Digressions of a Dilettante

Digressions of a Dilettante
Vignettes of Inanity by Bud Hearn

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A New Year's Redemption

A new year arrives. It hobbles in on last year’s crutches, admonishing us to make new ‘resolutions.’ Oh, please, spare us from this self-flagellation.

Resolutions are a relentless pursuer. Like an itinerate evangelist passing out salvation tracts, it knocks on my door. It interrupts my fried egg and country sausage sandwich, lathered with mayhaw jelly from the swamps of South Georgia. (‘South Georgia’ is always capitalized!) I’m savoring the last dregs of coffee when the knock comes. I figure it’s the paper carrier. I open the door. I regret the act.

There it stands, New Year’s Resolutions. With stale, morning-after champagne breath, it reminds me of last year’s failed attempts to become perfect. I’m like, whatever! It ignores my preoccupation and pulls from its rumpled tux a list of ‘designer resolutions,’ guaranteed to produce instant redemption. I reject its plan of salvation. I have my own…throwing out my life’s clutter. I slam the door in its face. It staggers down my driveway and disappears.

I’m anxious to begin my plan of redemption. I wash up my morning mess and eye the cornbread lying next to the pot of freshly-cooked collard greens. I pick up a piece and dip it into the warm ‘pot likker’ (no, not ‘liquor.’ Where you from, anyway?). I take a bite and have an out-of-body experience. A man can go in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights. I’m now prepped for my redemption.

I begin in my closet. It’s a scientific fact that last-year’s clothing can actually shrink while hanging in the closet. I’m living proof of its veracity. I follow my wife’s advice. I give away everything not worn that year. Somebody will look really cool in that Tommy Bahamas lime-green shirt, I’m sure. My closet is now empty.

I move to the ‘trophy room’ where I have assembled all my awards. They’re like leeches. It takes real guts to get rid of ‘em. Their aroma of past achievements mingles with autographed pictures of washed-up politicians. They emit the stale smell of success. I don’t linger long in that fetid atmosphere. Things like high school diplomas and Sunday school attendance records have to be burned to disappear. I’m on a roll, unsparing. My wife explodes with joy and covers the nail holes with fine art.

I move on to the removal of millions of ancient pictures. They rest in comfortable confinement inside plastic containers hiding underneath beds. I hesitate for a moment before I begin the weaning process. I wonder how much money Kodak has made from my obsessive shutter habit. I shudder to think! I plunge into the process, ignoring the mournful pleading of the discarded pictures. I become ruthless. The dogs celebrate. It creates more space for them to hide when ‘accidents’ are discovered. I warn them they may be next. They become scarce.

I’m feeling almost redeemed, so I move on to the garage. I open the door, regretting this choice. I look at it with contempt, embarrassed at the hideous accumulation of stuff. It will take a tractor trailer to haul off the useless paraphernalia that mocks me. Disgusted, I decide to leave well enough alone. I close the door and move on.

I roll up my sleeves. With unsparing remorse, I cast out boxes of old tax returns. I alternately curse the IRS while praising my valor. Next I seize my Blackberry, that torturous appendage that connects me with a social and business world. I scroll down the list of names, deciding who’s relevant, who’s not. I become a madman, delirious in deleting the irrelevant. I feel good now, like a new man. Redemption is close.

I become a tornado, moving through the house, flinging out this, then that. The house now feels empty. My wife inspects the work. She approves and resumes cooking the ham that’s soon to accompany the collards. I approve of that.

I sit down in self-adulation, totally redeemed. She calls from the kitchen, “You forgot one thing.” I say smugly, “What?” She answers, “That bulge hanging over your belt ---when are you going to get rid of that?”

I have no answer for her. Today, I am a redeemed man!

Bud Hearn
December 30, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pixie Dust

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Pixie Dust

I talked to my daughter yesterday on the cell while driving down I-95, using my knees to steer. That’s because I had a cell phone in one hand and a milkshake in the other. One day I’m going to write Lexus and suggest that they equip steering wheels with knee cups to accommodate this method of driving.

I surprised her by saying I’d just sold some land that I’d purchased for her and her brother. This is my Christmas present to y’all, I told her. She endures my calls sometimes. They often intrude into her artistic creations. But she’s always effusive in appreciation of the advent of unexpected gifts. In the typical voice of an artist, she said, “Well, dad, it sounds like the ‘pixie dust’ is falling all over you today.”

Pixie dust? I’d not heard that term since our children were exposed to Tinkerbelle in the Disney Peter Pan series. That was what, maybe 30-plus years ago? But after I ended the call I thought about it. Pixie dust, if you recall, is some sort of magic dust that’s shaken from a pixie or fairy, enabling humans to fly. And, of course, that’s exactly what I was doing on I-95. This magic dust is supposed to bring great success, love and luck. Which it was obviously doing for me and dusting my children as well.

In a few days, if not already, the Christmas pixie dust will be falling on all of us. Presents are piling up underneath Christmas trees and children are arriving. Moods are joyful. Cookies bake, Christmas carols sing from speakers. Everyone laughs and eats a lot. Is pixie dust falling already? I think so.

The magic of Christmas is God’s love. This love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit, this Holy Pixie Dust if you will, is given by our Savior, who always surprises us, coming each year as a child to spread It around.

Adults are becoming children again, which may be a good thing. Perhaps this is the only way Christmas can be understood. For God loved humanity so much that He intruded into its busy affairs by sending a child as a reminder of His love. And it’s the Christ child who sheds the real pixie dust of Christmas.

May the Prince of Peace spread His love and His Spiritual pixie dust on you, your family and friends in this holy season. And may His Spirit be shed abroad by our acts of kindness with great love to a hurting and needy world. Merry Christmas.

Bud Hearn
December 22, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Living Myths

Oh, the myths of childhood. What great places in which to live.

Last night I sat in our house lit only by tiny lights on our Christmas tree. It doesn’t seem to mind its size. Being small is not necessarily a bad thing. It occupies a prominent place atop a table by the window. From the street it appears much larger than it is, making it illusory. It prefers this.

There are advantages to small trees. I speak from experience. Aside from not being the subject of constant expletives, they receive ample love and constant accolades. “Oh, how beautiful. This is our prettiest tree ever!” It smiles.

Our home has 24 foot ceilings. Small trees appear dwarfish in it. We used to erect only 14 foot trees. These are trees that lumberjacks harvest from Santa’s private forest and are hauled in on flatbed trucks. They require about fifty people and three months to set up. I exaggerate only slightly. Guess who puts the lights and ornaments atop these giant redwoods? Right. Me. Age and tall ladders are bad combinations for frail and aged men. We now opt for smaller trees. They’re cheaper and we avoid visits to the emergency room.

Tall trees make Christmas a very large event for children. Picture one of your own. On Christmas Eve, shopping and wrapping are complete. Gifts lie in prodigious quantities beneath the mammoth redwood. Children circle it, crawl underneath, rattle boxes and often fall asleep. Dogs ravage all packages smelling of sausages.

Our son never seemed enamored by the tree and its treasures. At least not empirically. But we knew his dirty tricks, so we waited in the dark to observe his midnight capers. He rummaged under the tree, unwrapping gifts, and then re-wrapping them like nothing ever happened. We allowed him this intrusion into Santa’s gift bag. Even to this day he has the same curiosity and the same dirty tricks.

I sat absorbing whatever thoughts the tree suggested. I reflected on the myths we propagate. Remember the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Did you ever find it? And Santa Claus? What a tragedy to find out he’s just a tired, old imposter who outsources his work to tired, old parents. I discovered this early on because our house didn’t have a chimney. Plus, my father was quite noisy doing Santa-work, possibly due to swilling eggnog before setting the loot out. Of course, I never publicly admitted to this knowledge, lest the booty cease.

I walked to the window, looked at the stars, remembering, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight; wish I may, wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight.” Another childhood nursery rhyme detonated to bits and pieces? I hope not. Without stars, why dream?

In the western horizon the new moon slips down its circuit for other eyes to see and wonder. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong exploded the moon myths when he declared unequivocally that it’s not cheese and there’s no man in the moon. Since that time the moon is responsible for lower birth rates in America. Coupled with the demise of drive-in theaters, it fails to produce the same magical effects it once did in the back seat of cars in the days of my youth. Some myths die hard!

I returned for a last glance at the small tree. “Lights out,” I said. It smiled.

I know talking to trees is a primal sign of having ‘lost it.’ But then again, as I see it, all legends have their myths…and thank God, small children keep them alive.

Bud Hearn
December 9, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Living on Love

They arrive on a motorcycle, approach her father and ask permission to be married. Say they’re in love. Love? How quaint, he thinks.

He knows about love. He’s a divorce attorney. He contemplates their naiveté. It’s a miracle…finally! He questions the man’s sanity, but dismisses the thought when they promise never to move back home.

He asks if the man has a job and money. The answer is No. He’s not surprised. He asks how and where they’ll live. In love, on the road, they reply. He inquires about the source of money, and learns the nuances of food stamps and unemployment benefits. He consents quickly before the man changes his mind.

The bride’s mother arranges the details, spending all their savings, borrows more. The groom’s mother is shunned, thought to live in an inferior zip code. The fathers know they’re irrelevant. The bride’s father mentions the gown’s cost. He’s rebuked and told to sit down, shut up and shell out. God loves cheerful givers, he recalls. That afternoon he explores filing for Chapter 11.

The groom is nervous because her father’s a divorce attorney. He chooses a lawyer as his best man. He remembers the harsh treatment at the hands of his ex-wife’s lawyer. He hopes to avoid it this time. With both camps now armed, they call a conference, hash out details of the marriage vows. The lawyers get hung up in minutiae on, “I Do.”

The groom insists that no man can love, honor, comfort and cherish any woman until death. His experience with women is too vast. He prefers, “I Might” to “I Do.” He cites the bride’s mother as an example of what can go wrong. The bride’s father agrees. He prices Harleys later that day.

The father zeroes in on “this man for richer or poorer.” From what he could see, the groom couldn’t get any poorer. He suggests, “for richer not poorer.” They discuss a prenup.

The meeting grinds on. Decorum devolves into chaos. They call for martinis. Someone suggests a judge conduct the wedding. Another laughs, says a jury is needed. The minister intercedes, prays and offers his opinions. They reject them, adjourn and retreat to the bar. The minister shows up, slinking in from the alley. Preachers are sneaky about such things.

The wedding day arrives. With it come the inflow of flowers and the outflow of cash. The supporting actors ~ bridesmaids, groomsmen and guests ~ complete the scene. Hypocrisy smiles politely while denigrating attire and character. Guests speculate on the spectacle’s price tag.

The Harley waits outside, uncomfortable with white bows and pink roses that demean its masculinity. Its train is a colorful assortment of beer cans. It hopes the Angel Gang doesn’t see it.

The bride glides down the aisle. She grins at the groom. He grasps the altar for support. Lawyers wink. Her father wears the obligatory smile, his mind on barren bank accounts. He whispers, “Honey, it’s not too late to back out.” But he reconsiders and recites his five words, “Her mother and I do.” He wants to add, “With pleasure,” but dismisses the thought. He sits down again.

The minister charges the couple with ancient covenants. Their ears listen, their lips yearn to kiss. He pauses at the “I Do” finale. The church becomes silent. Guests are tense. No one breathes. Nothing moves.

After the tortuous silence, they acquiesce, “I Do.” But she adds, “If love fails, he gets the Harley, I move back in with daddy.” The bride’s father faints. On the way down he’s heard to say, “If that happens, I’m leaving on my Harley.”

Love triumphs again.

Bud Hearn
December 8, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Christmas Dilemma

The Christmas season is here. Men are in a sweat. Panic grips them. It’s the same every year...what to give a woman who has everything. We’ve had 364 days to come up with an idea. We’re still clueless.

Men have always had this problem. It’s because they have a wild and aberrant gene when it comes to Christmas shopping. They may run huge corporations, but they freeze when faced with the prospect of buying a woman a gift. Every man suffers this torment.

Men wait until the last minute, hoping by some miracle the Idea Muse will pop out of nowhere. They scan catalogues and stroll through malls. They’re confused; too much to choose from. So they can’t pull the trigger when it comes to making a decision.

It’s easy to buy gifts for men. Anything goes. Now my brother is a dentist. He loves gold. I once gave him a ‘gold’ Rolex with a ‘diamond’ bezel for Christmas. It cost $50. I bought this treasure from a homeless man who guaranteed its authenticity. It worked long enough for me to pull off the hoax. My apparent generosity left my brother speechless. You know, brotherly love and all that.

He wore it proudly. But soon the ‘gold’ preferred his arm to the watch. Distraught, he rushed to his jeweler, his watch melting by the minute. The truth ruined his day. Regrettably, my brother didn’t appreciate the humor. We’re beginning to speak again, but I’m still afraid to use him as my dentist. So much for brotherly love.

Humorous deceits can sometimes be lethal. Branham’s friend surprised his wife with a huge ‘diamond’ ring for Christmas. He bought it from a Cuban pawnshop in Miami. It blinded her eyes and later triggered an IRS audit. When she took it to be appraised the jeweler said, “Honey, this is cubic zirconia. It’s worthless. But hey, it’s Miami, show it off.” His friend died under suspicious circumstances a few weeks later. She buried him along with the ring.

One Christmas my wife asked for a fur coat. We were young, money was tight. I argued that it’s not cold enough. This logic can get you killed. Smart men react and bite the bullet. It avoids divorce. With my last pennies, I finally bought her a coat. Our marriage improved. Fur coats are not for keeping warm, but for other reasons I’m yet to discover.

Last year in the men’s grill we cooked up a fail-safe plan for our wives’ Christmas. It was brilliant in its simplicity. Alcohol, hidden in the eggnog, helped make our plan perfect. Clive came up with the idea, and we bought in. Each of us agreed to take some infrequently-worn gold jewelry from our wives’ stash. No stones. Something they wouldn’t miss. Little did we know.

We exchanged the gold trinkets among ourselves. Our wives would never know that their Christmas gifts were once owned by friends. They would appear to be new gold baubles, wrapped in used Tiffany boxes, suitable to please any goddess on Christmas morning. We sealed the secret plan with another round of nog.

But the scheme slid sideways. My wife opened her gift and gave it a long look. The room became silent. The dogs crept out. Lights flickered on the tree. Santa knew something was wrong. She said, “Explain why my best friend’s initials are engraved on these earrings.” I mumbled something indecipherable. She gave me ‘the look.’ I dissolved into the chair. Christmas day went downhill from there. Things only improved when I booked a trip to Paris.

My co-conspirators endured similar tragedies. After the fiasco, we spent several weeks in the men’s grill, consoling one another. Only Clive avoided detection and his wife’s wrath. He had melted down Dwight’s wife’s gold Pompeii earrings into something resembling a motorcycle. Dwight escaped banishment by the gift of a new Jaguar and several shopping sprees to London. We put Clive on probation for two years.

The plan had been flawless except for one miscalculation…. Women never forget anything. They know every piece of jewelry they own. In a matter of hours they had unraveled the botched ruse, made necessary exchanges and plotted their own revenge. Happily ever after? What do you think?

Men, this Christmas I wish you luck with your wild and aberrant gene. But remember, nothing good can possibly come from drinking eggnog with your pals in the men’s grill. Merry Christmas!

Bud Hearn
Copyright December 3, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Back Door

On Tuesday Renn, Tom and I had lunch in the men’s locker room at the Lodge. It’s not your normal place for lunch since, well, you know what to expect in men’s locker rooms, right? But it is a place we can go dressed inappropriately, jeans and such.

They have a special entrance for people like us…the back door. We dodge golf carts and walk on a well-worn mildewed walkway into the rear of the locker room. Its ambience does little to increase one’s appetite. In most fine dining places, the well-dressed, important diners enter through front doors. Only cigar smoke welcomes us. At least there’s no doorman giving us a sneer and ‘that look.’ You know what I’m saying?

This big event of our day got me to thinking about back doors. If you had one growing up, you’ll understand. If not, a short primer on southern life helps. You may learn something, so stay with me as I reminisce.

In the dark ages of our youth, back doors were as common as gnats. One knew who the visitor was by the door they chose to enter. The only ones who ever came to our front door were those who were selling, soliciting or taking up matters of a child’s indiscretion. I digress here to make a point.

My friend, Robert, and I once stumbled across a large rattlesnake lying in the street. It appeared deader than a door mat. We had compassion for it. Having motor scooters, and vivid imaginations, we decided the proper course of action was to honor the deceased reptile with a proper funeral. So, we tied a rope around its crushed head and conducted a cortege around town, kinda like a movable wake, you might say. Yes, we and the deceased received much attention, which gives excellent insight to the conduct of grown men.

Young boys are easily bored. We searched for a final resting place for this deceased menace. Somehow along the way the rope broke, and the unfortunate creature slid to a stop on one of our teacher’s driveway. You may discern from this the depth of our love for this teacher. Of course, no one in our small town saw this happen, right? Wrong.

My father answered a knock at the front door about 5:00. The teacher’s husband entered. They talked. I hid, sweating. I was called in to answer the charges. My life flashed before me. I pleaded amnesia. The plea wasn’t accepted. I was found guilty. A little later in the back yard I found out my father was religious. He quoted “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” I remained unconscious several hours. I have not been spoiled since that day. So, you see my aversion to front doors?

In South Georgia we lived with the idea that whoever came to the back door usually posed no threat and could be trusted. But soon the door-to-door crowd figured out that the ‘back-door approach’ produced more revenue than the front door one. Being fast-talking slicks, they got a foot in the door, then a body in the hall and finally their butt in a chair at the table. There they sat, a new family member, sucking down sweet iced tea. All the while emptying mama’s pocket of her grocery money. I hate Reader’s Digest to this day!

Hoards of these charlatans descended on a regular basis. They peddled everything from Avon, Fuller brushes, religious tracts, debit insurance and vacuum cleaners. Like anything, the back-door approach got over-used. When these strangers entered the carport, we locked the door. Are you listening? I know whereof I speak…I kept mama’s set of blue World Book Encyclopedias, never used, for remembrance of the old days. What did your mamma buy?

This back-door approach is responsible for my purchasing an awful lot of real estate. I sat at many tables, ate many meals with farmers. The last meal I accepted at a farmer’s table was dinner. It was served very simply…a mason jar of buttermilk with a large piece of cornbread floating inside. It’s amazing what a fast-talking slick will do to make a deal!

The internet has changed things. No more need for back doors. But recently a country-boy partner called with a bank-owned deal. We made several offers, got nowhere. He said, “Let’s back-door ’em.” Some things never die!

I have many memories of the back door of my youth. The last one is the night my father’s lifeless body passed through it. Maybe this is a metaphor for the demise of the old days that lives only in memory. Or, maybe not.

Bud Hearn
December 2, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Driving Women Crazy

She cooks. He washes. Division of labor. That’s the deal. It works. No discussions, no excuses. Everybody’s happy. The marriage remains blissful. But that’s not how it started. It’s not how anything starts.

Now, men, this is not about us being God’s gift to women. So put away your childish ideas and egos and face the cold, hard facts…we drive women crazy! To validate the point, let’s visit our friend’s home...the bathroom, the bedroom and the kitchen.

Their trouble began on the honeymoon night. Things were going smoothly until he heard her scream from the bathroom. Seems he left the lid up. She fell in. He laughed. She fumed. His future flashes before his eyes. He has to decide…flush or extricate her from Mr. Kohler’s ceramic contraption. His decision haunts him.

She decides he needs training. She wastes no time informing him that things are going to change. He brings up his mother. “Do I look like your mother? Leave her out of this,” she says. “And by the way, remember the prenup we signed?” Money, or the loss of it, gets his attention. “Let’s start in the bathroom, where you humiliated me. Remember that night?” How could he forget.

“See the lid? Next time I find it up, you’ll be wearing it around your neck. And that dried tooth paste and hair in the sink? The sink’s not an incubator, clean it,” she says. He pouts, but follows instructions. A thought briefly crosses his mind, “Why don’t I train her?” Which reveals his IQ. Whoever heard of training a woman? It’s like washing a cat…you’ll only try that once.

She continues the bathroom training. “Listen, big boy, think of me as Mrs. Charles Manson the next time you pinch, slap or grab me while I’m doing my hair.” He sees the knife in her eyes. “Furthermore, see that towel lying on the floor? Picture a noose.” He does and gets the message. He sulks.

Grabbing his ear, she walks him into the bedroom. “Now hear this,” she says. “Before we go to sleep, the last things I want to hear about are problems or money. Or you’ll have less money and more problems.” She continues. “Now, about your snoring. You have two choices…the sofa or duct tape your mouth. You can’t sleep here.” He knows better than to argue with a woman whose hands are on her hips. He doesn’t.

Then she moves on to her dressing room. He remembers she often asks, “How do I look?” The truth isn’t necessarily what she wants to hear. She gives him a book of ‘golden adjectives,’ telling him to pick some flattering ones. He chooses ravishing, dazzling, radiant, stunning and gorgeous. She approves. He writes them on the palm of his left hand, after he erases super, nice, ok and not bad. He begins to catch on.

They move into the kitchen. She opens the refrigerator and says, “This bowl of soup has only one spoonful left. Why’d you put it back in? Eat it or wash it.” He shrinks and becomes insignificant. He thinks of calling his mother. “Another thing,” she says. “If I ever see you drink from the milk carton, you’ll be attending Martha Stewart’s Hygiene School.”

While I’m at it,” she says, “I’m gonna give you a tutorial in the ‘we’ concept.” Had his mother forgotten to teach him that? Seems she’d forgotten a lot of things, he concludes. He considers disowning her. “It’s simple,” she says. “Every time I say, ‘we’ need to do this or that, it means ‘you’. Get it?” He does, but curses under his breath.

She adds more. “You’d better write down every word I say. There will be a quiz.” He couldn’t remember that in the marriage vows.

She concludes the day’s regimen, telling him that she never wants to hear anything about his ego, bravado or libido. He feels emasculated. Has marriage come to this? He calls his father, asking for answers. His father says, “Son, you forfeited all your rights when you said ‘I do.’ Try praying.” Which might explain why his father spends a lot of time on his knees in the garden.

The training program is continuing after 25 years of marriage. He learns to simply say, “Yes, dear,” and to spend more time in the men’s grill.

Bud Hearn
November 18, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Empty Chair

There’s nothing like a South Georgia Thanksgiving.

Our family members came like migrants for the annual tradition. We looked like a motley crowd of emaciated refugees on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Not that Colquitt, Georgia is Mecca, though some have held the town to be the intellectual center of the South. It seems that everybody who’s smart leaves. Nevertheless, in terms of relevance, Colquitt might as well be on another planet. We discovered that when we moved away.

Some held that all residents of Colquitt were related. A rumor circulated that our family once held a family reunion, and the entire town showed up. I used to think that to be an over-exaggeration of the truth, but I’m not sure anymore. The familiar atavistic resemblances are hard to dismiss!

All roads led to my grandparent’s home. They began this tradition, primarily because they had the biggest table in town and liked to cook. It accommodated twenty-four. My grandmother pulled out the fine china, gleaming silverware and crystal for the occasion. Our plates were laden and conversation was constant. We had a year to catch up on.

Baptist deacons have God’s ear, so my grandfather, who always sat in ‘his place’ at the table’s head, blessed the meal, blessed it, and blessed it again. I once heard The Voice say, “Enough, I’ve heard you already...let’ em eat.”

I recently received a letter from my cousin after the death of her husband. In it she lamented the dispersion of our family. Her mind was already on Thanksgiving. She wished we could all get together again like the old days. There’s great comfort in family connections.

Ah, the ‘old days’. Sadly, I thought, it’s impossible. Like many families, the old family table has disappeared. There’s no going back. It’s only there in memory now. Even if it were possible, too many chairs sit unoccupied. It just wouldn’t be the same.

Her note reminded me of past Thanksgivings. I dug through the photo archives and came up with our last two Thanksgiving ‘family photos.’ They’d qualify for the Southern Gothic museum. The years 1986 and 1988 now seem a century away. Bitter-sweet memories walked through my mind.

Unusual hairdos, strange clothes and even stranger teenagers stood out. The teenagers did their best ‘I’m-not-really-related-to-these-weirdoes’ look. They hated family photos. Maybe they even hated us. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on that. Teenagers invented the ‘I’m bored’ look. For that I give them credit. Ours wished they were somewhere else. Often we did, too. Which is probably why some species eat their young.

Smiles dominated the photos. The secret to a good family photo is to make it before they start drinking or eating. No family can survive more than a couple days of togetherness. Things fall apart quickly after the Thanksgiving meal. Saturday football games have saved many a family free-for-all.

We have mighty hunters in our family. Some got up at 0 dark thirty, loaded weapons best suited for elephants and attempted to ambush Bambi. They never succeeded. After dinner my grandfather would sneak out to the farm and count his prize cows. He always seemed relieved when he returned.

Sometimes I took a Thanksgiving morning run to work up an appetite. My brother would ride his bike along, keeping me company. I remember one morning on a country road. I had no sooner heard the shotgun blast when a load of birdshot whizzed past, inches away from my face. “Mistook you for a turkey,” the farmer shouted, holding an empty bottle. I didn’t stop to argue. I ran through the cemetery from then on.

We tend to think things will go on forever as they are. They won’t. Had we known this we might have embraced our family reunions more fervently. But we didn’t. The tyranny of the urgent got in the way…things like schools, jobs, bills and such as that.

Our old photos revealed only three empty chairs at the metaphorical table. Today there are seven. The old clan is dwindling, but a new one is emerging. A family photo today would reveal different faces under gray hair. Teenagers would be holding babies. There would be no empty chairs at the table. The tradition would have survived.

Thanksgiving is more than a meal and a time for family reunions. It’s an idea, a spirit. It continues to remind us of our bounty and our freedom. The old days are past, but the memories of our collective empty chairs continue to keep the tradition alive.

And this year I’m pretty sure the turkey and its entourage will continue show up and add their part to the festivities.

Bud Hearn
November 15, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Letter

The worthless pulp arrived yesterday. The mail. The assortment contained the usual crap that clutters mail boxes. But this rubbish does create jobs.

Jobs are important in this depression. In the Brunswick post office, the clerks perpetuate their jobs in a unique way. They have a dance, ‘the mailman shuffle.’ You’re familiar with this, right? It’s found in most government offices where civil service and tenure are assured. There’s a wonderful side effect of this ‘Dancing-with-the-Clerks’ charade…it slows time to a crawl. We get a short, well, ok, a long, break from a fast-track world.

I examined the day’s refuse. One envelop appeared unlike the slick, colored ones that find File 13. It had no return address and an American Flag stamp. Being patriotic, I pitched it on my desk. It laid with other litter, soon to be a reject. I often feel sorry for junk mail. It’s like picking over apples at Winn Dixie. Imagine being an apple, fondled, dumped back into the pile…a reject. Sometimes I’m a bleeding heart. But not often.

Many letters seek to separate us from money. We call these ‘bills.’ I had a friend once named Bill. He always tried to separate me from something. He succeeded in separating me from my high school sweetheart. She became the ‘Miss Betty Crocker of Alabama.’ Some separations are good! These bills profile our profligate ways, which Google circulates to every human on the planet.

Recently I received a letter from an old nemesis. He’s known by his initials, IRS. He works for a nefarious organization whose CEO is a computer. It makes all decisions. The computer needs money to survive. It shakes down everyone who has a number for a name. The only escape is death.

This particular letter, or summons, demanded the immediate payment of $31.25, or else. I’m familiar with ‘or else.’ It’s my wife’s expression of endearment. It referenced tax year 1942, the year of my birth. A shuffling sleuth discovered my parents didn’t declare me as living. Penalty and interest had accrued. Failure to pay would result in writs and seizure of everything, including children.

It went further. Fine print warned that failure to pay would result in criminal penalties, audits and lengthy jail time. I’m familiar with audits. Agents show up with badges, guns and greasy hair, wearing unwashed clothes. A peculiar odor follows them, reminiscent of a landfill.

I called the 800 number. A computer answered, saying, “Welcome to the IRS.” It announced that representatives were helping other ‘customers,’ and the wait time might exceed 24 hours, but not to hang up. The call may be recorded for training purposes and would be answered in the order received. In other words, take a number and pray! All the while background music played, “and another one bites the dust.”

“Customers?” it said. More like ‘prisoners,’ or according to my notice, ‘criminals.’ It added the cheery words, “Thank you for being a loyal customer.” I remembered Ayn Rand’s prophecy in, “Atlas Shrugged.” It read,

“We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion, the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission, which is the stage of the darkest periods in human history, the stage of rule by brute force.”

After three days of waiting for the next customer rep, I gave up. A Taxpayer Advocate finally solved the problem. Computer glitch, she said. Best to pay the computer and it’ll go away, she advised. I asked how I would know if the computer were satisfied. She said if men in black don’t show up, you’re safe.

Back to my letter. It had a cellophane window. Inside it read, “Time is running out, Bud Hearn. Act by 11/12/10.” I opened it in haste. The New Yorker magazine offered a special savings for renewed subscriptions. I rejected it, did the next best thing…renewed my Rolling Stone magazine. At least I can keep up with Lady Gaga. If my time’s running out, I want to be reading something worthwhile.

Which is more than you’ve been doing if reading this absurdity. But in a flash of reality, friends, if time is running out…I surely hope it’s not today! Let the good times roll.

Bud Hearn
November 11, 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Trashed Again

She trashed me again today. These things happen. She says I have it coming. Says she’s tired of looking at my face, decides to do something about it. This is how I end up in the trash can.

American trash cans everywhere now overflow with garbage from Washington, DC. They reek with the stench of politicians ejected from comfy confines and sent home to reality. They deserve it, too. Maybe they can find plausible excuses for their repudiations. I search for reasons for my own rejection. The answer’s easy…I’m outliving my usefulness and wearing out my welcome in the house.

I’ll hand it to my wife. She has an eye and a nose for things exceeding their expiration dates. She protects our household from all contagions. Do you know how long it takes to grocery shop with a woman like this? Forever! The store loudspeaker announces “Last Call” before she leaves. Once is enough for me.

Everything is subject to her scrutiny. The butcher and fish monger endure endless interrogations about product age and origin. They see her and hide. And labels? My God, she reads every one. She searches for artificial ingredients and any lethal substances slick food purveyors slip into the food-chain. She knows chemical formulas and the truth behind arcane advertising. She should work for the FDA.

The refrigerator is her prime target. She sniffs everything that looks or feels like it’s past prime. She inspects every item for its life cycle. She’s ruthless, discarding all things suspect. She’s convinced it’s the leading cause of aberrant child behavior and Alzheimer’s. My useful life is expiring. The trash can is all that’s left.

I once made a sandwich with ‘questionable’ cheese. It looked harmless, just a few green spots which I tore off. I laid it atop some multicolored ham which wouldn’t pass her sniff test. The bread’s edges were green. She jerked the sandwich from my hand and flung it into the trash. See what I mean? Ruthless!

I know this and appreciate her concern for family safety. But she’s going too far now. I’m a model father, excellent husband and responsible provider. But her memory is suspect. She says in no uncertain terms I’m no longer necessary. Says I’m an embarrassment because of my age. I beg and plead for leniency. I list my attributes, achievements, the countless compromises and defend my reasons to remain in the house, not the least of which includes emptying the dishwasher. It falls with a thud on deaf ears.

I plead more…our history, our children, the economy, the weather, golf and everything in between. Her answer’s the same…I’m trashing you. What will people say when they visit and find I’m not in my regular place? I ask. Tough, she says. I’ll search my archives and find someone else to fill the spot. Don’t feel badly about it, she says. It’s just life. You can’t help it. Age happens.

My former youthful looks are a poor bargaining chip. It’s yesterday’s currency and buys nothing. Who’s not older? I ask. Is this any reason to trash me? She calls the children for a backup consensus. It doesn’t go well for me. She hangs up, says they agree. It’s the trash can for me. I try harder. Move me to an upstairs bedroom, or the loft, I say. I’ll remain out of sight. No, she says. We’re in agreement. You’re being trashed.

What if I have a facial re-do, botox or something cosmetic? I ask. Answer’s still No. You’ll like your new home, she says. She assures me I’ll have many friends who are also being trashed. Especially a lot of divorced men and dead-beat politicians. I’m not consoled.

How long do I have? I ask. A minute, she says. I’m puzzled by it all. I wait like a condemned man. She walks to the trash can. I sweat. Trash to trash, she says. She takes my picture and savagely rips it to shreds. Tiny bits like colored confetti fall carelessly in a slow spiral from her hand into the trash can. They take up residence with coffee grounds, soured milk, apple cores and other rotting debris. “Goodbye” is her eulogy.

I may someday recover from this harsh trashing. But men, heed this warning…think twice before you frame a CVS passport picture of yourself and put it by her side of the bed.

Bud Hearn
November 4, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Two Old Geezers Have Lunch

Gordon calls, wants to have lunch. I’m all over the idea. Food is one of the few pleasures left to old men. He suggests Goldberg’s Deli. Says he’d kill for a corned beef on rye. Says he’ll buy, says I bought last time. He forgets…he bought the last three times. We avoid score cards and rely on brains. Only fools use sieves for the repository of such profundity. I avoid confusion and agree.

I remember lunches with George and John. They’re not fools. They’re rich and keep score. Maybe that’s why they’re rich. We go to the same French restaurant located next to a Department of Correction’s parole office where recidivists practice panhandling skills. We sit at the same table in our assigned chairs. It never changes. We order the same thing: Hawaiian chicken salad in hulled-out pineapple halves. We eat early. Regularity is important in old age.

Women keep score by simply asking for separate checks. Waiters know this, so they avoid groups of ladies. Women ask each other, “What are you having, sweetie?” They share and no one dares order the same thing. Men don’t give a kevork what anybody’s having and share nothing. To eat from another man’s plate is to risk loss of an arm.

Back to now. “When?” I ask. “Today,” he says. “What time?” I ask. He thinks. “Pick you up at 11:20,” he says. “Why so early? Is there a run on bagels? Besides, I just finished a cardboard cereal breakfast,” I add. “Fiber’s dangerous,” he warns. “I know a man who ate part of a tablecloth for fiber. Things got ugly fast.” I knew… I tried it once.

He arrives on time, gets out smiling holding a bulging white garbage bag. “What’s with the garbage?” I ask. “Gift for your cute assistant,” he says. “She has me,” I say. “That’s garbage enough.” He agrees, but still gives her the bag. It’s filled with giant pine cones. “Christmas decorations,” he says proudly. She says thanks. But the truth is not in her today. She’s an actress.

The restaurant parking lot’s packed. For appetizers we joust with a blonde in an SUV on a cell phone for the last parking space. It’s a stand-off. Nobody moves. She curses us. We surrender when we see the pistol. She thanks us with a finger, still talking on the cell. We park somewhere near Mars.

We beat the crowd. Gordon grabs the waiter and demands a corned beef on rye. I order lox and eggs. He assaults the sandwich like a ravenous animal. We get heartburn discussing the economy. His eyes drift. “Who you looking at, man?” I ask. “That lady. Look!” he drools. I warn him not to let his eyes take him on a trip his body can’t handle. His eyes re-enter the body.

We finish. He demands a to-go container for his scraps. It’s clear plastic. He fills it with pickles soaked in brine. It weighs a little less than ten pounds. “Where’s your jacket, Gordon?” I ask. “I forgot it,” he says. He finds it lying on the floor. It now looks like a bad oriental rug. He puts it on!

We get in line to pay. Two high school girls stand behind us. They’re a little younger than last week’s news. Gordon starts up a conversation. I warn him there’s a prison term for such reckless behavior. He ignores me. The girls are mortified mutes. He asks if they’re thinking about college. They look at one another, wishing they were invisible. I tell Gordon they are not thinking, they’re praying. They’re begging God that their friends won’t see them. They’re thinking how to vindicate themselves if they’re spotted talking to geezers. They remain mute in the dilemma. I consider they may also be deaf.

The cashier, a little smaller than a tank, growls at Gordon. “That’ll be twenty extra bucks for the pickles, pal. Say? I think I know you. Empty your pockets. Are you the one stealing the Splenda and sugar packets? And is that our oriental rug you’re wearing?” I pretend not to know him and ease on out.

Gordon looks for the exit of the parking lot. After four attempts he finds it. A policeman taps on the car, asking if we’re lost. I pretend to sleep. Somehow we arrive at my office without further incident.

We shake hands and plan another lunch. “My time to pay,” he says. I let it go, thankful to have hungry and forgetful friends.

Bud Hearn
October 28, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Woman in the Mirror

Justine walked into the office carrying Saturday night’s baggage of memories and unanswered questions. Depression followed her like a bad perfume. She had that awful feeling that this Monday would not be her best day. She was wrong.

An ornate mirror hung from the office wall. It attracted everyone’s attention. It was said to have been stolen from the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. But Sotheby’s could not always be trusted to provide authentic documents of antiquity or legacy. Perhaps the company had a purpose in mind for hanging it there. She didn’t know. Or even care for that matter, especially this Monday.

The mirror had a certain old-world charm. Everyone noticed it. Its frame was of gilded artistry and spoke of affluence. It had a smoky hue that distorted images in its reflection. Its diffused quality reminded her of those mirrors found in the fairy tales she’d read as a child. Was it Through the Looking Glass she remembered? She couldn’t be sure. She was certain no one lived happily ever after.

Like all the staff, she gazed into the mirror as she entered, making final adjustments to her outfit or hair. In fact, the mirror seemed to have some power of attraction. Like the other girls, she glanced into her reflection each time she passed it. She felt it was drawing her into itself. She wondered if the others thought the same. But she never asked them. Pride will allow only so much publicity. Besides, she never thought herself overly vain, at least not like some of the other girls who shamelessly primped if front of it throughout the day. Her mother had taught her not to make an open show of vanity…it’s not proper, she’d said.

But there was something strange about the mirror on this particular day. She stopped in its presence as though it beckoned her. Her body had a tingling sensation that she could feel but not describe. She stood there speechless. The mirror seemed to have invisible arms that reached out and held her in a powerful embrace, like a hypnotic trance. What? She asked aloud, gazing full into its smoky surface. Her image reflected a silent response. She wrestled with its hidden strength but could not free herself. Its energy field held her tightly. Time stooped.

Suddenly the office door opened. Lisa entered. The door slammed shut, the trance ended. Time began again. “Good morning,” Lisa said with enthusiasm. “How’d your weekend go?”

Don’t ask,” Justine answered. “Just awful. My now ex-boyfriend cancelled our Saturday date, said he’d met someone, like it was just no big deal. After all I’d done for him. You can guess the rest of the story. He could have at least had the nerve to tell me in person. Instead he just sent a text with the bomb. I should have never trusted him. I knew better. Lisa, he’s just like all the others. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I ever trust another one, I promise.”

Oh, I’m so sorry,” Lisa said, her voice genuine. “Just try to shake it off, Justine. It’s happened to all of us at one time or another. Life goes on. You’ll be fine in a few days. There’re plenty of ‘em out there, girl. The next one may be just who you’re looking for. You gotta be receptive. And be glad you got rid of this dirt bag when you did.” Lisa looked into the mirror, brushed her hair back and walked away.

Justine called after her, “Lisa, do you believe that mirrors can have magical powers?”

Lisa turned around, laughed and said, “Only in fairy tales. But then again, I guess it’s possible. It may depend on who’s looking in it. And what they want to believe. Why?”

Oh, I was just wondering. Never mind.” Lisa flung her a puzzled look, shrugged and walked off. Had she imagined it? She became bewildered and tried to let the thought go, but couldn’t. It held her like the mirror had done.

She poured a cup of coffee and sat at her desk. The phone and email messages attacked her. Another typical day, she conceded. But the mirror had added a dimension. It intrigued her. She glanced at it again. Something was all wrong about it. It didn’t belong in here, she thought. The office, decorated in modern furniture by a minimalist, was not the place for such an artifact. I don’t belong here either, she said to herself. Never have, come to think of it. The thought troubled her.

Something’s all wrong for sure, she concluded. Why have I stayed here for three years? I don’t like the job. The same old same old, every day. Booooring. Renting apartments. Listening to the same stories from different people, the phony smiles, the counterfeit countenances, the lies, the complaints, the management hassles. What kind of place is this for me? Hell, for anyone? She felt her anger rising.

She tried to put it out of her mind by recalling her recent trip to France. Gone for a whole month, heaven. The village life with family, quaint, serendipitous, easy. Paris, with its vibrancy, its promise, its sidewalk cafes, its art, its possibilities for her. But here I am, my head in France, my body stuck in this cesspool of traffic-clogged Atlanta, toiling in a dead-end job nobody appreciates and in a city full of egotistical men. I should leave. Maybe I will, she thought. She became afraid of the suggestion.

She’d often had these thoughts. They seemed to precede necessary decisions, some delayed choices life demanded. Did they always have to reach some volcanic crescendo before she’d make the choice? Did she always have to have another failed love affair to get disgusted with things as they are? What would it take for her to make a change? The baggage of memories and unanswered questions got larger, almost too heavy to tote. The effort of lugging it around made her weary.

Suddenly a stranger walked in. She looked up from her desk and froze. Her world stopped moving. He was tall, maybe six-two, slim. His skin had the smooth glow of a Mediterranean summer. He wore a pair of black silk trousers and a brilliant blue silk shirt under a pale yellow Canelli linen jacket. His hair was thick, the color of night, a hint of gray highlighted the temples. A movie star? He looked every bit the part. He was clearly out of place, she though. What’s he doing here?

The mirror had arrested his attention. He stood and quietly gazed into it. He seemed to be waiting on someone. Just then another man bolted through the door. She recognized him as one of the many older transient tenants who came for a few days each month. She knew nothing else about him, except that he was friendly and his rent checks cleared. The men talked in low whispers for a minute. The tenant hurriedly excused himself and disappeared into the property manager’s office.

Justine sat at her desk like a corpse and stared at the man. Was he French? Possibly. Italian? Hard to tell, she thought, but clearly European. No one of his comportment had come through the doors of this apartment complex in her three years. She knew that. She suppressed her curiosity her, but fear held her from approaching him. The stranger just stood there, disinterested in his surroundings, and looked into the mirror.

Her eyes had captured the stranger and were feasting on him. She noticed he seemed not to be looking at himself at all, but looking through the mirror, as if there were something, or someone, on the other side. He might have been looking into the future, she thought. Is that possible? What did he see? She had no answers. But she longed to know.

The other girls were occupied, so she shoved her fear into in the desk drawer, pushed back and walked up to him. “Hello,” she said. She wanted to say more, but when he turned and looked at her with his dark eyes, she became mute. Her lips moved, but no sound came from them. He simply said in return, “Hello.”

May I assist you while you wait for your friend, perhaps get you a cup of coffee?” she said.

He turned, looked into her eyes and said nothing. Only his eyes spoke. Her soul heard their voice. She trembled. He noticed. His eyes surveyed her body in a swift look-over. She felt his glances. They felt good. His lips parted and curled into a slight smile that revealed a hint of mystery and very brilliant white teeth. He shook his head and said, “No, thank you.” That was all. He turned and continued to gaze into the mirror, seemingly oblivious to her presence.

The encounter had ended. She returned to her desk feeling stupid, embarrassed and highly disappointed. For what, she thought? What did I expect from a total stranger? Oh, well, another day on the job. Her eyes did not return to work, but continued to feast on this man. Across the aisle Lauren mouthed a silent sentence, “Who is that good-lookin’ stud?” Justine shrugged. She wanted desperately to know.

He continued to stand there, unmoving, statuesque, concentrating on something. She wished she knew what, or who. What did the mirror know? Should she ask him? No, that’d be rude. More questions without answers. The baggage bulged.

His friend suddenly materialized and slapped him on the shoulder, saying, “I’m done here. You ready to go? We have just enough time for a quick lunch before I drop you at the airport.” Justine’s heard these words. Her heart sank. But not for long.

“Yes, just one moment,” the stranger said, his accent unmistakably French. He slowly walked towards Justine. She feigned busy-work. Her face gave the ruse away. He offered his hand, she shook it. Her face flushed when he said, “I hope I was not rude to you. You see, that mirror mystified me. It seemed to have some power and I was drawn to it. I couldn’t resist. Please forgive me.”

I totally understand,” she said. “Strange, it did the same to me when I came in a few minutes ago.”

You look French. Are you?” He said. Her heart almost stopped.

“Why, sort of,” she said. “My mother and some of my family live there. I visit often. I’d love to move there one day.” Her nerves quivered, her heart pulsated. She felt weak all over. She forgot about the baggage.

Please pardon me, but you are a dead-ringer of someone I recently knew,” he said. “I saw your reflection in the mirror and it reminded me of her.”

Oh, her, she thought, just what I needed to hear…somebody else’s love problems. She smiled and said, “Of course.” Still, her heart beat faster, not believing what she was hearing. Before she could stop herself, she said, “Someone special?” She bit her tongue. How stupid, she thought. Why’d I say that?

Well, yes,” he replied, “But that was last year. We were engaged to be married, but it didn’t work out.” He looked at the floor, embarrassed.

I’m sorry,” Justine said. She lied. She wasn’t. “I understand very well,” she said. “It’s happened to me, too. Recently.”

He shook his head, smiled and laughed. "I knew we had things in common. What is your name?” In a response too quick, she blurted, “Justine. Justine Boston.” Oh my God, that was totally un-cool, Justine, she said to herself. What’ll he think? He didn’t seem to notice, or care. She had consumed his interest.

His friend called, “Hey, get a move on. I’m hungry, and Atlanta traffic is murder.”

He looked around, nodded and said, “Coming.”

Oh, no, she thought. She prayed for no. Please, no. We’re just getting started, and now he’s leaving.

He reached into his jacket, pulled out a business card and handed it to her. “My name is Emile Rousseau. This is my first visit to Atlanta. If things work out for me, I’ll be back. When I do perhaps we can continue our conversation.” It was more of a question than a statement, a way to engage and not be committed or rejected. She wasn’t new to the subtleties of dating. Things were beginning to get interesting.

Your name. Are you related to…?” She didn’t finish the sentence before he said, “Yes, I’m afraid so. He was my great, great-grandfather. It’s hard to live down his reputation! But I’m in publishing, not art” She couldn’t believe what her ears heard. Publishing. And she wanted to write a book? Things were getting very interesting indeed!

He turned and walked towards the door. As he opened it, he cast a backward glance and smiled at her. A smile that was real, she thought. The sun rays cast his shadow across the mirror as if to imprint his body within it. He said. “Justine, if you ever get to Paris, would you please call?” And that was it. The door closed behind him as he walked out of her life. She sighed and said to no one, “Just my luck with men!” But she knew she’d see him again. And soon, she hoped.

The hours crawled by in the mundane tasks of her job. All excitement had been sucked from the day after her brief encounter with Emile. She dragged herself through the remaining hour in slow motion. The day finally ended. The others had gone. She thought about the strange events of the day as she cleared her desk and prepared to leave.. It had started with the mirror and ended with a stranger’s smile. She imagined the possibilities.

She stopped in front of the mirror. She looked into it, wondering what had captivated Emile’s interest. She looked into its vast smoky darkness. Something moved, ever so slightly, in the shadow’s recesses. And moved again, perceptively. Movement was slow at first, as if coming from a great distance. Closer and closer it came. A woman appeared, dressed in a low-cut, emerald green dress, perhaps an Armani, carrying a Vuitton tote bag. A diamond necklace dangled seductively from her neck.

The woman smiled as she drew near and approached the mirror’s outer edge. She had a familial quality about her. As she drew closer, Justine saw that the woman’s shape and face looked like that of her own. Impossible, Justine thought. She shook her head, rubbed her eyes. What’s going on? She was confused.

Who is this woman? She looks like me, Justine thought. Is it me? She wondered. This is ridiculous, she knew. How could it be? In the midst of these thoughts the woman stepped from the mirror onto the floor. Time moved in reverse. Emile was just leaving. The woman called to him, “Emile, wait for me.”

Emile turned, flashed a large smile and said, “Where have you been for so long?” They embraced, kissed, retreated arm-in-arm into the sunlight and disappeared. Justine didn’t move. She stood there, incredulous.

She tried to piece the day together…Emile, the phantom woman in the mirror, the improbability of it all. What did it mean? Was she hallucinating? She got no answers. But didn’t Emile say she reminded him of someone? Could the woman in the mirror have been her in another life, another time, another place? Could she actually step out of a mirror into Emile’s life? So many questions, so few answers.

It had all been too much for one day. She needed a drink. She shook her head and laughed to herself. She left the office and the magic mirror, locking the door behind her. As she walked to her car she heard Emile’s parting words, “Justine, if you ever get to Paris…” She knew that was real, and she knew already what she would do…and soon!

It felt good to have finally made a decision. Now she only had one more to make. She dropped the baggage of life’s memories and unanswered questions behind her on the sidewalk and moved on, unencumbered into a new world of infinite possibilities…

Bud Hearn
October 25, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Phone Call

The phone rang but the caller ID failed me. I took a chance and answered. This level of extreme bravery should not be attempted unless you already have an exit strategy. I didn’t and paid for it later.

Sometimes I enjoy these calls. Often it’s some poor schmuck chained to a chair in Bangladesh enduring dog cussing and insults about his mother, all the while getting a continuing-ed degree in American street slang. I pretend to be the idiot housekeeper. It opens up creative possibilities.

Hello,” the voice slurs. “Is Mr. or Mrs. Gharn available?” (double-vowels are difficult!) They live elsewhere, I answer. The voice asks if there’s another number. I tell the voice their ashes currently reside in a bronze urn which has an unlisted number. The voice asks if it could speak to the urn. I respond that the urn sometimes grunts and groans, but it has not yet spoken. It’s expected to, however, I say. I ask the voice if it wants to leave a message in case. It hangs up. I convulse with laughter.

Back to the phone call. An old friend was calling. All our friends are old now. Her nasal voice says, “Let’s have dinner.” I delay answering. She takes my silence as a yes. She hears things unsaid, always has. Women are like this. She’s married to a golfer who is basically a deaf mute except when the subject of golf is discussed. Most golfers have this trait. They’re boring and the cause of boredom in others. So a date was set and we met at a mutual spot. Mutual spots are preferred. It’s easier for salmonella attacks if things get out of hand.

The appointed night arrived. Table conversations usually begin with ‘do you remember,’ or ‘did you hear about.’ You know. It morphs to ailments. She’s a living ailment. Only miracles allow her to live and tell. Her husband sits there, mute with his martini. We ignore him and golf. I may yet survive this, I thought.

The conversation exhumes a certain old friend. Anything, even golf, I plead. But not her. But no, we have to go there. Her name hits the table and my mind swoons. She once called before the marvelous invention of caller ID. I shouldn’t have answered. “Come to my home tomorrow for a surprise,” she said. I’m no fool, so I went. Mistake.

I arrived. She came to the door. Candlelight flickered. Shadows danced on the walls of the darkened house. Wow, I thought. What’s this? Candlelight? A surprise? Not what I expected.

Seems she and her accomplice had recently been certified by some off-brand Pentecostal congregation to perform rituals of casting out demons. My name came to mind first, she said. Nice to be thought of first, I thought, so I played along, expecting a joke.

I sat in a chair and they laid hands upon me. Unsettling. They squeezed my head while incoherent gibberish spewed from their lips. They jumped on the demons, commanding, “Depart from him, be cast into the Chattahoochee River!” This went on for some time. They began to sweat and became more urgent in their petitions. My head ached. I gotta get outta here, I kept thinking. My body shook, my knees oscillated wildly. To top it off I shout, “Hallelujah, free at last, free at last.” I fall to the floor, writhing in a hallucinogenic state. I once saw this trick on a TV healing show. A command performance. I fled from that house.

I return to our table conversation in time to hear her say, “I have auras, I can read minds. I know who’s dark and whom to avoid.” I asked if I were dark, hoping to get the same avoidance. She promised to let me know when the spirits spoke. The golfer had yet to speak, though his lips did move silently. He smiled at odd times, but I think it was gas, for he looked relieved each time. I felt sorry for him, but not enough to mention golf.

Suddenly I commanded the salmonella bug to attack. I fled from the table. My wife recognized the clue and left them sitting there, she, calling on the spirits, and he, discussing every game he ever played.

The next day we changed our phone number and had it de-listed. I didn’t want to know if I had a dark aura or more demons. Life has been good since then, and the housekeeping idiot has bought more National Inquirers for new stories for telephone solicitations. Call me, and I’ll try ‘em on you.

Bud Hearn
October 21, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Getting Over It…

His wife took up the habit of golf a couple of years ago. She’s improving (on some days). It’s a work in progress. Like all golf habits, on any given day progress can back up on you.

It’s not difficult to figure out how the game went when she gets home. (Did I hear an ‘Amen’?) It’s also a dead giveaway on how the remainder of the day will go.

Today she came in with a smile…a good sign. She sat down and said, “I had a great round today. I’m gonna keep my clubs after all! Except there’s a problem that still plagues me.” Did he hear the word ‘problem?’ No husband wants to hear that word spoken by his wife. Why? He still bears the scars of problems past, those he created, actual or otherwise. He kept silent.

She continued, “Do you want to hear about my problem?” she said?

Of course,” he replied. He lied sometimes, too. “Is it about me?” She looked at him for a moment and said, “Well, you’re usually to blame, but not this time. At least not yet.” Whew. He breathed an audible sigh of relief.

She continued. “I just can’t get over it,” she said. “Over what?” he asked. “The marsh on number 10,” she said. “Doesn’t the cart path skirt it?” he ventured, sticking a toe in his mouth. “Are you listening? I’m talking about hitting the ball over the marsh from the tee box to the green. Don’t be obtuse,” she said.

He didn’t know the meaning of obtuse. So he stuck another toe in with the first one and asked, “How many balls…” She cut him off before he finished. “Don’t go there,” she said. He pushed it. He knew better but had a big mouth after all. It kept him in the traps and roughs most of the time. “How many did you lose today?” he said quickly.

You’re ruining my perfect mood,” she said defiantly. “Enough! Just listen for once in your life.” Her stare would have melted a block of ice. Familiar territory, he thought. And the toes tasted badly today.

Why can’t I hit over the marsh and how can I solve this problem?” she asked. “You’re asking me, a person who’s never played golf in his life? Try hitting down the cart path,” he said. “Very funny today, huh? Go ask some of your pals,” she said. “Ok,” I said, “I’ll ask around. Haha, a good pun, huh?” She looked disgusted.

Women ask profound questions. Answers to them can usually be found in gyms, bars and locker rooms. He tried them all. Carl said, “She has a brain. Tell her to quit using it.” Speaking of obtuse. He asked Terry. “Easy. Tell her to give up the sport and stick to bridge,” he said. Ouch. He doesn’t know what a bad day is if she loses at bridge.

Funerals are not on the A-list, but he ran into Howard there. “Pure physics,” Howard said. “Tell her to take the club back further and hit the ball harder.” He ignored that idea. Too early for his funeral. The interrogatories continued. He ran into Don in the bar. Good scotch makes all things clear. He explained the dilemma. Don took a long swig and answered.

Matter over mind,” Don said. “If she has the physical strength to hit over it, the rest is easy. Gotta kick failure out of the brain. She has a brain, right?” He avoided the question. “Tell her to grab a bucket of old, cheap balls, don’t count the strokes and hit until it gets across. Repeat it. Failure will move out.”

“Brilliant. Let me buy the next round?” Don looked at his empty glass and said, “OK, and I’ll tell you one more trick.” He did and he did. “Never use the $10 balls. She’ll start counting the cost, and you know about women and costs,” Don said. Who didn’t know that!

He reported to her his research. She was pleased. Cooked him dinner. All’s well that ends well, he thought…until the next problem. But until then, he had a problem of his own to get over. He called Don and asked if he knew how to get his toes out of his mouth. Don said…..

Bud Hearn
October 14, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Pool of Narcissus …an Allegory

Narcissus fell in love with the wrong person…himself. Bad choices make for unhappy endings. His did.

He tried but couldn’t breathe life into his image. Grief stricken, he plunged a dagger into his heart, ending the torment. He exhaled, “Alas! Ah, youth, beloved in vain, farewell.” So much for an unrequited love affair with himself. Only a flower bearing his name remains. So the myth goes.

The Greeks invented this guy, and sometimes myths take on a life of their own. Narcissus is the avatar of subtle seduction, enslaving those who fall in love with themselves. Self-reflections are delusions to be avoided. Yet we don’t, not in our culture. A friend explained to me the modern equivalent of this fable.

Mike owns a printing company located in an old warehouse. It bears no resemblance to a reflecting pool. He prints my business cards. Recently I showed up in his shop. Strewn on his counter were business cards and publications picturing beautiful women and handsome men. Their self-replicas smiled seductively at the world, photoshopped and airbrushed to perfection.

Mike, what’s all this?” I asked. “Oh, those,” he said with an indifferent smirk. “The latest crop of over-achievers.”

Terrific crop,” I said.

Nothing new. See it all the time,” he said. “Wanna look behind the scenes? Come on.” I followed him to his dark-room.

He grabbed a stack of photos. “See these?” he said? “They’re the same ones you saw up front. Take this one, for example.” He laid the photo next to a finished card. I examined it.

Mike, no way this is the same person,” I said.

Wrong,” he said laughing. “Masterful job of wizardry, huh?” he boasted. Pride hid his humility. “Man, you should have been a cosmetic surgeon.” I said. “The pay’s better.”

They pay me big money to make ‘em look young and alluring,” he replied, smiling. “Learned the trade from my uncle. He’s a mortician. His cosmetic makeovers are legendary. They make lifeless corpses ready for resurrection before they even leave the chapel.”

Amazing,” I said. “Who are these people?”

“The new hot shots around town,” he said. “Professional types. They gotta look good to get client interviews. It’s all flash. I take their best head shots, do a clean-up and make ‘em irresistible. They put these clean-ups everywhere…Google, Facebook, web sites, Match.com, magazines, you name it. These are today’s Narcissistic pools. Even the President’s all over it. Didn’t he say, ‘We’re the ones we’ve been looking for?’ We’re a ‘me’ culture, in love with ourselves. There’s a new crop of ‘em every year.”

And it’s not just women,” he said. “Look at this guy.” A magazine cover showcased a young man looking like he’d walked off the cover of GQ. He appeared just a little younger than my used Lexus.

Wow. Work your magic on me.” His laughter shook the building. “Not even I am that talented, pal. Save your money.”

“Ok, ok. Why are people so vain?” I asked.

Competition,” he said. “Look, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. People judge on looks, then on credentials. Can’t blame ‘em for doing this. It gets ‘em in the door, that’s all. Then they’re on their own.”

You know Greek mythology?” he asked. “A little,” I said. “Well, they’re seeing their reflections in the pool of Narcissus. Remember him?” I did, vaguely. “Explain,” I said.

OK,” he said. “This fellow Narcissus hung out around his pool, contemplating his life. He saw his reflection and fell in love with it. He kept looking at himself, hung up on his reflection. He worshipped his reflection in the pool and went mad trying to possess it. He finally fell on his own sword.”

Mike quoted an obscure Dryden poem. “O, thou strong seducer, opportunity.” He continued, “Our culture is changing. People fall in love with themselves all the time. It’s how they get on in life. They’re riding on a smile and a shoeshine. Looks and smiles will get them in the door, but they need substance to back ‘em up. Doors swing both ways.”

He added, “It’s hard to tell fact from fiction anymore. I feel guilty contributing to the ruse, but looks are often all they have to cling to. I help them grasp their reflection and make something out of it.” He looked sad.

I’d heard enough. I picked up my dull business cards, thanked him for his soliloquy and left. So far I’ve avoided reflecting pools, but just wait till you see my new business cards…

Bud Hearn
Copyrighted 10/13/10

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Poverty or Prosperity…The Rezoning Episode

Land speculators have a saying, “You’re only one deal away from poverty or prosperity, and you never know which.” It’s a hellish way to live. It’s what I do. Monday night I had a rezoning in Kingsland, Georgia. Here’s the story.

The cell’s ring tone blasts out “Bad Moon Rising.” The dogs bark, my wife covers her head with the pillow. I rub my eyes, sit up. The clock winks, 5:43 AM. Aghhh. “Hello,” I mutter. “Who’s this?”

Your lawyer,” the voice says, slurring the syllables. “You fool, people sleep at this hour. Whatcha want?” I say, dragging myself from the bed.

Did I wake you? How careless of me,” he says. His raspy voice gnaws through my phone. “Smith, you lowlife, you ruined my dream. My wife’s picture had appeared on a Napa wine label and the bottles were flying off the shelves. I was about to cash in and you call and screw it up. You drunk?”

“No. I’m working. Bad headache,” he lamented. “You gotta handle the rezoning tonight on your own.” Voices of laughter and music echo in the background. He’s a bad liar. “You’re gonna have a real bad head when I catch up with your worthless butt,” I shout. Hubris affects most lawyers, especially those with streets named after them.

So here I am in downtown Kingsland, alone. I park my car on the shady side of Lee Street and get out. I arrive an hour early for the 6:30 hearing. The town lay deserted. Two lifeless legs protrude from a darkened doorway onto the sidewalk. My boredom kicks them. An invisible voice curses me. An empty wine bottle whizzes past my head. I duck and walk on.

The CSX railroad tracks run parallel to the street. A lazy train creeps by, perhaps the epitome of the town’s daily excitement. Two young boys throw rocks at it and run. The tracks reach an abrupt dead-end a mile beyond. I wonder if this augurs the town’s future.

My curiosity peers into a storefront next to City Hall. The window reads, Prophet Josiah V. Moon, VictoryLand Temple, Healing and Deliverance. The door’s locked. I knock. Svelte shadows sway in the dark hallway. A larger shadow follows. Three vestal virgins in diaphanous gowns appear briefly, giggle and disappear. A hunchback wearing a black, spiked collar that’s connected to a chain shambles to the door. He mumbles, “A roach, a roach, flush it, flush it.” The chain jerks and the dwarf retreats. A diffused light flings the mutant’s ominous shadow against the wall. Virgins in Kingsland? Incredible. I move on, knowing I’ll return.

A mob of good ole boys block the doorway of City Hall. Toothpicks dangle from their mouths, moving up and down as they speak. Gigantic bellies hang over their belts. One twirls a miniature noose. They see me and become silent. The gauntlet parts and I walk through. Bad idea, bringing a knife to a gunfight. Alligator loafers and tortoise-shell glasses didn’t help.

I sit next to an elderly lady for protection and study the commissioners. They look bored. They sit behind a long table doing warm-up exercises of thumbs up, thumbs down. This lasts for five minutes. Is my fate being decided by clowns? I start praying.

The meeting begins. They soon call my case. The City Planner attempts to persuade the Commission. They appear to be sleeping. The elderly lady springs to life, jumps up and delivers a raging harangue in opposition to my rezoning. They wake up and listen. The Chairman soon has enough. “Sit down and shut up,” he bellows. I move to another chair when I see her reach into her purse.

The Chairman shouts, “A motion, somebody.” A hush descends upon the crowd. Someone moves for acceptance. “OK, now a second.” A voice grunts, “Second.” The Chairman barks, “Thumbs up or down.” I think I’m a gladiator in Caligula’s Coliseum. Six thumbs point up. I live and breathe a sigh of relief.

The elderly lady becomes violent, charges the Commissioner’s table. Pandemonium ensues. The mob is confused. A bailiff enters, restrains the crazed woman. In the hysteria I slip out the back door. The woman is shackled and dragged out. Her husband smiles, waves goodbye and eases down to VictoryLand Temple. I leave Kingsland.

I join hundreds of pilgrims on the I-95 heading somewhere. Our headlights bore holes into the darkness for a few seconds. It closes in quickly behind us. Poverty or Prosperity? You never know. Tonight I’m lucky!

The road goes on forever and the party never ends. Is America great or what?

Bud Hearn
October 7, 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Epidural

The searing pain in my hip shut down my mobility. Fix me, the nerve said.
Which explains why I sit in the reception room of the Pain Clinic, waiting my turn.
Pain and mostly old women fill the room, waiting also for relief.
A man with Einstein hair sits across from me, unkempt, grimacing.
The nude on his large silver belt buckle smiles. His wife is having a bad hair day.
She might have washed it last year.

The nurse calls the roll, “Mr. Hearn.” I remain silent momentarily for effect.
Then I answer, “Here.” She has no humor. Pain nurses are not happy people.
Follow me, she says. I do, into the pre-op room. The interrogation begins.
Where do you hurt? My hip, I say. On the 1-10 scale, which? “100,” I answer.
She’s not amused. She continues. Why are you here? You need revenue? I answer.
Are you drunk, sir? Not yet, I say. Be serious, sir. OK, I’ll try. Are you pregnant?
No, but I’m working on it. Yes or no, sir. OK, No, so far. Her eyes fling daggers.

Do you know what the doctor plans to do? Not really, does he? She looks disgusted.
She checks my blood pressure, then re-checks it. Why? I ask.
You appeared not to be alive on the first take. Consult my 100-scale pain, I shout.
I ask her name. Same as my first girl-friend. Scary.
I ask if perhaps she had once been. She didn’t remember. We’re both relieved.
She finishes, leaves. I wait. An old lady, maybe 100, hobbles in for interrogation.
Same questions. Pregnant? Hope not, she says. He promised safe sex. She smiles.
Do you know what the doctor is going to do? Artificial insemination? She answers.
I’m beginning to like this lady. I may ask her out, with permission of course.

A young nurse in a red flak jacket arrives. Follow me, she says. Anywhere, I say.
Why the vest? X-ray protection, she says. What about me? I ask.
Don’t worry, X-ray won’t kill you,…the needle might. The needle? I’d forgotten about it.
Nothing good comes from a needle. A cold sweat erupts. I shiver.
Lie face down, remove your pants, she demands. Things are finally getting interesting.
I always prefer domineering women. A massage? I ask. You wish, she replies.
Think of it as your last-meal request, she says. I cringe. Then I hear a whirring sound.
A picture of a gigantic spine appears on a screen. Is that mine? I ask. Yes, she says.
See that bulge? The needle will go there. Will it hurt? I ask. She laughs. I pray.

You want local anesthesia or the full knock-out IV? Bareback, I say. I’m tough.
They all say that…the first time, she says. Can I change my mind? Too late, she says.
Have you performed this procedure before? I ask. Yes, she says. Once. I don’t laugh.

A door opens. A white Hazmat suit shambles in. Who’s that? I ask. Robodoc she replies.
An echo inside grunts. Two red glows emanate through an opaque black shield. Eyes?
I picture a black Caddy Escalade, windows blackened, on Peachtree Street. Horrors!
Who’s this? I ask. Dr. Feelgood she answers. Rejoice…your redemption draweth near.
Are you a Nun, I ask. No, she says, but I have given many last rites. Relax, sir.
He holds a needle not quite as long as a baseball bat, aiming at a bull’s eye on my spine.
Is that going into my spine? What do you think? the suit says. I lose consciousness.

I awake sitting in a wheel chair. No pain. The doctor sits beside me. How do you feel?
Great! Is this heaven? I ask. Thank God, he shouts. You’re our first success. I feel faint.
Doc, is this relief permanent? I ask. No, he says, are you kidding? I search for words. Give me some hope, Doc, I say. What’s the long-term solution for this pain? I ask.
He’s silent for a long moment. Then says, Death, gets up, leaves. I lose continence.

The nurse with my ex girl-friend’s name wheels me through the waiting room to my car.
People with eyes of pain look at me. They seem to be asking silent questions.
I feel sorry for them, hoping it’s not their first time. I offer no encouragement.
I exit, proclaiming, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Two scream. One faints.
I add, and may God have mercy on you if you’re pregnant!

Today I live. The pain has subsided.
But the Doc’s word, “Death,” still troubles me.

Bud Hearn
September 30, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

For Promised Joy

“The best laid plans of mice and men oft go amiss, and leave us naught but pain and grief for promised joy.” Robert Burns, Poet

No genius is needed to arrive at a simple conclusion: Things don’t always work out according to our plans. Which gives some credence to the philosophy that if life weren’t so serious, it’d be a joke. That in itself begs the question: What if life were intended as a joke in the first place? Wow…far out!

Alright, I hear scoffers, laughing, dissing the Theory of Chaos. But you must admit that many, if not most, of your carefully crafted, can’t-lose schemes have failed to satisfy your carnal cravings and have come to naught. Shouts of, “Give us proof,” send a message that proselytizing has failed to persuade you of this possibility. Read on.

Last night I shook my fist at the heavens, saying to those within earshot, “I’m getting a good night’s sleep tonight!” My wife rolled her eyes, shaking her head at such a preposterous pronouncement. She said, “Better not let Her hear you say that!” (Some think that God is a woman, you know. If it proves to be the case, that’d explain why men’s plans often go awry, dooming them to perdition.) Now, is this not prima facie evidence that life is at least first cousin to a joke? I continue.

Well, you can guess what happened to my sleep plan. About 2:00 I heard a loud explosion. The house shook violently. Then, silence. Eerie. An explosion? An intruder? I lay there in the darkness, wide awake, waiting, waiting. But for what I didn’t know. More silence. Fear gripped my spine. I got up, turned on all the lights, searched the house. Nothing. Even the dogs were sleeping. Strange. Back to bed.

Do dreams make sounds? Did I dream it? I pondered the questions. Meanwhile, Sirens danced in the ether of my gray matter. Packs of wild dogs roamed the littered streets of my semi-consciousness. Sleep fled.

A line queued in my sleepless state. The IRS led the way, pounding on my door, demanding payment. Next, bankers and lawyers, delivering writs and warrants, foreclosure notices. Women I’d insulted, blondes particularly, cried for retribution. Others. The line grew longer and longer. It went on for hours. I could stand no more.

I staggered into the kitchen for coffee. The dogs barked, demanding to be fed. So much for my good night’s sleep. Then the phone rang.

Ace called with bad news. “Watermelon Man (all our friends have sobriquets) had a tragic accident,” he said. “What happened?” I asked. He responded, “He took up the dangerous game of croquet, and the game didn't go as planned.” I exclaimed, “Say on, brother.”

He said, “Well, his team got heavy into the afternoon wine. They look silly dressed in their whites, but they’re on tour…it’s the resort ‘in season’ game of choice, you know. A bee musta smelled his breath and thought him to be the honeycomb. Anyway, it flew into his ear and crawled into his brain. The doctor couldn’t get it out without a lobotomy.” Shocked, I said, “What’ll happen to him?”

Ace said, Not good. His life’s changed forever. He thinks he’s a bee and his wife is the Queen. He spends his days flitting around in her garden, sniffing the flowers.” I said, “Look, Ace, his wife has always been a Queen, but don’tcha think he’s gone a little overboard on the flower-sniffing routine?” Ace laughed, saying, “Well,he's a fruit anyway. You know why we call him Watermelon Man, right? Ever since he discovered that watermelons have certain ‘male benefits,’ he eats ‘em at every meal. That boy just ain't right!”

“What’s the long-term prognosis for him
?” I asked. “Don’t know,” he said. “I guess he’ll soon get use to being a bee. But if he tries to produce honey, pal, the folks in white jackets are gonna come and lock him away.”

Do you need any more evidence that things don’t always go according to our plans? If so, then you can fill in the blanks with your own experiences.

There is no guarantee of promised joy out there folks, but there’s nothing wrong with sniffing around the Garden of Serendipity…it may “bee” the final solution.

Bud Hearn
September 16, 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Once and For All

Some believe in the fairy tale of ‘once and for all?’ Do you? If so, check your birth certificate to see if it lists State of Delusion as your residence. Who but an utter fool or lunatic would believe such utopian nonsense! I’ll prove it.

We came home last night from dinner. The foyer was dark. We always leave our shoes at the back door and go barefoot inside. Our daughter, the poster child of a cleanliness addict, convinced us it’d keep the floors germ-free once and for all. We weren’t aware we lived in a germ-infested house. Whether the floors are any cleaner for the inconvenience, I can’t say…with two dogs, what’s ever clean, once and for all?

Where’re the dogs?” my wife said, adding, “Hmmm. No dogs? Not a good sign.” She took one step on the cold stone floor and shrieked, “Oh, no, #@*#, not again! I’m gonna kill ‘em!” Accidents happen, but fortunately tonight only a wet one, if that’s fortunate. She hopped to the laundry room and washed her foot. “OK, who did this? Where are you?” She shouted. Silence answered her. They remained invisible somewhere in the darkness.

She flicked on the lights and rolled up a newspaper. The criminals were found, crouching in a dark corner. They trembled. “I’m gonna put an end to this, once and for all,” she announced, waving her cellulose weapon. Realizing they’d reaped the whirlwind, they melted into the floor. But not before giving her their classic hang-dog look, “Who, us?” Fearing the wrath to come, I stood in the shadows and prayed for their souls. Nobody moved. Time stopped.

In that brief interval before the action began, I wondered if the once-and-for-all concept had legs. Take religion. It aims for a ‘once and for all’ conclusion. Some try daily doses of wine and confessions inside a tiny box. Others believe in casting bread upon water. Illogical. It returns soggy. Others think foot washing, meditation, chanting or eradication of infidels gets special recognition in the hereafter. No ‘once and for all’ there. Some bet on the Wesley brothers’ message of South Georgia salvation as a ‘once and for all.’ But some are still unconvinced.

In Boston they thought the scarlet letter “A”, tattooed upon one’s forehead, could abolish once and for all the contagion of “the oldest profession.” Haha. So much for that. It no longer smolders, it’s a raging fire!

The Brits decided to root out poverty once and for all by emptying the debtor’s prisons and shipping ‘em to America. A dumb idea. Instead, the debtors formed the Wall Street Gang and emptied the English treasury numerous times. Debtors are creative!

Take politics. It’s dangerous to extrapolate the what-ifs of political be-all, end-alls. Dynasties are hazardous. Imagine being saddled forever with the likes of the Bushites, the Clintonites, the Obamaworlds and the Pelosismileyfaces if they were once and for all. Frightening!

Do you have any aches and pains? I do. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a ‘once and for all’ cure? There is, of course, it’s just not good to dwell on such finality. So we do the next best thing…short-term relief with pills and substitute body parts.

Maybe you’re one of those who think enough money will solve all your problems once and for all. Dream on. Some think with enough money the IRS can be eliminated once and for all. Silly thought. It’s a stalking menace, and the once-and-for-all concept is not in their policy manual.

But my swoon ended as suddenly as it began. There my wife stood, towering over the tiny transgressors, poised to send dog fur flying. But she just couldn’t do it. Instead, she handed out a severe hands-on-the-hips tongue lashing. After all, who with any sensitivity can beat small creatures (roaches excluded!) with a newspaper? A woman’s tongue is a mighty weapon indeed!

We need no further evidence to realize there’s no such thing as ‘once and for all.’ Still we hope, day after day, hung-up in a fool’s paradise. Only it’s not quite a paradise. There’s no more a ‘once-and-for-all’ beginning than there is a ‘happily-ever-after’ ending.

Nevertheless, something useful can be gleaned from this rubbish---it’s dangerous to enter a dark house barefoot if you have dogs!

Bud Hearn
September 9, 2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Among His Effects

A great man is one sentence.” Clair Booth Luce

It happened at the dinner table, his favorite place.
Overhead a solitary light hung, lighting the room, the house otherwise dark.
They sat silently, conversation sparse, their thoughts kept secret.
He looked up slowly, dropped his fork and fell from the chair.
Death claimed him on the way down to the cold terrazzo floor.
A simple, easy, quick, sudden death. He would have approved.
She sat frozen in stunned silence, staring, in shock, his wife of long years.
He didn’t move. Nothing moved but time. Poof. Seventy-five years, over.

He lay peacefully in his new coffin home. They came and looked him over.
“Just like him,” some thought. Others said, “Mr. Mac did a real good job.”
All remembered him. They said so to his widow.
She sat there, smiling, confused.

The solemn cortege crept through deserted streets to the city cemetery. His last ride.
Mourners in the shadows of ancient cedars, shivering in the December chill.
He departed, clothed with scripture, prayer and flowers.
The crowd dispersed and withdrew in a hushed retreat.
The family lingered, held captive by the moment in the tranquil setting. Nobody spoke.
A time to remember.

But life goes on, subsumed in the daily details of living. It’s good to be busy now.
In due time his affairs were put in order; his estate settled, cards written.
Life had new rhythms in the empty house. His effects were sorted, parceled, distributed.
Nephews kept his obsolete fishing equipment, now relics for framing not fishing.
A granddaughter kept the wool shirts, the suede jacket, wears them often.
Sons kept the photographs, a few letters, the guns, his prosthetic wooden left hand.
He left little behind, having discovered that little is needed to live well.

He’d kept boxes of financial data, footprints of his life from the early ‘40’s.
Cancelled checks indicated his frugality, the feeding of five thousand with five loaves. His mother, two brothers, a sister, a church, his family, all recipients.
A savings passbook showed small but regular deposits for his sons’ college.
A dollar here, five dollars there. It added up.
Everything in perfect order, as always, anal-retentive to the end.
Obscure were his disciplines, his prudence, his motives. His sentence remained hidden.

We never asked, “Who are you?” He never volunteered to say. His actions spoke.
As years moved on the essence of his persona distilled, providing us clues.
John Locke wrote a man’s mind is best understood by his actions.
What did this man’s actions reveal? Discipline, responsibility, commitment, love.
And by them, he, being dead, yet speaks.
Among his effects we discovered the man, and his unique sentence.
I know these things…I am the elder son, working on a sentence of my own.

Bud Hearn
September 2, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On the Habits of Mules

We sat in oak rockers on his back porch and watched the August sun descend into the haze. A South Georgia sunset, along with a cold, long-neck beer, helps one’s perspective. So does the smell of fried chicken.

His name is Billy Parks, but folks call him B.P. He’s a South Georgia cowboy who looked like he had walked out of a Ralph Lauren catalog…lean, square jawed, faded Levi’s, a sweaty Stetson, silver belt buckle, shirt sleeves rolled to the elbows and dusty lizard skin cowboy boots. He’s amiable, slow to anger unless you cross him. He lifts 50 pound grain sacks in each hand and can rope a cow blindfolded. He’s a good friend.

We sat and sipped, whining about the economy and cursing all evil bankers. It’s good to have someone else to blame. We soon moved on to religion and reached no consensus with this topic. The conversation drifted to politics and politicians. We opened another beer and beat this political mule lifeless, ending up where we started ~~ frustrated.

You wanna see my mules?” he said. “Do I have to?” I answered. “Aw, c’mon,” he said. I relented, remembering my great-grandfather had once farmed 11,000 acres with mules a century ago. “I always wondered about the habits of mules,” I said. “Good critters, if you train ‘em right and beat ‘em a little,” he said. “Aren’t we all?” I responded.

He continued, “Mules are a cross between a male donkey and a female horse, ya know. Male donkeys are called jacks, in case you’re wondering where the term ‘jackass’ comes from.” I admitted to wondering about this in moments of extreme boredom. He smiled and said, “Ok, Ok, I know whatcha thinking…who knows why the attraction, but these things happen.” I asked, “What if you crossed a banker with a preacher, would you get a teller-vangelist? Or maybe a politician and a nun ---a preying menace?” He looked me in the eye and said, “Man, you just ain’t right.” We laughed.

First, all male mules are infertile. This is a good thing, because they don’t have wandering eyes.” I knew what he meant…wandering eyes are trouble. “Plus, they’re less obstinate and more intelligent than their donkey fathers,” he said. “They have a family trait of ending their conversations with a hee-haw,” he added. “Good thing they’re infertile…no female would put up with such snorts,” I said.

We leaned on the corral fence and spit, just like in the movies. Two disinterested mules stared back at us. “Biggest problem ya have is poor training when they’re young,” he said. “Molly there, she was bad to kick when I got her,” he said. “Thing about it is she can kick in any direction, even sideways.” Yeah, I thought…I’ve heard of females with this bad habit! “Mules are more intelligent than their parent species,” he said. “Why Betsy there, she understands what I’m thinking” he boasted. “That’s nothing,” I said. “My wife always knows what I’m thinking. Men are easy to read, they’re only interested in two or three things.”

This might be a dumb question,” I said, “but why are blinders used to shade a mule’s eyes?” He shook his head, saying, “Son, didya fall off the turnip truck? You’ve been off the farm too long. Look, do you know what mischief a 1,000 pound stubborn mule can get into if he ain’t focused? You gotta keep his eyes on his business. Good lesson for us all, huh?” Hey, who could deny that?

We walked back to the house in the twilight for some fried chicken and another round. Apparently, looking at mules makes one hungry and thirsty. He said, “Ya know, you got me to thinkin’. Why would any political party choose a jackass as a mascot?” A sly grin formed on his lips as he spit the last of his Skoal into the dust. “Well, I get your drift. It might explain a lot of things, huh?” I said.

I left after dinner, but not before leaving this cowboy with something to ponder. From my car I shouted,”Hey, B.P., speaking of mascots, what if you mated a donkey with an elephant? What political party would you get?” I heard him laughing for a mile down the road!

Nothing like mules and a quiet afternoon on the farm to get one to thinking. Gee, Haw!

Bud Hearn
August 26, 2010