jimagain

Rants & ramblings of the disaffected

The Devil in The Top Hat

A stranger steps out of the shadows in the night to accost a gentleman and his lady friend. The flickering glow of a street lamp casts the desperate scene in a surreal light. The intended victim is obviously a man of means and carrying a large bag, tightly grasping its handle. Apparently something valuable is inside. They are alone late at night meandering along a deserted cobble stone street near a shipyard. Not particularly smart of either of them; considering the hour is late, the fog heavy, and this is a crime-ridden area frequented by desperate men. The brute standing before them is brandishing a large caliber black powder pistol. A large knife is tucked in his waist band.

“Give me your money!” The demand, albeit lacking in eloquence, is simple and direct.

The traversing pair interrupted, immediately freeze. The lady in fear cowers behind the gentleman as he studies the menacing figure blocking their way. He grips his satchel a little more tightly. “A predictable request.” And then he adds in a more jocular tone peculiar for a man whose life is about to be cut short, “Are we to assume we are in some sort of peril?”

Not amused, the assailant points the muzzle of his weapon at them in response. “I too am a businessman,” he says. “And I propose to relieve you of that heavy bag you are carrying in exchange for sparing your life.” He points to the leather satchel in his grasp.

“It’s a viable offer but it would seem several assumptions have been made on your part, Sir. You assume because of my attire I am carrying a large sum of cash. And you assume it is we who are in peril and not yourself. Perhaps it would be naive of me to not anticipate that once I hand over my valuables, you nonetheless will kill me, leaving you at liberty to impose yourself on my fair young escort. After all she is a member of the weaker sex and with me out of the way you are at liberty to have your way with her? Is this not so?”

The man of the night grins toothily as he nods his large head, tipping his large top hat in a mocking gesture but in such a way as to not take his eyes off the prey. He is no novice to his trade.

The intended victim continues. “Now that we have established your intent let us dispense then with these assumptions. Since I may have arrived at the last hour of my life, I am curiously beset with an urge to negotiate with the devil in the top hat.” He then grinned and tipped his own top hat to his adversary. “I have a proposition to make you instead. I Sir, am a businessman, a merchant of sorts; not unlike yourself, since we both apparently deal in lost souls. Hence I have a counter offer to make you. What say you entertain my barter for your merriment? Suppose I were to offer you the objects of your desire but with one twist. In the course of this transaction, suppose we were to eliminate one integral part of your equation. I propose to give you my very large sum of cash as well as hand over my fair companion in full consent to the natural conclusion of the gratification of your urges. After all, the money is a goodly sum and she is very fair, a woman to fulfill your manly appetites. And all this is done without the commission of a crime on your part. In exchange, all I ask from you is that you to allow me to retain possession of this one paltry satchel with its …contents. Tonight, Sir, would appear to be your lucky night, would it not?”

The villain hesitates at the audacity of his victim, then counters.”And in the spirit of fair business, I propose a counter-offer; I will take your sum of cash, the girl, and the contents of that bag.” He fidgets, nervously brandishing the weapon. “It seems as if you have nothing left to barter with.”

“But I do, and with one remaining stipulation. If you allow me to retain my satchel then I will allow you to keep your soul. If you are unable, however, to carry out your transaction, then I hold your soul in default as collateral. Do you agree to my terms?”

This time the blood runs cold in the hasty assailant. “My soul?!!” For one brief moment he is seized with apprehension, as if now he is the one now being accosted. Valuable time has been lost and the thug is anxious to claim his bounty, a goodly nights haul by any means for a desperate man. He arms his weapon to broadcast the finality of his offer. “Hand them over, now!”

“Be that as it may,” he concedes. “Then may I present you with your newest acquisitions.” He slowly removes his wallet from his coat pocket and in one motion shoves it down the girl’s bodice. His mouth drops as he hands them both over in one move to the surprised thug. He grabs her, one burly hand grasping her petite wrist. That turns out to be a fatal mistake. She smiles coldly. As he reaches for the wallet, at the opportune moment, she strikes in one efficient lethal motion. A sharp knife she deftly procured from her nether garments quickly applied to his fifth rib, ends the robbery and his life. He collapses silently in a heap at their feet.

“It seems my friend, you made several assumptions tonight, all of which were wrong. It was you who needed protection …from her.” He reaches down to extract something that belongs to him from the would-be assailant. Reaching into the cadaver, he extracts a dark, shadowy object in the form of its previous owner, one that struggles to escape, like sheet in the wind. He placed the writhing entity inside the heavy bag he has been clutching. Reaching into his coat pocket, he retrieves a slip of paper which he presses into the palm of the recently deceased. He then tips his top hat to the fallen in a final gesture. “This, Sir, concludes our bargain. It has been a pleasure doing business with you.” Last seen, the pair step over the fresh corpse to continue their journey, disappearing in the shadows, reappearing at the next lamps’ dim glow.

The next morning…

… a crowd has gathered. The man leaning over the body lets out an audible gasp. “Here now, what’s this?!!

“What is it Inspector?”

“The eyes are gone from this one too! Ah! Another note,” he declares matter-of-factly as he reads out loud, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

But Write I Must…

It was all sad and funny, yet pathetic. It was all those things at once.

Sitting in my underwear writing; typing away at the keyboard, watching the letters collect across the screen. I felt compelled to write as I dawdled away the day, frivolously squandering what little time I had left. But write I must. Other things impatiently clamored for my attention but I managed to suppress them. Action demanded I do something. Yet here I sat. As I wrote, a sense of doom pervading permeated my thoughts lurked in the back of my mind poised to leap at me like some dread beast. I felt as if my fate stalked me, coiling for the final pounce.

The clock in the den struck on the hour, striking me out of my stupor. Time was running out. It was all happening now. I knew it. But I had to finish this, before the deadline came. And so I wrote, feverishly. I wrestled with the words as I typed them, carefully choosing each of them, arranging them; crafting them to say what I desperately need them to say, before it was too late.

I looked up. The minute hand announced the next event with somber efficiency as the ticks of fleeting time counted down. Any moment now.

And then, as if on cue, the door to my room swung suddenly open. My wife barged in. She cast her eyes at me. In one glance, her expression went from hurt to scorn.
“Are you going to sit around the house all day in your underwear,” she scolded me! “What’s gotten into you?”
I sat sullen, silent. There was nothing I could say. How could I explain this to her?
She paused before storming off. I knew what would happen next. Like a script in my mind, I heard the angry clack of heels across a wooden floor followed by the slam of a door. The dog sprawled out on the floor as a silent spectator lazily picked his head up to look my way before giving a sigh and slumping back to the floor, limp. Moments later I heard the distinctive sound of a car engine turn over, of wheels crunching in the gravel, and the spin of tires accelerating on the asphalt road; and then…silence. A deafening silence.

I loved her. I desperately did so. It hurt to see her leave. Her absence stung at me like salt in a wound. I so wanted to run after her, to tell her how I felt. But we were about to go our separate ways from here. The time to say I love you, as too often is, that time was past.

Desperate thoughts tugged at me as I resumed to write. I should do something, I thought. But what? What could I do to avert the impending visit? Could I run? Hide? Was there a place of refuge I could resort to? Nay. Was there some one I could call? Again, nay. No, the script was cast in stone. And yet the pathos somehow fed my desire to write, to record my fate as some detached but dreary undertaker going about his morbid task in the mortuary we call life.

I had sensed for days this sense of impending fate but felt unable to change the course of events. Postponing, deferring, prolonging the agony creeping over me, I braced for the next turn. I knew what would happen next.

And yet the pathos somehow fed my desire to write, to record my fate as some detached but dreary undertaker going about his morbid task in the mortuary we call life. I rehearsed in my mind the events as I supposed them to unfold, as if I were somehow performing my own autopsy. Grim duties of the writer, recording my life in the third person. It seemed I had chronicled my own demise, one sentence at a time.

And then the inevitable came. A knock at my door. I answered with reluctance. It was him. I knew he was coming, I was never sure when but now he stood at my door. I didn’t want to answer, I desperately wanted to deny he was there on my stoop but there are some appointments you cannot ignore. This was one of those.

This time I ceased to write. I trudged with trepidation toward the door. Into the maw I go.

The visitor called me by name. Are you he?
“You know who I am,” I stammered. A brief pause and then in quivering voice, “Have you come to do your business?”
He nodded.
A lump formed in my throat. And then silence prevailed. There was nothing more to say.

The eirie thing is two days ago, this turn of events was only a story I had written. A simple work of fiction written by my own hands that quickly became a snare of my own making. And now I found myself caught in the undertow of my own writing. I was becoming a victim of my own narrative. If only I had written this differently.

Perhaps you should also be careful how you write your own biography.

Imiscible Pairs

Theirs was a peculiar blend of two incompatible extremes, a relationship built on seemingly disparate incongruencies. Less a union than a tense treaty between adversaries at war; hostile yet tolerant, incompatible yet inseparable.

Their mutually exclusive traits somehow melded and fused in some curious anomaly. As far as relationships go, it was more an amalgum of dissimilar entities forged in the furnace of conflict. Each disparity carefully mated to its antithetical counterpart in a reciprocal love-hate state of perpetual disharmony. Together they were a mutinous mismatch of matrimonial dysfunction, immiscible parts paired in a mismatch of irreconcilable differences. To the unfortunate spectator, they must have presented an apparent contradiction of reason, two colliding antagonists, perpetual sparring partners, preferring agitation to resolution.

At first glance, they appear normal but beneath a thin veneer of civility, hostile acts of war prevailed like the constant ebb and flow of the unceasing tide, broken only by a brief interlude between acts of aggression.

No one who knew them pretended to understand the delicate balance that kept them teetering rather than plunging over the brink and into the abyss of self-annihilation. But what is a woman without a man or love without hate? Can order exist without chaos; or logic without reason? Two opposing forces that cant coexist or survive without the other, incompatible yet incomplete without its antithesis. What should have torn them asunder instead held them together, mixed in a curious mortar of mutual repulsion.

Don’t ask me to explain this conundrum of social interaction. Perhaps one seeks to find equilibrium with the other? Perhaps this is why opposites attract, why the most unlikely of partners seek their counterpart?

On the Banks of the River of Passion

It all had happened innocently enough.

We had first stood on the bank of the river enjoying the view. It was a scenic view of its virgin territories untouched and undisturbed. At first we just stood and looked and admired, gawking at the beauty at which we gazed upon. Neither of us spoke.

The view was a breathtaking.

The longer we looked, the more we desired to abandon our reservations and dive into the tempting waters together. It was a long time before one of us made the first move, hesitant to exceed our partners’ inhibitions. We cautiously waded into the inviting stream, probing carefully lest we get in too deep, waiting for the other to respond, to take that next step. The waters caressed our skin, invigorating our senses. It was a new experience for both of us. We resolved to not go too far.

And yet each step only enticed us to take another. Before we knew it we had cast caution to the wind, discarding our hesitations as rapidly as our clothing. The beauty we beheld, the sensations the river we are immersed in only enticed and seduced us to go farther that we both intended. How far? To the edge of the forbidden, beyond the safety of restraint. Without realizing it we had both waded out too far from the shore, perhaps too far to go back. The current tugged at us, pulling us out deeper into the turbulent unknown. Knowing that each of us had gone farther than we should, only added to the thrill. It stimulated us. The fearfulness of our precarious situation heightened the exhilaration that was sweeping us away.

Now the current dictates our actions as we’re no longer able to direct ourselves. Groping and thrashing with flailing arms and legs, yet clinging tightly to each other. It’s just the two of us out here, together alone in the river. Now we are in too deep and it’s too late to turn back, to return to where we were. Gasping for our breaths before we succumb, no longer able to resist the inevitable. All is silence as we give in. The struggle ceases, we become still, motionless.

Sometime later, I’m not sure when, we regain consciousness. Laying side by side on the bank, unmoving. We waken, slowly. Raising ourselves simultaneously to our elbows to stare into each others eye with panic. At first we struggle to remember, or perhaps to forget, what happened. How did we get here? The events come flooding back into our consciousness. Did we …?

How easy it was to get swept away in the current., there on the banks of the river of passion.

Soul Stare

Their eyes met. No words were exchanged but it’s not what they said; it’s what they didn’t have to say. It seems words are too often less a means of communication than objects which we mask our true feelings.

Two souls lost in a crowd, each searching for the other, neither acknowledging their bond. They mingle about aimlessly, milling amongst the throng. He searches for her. She scans to see him. They pass in their orbits yet never intercept. Their paths cross yet neither speaks. Their apparent indifference is a complete fabrication driven by desperation.

– – – – – – – –

As we pass in close proximity to the other, we both feel it, some inexplicable force of attraction drawing us together. Neither of us turn our heads to look but we both cut our eyes as we pass straining to see if the other is looking.

We pass by indifferent to the other, painfully aware of how others might portray it if they were to recognize the raw affection we feel; afraid to look into each others eyes lest or expressions give us away. both afraid the others reaction if they should suspect the amorous interest, preferring to sulk under the cloak of denial, hidden in the shadows of anonymity.

But our souls know. They kiss. In one fleeting glance they connect. clutching, grasping, clinging desperately to the fleeting moment. Some seminal seed that passed between them in the moment, making each the unexpressed compliment of the other, conjoined yet incomplete. Barely perceptible, they pass from him to her. He propositions, she accepting, receiving, forever mated after. Something has conceived within her, growing until the time to arrive.

It was an absurd experience should one think about, one that never transpired except in our imagination …or was it?

It was an experience neither dared yet both yearned for. Logic and reason denies what their hearts affirm. Our minds tell us it won’t work; we can’t be together but our souls know differently. On some subliminal level we both know we are destined to be satisfied together or miserable apart. Lovers, intimates, partners -two separates merged into one; at the moment bound only by their mutual hope.

Me: I saw her about, too many times for coincidence, here and there about as we both flitted about from one group to the next. Roaming, wandering yet not belonging. She seemed ill-fitted and out of place wherever I saw her. She seemed an unattached peripheral among the crowd, a non-participant. It seemed to me as if she were looking for someone. Could that someone be me, I wondered?

Our path crossed, our eyes met but neither spoke a word. We were frequently adjacent and never connecting. And then it happened. Inadvertently our eyes met. And if the eyes are indeed the windows of the soul, then in that moment our souls communicated. What we both felt but were afraid to express, our souls lacked no such restraint, straight to the point with no guile or secrecy. Suddenly these two lonely souls impatient on their keepers to bridle their hesitations, cast aside the restraints and and acted without fear. in a moment they transacted their business. No negotiations or compromise but a raw naked exchange between them. No terms given, none required. Two lost souls in a sea of people, floating about in the crowd.

Our souls met. Our eyes fastened on each other. In one single imperceptible glance we expressed our latent desires. No words exchanged but none were needed. Nothing was said. Words weren’t needed. In that brief glance lasting less than a millisecond, our souls connected. The conversation you could not hear…

Suddenly time slows. The moment is frozen as the crowd stills. The background fades away revealing two souls to linger.

“Hey.”
“Hey.”
“I’ve been missing you.”
“Me too. Do you still love me?”
“Yes. Yes, I do. I want us to be together.”
“Yes. I too. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“One day you will be mine; we will be together.”
“I know. I can’t wait…” A pause.
“I’ve been looking for you.”
“I’ve been watching you.”

They talk and touch and laugh. clutching, grasping, clinging together tightly.

She: “I’m so tired of the charades, hiding behind a facade. When can we tell each other how we feel?”
He: “I wish I knew. One day.”
“Do you think they will ever figure it out?”
“Eventually.”
They kiss.
“One day surely they will figure it out and no logic or reason will be able to keep us apart any longer. I feel it.”
“I feel it, too.”
“One they will discover what our hearts already know.” Embracing. “Won’t they be surprised?”
“To say the least. All those who would laugh at the prospect of us together; aren’t they in for a shock!”
“Maybe not as much as we will be,” she says!

They laugh

“I think on some level of consciousness we both know it…our minds tell us we can’t be together. Too many reasons, too many obstacles; the difference between our ages, our families, our own fear of rejection.
As they start to look away, “Don’t leave me again,” she pleads.
“I can never leave you. You’re in all my waking thoughts.”
“One millisecond,” she complains. “Is that all they can give us? Look at them! Are they so afraid to admit to themselves how they feel?”
“I guess so,” he smiles.
“See you around.”

One last embrace, one last lingering kiss. And then they separate. Time resumes. The surroundings begin to fade back in.

We break the glance, our eyes look away. We both part company, pretending nothing happened between us.

Dejected, I turn away resisting the urge to stare back at her. As I walk away, I can’t resist the urge to reach out and tug at her purse as she stands there with her back to me. Not looking back I keep going, reaching up to wave my hand back at her; as she turns to see who nudged her.

“Hey.” She calls my name.

“Hey,” I reply over my shoulder without looking back.
She smiles at me. I smile back at her without turning as I walk away. Suddenly she’s taken with a capricious urge to run after me and chat like an eight year old girl. She stops herself. “What would he think?” She hesitates, then looks down realizing the moment is lost.

It’s not enough …but it’s enough for now.

I sigh loudly to myself. She hears me. And that’s the end of that …until our eyes meet again.

My Palette of Words

Words are the palette which a writer paints the scene; the fifty shades of grey expressed by ‘grey matter’ that occupies those scant few inches between the left and right ear.

Words express thoughts and opinions with clarity and precision. Synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, idiom and jargon, metaphor and simile; these are the tools of the trade for the writer. Words convey meaning; they express the subtlety and nuance of what we think. Somewhere in the past we discovered we needed more words; larger, more precise than before. Rather than the blunt edge of a dull axe, words are a scalpel in the hands of a skilled writer.

Properly marinated, vocabulary enhance the entrée in the cuisine of language; it adds a savory nuance that accents what would otherwise leave the buffet line of literature an unpalatable assortment of bland and tasteless offerings to be chewed without flavor.


At some point we, the collective mass of humanity, realized the art of communication required more than the few monosyllabic utterances and wild gesticulations made by our inarticulate predecessors. So being the enterprising hominids we suppose ourselves to be, mankind expanded his vocabulary somewhere along the trek, from the primitive to the modern. And so I, after 6,000 years of recorded human history, am reluctant to eviscerate the English vocabulary in lieu of words with less meaning simply because they’re simple.

That’s what the dictionary is for!

New words to add to your vocabulary
Sesquipedalian – characterized by use of long words

Up From The Soil

Time moves surreptitiously. What we perceive as the past was once somebody’s future; their labor and toil were planted in hope of a future harvest. One day our future will be somebody’s past tense and our modern world will smugly be perceived by another as a relic of the distant past.

I chose the caption for this image because there is a story behind every picture. Often in a glance we only see the obvious, filtered by our perceptions. Perceptions are a double-edged sword that can sharpen or obscure our view and we may even carelessly discard what we thought we saw as insignificant.

"more than meets the eye"

“more than meets the eye”

What do you see?

Beyond the obvious black & white photo of a man plowing with a mule you see on this page, is an image that has many shades of meaning.  To many it evokes a mental image of an era less advanced than the one we take for granted. We like to think of ourselves as ‘modern’ and to us the concept of a mule and a plow as opposed to a machine may appear primitive or quaint. The very thought may seem an anachronistic throwback dislocated from the world we live in. But what if we could see this image with a different pair of eyes? If we could manage to look beyond our assumptions we may see something starkly different than the obvious. Obviously, this image carries a deeper meaning to one from an agricultural perspective, nor would we expect someone who has not turned the sol by their own toil to appreciate the subtlety of what they see. It’s nothing less, than by their own lack of experience they have not attained the capacity to appreciate what they see. As I write this, I just now happened to recall instances growing up; one on my grandfather’s farm in the ‘bootheel’ of Missouri, helping him at an early age to plants beans. Listening to stories fondly told at the dinner table by my aunts and uncles of my mother and her siblings picking cotton in the heat of the day, or walking through a freshly plowed field next to our house. And I even have a perspective from the mules’ eye as I grudgingly pushed a small steel turning plow by hand in my dad’s garden. Back to this solitary image, the distinction may be more than one of subtle nuance but something entirely different than the first conclusion we happen to land on. Let’s take a moment to take a second look.

These images draw the minds’ eye to reminisce back to a simpler time. A man takes a moment to relax for his picture as he has been plowing with his mule team.  He projects a certain independence; strength and self reliance. When I see these images it seems to be juxtaposed in stark relief to the modern context we inhabit for the moment. As with any snapshot, an image merely captures the instant but as time constantly, surreptitiously moves along its course often unaware to us as careless observers; gives us the illusion of permanence. However, as he, so we too will one day be relegated as artifacts of the past by some observer in the future.

And I’m reminded that of all those who have lived, worked, dreamed, and labored before us; those labors are the fertile soil that contributed to our present. Their labors, much like plowing, are the fruits of their toil; watered sweat, we sprang from their soil.

These images appeal to the thought of us striving to become self-reliant. To some their lifestyle may be construed as demeaning or primitive but to me, I sense a people who persevere to do more than just eke out a living in what some would perceive as a life of drudgery.

In contrast to a less sophisticated technology, I pulled this image and others like them out of a search engine; a technology that did not exist at the time this picture was taken. A simple image search on Google or similar yields many similar pictures, many from the early to mid 1900’s. Each picture seems to tell its own silent story. Plowing is in itself an old technology going back a few thousand years across other continents and cultures. The plow itself is a new technology compared to earlier modes. Plows advanced as men strove to become more efficient, and the plow went from a crude blunt object to its more refined technology. The steel plow pulled by a mule was itself at one time a new technology even though we might consider it to be a crude device when compared to a modern tractor and disc. One image culled from the past and archived through the internet was of a man plowing with a mule from Summer County in Tennessee around 1941. 

The steel and wooden plow and mule team and freshly turned soil appear to have a subtle meaning than first ‘meets the eye’. The ground is ‘seeded’ as an investment into the future; both his and ours. Although we may not labor behind a plow, we are not nearly so different as we may think. We take the technology available to us and we toil and sow to plant the seeds for a future harvest of our own, one that we intend to reap ourselves one day. However we choose to do so, by whatever means we choose, we do so with the expectation that we will enjoy the fruits of our own labor. 

As I look at this picture I feel some inner connection to this unknown person. I don’t know him and yet, on some inner level, I do. His name may not be important, may not be remembered by history, but his life and labor tell a story of its own. His labor and many more like him prepared the way for the generation to follow. They plowed seeds of hope and reaped a harvest we enjoy today.

Rather than employ nuance I will simply state my working thesis, which curiously seemed to evolve as I wrote. Apparently the writer was not aware of his writing but in some reverse synthesis of thought, I became a product of my own writing, I started with a caption that only stated the obvious but as I wrote, it coalesced into something more than an assignment. It seemed as if the image had a story to tell and as I wrote I seemed to be little more than a scribe jotting down its’ message, rewriting and clarifying until the inchoate message, unspoken, took written form. Nothing as macabre as a voice from the past but rather, giving the past a voice as I wrote. My thesis, of which I was unaware of at the time, evolved to be thus; A thread runs through the fabric of human experience. Unknown persons living their lives out as do we. Our circumstances may differ but we are all a product of our times and experiences. And all of us labor to sow the seeds of a different kind in hopes to reap a harvest at some not so distant future. And as this person has passed through his prime so we too are moving through time as a fluid medium; transient, yet moving forward. And, as he, so we too will one day be ‘planted’ in the soil waiting for a future harvest.

A Shoebox Stuffed With Memories

Somebody said once, “Always know where you’re from because you might not always know where you are going.” The older I get, the more sense that makes. I haven’t always been sure of my direction in life so it’s been an anchor of stability to me knowing where I’m from. I can’t imagine not being part of a family and having an identity. That would be like having a tree without the roots. I was fortunate to grow up in a small town, mine just happened to be in the north central part of Missouri. I and my two younger brothers grew up among all the trappings of an idyllic childhood. We went fishing, we rode bikes and horses, climbed trees and fell out of them, and caught frogs. I liked to draw, Andy played the piano, and Tom read books. Dad built us a club house in between working, mom also worked full time…at home resolving crises. I remember many things about growing up, most of them pleasant but all of them a vital part of the thread that gives our lives continuity. shoebox2

Memories are sort of like all those old photos arranged in disarray in a shoebox. You probably have one too in your home, stuffed full of old photos with frayed edges, probably sitting on the top shelf in the closet. Pulling that cardboard repository of black & white pictures down is much like taking a trip into the past in a time machine. Often we forget we have a box like this until we happen to run across it. Each picture is special and evokes warm memories as they’re pulled out one by one in no particular order to examine them. It’s a part of your life that you almost forget was there tucked away deep in the subconscious of your mind, buried beneath the demands of everyday life.

You don’t realize just how much time has passed until you stop and look back. Then you can only wonder where time went because life, like a river, is always flowing, almost imperceptibly but never static. Drifting along lazily, carried by the currents of time, we fail to realize that the landmarks are constantly changing around us as we drift on until one day we notice that the scenery on the bank has changed. Nothing appears as it used to be.

            Here are just a few of the snapshots in the shoebox of my recollections, presented in no certain order, just like you would find them.

You might say that my hometown was on the small side. Small but not insignificant, there is a difference. There are probably more people wandering around aimlessly in the mall closest to you than lived in my entire town. Population of 623, unless of course, you were approaching from the other side of town, then it swelled to 656. Everything in town was accessible by walking. We walked everywhere, to school, to the grocery store. There is something about the place that you grow up in that transcends geography. Dad taught history at the high school, which is how we came from southern Missouri to reside in the North central part of the state.

Memories from an early age remain, like living in the upstairs apartment above Miller’s Hardware on Main Street. Or the time my younger brother, Andy locked mom and I in the storage room. Main Street ran one block straight through downtown and was the epicenter of enterprise in the community. I recall the hardware store, a little cafe, a post office, and at one time we had two grocery stores, one across from the other. They were wonderful affairs with ceiling fans and the smell and creaking sound of wooden floors walked on. One store even had a walk in cooler for the perishable items; a popular place in the summer time. There was a doctor’s office, too. And who could forget Mr. Ware’s barbershop. This was the information exchange center of the metropolis. You could find out the latest news on anything going on in the town. Not always completely factual but certainly more interesting. I think they call it, “artistic license.” All the town notaries made periodic appearances, holding court to their fellow acquaintances. Dignitaries like “Tinker,” an affable and energetic gentleman, or “uncle” Jesse, the eccentric old man who was the unofficial town talebearer. He didn’t just tell the news, he pollinated it, much like a bee going from one flower to another, injecting his own flavor into it. Current events were disseminated along with tidbits from the past, archived from his memory, and retold for every one’s benefit. He was the self appointed chronicler of town history.

Our town had no shortage of memorable characters, one of which lived down the street. We called him the Fire Chief. I suppose he was that before he retired since I never actually saw him put out a fire. Mostly all he did was hunt or fish. Or entertain three wide eyed visitors with his stories. I can’t attest to their validity but they sounded authentic to us. No one would argue that I lacked discernment, but even I, gullible as I was, could detect that he was a bit eccentric. He did seem larger than life in our little mundane world. He was large and brash. Looking back now, he seemed like a caricature of Teddy Roosevelt. Some things added to his mystique. He often wore a handgun in public. He seemed to be an authority on anything you could ask. Or maybe your question was an admission of your ignorance, which meant that he knew more about it than you did or you wouldn’t have asked him in the first place. He certainly had an opinion on everything. He was undeniably an oddity, even professing to be fond of turtle soup. Yep. Our town had no shortage of characters.

Santa’s sleigh was actually an old Plymouth. I know this because I’ve seen Santa, or at least I think it was him. You see, Santa looked a lot like Tirey Patterson. In secret I surmised it really was him. He probably only wore the costume during Christmas so all the kids wouldn’t know who he was and pester him all year for toys. Now the North Pole really wasn’t so far away. Come to think about it, I never saw a polar bear or a penguin there but make no mistake I had been there on more than one occasion. In fact, I have made several pilgrimages. It was in the North though; north of our little town, about ten miles north to be exact. We called it Moberly. Moberly was a huge metropolitan area with a massive population of over 13,000 people. Once a year, about a week before Christmas, Dad would get Tirey to drive us there in his car. Before we ever got to the toy stores, we saw an awesome display of Christmas lights and decorations that only hyped us into a frenzy of Yuletide greed. We went from one department store to the next on our route. We didn’t shop, we plundered. Blackbeard and all his pirate crew never conceived such treasure.

It is a sad fact of life that before you are old enough to appreciate someone, too often they are already gone before you can express it. I can’t remember ever telling him thank you but I think he knew.

A lot has transpired since those days, most of which occurred while I sort of drifted along, propelled by the current of circumstance and chance. While I never could really decide about my future, I have to say that I’m fortunate to have a past.

Many other memories remain and new ones are being made every day. I’m a lot older now but when I go back to that old shoebox, I’m a kid all over again. The one thing I do know is that time is slipping away from right now, whether we realize it or not.

While it’s true that you can’t live in the past, you would be foolish to forget it.

How to Write Blogs That No One Reads!

Over the course of the past two years I have managed to distinguish myself with an impressive portfolio of mediocre blogs that have been largely ignored. To the untrained amateur, it would appear to be largely due to my complete lack of literary ability to string together a few coherent sentences but my wife assures me it’s only because I suck at writing. While other bloggers routinely produce quality efforts that attract a large segment of the readership, my posts have mostly floundered in anonymity and neglect.

I however refuse to indulge in excessive self-pity but rather have resigned myself with a certain savoir faire to my marginal place in the literary universe. It is my karma! And so now I seek to attain a Zen state of mediocrity which I would be content to occupy. That is, as long as I don’t think about all my unread posts languishing in cyberspace.

Part of the problem I face is that I have been forced to compete with impressive titles like, “Laundry Lists of Former Celebrities” or eye-grabbing articles that would make the National Enquirer blush. Then there are those scintillating topics, such as how to create artful crafts woven from excess nasal hair. I frequently find myself repeatedly smacking my forehead with the palm of my hand and asking myself why didn’t I think of that first?

Oh, I admit at first I was really miffed! I confess I too wanted to be popular and attract large numbers of readers who would deluge me with gushing reviews of my work until I blushed. I admit I was jealous of the other writers; the ones not like me who actually didn’t suck at writing. All of which left me to sulk from my petty perch of petulant self-pity as their blogs attracted significant number of readers who actually READ them.

There is however several advantages when it comes to being an anonymous writer that no one wants to read. For instance, I frequently make up completely bizarre and unfactual facts without fear of slander because no one will ever know.

I Love Conspiracy Theories!

I was desperately in need of something to write so I concocted an act of literary sabotage with complete impunity by reinventing history. Journalism, as a writing endeavor, is just a little too constricted for me since they expect you to maintain a semblance of integrity and at least appear objective. They actually frown on reporting events without actual evidence unless you happen to be Dan Rather or a Jayson Blair. All this means you are required to do painstaking research and cite your sources. This is why I prefer to hatch up kooky conspiracy theories so bizarre that only an idiot would believe. And so I surmise that my writings are largely ignored due to some obscure conspiracy theory based on some arrangement between Hubpages and the…um…the Illuminati. Yes that’s it! That must be why no one reads my Hubs. Darn those secret societies!

And then there was the blog I wrote about my most recent alien abduction which only appeared to be similar to the one I wrote about a recent UFO sighting. Fortunately I was able to write about these incidents in complete anonymity without all those annoying media satellite trucks parked in my front yard. Not to mention the incessant demands for interviews! Alien abduction stories are not considered the forte’ of intelligent readers but again, no one will ever know I wrote them.

I once hid out in the woods after dark in a desperate attempt to garner material for a Sasquatch sighting. Oh sure, you say. Another Sasquatch sighting? Ho, hum! This may not seem significant until you consider all the other fakers in the big fuzzy gorilla costumes you see in those badly blurred photographs are in on the conspiracy to discredit true Bigfoot sightings like mine. Actually there is no conspiracy which I surmise may be part of a larger conspiracy itself. No, wait! I remember now. It was Sasquatch and he was spotted…in a UFO and he’s engaged in some apocalyptic war with the Yetis . . .Yetis with light sabers!! Ok. I admit that was not one of my better efforts! I’d be really embarrassed about that one but since no one ever read it, I have not been banned by the Writer’s Guild. If I had really seen Bigfoot, I would have asked him to write my Hub for me. How about that, all you talented overachievers! Ha!

Oh, wait. Don’t tell me, you never read that one either!

Napoleon Flunked Geography!

And then there was the time I wrote about dating Brittany Spears…once. True story! I haven’t told any because after I broke up with her she was so despondent she shaved her head. Don’t go ask her about it; she can’t remember a thing since she was still in rehab at the time. But we had a great time together. In retrospect it may have just been a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Brittany but that’s beside the point.

I won’t stoop to the level of those who would insult your intelligence with worn out recounts of time-travel or the same old boring reincarnation drivel. Even I have a semblance of scruples as a writer however in a completely unrelated incident from my former life; I did know Napoleon in the third grade. That at least seemed like good material for another Hub. Back in the 17th century we used to hang out. After class we dusted erasers and talked about girls. Napoleon was actually a little dweeb which is why the other kids refused to sit with him during lunch, mostly because he insisted on wearing that funny sideways hat. So he resorted to organizing full scale armed revolts during recess when he should have been doing his book report. This made things difficult for the Principal since he often had to thwart his mad maniacal plots to take over grammar school and declare himself dictator. Once because he got a D-minus in geography – -he thought Russia was supposed to be a part of France- – he was so livid. Years later he invaded Russia just because he couldn’t admit he was wrong. This, even after two decades of therapy!!

And the famous pictures of old Bonaparte with his hand inside his jacket? I refuse to tell why . . .OK, OK. You made me blurt out the tawdry little secret. He was adjusting his brazier…or maybe his hand was cold. I can’t remember. My memory gets a little fuzzy after several centuries have passed. Secretly he did suffer from hot flashes and severe mood swings which is why he was so hostile and occasionally felt the need to invade other countries. Now I regret telling you this since he made me pinky promise not to tell anyone.

Most writers would have already received an angry letter of protest from the French Consulate for what could be construed as blatant lies which under normal circumstances would have created an embarrassing international incident. But since no one reads what I write, they never found out. Crisis averted. Otherwise I would have had to enlist the expertise of Susan Rice to cover up the whole mess. If only I can get the media to look the other way until after the election

Since I have nothing else intelligent to say, now would be a great time to insert a pointless bullet list; This si supposed to help you gain more notorerity as a blogger but it hasn’t worked for me…and I tried everyone of the tips below.

How to Bolster Sagging Readership

  • Change your name.

No one reads anything written by Sam or Bob… You must have a fancy moniker. I prefer an unspoken name or you may refer to me as, ‘The Writer formally Known as Jimagain’.

  • Be a deviant. Any kind will do.

Develop some kind of lurid, crippling psychosis. Normal is so blasé’. Psychopaths and sexual deviants have the inside track when it comes to notoriety. Attention, please. Morally upstanding writers with talent, please step to the back of the line.

  • Be declared mentally insane.

Writer’s have the inside track on the insanity plea. Just try it with the judge the next time you appear in court. This used to a lot harder back when they made you undergo psychiatric evaluation or endure endless sanity hearings. Now you have no excuse.

  • Go on a few well reported drunken or drug induced binges.

It helps to have at least one really bad celebrity mug shot splashed across the five O’ clock news to keep up your public image.

  • Angry or dysfunctional relatives or spouses are a huge plus!

This reminds me how my wife frequently beats me about the head & neck with a cast iron skillet. My psychiatrist didn’t believe me either until after she called him a ‘nutty old fruit cake’ and ‘bonked’ him on his bald goateed head.

My latest project…

I probably shouldn’t divulge sensitive information like this about my many aberrations of good judgment and the numerous death threats I have received from the Writer’s Guild not to mention the injunction they filed against me for defamation on behalf of all the legitimate writers. This is why the judge signed that stupid restraining order forbidding me within 500 feet of a word processor. But of course, no one reads what I write so the world will never know!

Because frankly, as I have discovered, no one is even remotely interested in reading anything I wrote. And if you don’t believe that just ask my wife and she will tell you as much.

And now if you will excuse me, I must return to my latest really big project destined to propel me into fame entitled,”Artful Crafts Woven from Excess Celebrity Nasal Hair.”

Betcha’ wish you’d thought of that one!

Kaopectate for the Brain: stool softener for the narrow-minded

I love great quotes.  And here for your entertainment and edification are a series of random quotes from some great minds. And what list of great thinkers would be complete without Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Soren Kierkegaard, Isaac Asiminov, Albert Einstein, and, yes, Winnie the Pooh.

I must however exclude myself from the list of great minds, but hey…where else can you get blogs with great titles like this?!!

 I’ve found that often quotes made from those who entertain views with whom I would most vehemently disagree are by no small irony the most provocative and invigorating. The ones that sting the cerebrum like a slap in the face with a wet salmon are more likely to jolt the forebrain out of its mental stupor and stimulate neural activity. You may conjecture there to be an amusing anecdote about an alleged incident involving myself and a cold, wet salmon however I will leave you to the amusement of your own imagination.  Even if diametrically opposed to opposing views, the discomfort they bring may force you to re-examine or at least clarify your own.

I think it was Oliver Wendell Holmes that said something to the effect that every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by some new thought or idea and never shrinks back to its original dimensions.

In this vein, I put forth a bold proposition; thinking that stimulates the mind should create some discomfort. Think of it as intentionally giving yourself a mental wedgie!  Opposing points of view lessen the painful condition of bloating and pretentiousness that results from only entertaining points of view compatible with your own. This is Kaopectate for the brain. If you haven’t done any push-ups recently, do a few more than you know you should. The next morning when you wake up with aching muscles you forgot you had; this is how your brain should feel afterward.  And who wants flabby brain cells?

Here are some great quotes on the subject of thinking and writing that I culled from a few sites, arranged in no particular order.

  “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” — William James

“A good listener is usually thinking about something else.” — Kin Hubbard

“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.” — Thomas Paine

“A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.” — Oscar Wilde

“A sect or party is an elegant incognito devised to save a man from the vexation of thinking.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Belief is when someone else does the thinking.” — Buckminster Fuller

“Believing is easier than thinking.  Hence so many more believers than thinkers.” — Bruce Calvert

“Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution. It forces us to change our thinking in order to find it.” — Niels Bohr

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” — Rick Warren

“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”– George S. Patton

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth; only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” –  C.S. Lewis

“Our job is not to make up anybody’s mind, but to open minds and to make the agony of the decision-making so intense you can escape only by thinking.” — Anonymous

“Ours is the age which is proud of machines that think and suspicious of men who try to.” — Howard Mumford Jones

“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” — Soren Kierkegaard

“People mistakenly assume that their thinking is done by their head; it is actually done by the heart which first dictates the conclusion, then commands the head to provide the reasoning that will defend it.” –  Anthony de Mello

“Principles and rules are intended to provide a thinking man with a frame of reference.” — Karl Von Clausewitz

“Sixty minutes of thinking of any kind is bound to lead to confusion and unhappiness.” — James Thurber

“The forceps of our minds are clumsy things and crush the truth a little in the course of taking hold of it.” — H.G. Wells

“Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” — John F. Kennedy

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” — Albert Einstein

“Writing and learning and thinking are the same process.” — William Zinsser

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” — Isaac Asimov

 

The last quote I leave you with should be mandatory reading for all ideologues; “Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?” — Winnie the Pooh

Quick. Somebody get the jumper cables!

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