engage in.

I’ll dive into the back and forth in a moment, but I think I need to revisit something first, for additional clarity. This is not intended to be rude in any way.

I do TotC because I enjoy it. Plain and simple.  To keep that simplicity going, and honest, if folks want to read along, feel free. If not?  I’m still moving forward.  If the hit counter stops dead, I’ll continue this adventure regardless.

Typically a blog serves multiple purposes. It could be a place for advertising, pitching details and promotions for a favorite restaurant, a location for networking, or as simple as an online journal. Or an amalgamation of any of those, and more.

“This” is my online journal. People have journals or diaries because they feel it’s needed. I suppose I need this. End rant.

To make a long conversation short, the interaction with Schrodinger’s Troll is paraphrased as such.

“Why are you writing this blog?”

“Why are you reading it?” (My reply. I like to answer questions with questions)

“I want to see if it has a point.”

“Sure. I get that.  So do I.”

“Does it have a point?”

“I hope so. I guess we’ll both have to wait and see.  I’m having fun and I guess that’s all that matters…”

End of conversation. I don’t feed trolls, but I can say I now have one negative interaction to report.

Perhaps I turned a potential negative into a positive. Can’t be sure at this point. Regardless, yes, this is something I like to do.  It took a lot for me to break through my insecurities and self-doubt, to find a level of comfort to embark on this kind of journey.  I want to keep on rolling now.  The train is moving and seems to be picking up speed.  Engaging in this activity on a daily basis has become something I think about at the end of my work shift and the first thing I do when I wake on the weekends and drink my coffee. I look forward to it.

I may not be an expert wordsmith or speak in poetic flowery eloquence, however, I enjoy the written word and I strive to better myself. Isn’t that the point? Self-betterment?

ONWARD!

*****

 

Have you ever “felt” the cold shoulder? Knowing deep down inside the person you’re standing or sitting beside is doing their best to ignore your existence? (Wink) I’m sure you have. It’s always obvious.

Having experienced the cold shoulder too many times to count, I know most of the signs: They’re looking away, unresponsive to questions, deep sighing, checking the fingernails or the watch, exaggerated movements.

Bill was good at it.

As far as I was concerned the moment I said the words, “That went well,” he refused to acknowledge my presence. He ignored me like a scorned lover.

Pockets stuffed with paperwork, manuals, and corner cutting strategies I parted ways with Bill for the remainder of the seminar and slumped low in my chair at the back of the room. I laced my hands across my stomach and prayed for merciful death.

If my mentor was right about one thing, the numbers were indeed the most boring of all the presentations. It was misery and confusing, and at one point I felt my eyes fluttering closed.

Once the remaining presenters finished their spiel and the seminar was considered over, the caravan travelers rallied together and I don’t remember the trip home. There’s a good chance I slept through the whole thing.

For the next month, ignoring conversation, phone calls, mailers and being unavailable at work was commonplace. I pretended to be absent from the home, dodging random unannounced visits from BizarroTech affiliates.  I had people lie for me and redirect them to other places and at one point it was so overwhelming and crazy, I was almost to the point of making a big stink and making a few phone calls to put a stop to it.

Out of the blue one afternoon, watching the caller I.D flash the incoming number and seeing Bill’s office digits screaming at me to answer, I gave in.

I practically hollered into the receiver, “Hello!”

I could feel his Joker grin through the phone, “Jeremy… I was about to give up on you. Have you been away?”

“You could say that. Listen, Bill, I appreciate everything you’ve done, but I don’t think BizarroTech is the right thing for me. Sorry to have to say this but you’ll have to take my name off the list.”

Long drawn out pause before my ex-mentor replied, “Sorry to hear that. We really pulled some strings for you. Are you sure about this?”

I had to stop and think hard before responding. Was I truly sure this wasn’t the right thing for me?

What are the true possibilities if I stick around? How far up the Tiers could I climb? If all I have to do is get people under me to build a pyramid, my work load diminishes to the point of non-existence, and everyone below is making the money for me and all I need to focus on is making scheduled purchases and upholding my end of the bargain. Go to the rallies and conferences… Really?  Is that all?  No catch?  There has to be a catch.

I parted the kitchen curtain and looked towards the driveway as a vehicle with tinted windows and government plates came to a stop at the front door. BizarroTech wasn’t the only pain in the ass I had to deal with that month.  I pulled the curtain closed as two men in black suits grabbed briefcases from within the car, glanced around the property and walked up the path. One tapped a button on his phone while the other pressed the doorbell.

“No Bill. I’m done. Listen, I can’t talk anymore and I have to let you go.  I have company and I’m about to have an uncomfortable conversation.  Take care.” I hung up without waiting for a response.

All my attention was now focused on the door separating me from the two suits waiting on the stairs outside.

This is going to suck. I exhaled and reached for the knob to let them in.

You see folks, I call it the Big Cosmic Joke. This universe has a funny way of altering a life and throwing hurdles at you left and right.  Sometimes all you can do is jump, dodge and try to avoid said hurdles at all costs. Eventually, the more the hurdles are tossed on your path, the more you become numb to it.

The Big Cosmic Joke is—even though you did nothing wrong, no fault, no personal blame; whether it’s becoming a victim as a result of a cheating spouse, wrongfully accused of something, an individual trying to set you up to take a fall, whatever the case may be–You did nothing wrong. Completely and totally innocent beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The universe still finds a way to make sure you suffer through the situation anyway. Even though I did nothing wrong, I still needed to be punished in some fashion.

The Big Cosmic Joke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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