Saturday, April 11, 2009

Roland Rumf and Small Fortunes Won and Lost

Roland Rumf works at the Food City in Cloverdale. He arrives every morning at 7:00 A.M. exactly. Not one minute before and not one minute after. He parks in the same place, lot 24, as he has for the last twelve years. His routine is unblemished. He walks through the store stopping at the same ice cream freezer just before entering the swinging doors leading to the loading dock and staff room. He looks at his reflection in the window and adjusts his hair. He cannot control the wind so he must reposition his locks to highlight his plump round face. He checks his tie, his teeth and finally his smile. Once satisfied his appearance represents the textbook definition of ‘male’ he grunts in satisfaction and continues through the doors. His first stop is the staff bulletin board to see if anyone has pulled one of the eight tabs with his phone number extending below the 4X6 card advertising his vocal lessons. Roland sings in the First Baptist Church Choir. It has been mentioned by many people in the congregation that Roland’s voice is ‘unearthly’. He feels by offering vocal lessons he can use his God given talent to help those who seek to praise the Lord in song. He grunts again out of frustration. No tabs missing. He pulls the thumb tack and repositions the advertisement closer to the time clock. After six months he wonders why no one has called.

He positions his rotund frame in front of the time clock and waits with time card in hand for 7:15 A.M. The second hand clicks, he grunts, pushes in the card, waits for the time stamp and retrieves it for inspection. Once satisfied his correct time is logged, he returns the card to the rack, turns and grunts again. He proceeds out of the staff room and through the double swinging doors. The water cooler is his last stop before he assumes his place at checkout number 4. He stops, glances side to side to be sure he is alone and with another grunt, sweetens the air. Even Roland’s gas is proper. A true credit to proper breeding. Once his passageway is deflated he struts down the isle toward the front of the store.

Roland is greeting every morning at his check stand by the cashiers, produce, bakery and meats associates. He refers to them as His Team. They hush as he rounds the bulk candy bonanza. He sees them and strains to stand a bit taller. He attempts to reduce the size of his walrus waist with another grunt. The effort has no effect on its measurement but does result in another sweetening of the air. He waves his hand behind him to dissipate the order and readies himself for several high 5’s and various forms of “How Ya Doing Rolands?”

After the exchanging of pleasantries his team walks off together, huddled and secretly exchanging one dollar bills. Roland takes no notice. He is positioned on his “Walking On Air” pad, issued to all check stand clerks. He glances at his watch. It is time. With a grunt of sublime satisfaction he switches on the light illuminating a large red 4 over his cash register and waves the first customer forward. Roland’s day has begun.

For eight years Roland’s Team has met him at his register for one reason only - to settle bets placed the day before at the end of their shift. Let me explain. Roland is as careful in his dressing as he is with every other aspect of his life except for one thing. Roland struggles to see the top of his pants over his pumpkin belly. This causes him to miss a different belt loop every day. His dressing misfortune was notice eight years ago. Once the morning shift saw that he missed a different belt loop each day they saw an opportunity for fun and profit. From that day on, five days a week, the morning shift bets on which loop he will miss in that morning’s dressing. The top limit is one dollar. The bets are made, a record is kept and everyone goes home to await the results the next morning upon Roland’s arrival. Small fortunes have been won and lost over the last eight years.
Roland is none the wiser. His days are measured moment by moment and grunt by grunt. Routine is Roland’s drug of choice.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tommy's Stolen Kiss

Tommy’s Stolen Kiss

Tommy Ray was in love,
With his classmate Rachel Dove.
In Sister Grace’s Third Grade play
Given at the end of May,
She was the Queen of Camelot
And he the brave knight Lancelot.

In Act three his sword unsheathed,
He slayed the Dragon of Mythareed.
The Queen, once captive now was free.
The audience could plainly see,
A debt was owed, her price to pay,
A kiss for Lancelot was due that day.

In Act four, the closing scene,
Under the paper moon’s bright gleam
The time had come to claim his prize
And right before the assembled eyes
He kissed her lips and not her cheek
The audience gasped, and Rachel shrieked.

Tommy Ray was in love
With the angry Rachel Dove.
A week was spent out of school
A punishment to learn a rule.
To steal a kiss at any age
can bring a very unwelcomed rage.

(Yes, I wrote this one. It's 3:43 A.M. I woke up at 3:00 A.M. My stomach was reacting to the overcooked Bloomin Onion I ate at Outback earlier in the evening. While waiting for the antacid to bring the boiling down I had some time to write this entry. So, you can thank Outback for this. And now if you'll excuse me, I'll attempt to pass out. I'm guessing I'll be unsuccessful as I usually am when woken up so early in the morning. I'll just sit here in bed staring at the wall while listening to the clock. In a couple hours I'll get up and go to work. I could put on the all night news channel but why add depression to an upset stomach? Pathetic isn't it?)

None of the girls in Sister Grace's class will speak to Tommy. He is referred to as 'the wicked boy' by many of the nuns. The script called for a sweet innocent peck on the cheek but Tommy's love for Rachel drove him into unscripted territory. Unfortunately for him, Rachel is the most popular girl in the third grade at St. Bartholomew's Catholic School and a favorite of many of the Sisters of Every Increasing Hope.

On the bright side Tommy's popularity has soared with the boys at St. Bartholomew's. The third grade boys look at him in awe. Many of the sixth grade boys refer to him as a 'stud'. The older boys allow him to hang out with them on their section of the playground during recess. He is asked over and over again what it was like to kiss a girl. "It's sick," Tommy answers. Tommy knows their language and speaks it fluently. The boys all nod their head in agreement wondering when their day will come. Somebody produces a football and instantly their attention is diverted. No more time to talk about girls, now is the time to get grass stains on their school uniforms.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Tale of Two Dunces. Truly One of a Kinds.

As soon as Fred gets out of bed,
his underwear goes on his head.
His mother laughs, "Don't put it there,
a head's no place for underwear!"
But near his ears, above his brains,
is where Fred's underwear remains.

At night when Fred goes back to bed,
he deftly plucks it off his head.
His mother switches off the light
and softly croons, "Good night! Good night!"
And then, for reasons no one knows,
Fred's underwear goes on his toes.

Jack Prelutsky

Life continues here in the Confederacy of Dunces. We all have our unusual quirks - like little Fred here. That's what makes us unique and we all know that One of a Kinds are precious.

Take Grandma Slough for instance. She is truly one of a kind. She is Cloverdale's biggest gun collector. Her collection is loaned from time to time to the Royal Military College to help teach the cadets gun recognition. She teaches the Shire's gun safety classes at the Village Hall and is the first to volunteer when the Village Constable asks for special deputies to handle Shire emergencies and special events.

There is a sign on the gate leading to the front door of her home. It reads, "This Grandma loves to bake cookies, garden, can vegetables and entertain trespassers with her Winchester."

Every One of a Kind in the Confederacy is special. We celebrate their differences.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hyrum is Patient and Curious

Hyrum Ledder is waiting on the train tracks. It's been three hours and still no train. He’s already missed the Saturday matinee at the Grand Theater with his friends. He's a bit upset about that but patience is something Hyrum was blessed with. It’s nearly 4:00 P.M. now. He will wait another two hours. If he isn’t home by 6:00 P.M. his mother will be worried. The last time he went on one of his quests he lost all track of time and was grounded for one week. He won’t make that mistake again.

Hyrum has an innocence rarely seen in a child his age. Unfortunately this innocence makes him the most gullible kid in the neighborhood. If you tell him something is so - then it must be so. If he sees it on TV then it must be real. If he ears it on the radio or reads it in a book then who is he to doubt it?

He has been the brunt of many practical jokes over his few years. His ego has the scars to prove it but deep in his soul he has this overwhelming need to believe in the honesty and goodness of people. Fiction is a concept he struggles with. He can’t understand why anyone would say or do anything that wasn’t true.

He joined the Cub Scouts once. His membership lasted one month and came to an abrupt end on his mother’s insistence after his first outdoor day camp. The other boys in his troop took him on a snipe hunt. He stayed in the forest for hours looking for the illusive birds. He got lost during the hunt. It took the Shire Search and Rescue Team half a day to find him. He couldn’t believe his friends would do that to him and so, even to this day, he watches for snipes in the trees.

Last Friday night he was watching a old TV western with his teenaged sister. One scene caught Hyrum’s fancy. There was an masked robber waiting to hold up the train. He barricaded the tracks and waited. From time to time the bandit bent down and placed his ear on the tracks to listen for the sound of the train in the far distance.

Hyrum asked his older sister if it was really possible to hear an oncoming train by putting your ear to the track. His sister rolled her eyes at him for asking what she considered a stupid question. Seeing another opportunity to mess with his mind she told him to go and find out himself. She suggest a set of tracks near the old meat packing plant. She knew the plant closed several years ago. She knew trains no longer traveled on those tracks. That’s what made the whole thing funny.

On Saturday morning she helped him pack a lunch and sent him on his way with instructions not to come home until knew one way or the other if a train could be heard from miles away by placing your ear on the tracks.

And so Hyrum waits. Every couple minutes he bends down and puts his ear the to track. He listens, and listens...... and then listens some more. He will wait another two hours and go home. Tomorrow is Sunday. He will come back after breakfast and his morning chores.

Hyrum is a patient and curious boy.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Beau Randall is a Happy Boy

Beau, Horton and Mr. White

Beau Randall is allergic to cats and dogs. One touch, perhaps even a sniff and he explodes into a variety of hives. The hives are his body's first act. His eyes swell shut for the second act in this allergic drama. Beau sits beside his mother and suffers in darkness. She keeps a wet washcloth on his face. It seems to help. After a dose of Benedril, and a long wait, his body finishes the war its waging with itself. The hives disappear, his eyes reopen and Beau transforms back into a little boy. He is careful with his allergy but his heart, and his yearning for a pet sometimes gets the best of him.

One Saturday morning last summer Beau and his mother got up early to garage sale. Garage sales are an important component in Mrs. Randall’s weekly routine. Without them, and the occasional visit to the Salvation Army Thrift Store, Peggy Randall would find it nearly impossible to keep her seven children in clothing. Garage sales are the source for nearly all of the Radall children’s Christmas and birthday presents as well.

Mrs. Randall prepares for each Saturday morning safari by mapping out the expedition on a laminated map of Cloverdale. With the Friday edition of the village newspaper laid out before her on the kitchen table she plots every advertised sale on the map with a grease pen. Then using her tried and true method of saving time and gas, she calculates where to go first, then second and so on. She knows which neighborhoods to canvas and when - ensuring the best selection. Her stops are fast and furious. Beau likes to go with her but struggles to match her pace. The van pulls up to a house. Mrs. Randall is out the door before the van comes to a complete stop. She’s already through most of the clothing before Beau finishes his battle with the seat belt and gets the sliding van door open. Once outside, Beau runs to find the toys knowing he has a few precious minutes while his mother haggles over prices.

“Beau. MOVE,” Peggy shouts when the purchases are complete and she is ready to move on to the next sale. Beau runs to open the back of the van. The clothes and toys are tossed into a heap behind the back seat, the doors closed, seat belts attached and the van screeches down the avenue.

Now, back to my story. One Saturday morning last summer Beau was digging through the toys at a large multifamily garage sale. He glanced over at his mother. Her arms were full of clothing and toys. She was walking toward a card table holding a cash box and two cups of coffee. Two rather large ladies sat at the table gossiping about anyone that wasn't within ear shot. Beau knew he had roughly five minutes to finish his explorations based on the size of the load in his mother’s arms and how quickly she could make a deal on the prices. Peggy always insists on volume discounts and she usually got one.

“Beau, MOVE,” he heard the signal and dropped everything he was carrying. Something caught his eye as he rushed toward the van to open the door for his mother. He stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the treasure. Next to an old washing machine and floor lamp with a bent shade was an miniature elephant on a skateboard. The elephant looked like Horton from the Dr. Suess book his teacher read to them the week before. He seemed hypnotized.

Mrs. Randall saw her son’s reaction to the toy as she waited impatiently behind the van with her arms full of clothing. She struggled to get the van open, deposited the clothes and ran back to the two ladies at the cash register. She pointed to the elephant, haggled a bit, opened her pocket book and took out a couple of bank notes. “Beau, MOVE,” she shouted again as she jumped into the van and started the engine. Beau broke his trance and reluctantly followed his mother’s command. The van screeched down the street leaving the elephant to find a home with some other lucky boy. Month's passed. The elephant was never discussed and time erased its memory.

Beau’s birthday was last Wednesday . He had a small party after school. He was allowed to invite three best friends for cake and ice cream. Afterwards, Mrs. Randall took them to the Grand Theater for a movie. After the party Beau watched a little TV. It was getting near bed time.

“Beau,” Mrs. Randall said, “time for bed.” Beau stopped in the bathroom, brushed his teeth and washed his face. He kissed him mother goodnight and walked toward the bedroom. He thought it strange his mother was following him with the camera. He turned on the light, turned to his bed and froze. Sitting on his bed was the elephant riding the skateboard.
“Surprise,” he heard his mother say behind in. She stood in the doorway with her camera. The flash lit the room for an instant capturing the face of a very happy little boy that had a pet he could love without the agony of an allergic reaction. Beau embraced the elephant, then his mother and then the elephant again. He named him Horton.

Beau takes Horton on walks everyday. He is a talkative child and stops the neighbors he finds and introduces them to his new pet. Mr. White was especially delighted to meet Horton. Mr. White is odd. He rides a skateboard. Most old men don’t ride skateboards but Mr. White was once a stunt man for movies and claims to have perfect balance. Mr. White was pleased to meet an elephant that rides a skateboard as well. “We can be odd together,” he said to Horton.

Beau had the best ever birthday.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Day in Cloverdale is the Fortune in my Cookie. Come spend a bewildering day with us. We'll provide the sandwiches.

It’s not uncommon to find happy families on any given day in Cloverdale’s two public parks, and why wouldn’t they be happy? Work is plentiful because the worldwide recession can’t find the Confederacy of Dunces.

Our citizens are different than those that live in The Other World. We save money, even if it isn't convenient, because we realize every bright sunny day is followed by a dark, cold rainy one. Life has its ups and downs. If you’re only prepared for the ups, what will you do when the roller coaster starts to free fall? If you don’t have a plan you won’t bottom out and climb again. Instead you crash and crashing is never pretty.

Our citizens understand and live by the principle of an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. You may think its common sense but isn't 'common sense' in short supply in The Other World? Why do people 'out there' believe they are entitled to a big home and new car right out of school? Those are the things you purchase after years of hard work and only when you saved enough to justify the purchase without borrowing beyond your ability to repay.

Our CEO’s in the Confederacy make a competitive salary with those in the Other World. They get pay raises if their employees get pay raises. Bonuses are not permitted. You're paid what you’re worth. Is there something wrong with that? Why receive a bonus if your company does well. Isn’t that what your paid to do for the company anyway?

Our citizens purchase homes they can afford to live in. If you can’t afford the house payments with a normal fixed rate 30 year mortgage then you shouldn’t purchase the house. Find something smaller. Does it seem like common sense to you? If so, then you may be one of us.

Life in the Confederacy of Dunces may be slower. People may be more cautious with their money and more conservative in their purchases but at the end of the day they sleep well knowing they are living within their means and saving a little at the end of every month for the future.

Stress disappears with that piece of mind. So, the moral of the story is this. Engage the common sense chip you were born with. If is sounds too good to be true then it is. Go into debt for large purchases only (car and home). Pay with cash for everything else from your emergency savings funds and then, when you get home from work, instead of going to your second or third job, take the family to the park and skip on the sidewalk and swing in the trees.

Life can be good again. You know what to do.

Therapy for the Soul. A Room with a View, Bubble Wrap, and a Diet Coke. Please Don't Disturb.

When a package arrives I quickly open it wide
And hastily remove all the stuff found inside
I discard all items except the plastic wrapped
That piece with bubbles in which air is trapped.

I spread the sheet and look downward with glee.
And with two fingers, I pop one, two, then three.
I feel quite content and my face gets a glow
I pop some more and move on to the next row.

I’m feeling so good I can’t think of stopping
As the room fills with the sounds of popping.
Every worry and care and each little trouble
Floats away with the pop of each air bubble.

When I finally reach the end I feel quite mellow
All that popping has made me a contented fellow.
If you are like me, and contentment is a rarity,
Get some bubble wrap: It’s cheaper than therapy.

by Geoff Weilert