Two men rushed past me, their words gushing out in torrents. Their conversation was entirely about something that was going on outside the store. My curiosity piqued, I watched as they hurried through the grocery store’s front doors and joined others who seemed to be staring into the sky. What was so interesting? Was a plane in trouble? Did they see a UFO? Was a major storm heading our way?
“I’ll be right back,” I said to my lady friend. “I’ve got to see what the excitement is all about.” I scampered outside, leaving her and two kids.
Stacey, her three kids, and I had traveled to the mountains for a picnic. It was a beautiful hot day and we mostly stayed in the shade. Her oldest son, Fabian, was hyperactive and constantly on the move. He just couldn’t sit still during our picnic.
Fabian was too distracted by the world around him. He wandered off several times and we had to search for him each time. Out of frustration Stacey told him he was grounded and would have to stay next to her. After an angry exchange of words between Stacey and Fabian, we decided to leave. There was no point in staying with relations already strained between them and still going downhill.
On the way down the mountain Stacey decided to reward her other two children for being good. She spotted a mini mall with a small store and asked me to stop. I pulled in. I noted that the space was on an incline so I set the parking brake.
“Let’s go inside and get out of the heat,” I said.
“Fabian has to stay in the car. He’s grounded,” Stacey replied.
“I don’t want to leave him in the car. I don’t want anything to happen to him.”
“He’ll be fine. I don’t want to reward him for bad behavior.”
Reluctantly I went inside. I picked up some potato chips, various kinds of candy, fruit drinks, and some ice cream. I didn’t tell Stacey but I intended to give some to Fabian later after he showed good behavior. However, that was before I saw the men rushing out the door.
Once I was outside a strange sight greeted me. A white Toyota Corolla, looking a lot like mine, was across the street, high in the air, surrounded by a gathering crowd. I stared in amazement. “It looks like my car but it can’t be.” I turned and looked for my parking space. It was empty.
The Toyota looked kind of odd resting in a tree. Yes, it was my car, and no, it didn’t have magical powers. How did it get there?
Stacey had rejoined me by then, two kids at her side. She clutched my arm tightly. “Where’s Fabian?” she asked hysterically.
At that moment Fabian’s head popped up at the driver’s side window. His face was pale and he looked terrified. I couldn’t understand his words or his gestures. “Don’t move!” I shouted.
Traffic was blocked at the main entrance as emergency vehicles arrived. Fabian was rescued first. With no one else in danger everything went faster. A helicopter lifted my car and then lowered it to the ground.
I was worried that this would be terribly expensive. Then two representatives of the mall management team thrust a paper in front of me. They were concerned the mall would be sued because a child had been in danger. They were happy that I didn’t want to sue anyone. Fabian was safe and that was all that really mattered.
I came to the conclusion that Fabian had released the parking brake, put the car in neutral and attempted to steer it. Instead the car jumped over a small railing and sailed onto a tree which was between two lanes, one for entering and one for leaving. Amazingly no one was hurt and my car received only a few small scratches.
Our relationship suffered because of the incident and shortly thereafter we broke up. But that’s another story.
Sometimes letters to two are two too many. I’d like to say I didn’t make mistakes in relationships, but if I did I would be lying. I’ve made a multitude of mistakes. When I was a rambunctious teenager I tried dating two girls from different towns. “They would never find out,” I reasoned. For awhile I was careful and the girls did not know about each other.
Because of my carelessness that changed and my carefully constructed world exploded. After a full day at college, football practice, and homework, I stumbled through my front door tired and hungry. After a quick meal, I decided to write a letter to Lucy before I went to work as an usher at the local theater. My words were beautiful and efficient and I finished ahead of schedule. “Why not write a letter to Brenda as well?” I asked myself. “For once I’ll be ahead.” That letter was finished quickly but I rushed, afraid I’d be late to work. I wasn’t paying attention when I stuffed the letters into envelopes.
A few days later I received a phone call. Lucy’s angry voice greeted me. I listened while she explained how much she was hurt when she received a letter meant for someone else. It was an awkward conversation because I had no defense for my callous behavior. Switching the letters was a mistake, but even worse I was cheating by having another girlfriend. I shriveled up inside and said I was sorry. We closed our conversation with instructions never to see or speak to each other again.
I’m no genius but my math was telling me one girl was unaccounted for. I was dreading a second phone call, a letter, or lightning to strike me, something big and punishing. Brenda called a few days later. She was willing to forgive me. That shocked me more than Lucy’s angry call. We talked and talked. Finally I admitted my guilt was overwhelming and I needed to get my act together before I could be in a relationship. I told her I was deeply sorry I had hurt her. Although we parted on friendly terms I never had contact with her again.
In my mind I can still see the fishhook dangling from his lip, his face pale, his eyes wide with terror. A few minutes before we had been peacefully fishing, the small boat gliding into shallow coves and out of the deeper currents of the Feather River. My partner, Tom, continued to get strike after strike while I watched, impatiently waiting for a fish to grab my lure.
I knew his technique. He would guide the boat in at an angle, allowing him to cast across a wide area. His lure was always the first to shoot out across relatively virgin areas.
I was determined that just once my lure would go first. He turned into a small cove and got ready to cast. I realized I was going to be further away so I brought my pole back a few more inches. I snapped my pole forward but I didn’t see the lure fly by. I turned around. Tom was silent for a reason. My lure had caught him, one barb hooked securely in his lower lip, and my slightest motion drew his lip forward.
I couldn’t leave the boat and equipment so I called his wife. She took him to the emergency room while I took the fishing gear to his house. I joined them later at the emergency room. He still had the lure dangling from his lip and by now interns and nurses were posing for pictures with him. If there had been cell phones the incident would have gone viral.
Although he was getting lots of attention he still didn’t look happy. At that moment I was glad we had been fishing rather than hunting. He didn’t need a gun right then.
Finally a doctor came out with a pair of pliers and clipped the hook. Nurses dabbed the area with antiseptic and the doctor told him he was free to go. His lip healed quickly but he still had trouble speaking to me.
I’ve traveled through a lifetime discovering moments that were challenging, or to put it in simpler terms, I discovered those awkward, embarrassing moments when time seemed to stand still with the spotlight focused on me. I didn’t mind attention occasionally but how could I divert it when I preferred privacy?
What did I learn from the embarrassment and awkward moments? I learned that life goes on, day after day, and those moments are remembered more kindly after time has smoothed the harshness and gave me a chance to look at them objectively.
I did not have awkward moments of Biblical proportions like those of Jacob. Jacob had moments that were extremely awkward. First, he stole the birthright and blessing that rightfully belonged to his twin, Esau. Jacob fled to save his life. Esau wanted to kill him. His troubles were not over. He met Rachael and worked seven years to win Rachael’s hand, but after the wedding feast and a night of revelry Jacob woke up beside a new wife. He had been tricked! Instead of Rachael, he was married to her sister, Leah. Jacob’s problems were much worse than mine.
The following four scenarios display moments when I was uncomfortable. There are countless others that disturb my dreams and make me avoid people until sufficient time has passed.
Consider the job interview when my prospective boss and his wife were driving me around, showing me off, discovering my likes and dislikes, my strengths and weaknesses. It was a time when I should have been listening or politely answering questions. Instead, I did the unthinkable and inexcusable. I assumed his wife was pregnant and asked when she was due. The interior of the car became icy cold and all conversation stopped. She was not pregnant, just fluffy.
Perhaps as father of the bride I should have taken special pains with my appearance. After all, i did escort the bride up to the altar in view of the guests. I was in the reception line when the bride asked, “How long has your fly been open?” It was too late to worry about being awkward. My only choice was to greet each guest warmly and thank them for coming, after of course, discreetly zipping up my pants.
My six year old son and I were in a supermarket buying supplies for dinner. The store was crowded but that was of little concern. I only had one child with me. What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, in the aisle we were in a large well fed man in coveralls was filling his cart. My son looked him over and shouted, “Hey, hey, hey! It’s Fat Albert!” There was no place to hide. No place to run. We deserted our shopping cart and just left quietly.
In Spanish classes I scraped by, never becoming fluent. I could read and write in Spanish but because of a minor tongue tie conversational Spanish was not my forte. In the language section of the college library were tapes to review. I went in thinking I could brush up my conversational skills. While reviewing, I heard my professor saying, “Be careful to pronounce your words. Listen to this gentleman. It’s the worst case I’ve ever heard.” I listened closely as my own voice stumbled through the language. There was nothing I could do. It was true. My pronunciation was terrible.
The family that lived at the edge of the oak forest kept away from the town folks and rarely interacted with their neighbors. One of the townsfolk might catch a glimpse of one of the children talking to forest animals or see the children climbing trees. Sometimes in passing conversation some peculiar circumstance might be mentioned but in general everyone thought it best to mind their own business.
Mr. Wolfe and his wife took two walks per day, one at daybreak and the other just after the sun set and stars were beginning to pop out of the dark canopy of night. Some of the townspeople suggested that Mrs. Wolfe was an artist and Mr. Wolfe was a writer but no one bothered to ask or do any research. The guesses were true and they were well known in some circles. Mr. Wolfe was also a character actor appearing in many minor roles. In the big city their names were occasionally mentioned in the society pages but in their small town they were just normal people with abnormal children.
Mr. Wolfe owned a mom and pop mini mart five miles from their house and a mini storage facility next to town. Although many said the Wolfe family was rich the family was careful with their money and bought forest land which they donated to the U.S. Forest Service.
Things didn’t always go well for the family. Because the children had ongoing problems in school, Mrs. Wolfe, after teaching three years, decided to stay home and take care of the three boys and one daughter.
In their younger years the four children were hard to describe. They seemed to blend in with every kind of scenery or scene. When class pictures were taken the Wolfe children never were in focus or were hidden just out of the picture. Newcomers to the area might ask, “Where’s Johnny? Or where is Abigail?”
After a few days the newcomers didn’t ask anymore because the regulars would simply turn away glassy-eyed and ignore the question. It was said that Johnny and Abigail could hide in shadows or cracks in the walls. Of course that was nonsense, or at least it couldn’t be proven.
The two younger brothers, Justin and Phillip, were even harder to explain and even harder to ignore. Their movements were quick and their voices too loud for indoor activities and the Wolfe house couldn’t contain their restless activity.
Outdoors the children were at home, especially when they were in shady areas or partial darkness. When twilight drew near and nocturnal animals were shuffling about, the two boys became restless, energized and alert. On nights when the full moon swallowed up the sky, the two younger brothers roamed the countryside, and went racing about, carefree and wild.
Both smiled constantly, but if they felt threatened or saw someone bullied, their demeanor changed. The smiles changed to snarls and the fight was on. On several separate occasions bullies challenged Phillip and Justin but the battles were always short. A whirl of motion here, a snap and a growl, and the bullies were on their backs, pleading for mercy. Although it didn’t last long, peace reigned for awhile.
When they were in their twenties they appeared suave and sophisticated. All of them had been exposed to stage and cinema and were anxious to see if the thespian life was their calling.
Johnny and Abigail took small parts hoping the roles would expand. Justin and Phillip were not sure they wanted to be actors so they held back.
Justin learned a lot about himself while protecting others. After the first time he had come to someone’s defense, Justin wanted to be a deputy keeping law and order. In his opinion every person deserved equal treatment.
Phillip, the most unusual of the four, had special qualities. Everyone believed he had ESP because he had the uncanny ability to look at someone and know his next move. It was thought that Phillip could track any animal across rocky terrain or across bodies if water. Phillip knew his abilities but he let people think his powers were unlimited.
Once, during search party training exercises, Phillip demonstrated what he could do. It was recorded on film by a deputy and verified by several others.
“Philip bent low to the ground, took a quick sniff, tilted his head back and howled, long and blood-curdling. He then proceeded to track a mountain lion to its den.”
The Wolfe family had long been fans of the Theatre and claimed they had several well-known relatives, one of the most notable being Virginia Wolfe. Abigail had taken voice lessons and seemed destined to be a star but bright lights frightened her. Even after therapy she seemed blinded and unsure of herself. She was the first Wolfe to face disappointment in acting.
Johnny, the next in line, was accused of pawing several leading ladies. His chance to become a leading man was diminished. He was ruled out of future productions and became the second disappointment.
Justin seemed a shoo-in for the role of a leading man. Handsome and well-liked, Justin wanted to be the hero and win the lady’s heart. However, in his first role the leading man was a villain. In Little Red Riding Hood Justin wanted to transform the wolf into a good Wolfe. His request was turned down and he dropped out of acting to begin a career in law enforcement.
Phillip finally tried out for a part. He wasn’t trying to make it big, but merely get his foot in the door. He learned his lines quickly and easily. Becoming too involved was his major concern. Could he actually lose a stage fight or give up a fair maiden? It was difficult but he managed to stay out of trouble.
Around town, trouble seemed to haunt him. Usually he sat by himself, away from groups, just watching others and studying their mannerisms for future roles. One night he drifted into a small bar located just off the main part of town. He was sitting quietly on a stool sipping a margarita and listening to country songs. The band was good but not great. There was a change in rhythm and intensity when a lady with a bass guitar took charge. She was good. Phillip was impressed as her fingers danced across the strings and the music came alive. After a series of songs she stopped and beckoned to Phillip.
“I need a drink,” she said into the microphone. She leaned her guitar against the wall and out of harm’s way. “Are you going to buy this girl a drink?’ she asked as she sidled up to Phillip. Her gray eyes watched closely, measuring his slightest reaction.
“My pleasure,” he replied. “Bartender, give the lady whatever she’s been drinking. Just put it on my tab.”
He stood up and scooted his chair towards her. “Have a seat and rest your weary bones.”
It was evident to Phillip that men rarely treated her like a lady. She blushed and said, “I’m Kristine. I’m glad to meet you.”
Phillip got up slowly, extended his hand, and said dramatically, “I’m the Lone Wolfe, the only one fortunate enough to meet a beautiful lady like you.”
The bar was crowded and the room was warm. There were only a handful of women and the men were frustrated and growing meaner by the minute.
“It’s hot in here,” she announced. “I need cool air.” She fanned herself for effect and then started towards the door. Glancing at Phillip she asked, “Well, are you coming or not?”
The situation was strange and Phillip knew instinctively that something was wrong. The hair on the back of his neck had risen. Still, he was curious if this was a set-up.
“Of course, darling. It’s cool outside and the moon is full and beautiful. It’s something to howl about.”
“You’re just too funny,” Kristine said. “Now tell me who you are and what brings you here tonight.”
“Phillip. That’s my name. I just wanted to hear a good band and relax. It was a bonus when I saw you.”
She led him to the parking lot before she said quietly, “I think you’re a narc. We don’t like troublemakers around here.” She wouldn’t be alone and confronting him like that.
A slight sound caught Phillip’s attention. “I think we have company.”
In the shadows several men hurried towards them. Phillip mentally noted five men, all large and muscular.
Kristine moved away from him. “Goodbye, stranger. You should have stayed in the country.”
Phillip moved swiftly at the edge of moonlight, becoming both shadow and reflection. Phillip knocked the first two down easily with jabs to their throats. He was too fast and elusive. “Is this a ghost we’re trying to catch?” one man panted. He circled them, attacked, and destroyed their confidence. In short order he left them huddled in the middle of the parking lot, whimpering and shivering.
Phillip strolled through the door and sat down. He ordered a drink. Kristine stared at him in surprise.
Phillip raised his glass. “Here’s to you. When your friends recover tell them that not everyone is a pushover.”
Phillip’s reputation as a fighter led him to new roles. Before long he had several roles in martial arts films playing alongside Buck Morris and Mackie Shan.
I don’t think I’ll open any mail, answer the phone, or communicate with anyone, especially if it’s a relative. My house is full of relatives and I’m up to my ears with trouble. I think I’ll move. Don’t tell anyone. Perhaps this time I can stay hidden for awhile.
From the Tehachapi Mountains into the valley I drove at a steady but cautious pace because I was both excited and tired from the long journey. I was determined to remain positive as I passed brown sun-baked grass and dried up orchards. Town after town flew by, few of them thriving or prospering, and it shook my confidence.
What did I have to look forward to? I remembered the words of my brother. “There will be no rent . Just take care of the place. Everything is in tip-top shape. You won’t need anything.” Those promises were comforting as I prepared to collapse and relax when I finally stopped in the drive-way of my new home.
I had already inspected the house and grounds so when the moving van arrived, workers I had hired were ready to unload. Everything I had was unloaded with care in the hopes nothing was broken there.
While furniture was set up in designated locations I mused over discrepancies in what I expected and what was reality. The house was not in good shape. The exterior had recently been painted blue and looked nice but the interior needed some repair. The bathrooms were my biggest concern because minerals in the water had corroded the copper lines and the shower heads were plugged. The toilets were so rusted out they needed to be replaced. Throughout the house major cleaning was necessary along with minor repairs.
Outside, the yard was enormous and green. Then I saw the fruit trees and stared openmouthed. “This is a Garden of Eden!” I stated emphatically. There were peaches, nectarines, pomegranates, persimmons, oranges, grapes, pears, figs, and more. I thought, “This is where I can begin a new life.”
With over three acres of orchard and lawn the house had to have a name. “Green Acres” was a fitting name because I was from the city learning country life over again. It would be like the TV series and it would be fun.
During the first week I celebrated each time I emptied a box and put its contents away. The pile of empty boxes grew taller until one day I flattened them out and took them to the recycling center. I was trying to do my part in the recycling effort.
I planted a garden in my spare time. Hot days, warm nights and water brought rapid growth. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and watermelon were soon thriving. I eventually got a bumper crop of tomatoes but the rest of the produce? The rabbits and ground squirrels had their way. But that’s another story or two.