BIRDS AND BUSHES

Racket had gotten out of his cage. Nothing unusual about that, except that usually when I let him loose, I’d make sure to put away anything I cared about to avoid having Racket destroy it. It was  futile but I felt obliged to try.

Racket, as his name implied, was a charming, noisy Sulpher-Crested Cockatoo. He was the perfect example of why cockatoo owners invented stainless steel perches. Racket could reduce anything made of hardwood to splinters in seconds. He had gone to work on the sofa not long ago … not the upholstery. I think the upholstery wasn’t a sufficient challenge for him. He had gone all out to redo the carved wood frame, perhaps with the intent of correcting the original artist’s errors.

The arm of the sofa nearest his cage was a pile of wood chips and splinters. No evidence of the original design remained. Having completed his work on the sofa, he had refocused his efforts towards acquiring wisdom. He began ingesting the Encyclopedia Britannica, one volume at a time. At this time, he was about half-way through the project. I could see that he’d had a busy morning and had consumed two more volumes.

There wasn’t much I could do about it. I had no where else to put the books. The flat was tiny and there was no storage space. Racket couldn’t spend all his time in a cage. Parrots need freedom, at least an hour or two a day. They are smart birds. They need to interact with the world, with us, to explore and have fun. Racket was doing what Cockatoos do for fun: tearing apart everything on which he could lay his beak.

I wasn’t sure who’d let him out that morning. Probably one of the kids. But he couldn’t stay out all day. I had to go to work and no sane parrot owner would leave their bird loose, unsupervised with no one at home. Or at least no one sane would leave this parrot unsupervised.

I shuddered at the thought of how much damage he could do given an entire day to wreak havoc. It was time to put him back into his house.

“Come on, sweetie,” I cooed. “Time to go home. Mommy’s got to go to work.”

“CAWWWWWWW! SQUAWK!! ACK-ACK-ACK!” (No M’am, I have other plans) he said. Ah those melodious tones.

He was a tame bird, bad habits notwithstanding and would stand on my hand, nibble on my ears. So far he hadn’t taken it into his head to remove my ears, though he had tried to rip an earring out.  But tame and obedient are in no way synonymous. He knew I wanted him back in his cage and he clearly didn’t want to go there. I needed a proper bribe or he could easily elude me for hours.

“Come along, baby,” I continued, sotto voce. “Mommy needs to get going and we don’t have all day to hunt wild birdies.”

I offered him my arm and teased him with a piece of watermelon in my other hand. He was ever so fond of fruit. Finally, after trying his birdy best to get the fruit without having to climb up on the arm, he gave in and climbed aboard. Quick as a wink, he was back in his cage, a squishy piece of red fruit dangling from his beak.

I pondered how much worse this would have been if I not have been able to get him in hand and instead, had been left with two just like him safely hidden in a bush. It boggled my mind.

WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM – Rich Paschall

When You No Longer Have a Home, Rich Paschall


Jimmy knew it was not going to be easy.  He had put it off for weeks, but after a while, the delay was just as hard as what he perceived the actual event to be.  So the high school senior marched home, mustered up all his courage, and prepared for the inevitable battle.

Born of a rather dysfunctional family, Jimmy’s parents were divorced when he was just 4 years old.  His biological father remained marginally in his life.  His mother introduced a new “step-father” when Jimmy was 5.  He was raised by ultra-conservative parents to have values of the ultra Christian right.  Unfortunately for the family structure, Jimmy did not adopt the “family values” of his rather right-wing parents.  Nonetheless, the 17-year-old boy was prepared to take a bold step forward and challenge the strict guidelines he had been given.

When he arrived home near dinner time on a cool fall evening, his parents were already watching television and absorbed in some crime drama.  At the first commercial break, Jimmy made enough noise to be noticed.

“Well, boy,” the stepdad began, “you are a bit late, but you can still grab some dinner in the kitchen.” The mother just smiled and went back to watching the television.

The teenager had already called up all his courage and was not going to back down.  The moment had come, and even though he was shaking, he began a speech he prepared all day.  “I had something important to say,” Jimmy stated rather meekly.

“Well spit it out, boy, the commercials are almost over.”

Without launching into his well-rehearsed speech about each man having to be his own and so forth, a nervous Jimmy did indeed just spit it out.  “I’m gay,’ he declared.

“What?” the middle-aged, balding, flannel-clad stereotypical alpha male shouted. At that, the mother turned down the television volume.

“What did he say, dear?  I don’t think I heard him correctly,” said the middle-aged, middle class, middle intelligence woman.

“I think he said he’s a damn faggot,” the man shouted in a loud and disgusted voice.

“No, sir,” the boy countered. “I said I am gay.”

“The same thing,” the fake dad declared.

“I am appalled.  No son of mine is going to be a sinner.”  The mother was as much angered by the “sinner” as having to miss her TV program.

The step-dad marched right up to the boy and shouted in his face, “You will stop that right now or you will get out of this house, do you understand me?”

“I am sorry sir, I can not change,” the teenager said in a trembling voice.  At that, the step-dad pushed him as hard as he could and the boy went flying over a living room chair and crashed into the dining room.

The mother then began shouting at the boy, telling him he would go to hell, that God would never forgive him, that such behavior was forbidden in the Bible and that God hated him.  The boy rose to his feet and stood there staring at the shouting parents.

“If you are not going to take back that sinful statement, then you are not staying under my roof.  Get out sinner,” the pretend dad shouted.  With that, he gave a menacing look as if he would hit the boy again.  Before long, he started after the boy and shoved him, knocking him to the floor.

“OK,” the terrified teen said.  “I’ll go if that’s what you want.  I don’t want to be here either.  I will get my school books and leave.”

“I paid for those books,” the man shouted.

“Like you are going to read them,” the teen retorted.

At that the boy hurried to his room, he put his books, a few items off his dresser and whatever items of clothing he could stuff in his backpack and headed toward the front door.

“God hates faggots, son,” his mother said with great disdain.

“I don’t know that God hates anyone,” the boy countered, “but he does not hate love.”

That prompted the step-dad to pick up an ashtray to throw at the teen, but the boy was out the door too quickly.  The angry parents resumed watching television as the trembling senior high school student walked aimlessly down the street.  Tears filled the eyes of the handsome youth as realized he had no home, no parents, and nowhere to go.

Attribution: BookCrossingBefore at the English language Wikipedia

He struggled forward, step by step, as the night air began to chill his bones.  Was he shivering because of the night air, or because of the sad situation he found himself in?  When he arrived at a major intersection, Jimmy took a seat on a wooden bench by the bus stop.  He was not planning on taking the bus.  He had no plan at all.

After many moments filled with crying, Jimmy pulled out his cell phone and called the one person he thought could help him, his real dad.  He located the number, dialed, and got a quick answer.

“Hello dad, it’s Jimmy.  I have been thrown out of the house.  I have nowhere to go.  Can I come and stay with you a while?  I promise I will not be a bother.”  The teen was not ready for adulthood, and certainly not this.

“Why, what happened son?  What would cause them to do that?”

“I told them I am gay.  Can I come there?”

There was a long silence on the phone.  Neither one spoke for what seemed like minutes.  Jimmy finally spoke up again.

“Please.”


Note:  This is a work of fiction, but there are many true stories of teens tossed aside.  What do they do?  

WHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE – RICH PASCHALL

The Wake-Up Call, by Rich Paschall

The day had finally arrived. Jon was on his way. George waited for the news that Jon had successfully cleared Customs in Miami and was getting his second flight on to his new home. When there was no word, George went to the airport anyway. He thought Jon did not have phone service in America and could not get on the internet. He was not going to worry, not too much anyway. He had sent Jon the ticket so he knew the flight number.

Leaving home for a new life

George did not know whether to wait at the end of the concourse where passengers would come from the gates, or go down to the baggage claim area in the large airport. Having waited upstairs for a long time, George finally went down to baggage. He paced around nervously as the passengers claimed their luggage and walked away. Finally, the baggage carousel was empty, and there was no Jon.

It was late at night. Few people were milling about the baggage area. George stood in the aisle looking down one way, then the next, Suddenly a familiar person appeared in the distance, rolling a small silver suitcase alongside himself. It was Jon. George hurried toward him and gave him a big hug. “Welcome,” George exclaimed. “Thanks,” Jon said.

Jon was tired. He had started the day very early in South America. It took three flights to finally make it to a large city in another country. He was eager to get out of the airport and on the way to a new life.

George tried to explain the sites as they traveled home by car, but Jon seemed uninterested. George figured he was just tired. When they made it home, George asked if he wanted anything to eat. Jon ate a little. They talked a little. Then it was time for a good night’s sleep.

It seemed so sad that Jon had to leave so many things behind. He only came with a small suitcase and a small backpack. He told George he sold whatever he could to have money for the trip, and gave the rest to friends. He was ready to start anew.

A whole new world

There were two empty drawers in the dresser for Jon. For the large Queen size bed, George told Jon he could have either side he wanted. Jon took the far side, George tried to be quiet and not move so the very tired Jon could sleep well.

During the weekdays George had to work and Jon was home alone. There were plenty of Spanish stations on the satellite television to occupy time, but that was not enough for Jon. He felt like a prisoner waiting for George to come home. At night they shopped for food, some clothes, and a few other things for Jon. That too was not enough to satisfy Jon. This was not really what he wanted.

At the weekend, Jon wanted to go dancing. “Ok,” George said. “We can go.”

“No, I don’t want to go with you. I have met some people from my country online, and one will come to get me. We will go to the Club. I don’t want to be with you.”

George was startled by the declaration. He never thought Jon would say such a thing. George had assumed they would do everything together. George was wrong.

Jon was young and eager to do things and not be stuck at home every day. George tried to make things better for Jon. He introduced him to neighbors who spoke Spanish. He took him to nice stores and restaurants. He helped him to apply for his green card so he could work and have more freedom.

Seeing new things

Some days Jon seemed OK with his situation. He made dinner for George and things were pleasant. Other days did not go so well and Jon complained bitterly about being stuck in the house all day. Patience was not a virtue that Jon enjoyed.

After a few days, Jon had decided to sleep in the spare room on the twin bed. He told Jon that he moved around too much, and it was not good to sleep together since they kept different hours. Each weekend Jon went out with friends from his country. “Give me some money George. Just give me 20 dollars.”

By the end of just one month, Jon wanted to leave. He told George they were never friends. “You are ugly and I don’t like you. I want to go live with some people from my country in Miami where the weather is nicer.” Jon wanted Geroge to buy him a ticket. On the one hand, George saw no reason to spend so much money; on the other hand, he was unhappy and tired of Jon’s complaining.

So George bought the ticket online and immediately drove Jon to the airport. Jon took the suitcase that he brought to America and his backpack, both with some new clothes, and got out of the car at Departures. He said nothing. George drove away with the feeling of relief.

O'hare
Leaving again for a new home

After a month had gone by, George got a message from Jon via Messenger. He deleted it. Later he got another, then another. George blocked him.

The next day George’s neighbor Axel told him he got a text from Jon. He desperately needs to talk to George but there is no answer. “I have nothing to say,” George told him.

The following day Axel stopped George again. He told George that it was urgent, but George said he was not interested.

“But Jon wants you to send him a ticket to come home.”

“Come home?” George said in a startled voice.

“Yes, the new friends do not want him there anymore because he can not pay anything. He says he will be on the street if you do not help.” George just shook his head.

“What shall I tell him?” Axel asked urgently.

“Oh,” George thought a moment.  “Tell him ‘Good Luck’.”

Previously, in order: I LOVE YOU (No, You Don’t)
A SOUTH AMERICAN LOVE, A Romantic Player
A SOUTH AMERICAN PROPOSAL, The Deal
THE PROMISE OF LOVE, The Reality

THE PROMISE OF LOVE – Rich Paschall

The Reality, by Rich Paschall

When George made his visit to South America to meet the handsome young man,  Jon noticed their large age difference. He decided it did not matter if George would help him.  After all, this could be a way out of his situation in the poor suburb of the large South American city. So late each night he would steal the WiFi signal from a neighbor in the apartment next door and talk with George. This way he kept him close to his heart.

South American city

Jon was tired of being poor. He was sad he could not buy nice clothes and jewelry.  He was unhappy with his dismal living conditions. He was heartbroken he could not help his mother with her expenses.  He just wanted to get out.

Since his time in an acrobatic troupe did not result in much money, Jon took one job, then another.  Nothing satisfied him as he always worked long hours for little money.  He could not spend much time at the gym.  He could not enjoy the nightlife of the nearby city.

“Help me, George,” Jon pleaded one night.  “I want to keep going to the gym.  I want to have enough food to eat.  Please send me a little money.”  Jon’s stories may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but he was certainly very poor.  He was determined to tell George whatever seemed to convince him to send some money.

“OK, Jon.  I will send you something on payday.  Do not worry.” The periodic investment in the handsome Hispanic man seemed to bind them together, as least George thought so.

Jon also thought they were bound together, not just by a few US Dollars, but also by his constant declarations of friendship and love.

When a few months had passed since George’s impulsive visit, Jon wondered if the time was right to push his plan further along.  One warm night, Jon stood on the roof of his building and looked down on the poor buildings below, with their cheap block constructions, and old metal roofs.  It was a depressing sight.

poor suburb

The bright lights of the city in the distance were a reminder he had not achieved his goal.  He could wait no longer. This was the night for action. He called George.

“We should get married, George,” Jon declared with confidence.

“What?” George said in a surprised voice that shook Jon a little.

“You should come here to marry me and we can live together in America.”  Jon waited for a reply, but there was nothing for a long minute.  Then George said Jon only wanted a way to come to America.  He did not actually want George.

The response upset Jon.  As he lay in bed in his tiny apartment, he decided he must not lose George now, after all the time he invested.  So he spent weeks declaring his love and asking for marriage without success.  George said he had no other boyfriend, so Jon did not understand why they could not be married.

When Jon felt the situation lasted too long he said to George, “You must tell me if we are boyfriends or no.  If you will not marry me, I must find another boyfriend.”

The conversation that followed last a long time, and after Jon insisted over and over he would be a good roommate and stay “as long as God wills,” George finally agreed.

Jon immediately researched what they needed to do to get married.  George gathered the documents Jon requested and sent them by express.  The papers were filed and the waiting game began.  Almost the entire summer went by before Jon got the marriage license.

George came as promised. The wedding was held with only one friend of Jon’s in attendance to take pictures, and a translator for George to know what was happening.  When the ceremony was done, George, Jon and his friend Vanessa all went into the city to celebrate.  After just two married nights together, George was gone.

return to the airport

The long process of getting a visa began.  Jon could not believe the complexity of the procedure or the number of documents he had to send to George.

“I have to get certified translations into English, Jon.  Then I will submit all.  You must be patient.”  It was hard to be patient, but George sent a little money every month and Jon could buy the food he wanted.

When the process had gone from Immigration to the State Department, to the American embassy in Jon’s country, the nervous young man met with his good friend, Vanessa.

Jon told her everything that had transpired and they seemed to be getting near a decision.

“And you will leave here to go to this strange place you have told to me?” Vanessa said.

“Yes, of course,” Jon said.  He could see the disappointment in Vanessa’s eyes.  He could not tell if this was because he might leave his close friend or because he would leave his country for a foreign land.

“Are you crazy?  You are with him only a few days and for that, you would leave us?” she asked.

“But we are working on this for a year now.  It will be my chance for a better life,” Jon said, but Vanessa replied with a look of doubt. After a short silence, she asked the important question.

“Do you think you will stay with this gringo once you get to America and meet other people?”

Jon’s eyes narrowed as he gave the matter serious thought.  He placed his right hand over his mouth and rubbed the left side of his face with his fingertips.  After almost a minute, he removed the hand from his face, smiled a little, and said, “No.  Of course not.”

Then Vanessa laughed, but only a little.

Next week: The conclusion.
Previously, in order:
I LOVE YOU (No, You Don’t)
A SOUTH AMERICAN LOVE, A Romantic Player
A SOUTH AMERICAN PROPOSAL, The Deal

A SOUTH AMERICAN PROPOSAL

The Deal, by Rich Paschall 

After meeting the younger Jon on a language learning website, and seeing him for just four days in person in South America, George was surprised that Jon acted as if they were boyfriends.  In fact, Jon asked George several times if he had a boyfriend in America.

“No,” George always said and Jon would smile.

“You should have no other boyfriend,” Jon would say.  “We are boyfriends.”

This was astounding to George.  Jon lived in South America and George, now in his 50’s, lived in a Midwestern USA city.  George was all of 30 years older and felt they could not have much in common.  But Jon kept reminding  George of his visit the previous December and what great fun they had.  This should prove their love!

A South American city

Feeling rather awkward about the whole thing, George thought that perhaps he should break off the daily chat.  He could not imagine where this relationship would go and the boyfriend talk just seemed wrong somehow.  Jon started to add that he loved George and they should be together. Then one day Jon pushed the matter a bit further.

“We should get married, George,” Jon declared.

“What?” a stunned George said.

“You should come here to marry me and we can live together in America.”

After George collected himself, he thought about what he should say.  The response was not immediately in his brain.

“You are just saying this because you want to come to America.  You do not want to marry me,” George told Jon.

“No that is not true,” Jon protested.  “I will be with you as long as God wills.”

So, the conversation continued in a similar manner for a few weeks.  Jon would ask for marriage, and George would say “no.”

As time went on Jon seemed to be winning George over to his side, so he demanded an answer one more time.  “You must tell me if we are boyfriends or no.  If you will not marry me, I must find another boyfriend.”

On the one hand, George could not imagine this was a great idea; on the other, he suddenly felt he did not want to lose Jon.  They did indeed have a good time together and maybe they would make good roommates.  Perhaps Jon really would stay “as long as God wills.”  So they reached an agreement and the deal was made.

The South American destination

To be married in the South American country, George had to send documents with certified Spanish translations to Jon, so he could go to the notary public, more like a Justice of the Peace there, and request permission to marry the foreigner.  George waited anxiously for months to hear if their application would be accepted.

“You will come immediately when we have permission and make the marriage?” Jon asked.

“No, Jon, I must ask for time off work.  I will come as soon as possible,” George assured Jon.

From April until late summer, George and Jon waited and chatted like nervous kids.  Finally in August Jon sent a message that they would get married on the 15th.

“No,” the startled George replied.  “I can not get there so quickly.”  They decided on September 2 and the arrangements were made.  George would fly to South America again.

On the first day of the trip, George took Jon shopping for clothes and rings for the wedding.  On the next day, they got married and on the third day, they explored the neighborhood around their hotel.  George headed home on the fourth day.

Road to the airport

Upon his return, George and Jon started the long process to get a spouse visa.  They were surprised to learn that after the long and expensive process, there were no guarantees Jon would actually get the visa.

Many documents for Immigration and then for the State Department were required.  After that, documents had to be presented to the embassy in South America.  Speed was not the government’s way.

After the marriage was done and the process for immigration was well underway, George finally decided to tell someone about it. So he called on his friend Arthur to meet him at the local bar and grill.

As George detailed the story, Arthur sat quietly with the most incredulous look on his face.  When George was finally done with his story, Arthur shook his head and said, “Are you crazy?”

“Well, maybe” George replied rather sheepishly.

“Why didn’t you tell me about this before you ran down there and got married, especially since you were waiting for months to get permission?” Arthur asked.

“Because you would have told me then I was crazy and I shouldn’t do it.”

“You’re right, that’s exactly what I would have said.” Arthur blurted out with a tone somewhere between firmness and annoyance.  He kept shaking his head and looking at George as if he had done the dumbest thing in his fifty-something years.

“We discussed the matter at length.  He will help me and be a good roommate.  We have a deal.”

“A deal?” Arthur asked.

“Yeah, isn’t marriage really a deal between two people about friendship and living together?” George asked as if he wasn’t too sure.

Arthur had a doubting look that George understood.  Then he asked George, “Don’t you think this young man is going to leave you once he gets to America and meets other people?”

George’s eyes narrowed as he gave the matter serious thought.  He placed his right hand over his mouth and rubbed the left side of his face with his fingertips.  After almost a minute, he removed the hand from his face, smiled a little, and said, “No.  Of course not.”

Then Arthur laughed, but only a little.

Next week, Jon’s view of the story: THE PROMISE OF LOVE, The Reality
Previously, in order: I LOVE YOU (No, You Don’t)
A SOUTH AMERICAN LOVE, A Romantic Player

A SOUTH AMERICAN LOVE – RICH PASCHALL

A Romantic Player, by Rich Paschall


Let’s face it, Jon was a bit of a player.  In fact, he felt he had to be.  How else was a poor boy to get by in the world?  He had tried to make it in other ways.  Now he had to expand his possibilities in any way he could.  He was looking for a way up and out and the present circumstance did not provide it.

By the time Jon had reached his late teens, he decided he must move out of the small South American town where poverty was the only way of life.  He dreamed of the big city and when he got his chance to join an acrobatic troupe based in one of the largest cities. He was off.  High in the tropical mountains was a city of millions of people and Jon would join the many and hope for a better life.

A move to the city
A move to the city

He could not afford a place in the city, actually, so he took a small apartment in a poor suburb.  He kept the place neat and clean so that he could enjoy his few possessions in pleasant surroundings.  Jon trained and exercised daily for his job.  The troupe performed exhibitions and entered competitions.   Sometimes there was money, but for some competitions, there was nothing.

With his youthful good looks and confidence, Jon signed up with a modeling agency.  There was little placement for fashion models, but with his cute face and athletic body, they were sure they could get Jon into a certain type of modeling and even film career.  Jon was stunned at the suggestion and refused the work.  The agency encouraged him to come back if he ever changed his mind.

Up on the roof
Up on the roof

While standing on the roof of his apartment building and looking down on the rooftops and poor people below, Jon got an idea.  He had to meet new people.  He had a phone and could easily steal WiFi from inside his apartment, so he decided to meet people and make friends from other areas, even other countries.  Since he thought the United States might be a good place, he decided to try to improve his little English and meet Americans.  Jon charmed his way into many lives under the guise of trying to learn the language.  He was really trying to find friends.

When there were some extra pesos in his pocket, Jon went to an area in the city that was frequented by tourists from other parts of the country and as well as “gringos.” Sometimes Jon went alone, sometimes with friends.  They would take a small table or sit at the bar in a popular nightspot.  There the young and handsome men would accept drinks from older men or women tourists.  Sometimes they would get an offer to go back to a hotel for the evening.  Jon liked the free drinks but declined the extra opportunity.  None of the people were right for him.  He did not want a one night stand, no matter what the offer.

Trolling for "friends"
Trolling for “friends”

While “borrowing” his internet connection from a neighbor, Jon started to become good friends with a few people he met online.  One stood out for Jon because he seemed to take a genuine interest in him as a person.  Jon talked with George about everything.  When chatting online Jon would use a program that would translate messages as they came in.  It is true it was not helping Jon learn English, but he did make more friends through faster communication.

George seemed special to Jon.  He told him all about the city where he lived.  He talked about his job and life.  He asked Jon about his life, his job, and his interests.  No one else wanted to know anything about Jon like George did.   Soon Jon wanted to use something other than the language site to communicate.

“Can we use Skype or Messenger or something else?”  And they did.  They followed each other on Facebook and called on Messenger.

“Send me the camera, George.”

“What do you mean?’

“I want to see you.  I want to see where you live.”

So they made virtual visits until one-day things changed.  Opportunity for Jon was at hand.  George had a vacation to use and nowhere to go.

“Come to me, George.  I want to see you.  Please.  I like you so much.  Please.”

After a few days of pleading, George was hooked and scheduled a visit to a continent he never dreamed of traveling to.

When George arrived as promised, Jon did not seem to notice, or at least not to care, that George was much older.  They went around town like tourists and had a good time seeing the sites by themselves one night, and with some of Jon’s friends the next.  They were both pleased with the country, the city, and with themselves.

Seeing the nightlife
Seeing the nightlife

Jon took advantage of the situation by offering to cook their meals rather than go to expensive restaurants.  Of course, they had to go to the markets where Jon made sure to get extra dry goods and fresh meats to last past George’s visit.  It was OK with George, even though he paid for it all.  He recognized what Jon was doing, but buying extra food for Jon was certainly cheaper than eating out every meal.  It was a win-win according to George.

When the brief visit was over, and George was at the airport, Jon cornered him down a hallway and told him that he loved him and thanked him for coming.  Then Jon looked around to be sure no one was watching before kissing him.  George was more than a bit surprised.

The next day Jon met with a favorite girlfriend, Vanessa.  She asked Jon about the visit of the stranger from America.

“He is very nice,” Jon told her.  “I think I will marry him.”

Vanessa looked at him as if she did not understand at first.  Finally, she spoke.

“What?”

Related: For George’s side of the story, see “I LOVE YOU (No, You Don’t)
Next up: A SOUTH AMERICAN PROPOSAL

I LOVE YOU – RICH PASCHALL

No, You Don’t, by Rich Paschall


In his early adult life, George was a rather active young man.  He kept a moderate social schedule.  He met with friends, did a little volunteer work, and even joined a bowling team for a few years.  As the years wore on, George became less active, saw less of his friends, and was mostly invisible to the neighborhood.

As he passed fifty years of age, he kept to himself and seldom visited friends and family.  There was little family left actually, and the cousins seemed to have forgotten about old George.  This is not to say that George was totally inactive, for that was not the case at all.  He did a lot of maintenance on the old house.  He spent plenty of time doing gardening in the spring and summer.  He even tried to learn a new language online.

He signed up for a language site that had a social component.  On the site, you could help someone learn your language and someone else could help you learn theirs.  The site gave learners the opportunity to ask others for a chat in the language they were learning.  Since this was all anonymous, you could decline to chat.

George was not bold enough to ask anyone to chat with him live, but others contacted him when they saw an English speaker on-line and he would always accept.  Some visitors came and went quickly but a few became friends as George explained life in his city and heard about theirs.  It was all very exciting for the older, single gentleman to be talking with young people around the world.  George had a friend in France, Egypt, Russia, and Brazil.  He also had a friend in another South American country who liked George a lot.

In South America
In South America

Soon George and Jonathon were friends on Facebook and talking on Messenger and Skype.  They chatted about their countries, cities, jobs.  After a while, they were talking every day, even if only briefly.  Both loved the attention they were getting from the other.

When they were nearing the end of a year of friendship in December, George was surprised to learn he could not roll over his remaining four vacation days to the following year.  Jon, of course, felt that George should come to South America and spend some time with him.  Jon was not originally from the big city where he lived, so he had few friends and no family there.  He was excited at the thought that George would visit.

Aside from never having met Jon in person, George felt that the 30 year age difference would mean they would soon be bored with one another.  Besides, George never had a desire to go to South America or just about any place else any longer.  But Jon was persistent and George decided to be adventurous.

True to his word, Jon was waiting at the airport.  He greeted George like a long-lost friend.  He spent every minute with him for four days.  They traveled around the city like tourists.  They spent an evening in the street watching an important soccer match and celebrating with the locals.  They spent another evening at something that was like a Christmas market.  There they had local beer and too much guava liquor, frequently ordered by one of Jon’s friends.

An impulsive visit to South America
An impulsive visit to South America

The weather was perfect the entire time. Jon was nicer than George could ever imagine.  He was a good cook an excellent host.  The last-minute vacation was one of the best ever.

Upon his return home, Jon called or wrote every day.  George thought that when they met in person Jon would see that he was a lot older and the friendship would die down, but in truth, the opposite happened.  Jon’s enthusiasm for the impulsive visit did not wane.

Not knowing what to make of this friendship, George called on Arthur, an old friend, to discuss the matter.  They met at a local inn and George proceeded to explain the whole story.  He told how they met, how the friendship developed over the year, and that he impulsively went to visit.  George had never mentioned Jon to anyone before.  Now he was telling the entire history.

“By the way,” George said, “he does not want me to mention that we met on the internet because people might get the wrong idea.”

“What idea is that?” Arthur asked.

“I don’t know,” George exclaimed.

“So what’s the problem?” Arthur wanted to know after listening to over 45 minutes about some South American guy he had never met or seen.

“He calls every day or leaves a message to say he loves me and misses me!”

“So?”

“He wants to come here and be with me.  He says he will be my prince.”

“Oh,” Arthur responded as if the light bulb just went on.

George went on to detail his responses.  “I explained I was not rich and he would have to get a job.  Despite my efforts, his English still sucks and he would have to improve.  The weather here is very different from his homeland, and he knows no one else here”

“What does he say to all these points,” Arthur inquired.

“I love you!  What kind of response is that?  Besides, I am too old for him, but he just says we will be together as long as God wills.”  George took a deep breath and continued

“So, I told him he just says that because he wants to come to America.  Since I like him very much I offered that he could come and stay and I would introduce him around and take him to places where he can meet other young people.”

“And?” Arthur prompted.

“And he said he does not want to meet others, he just wants to be with me.  I don’t know what’s wrong with the young man.”

“There is one distinct possibility,” Arthur said with a knowing tone to his comment.

“What?”

“He really loves you,” Arthur said simply.

George looked at him as if he did not understand the words Arthur just said.  After a long pause, George finally spoke.

“What?”

Next week: Jon’s side of the story.

ONCE UPON A TIME – Marilyn Armstrong

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Isn’t this how all fairy tales begin?

Once upon a time in a faraway land, there lived …

  • A gnome.
  • A princess.
  • A prince.
  • A piglet.
  • A guy with a secret.
  • An orphan child with a unicorn.
  • A king or a queen.
  • A shepherd.
  • A knight with a broken sword.
  • A hobbit.
  • A wizard.
  • An ordinary woman living an ordinary life doing perfectly ordinary things.

They all shared a common thing, that life gave them a path to follow. That path led to adventure. And something special.

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They took the path shown them. What they found along the way made some of them rich. Others found great happiness, with or without love (or wealth). Others found a destiny more strange than they imagined, occasionally with the power to let them accomplish great things. Regardless, for each, the traveling and excitement eventually ended.

After which, the high and mighty — as well as the smallest and least important — lived happily ever after. Except for …

THE CAT CAME BACK – Marilyn Armstrong

My bowl of chicken soup was sitting on the kitchen table. It had been quite a while since I nuked it and it was probably barely tepid at this point.


Probably I should nuke it again, though if it had ever contained anything other than artificial flavoring and salt, nuking it would surely finish it off.

Nonetheless, I was disinclined to touch my soup. In fact, I didn’t want to go anywhere near it. I was standing just a little bit left of the bowl. I was still wrapped in a damp beach towel while my sandy, soggy bathing suit lay in a wet lump on the bathroom floor. I promised myself I’d go wash it out any minute.

Except for the cat. The toothy cat’s grin was hanging in the air.

The Cheshire Cat was back. His grin was hanging in the air in my kitchen. Any minute now his body would show up too.

He wanted my soup.

LATE LUNCH

The Old Ball Team, by Rich Paschall


When they started the monthly get-together it was almost 15 years earlier.  There were a dozen of them then, and two of the “boys” had already retired.  They had all known each other since childhood and were within a few years of one another in age.  They went to the same park as kids and most played on the same teams.

They had decided years ago to meet once a month for dinner, so they could be sure to see one another regularly.  Over the years dinner changed to lunch, as some of them did not want to drive or be out after dark.  The sessions remained as lively as ever.  It seemed none lost their boyhood personalities.

With the passage of time, the group had dwindled in size.  While the first ten years saw no loss of participation, recent years were not kind to the group.  Three had passed away and another three were no longer well enough to attend.  One just seemed to disappear.  No one could ever say what happened to Roger, although a few tried hard to find out.

nationals in DC baseball

The meeting was now on the first Tuesday of the month at 1 o’clock.  Most of the lunch crowd was gone from the Open Flame Restaurant by then and the old guys could sit around and reminisce for as long as they wanted.  Today they wanted to hang on just a little longer.

Raymond had arrived right on time which was his way all through life.  Like the others, Ray was retired now.  Unlike the others, he carried a secret with him he would not tell, even to his best friends.

Bob came with Ray.  He was no longer able to drive and in fact, needed a good deal of help to get in and out of Ray’s car.  Ray always allowed enough time for Bob, so that they could walk slowly together and get in and out of the house, the car, and the restaurant safely.   To Ray, Bob was like a rock, the anchor of the team.  Now Ray was Bob’s rock of support.  There was a certain irony in that, and Bob would never know it.

Frank still worked a little.  It is not really that he wanted to do it, but he could not shake free of some business obligations he had over the years.  He did not need the money and tried to steer any business to someone else.  If you asked, Frank would tell you he was retired.

Bill was always late.  Everyone would have been surprised if he had been on time.  He maintained an active life and was always finding more to do than he had time.  This seemed to keep Bill healthy and robust.  Perhaps he was the only one of the remaining members in such good shape.

Without any doubt at all, Jerry was the talkative one of the bunch.  If others wanted to tell a story or share some news, they had better do it before Jerry showed up.  He was likely to dominate the conversation from the time he arrived until the time the check came.  It was guaranteed that Jerry would tell his favorites stories, although all of these guys knew them just as well as Jerry.  In fact, one or more of them probably participated in whatever episode he was recalling.

At every meeting, Jerry was sure to get around to the championship baseball game.  “What were we Bob, 12 or 13?  What a summer that was!  I remember when Bob dove for that ball in the last inning.  If that got through the infield we were screwed.  Raymond was so damn slow out there in left field.”  They all would laugh, even Ray.

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Usually, the boys would be planning to leave around two, but they told stories and laughed their way past 2:30 in the afternoon.  Finally, Ray called for the check.  Over the objections of the others, Ray paid the bill. They had always split the check evenly.  No one ever paid for everyone, but Ray was a diplomat and a businessman and knew how to get his way.  The matter was settled.

They all made it out into the warm spring day together and stood on the sidewalk for a moment.  Raymond gave them all a long hard look but said nothing.  He knew Bob could not come out any longer.  Bob’s wife had strongly objected to Raymond continuing to take him to lunch.  This would be the last time, for sure.  Raymond was dying of cancer but kept it to himself.  He looked well enough, so the others just did not know.

As the two walked to Raymond’s car nearby, the others said goodbye to Frank.  It seems that Frank’s wife had been insisting that they move to Michigan to be nearer to the kids and grandkids.  Since Frank was the practical one of the group, he also realized it was better to have a safety net of younger people nearby if the need should ever arise.  These old guys may have promised to always be there for one another, but that now came with the heavy reality that it just could not be so.

As Frank wandered off in the other direction, Bill and Jerry stood looking at one another and big, knowing smiles came across their faces.  Nothing more had to be said.  It was all right there before them. Words, tears, hugs would have been out of character.

Finally, Jerry left Bill with the same words he issued for years, “I’ll see you at the next game.  I’ve got the ball and gloves, you bring the bats.”

“OK, Captain,” Bill said and walked away.

BRAIN SNOBS – Marilyn Armstrong

It isn’t just culture that divides us into classes. What we watch on television, see in the movies, and read also puts us into a category, often unfairly by people who don’t “get” why we like what we like.

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I read a post about how dreadful — yet gripping — romance novels can be. The not-so-subtle insinuation is that anyone who reads them is probably not too bright. While it’s true that romance novels are the potato chips of the literary world (bet you can’t eat just one) that’s not the point.

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As a former editor of the Doubleday Romance Library, I assure you that research showed readers of romance novels are better educated than most readers.

They read romance novels because they are pulp. Those readers aren’t looking to be informed or improved, to have their world expanded, reading-level or awareness raised. They want a book they can pick up, read, put down, and forget. If life gets in the way, they can just never finish the story — without regret.

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I read each 3-book volume, every month. Three romances: 2 modern manuscripts with a Gothic novel sandwiched in between. Every novel had the same plot, the same outcome. They sold gangbusters.

Regardless of what we, as writers, would prefer people to read, many people (including me!) don’t necessarily want to read “good” books. I void “good” books. I don’t want to go where that book would take me. I’m not stupid or lacking in culture. I just don’t want to read it. Don’t enjoy the subject matter. Don’t need to be further depressed by the ugly realities of life or history.

Good books can be too intense, too serious, or for too educational for this moment in time. Too close to reality. I read to be entertained. I’m not seeking enlightenment through literature. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I am no longer seeking enlightenment through literature. If I ain’t enlightened by now, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in this lifetime.

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The wondrous thing about the world of books is there are so many. Enough genres, themes, and styles for everyone. An infinity of literature. No matter what your taste — low-brow, high-brow, middle-brow, no-brow — there are thousands of books waiting for you. That’s good. I’d rather see someone reading a bad book than no book.

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I’m not a culture snob. I think reading crappy novels is fine if you like them. Watching bad TV is fine too.

Snobs suck the fun out of reading. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, if you are, that’s okay with me. I love reading about vampires and witches. I’d be more than a hypocrite to act as if your taste is inferior to mine.

old favorite books

These days, I’m rarely in the mood for anything serious — except maybe a conversation. Tastes change over time. Life has been a very serious business for too many years. When I read, watch TV, or see a movie, I want to escape, Reality will still be there when I get back.

Finally, my favorite professor at the university I attended — a man I believe was profound and wise — was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. He said there was much truth in those books. I believe for him, there was.

THE SURPRISING CHRISTMAS – Rich Paschall

A family plus one holiday tale

by Richard Paschall

72-Christmas Eve_013Kyle was coming home for Christmas. He was bringing with him his college roommate. The boys met during freshman year and became fast friends. Somehow they maneuvered the dorm manager into assigning them to be roommates for sophomore year. There was no one on earth Kyle would rather spend time with than Michael.

So, he was glad Michael agreed to come to dinner on Christmas Eve. This was in exchange for Kyle agreeing to go to Michael’s parents’ house on Christmas day for dinner. Michael was going to make a big announcement to his parents and of course Kyle had to be there.

Kyle’s father had slipped into a den on the east side of the house. All of the family noise was a bit more than his reserved nature could take. Kyle’s sister, Mary, who was 8 years younger than Kyle, was louder than usual, and no matter how many times grandma told Mary to “quiet down,” things didn’t get quieter.

The threat of Christmas carols by Mary and Uncle Roy was enough to drive dad into the den. There, he immediately made haste to the bar where a glass of sherry seemed to be in order. Dad only drank a sherry on special occasions and this certainly was one of them.

It was dark now and the neighbors across the street had turned on their Christmas lights. Almost everyone on the block had a nice display so the street was well-lit. Kyle’s dad was drawn to the window to see the lights, look at the gentle snow flurries and enjoy a moment of peace.

As he stood there sipping his sherry and waiting for Kyle to appear, he finally spotted his only son walking quickly down the street with another young man right behind. As they got to the walkway that led up to the house they stopped to exchange a few words. Then a sight took dad’s wondering eyes totally by surprise. Kyle kissed the other boy. It was not a short kiss, but long and passionate which they both seemed to enjoy.

Soon Kyle rang the doorbell just to announce their arrival before he put his key in the lock and opened the door. Off the entranceway on the left was a door to the den. Kyle’s father was standing in the doorway just staring at the two. Kyle’s mom came through a big archway on the right that led to the living room. Mary was close behind and eager to see her brother and his friend. Uncle Roy and grandma did not vacate their seats. They knew the rest would join them soon.

First Kyle walked over to his father and said, “Dad this is my room-mate, Michael.” The roommate held out his hand and the father shook it. “I am pleased to meet you, sir. Kyle says such wonderful things about the family.”

Kyle’s dad just sort of nodded at that, while studying this stranger in his home. The silence was out of character for the head of the household and a bit of a surprise to everyone except Michael, and that is only because Michael did not know him.

Then Kyle introduced Michael to his mother and his “little brat sister” Mary. Michael held out his hand to each in turn but the little brat held out her hand instead as if he was supposed to take it and kiss it, so he did and she squealed and ran from the room. At that Kyle’s mom offered to introduce Michael to the others. Kyle’s father then announced to all, “We will join you in a moment.”

With a more serious tone, father said, “Kyle, would you step in here for a moment, please?” This was not a question but rather a command of the type Kyle knew was not good. As the father retreated into the room Kyle followed. Before turning around dad said, “Close the door.”

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Kyle only took a few short steps before his father turned around. He looked at him as if he had never seen him before. It was the strangest look Kyle had ever seen from his father. “Kyle, is there something you should be telling me?” the “official business” dad said in an odd businesslike tone. Kyle figured it was some sort of trick question but knew he should answer it anyway.

“No, dad. I don’t think so.” This clearly was the wrong answer. His dad did not say a thing but his body language spoke volumes and Kyle became as nervous as a first-grader who has been caught stealing Oreos from the kitchen. Now the master of the den, the commander of the car keys and the payer of his tuition walked slowly to the window, looked around the outside and turned to Kyle.

“You know, son, that there is a great view of the neighborhood from this window. You can see all of the beautiful Christmas displays across the street. You can see a nice Christmas snow flurry. You can see everyone walking down the sidewalk and turning up the walkway toward the house.” At that Kyle’s father fixed his sights squarely on Kyle and said, “So now is there anything you should tell me?”

Kyle stood motionless as his dad threw a stare at him that went right through and hit the door behind. It took Kyle almost an entire minute before he realized what his father had seen from the window of the den. All the while, that whole long minute of time, Kyle’s father stood there waiting.

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Kyle wanted to begin “I’m sorry dad…,” but nothing came out of his mouth. He was so nervous and so afraid of his father’s reaction that he could say nothing. It is not that he wanted to be silent, he just couldn’t speak. Fear of saying the wrong thing paralyzed his tongue for the moment. Finally, Kyle’s father just nodded that same nod he gave Michael when he was introduced, walked around Kyle, opened the door and walked across the foyer to the living room.

Kyle was knocked off his spot when his mother’s voice came floating into the room. “Kyle, don’t be rude. Come join your guest.” Kyle shuffled across the hall and searched around the room for Michael. He did not look at anyone else as his eyes avoided everyone but Michael. At that moment, with a room full of family, he had no way of telling his mate that he needed a hug and he thought he might need to cry. After a little small talk by grandma and Uncle Roy, Kyle’s mom asked them all to go to the dining room. Christmas Eve dinner was ready.

“Michael, you sit right there next to Kyle and Kyle will sit next to me. I have this end of the table and Kyle’s father will carve things up at that end of the table. Uncle Roy will be there next to you and grandma and Mary will be on the other side.” At that, the little brat sister ran around the table and dropped herself on the chair opposite Kyle. She looked at him with a smirk as if she knew his little secret and was going to blurt it out if he did not stop calling her a brat.

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Everyone sat in silence until Kyle’s mother looked down the length of the table and said to her husband. “Sweetheart, will you say grace for us?” There was a long, awkward pause before he said, “No. Tonight Kyle will lead the prayer.”

At that instant, Kyle prayed that something, anything that made sense would come out of his mouth. All eyes were on him as he began, “Bless us, oh Lord…” The words that fell out of Kyle’s mouth were for blessing and thanksgiving, but in his heart, he was praying for acceptance.

That became the only gift he truly wanted for Christmas this year.