Friendship

THE NEIGHBOR

This isn’t a friendly town. People fraternize with the people who attend their church and seem to regard anyone else as potentially hostile.

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Of course we didn’t know that when we moved here. We knew that it was a very white town, that Garry was likely to be the first (only) person of color, and I might well be the first (only?) Jew. In fact, apparently well-intentioned people said stuff like “Gee, I’ve never known a Jewish person before” and honestly didn’t see anything wrong with this. Meanwhile, Garry got stares. No way to know if they were staring because they’d seen him on TV or because he’s brown. Both?

Our situation was made even more complicated by our neighbor, Ned. A big guy. Rode a Harley. I love Harleys, but there are Harleys and then, there are Harleys. This one was chopped and really loud. When Ned started his bike, the vibration alone could knock me out of bed.

Ned was massive. Tattooed. He hung with a bunch of skin-head friends. They had raucous parties with lots of beer. We didn’t expect to be invited, nor did these seem to be our kind of party.

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Ned flew a Confederate flag over his house. Prominently. We learned he’d always done this. It was part of some family roots thing tying him to his original home state of Georgia. Me? I think it’s time the south moved on. The war ended a more than a century ago. Time to get over it. But I’m from New York so I probably don’t understand.

Our neighbor’s house was the only one in the Valley flying a confederate flag and we were the only mixed-race couple in town. Ironic, to say the least. And we were a poster couple for hate groups.

black jockey racist statue

Garry is pragmatic and tough. His mild-mannered demeanor belies his Marine Corps interior (semper fi, and note I did not say “former Marine” because there’s no such thing as a former Marine). Moreover, he couldn’t have survived 40-years as a reporter without being tough.

One fine summer’s day, music screaming from Ned’s boombox, Garry looked at me and murmured those fighting words: “This is ridiculous!”

He marched down the driveway, through the woods that join our two houses, to Ned’s front door. Garry knocked. Loudly. When Ned finally answered, Garry said: “Hi. I’m your neighbor. Garry Armstrong. Do we have a problem?”

Shortly the flag disappeared along with a noxious black jockey statue. Turned out, Ned was a plumber. He fixed our bathroom pipes. The whole skinhead thing dissolved in the face of a brown-skinned guy who did news on Boston TV. Seemed it was less important who Ned was than who Ned, with a little encouragement, was willing to become.

Eventually Ned got into drugs. Or something. We were never sure what. His wife left. His life fell apart. One day, he vanished. Fortunately, he returned our extension ladder before going.

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Other folks live there now. They are not actively hostile, which is about the best one could say of them. In the year and half they have lived there, they’ve never bothered to say hello and I doubt they ever will. They object to our dogs barking so much. Hard to argue with that. I wish they’d shut up too, but hey, they’ve got dogs who do their own share of barking. (There are a lot of dogs around here. If you are outside in the evening, you can always hear a dog barking somewhere.)

I miss Ned. No one fixed pipes like Ned and he always gave us a huge discount. He turned out to be a funny guy and a good neighbor. Who’d have thunk it.

ONCE UPON A TIME

Spinning Yarns — What makes a good storyteller, in your opinion? Are your favorite storytellers people you know or writers you admire?


Fear According to Savage Chickens

Last night I dreamed about chickens. After a tooth-grinding review of how badly mistreated we have been by past employers — Garry’s and mine — somehow I slid sideways into an old house in the country.

It looked a lot like it does around here. A bit hilly and lots of trees. There was a movie star living in the house. She was supposed to be young, but her skin looked like the bottom of an old leather suitcase and was a trifle orange. She was going back to California where she seemed to believe she would be better off.

That left me with 200 chickens. The fowl were arriving (shortly) by truck. Healthy, young, hens and roosters. Enough to start a nice little chicken farm. Except I didn’t want to be a chicken farmer and I was pretty sure, neither did Garry. I couldn’t just leave the chickens to die of hunger, thirst, and cold. I’m a responsible person and I love animals. Even chickens.

I was still baffled over the whole chicken conundrum when I finally gave up, opened my eyes, and began my day. Coffee would banish chickens. Garry says it’s from “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and I was just caught in an old movie loop.

Sometimes, the absolutely best storyteller in the world has got to be my subconscious. I would never even consider creating a story involving me and chickens.

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens

Not counting authors since this prompt doesn’t concern that … who tells great stories? Garry tells wonderful stories. He has me mesmerized from the first word to the last and that includes when I’ve heard the story before. Our friend Tom is also a terrific storyteller. He makes us laugh. I don’t know if the story is true or maybe just a little true, but whatever, it is great entertainment.

At my best, I tell a good story. I run on too long and I’m not good at wrapping it up and finishing before the audience needs another drink, but I’m good for the yarn’s first three-quarters.

Story-telling is the glue that makes friends want to hang out with each other.

It’s not booze, movies, or video games. Certainly not texting. It’s stories. The tales of our experiences, things we remember, times and places and people we’ve known.

I keep wondering what young people will do when they realize you can’t live forever with just a cell phone for company? They don’t seem to have a clue about having conversations or telling stories to each other. From whence will their stories emerge?

Our stories are our personal mythology. Will our children and grandchildren have stories? Or anyone to tell them?

It worries me. It really does.

AS GOOD AS IT GETS

Sparkling or Still — What’s your idea of a perfect day off: one during which you can quietly relax, doing nothing, or one with one fun activity lined up after the other? Tell us how you’d spend your time.


What day is today? I don’t mean the date. The day of the week. Because I don’t know anymore. That’s life in the slow lane … also known as “retired.”

Me and Cherrie

Unless I have a doctor appointment or errands to run, everyday is a day off. The best ones are those spent in the company of friends, laughing, remembering, sharing. Laughing over things no one else would laugh about, sharing stuff no one else knows about. Or cares.

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And that’s perfect enough for me. I’m not sure there is anything that could improve on that experience … except maybe an infusion of expendable cash and a theme park with killer roller coasters.

EAVESDROPPING, GOSSIP, BACK BITING.

OVERHEARD. I know it’s the stuff of bedroom farce and half the plot lines of who knows how many murder mysteries and episodes of Law and Order. I still hate it. (more…)

LIKE, UNLIKE

Oil, Meet Water — Of the people who are close to you, who is the person most unlike you? What makes it possible for you to get along?


Of the people close to me? That’s a tiny number of people. Back “in the day,” (whatever that means), I was popular. There were always people in my house. A perpetual party was in progress. I had so many friends, their relationships with each other was more than a little contentious as they vied for my free time.

At first it was flattering. Eventually, I felt tired and used up. So I left, moved to Israel, and stayed there nearly 9 years. When I came back, the party was over. Everyone had moved on. I hadn’t been forgotten, but my place in the scheme of things was gone.

Marilyn and Garry by Bette Stevens

Marilyn and Garry by Bette Stevens

Now? Those few who are close to me are like-minded people with whom and from whom I take comfort. We don’t argue about politics or even taste in books or movies. We share ideas and learn from each other, more alike than different.

I have no interest in abrasive relationships.

Who is the most different? Probably my husband because — gasp  – he’s male and I’m — gasp — female. He will watch sports when I would prefer reading a book. When he reads, it’s mostly about sports figures and movies while I want to read about vampires and werewolves. But he’s begun to enjoy the occasional werewolf and I’ve gotten serious about baseball. The last things that made us so different, other than plumbing, are gradually smoothing out.

Soon, no one will be able to tell us apart.

IF ONLY I HAD AN EXTRA HOUR

Twenty-Five Seven Good news — another hour has just been added to every 24-hour day (don’t ask us how. We have powers). How do you use those extra sixty minutes? If there were another hour in the day, it wouldn’t be enough. If there were another 5 or 6 hours in the day, it still wouldn’t […]

WHO’S TALKING?

Counting Voices — A lively group discussion, an intimate tête-à-tête, an inner monologue — in your view, when it comes to a good conversation, what’s the ideal number of people?


First, dear WordPress, I think you are not paying attention to what you are saying. You seem to be distracted lately, especially on the Daily Prompt. This particular mistake is … well … peculiar. Not peculiar “ha ha.” More like peculiar strange and in need of medication.

Dearest friends, an inner monologue is not a conversation because it is a monologue. “Mono” means “one”, so this is “thinking something over” and doesn’t require anyone but the thinker. It is not a conversation. On the other hand, if your conversations involve people that you alone can see or hear … if, perchance, you have many voices in your head and they are having a lively discussion with each other?

And most especially if they are telling you to do evil things involving weaponry of any kind? You have should seek immediate help. No, don’t pick up that gun, bat, scalpel, or knife. Go directly to your local mental health provider and request a comfortable room with a view.

Generally, my best conversations are held with other human beings present. Perhaps I’m missing some fine conversational point of etiquette, but I believe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

One good conversationalist is usually enough for me and in my humble opinion, are always the best. Regardless, for real conversation, the train stops at four. People, not voices. After that, no one will get to finish a thought. You may have a great party, but it won’t be a conversation … though you can have pretty good arguments with a lot of people and sometimes, you can work each other up and turn it into a riot. Still, not a conversation.

Optimum? Two. Next best? Three.

Me with me? Or me with a lot of mes? Take some sleepy-time drugs. Go to bed. If it persists? Call someone in the morning.

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