A Smile, A Laugh and A Fist Bump

I want to tell you a short story. It may not mean anything to anyone, but I think it is important. 

keep-smiling_o_1675883There is this guy at work. He is 61 years old and has the most pleasant disposition. He believes in hard work and smiling. He always smiles and says hello to everyone he sees. I don’t think he knows a stranger. Every time I see him, he says in the most happiest of tones, “There’s my buddy!” He then gives me a fist bump and we talk for usually no more than 30 seconds. Then he goes his way and I go mine. We could see each other a dozen times in the course of a day and he always smiles, always says “There’s my buddy,” and always gives me a fist bump. 

Always.

Let’s just call this man Burt.  

Burt never has anything bad to say. He never gripes or complains. He just does his job and smiles and laughs and makes those who come in contact with him have a brighter day. If there is ever anyone I wish I could be like when it comes to being positive, it is Burt. I never come away from talking with him without a smile on my face. 

Late last year I ran into him and he wasn’t really smiling. Sure, he forced one when he saw me, but the usual exuberance in his voice wasn’t there.

“Are you okay?” I asked. Yes, I was concerned for Burt.

He said, “Do you have a minute to talk?”

“Sure,” I said. “I have as many minutes as you need.”

“I consider you a friend, and I just need to tell someone about my wife. She’s sick …”

I’m not going to go into the rest of the conversation, but I will say he had tears clinging to his eyes. We talked and we prayed and we talked some more. We even hugged. And when he walked away from me, he smiled, gave me a fist bump and said, “Thank you, my buddy.”

I watched him walk away. For the first time since I have known him, I wasn’t smiling after talking to him. I was sad and worried for him. Later that day when I saw him, he was smiling his big smile and he seemed more like himself. You see, Burt just needed to get his feelings off his chest. He needed someone to listen to him, to hear his words and to let him hurt for a few minutes. 

Since then, his wife has gotten better and he gives me reports on her when I ask (which is quite frequently). He smiles, gives me fist bumps and still says, “There goes my buddy.”

A long time ago, after maybe a couple of months of knowing Burt, I said to him, “It’s great to see someone who has such a great attitude.”

He nodded and he got real serious with me. He leaned in as if we were about to have a private conversation. “I don’t see a need to be any different.”

I don’t either.

So, what’s the point? Well, this is two fold, I guess. First, you never know what is going on in someone’s life. Maybe an act of kindness is all someone needs in order to get through the day. Maybe that person needs to talk to someone—anyone who will actually listen—in order to make it through a hard time. Second, a smile, a laugh, a joyful fist bump might just be the cure society needs. My buddy, Burt, always smiles, always laughs and is always positive, even during some of his darkest moments. He doesn’t show the world what hurts him. He doesn’t complain that life is not fair. He doesn’t say, “I wish someone else would do my job so I can sit down.” He smiles. He laughs. 

Burt enjoys life and he makes those around him better for it. The world needs more Burts. The world needs more people who will smile and laugh (not at people, but with them) and uplift others. 

There is so much in life to be thankful for, but we are too busy looking at all of the negative things. We are blind to the good things around us, but Burt’s not. 

Do me a favor. Take a minute and look at the world around you. I’m sure there is something good in it, even if it seems like there is not. I’m sure there is someone you know who might need a smile, a laugh, a fist bump, a ‘there’s my buddy.’ Take a minute and be Burt. I guarantee one thing: after smiling and laughing with someone else, you will walk away better for it. 

As always, thank you for reading, and until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

Southern Bones and Day Eight of the Thirty-Two Days of Halloween

If I were a smoking man there would be a blue/gray cloud of smoke hovering above my head right now. My feet would be propped up on my desk and my hands would be laced together behind my head. That cigarette would sit between my lips, the lit end getting precariously closer to the filter as the seconds continued to tick-tock away. I would feel that acrid burn in my throat and lungs as I took another deep drag. My eyes would probably be closed. If not, then they would be staring at the white popcorned ceiling above me.

That is, if I were a smoking man.

I’m not, and my feet are not propped on my desk and there is no blue/gray cloud above my head and I don’t have that acrid burn in my throat and lungs. And, no I am not looking at a popcorned ceiling.

Instead, I sit here, at the keyboard, typing away. Why? Why not? I’m a writer. That’s what writers do.

Oh, wait. I guess I could tell you why I would smoke if I were a smoker. Here’s the rundown:

For the last half year I’ve been working on a short story collection. I’m not going to bore you with all the details that I’ve outlined on here before, but I will say it was a lot of work. And, to be honest, though I feel it’s a great book, it takes serious effort for me to actually put something of mine out there. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in my abilities, but I’ve never been good about putting myself out there. I’ve never had the confidence to say, ‘hey, here I am, love me.’ No, that’s not me at all. I prefer to be behind the scenes.

That mindset is a massive problem if you are a writer. The truth is, if you want to get anywhere in life, you have to take chances. Writing is no different. It may even be a little tougher. Still, if I want to get anywhere in this business, then I have to be willing to put myself out there for the world to criticize.

It’s a risk.

But I did it. It took a lot of encouragement from a few other writers and my Cate before I did it, but I took that risk.

Yeah, it would help if I told you what the risk was, wouldn’t it?

I published my second short story collection, and I did it with the helping hands of a few friends.

Southern Bones has been released on Amazon. Currently it is only available on the Kindle, but that won’t be the case for too long. It’s been submitted to Nook and will also be put up for Kobo and Smashwords within the next week, as well as in print within the next two to three weeks.

SIDE NOTE: No, I did not use KDP Select for this—I don’t believe a writer should be limited in their ability to spread their stories to as many platforms as possible, and I did not like the exclusivity for ninety days that KDP Select requires.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. It was a lot of work, and I don’t envy any publisher who puts out several books at a time. Of course, they do this more than I do, so they can probably do this blindfolded.

Before I go any further with this blog and before I get to day eight of the Thirty-Two Days of Halloween, let me tell you about the e-book. Southern Bones is a collection of eleven short stories, all based in the south, though a couple of stories really could be set anywhere. Most of them have never been published, whereas a couple of them have. I would like to say it is 56,000 words of horror, but honestly, some of the stories aren’t horror at all. Each story has horrific elements, but not all of them can be considered horror, per say. I think that is a very good thing about Southern Bones: It’s not your typical horror collection.

I to believe the words of Kevin Wallis in the introduction describe, not only my writing style, but the collection in and of itself:

Brown injects each of his stories with an overlying aura of dread that doesn’t so much grab his readers by the throat, but creeps up behind them, never quite showing its face, and hovers over their blissfully unaware bodies as they sleep at night, breathing the fear into their dreams and ensuring that it will linger long into the following day.

I believe you are going to like Southern Bones. I truly do. You can check out Southern Bones here.

I’ll keep you updated on when the other editions come out.

If you purchase a copy of the book, thank you. And, please consider leaving a review—it doesn’t have to be very long, just a what you thought of the book type of things. Look at it like you are telling your friends about something you did or saw. What would you say? That’s what a review is, you telling your friends and strangers about the book. Again, thank you.

Now, onto Day Eight of the Thirty-Two Days of Halloween.

I don’t remember who showed me this video, but I know it is one of my favorites. It’s a short film titled Smile

Enjoy:

Have a great night. Until we meet again my friends…

Smile…

True story:

A few years ago, when I was younger, dumber and somewhat meaner, I worked at a job I enjoyed, though I didn’t care much for my employers and their greedy ways. The hours had been packed on quite often and on one particular summer evening I was tired and heading to my car, which was a good three blocks from my office. My feet felt heavy, my back ached and I had that inescapable feeling of exhaustion coursing through my body. You know that feeling, right? Where your legs and arms are weak, where you feel like every breath is an effort, where all you want to do is to lay your head on a pillow and sleep for a month. Where a gallon of water wouldn’t quench the thirst or the parched throat. Yeah, that’s the way I felt.

It so happens that I was halfway to my car and had just crossed over Washington Street (which means nothing for those of you who don’t know the layout of downtown Columbia, South Carolina. For those who do, I was on Sumter Street and heading away from the capital building.) I was almost to the Subway on my left when I looked up.

Coming toward me was a little old lady. When I say little, I mean maybe around five feet tall. She had that white/blue hair combo working and she was slightly hunched over. She wore a flower print dress and knee high blue socks.

Our eyes met and she stopped. Yes, stopped. There was a moment where I guess I could have stopped as well and we could have had a good old western stare down. But, as I said earlier, I was tired and all I wanted was to get to my car and get home. Then the woman did something I hadn’t expected. She turned to her left and started across Sumter Street.

At a little after eight in the evening in Columbia there is still significant traffic. This woman didn’t bother looking in either direction. Her momma would have been very upset with her over this. Remember, always look both ways before crossing the street. That’s a tip from your Uncle Herbie. The woman beelined it all the way across four lanes of traffic and glanced back at me after she reached the other side.

I told my wife about this later that evening as we were crawling into bed.

“You never smile,” she said.

We both laughed about it, but she was right.

I’m not a smiler. Never have been.

The Punisher, Frank Castle said, ‘I don’t smile much. Don’t smile ever.’

My wife used to say I should smile more. Hmm… I always thought I looked like Wednesday Addams when she smiled.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve come to realize that when I smile it really does give some folks concern.

“Are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah, why?’

“You’re smiling.”

Go ahead. Laugh. Really. It’s okay. I said laugh. Laugh. NOW!

Ahem.

As I was saying. Apparently I smile so infrequently that when I do, it gives people pause, it alarms them to something possibly being amiss. I would like to refute the rumors that say if I am smiling I am up to no good. Though it’s possible that could have been true at one time or other, it is not necessarily so now.

Why?

I’ve been smiling more lately, and with good reason. If you’re not sure why, then just scroll back a couple of weeks’ worth of posts and you’ll understand.

I am at peace with myself and I’ve noticed there have been more smiles across this ugly mug of mine than in a long, long time. I’ve also noticed that when I smile my attitude is brighter, my mindset is calmer. It puts me in a better mood.

Hmmm… will you look at the last three paragraphs? They all start with a variation of ‘I.’ Thank goodness this isn’t a story I want to sell.

It’s been said that smiling is good for the soul, good for the heart. I think whoever said that was right. Maybe it’s an old wives tale. If so, the old wife that came up with it hit the nail on the head.

I’ve never been a smiler. I think I said that already. But there has been one planted on my face a lot more these days. Lately, when I find myself in not such a good mood, I smile. It doesn’t always work right away, but it does help ease the aggravation inside.

I don’t expect anyone to smile over this blog. I don’t expect anyone to change how they look at smiling because of this. This is just me… smiling.

How about some Bad English?

I’ve always hated this song. I think the only part I like about it is the keyboard. Other than that, the end of it is my favorite part. However, it’s about smiling, so why not?

Ahhh, but let me add to this with another video. It’s not music, but a small movie titled, you guessed it, SMILE, by Yuval Markovich. It’s kind of creepy and you all know how I enjoy the creepy stuff. It makes me SMILE.

Be forewarned: there is a lot of language in the subtitles.

I really have no way to end this today, nothing profound to say other than try smiling every once in a while. You’d be amazed at the difference in how people look at you and how you feel inside.

Until we meet again, my friends…