Monday, July 18, 2011

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Stick to the Plan


When walking over a bridge, say, a rope bridge that sways in the breeze, it’s much less difficult (and more fun) if you aren’t concentrating on each step or on getting to the other side.  You could check out the view.  If you are questioning your balance and calculating the distance you might fall, you’re tormenting yourself with real and imagined failures from the past.  This makes it both difficult and painful.

Stick to the plan.  Bring yourself back to the plan.  Don’t require success at every moment or demand that your state of mind always be at its highest pitch.  That will signal (convincingly, but falsely) irreparable inadequacy.

Do what you can, when you can.  Conserve the dazzle for when it’s really needed.  Ask for and seek help from wherever it may be available.  Don’t succumb to destructive and distracting fatigue and fear.  None of that will or can help you.

Exercise the strength and knowledge you’ve developed through hard won experience.  Remain grateful and sensitive to what is happening at this moment.  Be aware of what’s around you as you take each step forward – each breath that sends you energy, the line of the horizon where green meets blue, the distinct sound of the bird perched somewhere nearby.  Breathe with conscious recognition of the magic involved in this accustomed act.

Rest, eat, move.  Don’t give aid or comfort to the fears that are begging for your company.  Stick to the plan.  Study the plan.  Add to or adjust the plan.  Expand it.  Refine it.  Realize that this is what your soul, your unconscious, your solid self has assembled as what is needed, what is essential to move you forward.  Trust it and make use of it. 

Live long and prosper, Earthling.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Every two weeks I go to the cancer place.  Up two flights to the infusion center.  As far as I know, it’s like that flavored vodka or tea, except that they infuse me with something that comes out of a needle. 

I’ve been doing this for eight years.  There are others there who also just walk in, but then they have to stay there, connected to tubes infusing something much more potent than what I’m getting.  Their situation is infinitely more serious than mine and, often, they don’t have one year, let alone eight.

I’m kind of a drive-by in that I sign in, wait a couple of minutes until Lisa or Michelle or Don come by and poke me in the arm.  Then, I’m free to go.  Everyone is as nice as can be and they have even provided snacks for the patients to tide them over and to settle their stomachs. 

I’m usually there around lunch and, sometimes, I see the snack cart with its goodies and check out the selection.  Most of it is of no interest, but this week I saw the shiny blue wrapper of a pack of Oreos.  I looked around and put one of the packages into my pocket, unseen.  I’m both six and about sixty when I do this. 

Out in the car, once I’ve left the parking lot, I read on the blue wrapper that this is America’s Favorite Cookie.  That’s certainly true in this moment. 

I separate the halves to better enjoy the filling, as I wonder what else I can learn to love like Oreos.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Monday, December 13, 2010

Xmas is Near _ Twitter Novel Reprint Part One

I have been writing two novels on Twitter.  FitToLove_novel, is a novel I started months ago and it seems like there’s no end in sight.  That's why I began XmasIsNear.  It seems possible that there could be a logical end to it.

In Twitter, postings can only be 140 characters long.  Including spaces.  This has its obvious limitations, but it also provides unique opportunities.  Each post has two purposes.  One is to further the ongoing story. And, the second, is to be entertaining.  It can communicate more than just what the words say.  Like a haiku.

Some people post many times a day.  To let you know they’re eating breakfast.   To let you know they want to go shopping.  To let you know the broccoli at dinner was awful.  It’s kind of crazy.

But, it’s fun.  It can keep a writer sharp.  Or, it can seriously warp his mind and, perhaps, cramp his style.

The story is too long to put into one posting here, so this and the next one will bring you up to date with XmasIsNear.  The first three are in Twitter format.

Nearer than you think. Only 54 days. Now, the first step to Xmas success and my present resolution: I will be good on Halloween. 9:53 AM Oct 31st fromSeesmic
I didn’t trash. I didn’t smash. I only took one piece of candy at each stop and I didn’t eat everything at one time. Dang, I’m good. 9:59 AM Nov 1st fromSeesmic
I am goal-oriented. I want on be on the good list. I want, what some might consider, a mountain of presents. Oh yeah, world peace, too. 9:14 AM Nov 2nd from Seesmic

Xmas is more than a state of mind. More than a commercial holiday that our nation depends on. More than just presents. Sure.
I’m serious. As never before. I have a feeling that this Xmas is going to change everything. I mean it. See, it’s already working. Isn’t it?
Santa has his list, but I’m making a plan. Be worthy. Think of others first. Help out. Visualize that mountain of presents. Stay calm.
Two days ago, 20 inches of snow. The scene was set. Today, 65° and it’s gone. I’m trying to hold onto my dreams, but they’re slippery.
To stay in the mood, I’m reading, The Night Before Xmas. Yeah, it’s a little early, but to Santa, the elves, and the reindeer it’s imminent.

When visualizing, the clearer and more specific you can be, the better. Okay. A stocking worthy of Bigfoot.
I can see it now, my every Xmas wish answered. To get it to work, I’ll have to write it all down. No wish too small or too big. Here goes.
First, I need… I mean, I’d like a giant TV, big enough to walk into. Braces that light up at night. A box of Oreo’s from Costco. Some milk.
A pillow that's just right. One of those robot vacuum cleaners, but one I don't have to be afraid of. A drawer full of socks the same color.
Curtains that don't let the light in. Pants that fit. And, while we're at it, some of that self-slimming underwear. Clothes make the man.

I am so domestic! How about a shower head that will knock my socks off. Veggies that won't turn brown. Some earmuffs. A case of Hamm's.
An iPhone with an app that apologizes for being annoying. A hard drive I'll never have to replace or worry about. One cord to rule them all.
A watch I can read. An endless cup of coffee. Sufficient half and half. A river of agave. Bananas every morning. Wait, breakfast is ready.
Another box of Oreos from Costco. A mood ring I can control. The infinite Amazon gift card. More socks. Three wishes. Jeeves. A barn.

Diamonds! Emeralds! Gold! Wait a second. Maybe I'm getting carried away.
I'm not just materialistic. I did mention world peace.
What about a new mantra? And, some yogurt. Mother Teresa's humility. Gandhi's conviction. Einstein's brains. MLK's perseverance.
Fats Waller's sense of enjoyment. Horton's devotion. Pooh's equanimity. Harold's imagination. George and Martha's generosity.

That ought to do it for right now. There's more, but there's time, too. I should concentrate on good deeds for a while. Or, watch the game.
Today, I'm only going to do the right thing and only speak the truth. I'll be so good that Santa will put me on the right list for sure.
Let's see... I'll recycle. I'll go to the gym. I'll give money to that guy at the intersection. I won't swear.
Oh, ****. Heck, it's a process. Thanksgiving tomorrow. I'll say the grace this year. I won't have too much of anything. I'll do the dishes.

Xmas is Near _ Twitter Novel Reprint Part Two

I'm ready! The big warmup holiday. Well, I mean, it has its own tradition, but I'm focused on the Big One. The one with the presents.
I was so good I feel terrible today. I was nice to the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the rolls, the wine, the gravy, the pies, the ...
It feels like Sunday. Or, is that just my relaxed nature? Plenty to do, but I don't want to rush into it today. Maybe tomorrow. No, Monday.
Each week, each day, brings me closer to my goal, my favorite holiday, my fate. And, being the master of that fate, I say, Bring It On!!!!!!

Mamma Mia! I think I'll transform my world into a musical. I'm walking down the street, when suddenly I break into song, "Deck the halls..."
The next thing I know, first one and then another of the other pedestrians join in and, before I know it, we're all singing and smiling.
We enter the bookstore, en masse, waving our credit cards. We tell the clerks, It's beginning to look a lot like Xmas. They begin smiling.
We disperse to our favorite departments. Mine is beauty aids. Just kidding. I head for power tools and snow shovels.

This was a practice run. I don't like bags with names on them. I'm much more discreet.
Besides, this year I'm making everything. A gift that will say, I really care. For instance, I'm sewing pajama bottoms.
For my sister, I'm re-gifting a T shirt, from last year, that says, I'm With Child. I couldn't go anywhere.
For my other sister, I'm cooking Christmas dinner. I hope it gets to Seattle before it goes bad.
I wrote a song for my wife. "I'm just mad about dinner. But she's just mad at me. (repeat) They call me Chubby Hubby. (quite rightly)
For my brother, I'm going to build an Art Deco bedroom set for his kids. It should be ready in no time.

I've begun volunteering. You just can't do too much to stay on Santa's good list. You probably think I'm too old for Santa. Me, too.
I can't shake it. Despite my true nature, I'll feel bad, if I haven't earned those presents. Besides, Santa is real. I know it!
I'm the librarian at the Homeless Shelter. That's the kind of shelter we have in our town. I'm wheeling old guys around at the nursing home.
What's come over me? It's like I don't even think of presents anymore. Well...,except for those big boxes of Oreos from Costco.

Today, cookies for everyone. The homeless joint, the nursing home, the people with the cardboard signs. All of us fat. That's the spirit!
The guys at the shelter started calling me, Santa. They like my beard. They even asked about Rudolph, like they meant it
I can't stop thinking about cookies. And sugarplums, whatever they are. Eggnog, chocolate, and candy. I'm getting huge!
I played Santa at the shelter. Some of the guys are too big to be sitting on my lap, but I don't want to disappoint anyone.
Afterwards, I celebrated with my gang of elves. A bit too much eggnog. I fell asleep in my suit. I woke up hungry and didn't change.

Xmas is Near _ Twitter Novel Reprint Conclusion

The waitress just smiled. Hat, glasses, boots, red nose. As I’m walking home, I feel a tug on my coat. I look down. Not an elf. A kid!

We walk around, all day. He tells me about his family and what they need for Xmas. He is holding my hand. What a weird kid.
He doesn’t want anything for himself. Now, that IS weird! Just dinner for his parents and his sister. He’s really got the spirit!

I walk him home, in the dark. The snow begins to fall. I meet the family. I say, “Let’s go out to eat. My treat!” We head for Moe’s.
I had forgotten it was Xmas Eve. My reflection in the window says, Santa! Everyone is smiling, cheerful. The manager refuses to let me pay.

I never slept better. ‘Tis the season for giving, but forget the Oreos. I only want this suit and the feeling I have already. Merry Xmas!

Next Xmas is a long way away, but I think I know what I need to do, to make it even better than this year. See you then.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Lure of the Garage


Chapter 5 - Venerable Chaos

Victor's skateboard had been put away and they were on their sixth cup of coffee.
   "Max, the life of an inventor is never easy."  He shook his head.  "No, it's never easy.  And, of course, it goes without saying that it can sometimes be frustrating.  The specter of failure looms over all of us, breathing down our necks with its stale breath of futility and waste.  Poverty and, indeed, madness are not unknown.  Poor eyesight and bad nerves plague us.  Credibility is hard to come by and respect is almost non-existent.  We are looked upon as eccentric, if not downright dimwitted.  Our way is never clear.  Our voices seldom heard.  Woe, I tell you is not just an exclamation, it is an injunction."
   Victor hung his shaggy head and Max wondered what he had let himself in for.  As a child, Max had thought that this business of inventing, despite its dangers, was exciting in a way that seemed filled with hope.  And it had been prosperous.  Hadn't his father and his grandfather both made money?  And if both of them had been a little eccentric, at least neither of them had worn glasses.  He was about to ask Victor about this when Victor looked up and stared at Max, his eyes not only undamaged but quite powerful. 
   He smiled, which banished all the gloom and doom and said, "For some reason, this shop and the work of your father and grandfather has always been blessed with success.  We have had our share of disappointments but we have also had more than our fair share of discoveries.
   "Max, I can't pretend to understand it.  Sure, we worked hard, we studied, we stayed up late, we got up early, we ate our vegetables, but that can't account for it.  Maybe it was the coffee." 
   Victor started laughing and choking.  The coffee in question was boiling on the burner.  It seemed to Max that it had been boiling there for years.  In fact, he wouldn't have recognized it as coffee except for the sugar and cream that Victor had offered with it, which toned it down a little.
   Finally, Victor recovered and said, "Would you like to see your room?"
   "No thanks."  Max had other things on his mind.  He didn't know what to say, so he said, "Victor, what was my father working on when he died?  He told me his papers might help me someday."
   Victor turned serious.  "Max, I can't tell you.  What I mean is I don't really know.  As I look back on it, I see that he had become secretive and a little weird.  He was always shaking his head as if he couldn't believe the data.  And I would find him here, with a cup of coffee, looking out the window with a worried look on his face.  We had always worked together but that last six months he wouldn't show me anything and when I asked if I could help, he would look at me and say, 'Not yet, it's not quite clear'.
   "Well, that was ridiculous.  Nothing is ever clear until it presents itself, until the last piece of the puzzle falls into place and that had never stopped us from working together before.  I think he was scared.  Both for himself and for me.  Scared of what he was finding out.  I think he was trying to protect me."
  Max, against his better judgment, poured himself another cup of coffee and asked, "But what was it?  What do his papers say?"
   "I never looked at the papers.  The night he died, he collapsed at that table over there.  I heard the noise and ran to his side.  As I held him, his last words were, 'I think I've got it' but he didn't look happy.  He was dying, of course, why should he be happy, but the look on his face was frightening.  As if he had seen something, as if whatever it was that he thought he had gotten had turned out to be overwhelming, and dangerous.  Maybe it was just perplexing, but it was obviously more than nail polish or curlers or something."  Victor bent his head and, thinking of the papers, said, "I guess I never had the nerve to look."
   They both fell silent while the room hummed and the coffee boiled on.
   His father's death had scared him somehow, too, even at a distance, although his reaction had always been just a feeling, an intuition with no reason or information to support it.  Now, what Victor was telling him started him thinking and he began to see a direction for the work he was about to begin.
   Victor's words were spooking him a little but he wanted to know what it was his father had found out.  He was just as curious and determined as his father had been and he decided, in the space of a breath, that he would pursue the work of his father no matter what it turned up.  He needed to know whether it was this discovery and its implications or the sixty years of terrible coffee, which had killed him.
   He saw that Victor was saddened by this talk and was looking older than he had before, if that was possible, so he cleared his throat in preface to changing the subject and bowing toward Victor, said, "O, venerable creator of chaos, show me what you've been up to."
   Victor snorted.  "I couldn't possibly show it to you in one night."  He gestured to the vast room, half of it engulfed in shadow, but all of it filled with the odds and ends of projects, some finished and some left incomplete in a moment of inspiration or despair.  Max looked around at it.  The huge room hummed with a latent energy that Max could never quite pinpoint but which kept things exciting and hopeful.  Through some serendipity of design, this vast workspace stayed warm in the winter and cool throughout the summer.  For all its endless square footage and high ceilings and earnest sense of purpose, it was a homey, relaxed, and agreeable place.
   Victor said, "Of course, this is mostly all play."  He looked seriously at Max.  "That's the nature of our work.  The basis of everything.  Let me show you a few things."
   They wandered down one of the long aisles and stopped first at a bench covered with nails.  They were lined up in neat, orderly rows and the first four and a half rows were flush with the table.  The rest were standing at attention, only the tips of them embedded in the table's surface.  There was a hammer nearby.
   "Therapy," Victor explained.
   Next, they paused before a table covered with what looked like brightly colored spaghetti.  This turned out to be a mess of wires and they were connected in a way that baffled Max.  Several pieces of equipment stood to one side, their screens flickering, measuring, recording.  Max looked to Victor for an explanation.
   Victor shook his head and said, "I can't remember what this is.  Maybe it will come back to me."
   In a corner, they came upon a worktable with several small gadgets on it that resembled portable radios.  There were many dials on the surface of these boxes and set into each one was a clock face with only one hand.  The hands appeared to be all pointing the same way.
   "Synchronized," said Victor.  "This was C.J.'s attempt at harmonic convergence.  He called it a major breakthrough but I never understood it.  He was all set to spring it on an unsuspecting public when something else snagged his attention and he forgot all about it.  Now it just sits here until I stumble onto the notes and can figure it out or we need the space for something else."
   He then took Max to a cluttered corner with a computer monitor on a desk, surrounded by piles of paper and several empty cups.
   "This is my spot.  The last couple of years, I've been glued to this box.  I first got it to organize the archives.  Your father generated so much stuff, I thought I'd go crazy.  But then I got hooked on the games and that's all I've really done since I discovered them."
   Max raised his eyebrows.  "Two years of computer games?"
   Victor shrugged and said, "I even started making up my own and, of course, marketing them.  No one can say that this shop ever let a potential profit gather dust.  My latest is called 'Teenage Hostage.'  Want to try it?"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Lure of the Garage

Chapter Four - Young At Heart. 

  He drove on through the rolling flatness of the country towards Minnesota.  Recent snow had covered everything, giving it a peaceful appearance, but left the road a bit slick.  Max's attention was running on reserve and was only sustained by the excitement that grew as he recognized certain landmarks:  a town called Blooming Prairie, the signs, which towered above him and indicated the crest of a flood in 1972, as he crossed the river, and the Dairy Queen, where his school bus had miraculously stopped one warm spring afternoon.
   Finally he was on the home stretch.  He turned into the long drive, went up the hill, and pulled to a stop.  Before he felt ready to get out and reacquaint himself with his legs, he looked around at the quiet grounds and the massive brick building where he had begun his life.  He took a deep breath, got out of the car and walked toward the door of the old house, returning home now to start a new life.
   He saw that the door was obscured by a cloud of light snow.  As he approached, the snow settled slowly and a figure in boots emerged.  The figure leaned on a shovel and looked at him from between a red scarf, drawn high on the nose, and a wool hat pulled down to, but not over, the eyebrows.  Max saw the eyes grow wide and then he heard a muffled voice shout the words, "Mr. Max, you're back."
   The snowman was revealed to be Victor, who, for as long as Max could remember, had been his father's assistant.  Even as a child, he had thought of Victor as impossibly old and yet here he was, throwing snow all over the place and lifting him off the ground in his embrace.
   Max had always believed that Victor had another name and that C.J., as a joke, just called him Victor, after Victor Frankenstein.  When he was young and hanging around the garage, Max would hunch himself over and limp to Victor's side and ask, in a hoarse voice, "Tonight, Master?  Tonight?"  And Victor would turn to him and, stroking his thin mustache, answer, "No, Igor.  How many times do I have to tell you? Tomorrow night!"
   Once inside the big house, Max dropped his suitcase and coat next to a collection of canes standing in an ornate champagne cooler.  Victor removed a few layers of clothing, looked into the mirror, and tried to arrange his hair.  He shook his hands at his side to get his circulation going.  Max saw that he was impossibly old - round face with uncountable wrinkles, wild white hair and eyebrows, large hairy ears, a couple of chins, and piercing eyes of deep blue.
   Victor was neither thin nor heavy but he was very tall and stood with a posture that made Max, who was no slouch, stretch a bit.  Though Victor was old - how old Max had no idea - he seemed to have more energy than Max or anyone Max had ever met.  Victor bustled around for a moment getting warm and then he drew himself together and seemed even taller.
   In a strong voice, he said, "Max, it's good to see you.  I've been waiting for you.  I knew that you'd be back after you got all that stuff out of your system.  Thank God, you're done.  Now we can get back to work.  It will be just like the old days."
   Max was about to say something but Victor interrupted him.
   "Max, let me do my Holmes on you."   He stepped back and turned his searchlights on the young man, who, with a smile, executed a graceful twirl and took a few steps back and forth.
   "Ah ha!"  Victor exclaimed dramatically.  "Uh huh.  Your name is Max Colvin.  You are twenty-eight years old.  You have dark hair and brown eyes.  You are of a respectable height, though you could do without a few pounds.  You have a gracious, casual manner.  Your shoes need polishing.  Your expression, right now, is a mix of tolerance and amusement.  You have one suitcase and no hat and you are still driving that old car.  Quite astute of me, eh?"  He chuckled.  Then he held out his hand to stop any further developments and said, "But now, for real."
   Victor closed his eyes.  His white eyebrows huddled in concentration and then, as if he were in truth shining a light, he opened his eyes and said, "You have been reading a book you aren't sure you want to finish.  Last night, no, yesterday at lunch, you had Moo Shoo Pork and perhaps a glass too much sake.  You've had your hair cut for the first time in a long while.  You still play the guitar.  You have no girlfriend.  You've eaten more than your fair share of candy and you recently had a cold."  He smiled, quite pleased with himself.  "How'd I do?"
   Max shook his head, unbelieving.  "Amazing.  What's the secret?"
   "It's elementary, my dear Max.  When you are as old as I am, you know a few things."
   "Just how old are you?"  Max said, casually.
   "I'm not telling, you crafty little boy.  I'm trying to create a sense of mystery.  Is it working?"
   Max's mother joined them at this point and, without a word, embraced him and held on to him tightly.  Max looked over her gray curls at Victor whose old eyes seemed to be suddenly watering from the heat in the great hallway.
   His mother had changed little in the six years he had been gone.  It's true her hair was grayer but her eyes shone in the same way and her voice was clear and conveyed a strength that warmed his heart.  She had been alone these last six years but that had not stopped her from moving forward.  In her letters, she had kept him up to date on her activities.  She had traveled on horseback through the mountains of Peru.  She had taken up painting and one of her bright landscapes was a prized possession of Max.  She also oversaw the organization that had resulted from C.J.'s many inventions.  She had kept her curiosity intact and her calm energy seemed endless.
   She welcomed Max home with an obvious delight and after they had talked for a short time and after she had gotten a good look at him, she, with a mother's firmness and affection, sent him straight to bed for a most needed nap.
   That night, over dinner, Max filled his mother in on the state of his health and the state of his love life, the two things she was most interested in.  Neither took much explaining.
   "I can drive all night without going off the road and I haven't had a cold in two years."  He knocked lightly on the table.
   His mother nodded her approval and asked, "What about love, Max?"
   "Mom, I only saw three girls the whole time I was in Wyoming."
   "Tell me about them."
   Max was embarrassed.
   "Max, you know how I feel about romance."
   "Mom, this was not romance.  One worked at the Frosty Freeze and had a boyfriend named Big Darryl.  And the other two were twins who blinked a lot.  All three of them chewed gum constantly."
   "Well Max, there's someone out there.  I know it.  Just keep looking."
   He then repeated the reasoning he had put forth in his last letter concerning his decision to return home and pursue what seemed to be his destiny.  He looked at his plate.  He thought it odd that his destiny should end up in the same place where he had started out, but he was young and had a lot to learn.  His mother patted his hand and said as much.
   She told him that his room was ready and waiting for him but Max surprised her by saying that he would be staying out in the garage with Victor, if Victor would have him.  He had decided that if he was really going to pursue this inventing, then he must be ready at any hour of the day or night for inspiration to shake him by the shoulders and shout at him, "Get to work."  She was sorry he would not be staying with her, but she understood and approved.
   The garage was actually a separate building set off from the main house amid a green cloud of pine trees.  It was long and low and built into the side of the hill with a rough stone foundation and several chimneys.  Both his father and his grandfather had spent their entire working lives in this building.  The thought sobered him a little.
   The inside of the garage was a well-lit, high-ceilinged cavern on whose floor rested a maze of workbenches covered with what, to the untrained eye, appeared to be an unlimited collection of junk.  The walls held several large blackboards covered with inscrutable equations and short inspirational messages like "I wouldn't trade spots with a leopard"  or "Blackjack's Pizza  338-2453".  There was an odor to the place that had always been like perfume to Max and the room, even when empty, seemed to hum with activity.
   Upstairs there were two rooms and a bathroom.  These had been Victor's living quarters since before Max was born.  Now, if Victor agreed, he would have company. 
   After dinner, Max walked through the cold dark air to the garage to ask Victor if he would like a roommate.  As he stood before the big door, he shivered a little with anticipation.  Then he knocked loudly and entered.
   The place was exactly as he remembered it except that there seemed to be even more junk inside.  He remembered his father once saying to him, "Max, someday this will all be yours."  At the time, Max had laughed and his father had also.  But now, it really was all his and he didn't know if it wasn't more of a burden than a gift. 
   He had just started looking for Victor at one end of the huge room when, with a loud noise and a rush of air, the old assistant flew past him, screaming with an insane pleasure and flapping his arms like a bird.
   Max ducked and started laughing.  It was good to be back...


Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Lure of the Garage


Chapter Three - Stepping On The Gas.

   He was driving his old car; a car the guys at the bar had always laughed at.  One of them, a friend, had taken him aside and said, "Max, you've got to get yourself a real vehicle."  The big cowboy looked dismissively at the almost pre-industrial Volvo.  "You know, a truck." 
   In Wyoming, there were three kinds of vehicles - pickups with brooms and beer cans in the bed, big cars with lots of power that were really oversized boats on spongy wheels, or tractors.  Max didn't care; the car had never stopped running and its mute loyalty appealed to him.
   He had been driving for eleven hours and because the radio had never worked he had a lot of time to think.  He was crossing the wide plains of Nebraska, late at night. 
   "You know," a calm seeming voice said. "This is probably unnecessary."
   He looked around.  He then heard himself say, "Couldn't you be an inventor in Wyoming?"
   He started laughing. 
   He kept thinking and, after a few minutes, though he didn't come right out and admit it, he realized that he had been a little homesick ever since he had left.  Escaped, he always called it.  He missed the green and the water.  His mom was there and he knew he missed her clear warmth and concern.  Her love.  Her cooking.  Her name was Rosemary and, like her name, she was a kind of spice that was in him and sprinkled all over and around him.
   He also missed his father.  Thinking about him made him grouchy and he growled at the dust on the dashboard.  It was a mixed thing.  He had loved him without a doubt, but C.J. had always been working.  He loved to work and Max felt that he had received less than his fair share of his father's time.  And, when he had seen him, it was like visiting with the encyclopedia.  Max never knew what he was talking about.  Maybe because of this, Max had hung around the garage incessantly watching and listening.  When he was younger he believed that if he simply took in the words and whatever action was going on, it wouldn't matter whether he understood or not, somehow his brain would digest it all and one day he would find that everything made sense and he and his father would be able to communicate.  He still believed in this general principle.  It was an optimism, though unproven, that he depended on.
   His mother had always been there when his father was "in the moment", as she put it.  "In the moment.” to Max, had meant his father and his assistant running around the garage in their white lab coats, waving their arms in the air and shouting.  As he thought of it now, his father had always seemed to be either "in the moment" or quite reserved.
   In his reserved moments he had a distant look on his face and a pencil in his hand with which he made constant notations and drawings.  A steaming mug of coffee never left his side.  To Max's requests for attention, his father had invariably replied, "That's wonderful.  Let me explain this to you," and then he would be off describing the workings of the microscope in front of them or, putting Max's small hand to the mug, he would explain the physics involved in heat transference.  Max was appreciative of the information but always went away a little frustrated.  He had "escaped" because of this frustration and, since his father's death, he had stayed away because he was afraid that it might still be there, floating in the thick air of the garage where he thought he had left it.
   Despite its age, Max's old car was maintaining a steady 70 miles per hour down the straight and seemingly endless freeway that ran east through Nebraska.  The headlights bore a bright tunnel through the night and the heater was working overtime to keep Max wrapped up and comfortable in the dark February cold.  He could have been anywhere.  At night, the road was just a road.  Scenery and variety, always a high point of freeway travel, slept like everything else, and all Max could see were the white lines racing toward him and the glow from the lights on the dash.  His thoughts were inescapable.
   "Well, big guy," he said out loud.  "I guess we're really doing this."
   There was no answer, but none was needed.  Max looked at himself in the mirror.  It was too dark to see but he knew the image that was reflected or would have been, given enough light.  Now, there was a physics problem and a philosophical one as well.  Does the mirror reflect without light?
   Max reached for the candy bar on the seat next to him and thought, I've still got a lot of hair, I'm not bad looking, and my teeth are straight.  It's true I could lose a few pounds and that I'm restless, hungry, and irritable, but is that any reason to go home?  What am I doing?  What do I think I'm going to find there?  Am I just going in circles?  What's the meaning of life?  Is God dead?  Do ants sleep?  Why do those 8 foot tall rabbits gather at each overpass?  The questions escalated. 
   It was time to pull over.  Max eased onto the ramp and rolled into an Amoco station which sat at the side of an empty road, next to an abandoned Stuckey's.  It was lit up in a desperate way, as if without the light, the pumps, the attendant, and all the tires, batteries, and cases of oil would slip into a deep sleep.
   He left the car in front of the pumps and went inside for coffee.  The place was empty.  As Max filled a large paper cup with fuel, he listened to the hum of the lights above him.  He sat down on a chair that complained but he was not sympathetic, only tired.  He closed his eyes and immediately opened them in shock.  He had seen the white lines still rushing toward him and was afraid he would fall asleep and end up in the ditch.  He took a deep shaky breath.  He was having trouble slowing down and began to wonder if he could sleep in the cold car. 
   Just then, he heard a rough voice say, "I'll show you," and then heard a terrible crash.  Max jumped to his feet and rushed past the counter full of candy and antacids and through the door into the garage area of the station.   There was no relief from the lights, as this area was lit up like the rest of the place.   Max looked around and in the corner he saw a tall man, dressed in one of those one-piece mechanic's outfits which are blue, tinged with the gray of the grease.  He had long stringy hair and he was sitting on the floor.  He was surrounded by junk and his head was in his hands.  He was muttering something.
   "Are you OK?"
   The man jumped, setting off more noise, and angrily said, "Don't sneak up on me like that."
   Max, still somewhat numb from the drive, was unmoved.  He repeated his question.
   The man, who Max saw was wearing sunglasses, got to his feet upsetting tools and parts and unidentifiable debris.  He brushed himself off and said, "Sorry.  You're the first person I've seen in four hours.  I get so spaced out here at night.  And these lights.  They drive me crazy."
   Max nodded.
   "What can I get you?"
   "Oh, I'll get some gas in a minute.  I had to pull off.  I was getting a little spaced out myself.  What are you working on?"
   The man, whose name was Jones, told him the whole story and, as he did, they examined parts, flexed hoses, and wiggled wires.  Over coffee, they discussed the problem and broke it down into separate principles and possibilities.  After about an hour of this, they were both looking at a part with wires hanging from it like a bad hairdo.  This was the crux of the matter.  Jones started shaking the part and swearing.  He gave Max a look, which the fluorescent lights might have exaggerated, and said, "I'll fix this."  He reached for a hammer.
   Max stared at the part and, at the last moment, stopped Jones from adjusting it out of existence by saying in his quiet voice, "Wait a minute.  Let me try something."
   Max placed the part on the workbench and bent over it with the concentration of a surgeon.  "Pliers."  Jones slapped the tool into Max's hand.  Max winced and shot him a reproving look.  "Staple gun."  Jones gently handed it over.  "Paper clip."  Max was working intensely now, his elbows flailing above his ears.  "Crazy glue."  The hand-off was precise.  Finally, Max straightened up, released the tension of the moment in a long exhale of breath, and looked at his assistant.
   "I think that's it."
   Max, with delicate care, returned the part to its proper place.  He tightened a couple of screws while Jones got behind the wheel.  Max gave him the nod.  Jones turned the key in the ignition and the engine roared back to life.  Jones switched it off and came over to Max.  He was beaming and thumped him on the back.
   "Too much.  You just pulled it right out of the hat."
   They celebrated by splitting a Kit Kat and each had another cup of coffee.  Eventually, Max filled his tank and prepared to leave.  Before he pulled away into what was left of the night, Jones leaned over and said through the window, "Thanks for your help.  It was beautiful.  If you ever need a job, just come on back.  Drive safe now, you hear?"  He slapped the roof of the old car and walked back into the light.
   Max fastened his seatbelt, found his way onto the freeway, and stepped on the gas.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Lure of the Garage

Chapter Two - There's No Place Like Home.

   Home was Minnesota, the land of ice and snow.  Or, as the state tourism board optimistically put it, the place "where many are called, but few are frozen.”  And though it was only early November when Max arrived, the snow had already begun to pile up.
   Max had not been home in six years, not since he returned for his father's funeral.  At that sad time, he took a night flight in from Wyoming; his boots still caked with dirt.  The funeral had been uncomfortable for him, not only because he knew he would miss his father and had felt the loss go straight to his heart, but because everyone - before, during, and after - had looked at him with eyes full of expectation.  That's how he saw it.  The only son, the (now) head of the family, the next inventor.  Even his mother seemed to look at him in a new way.  It was as if not only his father had died, but also a part of himself.
   This had confused Max.  He was having enough trouble accepting the fact that his father was dead, without having to assume a new kind of identity that he hadn't prepared himself for.  He had always felt himself capable of understanding only one thing at a time, and in the proper order, even though this was totally untrue.  It was one of the reasons he was in Wyoming.
   After all the talking was through and everyone had left, his mother had said quietly, "Your father was a good man and had a big heart.  He was always proud of you and loved you and he hoped that you, too, would become an inventor."
   Max nodded and sighed and began to look toward the door.
   "There's always a place for you here.  The garage has everything you need." 
   She hesitated. 
   "I'd even make bread pudding for you, from time to time."
   Max smiled, but said nothing.  He looked at his mother with love, both for her and her bread pudding.
   His mother looked away for a moment and, then, straightened up. 
   "Well, you're a big boy now and you'll know what it is you need to do.  The door is always open." 
   She reached into her pocket and removed an envelope.  She touched his arm gently as she handed it to him. 
   "Your father left this letter for you.  See you at dinner."
   He went to his room and removed the single sheet of paper from the plain envelope which bore his name, written in his father's round hand.  Max thought of the cryptic postcards his father used to send him, all written in that crude  handwriting and containing some obscure message.  It had never been - "Having a wonderful time.  Wish you were here."  It had been more likely –

Or –

   But now his father was gone.  Max took a deep breath.

  The letter read:

                                                                                 Late Monday night

         My Dear Max,
         I am expecting many more fruitful years, but I am thinking of this now and      
so, while the iron is hot... 
        I have had my time and, except for getting involved with the Navy, I think I have been able to use it well.  You are my only son and, though a father likes to wish what he thinks best on the one he cares most about, a wise father knows that his son has a mind of his own.  A life of his own.
        A wise father would say, "If wrestling muddy animals in Wyoming is what makes you happy, then I am glad for you.  Go wrestle them to the best of your ability."
        Unwisely, I say to you that I have observed a gift in you for invention and that for you to do anything else would be an entire waste of your time and talents.  Your grandfather would be amazed at your potential and would immediately claim responsibility.  I, too, am amazed, but am not so presumptuous.
        When you read this I will be dead, but my love will be with you always.  The garage is now yours to do with as you think best.  Do what you want, but a life in which one creates for the benefit of others is not a bad one.  Do not destroy any of my papers.  You may someday find them useful.  Take care of your mother and stay away from sweets.

                                                               Your loving father,

   Max was moved by his father's words.  The house was quiet and, as he sat there, he seemed to be able to feel his father's spirit hovering in the hallway outside his door.  He felt, also, the somewhat heavier spirit of his grandfather making his way downstairs for dinner.  These feelings disturbed him and, absently, he searched in his pocket for a mint.
   At dinner, he made no mention of the letter.  He could tell that his mother was trying her best not to, but all the same, was giving him that look of expectation he dreaded.  As he pushed his beets around on the plate, he told her of his decision to return to Wyoming.  She had smiled thinly and nodded, and then rose to get the dessert from the oven.  He knew what that dessert was, but still he didn't, he couldn't, change his mind.
   That was six years ago and during those six years he had written faithfully and in detail to his mother.  He had tried hard to forget his father's words.  He had eaten a lot of sweets and many things had happened.  He had often thought, with a hint of regret, despite the weather, that his life in Minnesota was firmly in the past.  But now, he realized that something very much like destiny was following him and he changed his mind.  Returning home would either put the demons of invention to rest or encourage them in a way he didn't really want to contemplate.  He was on his way home.  He didn't know what to expect, but at least he knew how to get there.