Saturday, August 1, 2009
Olaf Bjornson is saying goodbye to his grandmother. His bags are packed and his father’s car is waiting. Olaf is meeting the other members of Cloverdale’s Lutheran Youth Club at the train station. They are booked on the 9:07 A.M. to Tamworth on Tide to attend the All Shire Lutheran Summer Camp.
Olaf’s grandmother was hesitant to give her blessing for the camp. She was concerned Olaf would have a good time. Having a good time is something foreign to your older, more traditional Lutheran congregant. Mortal existence is for testing and trails not fun and games. How would spending one week near the sea at a camp with tents, swimming, canoes and theater teach Olaf the life of suffering and sacrifice necessary to show one’s love for God?
“Das ist Catholic,” she said over and over again when Olaf asked her for a donation to his camp fund.
“Grandma its not a Catholic camp. Its a Lutheran camp. There won’t be any Catholics,” Olaf repeatedly said.
“In this life ve suffer. It ist vhat God vants from us. Olaf you vork here vith your fater and I,” she said changing the subject to the core of what really bothered her.
“Grandmother, the pastor will be there. How can this be bad if the pastor is going to be there?” Olaf made the winning point.
His grandmother shifted her weight on the kitchen chair and looked earnestly out the window and into the garden. Olaf knew he was winning the argument but felt badly. He couldn’t do this to his grandmother. He was her pride and joy and she cared for him as if he were hers. He thought quickly for a way both could win.
“Grandmother. You are right. I shouldn’t go. I only wanted to go because the pastor asked me to. It’s not the kind of camp I’d want to go to anyway so you’re doing me a favor.” Olaf said, seemingly surrendering his will to hers.
“Vhy not a camp for you?” his grandmother insisted.
“Well, we will study the scriptures morning noon and night. They will wake us at 4:00 A.M. and send us to bed early. I heard they expect us to work in the camp gardens growing food for the shelters. We don’t get beds. We have to sleep on the floor. The food is simple, to teach us to be grateful for what we have at home. They have prayer meetings every day. Grandma its too much for me. I can’t handle that kind of life. I guess I’m not a very good Lutheran.” Olaf was finished. He waited to see if this reverse psychology worked.
“You go to camp and they make you do these things?” she questioned.
“Yes,” Olaf replied.
“You go to this camp. Get me my purse for money.”
“But grandma you said I shouldn’t go.”
“If the pastor goes then you vill go. Get my purse.”
At this point Olaf needed to clench the decision by throwing a minor temper tantrum. His grandmother took delight in his suffering and increased the amount she was donating to his camp fund.
The day finally arrived. Olaf is smiling because he got his wish. Grandmother is smiling knowing the suffering Olaf will soon endure all in the name of God.
Everyone wins. Olaf goes to camp!
Friday, July 31, 2009
Matthew Lawrence waits for his mother near the train station in Cloverdale. Its getting late, which worries him. She's never taken this long before. He pulls his hood up over his head to hold off the rain and cold.
Matthew is an only child. He doesn’t know his father. He’d like to but his mother won’t say anything more than, “We had a few drinks and a few laughs.” After a pause she adds, “He’s not the kind of man you want to know, so leave it.” Matthew leaves it.
“I’m the product of a few drinks and a few laughs,” Matthew tells his closest friends. He looks like he's not bothered, his way of hiding his feelings. They understand. Many of them come from similar situations. They've formed their own gang and look after each other.
Every evening, after his mother comes home from work, they take a long walk through the village to collect her medicine. Matthew stops and waits near the train station. She won’t let him go further. She walks alone a few hundred yards and disappears down Potter Lane.
When Matthew was younger he wondered why she didn’t buy her medicine from the Chemist’s Shop like everyone else.
“They don’t have my medicine honey,” she told him. “Mommy’s medicine is specially made. I buy it from a different shop.”
After thirty minutes or so she returns to collect Matthew at the train station. He helps her home. She stumbles a bit and relies on his strong arm. Once home she goes straight to bed leaving Matthew to find his own dinner.
An hour has passed. She is still missing. Matthew stands up and walks to Potter Lane. He looks down the narrow street made of dark gray row houses connected to each other with common walls. It is drizzling with rain and getting darker. The street lamps are flickering on. She could be in any one of them. If he starts knocking on doors someone will become suspicious of a young boy out alone at night looking for his mother. The police would be called. There would be questions.
“Never call the police, Never,” his mother had taught him.
Matthew walks back to the station, sits on the curb and waits. He watches people rush out of the arriving train raising their umbrellas to protect themselves from the wet night.
He will stay there until she returns.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Ms.Paula Puzey and her cat Muffin are the co-owners of theMy flat in Cloverdale had a leaky toilet seal. Having to stand in a puddle every time I had to ‘take care of business’ prompted me to call Jiffy Plumbers (who by the way were anything but Jiffy). In their attempt to replace the seal they pulled the toilet from the floor and damaged the water pipe causing a small flood resulting in water seepage from the upstairs into my downstairs bedroom.
Puzey Palace Bed and Breakfast on Highway One outside of Cloverdale.
Puzey Palace Bed and Breakfast on Highway One outside of Cloverdale.
When I returned to Cloverdale from Pleasant Grove on the 6:15 P.M. Coastal Express I was met at my flat’s door by two of Jiffy’s highly qualified (yet totally inept) plumbers wearing life vests complete with flashing homing beacons attached to the their collars. The more stupid looking of the two, judged primarily by this multidirectional teeth, also sported goggles and a snorkel. I stopped half way from the canal bank to my front door. They sheepishly waved. I asked how long.
They replied “In a Jiffy,”
“That long?” I said. I turned with suitcase in hand and set course for Ms. Paula Puzey’s Puzey Palace Bed and Breakfast.
“This is a Christian establishment,” she told me as I checked in for a two night stay.
“I’m a Christian and know how to behave.” I said while waiting for her to write my name in her guest register.
“Talk is you’re one of them Mormons,” she said looking up at me over the top of her reading glasses.
“Like I said Ms. Puzey. I’m a Mormon and a Christian.”
“Can’t be both. You’re either on the Lord’s side or ole Scratch will have your soul.” She put the finishing touches on my last name and closed the book.
“They’ll be no drinking of spirits in the room. Muffin is unforgiving of spirits,” she said putting up the first of many fingers to illustrate the house rules.
“Mormons don’t drink spirits,” I said hoping it would bring a few Puzey Points in my favor and spare me a 30 minute recitation of House Rules.
“Talk is you don’t drink coffee or tea either. What harm can be had over a cup of coffee or tea? Peculiar. Very peculiar.”
“There will be no sharing of company if you know what I mean. Muffin will not stand for it. This is a Christian home.”
“Ms. Puzey, let me assure you there will be no company whatsoever. I believe the same things you do. Sharing company outside of marriage can....”
“Open the door to old Scratch and its hell bound for sure.” she jumped in and finished my sentence for me.
“Talk is you Mormons share the company of many wives. Muffin doesn’t understand why anyone would want more than one wife.”
“Ms Puzey, Mormons gave up polygamy a very long time ago. You’ve nothing to fear.”
“Oh, Its not me. It’s Muffin. She’s very particular who she shares the house with.”
“There will be no smoking. The smoke disturbs Muffin causing her to scratch at the furniture.”
“Mormons don’t smoke.” I once again added in a useless attempt to get on Muffin’s good side. I could tell it wasn’t working. Muffin paid me no attention. She seemed more interested in catching a few minutes of sleep at the end of the Front Desk’s counter. “Ms Puzey, may I go to bed. I’m exhausted and if I don’t go to my room right now you and Muffin will be obliged to carry me. Don’t forget to tuck me in.”
She waved me toward the stairs and followed as I slowly climbed.
“No cooking in the room.” she said.
“I won’t cook in the room. I’ll take my meals at the Kicking Donkey.”
“That’s a pub.”
“I know its a pub. I won’t drink.........I’ll just have a meal.”
“If you come back two sheets to the wind Muffin will not be happy.”
“Heaven forbid I upset Muffin.” I said as I reached the door.
I inserted the key and opened the door as she tried to remember the rules she had forgotten.
“Goodnight,” I said shutting the door. She mumbled something then the hallway went quiet. She was gone. I had a strange feeling Muffin was still sitting outside my door waiting patiently for company to arrive or the sound of a cigarette lighter. I walked to the bed and collapsed - too exhausted to change. It promised to be the longest two days of my life.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Bob Bradley likes to think of himself as an all around handyman. When he looks at himself in the mirror he sees a talented gifted electrician, carpenter and plumber. If the haze of ego were to lift he would see an average custodian staring back at him through the looking glass.
Bob handles a broom and mop competently and knows his chemicals well enough not to poison the performers, staff and guests of Cloverdale’s Empire Theater. Anything beyond that and he all thumbs. Proof of which can be seen in the picture above. What started out as the changing of a backstage florescent bulb turned into a disaster of epic proportions.
Bob balanced carefully at the top of a wooden ladder manufactured a month after ladders were invented. His journey skyward was taken one rung at a time. After each step, Bob shuffled slightly on the rung to equally distribute his weight. Failing to carry out this necessary step resulted in an unfortunate meeting of the ladder, the floor and you.
Bob reached the top of the ladder and took a brief moment to do the shuffle. Once in equilibrium, he slowly brought the new bulb up into position with his left hand. Using his right hand he gently turned the old flickering bulb until the two posts at each end were horizontal. The florescent tube should have easy dislodged with a gentle pull, at least according to the manual. Bob pulled. The bulb didn’t dislodge. He gave it a tug with more force. The bulb didn’t come out. Bob spoke four or five carefully chosen four letter words to help convince the bulb to cooperated. He pulled..... and nothing. He pulled harder....... and nothing. With his patience spent, he applied even more force. The bulb reacted to the force by shattering - sending shards of thin white glass raining down on Bob and everyone below. Bob shielded his eyes, and in the process his left foot moved four centimeters to the left. The ladder shuddered and began listing port. Bob felt himself moving away from 90 degrees to the floor. His life played before his eyes as the angle's degrees slipped away.
At such a time one’s instinct to survive becomes paramount. In ship talk its every man for himself. With a total disregard for anyone standing below, Bob dropped the new bulb - letting it fall to the floor and explode. He heard screaming below. Then one single voice rose above everyone else's. It was the leading lady in the evening’s performance of Annie Get Your Gun.
“Run, he’s coming down,” she shrieked while attempting to make a backstage exit. Unfortunately her spurs tangled with her chaps sending her to the floor.
Normally Bob would care but at that moment he was reliving his third grade in vivid color. As the list quickly gathered speed Bob flailed his arms searching for anything attached to something solid. Just as scenes from the fifth grade started his right arm came in contact with a bundle of electrical wires running from the central lighting control to the theater's stage lights. At the last millisecond Bob grasped the wires with one hand. The ladder slipped from under him and crashed to the floor. Bob swung from the wires. A few seconds later he heard a pop. One of the clamps holding the bundled wires to the wall loosened and gave way. Bob dropped four feet and stopped with a jerk as the next clamp took his weight. Seconds later, it also gave way. This process continued until Bob was safely on the floor.
The play was canceled for the night. The lights wouldn’t work and the leading lady was in an ambulance heading to the clinic. Bob apologized to the theater’s manager, staff and actors. He assured them that he would have the electrical repairs straightened out before the next performance. Before going to bed Bob took out a pencil and pad of paper. He felt it best to make a list to ensure he got everything right. The first item on the list read:
1. Find circuit box.
It will be a miracle if Bob survives the repair without being electrocuted or burning the century old theater to the ground.