Monday, December 20, 2010

Steve Landesberg 1945-2010

Steve Landesberg, best known as his role as Arthur Dietrich on the TV series Barney Miller has passed away at the age of 65 after a bout with cancer.  Landesberg also appeared on episodes of The Golden Girls, Harvey Birdman and the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

No. 18: The Schoolboy's Story

by Charles Dickens; originally published in 1853.

Being rather young at present--I am getting on in years, but still I am rather young--I have no particular adventures of my own to fall back upon. It wouldn't much interest anybody here, I suppose, to know what a screw the Reverend is, or what a griffin SHE is, or how they do stick it into parents--particularly hair-cutting, and medical attendance. One of our fellows was charged in his half's account twelve and sixpence for two pills--tolerably profitable at six and threepence a-piece, I should think--and he never took them either, but put them up the sleeve of his jacket.

As to the beef, it's shameful. It's NOT beef. Regular beef isn't veins. You can chew regular beef. Besides which, there's gravy to regular beef, and you never see a drop to ours. Another of our fellows went home ill, and heard the family doctor tell his father that he couldn't account for his complaint unless it was the beer. Of course it was the beer, and well it might be!

However, beef and Old Cheeseman are two different things. So is beer. It was Old Cheeseman I meant to tell about; not the manner in which our fellows get their constitutions destroyed for the sake of profit.

Why, look at the pie-crust alone. There's no flakiness in it. It's solid--like damp lead. Then our fellows get nightmares, and are bolstered for calling out and waking other fellows. Who can wonder!

Old Cheeseman one night walked in his sleep, put his hat on over his night-cap, got hold of a fishing-rod and a cricket-bat, and went down into the parlour, where they naturally thought from his appearance he was a Ghost. Why, he never would have done that if his meals had been wholesome. When we all begin to walk in our sleeps, I suppose they'll be sorry for it.

Old Cheeseman wasn't second Latin Master then; he was a fellow himself. He was first brought there, very small, in a post-chaise, by a woman who was always taking snuff and shaking him--and that was the most he remembered about it. He never went home for the holidays. His accounts (he never learnt any extras) were sent to a Bank, and the Bank paid them; and he had a brown suit twice a-year, and went into boots at twelve. They were always too big for him, too.

In the Midsummer holidays, some of our fellows who lived within walking distance, used to come back and climb the trees outside the playground wall, on purpose to look at Old Cheeseman reading there by himself. He was always as mild as the tea--and THAT'S pretty mild, I should hope!--so when they whistled to him, he looked up and nodded; and when they said, "Halloa, Old Cheeseman, what have you had for dinner?" he said, "Boiled mutton;" and when they said, "An't it solitary, Old Cheeseman?" he said, "It is a little dull sometimes:" and then they said, "Well good-bye, Old Cheeseman!" and climbed down again. Of course it was imposing on Old Cheeseman to give him nothing but boiled mutton through a whole Vacation, but that was just like the system. When they didn't give him boiled mutton, they gave him rice pudding, pretending it was a treat. And saved the butcher.

So Old Cheeseman went on. The holidays brought him into other trouble besides the loneliness; because when the fellows began to come back, not wanting to, he was always glad to see them; which was aggravating when they were not at all glad to see him, and so he got his head knocked against walls, and that was the way his nose bled. But he was a favourite in general. Once a subscription was raised for him; and, to keep up his spirits, he was presented before the holidays with two white mice, a rabbit, a pigeon, and a beautiful puppy. Old Cheeseman cried about it--especially soon afterwards, when they all ate one another.

Of course Old Cheeseman used to be called by the names of all sorts of cheeses--Double Glo'sterman, Family Cheshireman, Dutchman, North Wiltshireman, and all that. But he never minded it. And I don't mean to say he was old in point of years--because he wasn't--only he was called from the first, Old Cheeseman.

At last, Old Cheeseman was made second Latin Master. He was brought in one morning at the beginning of a new half, and presented to the school in that capacity as "Mr. Cheeseman." Then our fellows all agreed that Old Cheeseman was a spy, and a deserter, who had gone over to the enemy's camp, and sold himself for gold. It was no excuse for him that he had sold himself for very little gold--two pound ten a quarter and his washing, as was reported. It was decided by a Parliament which sat about it, that Old Cheeseman's mercenary motives could alone be taken into account, and that he had "coined our blood for drachmas." The Parliament took the expression out of the quarrel scene between Brutus and Cassius.

When it was settled in this strong way that Old Cheeseman was a tremendous traitor, who had wormed himself into our fellows' secrets on purpose to get himself into favour by giving up everything he knew, all courageous fellows were invited to come forward and enrol themselves in a Society for making a set against him. The President of the Society was First boy, named Bob Tarter. His father was in the West Indies, and he owned, himself, that his father was worth Millions. He had great power among our fellows, and he wrote a parody, beginning -

"Who made believe to be so meek
That we could hardly hear him speak,
Yet turned out an Informing Sneak?
Old Cheeseman."

- and on in that way through more than a dozen verses, which he used to go and sing, every morning, close by the new master's desk. He trained one of the low boys, too, a rosy-cheeked little Brass who didn't care what he did, to go up to him with his Latin Grammar one morning, and say it so: NOMINATIVUS PRONOMINUM--Old Cheeseman, RARO EXPRIMITUR--was never suspected, NISI DISTINCTIONIS--of being an informer, AUT EMPHASIS GRATiA--until he proved one. UT--for instance, VOS DAMNASTIS--when he sold the boys. QUASI--as though, DICAT--he should say, PRETAEREA NEMO--I'm a Judas! All this produced a great effect on Old Cheeseman. He had never had much hair; but what he had, began to get thinner and thinner every day. He grew paler and more worn; and sometimes of an evening he was seen sitting at his desk with a precious long snuff to his candle, and his hands before his face, crying. But no member of the Society could pity him, even if he felt inclined, because the President said it was Old Cheeseman's conscience.

So Old Cheeseman went on, and didn't he lead a miserable life! Of course the Reverend turned up his nose at him, and of course SHE did--because both of them always do that at all the masters--but he suffered from the fellows most, and he suffered from them constantly. He never told about it, that the Society could find out; but he got no credit for that, because the President said it was Old Cheeseman's cowardice.

He had only one friend in the world, and that one was almost as powerless as he was, for it was only Jane. Jane was a sort of wardrobe woman to our fellows, and took care of the boxes. She had come at first, I believe, as a kind of apprentice--some of our fellows say from a Charity, but I don't know--and after her time was out, had stopped at so much a year. So little a year, perhaps I ought to say, for it is far more likely. However, she had put some pounds in the Savings' Bank, and she was a very nice young woman. She was not quite pretty; but she had a very frank, honest, bright face, and all our fellows were fond of her. She was uncommonly neat and cheerful, and uncommonly comfortable and kind. And if anything was the matter with a fellow's mother, he always went and showed the letter to Jane.

Jane was Old Cheeseman's friend. The more the Society went against him, the more Jane stood by him. She used to give him a good- humoured look out of her still-room window, sometimes, that seemed to set him up for the day. She used to pass out of the orchard and the kitchen garden (always kept locked, I believe you!) through the playground, when she might have gone the other way, only to give a turn of her head, as much as to say "Keep up your spirits!" to Old Cheeseman. His slip of a room was so fresh and orderly that it was well known who looked after it while he was at his desk; and when our fellows saw a smoking hot dumpling on his plate at dinner, they knew with indignation who had sent it up.

Under these circumstances, the Society resolved, after a quantity of meeting and debating, that Jane should be requested to cut Old Cheeseman dead; and that if she refused, she must be sent to Coventry herself. So a deputation, headed by the President, was appointed to wait on Jane, and inform her of the vote the Society had been under the painful necessity of passing. She was very much respected for all her good qualities, and there was a story about her having once waylaid the Reverend in his own study, and got a fellow off from severe punishment, of her own kind comfortable heart. So the deputation didn't much like the job. However, they went up, and the President told Jane all about it. Upon which Jane turned very red, burst into tears, informed the President and the deputation, in a way not at all like her usual way, that they were a parcel of malicious young savages, and turned the whole respected body out of the room. Consequently it was entered in the Society's book (kept in astronomical cypher for fear of detection), that all communication with Jane was interdicted: and the President addressed the members on this convincing instance of Old Cheeseman's undermining.

But Jane was as true to Old Cheeseman as Old Cheeseman was false to our fellows--in their opinion, at all events--and steadily continued to be his only friend. It was a great exasperation to the Society, because Jane was as much a loss to them as she was a gain to him; and being more inveterate against him than ever, they treated him worse than ever. At last, one morning, his desk stood empty, his room was peeped into, and found to be vacant, and a whisper went about among the pale faces of our fellows that Old Cheeseman, unable to bear it any longer, had got up early and drowned himself.

The mysterious looks of the other masters after breakfast, and the evident fact that old Cheeseman was not expected, confirmed the Society in this opinion. Some began to discuss whether the President was liable to hanging or only transportation for life, and the President's face showed a great anxiety to know which. However, he said that a jury of his country should find him game; and that in his address he should put it to them to lay their hands upon their hearts and say whether they as Britons approved of informers, and how they thought they would like it themselves. Some of the Society considered that he had better run away until he found a forest where he might change clothes with a wood-cutter, and stain his face with blackberries; but the majority believed that if he stood his ground, his father--belonging as he did to the West Indies, and being worth millions--could buy him off.

All our fellows' hearts beat fast when the Reverend came in, and made a sort of a Roman, or a Field Marshal, of himself with the ruler; as he always did before delivering an address. But their fears were nothing to their astonishment when he came out with the story that Old Cheeseman, "so long our respected friend and fellow- pilgrim in the pleasant plains of knowledge," he called him--O yes! I dare say! Much of that!--was the orphan child of a disinherited young lady who had married against her father's wish, and whose young husband had died, and who had died of sorrow herself, and whose unfortunate baby (Old Cheeseman) had been brought up at the cost of a grandfather who would never consent to see it, baby, boy, or man: which grandfather was now dead, and serve him right--that's my putting in--and which grandfather's large property, there being no will, was now, and all of a sudden and for ever, Old Cheeseman's! Our so long respected friend and fellow-pilgrim in the pleasant plains of knowledge, the Reverend wound up a lot of bothering quotations by saying, would "come among us once more" that day fortnight, when he desired to take leave of us himself, in a more particular manner. With these words, he stared severely round at our fellows, and went solemnly out.

There was precious consternation among the members of the Society, now. Lots of them wanted to resign, and lots more began to try to make out that they had never belonged to it. However, the President stuck up, and said that they must stand or fall together, and that if a breach was made it should be over his body--which was meant to encourage the Society: but it didn't. The President further said, he would consider the position in which they stood, and would give them his best opinion and advice in a few days. This was eagerly looked for, as he knew a good deal of the world on account of his father's being in the West Indies.

After days and days of hard thinking, and drawing armies all over his slate, the President called our fellows together, and made the matter clear. He said it was plain that when Old Cheeseman came on the appointed day, his first revenge would be to impeach the Society, and have it flogged all round. After witnessing with joy the torture of his enemies, and gloating over the cries which agony would extort from them, the probability was that he would invite the Reverend, on pretence of conversation, into a private room--say the parlour into which Parents were shown, where the two great globes were which were never used--and would there reproach him with the various frauds and oppressions he had endured at his hands. At the close of his observations he would make a signal to a Prizefighter concealed in the passage, who would then appear and pitch into the Reverend, till he was left insensible. Old Cheeseman would then make Jane a present of from five to ten pounds, and would leave the establishment in fiendish triumph.

The President explained that against the parlour part, or the Jane part, of these arrangements he had nothing to say; but, on the part of the Society, he counselled deadly resistance. With this view he recommended that all available desks should be filled with stones, and that the first word of the complaint should be the signal to every fellow to let fly at Old Cheeseman. The bold advice put the Society in better spirits, and was unanimously taken. A post about Old Cheeseman's size was put up in the playground, and all our fellows practised at it till it was dinted all over.

When the day came, and Places were called, every fellow sat down in a tremble. There had been much discussing and disputing as to how Old Cheeseman would come; but it was the general opinion that he would appear in a sort of triumphal car drawn by four horses, with two livery servants in front, and the Prizefighter in disguise up behind. So, all our fellows sat listening for the sound of wheels. But no wheels were heard, for Old Cheeseman walked after all, and came into the school without any preparation. Pretty much as he used to be, only dressed in black.

"Gentlemen," said the Reverend, presenting him, "our so long respected friend and fellow-pilgrim in the pleasant plains of knowledge, is desirous to offer a word or two. Attention, gentlemen, one and all!"

Every fellow stole his hand into his desk and looked at the President. The President was all ready, and taking aim at old Cheeseman with his eyes.

What did Old Cheeseman then, but walk up to his old desk, look round him with a queer smile as if there was a tear in his eye, and begin in a quavering, mild voice, "My dear companions and old friends!"

Every fellow's hand came out of his desk, and the President suddenly began to cry.

"My dear companions and old friends," said Old Cheeseman, "you have heard of my good fortune. I have passed so many years under this roof--my entire life so far, I may say--that I hope you have been glad to hear of it for my sake. I could never enjoy it without exchanging congratulations with you. If we have ever misunderstood one another at all, pray, my dear boys, let us forgive and forget. I have a great tenderness for you, and I am sure you return it. I want in the fulness of a grateful heart to shake hands with you every one. I have come back to do it, if you please, my dear boys."

Since the President had begun to cry, several other fellows had broken out here and there: but now, when Old Cheeseman began with him as first boy, laid his left hand affectionately on his shoulder and gave him his right; and when the President said "Indeed, I don't deserve it, sir; upon my honour I don't;" there was sobbing and crying all over the school. Every other fellow said he didn't deserve it, much in the same way; but Old Cheeseman, not minding that a bit, went cheerfully round to every boy, and wound up with every master--finishing off the Reverend last.

Then a snivelling little chap in a corner, who was always under some punishment or other, set up a shrill cry of "Success to Old Cheeseman! Hooray!" The Reverend glared upon him, and said, "MR. Cheeseman, sir." But, Old Cheeseman protesting that he liked his old name a great deal better than his new one, all our fellows took up the cry; and, for I don't know how many minutes, there was such a thundering of feet and hands, and such a roaring of Old Cheeseman, as never was heard.

After that, there was a spread in the dining-room of the most magnificent kind. Fowls, tongues, preserves, fruits, confectionaries, jellies, neguses, barley-sugar temples, trifles, crackers--eat all you can and pocket what you like--all at Old Cheeseman's expense. After that, speeches, whole holiday, double and treble sets of all manners of things for all manners of games, donkeys, pony-chaises and drive yourself, dinner for all the masters at the Seven Bells (twenty pounds a-head our fellows estimated it at), an annual holiday and feast fixed for that day every year, and another on Old Cheeseman's birthday--Reverend bound down before the fellows to allow it, so that he could never back out--all at Old Cheeseman's expense.

And didn't our fellows go down in a body and cheer outside the Seven Bells? O no!

But there's something else besides. Don't look at the next story- teller, for there's more yet. Next day, it was resolved that the Society should make it up with Jane, and then be dissolved. What do you think of Jane being gone, though! "What? Gone for ever?" said our fellows, with long faces. "Yes, to be sure," was all the answer they could get. None of the people about the house would say anything more. At length, the first boy took upon himself to ask the Reverend whether our old friend Jane was really gone? The Reverend (he has got a daughter at home--turn-up nose, and red) replied severely, "Yes, sir, Miss Pitt is gone." The idea of calling Jane, Miss Pitt! Some said she had been sent away in disgrace for taking money from Old Cheeseman; others said she had gone into Old Cheeseman's service at a rise of ten pounds a year. All that our fellows knew, was, she was gone.

It was two or three months afterwards, when, one afternoon, an open carriage stopped at the cricket field, just outside bounds, with a lady and gentleman in it, who looked at the game a long time and stood up to see it played. Nobody thought much about them, until the same little snivelling chap came in, against all rules, from the post where he was Scout, and said, "It's Jane!" Both Elevens forgot the game directly, and ran crowding round the carriage. It WAS Jane! In such a bonnet! And if you'll believe me, Jane was married to Old Cheeseman.

It soon became quite a regular thing when our fellows were hard at it in the playground, to see a carriage at the low part of the wall where it joins the high part, and a lady and gentleman standing up in it, looking over. The gentleman was always Old Cheeseman, and the lady was always Jane.

The first time I ever saw them, I saw them in that way. There had been a good many changes among our fellows then, and it had turned out that Bob Tarter's father wasn't worth Millions! He wasn't worth anything. Bob had gone for a soldier, and Old Cheeseman had purchased his discharge. But that's not the carriage. The carriage stopped, and all our fellows stopped as soon as it was seen.

"So you have never sent me to Coventry after all!" said the lady, laughing, as our fellows swarmed up the wall to shake hands with her. "Are you never going to do it?"

"Never! never! never!" on all sides.

I didn't understand what she meant then, but of course I do now. I was very much pleased with her face though, and with her good way, and I couldn't help looking at her--and at him too--with all our fellows clustering so joyfully about them.

They soon took notice of me as a new boy, so I thought I might as well swarm up the wall myself, and shake hands with them as the rest did. I was quite as glad to see them as the rest were, and was quite as familiar with them in a moment.

"Only a fortnight now," said Old Cheeseman, "to the holidays. Who stops? Anybody?"

A good many fingers pointed at me, and a good many voices cried "He does!" For it was the year when you were all away; and rather low I was about it, I can tell you.

"Oh!" said Old Cheeseman. "But it's solitary here in the holiday time. He had better come to us."

So I went to their delightful house, and was as happy as I could possibly be. They understand how to conduct themselves towards boys, THEY do. When they take a boy to the play, for instance, they DO take him. They don't go in after it's begun, or come out before it's over. They know how to bring a boy up, too. Look at their own! Though he is very little as yet, what a capital boy he is! Why, my next favourite to Mrs. Cheeseman and Old Cheeseman, is young Cheeseman.

So, now I have told you all I know about Old Cheeseman. And it's not much after all, I am afraid. Is it?

Thanks to The Literature Network at www.online-literature.com.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stull #6

Matt sat at the bar in Henry's in downtown Tontzville.  He was nursing his seventh Jack and Coke.  He had his hand resting on his head with his fingers in his hair.  It had been two weeks since his Uncle John died and he had not gotten over it.  Matt had been staying with his sister in Tontzville since the funeral and he hadn't set foot in Stull since the burial, let alone the Historical Society.

Matt spent his time shut up in his sister's apartment or at the bar, drinking to make his pain and failure stop nagging him.  He finished his seventh drink and ordered his eighth.  A girl sat down next to him and looked at him.

"What's wrong?" she asked him.  "Looks like you lost your best friend."

"Close.  Favorite relative.  I'm the next one in line," Matt said.

"Next one in line for what?" the girl asked.  Matt turned to look at her.  She had beautiful golden blonde hair, big green eyes and freckles.  She was wearing odd clothing, a thin blouse and a plaid skirt but Matt found her attractive.

"There is a curse on my family.  No male member of my family has lived past 50," Matt said and realized that would've sounded better had he not been drunk.

"A curse, eh?  Am I safe to talk to you?" the girl smiled.

"Probably.  Women in my family tend to live to be 90 or older," Matt took a drink of his Jack and Coke.  "Matt Stull," he extended his hand.

"Virginia Humphrey," she said as she took his hand.




"Virginia"
Matt fumbled trying to get the door to his sister's house to unlock.  Virginia giggled as Matt tried to prove he wasn't as drunk as he really was.

"Ssh!  We don't want to wake up my sister.  Or brother-in-law.  Or niece.  Or nephew."

"Why didn't we just go back to your place in Stull?" Virginia asked.

"I'm too drunk to drive that far and you said you didn't know how to to drive.  Plus we lose time if we drive all the way to Stull."

Within half an hour, Matt and Virginia were in bed trying to keep quiet as they made love.  Matt had remarked several times on how smooth and white her body was.  She almost glowed in the moonlight as it shown down through the window.

When they were finished, they cuddled with each other until they rolled apart and fell asleep.  When Matt woke up in the following morning, Virginia was gone.  "She didn't seem like that type," Matt sighed.  Matt left the guest room and went to the kitchen.  Dennis was in there making a bowl of cereal.  "Hey, I hate to ask this but have you seen anyone who doesn't live here wandering around?" Matt asked.

"You mean besides you?"

"Ha, ha.  Yes, besides me."

"I thought I heard moans of pleasure emanating from the guest room--not your room, the guest room."

"Yeah.  Unfortunately she bailed on me.  I didn't get her phone number or address."

"Did you get her name?" Dennis asked.

"I did get that.  Virginia."

"Virginia.  That's a name you don't hear much anymore."

"At least it doesn't have random vowels hanging out like so many names these days."




Matt arrived at the Historical Society in a good mood.  It was the first time he'd been there in several weeks.  Frank was startled to see him.

"You're back?" Frank asked.

"I never left.  I just stopped coming in."

"At any other job that would've gotten you fired," Frank pointed out.

"But this isn't any other job."

"It's good to have you back.  With Katie's arm still wrapped up, we haven't really been able to do any field work," Frank said.  "I got permission to go to Swissvale.  I just have to call the guy before I leave for it so he knows I'm out there."

"That's great.  We'll do that later.  I got lucky," Matt blurted out.

"What?  How old are you?"

"And she was so amazing and soft," Matt said.

"26, or...?" Frank continued but was interrupted.

"I wasn't able to get a phone number.  She sneaked out while I was asleep."

"Ah, there we go."

"Is there any way you can find an address for her?  You have the largest database of useless information I've ever known."

"I have information on who owns a property, not who lives at an address.  I doubt that would be helpful to you.  Besides, if she snuck out I'm sure she had a really good reason."

"No, she liked me.  I could tell.  She was different.  A girl like her doesn't just hop into bed with anyone."

"Aw, it's cute you think that," Frank said.  "Does she live in Tontzville?  What's her name?"

"Virginia Humphrey."

"Really?  That can't be right.  I guess it's possible..."

"What's wrong?"

"It can't be the same girl because it happened in 1912.  In 1912, a girl named Virginia Humphrey was murdered in Tontzville by the man she was having an affair with.  She was 20, he was 42.  Murdered her in an alley in the middle of winter.  It wasn't until his wife revealed she knew they were having an affair that the police began thinking he killed her.  They originally thought some boxcar hobo.  There's a plaque at 7th and Prospect dedicated to her," Frank pulled a scanned image of a newspaper from the early Twentieth Century on his computer and turned the screen slightly toward Matt.

There was a picture showing a snow-covered crime and a picture of Virginia.  "That's her!" Matt shrieked.  "That's her.  There is no way that's a distant relative.  I slept with a dead girl!"

"Technically, it sounds like you slept with her ghost.  I've heard that Virginia's ghost wanders the area but I've never heard of her actually...doing anything with people," Frank said.

"Well, she did something with me!  How can you even have sex with a ghost?"

"I don't know.  I've never had sex with a ghost.  What was it like?"

"I'm not telling you!"

"You were more than eager a couple minutes ago."

"That was before I knew I made it with a ghost!"  Frank started laughing which made Matt a little angry.  "You're loving this aren't you?  I'm probably cursed now."

"Ah, you were cursed anyway.  More than likely it was just a girl who looked like Virginia and used her name."

"But why would she do that?"

"So you couldn't hunt her down.  So she can say she's not a whore, I don't know," Frank shrugged.  "Just go with that you had a great one-night stand and move on.  Here's an idea:  let's go to Swissvale."

"Nah.  I'm not in the mood to wander around an abandoned townsite right now," Matt said.

"At any other job I could just make you go out there," Frank said.

"But this isn't any other job," said Matt.

Next:
Frank returns to Rock Creek and Katie and Matt find the Old Stull Cemetery.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Leslie Nielsen 1926-2010

Leslie Nielsen, star of The Naked Gun movies has passed away at the age of 84.  Nielsen is also remembered for appearing in Airplane!, The Forbidden Planet, Scary Movie 3 and 4, and Dracula:  Dead and Loving It.  Nielsen was primarily a dramatic actor until his appearance in 1980s Airplane! which was his first comedic role.  In 1982, Nielsen starred in the TV series Police Squad! which, while canceled after only six episodes, spawned the Naked Gun movie series.

Friday, November 26, 2010

President Palin--Ha! Alliteration

Here's how I feel about Palin running for President in 2012.  If she runs, and wins she can no longer "write" books, host reality shows, appear on Fox News or do all the things she does now.  When you are President, you are President--you can not waste time yakking with Bill O'Reilly about how the country is being run nor will you have the time to yak with Bill O'Reilly about how the country is being run.  I don't think she could do it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

No. 17: Booked!

1. Eric Bader pulled his bicycle from the garage and looked around at where he lived, at the trees lining the streets and down the street at the next intersection. He hoisted his backpack onto his back and got on his bike. He pedaled down the street toward the UCLA campus, thoroughly enjoying the sun beating down on his wavy brown hair. As he went through campus he waved and smiled at the other students he passed until coming to a stop underneath a group of trees where Annie Smith, Ray Bevis and Andy Dumane were sitting.

“Are we still on for our trip to Mexico?” Eric asked as he skidded to a halt.

“Yep,” began Andy, standing up and stretching. “I’m gonna skip my afternoon classes today to take a nap and the three of us will pick you up at Starbucks at nine.”

“Awesome! This is going to be the best trip to Mexico ever!” Eric shouted and beamed with excitement.

“Isn’t this your first trip to Mexico?” asked Annie.

“My first,” Eric replied, still smiling.

“Well, I have a surprise for you when we get a hotel room. I’ll see you tonight, I have to get to class,” Annie said and walked away.

“Dude, she is totally going to sleep with you,” Ray said.

“Man, I hope so. It’s hard seeing her with all these other guys when I want her so badly,” Eric and his friends began walking toward one of the campus buildings. Eric always had a thing for Annie but she had resorted him to ‘friend’ and although there were sparks between them, they never acted on them.




It was an hour before Eric was supposed to leave for Mexico with his three best friends. He had already checked out and continuously stared into space whenever filling a coffee cup or wiping down a table.

The phone in the back rang and the shift manager Paolo Kelley answered it. “Eric Bader?” he confirmed. “Just a moment.” Paolo walked over to Eric who was staring at the TV which was on CNN. “Eric, you have a phone call.”

Eric arrived in back and picked up the receiver. “Hello?” he listened and the look on his face became more sullen as everything around him silenced and he just focused on that moment. He muttered something unintelligible and walked over to Paolo.

“Who was that, Eric?” asked Paolo, taking a cue from Eric and spacing out on CNN.

“It was my mom. I’m gonna need to leave early tonight and have the next couple of weeks off,” Eric revealed.

Paolo took his eyes off CNN and looked at Eric. “Why?”

“My father passed away.”




2. Centennial, Indiana was your stereotypical small town. Maple and oak trees lined the brick streets and the connected buildings of the downtown lined Main Street between Fifth and Seventh and Sixth between Fir and Cedar. It was a sickening quaint town with numerical streets running east to west and the names of trees, in alphabetical order running north to south.

Eric was sitting in the passenger seat of his sister April’s car and looked out toward the rolling fields and woodlands lining the highway. Except for the obligatory hellos at the airport, the car ride was completely silent. They entered the city limits of Centennial and she turned left onto the second street in, which was Grove Street. Two blocks later, she pulled into the driveway of their parent’s house. Eric pulled his suitcase out of the trunk and walked up to the porch where Eric’s mom rushed out and embraced him.

“Oh, Eric!” she cried.

Eric rolled his eyes and patted his mom on her back. “There, there. It’s okay,” Eric said, at a loss for anything else to say. Eric pushed his mom away toward April who had just ascended the porch steps. “Are the funeral arrangements all made?” Eric asked.

“No,” April began, “we were wondering if you would handle them because you have a better head for stuff like that.”

“What? I haven’t been home in three years. I have no idea what Dad was like since I moved to California!” Eric protested.

“Well, Mom is in no condition to do that and I have to get the word out to other family members and friends. And console our mother,” April said hugging their crying mom.

“Fine! Did Dad have a will or anything?” Eric asked as he went in the house. “Did he want to be buried, cremated, placed on the curb for the trash collectors?”

“Eric!” April snapped.

“Buried. In Mount Prairie Cemetery,” their mom sniffled.

“Okay, did you guys already buy plots or…”

“No…” she cried.

“All right, I need to call the funeral home and cemetery. Is next Friday all right for the funeral?” Eric asked, noting it was already Thursday and the next Friday would offer plenty of time for people to travel to Centennial. “Where’s Dad’s body? Never thought I’d have to say that,” Eric chuckled.

“At Montgomery Regional Medical Center in Gardner,” April answered sitting their mom down on the nearby couch.

“Okay, I’m going to the funeral home and get everything set up. I’m borrowing the car, Ma,” Eric took the keys off the hook by the door and left the house.




Eric pulled away from the funeral home and began driving around Centennial and noticing that not much had really changed in the last three years. A housing development was springing up on the northeast side of town. He didn’t recognize anyone walking through town but he figured most of the guys he went to school with were in jail and the girls were all pregnant and caring for their own children.

While Eric was stopped at Centennial’s very first, and only, stop light at Sixth and Main, he noticed a girl on the opposite corner walking away from the intersection. Eric made a left turn and slowly pulled up alongside the girl. The girl looked at the car following her and picked up her pace. She took one more look and saw Eric’s face.

“Eric Bader?” the girl approached the car. “What are you doing here? I thought you were in California.”

“I was…I am. I’m back in town for a family thing. Hop in, I’ll give you lift.” The girl, Crystal Mercer, opened the door and slid in.

It was nearly midnight when Eric walked in the door and saw April standing in the front room with her hands on her hips. “Where in the hell have you been?!” she shrieked.

“Well, first I went to the funeral home. The funeral is next Friday at 10 a.m. and the obit will appear in Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday’s paper and his casket is a beautiful white and gold with mahogany. After that I drove around town and ran into Crystal Mercer, remember her? Man, she’s cool. She has this birthmark on her upper thigh near her…”

“You had Mom worried sick! You are supposed to be organizing Dad’s funeral and you’re out picking up girls?” April scolded.

“Well this funeral has forced me to cancel my weekend trip to Mexico so it’s only fair I get something for having to interrupt my life!” Eric pushed past April and began walking upstairs. “I’m going to bed.”

“Damn it, Eric! Dad has died! You’re supposed to be in mourning!” April shouted.

“I am in mourning!” Eric yelled back.




3. The obituary read:
RANDALL E. BADER, 52, of Centennial died Thursday at Montgomery Regional Med Center in Gardner. Mr. Bader was born in Cincinnati, Ohio to David and Elaine (Brown) Bader August 16, 1953. Mr. Bader married Sheryl Ludwig on September 13, 1972. Mr. Bader was owner and operator of the Vagabond Bookstore in Centennial since 1977 but was previously employed with Hops-Star Dairy from 1972 to 1974 and Carrington Electric from 1974 to 1977. Mr. Bader was a member of the Knights of Columbus and Freemasons along with being an organizer of the Centennial Tree Street Festival from 1987 to 2000 and a city council member from 1992-1996.

Mr. Bader is survived by his wife and daughter, April, both of Centennial; 3 brothers; 1 sister; and a son, Eric, Los Angeles.

Family recommends condolenseces be sent in care of Baldwin-Lamb Funeral Home and memorial contributions be sent to either the Centennial Tree Street Festival Fund or to the American Heart Association in care of the funeral home.
The funeral was also very nice and crowded as it seemed that everyone who Eric’s dad had walked past were at the funeral. Eric soon got sick of everyone offering condolences and offering advice or their own stories about losing a parent. Eric went outside during the gathering afterward and just sat on the sidewalk.

“Are you Randy’s son?” a man asked.

“Yes,” Eric looked up.

“Hi, I’m Steven Niccum and I am your parents’ attorney. I was wondering when would be a convenient time to go over your father’s will.”

“He’s only been in the ground an hour and you’re worried about the reading of the will?”

“I do apologize but…” Mr. Niccum started but Eric interrupted.

“No need. How about Monday? The sooner I get out of this town, the better,” Eric smiled and shook Mr. Niccum’s hand.




On Monday, Eric, along with his mom, April and his aunt and uncles were sitting in Mr. Niccum’s office and reading over the will. Most everything went to his mom since she was still living but heirlooms from his parents went to his brother and sister. Eric mainly just sat there bored and rolled his eyes when someone cried.

“’…And my bookstore: The Vagabond. It’s been an important part of my life for nearly thirty years. I leave it to my son, Eric, who will run it for one week before doing what he wishes with it,’” Mr. Niccum read.

Eric sat straight up and looked at each one of his relatives. “What?” he asked. “I refuse to do it! I have to get back to L.A.”

“Eric,” April began, “it’s only a week. Honor Dad’s wishes and mind the store. After a week, you can do whatever you want with it.”

“I’m gonna sell it!”

“Eric…” one of his uncles began but Eric interrupted.

“It makes sense. That business is barely breaking even especially now that there are two mainstream bookstores ten miles away in Gardner. I don’t even know anything about running a business and I need to get back to school!” Eric slapped his hand hard on a side table and suddenly the office was silent and motionless.

Eric regained his composure and sat back in his chair. “I will do it,” he said poignantly. “But when the week is up, I am getting rid of the inventory and selling the building. My mind is made up and that’s the end of this discussion.”

The room stayed quiet for the better part of a minute then Mr. Niccum resumed reading the will.




4. Eric unlocked the door to the bookstore and walked in. The bookstore was crowded with bookshelves full of old and new books. The smell of paper, ink and dust filled his nose causing him to cough and then sneeze.

“I never realized this was such a hole-in-the-wall,” Eric said softly.

The door behind Eric opened and a booming voice echoed in the room. “You must be Randy’s son, Eric!”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“I’m Alan Weaverly. I’m—I was,” Alan corrected, “your Dad’s business partner.”

“Business partner? Dad never told me he had a business partner,” Eric muttered but Alan still heard.

“Yeah, a couple years ago, when the second bookstore opened in Gardner, he needed some extra help so, being his best friend and believing it could work, I quit my job, took out a loan and became his partner. I’m only about 35 percent owner but Randy always treated me as equal.”

Eric didn’t want to reveal his plan to Alan quite yet so hesitated and asked a question. “Does anyone else work here?”

“Three other people. One to work the register, one to be what we call a ‘rover’ and one to operate the coffee nook,” Alan answered.

“No wonder this place hardly makes a dime if Dad was paying a wage to three worthless people,” Eric said as he headed to the back of the store where the office was located.

Alan ran his hand through his gray hair as he followed Eric. “They are not exactly worthless and a couple of them actually needed a job. Randy gave them a job—knowing he couldn’t really afford it—when no one else in town would.”

“Hmm, that’s great. Everybody has a sob story,” Eric flicked on the light to the office and noticed the crowded setting.

Two desks were pushed together and facing each other while dismantled shelves lay scattered against the walls and on the floor. Eric had to be careful where he stepped in order not to step on nail or screws.

“We never did get these shelves repaired…” chuckled Alan.

“Get them out of here!” Eric ordered.

“What?” questioned Alan.

“Gather up all the wood, nails, screws and all the other crap in here and throw it away! I want it all out of here by the end of today!” Eric said sitting in his father’s chair and looking very sternly at Alan.

“I can’t do it by myself. I’ll need help…”

“Then get one of our employees in here to help you,” Eric stood back up and proceeded to leave the office. “Have them actually earn their paycheck for once,” and Eric was gone.




Eric was behind the check-out counter on a stool in the corner reading East of Eden, which he had just grabbed off a shelf. A girl, Kaitlyn Jones, was also behind the counter but she was minding the cash register. Kaitlyn looked over occasionally at Eric until finally walking over to him.

“Eric?”

Eric never flinched from the book as he answered her with a tone that would cause a lightening bolt to stop and turn around. “What?”

“I…I just wanted to offer my sympathies about your father. I know what you’re going through because I lost my grandpa a few months ago,” Kaitlyn said.

“You have absolutely no idea what I’m going through,” he still wasn’t missing a beat from his book. “A father and grandfather are two completely different mourning processes. Secondly, I didn’t ask for you sympathies and finally, you are in my personal space. Begone!” Eric raised his hand and waved her away.

Kaitlyn’s face went cross but she shrugged and walked over to the small coffee nook on the other side of the door. “What was his problem?” asked the boy behind the counter with a thick Russian accent.

“Well, I hope he’s just having difficulty handling the death of his father but a part of me just thinks he’s a jerk,” Kaitlyn smiled as she looked over at Eric. “Are Alan and Adam still cleaning out the office, Larry?”

Larry, real name Valeri Zakahrov from Kiev, Ukraine, leaned in and nonchalantly pointed to Eric. “Yes. According to Mr. Boss, they have to get the office cleaned by the end of today.”

“What a jerk! I don’t care if he is Mr. Bader’s son, he should not be treating Alan like a work horse.”

“We work in a clown car, guys,” Eric said from his corner, fixated on his book. “I could hear every word you just said.”




Eric locked the door to the bookstore and began walking away. Kaitlyn, Adam and Larry were still hanging around. Kaitlyn called over to Eric, “Hey, Eric. We’re gonna go see a movie. Do you want to come with?”

Eric turned around, casually eyed Kaitlyn’s small chest and scoffed. “No, I’m meeting an old girlfriend. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Eric turned back around and continued walking.

“You’re welcome,” Kaitlyn sighed.




5. Eric and Crystal were in her bed having sex. Her legs were raised in the air and both were moaning and panting heavily. “Don’t…don’t you need to…get to the store?” Crystal gasped as she sank her fingers into Eric’s arm and back.

“Screw ‘em. Right now, this is more important,” Eric leaned in, kissed Crystal, repositioned himself and began moving harder. “Besides, we all pretty much sat around yesterday anyway.”

When Eric finally arrived at the bookstore, everyone was impatiently waiting around the door. Kaitlyn and Larry were sitting on the one step and stood up as Eric fished the keys out of his pocket. “Where have you been?” Kaitlyn scolded.

Eric looked at Kaitlyn, then stepped back to look at the bay window with VAGABOND BOOKSTORE printed on it. He looked back at Kaitlyn and smiled. “Are you questioning why I’m late to open a store that I am owner and operator of?”

“Maybe I was just concerned or just curious. I wasn’t judging or criticizing but I was asking a very legitimate question,” Kaitlyn replied trying to hold back her anger.

“Well maybe you should mind your own business and stay out of my life just like I am staying out of yours,” Eric retorted.

“Listen, asshole! I have been nothing but kind and nice to you and you’ve been treating me—and everybody else—like shit! I don’t know what your problem is, little spoiled boy from Los Angeles, but you now have to grow up whether you like it or not!” Kaitlyn said.

Eric very calmly spoke. “Will the young lady from Indiana please shut up,” he suddenly threw the keys to Kaitlyn, pelting her in the chest. “Fine! I didn’t want to do this anyway! I’m glad I’m selling this dump. I’ll see you all later. You’re on your own!” Eric stormed away from where he came from leaving Alan, Kaitlyn, Adam and Larry alone on the sidewalk.




Alan found Eric in a bar called Cully’s Corner and sat next to him on a stool at the bar. “So what’s the problem?” Alan asked.

“Uh-oh! It’s Dr. Goodfriend the psychiatrist coming to offer me a session,” Eric said as he looked down at his glass of beer. “So how’d you find me?”

“Cully’s is the only bar still open in Centennial. Anyway, why are you like this? I remember when you were growing up you were such a happy and optimistic child. Then about 15, 16 you changed and became more withdrawn from family and friends and, from what I heard from your father, when you started UCLA you never came home for birthdays or holidays and never wrote anybody unless it was in an email. And now getting mad at some of the nicest people you don’t know when being late and not opening the store is your fault falls under the category of crazy. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t have to sit here for this,” Eric started to get off the stool.

“Yes you do because if something is wrong, I want to help. It’s the least I can do for your father,” Alan said.

“My father…” Eric began but left the end open.

“Are you mad because you had to fly back to Indiana to attend something as piddly as your father’s funeral?”

“No, it’s just…” Eric sighed heavily and continued, “he never saw me become anything. He always had such hope for me and…he never saw me grow up.”

“Don’t worry, he will,” Alan paused for a couple of beats. “You should give Kaitlyn and all of them a chance. They are the best people you’ll ever meet and, despite them being so young, I consider them friends.”

“I will. Thanks, Alan,” Eric said.

Alan got off the stool and began to walk away but stopped and placed his hand on Eric’s shoulder. “I was talking to your dad a couple days before he died and he just couldn’t stop talking about his son at UCLA. He had a twinkle in his eye and the biggest smile on his face. Boy, he was proud of you!” Alan placed the store keys on the bar next to Eric, clapped him on the back and left Cully’s.

Eric sat motionless until finally, Eric lowered his head and began to cry.




6. Eric and Alan were resorting the books on the shelf while Adam was opening boxes from the new delivery and Larry was over in the coffee nook polishing the coffeemaker. Kaitlyn came in, scowled at Eric and threw her book bag behind the counter. As she prepared to get ready for work she looked down onto the counter and saw a single white rose. “What’s this?” she questioned and held up the beautiful flower.

“A peace offering,” Eric began walking over to Kaitlyn. “Hope you don’t mind but I refuse to buy red roses. I just wanted to apologize for my behavior and attitude the last couple of days. I already have these guys’ acceptance, Ms. Jones, and I understand if you don’t accept my apology.”

“Of course I do,” she began and briefly smelled the rose. “I knew there was some good in your heart, Mr. Grinch,” she smiled.

Eric smiled back and looked down but kept his eyes on Kaitlyn’s face. Her short blond hair was illuminated by the big front window and Eric noticed, for the first time, just how beautiful she was. He blinked, cleared his throat and turned around. “And as another peace offering, I am offering up a trip to Gardner to bask in the glory that is Liberty Pizza—my treat.”

Everybody accepted and began talking to each other and then slowly resumed their work.




All five were gathered around a table at Liberty Pizza in Gardner. Eric was telling a story about him and his friends in California and everyone was listening intently and stifling laughter.

“And that is why my friend Ray’s apartment was raided by the ATF,” Eric finished. Everyone laughed loudly as Eric took a drink of his soda.

“See, Eric, you are a wonderful person to talk to,” Kaitlyn said. “So why were you in such a bad mood this week?”

“Because my father died the same day I was supposed to go on a road trip to Mexico,” Eric said casually.

“What?” Kaitlyn’s eyes opened wide and she looked at everybody else. “Seriously?”

“You’re dad was a good person,” Adam spoke up. “When my mom got sick I needed a job fast and Mr. Bader just hired me. My mom got better and is slowly starting to go back to work but I don’t want to quit. I can’t imagine my life without that store.”

“When my family moved here from Kiev, I knew very little English and I couldn’t find a job. One day I went up to Mr. Bader and asked for a job. He rejected me but took my name and phone number and a week went by and Mr. Bader called me to run the coffee nook. I was so grateful and I was able to learn some English and read American literature. He was a good man,” Larry said and looked solemn into his soda.

“Oh, man, it’s almost ten?” Alan suddenly spoke up. “I have to get going!” Alan excused himself from the table and everybody said some form of good-bye.

Everyone quieted down and looked at the various things around the restaurant. Eric groaned. “I should go to because I said I was going to meet a girl at eleven.”

“Not that girl who caused you to be late opening the store yesterday, right?” asked Kaitlyn getting up from the table.

“Yes, actually but it to tell her we’re not gonna see each other anymore,” Eric revealed which seemed to bring a brightness to Kaitlyn’s face.




Kaitlyn had ridden with Eric to Gardner and Eric was now dropping her off at her place. She didn’t immediately get out of the car but rested her hand on the door handle and looked as if she was deep in thought.

“Something wrong?” Eric asked.

“Yeah. Don’t you want to hear my sad story that caused your father to hire me?”

Eric looked at the clock on the dashboard. “I’m kind of running late…”

“I was two months pregnant and my fiancée was killed in a train accident. He worked for the railroad. Your father offered me the cashier job during my interview. It was only going to be a temporary thing but three years later, here I am.”

Kaitlyn opened the door, got out and attempted to shut the door before Eric spoke, “You have a three-year-old child?”

“No,” Kaitlyn looked into the car, “I had a miscarriage.” She shut the door and walked up the sidewalk to her house.




7. The rest of Eric’s stay flew by and Eric had kept his decision to himself but his mind was made up. In the meantime, Eric also had to deal with a blossoming relationship between him and Kaitlyn. They had gone out numerous times and watched movies at her place but both were still uncertain about their future.

Eric came out of the office and walked over to the counter. “Everybody, could you all gather up here?” he ordered. Everyone circled around Eric as he took a deep breath. “All of you are wondering what my decision is on the fate of the bookstore. I was essentially given free reign with the future of this store and when I heard I had to make this decision, I immediately decided to sell it and I have stuck with that decision.”

Everybody gasped and began talking to each other,

“Shut up. I have squared all this with my lawyer and everything is set up for the new owner to take over on Monday,” Eric continued.

“Are you going to tell us who the new owner is?” asked Adam.

“Yes. Alan Weaverly,” Eric announced and looked at Alan, “if you’ll have it.”

“Of…of course,” Alan seemed speechless. Eric handed the keys to Alan and he promptly took them.

“This last week has been great but I’m done. I’m out,” Eric threw up his arms as if in surrender. “She’s all yours, Alan.” And with that, Eric exited the store and began walking away.

Suddenly, Kaitlyn was next to Eric, grabbing his arm to stop him from walking. “What do you mean, you’re out?” she asked.

“I’m going back to California. There’s nothing for me here in Centennial, Kaitlyn.”

“What about us?” she asked.

“Look, I find you incredibly wonderful but I’m not the boyfriend type of guy. I’m happy with my station of life right now and I don’t want anything to mess up that happiness.”

“Then why did we go out and do all that stuff together?” Kaitlyn began to tear up.

“It was all for friendship. You were a great friend and I’ll never forget you but my life is in California, not Indiana,” Eric began backing away. “I’m sorry.”

Eric began walking away and Kaitlyn watched as Eric headed down the sidewalk. She then bounded toward him, spun him around and kissed him full on the lips. For a full minute they kissed and embraced, and then Kaitlyn pulled away. “I’m gonna miss you.”




8. Two months later, in California, Eric stopped his bike in front of Annie, Ray and Andy. “Are we still on for Mexico?” he asked.

“Yep. Unless another relative dies, Eric,” Andy said.

“Nope. Everyone was perfectly healthy when I emailed April yesterday.”

“Well, I’m gonna skip my afternoon classes so I can grab a nap then I’ll pick everybody up and grab you at Starbucks at nine, okay?” Andy organized.

“Months of anticipation for my first excursion to Mexico and it’s finally here…again.”

“Well that surprise I had for you during our first trip is still open if you want it,” Annie offered.

Eric’s smile soon turned into something else as he shook his head and looked apologetically at Annie. “I’m sorry but I’m gonna decline that offer if you don’t mind.”

“That’s fine. I understand. I’ll see you all tonight. I have to get to class,” Annie said and walked away.

“Dude! She was totally going to sleep with you!” Ray said.

“I know but since I came back from Indiana, the spark is gone,” Eric and his friends began walking toward one of the campus buildings. “I mistook lust for love and now I know what love really is and how it feels.”

“Man, what happened to you in Indiana?” asked Andy.

“Let’s just say I grew up,” and Eric picked up his pace as a smug look came over him.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

#223: Custody Battle

I have had custody of my son since the winter of 2007 and have had it legally since the summer of 2008.  For years, I had been paying $200+ in child support--even when I had custody.  I received nothing from the state while my son's mother received everything--while contributing nothing--for a child she wasn't even taking care of.  In 2008, I sought to remedy that by getting a lawyer, getting everything legalized and reducing my child support to her a nice round $0.  And everything was going good until I received notice from the state saying that I owe child support again.  It wasn't much, just $80 or so a month but still, I have primary custody so I shouldn't owe anything.  In fact, I should probably be receiving something instead.

I just kind of ignored it because I had called them (left a message) and my son's mom called them (spoke with someone).  Thinking it was taken care of, I went about my life until the state began taking money from my paychecks and began demanding money for back child support.  Feeling this was unacceptable, I attempted to call and actually speak to someone.  The first number I called was to the call center and they just took down my information, my story and nothing was solved.  The next number was to the attorney in charge of the case, I left my information on the answering machine and never received a call back.  Meanwhile, I went to SRS with a copy of the custody papers indicating that I had custody and child support is now supposed to be $0 and that was all I heard from them.

After a month or so of silence, I received another notice saying I owe back child support, money will be taken, etc.  So my son's mom gave me the number directly to the lawyer.  She said just speak to the receptionist and she'll transfer you directly to the lawyer.  So I called the number and immediately got someone.  I explained who I was and the issue and her response was "You'll need to call this number," and gave me the number to the call center that never calls me back.

I decided to forget the idiotic game of telephone tag and sat down and wrote a letter pointing out that I have custody, child support was reduced to zero and that I had been given the runaround by SRS and the lawyer's office.  I also implied that what they were doing to me was discrimination and that the state, in these economic times, might not like to have a discrimination lawsuit on their hands.  I sent the pertinent papers in and, what do you know, that got stuff done.

Soon after I got letters indicating they have updated the records and that child support is not owed.  The reason I mention this is because I don't blame the actual lawyers or SRS employees that basically left me hanging in limbo.  A lot of people are left hanging in limbo because there is just not enough money or employees to go around.  It's really a sad situation but it happens.  I'm mentioning this because for the first time in my life, I felt discriminated against.  No one would call me back, no one would talk to me and it took a letter mentioning their possible discrimination and getting a lawyer along with the information to get anything done?  Could I have gotten this cleared up without having to mention the supposed discrimination?  Probably but maybe my letter will make them think twice before just automatically assuming every male that calls them is a "deadbeat dad" that shouldn't be allowed to have children anymore.

Shortly after the case was closed out, I received notification from someone, I can't remember in what state department saying that they were going to take me to court because of the child support they said I owed.  I wrote them a letter with a copy of the court orders saying I don't owe anything with the letter basically saying everything is settled and that if I receive any more communication from them I would consider it harassment and that they would be hearing from my lawyer.  So far, nothing.  Again, could I have possibly just sent the court papers and be done with it?  Probably, yes but I am a human being--and a responsible one and I truly felt like a second-class citizen.  Why anyone would treat another human like that is beyond me but it's happened, people have been killed and wars started because of it.

I was asked at work what job I really would want.  My answer was lawyer with an emphasis on father's rights.  Yes, there are some pretty pathetic men out there but most of the men I know are decent guys but unfortunately the court system favors the mothers in custody cases, even if the mother can barely provide a roof over the kids head and move them around so much the kids live in 19 different places within their first five years of life.

Until next time, I remain...
~Brian

Monday, November 8, 2010

Harter Union: Part Eight, Chapters 4 & 5

Not much had changed in Baldwin since I left except it was expanding north, had a new school building and stoplight at Ames and Sixth Streets. Heather still lived in our old apartment like Wendy said and my old Jimmy sat in the parking lot, which explains why I never received money it. I parked and walked upstairs. I paused before knocking and ran my hand through my hair. I knocked and seconds later the lock unlatched and Heather opened the door, still as beautiful as ever.

“Oh my God! Jefferson?” she asked, her eyes lighting up along with her smile.

“Hey, babe,” I said, also smiling.

“Come in, come in. What are you doing here?”

“I moved back. Well, actually I live in Lawrence. Things didn’t really work out in New York,” I said as she ushered me over to the couch.

“Good. I’ve missed you and I always wondered why you never wrote me back.”

“I was extremely busy with work, my social life and my book,” I said.

“Oh, you’re writing a book?”

“Uh, no. I wrote a book. The Amazing Brayton Arnaz. It’s been out for a few months but it’s certainly no bestseller,” I said and realized how much I wanted to take her right here on the couch. “I would’ve actually stayed in New York but my fiancée cheated on me with my best friend so, for some reason, I came back here.”

“I’m glad you did,” Heather said putting her hand on my cheek. “I’ve missed you something awful.”

“I did, too…” I started to say but was interrupted by a baby crying in the back bedroom.

“I’m sorry,” Heather said getting up from the couch. “Joel is up.”

I got up from the couch and followed her into what used to be my room. “Joel? You have a son?”

“Yeah, he’s four months old,” Heather reached into the crib and brought up a cute little baby boy.

“So are you married or…” I asked.

“No, Joel is the product of a one-night stand and I don’t know who the father is. He keeps me up all night and working every day but I love him and that’s all that matters,” Heather said and cradled Joel in her arms as he quieted down.

“Joel. Huh,” I said. “That’s what I…”

“What you wanted to name your first son, I know,” Heather said. She stepped closer to me and looked up at me. “Do you want to hold him?”

“Yeah, sure. I guess,” Heather handed Joel to me and I very nervously and carefully cradled him. I looked down at him and smiled at Joel who tried reaching up at me. “Wow, this is kind of cool.”

“You look very natural holding him,” Heather said.

“Thanks, I think.” I replied, chuckling nervously.




“I need to get to bed,” Heather said. We had stayed up until almost one talking about what had happened in our lives. We put Joel to bed and I went to Lawrence and got some Chinese food.

“Yeah, I should get back to Lawrence. I was wondering if you’d do something with me tomorrow,” I said.

“Of course.”

“I need to go to Topeka tomorrow and I don’t want to go alone.”

“What are you going to do?” Heather asked.

“A couple things I really should’ve done a long time ago. I was thinking,” I quickly the subject, “if Joel is four months old, you would’ve had to be pregnant before I left Baldwin,” I said.

“I was. It was my own secret. No one even really noticed until I entered my final trimester. It was hard but it was worth it.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“When I found out you had already made plans to leave and I didn’t want you to stay because of Joel.”

“I understand. Get some sleep. I’ll be here around noon to pick you up. We’ll make a day of going to Topeka,” I smiled.

“Yippee,” Heather joked. I walked to the door and unlocked it. “Wait! Since it’s late, you can stay here if you want.”

I looked at Heather and her sparkling eyes. “No, I need a change of clothes and I probably need to feed Shadow and I think it’ll be easier on both of us if I go home and we wait and see what’ll happen between us.”

“Since you left, I’ve stopped sleeping around and going out with Wanda which is why I had to quit Baker. You were all I wanted. I’m sorry it took so long for me to realize it.”

“It was my fault, too. Wasting my time with Maggie and Melissa when all I needed was right here,” I said. Heather began hugging me. From the bedroom, Joel started fussing and then crying.

Heather sighed angrily and pushed away from me. “Go. Maybe this was never meant to be. I’ll see you tomorrow, Jefferson.”

Heather went around the corner to the bedroom and I opened the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Heather.” I left the apartment and stood outside the door for a few second. “I love you, Heather,” I said softly. I slowly walked down the stairs and outside. I got in my car, started it and drove away.




Chapter Five
Heather, Joel and I were in my car heading to Topeka on Highway 75. “Again, thank you for coming along,” I said.

“No problem. Besides work and the grocery store, I don’t get out enough so this is like a Hawaiian vacation,” she smiled.

“We’re going to a cemetery. I probably should’ve told you that,” I chuckled. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”

Another twenty minutes passed and we entered the cemetery. We parked and got out. Heather carried Joel as we trudged through the rows of stones. We stopped at one and I kneeled down beside it.

“Who’s this?” Heather asked.

“My best friend, Randy. I haven’t been out here to see him since the funeral. Everything that’s happened in Baldwin and New York made me realize that I took his friendship for granted—took everyone’s friendship for granted—and I’m never going to do that again,” I reached over and touched the headstone. “I never got a chance to say I’m sorry, Randy,” I wiped away a tear and got up.

Heather took my arm. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, there’s one more I need to visit. She’s over this way.” We walked through more rows and stopped.

“Here she is.”

“Who’s this?” Heather asked letting of my arm and shifting Joel to her other arm.

“My grandma. I’ve never been out to see her. One, because my family didn’t tell me, and two because I’m a horrible person,” I said.

“No, you’re not. You’ve been having a very busy life and I’m sure she understands,” Heather said as I kneeled down. She placed a hand on my shoulder.

I reached up and felt her fingers. “Hi, Grandma. I am so sorry that I never visited but I’m sure you’ve seen what’s gone on in my life,” I looked back at Heather and smiled. “This is Heather, my best friend and soul mate. She means a lot to me and I’m sure you would’ve loved her.”

“Do you want to be alone, Jefferson?” Heather asked, trying not to cry.

“Yeah, if you could come back in half an hour…” I gave Heather my car keys and stood up. “…I should be done here.”

“You take your time. I’m in no hurry. I’ll meet you down at the gate,” Heather kissed my cheek and started walking away. I turned back to my Grandma’s headstone and sat down cross-legged. Heather walked a few feet away from me, stopped and turned around. She smiled and a tear ran down her cheek. “Welcome home, Jeff,” she said and continued walking away.

The End

Monday, November 1, 2010

Harter Union: Part Eight, Chapter 3

Aaron, Wendy and I were sitting around a table in a coffee shop in Overland Park. “Sorry we couldn’t have dinner or anything Jeff,” Wendy apologized.

“Oh, no I understand. You’re all busy with work and that’s fine. I’m happy with my job at the moment and I’ll probably look more into jobs with writing if I ever want something new,” I said rubbing my thumb on the side of my Styrofoam cup.

“As long as you’re happy,” Wendy said.

“So what’s everybody been doing since I left?” I asked. “Like Kepler, Sam, Heather and Wanda.”

“Sam and Wanda still work at Baker; Kepler has actually become a professional bum and has been living in his parent’s basement for the last four months or so,” Aaron explained.

“Heather’s the big one,” Wendy began but she was interrupted by a curly-haired blond girl who looked in her early twenties.

She came up to the table very nervously and giggling. “Excuse me, sorry to interrupt,” she said.

“No, that’s perfectly all right,” I said.

“Are you Jeff Franklin?” she asked.

I glanced at Aaron and Wendy’s reaction and smiled. “Yes, I am.”

“You wrote this?” she showed a copy of my book and I looked at it and then back at Aaron and Wendy.

“Yes, I did. I hope you enjoyed it.”

“I’m still reading it but it’s wonderful. Could you do me a favor and sign my copy?” she sat the book down on the table and took a pen from her purse.

“Certainly. What’s your name?” I asked.

“Meghyn. M-e-g-h-y-n.”

I signed the book on the first page: To Meghyn – Thanx, Jeff Franklin and bordered it in a box shaped like Kansas. “There you go, Meghyn and thanks for stopping by.” Meghyn continued giggling and walked away.

“So what about Heather?” I asked toward Aaron and Wendy.

“What the hell was that?” Wendy shouted.

“A fan,” I smiled smugly.

“You wrote a book?” Aaron asked.

“Sure. Hasn’t everybody?” I shrugged.

“Jeff?” Wendy began sternly.

“Alright. Yes, I wrote a book, The Amazing Brayton Arnaz. I started writing it as soon as I arrived in New York. It was released a few months ago to good reviews after a five-city book tour and a five minute interview with Katie Couric on The Today Show,” I revealed.

“Katie Couric?” Aaron asked who a sound of skepticism.

I nodded with my smug smile. “Now what about Heather?”

“You really should see her for yourself but she is really trudging her way back up after hitting rock bottom,” Wendy said.

“What happened?” I asked with a worried look on my face.

“She should really tell you. She lives in the same apartment in Baldwin. She works at the Kwik Shop,” Wendy sighed.

“I’ll go see her sometime this week,” I said and drank the last of my coffee.

“I got to go,” Aaron said. “I have to catch a flight to Chicago early in the morning.”

“Ah, the life of an executive administrator,” I said. “Anyway, thank you guys for coming. It meant a lot to me. I’ve never told anyone this but after Randy died I never really had any friends but I still keep that photo of you two, and Heather and Kepler framed on my desk next to my New York friends. Thank you for being my friends even though I may not have been the best one.”

“You have been a perfect friend, Jeff and nothing can change our opinion of that,” Wendy said. “Except you should’ve told us that you wrote a book.”

“I’ll see you guys later. I’ll call you from Chicago, Jeff,” Aaron said and got up to leave.

“Okay, I’ll see you,” I watched Aaron walk off and looked back at Wendy. “All right, and now for my serious question,” I said ominously.

“I thought Heather was your serious question,” Wendy smiled.

“No. Do you know how Melissa is doing?”

Wendy’s eyes looked away from me and darted around at the various people in the shop. “For about a week, Melissa was all mopey and down but then she started working in a doctor’s office—just doing billing and things like that—and she began dating one of the doctor’s, they fell in love and married. He brings in the money and she spends it so you know that marriage won’t last but she says that’s what she wants,” Wendy revealed.

“If she would’ve stayed with me then she would have the same thing only love would be involved,” I mumbled.

“I honestly think you dodged a bullet with Melissa, Jeff. You are much too good for her,” Wendy said.

“Thanks.”

“Now for my serious question,” Wendy began. “Have you ever thought about us?”

“Yes…”

“And…?”

“Progression. See how it goes from there,” I smiled and took Wendy’s hand. She smiled and looked longingly at me.

Next:
Harter Union comes to an end as Jeff reunites with Heather.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Heard of Photoshop? Join the Republican Party

Lynn Jenkins wants to stop Kansas from going off a cliff.  She also wants our country to not go off a cliff.  According to her, Washington spending is out of control.  She, as a CPA, who can earn between $45,000 and $110,000 a year depending on experience, knows the importance of living within our means.  The Kansas Republican Party sent me a mailer the other day wanting me to vote for her.  It's quite an expensive piece of mail.

OMG!!  People who love Obama are able to levitate their car over the guardrail but not the bridge railing!!  According to Jenkins (and the KRP), the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is a failure despite that most of the $862 billion dollars went to tax cuts, the States to help pay for unemployment cases and infrastructure.  Jenkins, showing she does not waste taxpayer money, also cut her own budget by $85,000 in 2009 and will cut $200,000 in 2010--probably by firing people, thus adding to the unemployment.  Also, $200,000 is just 13% of her budget.

The mailing also says Jenkins has commonsense to have voted against "Obamacare" (which will be the only time I use this derogatory word in a non-joking manner on this blog).  No, the health care bill is not good.  But it's a start.  I'm still wondering why they just didn't promote it as Medicare-for-all.  People love Medicare.  I should know.

What's funny about Jenkins "watching out for Kansas taxpayers" is that she doesn't.  There is proof that she doesn't.  Jenkins spent $422,000 on heavy cardstock, glossy promotional mailings in 2009--three times the amount of the other Kansas representatives COMBINED.  Yet, she came in $100,000 under budget which in most cases, you would then lose that money the next year.  The Office's Oscar Martinez explains.  I'm pretty sure she didn't lose that money.

I don't want Kansas to go over a cliff either especially a cliff like the one on this mailing which you can tell is located in Kansas--I think near Dodge City, maybe Morton County.  I will not be voting for Jenkins--I didn't vote for her in 2008, so why would I now?  I will however be voting to allow people with mental illness to vote.

I guess I should post an editorial cartoon since I'm going to place this in the Editorial Cartoon column.

Whatdyaknow, the black guy's racist.

Monday, October 25, 2010

POB #222: My Mailbox Has Been Contaminated

HEY!!  Look what I got in the mail today:



Look how evil President Obama looks in that picture.  His eyes are simultaneously raping and eating your soul.  Ignoring the captions on the pictures, I, too, believe we should protect the young and elderly from our President (all of them, not just Obama) and justice.  Wait, what?

I remember getting this card (not actually addressed to me or anyone in my family or at this residence, just to a previous family "or current resident") during the 2008 election urging me to vote for McCain/Palin and other like-minded individuals.  What I don't like about receiving this waste of paper is that it only focuses on one issue out of dozens.  And I could probably tolerate if it was an issue that mattered.  Abortion and the fake death panels (which is coverage offered by Medicare) are seriously at the bottom of my caring list.

I'm not voting for any of these people even if they gave me $1,000 but if you look at the endorsements, there are categories where there are no endorsements.  Don't look at the issues, just vote the way we tell you to vote.  To the people who are actually swayed by crap like this:  grow your own brain.  Get your own opinions.  Spend a few minutes actually getting both sides of the issue instead of just being hypnotized by Fox News or MSNBC.  Have the Internet?  Spend ten minutes on Google looking up the candidates.  Don't just look at this idiotic mailing and decide "I'm going to vote for the people who don't want to kill babies."  I'm pretty sure no candidate actually wants to kill babies.

And I am so tired to anti-abortion people pointing fingers and judging people.  Why do they attack people who have made a conscious decision instead of actually doing good and volunteering for some at-risk teens or talking about safe sex or even doing a "scared straight" type thing where they scare people into not getting pregnant?  Because they want people to have those babies even if they are products of rape, will be living vegetables or will kill the mother and most are for abstinence.  Instead of actually offering real solutions to a problem, they complain and belittle anyone who may even hint at being pro-choice.

My question is how many of those protesters standing in front abortion clinics actually know someone who has had an abortion?  Do they know that the day you get an abortion is the worst day of your life?  You will never forget it.  You standing there shouting at me to be a man and telling my girlfriend that they will protect her if I am forcing her to do this isn't helping anything.  But I guess you figure if one person actually listens to your God-based fear-mongering, then you have justified your time on this planet.

But back to the mailing.  I fear for this country.  I'm afraid of the direction it might go in the next week and the next two years.  This election isn't about issues, it isn't about Republicans and Democrats, it's about reason and fear.  Compare ads between Democrats and Republicans:  Democrats tend to focus on how their opponent is a Washington politician and isn't good for the state while Republicans tend to focus on how their opponent "voted with Pelosi" and brought this country to its knees.

Democrats aren't innocent though.  Toward Election Day, you see Democrats showing the same types of ads noting how the Republicans destroyed our economy and mishandled Iraq and Afghanistan and ran up the deficit.  I don't care who ruined what during when when that person was in office--I'm going to do research and choose the person who I think is going to help.  Will they?  Past experiences and history says "no, they probably won't" but sadly, this is the system we have.

Harter Union: Part Eight, Chapters 1 & 2

I slid the pizza into the oven and closed the door. I wiped my brow and exhaled. “All right,” I began speaking to Dan, “those three pizzas are in and you all should be able to handle it from here on in,” I wiped my brow again and went through the back door of the kitchen, through the storeroom and into my office. I sat down in my chair and leafed through all the pamphlets, brochures and order forms that King Pizza has done business with within its 32 years of existence.

I was the new manager of King Pizza, a local Lawrence restaurant that was owned by Jonathan Tierney. Jon wanted to retire after owning and managing King Pizza for all 32 years. I was the new manager and was instructed to run everything exactly like Jonathan Tierney did for 32 years.

I had been living in Lawrence for a month now but I never went out and did anything. I came to work in the morning, went home at night, lived off my King Pizza income and saved the modest income I got from my book. I would go home and write on my second book or watch television. I hadn’t tried to contact anyone from Baldwin and strangely, no one from New York had tried contacting me.

“Mr. Franklin?” a girl knocked on my wall.

I looked up and saw it was Alexis. “Please call me Jeff. How can I help you, Alexis?”

“I’m throwing a sort of party for my friends and was wondering if you’d like to go,” Alexis said, smiling sweetly at me.

“Oh, probably not. I don’t do well in those types of situations. I wouldn’t know anybody and I would probably just be a bring-down,” I admitted. “Besides, everybody there would be between the ages of 18 and 24 correct?”

Alexis shrugged and lazily nodded.

“I’m 32. You don’t want an old fogy like me ruining a party. I appreciate the invite and maybe next time.”

“All right but it’s going to be the shindig of the semester,” Alexis coaxed.

I smiled and watched her leave. I sat back in my chair and resumed shuffling through the mess.




I slowly climbed the stairs to my apartment. As I neared my floor, my neighbor Christine, left hers. “Hi, Jeff,” she said as we passed each other on the stairs.

“Hi, Christine,” I said happily. I turned my head and looked at her leaving. She was the one highlight in my life now. I actually looked forward to seeing her either coming or going. Beyond that, my life was very empty.

I entered my apartment and Shadow walked over to me. “Hello, Shappy,” I kneeled down and petted him. My apartment seemed bigger and lonelier tonight than any other night. I went to the kitchen and opened the freezer. I grabbed a bag of pizza rolls, dumped a bunch out onto a plate and shoved the plate into the microwave. I walked out of the kitchen, down a couple of step and into an unused room off to the side that had Shadow’s food, water and litter box in it. I poured him some hard food and plopped half a can of turkey and gravy cat food on a plate and Shadow began munching it down.

I went back into the kitchen and grabbed the cooked pizza rolls out of the microwave and headed toward the back bedrooms, past the guest bathroom and linen closets. My bedroom was the smaller room because what was supposed to be the master bedroom was now my office. My bedroom was small but offered all the comforts of a bed, dresser and cable TV. I unlocked the door to my office and walked in. I turned on the CD player and it started playing a Dave Matthews Band CD, which I all but forgotten about while I was in New York.

I went into the master bathroom, went to the bathroom, and put on some pajamas. I sat at my huge mahogany desk and turned on my computer. I pulled a red notebook from a drawer and began looking through the note I made for my next novel. I opened the computer file, scrolled to where I left off last and began typing.

Chapter Two
Every Sunday morning I would jog. I would park in the Visitor’s Center parking lot at the University of Kansas and jog down 15th Street from Iowa Street to Wakarusa Drive, an equivalent of two and a half miles, up and down steep hills and then after resting and stretching, I would either jog or walk back. Since being back in Lawrence, I had joined a gym and began working out. I hadn’t really lost any weight but I had gained some muscle tone.

The rest of Sunday was filled with shopping, going to Wal-Mart or the grocery store. It had been a routine for nearly two months and I hadn’t wavered from it at all. I was totally lazy for the entire weekend except for my Sunday errands.

I was walking through Target slowly and just at everything on the shelves. I wasn’t really paying attention to anything but heard a voice behind me, “Jeff?”

I stopped and turned around. It was Alyson wearing a red shirt and khaki pants with a Target nametag. “Alyson?”

“What are you doing back here? I thought you were in New York,” she said running up and hugging me.

“I was. I decided to come back,” I loosely hugged her and then backed away from her.

“Couldn’t handle the rush of the big city?” she laughed.

“No, nothing like that. New York just didn’t suit me,” I smiled.

“Have you told anyone else from Baker that you’re back?”

“No, none of them work at Baker and I just don’t want to randomly appear at their house so…”

“Well, Wendy,” interrupted Alyson, “is head chef for a restaurant in Overland Park, the Golden Truffle, so she’s doing well. Nathan knocked up some girl and they got married. They live in Ottawa now.”

“What about Aaron, Heather or Katie?” I asked.

“I wasn’t very close with them so I really don’t care. Oh, and Jason was arrested in St. Louis for breaking and entering and is serving six months in a prison near there.”

“Nice. I always figured he’d end up in jail sooner or later,” I sighed. “So you work here? I figured you would’ve moved up to something else like office secretary or something with customer service.”

“No, I chose the glamorous life of stock person,” Alyson smiled.

“So do you live in Lawrence? Are you seeing anyone?” I asked, now wondering why I’m keeping this conversation going.

“I live off of Sixth Street with my boyfriend, Chandler.”

“Chandler?” I questioned. “Like the Friends character, Chandler?” I was trying not the laugh.

“Yes,” Alyson said very seriously.

“I honestly don’t believe I have ever heard of anyone actually named Chandler outside of that television reference,” I said.

“Well, it was great seeing you Jeff. We should get together sometime. I have to get back to work.”

“You should. I’ll see you around,” I smiled at her, enjoying a little too much that I possibly insulted her. We both turned around and I rolled my eyes as I quickly pushed the cart out of the aisle and around the corner.




Only Aaron and Wendy had their names listed in a phone book. Aaron lived in Bonner Springs and Wendy lived in Lenexa. I sat in my office at home with their phone numbers in front of me contemplating whether or not to call them. As I opened my phone to dial, it suddenly rang. I looked at the ID and answered. “Hi, Kate!” I said ecstatically.

“Hey-hey, Kansas! How are things back home?” she said loudly.

“You don’t need to shout. We’re not talking on tin cans,” I laughed. “It’s all good. I still love it here. I have a crappy job at a pizza place but I still make good residuals off my book so I’m doing good.”

“I’m glad to hear it. I had my foot surgery so that’s one reason I haven’t called yet,” Kate said with a smile over the phone.

“Well, that sounds like fun. How are you doing?”

“Great. I’m going back to work tomorrow but I’m still limping around.”

“That’s good. How’s everyone doing?”

“Oh, everyone is great. Dustin and Annie have moved into an apartment in SoHo and they are acting like a newlywed couple.”

“Sweet. I’m sorry I’m missing that.”

“I’m sorry I’m not,” she chuckled, which made me smile bigger. “Dustin is so cute with his son and Annie is working as a sales rep for a comic book company.”

“A comic book company? Damn, I should’ve stayed with her,” I joked.

“Everyone said they would call you later this week but I have to go and try to play catch up with my student’s lesson plan,” Kate scowled over the phone.

“Well, I’m home between ten at night and ten in the morning so they can call anytime during that time,” I said.

“I’ll let them know,” said Kate.

“I have a problem,” I began. “There are a couple of people I used to work with at Baker and I want to call them but I’m not sure how to go about it.”

“You press the numbers on your phone and press ‘send’.”

“I hate you. No, Kate, you know what I mean.”

“Call them and say that you are back in Kansas and want to catch up. If they were good friends they will be happy to see you and get together,” Kate explained.

“You always know the right thing to say,” I said. “I have to go make some phone calls and do some writing so I’ll talk to you later.”

“All right, Kansas. Good-bye,” Kate said with a hint of singsong voice.

“Good-bye, Kate.”

“I miss you, Jeff,” Kate said suddenly.

“I miss you, too,” I replied. My phone clicked and the line went dead. I wiped the screen on my pants leg and got a confused look on my face. “She called me Jeff.”

Next:
Jeff reunites with Wendy and Aaron and tries to learn what happened to Heather.