At The Top of the Hill

Getting older is a process. We all experience it every day of our lives. We either get older or we stop aging. 

I turned 50 last week. It was just like any other day, any other birthday. But it wasn’t. It was a big deal. In sports the number 50 is a big deal. You hit that many home runs or throw that many touchdown passes or score that many points in a basketball game or score that many goals in a season and you have had a monster year. It is celebrated and often rewarded. In sales, 50 is a big deal. You reach 50 in a given time period and you’ve done well for yourself.

When I turned 50 there were a lot of jokes made about being old or over the hill. A couple of ‘Hey, you qualify for AARP now,’ comments were made. It was in good fun, but it is also telling of how we see that number in relation to age. I joked with someone when they said I was over the hill that “I’m not over the hill. I just reached the top of it and now I’m holding on to the tree up there to keep from tumbling down it.”

Go ahead. Picture that. I’ll wait.

Are you done laughing?

Here’s the thing about 50 as an age: it should be celebrated (and mine certainly was), but not for ‘getting old,’ but for the possibilities that are ahead of you when you turn that age. If you make it to 50, then you have lived and experienced things. You have, hopefully, become wiser and smarter and learned from your mistakes. You’ve also had the opportunity to earn a living and possibly been successful at a few things. 

Life doesn’t end at 50. It is a chapter—just like the other 49 you went through—and it should be experienced with the same wonder and excitement as ages 7, 13, 16 and 21. Don’t buy into the belief that you are over the hill. Buy into something more important: that great things were achieved by people over the age of 50. Here are some examples:

Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing the Little House books at age 65. Harland Sanders (better known as Colonel) had developed his fried chicken recipe and sold his Kentucky Fried Chicken around the country at the age of 65. Grandma Moses started painting at age 77. Jack Cover created the taser after he turned 50. Bram Stoker’s Dracula wasn’t published until after he turned 50, and let’s be honest here: how many people know of him beyond Dracula?

Here I am at that age where folks believe you are over the hill, that you should begin your ride off into the sunset. I’ve climbed the hill and I’ve had a rocky go at it over the years. But I’m not done. And neither should you be. Life doesn’t end at this age. For some, it is just the beginning. 

I’ve tried making my way in the writing world. I’ve garnered a handful of fans along the way. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree. Maybe I’ve not found my stride. Maybe I should focus on doing something different. Whatever I choose to do, it will be done after having lived five decades. I don’t know what will happen, but I know I’ve got a lot of miles left on me, and I’m not holding onto a tree at the top of the hill. I don’t need to, and I think I will enjoy the view up here for a while. 

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to on another.

A.J.

What Is Love? Hmmm …

True love is an amazing thing. 

My wife is an amazing woman. I can go on for hours and days about how amazing she is. I, honestly, do not deserve a woman like her. We’ve been together 25 years and she constantly shows me what true love is. 

I can’t say that I have always shown her the same. However, I can go back to one time in particular where I showed my wife how much I loved her … and then some.

We were still young newlyweds with no kids at the time. It was a Sunday morning and we were getting ready for church. She came out of the bedroom with a frustrated look on her face. If you don’t know what that is, don’t clean up after yourself for a day or two and you will see it from your significant other. 

“Can you do me a favor?” she asked.

“What kind of favor?” I’ve learned when someone ask you to do them a favor, you should always find out what it is before committing. Some favors are loaded dynamite waiting to explode.

“I’m out of tampons,” she said without smiling. “Can you run to the store and get them for me?”

I’m sure I stared at her for a few seconds in disbelief. She wanted me to go to a store by myself to purchase feminine hygiene products. “Ummm …”

“Please?”

First of all, she should not have had to say please. I had already failed. 

I nodded and said, “Okay, but what am I getting?”

Even though we had only been married a short time, she already knew the most important thing she could do was write exactly what she wanted down. A minute later she handed me a piece of paper with the names of the products she needed. I took the paper, read it and looked back at her. 

She smiled big and gave me a cute, “I love you.” It was one of those ‘I’ll love you forever if you do this for me’ I love yous.

“I love you, too,” I said and left the house. 


Back then, when the dinosaurs were merely dead and not quite fossils, there was still a drugstore chain named Eckard’s, and there just happen to be one five minutes from the house.

I drove to Eckard’s, got out of the car and went inside. I strolled around, not really searching for the aisle I needed, putting off the inevitable for as long as possible. Eventually, I found the feminine hygiene aisle and stared blankly at all of the products. I stood there wondering ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ There were so many different packages with their pinks and purples and blues and greens, and most of them had similar names. 

I pulled out the piece of paper, which had been crumpled and shoved into my front pocket. I read the first of the two items and began The Search For That Which Terrifies Me. This was an easy find. It wasn’t quite eye level but close enough to where i didn’t have to bend over or squat to find it. The second one took a little longer to find. I looked at the paper, then at the shelves, then back to the paper. I did this several times. I even picked up what I thought was the right pack, but it didn’t feel right. I looked at her list again. There was one word that was different, so I put it back and the search continued. 

“A-ha,” I all but yelled when I found the right package with the exact wording as her note. I cringed—physically, to the point of my shoulders scrunching up and me ducking slightly, then looking around as if I had committed a crime and someone had seen it. I picked the package up and looked at it as if it was a newborn child. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I did have somewhat of a triumphant, ‘ha, I found you,’ feeling going on. It’s almost like I killed the wabbit, and in the next scene I would be wondering what have I done?

I thought that would be the difficult part. I was wrong.

This was a drug store and it was Sunday morning. There shouldn’t have been as many people in it as there were. More importantly, there shouldn’t have been as many attractive women in there as there were. Yeah, yeah, I know, why did I notice the attractive women and blah, blah, blah … It’s definitely not what you think, unless you think, ‘hey, he only noticed they were women because, well, they were women and not men, and if they would have been men, then he would have noticed that, too.’ Bottom line: I’m a writer. I notice things. Stick with the story, people!

I left the famine hygiene aisle, head held high, listening to my internal soundtrack playing We Are the Champions. Of course, the lyrics were slightly different:

I am the champion, my friends.

I found the tampons in the end.

I am a champion

Found the pads and tampons

‘Cause I am the champion … for my girl.

Along with the Weird Al-esque singing in my head, I probably had my Bee Gees Staying Alive strut working. My short hair was probably not blowing in a nonexistent breeze, and I didn’t have a beard but a goatee, and I certainly didn’t wear bell bottoms. But I still thought I was The Fonz when I walked into a room. If you don’t know the reference, Google is your friend. I was young and dumb and didn’t think people noticed. I’m probably right. 

As I approached the checkout counter I noticed the pretty young lady behind the counter, and the two pretty young ladies waiting to be checked out. I get in line holding a box of tampons in one hand and a pack of pads in the other. Two more young ladies get in line behind me. See what I mean about too many people in a small drug store on a Sunday morning?

So, here are these five attractive women … and me. The one lady directly behind me glanced at the feminine gifts for my wife and smiled. I don’t know if that was a ‘that is awesome of you,’ smile or a ‘you won’t be getting any anytime soon,’ smile. It was probably a little bit of both. I will be honest and say I was a little uncomfortable. 

The first lady in line checked out, and we all moved up a couple of steps. The young lady behind the counter glanced at me and gave me the same smile the one behind me did, but I could see the smile was in her eyes, too. It was as if everyone was in on the joke, except for me. 

The second lady paid for her items and walked off. I stepped up, placed my two products on the counter. By then I felt naked and alone and as if I were being laughed at behind my back. The lady behind the counter picked up the tampons and looked at them, then at me. She didn’t smile when she asked, “Are these for you?”

I venture to say a lot of folks would have frozen with that question. Is she serious? is she sarcastic? Not me. I’m usually pretty quick witted.

Without smiling and in my best stoner’s shakiest voice I said, “I have a really bad bleeding problem.”

Her mouth dropped open and her cheeks flushed red, and that is how I showed my wife what true love is. 

Y’all, have a good day, stay safe and until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

Imagine She Was …

Some mornings I go to the post office for my job. Today was one such morning. I arrived there a little after eight and Mrs. Cathy stood at the call door, plastic sheet covering the entrance. Mrs. Cathy is probably in her mid-fifties, sweet and helpful. Whenever I go to the post office, we talk for about a minute, sometimes two. Standing on the outside of the call door were two men. One was an older gentleman, maybe mid-seventies or early eighties. He’s bald and thin and always wears tan or blue or gray slacks and a button-down shirt. He’s got a strong voice, great smile and he reminds me a lot of my grandfather. The other man was maybe forty, wearing a blue mask over his mouth and nose. I’ve seen him there a few times. We don’t really talk but we do exchange a ‘Good morning,’ and a ‘Have a nice day.’ It’s small talk, but we both acknowledge the other, respectfully. 

The old man was giving Mrs. Cathy a hard time and laughing about it in his grandfatherly way. 

“Are you harassing Mrs. Cathy again?” I asked.

“It’s the only reason I come here,” he said with that same warm smile on his face. 

The four of us standing there gave a good laugh, even the gentleman I speak to in passing. 

I got my mail and said, “I hope y’all have a great day.”

They returned the sentiment, then the older gentleman says to me, “You be safe out there.”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “Y’all do the same.”

Given the current climate of the world, especially here in the United States, those words are spoken with real meaning. In case you missed it, there has been a dangerous virus making the rounds, leadership issues, joblessness has skyrocketed, the economy has plummeted, police brutality and racism have been hot button topics. Peaceful protests have turned into riots and we’re seeing all sorts of bad things happening, mostly because, to be honest, something that should no longer be, still is, and people are fed up—rightfully so. (Do I agree with the riots and looting? No. Do I agree with the protests and the reasons for it? Yes. Do I think this country’s justice system needs a complete overhaul from top to bottom? Yes. Do I believe the leadership in this country is lacking? Yes. Do I believe we can do something about this? Yes, absolutely.)

In 1996, the movie A Time to Kill came out. It had a great cast, including Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey, Ashley Judd, Kevin Spacey, Sandra Bullock, Donald and Kiefer Sutherland and Charles Dutton, to name a few. It’s based on the novel of the same name by John Grisham. I will admit I have never read the book. I’ve seen the movie multiple times and I’m sure the book might be better. I will probably never know because the movie was so good I would hate to be disappointed that the book was, indeed, better. 

The premise of the book is simple: A young black girl is kidnapped by two white men, who rape, beat and try to hang her (unsuccessfully), then toss her body into a river, leaving her to die. They are arrested and the girl’s father kills them in revenge. The girl’s father is arrested and most of the movie from that point on is about the legal system and the girl’s father’s trial. 

The movie is intense at some parts, disheartening at others and shocking in the end. It is one of the best films I have ever seen. It also has what is, in my opinion, the greatest closing argument to any legal show or movie. Matthew McConaughey, who portrayed the young, white attorney who agreed to defend the distraught, black father, gives a moving speech.

Before he gives his closing argument he asks:

“What is it in us that seeks the truth? Is it our minds? Or is it our hearts?”

Those are some powerful questions. He goes on to state:

“I set out to prove a black man could receive a fair trial in the south. That we are all equal in the eyes of the law. That’s not the truth. Because the eyes of the law are human eyes. Yours and mine and until we can see each other as equals, justice is never going to be even handed. It will remain nothing more than a reflection of our own prejudices. So, until that day we have a duty, under God, to seek the truth, not with our eyes, not with our minds, where fear and hate turn commonality into prejudice, but with our hearts …”

Holy wow. 

He then goes on to ask the jury and anyone in the courtroom to close their eyes. He tells of the brutal rape, beating, hanging and dumping of the little girl’s body. He tells of how they destroyed her womb, then tried to kill her. At one point, McConaughey’s character struggles to hold it together. 

After relaying a story that the people of the town and the all white jury, already knew, he says, quite simply, with most folks’ eyes still closed, “now imagine she’s white.”

It’s the mic drop to end all mic drops. It’s also the very truth of what is going on in the world today, with racism, with the anger felt because of years of systematic discrimination and abuse inflicted by one color of people onto another. 

Skin color is just that: color. It’s not what should set us apart. Everyone has dreams, hopes and ambitions. Everyone is a son or a daughter. Many people are brothers or sisters, moms or dads, Everyone has feelings. Everyone bleeds red.  

Until humanity sees all people as equals there will be no peace, there will be no real justice.

At the beginning, I mentioned three folks at the post office. All three of them are tremendously nice and friendly. The old man reminds me of my grandfather. Remember that? All three are black. Does that change how you viewed those three people and the interaction?

I’m going to end here with this: we all know the stories of white people doing crappy things to black people. We’ve seen the videos on social media and in the news. Some of us have witnessed some of these things first hand. Now, I ask you: “Imagine they were white.” How would you feel? How would you feel if this happened to you on an every day basis? How would you feel if someone called the police on you because of the color of your skin? How would you feel if you had to live with this on an everyday basis? Would your opinion change about black lives matter if the shoe were on the other foot? 

Imagine they were white. Now make a change.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J. 

When I Was A Kid 1.0

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a great athlete, a baseball player or basketball player, maybe a famous quarterback for an NFL team. Though I knew I would never be any of those, I still had dreams.

One day I had an idea. I placed two cinder blocks (one of them big and thick, the other thin and long), one on top of another, by the brick wall of the house. The big one went on the bottom and became the base for which the thin one sat on in a somewhat leaning manner. This was my ‘strike zone.’ The upper block was what I considered between the knees and chest—the strike zone of the major leagues when I was a kid.

Back then there was a store on State Street in Triangle Plaza called Dodds. It was a dime store (though, trust me, everything was NOT a DIME). They had great things for kids, like a bag of marbles for a buck and slingshots—yeah, you could purchase a slingshot at what amounts to a Dollar General by today’s standards. They also had red rubber balls that were about the size of a baseball. 

My brother and I spent our summers at my grandparents’ house on the Mill Hill near the river. Occasionally, my grandmother would give us a quarter or two and we would go down to Brown’s Grocery (no relation, folks, but if you’ve read any of my work, then you probably recognize the name—I like to pay homage to the mill hill every chance I get) or to the Gamecock Theater (after saving up three quarters, man those flicks were expensive), or to Dodds. Whenever we went to Dodds I would pick up a couple of red rubber balls for less than a quarter. I had to buy two at a time, not because they came in packs of two, but because, after a while of smashing the ball against a wall or the block ‘strike zone,’ the rubber would crack and the ball would split in half. There’s nothing more disappointing than pitching a no-hitter against the Yankees only to have the game end in a rain delay because the ball split in half. 

On days where we stayed home instead of going to my grandparents’ house, I would get one of my dad’s tape measures and mark off sixty feet, six inches from wall to where the pitcher’s mound would be in a baseball game. I would take a thin board and put it at the end of that measurement. This would be my pitcher’s rubber, where my foot would go before each pitch.

I spent hours on end, glove in hand, looking in at invisible batters (usually the hated Yankees or Dodgers), shaking off a nonexistent catcher until I got the pitch I wanted to throw. I had a curve ball, knuckle ball, a not-so-fast fast ball, a two seam fastball, a slider that wasn’t very good, and a straight fastball. Yeah, I had a bunch of so-so pitches. I even had a Dan Quisenberry-esque sidearm pitch that rose on the invisible batters, causing them to flail uselessly at it. 

The way it worked was simple: If the ball hit the upper block, then it was a strike. If it nipped the side of the top block, it was a foul ball. If the ball hit the wall and not the blocks, it was a ball. If the ball hit the bottom block, I would consider that a ball in play and field it. I’d have to glove the ball and make the throw to first (which was nothing more than the same two blocks by the house) before the runner got there. If I bobbled the ball, it was an error. If i didn’t hit the blocks with the throw, it was an error. 

Though I did this for hours and hours, I never became a great pitcher. You see, the imagination is an amazing thing, and though I struck out a lot of nonexistent batters and took my team to a World Series championship (beating the hated Yankees in the process), facing live batters was completely different. 

Now, I will say this, I learned how to throw and throw hard by doing that. I could play a mean third base and ended up playing fifteen or sixteen years of third base in softball. Sadly, I was not a great hitter in either baseball or softball.

My dreams of being a big leaguer ended truly before they got started. I left baseball behind for basketball, a sport I was extremely good at. But for a couple of summers, I was a big league pitcher, and a good one, at least in my imagination. 

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J. 

Our Once Upon A Time (Free Fiction)

Our Once Upon A Time

By A.J. Brown

Once upon a time …

That’s a funny little phrase, but I guess it could be used for everyone, couldn’t it?

Once upon a time she loved me. It was all she knew, all I knew. Our love for one another … But that was so long ago, back when we were young; back during a time where life had already become overwhelming and the only thing that mattered was love.  Real, unadulterated, honest love.  

There used to be wind chimes on the old house in the woods where we escaped to when her Papa was drunk and ornery and in want of a young body to warm himself with. It’s pipe-like bars used to clang together when the breeze blew in off the lake. It made an awful racket, but it was her favorite thing about the shack I still call home. It comforted her while she slept, far away from the worries of her Papa and his ways; far away from the cries of her Mother that could be heard in their house years after her passing.  

Once upon a time, I didn’t know her very well, my little Rose, with her auburn hair and brilliant green eyes. I had seen her in school, her face downcasts and a distant, sad look in her eyes. All I knew is I loved her, from the very first time I saw her walk into Miss Griemold’s class when were in second grade. There was an air about her that lit my heart’s flames and scared me all at once. For weeks and months, I watched her, hoping to get up enough nerve to talk to her. Instead, I kept my distance, far enough so she couldn’t see my heart break each time I saw her.

Once upon a time she cried while sitting on a bench near the playground. Behind her were swings with plastic seats and metal chains, and a metal slide that burned your legs in the summer time if you wore shorts. Her shoulders were slouched, and her hands were in her lap, one of them clutching to a piece of tissue that looked soaked through. 

I approached her, tentatively. I leaned down a little and spoke, “Are you okay, Rose?”

She looked up at me, her eyelids puffy and pink, a bead of snot beneath her nose. She wiped at it with the wet tissue and gave me the best smile she could right then. She nodded but didn’t speak. Deep down inside, I didn’t believe her. I also couldn’t believe myself. I finally managed to talk to her and I couldn’t think of anything better to say other than ‘are you okay’ and it was killing me.  

I turned to leave. That’s when she took my hand and told me to sit with her. My heart skipped several beats and I sat, suddenly feeling like I was in a dream.  

The dream became a nightmare as she told me of her Papa and the things he had done to her. My Rose, my little flower, the center of my universe, had been crushed by one of her own parents. 

I found myself in tears, heart aching and breathless. 

“Don’t go home,” I said, practically begged.

“I have to.”

“No. No, you don’t. If you go home, he’s just going to … to … do those things again.”

“He’ll come looking for me.”

I stared at her. Both of us had tears in her eyes. I think she knew right then that I loved her. 

“Then run away. I’ll go with you.”

“No. No. He’ll kill you.”

“I know a place. It’s a cabin near the lake. We can go there and you’ll never have to see him again.”

people-2562102_1920Once upon a time I hung a wind chime on the eave of the house and Rose smiled—a genuinely happy expression—for the first time since I had seen her walk into class when we were little. It had been less than a month after I spoke to her the first time.  My heart fluttered with excitement and joy.  We both quit school and went to the old shack that my father used to live in before he died.  My mother owned it and said when I was older I could have it.  I was older then, or so I thought, and that shack became our home; Rose’s home.  

Once upon a time a man came to the house. He was big and burly and hair covered his arms and face. His eyes were muddy brown, and he had a thick nose. He was searching for his daughter and had managed to track her to our shack. With shotgun in hand he broke down the door. I tried to stop him by pressing my back to the door, but he got it open, knocking me to the ground as he did. I barely got to my feet before he struck me in the face with the barrel of the shotgun. There was alcohol on his breath and murder in his eyes. He dropped the gun and beat me like the young man I was. At some point during the beating, I passed out. I remember reaching up, trying to grab his leg before darkness took hold and everything was gone.

When I woke, Rose sat on the bed we still had not shared, a damp cloth in her hand, rubbing my battered face. Tears were in her green eyes. I tried to talk but she placed one of her perfect fingers on my lips and she shook her head.

“Rest, my knight,” she said. “He’s gone, and he won’t be back.”

She was right. He was gone, but his shotgun remained and there was only one shell in it. There was a dark stain on the wooden floor of the cabin not too far from where I had fallen and taken the beating her father put on me.

Once upon a time we fell in love, a beautiful flower and her knight. 

Once upon a time seems so long ago.  

Once upon a time I stood next to an old Weeping Willow, thinking about our fairy tale came true. I knelt and kissed the wooden cross I made for her grave. Death came and claimed my Rose after all these years together, plucking her from the garden of life. In my hand I held her favorite wind chime, the one that always comforted her and helped her sleep; the one I hung on the eave of our old house when we moved in. I hung it on a nail I had hammered into one of the limbs of the Weeping Willow.

As I walked away the wind picked up and I heard the hollow racket of the wind chime. A smile crossed my face as I thought, again, of our once upon a time and our happily ever after.

__________

Some stories are sad. Some stories have those moments that make you weep inside. I feel this one has a couple of those moments. But this story wasn’t meant to be sad. It was meant to be happy. The main character in this piece—his name is Robert, though he never mentions it—fell in love when he was in the second grade, at eight or maybe nine years of age. He loved one woman his entire life, and he spent that life with her. That’s a happy thing. That’s a joyous thing. 

The wind chimes at the end, though sad in one respect, is a happy thing for Robert. He hung it in the tree above Rose’s grave, and as he walked away after hanging it, he heard the wind rattle the pipes together. It made him smile. It made him think about how they triumphed, how she had saved his life after he tried to save hers.

This story is another of those prompt based pieces. The prompt was simply: Once upon a time … and go. So, I went and I wrote, and this story is the result.

I hope you enjoyed Our Once Upon A Time. I also hope you will take a minute to like this post, share it to your social media sites and comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

A.J.

 

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A Moment In Life

It’s just a scene in life.

He sits on what they call the top step. It’s really the porch, and like the two steps that lead up to it, it is made of concrete. His feet are on that first step at the bottom. Well, that’s not quite accurate. The right foot is on the step while the left one is planted on the ground beside it where a blueberry bush was once planted but never bloomed. Now it’s just weeds and grass. There are two pillars, one on either side of him, that hold up the roof and ceiling of the covered up section of porch. They, like most of the house, are made of cinder blocks, only these are painted white, while the rest of the house is an odd gray color that was supposed to be blue. 

He wears a pair of ratty black jeans, the left leg with a tear that runs from knee to a couple of inches above the cuff. His shoes are beat up and dirty, having seen better days years ago, but he still wears them when doing odd jobs (or big ones, for that matter) around the house. His shirt is an old white tee with words on the front that are so faded they are no longer legible. If you were to ask him what the shirt said, he will say he honestly can’t remember. Spattered and smeared on his shirt, jeans and arms is white paint. 

He had a hard day. Nothing went according to plan. As he sits there, he realizes the painting of the bathroom had been the easy part of his day, even if his right hand tingled a couple of times—he believes that is from a pinched nerve in his neck. He leans slightly to his right, his head almost on Her shoulder. 

She sits to his right, both her feet firmly placed on the second step—or the middle one if you count the porch landing they both sit on as a step. She is looking at her phone and giggling. Every couple of minutes, she shows him a funny video. Sometimes he laughs. Other times he doesn’t. Her pants are light blue and fit her mostly the way she likes it. She thinks she is overweight. He thinks she is perfect the way she is. There are holes in both knees of her jeans and she wears a pair of sandals that are clearly not flip flops, if you know the difference. He, apparently, does not know the difference. Her shirt is gray and white and not as worn out as his, but it is one of her old shirts so wearing it to do yard work doesn’t bother her. 

Couple SittingHe closes his eyes and knows he can’t keep them that way. If he does, he will fall asleep on her shoulder. Not that she will mind—at least, he hopes she won’t. Yes, he is tired. Yes, the last two days have been difficult and busy, the night before going to almost eleven to finish one necessary project. His body aches and places hurt that he didn’t know could be sore. 

He lifts one paint stained hand and places it on her knee. It’s a movement that takes a lot more effort today than it should. As they sit there, neither one really talking much, he thinks of an old song by John Cougar Mellencamp (just John Cougar when the song came out, though). It is ‘Jack and Diane,’ a little ditty about two American kids growing up in the heart land. He thinks of the last lyric, how Jack and Diane did the best they could. At this moment, as the cool breeze chills their skin and the sun is starting to set off in the distance, he thinks of that song, on those two American kids. And he wonders if Jack ever worked so hard at something, put every ounce of energy into something and still not knew if things were better or worse for his efforts. 

He opens his eyes, lifts his head and stretches his neck. In a minute, he will ask her if she is ready to go inside. She will stand and offer to help him and he will accept. With a little effort, he will stand and they will go inside and the evening will go on like all evenings do for the living. But for right then, he looks at her and knows he is her Jack and she is his Diane, and, yes, they’ve done the best they can.

AJB

3/15/2020

A Toast To A Friend

If you’ve read my novella, Closing the Wound, then you know it is about the real events of the death of a teenage boy on Halloween night in 1995 here in South Carolina. Our friend, Chris, loved Halloween. It was his favorite day of the year. 

So, in honor of our friend, on Halloween, Cate and I will go visit his grave. We will take candy bars with us and we will toast his life and his love for Halloween, then we will eat the candy. It’s our way of paying tribute to a young man who died far too soon. It’s our way of remembering him. 

Cate and I went for coffee this evening and as we sat and drank our drinks at an awesome place in Cayce called Piecewise (it’s on State Street, down the road from B.C. High School if you want to pay them a visit), we talked about Chris and something we would like to do, or rather, something we would like you to do. At some point during the month of October, please take a couple of hours and visit the grave of a family member or a friend (or even a stranger). Take with you some candy, toast that person, talk about that person, eat your candy. 

So often when someone dies, we go to the funeral, maybe go to the burial, then … we forget about them. Life is too precious to forget someone that was a part of our lives. Instead of forgetting them, let them live on in our lives. Remember them by taking a moment, here in October, the month of Halloween, my friend’s favorite day of the year, and celebrate them. 

Yes, I am probably going to post this here and there and everywhere over the next few weeks as Halloween grows closer. Yes, you will also see more posts about Closing the Wound this month than before. I think his story is one that should be told, should be read. It was my way to cope with his death and a way for him to live on through the written word. 

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

Happy Halloween.

A.J.

The Definition of You

Dear Women,

Come in a little closer. I want to talk to you. You men can read this as well, and maybe you should.

For every single woman out there, I want to say: don’t let any man or any standard define you. Yes, that is a two part statement and I will explain. If you have a moment to give me, please continue on.

First, don’t let a man define you. YOU are a person. You don’t need a man to make you whole. You need to believe in you, who you are, what you look like, and what you can achieve. YOUR value is not in the opposite sex. YOUR value is in how you view yourself. YOUR value should never be determined by someone else. 

Female outlines with different figuresWhen you look in the mirror, don’t think about what a man wants you to be. Think about what you want to be. Think about what you can do to make you feel great about yourself. Here’s the thing: if you can’t love yourself when it is just you, then how are you going to love yourself if you get with someone and then they leave?

Some men can make you a better person by building you up when you are down, complimenting you when you need one, and pushing you to be a better person, to take care of who you are. But let’s be honest, a lot of men aren’t going to do that. A lot of men aren’t going to put your needs and your feelings before theirs. (Please note: I said a lot of men, not all men, so for you fellas getting all bent out of shape right now, cool your jets. It will be okay.)

On the same coin, but the opposite side, some men can make you a far worse person because they will tear you down and insult you; some will even beat you down and do horrible things to you. They don’t have a gentle touch and their end goal is to control you. Don’t be with that man. Please, don’t be with that man. If you are with that man, leave him. Yes, I said leave him. You don’t need that in your life.

Second, don’t let a standard define you. Don’t let the standard Hollywood and beauty magazines have set be what defines you. You don’t have to look like any of those models in any of those magazines to love yourself. You don’t have to look like a Barbie doll to be beautiful. The Barbie figure is not attractive at all, in my opinion. You don’t have to be a Kardashian or Jennifer Lopez or Ashley Judd to be beautiful. You have to be you, and you have to love you and you have to have confidence in who you are.

Speaking of confidence: Confidence is the sexiest thing a person can have. When a person is confident, she holds her head high, she smiles, she is not afraid to make eye contact with the opposite sex (or the same sex if that is what she is attracted to). When a person is confident, she wears clothes that make her feel good. And here’s the thing about confidence: you don’t have to be five foot four and weigh a hundred and ten pounds to be confident. You can be six foot ten or four foot ten and three quarters, or weigh three hundred pounds. It doesn’t matter. Confidence is sexy.

Girls, young ladies and women, please don’t look at the magazines or Hollywood actresses and say ‘I wish I looked like that.’ Don’t do it. When you say that, you put yourself down. When you say that, you demean yourself. Don’t do it. Love you. Love every inch of who you are. Love every smooth or blemished part of you. Don’t put yourself down by comparing yourself to someone else. Don’t be someone else. Be you. Love you. Respect you.

I have a beautiful wife, both physically and in personality. She is smart and caring. She is sarcastic and loving. She is attractive and sexy. She is determined and stubborn. She is everything I want and more in a woman. And she doesn’t need me. She doesn’t. She can do everything I can and in many cases, she does them better than I do. 

Over the last six weeks, she has been working hard to lose weight. During that time period, I have watched her confidence in herself grow, and that has nothing to do with me. She wanted to do something for her own benefit. She wanted to do something good for herself. Again, that has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with her loving herself. I listen to her when she talks about what she is doing. It makes me happy to see her happy, so I listen and ask questions. Her confidence is sexy to me. Her confidence makes me smile. It also makes her smile. And that is what matters. 

She doesn’t need me. I’m fortunate she wants me. My point is you don’t need another person to make you love you. You have to love yourself. You have to believe in yourself. You have to have confidence in who you are. It doesn’t matter how tall or short, thin or big you are, what color your hair, your eyes or your skin is. You have to define who you are. No one else can define you unless you let them. Please, love, love, LOVE yourself. 

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J. 

Who Do You See?

On some mornings I go to the post office for my job. It is less than two blocks away and I walk; rain, shine, hot, cold. It’s what you do when your family has one car and you don’t drive to work. I usually get there a couple of minutes before the post office opens.

There are ten people who I would consider regulars at eight in the morning at the post office. They are: Six men. Four women. We all get our mail and go about our business. On the average day, these ten people spend less than five minutes around each other; most of the time, maybe two minutes, tops. 

DiversityI could leave it at six men and four women and it wouldn’t matter to you or really anyone else. But I’m not going to do that. Here is a breakdown of those regulars: three white men, three black men, one white woman, one Asian woman, two black women. No, race doesn’t matter, nor does their gender, but I’m going to try and make a point here. Now you know a little bit about the ten people who show up at the post office at the same time every morning. 

Let’s take it a step further. One of the white men is an older gentleman at almost seventy. He is former military and his voice is monotone. He always wears a VFW hat and he always says ‘good morning,’ and ‘have a great day.’ Another white man is probably around sixty, maybe a tad older and always parks his car in the wrong direction. His hair is jet black (probably dyed) and slicked back with hair gel. He is thin and tall and his shoes always clop hard against the tiled floor of the post office. He rarely speaks. The third white guy, well, that would be me. I guess I am middle-aged now at just under fifty.

The Asian woman is thin and short and wears long skirts and black boots. Occasionally, she wears a pair of black pleated slacks. Her hair is long and black and she is probably a little younger than I am. She is pretty when she smiles, plain when she doesn’t. 

One of the black women drives a white van and is nearing sixty. She has had shoulder surgery and heel surgery within the last year. She always says ‘God bless,’ and she always brings a little hand cart when she comes in. The other black woman is young and pretty and seems to be put together (as in her attitude and how she carries herself). She always wears red lipstick and her eyes are big and brown—one of her best features. She is polite. She also knows she is attractive, but she doesn’t flaunt it. 

The lone white woman is probably my age, maybe a tad younger. She is tall, has brown hair and frowns as if she probably wishes she were a little trimmer. She doesn’t smile often, but just in the last few weeks she has started saying ‘good morning’ to everyone.

One of the black men is slightly built and soft spoken. He is a Christian who always shakes my hand when we cross paths. The second black man works for the Supreme Court and drives a black SUV. He wears a gun on one hip and looks like he could have played defensive end for the Chicago Bears at one time. He always checks out the pretty black lady when she comes in. The last of the group is a black man in his late sixties who works part time in the building attached to the post office. He wears a blue uniform shirt and dark pants every day. He is missing most of his teeth and some folks might say his elevator doesn’t quite go all the way to the top. He always says ‘hey,’ and he laughs a lot. 

Does any of that really matter? Probably not to most people, because, let’s be honest, most people don’t care. Here’s a few questions for you: when you look at someone you don’t know, what do you see? Do you see the color of the person’s skin? The gender? Is your first impression based on the person’s appearance? Here’s an even bigger question: do you take the time to actually see the person? Not their skin color or their gender or the clothes they wear. Do you actually see their faces? Do you actually take the time to see the up or down turn of the lips? Do you see the eyes, if they dazzle or have been dulled by life’s burdens?

Do you see people. 

ALONE.jpgOne of the issues I feel we, as human beings, have, is we don’t see people outside of our own little world. Sure, we see someone, but we don’t take a second or two to consider that the person you see is someone’s child, maybe a brother or sister, mom or dad. That person has feelings and hopes and dreams. That person may be going through something terrible right then. That person may be thinking of someone he or she loves. That person might be just trying to get through a crappy day and all they want is to be home so they can rest. 

One thing I know is this: you can make or break someone’s day. How? Well, saying ‘hello,’ and giving someone a smile. That’s not obligating you to carry on a conversation, but showing someone that you see that person, that that person is not invisible, and so many of us feel invisible, like no one cares. 

You can break a person’s day by ignoring them if they say ‘hey,’ and smile at you, or by saying something bad about them (whether you know them or not). A mean word goes further than a good word. Negativity always overrides positivity. And yeah, it is easier to break someone down than to build someone up. 

[[Side Note: I know the world is a bad place these days and strangers can be dangerous. I’m not saying engage in conversations with strangers. I’m saying, don’t be mean. Don’t be rude. Don’t give a stranger a ride, either, but you can be a good person, a good samaritan, so to speak, by just being nice. End Side Note]]

If you think I am wrong about making and breaking someone’s day, then let me ask you two questions. You can feel free to answer them or not. Have you ever been in a great mood and someone did or said something negative that ruined your entire day? On the flip side, have you been sad or down or in a bad mood and someone did something or said something that cheered you up and brightened your day? 

YOU have the power to make a difference in people’s lives. All you have to do is actually see them. It doesn’t matter what race, religion, gender, sexual preference your they are—what matters is do you see them? I think—thinking here!—that if we, as human beings, would take the time to actually see others for what they are (other human beings), then maybe we’ll be slower to react negatively or say something derogatory or just be rude. Maybe, just maybe, the world can be a kinder place … if we would all just see each other.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

Musings And Such

Musings from the week of 1/13/19-1/19/19 that may interest only me.

On Tuesday I discovered you can hear yourself brushing your teeth. It’s not quite disturbing, but this type of epiphany startled me. I’ve been brushing my teeth my entire life and I never noticed the sound of brush on teeth. What makes it even more interesting is the difference in the sound depending on what part of your teeth you are brushing. For me, when I’m brushing my upper back teeth, the sound is so much louder than when I am brushing the lower back teeth. It’s also a little more hollow than when I brush the front teeth. I know, right?

My dislike for Amazon keeps growing and growing. 

On Thursday, I turned on the turntable and listened to the soundtrack for Grease on vinyl. It was a glorious sound. The next day I could not stop singing, You’re the One That I Want, getting particularly animated at the Oo oo oo parts. 

screen shot 2019-01-20 at 5.51.43 pmHere is a picture I took on one of the photo filter thingies. 

My son has a weird dance he does that makes me laugh every time. Sometimes, though, I’m not sure if his dance is funny or lewd. Either way, it is entertaining

I’ve been complaining about customer service a lot lately. I just don’t feel that most people in customer service understand that the easiest way to diffuse the temper of an angry customer is to actually act like you care about their problem. 

Speaking of customer service, there is so much more of it now than ever before. What? Am I serious? After complaining about bad customer service, how can I possibly say there is more customer service out there than ever before? It’s simple: self checkout. Customers are servicing themselves more and more these days. I guess bad human interaction will do that for yah.

Every time I shave, I look in the mirror for several seconds. That’s not too unusual, until you consider I do it as if I am Steve Perry from Journey in the video Faithfully just before he shaves off his mustache. Sadly, I can’t sing like him and the closest I can come to actually growing facial hair is akin to mimicking a porcupine’s bristles. 

1 DUM COVERAs much as I loathe Amazon, another author made a very good point in a discussion on social media. She said having your books on Amazon gives you credibility with the reading populace. I thought about this and I believe she is right. How many times have I been asked if my books were on Amazon or available for Kindle? A ton. So, I may not care much for Amazon, but it has become a necessary evil for the authors on the lower to middle of the totem pole. With that in mind, I shamelessly plug my Amazon Author Page. Check it out, purchase a couple of books, read them, leave a review. Please.

I think there needs to be a new law passed concerning elevator etiquette. I believe if you are a violator of certain unwritten rules (which I will write here for you) of elevator etiquette, you should get crotch punched by everyone on or waiting for the elevator. 

(DISCLAIMER: this is all in good fun. Please, don’t take any of it seriously. It’s a joke. Laugh a little.)

Here we go:

If you are a man and you step in front of a woman to get on the elevator instead of holding the door open for her, you should get crotch punched. Don’t tell me your defense to that bit of douche baggery is because of women’s rights. It’s called respect. If you can’t show it for a woman, then you deserve to get your junk punched.

To go with that, if someone is already in the lobby when you walk up and the elevator door opens and you step in front of the person (or people) who were there first, you get a swift jab to the boys and then you get dragged off the elevator so you can wait your turn. 

If you get on the elevator and then hold the door open for fifteen other people who aren’t even close to the elevator, you should get your crotch punched. Speaking for myself, I don’t do well in small, cramped places with a lot of people. I’m not claustrophobic at all. I just don’t like people that much to stand arm to arm, butt to crotch close to people. It’s one thing if there is someone right behind you. It would be rude if you closed the door on them, but for those people who are off in the distance, let the door close.

On the same token, but the other side, if you are the person who hits the CLOSE DOOR button several times once you get in the elevator, you should get your crotch punched. No, I don’t want you holding the door for every Tom, Dick and Harry off in the distance, but dang, how about just letting the door close on its own, Mr. Impatient.

If you fart on the elevator, you need your junk punched several times. Period. 

If you fart and then get off the elevator, everyone on there with you should be allowed to go back to the floor you got off on, hunt you down, pin you to the floor and punch you in the crotch. We don’t want your dust cropping, thank you very much.

If you get on the elevator and do not move to the back of the car so others can get on, yeah, you get your junk punched. On the same hand, if you stand by the buttons that people need to press and don’t move or, at the very least, offer to push the button for the floor they need, you get punched in the family jewels. 

If you can’t say excuse me when you bump someone with your hand cart, briefcase, shopping bags, box or whatever, yup, you guessed it, a good old crotch punch is in your future. 

If someone holds the door for you and you don’t have the courtesy to say, “Thank you,” get ready to double over. 

If someone says ‘hello’ to you on the elevator, please don’t be rude and say nothing or grunt or roll your eyes. It’s a ‘hello.’ There is nothing committal in responding in kind. Yeah, I know some folks might say they don’t have to talk to anyone if they don’t want to. You are correct, but I reserve the right to junk punch you if you are rude when someone greets you. 

If you try to get on the elevator before everyone has had a chance to get off, you need your crotch smacked. It’s simple: Don’t get on until everyone else is off.

There are others, but these are the ones I experienced in the past week. I’m sure I will amend this by the end of next week. 

My favorite Metallica song is I Disappear. 

map_img_1013283_1487183286One last thing: if you are receiving snow, make me a snowman. I live in South Carolina and in the half of the state that never gets snow, so I live vicariously through you.

As always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

(Now, go and brush your teeth. You know you want to.)