Why, Saturday? Why?

James slowly stood up from his crouched position amid the pungent cloud of vinegar.  His arms slowly coming down after guarding his face out of instinct.  He glanced down at the stain of pink brine spreading across the dingy tiled floor.  Shards of glass glistening like angry teeth radiating away from his feet.
“Jesus! How could that many pig’s feet have possibly been in that jar?!” he observed at the carnage of pickled porcine paws littering the floor.

All he wanted was a 6-pack of beer and a quiet afternoon in his recliner with SportsCenter on repeat.  As he approached the counter, the man ahead of him was talking annoyedly at the clerk behind the counter.

“Damnit, Dale! How Could you? She’s my sister!  She’s only 17!  You’ve known her since we were playing Guitar Hero together back in high school!”

That was when James had to duck and protect himself as bags of Corn Nuts and other assorted snack foods and candies flew through the air past him. He saw Dale pick up the big half-wheel of red-rind cheddar cheese from the counter and wasn’t sure if it was going to be a shield or a weapon.  He didn’t want to find out either way.  Right then was when the assailant tried to punch the wheel of cheese, but accidentally knocked the giant jar off the counter.

James couldn’t take any more of this redneck theater.  No shitty light beer was worth the chemical warfare to which he was now subjected.  Relaxing in the recliner was now out of reach.  Maybe the local dive bar would make this day end a little better.  At last no one there would notice the vinegar fumes on his clothing.

Stage Performance

So, here I am standing next to the stage.  The twelve wooden stairs that lead up to the old, well-worn timber platform seem like they go into the sky.  The stage door is closed, for now.  As I survey the crowd I see that nearly the whole town is here to watch my performance.  It is quite early in the day for this much anticipation.  Who am I to garner this much attention?  I wonder if I will give them what they expect.  The energy is radiating from the buzz of whispered voices in attendance for my show.

The man in the nice black suit stands on the stage worrying over the preparations.  The concerns crease his face at the sides of his mouth when he is not talking.  The glint of sunlight flashes off the fancy star-shaped pin on his lapel and into my eyes below.  To his side stand Judge Parker and a small crowd of local VIPs who have secured their special places on the stage so they may enjoy what I bring today. A handful of stagehands whir about as they follow the instructions and commands given.  It is quite the process to prepare for such a simple show.

The time draws near for me to climb those stairs and stand bare in front of that crowd for my performance.  I look out into the flow of faces, some familiar, some not.   Just before I mount the first step I catch the eyes of my Jenny.  She is near the back of the audience.  Her face fills with emotion for me.  I see what looks like worry, fear, and even some pride.  I do this for her.  She is the love of my life and makes me a better man.  Her father, the man above me in the black suit, knows nothing of our love. As some fathers are wont to be, he is quite protective of her, and rightfully so.  Even after all of his restrictions and protections, however, she still found her way into my arms and my heart.

One of the stagehands calls to me.  Showtime.  He asks me to come stand next to the man in the suit.  As I take each stair, it feels like my boots are made of lead and mired in wet clay earth.  I wring my hands in front of me.  Am I ready for this?  My world slows down and I am conscious of every intake of breath as my chest becomes tight.  By the fourth stair, I say a short prayer that God, if he is listening, will bolster my spirit for this undertaking.  As I reach the stage I can taste the dust in the air from the stirring crowd, the slight tinge of acid rising from the knot in my stomach, and the sickly metallic taste of iron in blood from where I worried a small hole in my lower lip.

Everything is almost ready.  I stand in front of the stage door.  My performance is imminent.  The man in the suit is addressing the crowd with a booming, baritone voice.  My heart races.  In a flash, I think of my dead parents.  What would my mother think of my performance today?  Would she stand in the audience with the hot morning sun overhead to see her boy?  Am I my father’s son?  I barely notice the stage hands around me as they make ready.

My introduction draws to a close and I look down at the timbers of the stage.  They are sturdy and strong, made from very old trees.  The hinges on the stage door are free of rust and well oiled.  I am ready for this.  This is my time.  My guts turn and beads of sweat drip down the small of my back.  Jenny’s eyes go big as I step onto the stage beside her unknowing father.  As he finishes speaking to the crowd, he slowly turns to me.  In a low voice he says, “Son, you ready?  You deserve this.”  I nod slightly at his affirmation as I look squarely into his sun-creased face.  It is my time.

I take a firm, deliberate step forward and survey the whole of the crowd. So many expectant faces here for me. All here for me.  The man in the suit moves off to the side by the VIPs. I find Jenny one last time in the sea of faces.  I wink at her with a slight smirk on my face.  She always makes me smile and feel a bit more at ease.  Then, I take a very deep breath.  I feel my chest swell.  My body stresses the buttons on my overcoat.  With that breath, I turn my head and nod again at the man in the suit. Showtime.  It is all up to me now.  I feel the knot in my stomach drop away as the stage door opens. Momentarily, I am weightless.  A snap thunders in my ears.

The show is over.  I perform perfectly.  The show is over.  From the thick hemp rope, my body slowly swings in the dusty shadow of the sturdy gallows stage.

We Need To Talk

No, this is not looking back at that time when your ex-girlfriend said this moments before she crushed your soul.

I want to talk about another epidemic that borders on psychopathy.  I am talking about people who drink Diet Coke.  They are insatiable, persistent, and possibly clinically insane.

As a restaurant server, there are plenty of stereotypes that exist for one reason or another, but this is one that has always befuddled me.  It is almost as if the chemicals in Diet Coke change a person’s brain function.  Here is a typical interaction:

Me: (Addressing the table and turning to seat 1…) Hi, my name is Mi—
Seat 3: Diet Coke!
Me: Alright. (as I type the drink in on my tablet…  *btw, we fancy at our restaurant* )  My name is Michael.  Would anyone else like something to drink?
 Seats 1,2,4: Coffee, water, Coffee AND water, etc.
Me: Great!  (tells daily specials before I leave.)
**I go make the drinks and return to the table.  Drinks meet the appropriate guests and straws are placed on table.  I turn to address Seat 1 to ask about their food order—
Seat 3: (Apparently trying to suck the ice cubes through the straw…) Can I get some more Diet Coke? (Rattles empty glass in the air at me.)
Me: (Trying to suppress the urge to punch them violently in the throat because I have not even left the table yet.) Yes, of course.
**I get the food orders for Seats 1-2.  Turn to Seat 3, shoving down the impending personal rage for what I know is about to happen.
Me: And for you?
Seat 3: Oh, let me see…I’m just not sure.  There’s just so much on the menu!  (10 seconds of staring uncomfortably at the guest pass. Slowly.) Can you skip me and get the next person?
**Gets Seat 4 order in 0.3 seconds because they are a normal human who understands how restaurants work.  Returns to Seat 3.
Me: (way too chipper and smiling) Made any decisions yet? (knowing full well this psychopath will not have a clue about food for 5 more minutes because their brain is too low on vitamin DC, having gone longer than 30 seconds without a fix.)
Seat 3: I’m just not sure.  Can you go get me some more Diet Coke and I’ll try to have an answer by the time you get back?
Me: (Internally: NOOOO, YOU CRACKHEAD!  THAT IS NOT HOW THIS WORKS!!!) Yes, of course I can.
**Meanwhile, two more tables have arrived in my section and they all deserve the proper attention expected for our guests, but I am now held hostage in server limbo due to this crazy person.  So, another small layer of stress is building within me because now I have to rush this refill of crack soda for this person and still get a food order, all while my other two unsuspecting tables perceive that they are now waiting on me.  It is the restaurant equivalent of someone blocking both lanes of traffic while trying to make a left turn at a busy intersection that is clearly marked “No Left Turn.”

Now, there are plenty of things that happen in the restaurant environment that may annoy most people, but I have done this for a long time and most of those things are lost on me now.  The restaurant industry is definitely not for everyone.  I have seen hundreds of servers come and go for one reason or another.  After all these years, the Diet Coke drinker, however, is a constant thing that seems to eat at my soul whenever it happens.  It is odd.  You immediately know that you will refill that empty, rattling glass at least fifteen times in the next twenty minutes while the coffee drinking friends at the table, who are more commonly considered the caffeine addicts in society, may need two or three refills for the duration of the meal, and that will slow down every other guest interaction and server responsibility you may have for the next hour.  The only answer is to bring a new Diet Coke any time you are returning to anywhere near that table to pre-empt the crazy sitting there.

I know it may seem small, and yes, it is part of the job.  It is a phenomenon that I cannot explain and it perplexes me every time it happens.  I simply ask that if you see your friends do this, help them seek treatment or keep them at arm’s length in your life because they may be hiding bodies under their houses or in their back yards

Let’s Get Weird

“Jim walked in the door to find a panda on the couch eating potato chips.  Over the rustle of the bag, the panda asked Jim where his cat, Seymour, was.  Jim was perplexed because Seymour usually follows an online ballet tutorial on Tuesday afternoons.  “Maybe he went out for more beer?” mused Jim out loud.
At that, the panda jumped off the couch and darted out the door, almost knocking Jim to the floor as he passed.  Stumbling away, Jim knocked a pineapple off the top of the coat rack.  It landed with a thud on the hardwood floor and rolled behind the couch.”

I do not know where that came from.  I was bored mid-November and quickly wrote that in my notebook.  Thumbing through the notebook today and I still found it so random and slightly funny.  I considered trying to continue the narrative, but I was fairly sure I would be incapable of entering that frame of mind today, if ever again at all.

Weird moments like that have comprised my whole thought process for many years.  Sometimes I have been misunderstood when people were talking near me.  Often there would be a smirk or a small chuckle, not because of their discussion content, but because my brain spat out something akin to this.  Yet, I was the only one who was aware of it.  The people would think I was laughing at them or belittling the tragic tale they were telling.  Usually, it was simply my brain, awash with warped years of experiences from time in schools, restaurants, the army, and as a paramedic, that produced my socially inappropriate reactions.

Now, the above paragraph is not all that weird in the overall scheme of things.  Plenty of people out there get much more weird.  For me it is actually a step forward.  The experiences of the past decade have made most of my internal monologue turn in either a dark or a negative direction; sometimes both.  I have been sour.  I have not always been this way.  It goes against my base self.  I am starting 2018 with a personal challenge of trying to find the humor, joy, and wonder in life again.  Now, that does not mean that I will not write something off-color or darkly humorous, but this year will be best lived from a positive perspective.  That means more time spent enjoying friends, travel, education, and personal exploration.  We should all laugh a lot more…for our own health.