Entry Sixty-nine: Oh, Tanner Baum

[Yet another story in multiple installments. Today: 6 of 6]

After a few moments of respectful silence, daddy grabbed the saw and twine from the Man Scout and instructed the kids not to move. He started snipping and hacking, ridding each tree of their bad parts until the two orphans fit together like twins. Then he grabbed the twine and united the two at the top, middle and bottom, securing them so tight that no man would ever put them asunder. When daddy was through, the Man Scout offered to hold the tree (it was one now) and let the whole Baum crew inspect daddy’s work. “Spin!” we all shouted at once and repeated it until we had seen the tree from every angle. It was perfect, probably the best-looking Christmas tree we had ever found. Then I had an idea that, weirdly, seemed to strike all of us kids at once, because we all grabbed hands and let out the biggest silent scream we had ever mustered. Daddy laughed but the Man Scout lost his smile briefly. I believe he happened to be looking at Hootie and, if you’re not ready for it, his silent scream can concern you.

As we piled into the van, Oleta remembered Bart and wished out loud that he could have witnessed our Christmas miracle. Cecil said he believed the Man Scout would be telling that story for a lot of years to come so he was sure Bart would hear about it. Then everybody started talking at once and, for once, daddy didn’t try to shut us up. It was a very special night indeed.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Sixty-eight: Oh, Tanner Baum

[Yet another story in multiple installments. Today: 5 of 6]

Daddy turned away from him and started to pace. This was a good sign because when daddy paced it seemed to charge up the part of his brain where The Genius lives. Some near miracles have occurred from daddy’s hands once he has spent a little time pondering. The kids knew to let him be and work through it on his own time. After ten minutes the Man Scout got tired of waiting and he walked back to the front to begin the process of shutting down the lot for the night. In all my years of hunting the tree, we have never come home empty handed, proving that when daddy got the special feeling, great things happened. I could not imagine tonight would be different but just as a little seedling of despair started to germinate in my gut, daddy stopped, turned to face us and pointed the measuring stick at me.

“Tanner, go find the man in charge and tell him to bring me a saw and a ball of twine and meet us in aisle two. The rest of you, follow me. There is work to be done.” I ran off to find the Man Scout. Daddy was getting us a Christmas tree.

By the time we found daddy and the kids, they had pulled two nasty trees out of the stack and had them lying on the ground right next to each other. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what daddy had planned but I was in no position to doubt him. He instructed my brothers and sisters to stand the trees straight up and hold them side-by-side. When that was done, he stepped back, setting one end of the measuring stick on the ground, holding it out from his body, looking like Moses before he parted the Red Sea. Since I wasn’t a participant at that particular miracle, what followed next will have to suffice as my Children of Israel moment. Daddy started barking out instructions, simple and clear, and that’s when we all knew daddy was either a genius or a saint.

“Right side, spin!” The kids holding the tree on the right spun their tree one-quarter around. This was followed by a moment of silence before daddy barked, “Left side, spin!” The kids on the left quickly obeyed. “Left side, spin!” They turned it once again. When daddy told the kids on the right to spin their tree back to its original position, daddy’s plan became crystal clear. It was like the heavens opened up and a big angel choir started singing one of those fancy church songs. Even the Man Scout muttered, “Well I’ll be…” Without being told the kids holding each tree moved toward each other, stopping as their two trunks met. The result was one of the most beautiful, full trees any of us had ever seen in our lives. Daddy had found two perfect halves to make a glorious whole and his reputation as a blessed genius was forever seared in our minds at that moment.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Sixty-seven: Oh, Tanner Baum

[Yet another story in multiple installments. Today: 4 of 6]

As we started running toward the tree Bart was holding, we all stopped at the same time and stared. The tree was pathetic. The trunk was crooked and the left side of it looked like it had survived a hurricane, limbs curled back over themselves and needles sticking every way but right. There was no way daddy would accept a tree in that condition and he proved me right by telling Bart to get that one out of his site and grab another. The next one daddy pointed to got displayed a lot quicker because all of the kids were helping. We couldn’t help the way the tree looked, though. It was possibly more wretched than the first one. It was so bad that daddy didn’t even have us spin it, not even once. Daddy decided to change his luck by trying another row of trees, but each one we pulled out to show him was sorry. They were either really thin or had giant holes in them big enough for baby Cephus to hide in. Daddy was spinning and pointing that stick so fast he looked like a wizard casting spells, except he would have to be from the Minnesota Wizard Clan where they are more accepting of flannel and lace-up boots.

Whatever he was trying to conjure up with that stick it wasn’t working. Every single tree we hauled in front of him was useless. I was starting to get scared and, by the amount of fingernail chewing being conducted by my brothers and sisters, they were too. Bart had to go home when his momma came to pick him up an hour into our hunt. He looked relieved. As we all gathered around the latest choice, daddy told me to run get one of the adult Boy Scouts because he had some questions for him. I grabbed the first dude I found and we hurried to the back of the lot to talk to daddy.

Daddy didn’t give the Man Scout a chance to introduce himself before he barked, “Sir, your allotment of trees this season is deplorable. What say you?”

“I’m afraid you’re right, Mr. Baum. Seems we tried a different supplier this year and what they sent us has been a bit disappointing.”

“Disappointing? That, my man, is a gross understatement. These trees should be burned!” I admit I would love to see a whole Christmas tree lot set on fire but I know what daddy was getting at. So did the Man Scout.

“I tell you what I can do, Mr. Baum. If you can find something in here you can work with, I’ll sell it to you half price.” When daddy heard that offer, he softened up a little. If coupons are big in the Baum family then half-off deals are huge. The Man Scout was speaking daddy’s language.

Daddy placed both his hands behind his back and took on a serious look. He stared at the Man Scout and said, “I will take that offer under advisement and let you know in a reasonable time what my decision will be.”

“As long as a reasonable time is within fifteen minutes because we close at nine.”

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Sixty-six: Oh, Tanner Baum

[Yet another story in multiple installments. Today: 3 of 6]

The Methodist Church was only five blocks away but it felt like eight. It always seems to take longer to get some place than it does to get back. Daddy found a parking space right near the front of the tree lot and, before he turned off the van and unlocked the doors, he turned in his seat, sort of, and went over the rules just like he does every year. “Number one: don’t act like little hooligans when we get out of the car. You represent our family and its good name while you’re in public. Number two: Help me with this one… Who makes the final decision about which tree we buy?”

We all shouted, “Daddy!” And with that we were released.

As we approached the entrance the smell of pines buckled my knees caused by my stomach’s memory of that afternoon but I recovered by taking a swig of ginger ale from Cecil’s flask. He was always getting car sick so he had special permission to carry carbonated soda with him every time he rode in the car, no matter how short the trip. Fortunately, since ginger ale lacked caffeine, it didn’t interfere with his Ritalin. Since I had to hesitate in the parking lot to settle my stomach, I got left behind. By the time I caught up, daddy had already grabbed a measuring pole and was marching into the first row of trees. Boy Scout Troup 1412 always ran this particular tree lot and we kept coming back every year because they gave returning customers $5.00 off the purchase of a tree. Coupons are a big deal to the Baum family. I found daddy and the crew halfway down aisle one, being led by one of Troup 1412’s finest, a little dude with buckteeth sporting his Scout shirt, scarf, khaki shorts and what looked like size twelve white sneakers. He looked nervous and I was guessing he was probably new. No one ever waited on daddy twice. As I got closer I could hear daddy getting ready to explain why.

“What was your name again, son?”

“Bart, sir.”

“Okay, Bart, here are my expectations for the evening. If you want to sell me a Christmas tree, you will need to follow these rules. One, I point to a tree I am interested in with the measuring stick. You will then pull it into the aisle and hold it straight. Two, I will measure for height which will determine its price which will determine whether it is in our price range. If it qualifies, we will proceed to three, which will require you to spin the tree one-quarter turns when I say the word ‘spin.’ I will say the word four times and you will spin the tree four times until I have inspected the tree from every angle. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.” Bart’s response was barely a whisper and his hand was shaking as he mindlessly raised it, holding up three fingers like he was going to start reciting the Boy Scout pledge. Daddy smiled and then made everyone jump by spinning 90 degrees and pointing the measuring stick toward his first evergreen subject, shouting “That one!” Bart recovered and ran over to daddy’s choice, pulled it out of the stack and dragged it to the middle of the aisle. We all watched silently as he struggled to gain enough leverage to pull it upright. He was so little that it took him a long time to get it balanced perpendicular to the ground. By the time he succeeded, he was sweating through his shirt and his hair was starting to stick to the sides of his face.

“Good Lord, man!” daddy shouted. “If you’re that slow with all of these trees we’ll need to order breakfast!” Bart was deflated and right before he started to cry, daddy told us kids to help him with the trees, which was what we were waiting to hear. Humiliating a Boy Scout is part of the Baum family tree buying tradition, at least for daddy.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Sixty-five

Merry Christmas.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Sixty-four: Oh, Tanner Baum

[Yet another story in multiple installments. Today: 2 of 6]

When daddy’s car pulled into the carport every one of us was dressed and ready to go. As he walked through the family room and passed in front of all of us sitting lined up on the sofa, he nodded approvingly and told us he needed to change clothes and then we would leave. When he left the room we all grabbed hands and simultaneously contorted our faces into silent screams. I kept my eye on Hootie during the scream because he always made the best faces due to his current transition between baby teeth and permanent and his lazy eye.

My father is shaped like a box. He is as wide and tall as he is thick. If he ever had a visible neck it was long gone before any pictures were taken of him. He has great posture but he is as wide as a door jam and he walks with tiny, bouncy steps that make it look like he is skipping everywhere he goes. I guess he’s kind of funny looking but we never laugh about it because we’re used to it. He’s not the snazziest dresser but the one day daddy can be counted on to look fine is the day we get our Christmas tree. He put on a crisp pair of blue jeans held up by plain brown suspenders that overlapped his favorite green and red plaid flannel shirt. He always rolled up the sleeves, one turn each, because it gave him some breathing room when he needed to slide on his gloves. The rugged, manly, leather gloves hung exactly halfway out of his right back pocket, thumbs lined up, far enough away to not be a nuisance but close enough to grab when needed. On his feet were a pair of boots bought over ten years ago that were still as shiny as the day he bought them. They were brown to match his suspenders and they were cut high, climbing midway to his knees, which gave him ample room to tuck his jeans into the top before he laced them, tight and secure with a double knot. The whole fashion package was topped off with a bright orange John Deere baseball hat that looked too small but only because daddy liked wearing it really high on his head. I think he thought it made him look taller but it really just looked like he needed a bigger hat.

When he walked out of the bedroom and stood framed in the doorway, he was the coolest daddy that any of us had ever seen. I had witnessed the transformation for 12 years and the initial sensation of pride never faded. Our daddy was going to get us a Christmas tree and we were going to help.

The only person in the house not allowed to go with us was momma. Daddy liked having her stay back at the house to make sure the tree lights were functioning and all the ornament boxes were open and ready to be raided. Whenever daddy kissed her goodbye she would salute and thank him in advance for the task he was about to undertake. The way momma smiled when she said it made me wonder if she was talking about getting the tree or the fact that daddy was taking all five kids out of the house at once by himself. Either way, I liked the salute and I think he did too. We all piled into the mini-van and once daddy was sure we were all buckled in, he got us on the road, heading out to find our tree.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Sixty-three: Oh, Tanner Baum

[Yet another story in multiple installments. Today: 1 of 6]

My daddy set his fork down, placed his elbows on the either side of his plate, laced his fingers almost directly in front of his face and cleared his throat. The rest of us occupying the breakfast table swallowed whatever we were chewing, sat up straight and quickly shut up.

“When I get home from work tonight, we are going out to get our Christmas tree. Everyone be ready at six p.m. sharp. We will depart at 6:01.” The buzz surging around the table was strong enough to reheat momma’s burnt biscuits. In other households picking out the Christmas tree may be seen as mundane or even a chore but in the Baum home, there was no bigger event. For us, it marked the official beginning of the holiday season and it was an activity that involved the entire family. 6:01 couldn’t get here fast enough and everyone would be ready. That would not be an issue.

I’m the second child in a string of five, all of us tow headed and thin. Too thin, according to my grandmother, but I think it’s because my momma refuses to get glasses and she tends to burn half our dinner because she can’t read directions or the numbers on the stove. Even though charcoal isn’t very filling, we all have very pleasant breath. Since I’m almost the oldest, I have experienced the Christmas tree gathering almost more than any of the other kids. Momma told me it wasn’t as big a deal when it was just she and daddy but something came over him when she birthed my older sister. Momma said he jumped from not caring too much about the tree to caring way too much but she likes this way better even if he does take it too seriously. I’m glad he does because our trees are always the best in the neighborhood, every year, and daddy says that doesn’t happen by accident. “Planning, preparation and perfect timing” are the three “P’s” daddy lives by and we don’t go get our tree until he says it’s time. I guess he woke up this morning and could sense today was the day because he wouldn’t have made the announcement unless he felt it deep in his spirit. And he sounded mighty sure this morning, like he had a special feeling, more special than other years.

I couldn’t concentrate in any of my classes at school knowing what was waiting for me when I got home. I got called out by three different teachers for not hearing a question or just staring out the window. I snuck one of momma’s pine scented air fresheners into my locker at school to serve as a pungent reminder but after lunch I almost messed up everything by getting sick to my stomach from sniffing my math book. Daddy doesn’t take the weak and infirmed on the tree hunt and that includes children with queasy stomachs. For the last fifteen minutes of my final class I just stared at the clock, watching the second hand spin toward three o’clock. If I was given an assignment during that time I have no idea what it was because I was paying zero attention to my teacher. I ran all the way home, which was pretty stupid since we lived three miles away and all of my siblings had already finished their snack before I got home because they rode the bus. I put up with the laughing and the name calling from my brothers and sisters because it was such a special day, although I will remember to get back at Oleta for continuing to chant “treetarded” long after everyone had agreed it wasn’t very funny.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Sixty-two: Save Me, Black Jesus

[A story in many parts: Part Thirteen of Thirteen]

Chapter Nine

Oh my god. Everyone is here. They’re all gathered around my bed and they’re all staring at me, crying and holding each other. Is this it? Is it time? What happens next? Eve? Can’t you tell me what happens next? Mom? Hector? Somebody could say something! Quit focusing on yourself for a few minutes and let me in on the plans! I need something from you.

Oh man, this is really it. I can tell. I can tell just by looking at everybody. Why am I so nervous? What’s there to be nervous about? The unknown? It can’t be worse than where I am right now. I’ll probably just go to sleep and not wake up. No more beeping monitors, no more people in and out of my room, keeping me annoyed, poking me, shining lights in my eyes. I may finally get some peace.

Uh oh, there’s the Oriental doctor. He’s talking to Eve but his voice is all muffled. She’s just staring at me without blinking, tears running down her face. She just nodded. Now she’s leaning in, right in front of my face and she just told me she loved me, short and sweet. No big speech but that’s understandable. I love you, too, baby. Always have.

I can’t believe this is it. Just like that I’ll be gone. Or will it take longer than I’m thinking? Will I be sad? I know they are. At least they look sad. Will I feel anything? It’s frustrating not to know but what does it matter? It doesn’t, does it? This is probably best, me leaving. But where do I go? Am I supposed to do something or will I just kind of know? Will there be a light to follow? I read that somewhere. But if there’s a light does that mean something is waiting on me? Now that sucks. I didn’t remember that “following the light” scenario until right now. I used to laugh at that idea but now I’m thinking it would be nice to have something to follow. Otherwise, how will I know what to do? At least moving toward a light would give me the first step. I don’t need this confusion; I had it figured out. Sleep and don’t wake up; it was simple. The longest nap known to man. But right now I’m wondering. I’ve got some doubts.

Oh man, what was that? Everything just changed… my chest feels like it’s caving in. Can’t catch my… breath. I feel so… heavy…dark. It’s getting darker… where’s the light?… there should be a light… no light… will there be a light?… where’s the light?… light… light…save me, Black Jesus…

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Sixty-one: Save Me, Black Jesus

[A story in many parts: Part Twelve of Thirteen]

Chapter Eight

It’s been crazy in my room all morning. Eve’s been here and all kinds of doctor’s and nurses have been moving in and out of my sight. That made me nervous but I really got concerned when Danella leaned over my face and whispered, “You’re running out of time, Mr. C. Either you decide to respond or some decisions’ll be made for you and I’m guessing you might not dig those decisions too much.” And she wasn’t smiling.

It’s pretty obvious I’m getting put down. Eve has given me nothing in the way of information. Mom’s a wreck so she’s useless plus I haven’t seen her in a few days anyway. I know they want something from me but I got no ideas. I’m having trouble determining if I really want to stick around but am just genuinely confused or if I’m really ready to go to the next level, whatever that may be. I’m tired of thinking about it. Really, I’m just tired. I need to sleep.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Sixty: Save Me, Black Jesus

[A story in many parts: Part Eleven of Thirteen]

He told me about his childhood, being raised by his grandmother and having to attend church every time the doors were opened. He told me how he hated going, how he thought it was the stupidest waste of time and he couldn’t wait until he was old enough to do his own thing. Then he would never have to go to church ever again. I laughed at that because I would have been the same way. I kept thinking the whole time he was talking, “Thank Zeus my parents didn’t do that to me.” And then he started telling me about leaving home, joining the military and how great it was to be independent for the first time, although I couldn’t figure out how independent he was in the Army. He just traded a grandmother for a sergeant as far as I could tell. I guess the biggest difference was the sergeant didn’t make him go to church. Eric told me he did a lot of things, went to a lot of places, while he was in the Army but the one thing he didn’t do was think about God. He said it was easy, which I don’t doubt, and he figured he was done with all of the religious stuff forever. I couldn’t figure out where he was going with his story but there was no way to stop him so, short of going to sleep, I figured I’d hear him out.

He went into some long rant about finding a job, getting married, having kids—normal stuff, no different than most. Then he got around to the religious part of the story, which, I’m guessing, was his whole point of talking to me. It was stuff I’d heard before from all the other people in my past that wanted to “save my soul.” There have been a lot of those people and every story starts the same: the detection of an empty feeling, can’t fill the void with money and stuff, get religion, now they’re happy and not going to hell when they die. I knew that was coming. It always ends up with escaping hell. “If you were to die today do you know where you will spend eternity?” That is so creepy and it’s nothing but a scare tactic to get a notch on people’s Christian belt. I got bored when he started in on that stuff and I started tuning him out. I’m not sure how much longer he talked but I remember him saying something about asking Jesus to “come into my heart” and if I asked, Jesus would do it and I’d be saved. From what, I’m not exactly sure. Maybe Eric went over that when I was ignoring him. Doesn’t matter. It’s all a bunch of hooey anyway. But thanks for sharing.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Fifty-nine: Save Me, Black Jesus

[A story in many parts: Part Ten of Thirteen]

Chapter Seven

When I woke up it was dark. I suffered a few seconds of freaking out, a little dizzy, wondering where I was. But then I heard the beeps and figured that was a sure sign I was still among the living. Then it hit me that it was dark. I mean really dark and that meant somebody came in and turned off the Blinking Lights from Hades. It’s proof there’s a compassionate soul left in the world after all. I was just getting used to the calm of the darkness when someone opened the door and messed things up by letting in the light from the hallway. I was surprised when I heard, “You awake, Mr. C?” and knew it was the mopper, the black dude from the cleaning crew. He came over and sat next to me, made sure I could see him and started talking to me. He didn’t mess around, no chit-chatting about his kids and stuff. He jumped right into the change in my situation and talked about what he referred to as his “troubled spirit” and the only way he could get any peace was to have a one-on-one with me. I’m usually pretty hostile to any religious talk but for some reason, when Eric—he finally told me his name—started talking about it, I wasn’t annoyed all that much. Maybe it was something about his voice or that he’d made a special trip to my room on his break. Hell, it could have been that I didn’t have anything better to do but, whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter because when he started in on his story I listened.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Fifty-eight: Save Me, Black Jesus

[A story in many parts: Part Nine of Thirteen]

Chapter Six

Bad news. Danella, the big-butted, black nurse just came in and had a long talk with me. Apparently, all the recent activity in my room is because discussions have started about what to do with me. I guess that’s what happens when you’ve been out as long as I have. I must be taking up too much room. Danella told me that if I wanted to shake up the discussions I needed to let them know I was interested in living. Give them some kind of sign. It’s the first time she’s talked to me like that, like I was here instead of just in her way. That makes me think this is serious. Of course, being black, she had to go on and on about saving my soul or some kind of foolishness like that. When she got into that spiel I got annoyed and tried to tune her out. But the rest of it? This is some serious guano. Her exact words were “let them know I was interested in living.” Does that mean they’d be willing to yank my plug if I don’t cooperate? Has it come to that? No wonder they were mumbling.

Cutting me off seems harsh. Then again, maybe not. I’m a bit of a problem for everyone. There’re a lot of folks invested in keeping me going and, right now, they aren’t getting a lot back for their efforts. I guess hope and faith can only take you so far. According to Danella it’s up to me; I can do something about it by giving them a sign. I’m not sure what, but if I do I suppose things will stay about the same. Maybe I’d get a bit more attention initially but it would taper off unless I come out of it 100%. If I decide to hang in here, then what? I guess I’m looking at dying. Now that’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought to, surprisingly enough. I guess maybe I should have; I’ve had the time. I just never figured on anyone pushing me into it. I’d always assumed it would be on my timetable.

I wonder what happens after you die? Do I just fall asleep forever? That’s pretty hard to wrap my brain around. Forever. What’s that mean? Thinking about it makes my head hurt. Then again, maybe dying doesn’t change anything. Maybe I just hang around and talk to myself. Forever. If that’s the case, how will I be able to tell when I die? Hell, I may be dead already and not know it. But would I hear that damned heart monitor beeping if I was dead? In hell, maybe, if even that exists. It looks like I have a decision to make and I’m not working with a lot of information to base it on. But first, a nap. And if I wake up and I’m still being bombarded with twinkling lights and chirping monitors I’ll assume I’m alive.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Fifty-seven: Save Me, Black Jesus

[A story in many parts: Part Eight of Thirteen]

Chapter Five

There’s been a lot of activity today. More than usual. Actually, a lot more than usual. What’s frustrating is everyone keeps mumbling and I can’t make out much of what they’re saying. The Oriental doctor has been in and out, looking at his clipboard, taking notes, shining that stupid light in my eyes. I don’t know how he expects me to react when he does that but I always seem to disappoint him. Sorry, dude, but I’m a little limited in what I can give you.

Look, all of my bitching aside, it’s not so bad in here. In fact, most of the time I’d call it great and, believe me, I know it could be a lot worse. My life out there was nothing to get all excited about, I can assure you of that. Lot’s of missed opportunities and regrets which become crystal clear when you look back. Why is that? I hate that about life. When I was a serious player in the game it was all moving so fast. Decisions had to be made immediately, which always upped the potential for mistakes. I’m sure I did okay, had my share of wins, but all I can remember were the losses, the teeth grinding and then the acid-producing anxiety afterwards. Some folks guess better, I suppose, but I was famous for being wrong. Oh, never right away, when it was easier to adjust and make things right. My mistakes always showed up much later, when the impact could be as wide spread as possible. My strongest memories are not of being right but of trying to set things right. At least hiding in here, in me, is easy. All the decisions are made for me and I just exist. I used to dream of a life like this, especially when everything was crumbling to hell all around me, and now I’m living it. It’s not perfect, but what is? I don’t even know if I’d come out of this now if I wanted to. If it wasn’t for the constant interruptions it might actually be a perfect existence. If everyone would just leave me alone I’d be all right. I’d miss Eve, though; I’m sure of that. But the doctors? The nurses? The Mexicans? Not a bit. Maybe if I could work out a scenario where just Eve visits and no one else, I could ride this out a while longer.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Fifty-six: Save Me, Black Jesus

[A story in many parts: Part Seven of Thirteen]

Chapter Four
Had a visit from Hector today. He left a few minutes ago. It was pretty strange because after his usual monologue about how his family was doing he started babbling on about “visual stimulation” and “meaningful inner experiences.” I guess he’d been doing some research on my behalf but it was nutty sounding to me. He told me he had asked Eve’s permission to try a little experiment and she’d told him to go for it. I had no idea what to expect but in a million years I would’ve never guessed what he did next. He moved out of my site for a few minutes and then I saw him stringing strands of little lights all around my bed, weaving them in and out of all the bars and hooks. He even taped some to the ceiling tiles over my head. What a load of crap. At first I thought it might be Christmas—I got no concept of time, so it’s a possibility—but then he began trying to explain to me how surrounding me with lights was going to provide “visual stimuli” and help me recover. Recover? Recover what? I’m in a freakin’ coma, for crying out loud; I’m not the Grinch! Then he plugged them in and I was shocked when they started blinking. The least he could have done is get some old-school, white lights but he went the extra mile and bought twinklers. Now I get to lie here and watch them blink on and off in wacky patterns and it’s really, really irritating. To make things worse he didn’t unplug them before he left. I hope to Zeus someone will come rescue me and turn them off. I guess it never crossed his mind that I can’t look away. Oh god, they’re everywhere. Make them stop…

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Fifty-five

Alien study #1

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Fifty-four: Save Me, Black Jesus

[A story in many parts: Part Six of Thirteen]

The maintenance crew was here right before the Oriental doctor came to check on me. They’re always good for a grin. Most of them are Mexican, I think, and they’re always jabbering and laughing, making a lot of noise and I can’t understand a single word they say. There’s one older black dude that works with them and he does all the mopping. He stays longer than the others because the mopping takes more time to finish. I’m not sure of his name. I don’t think he can understand them either but it doesn’t matter. Mopping is mopping--in English, Spanish or Guamanese. He knows his job is to swab the decks and he does it with a smile. He waits until the others leave before he talks to me but he always does and he always starts off with, “You awake, Mr. C?” Then he starts in about his day or his grandkids or his church, never breaking his mopping rhythm, chatting and pushing back and forth. I never know what to say to the man but I don’t think it matters to him. He just keeps talking and swabbing and telling stories. He also keeps me up-to-date on the rest of the folks on my floor. It’s not always good news but it’s nice to know what’s going on. Tonight he told me the lady in room 412 passed away. It’s kind of a sad situation. She was fairly young and left behind a couple of kids. Then he smiled and said something strange. “May Black Jesus save their little souls. Can I get an ‘amen,’ Mr. C.?” Black Jesus? I wanted to ask him what that was all about but he was already on his way out of the room. Black Jesus. Was that a new Jesus or was the white Jesus a new Jesus? Are there other colors? I wonder if he comes in pink or orange—kind of like rabbit’s feet? And if everybody has their own Jesus in their own color, how special could he be?

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Fifty-three: Save Me, Black Jesus

[A story in many parts: Part Five of Thirteen]

Chapter Three

The Oriental doctor just left. I’ve never been able to figure out if he’s Chinese or Japanese. Maybe neither; he could just be a Korean from San Francisco. Eve always corrects me when I use the word “oriental” to describe people. She insists that only rugs can be oriental and never people. She said I should use the word “Asian.” I don’t know about that but what I do know is the doctor’s new, at least in dealing with me, and he doesn’t say a lot. He usually comes in with a passle of folks—students, interns--but today he was alone. He futzed around for a few minutes, checking the monitors and my heart rate, took some notes and then stood over me and stared. It was pretty freaky. He was looking right into my eyes but we weren’t connecting in any way whatsoever. It was like he was looking at me but totally thinking about something or somebody else. I get that a lot. Most people who come see me end up staring at me but not really seeing me, glassing over and looking at nothing. It gives me the creeps. It’s even worse when they stare and then close their eyes. I get to thinking they’re meditating or, worse, maybe even praying. I hate that. I’m doing just fine, thank you very much. Don’t waste your prayers on me.

I never got into that whole religion thing and still don’t understand why people would burn up precious minutes in the day praying. To what? To who? It’s so stupid to buy into that spiritual hokum. Thank Zeus my parents were smarter than that. Eve’s family dabbled in it a little, but not enough to make me uncomfortable. They were Holiday Christians when Eve was younger, showing up for the two majors and a wedding or funeral when necessary. All that junk’s about as useful as a rabbit’s foot on a key chain.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Fifty-two: Save Me, Black Jesus

[A story in many parts: Part Four of Thirteen]

Chapter Two

Mom? Well, that’s a surprise. She hasn’t been to see me in a while. Man, she looks rough but, honestly, she should. A lot hasn’t gone her way since my father died and she’s done the best she could but, sadly, she’s come up short. When all you’ve got isn’t enough it’ll wear on you. She ended up being not near as strong as she’d put on for us when we were growing up. I’d always watched her and assumed she could take on the world, especially when I was a kid. Hell, even as an adult I’d believed it. But when my father passed away the real mom got exposed. She was petrified, scared like a turtle on the side of the road. She shut down, hardly left the house, quit taking care of herself and, if it hadn’t been for my sister intervening, she might have gotten evicted or jailed for not paying her bills. She just gave up. Even though she’s doing some better now, the way that whole scenario played out shocked me. My sister said it shouldn’t have and she swears she saw through mom from early on. I don’t know. Maybe I’m naïve but I think dad’s passing sucked some of the life out of her and even she was surprised by how much it crippled her. Maybe if it’d been a slow, drawn out death she could have been more prepared. But, it being so sudden, it shook her deep. It’s hard to say. Either way, when she shows up it always does me good even though most days she looks so sad. I hope I make her feel better but I can’t tell. She always starts each visit strong, smiling, telling me stories about her day, but she eventually ends up in tears, repeating my name over and over. Every now and then she’ll slip up and say my dad’s name but I don’t mind. I miss him too.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Fifty-one: Save Me, Black Jesus

[A story in many parts: Part Three of Thirteen]

What is she singing? I’ve heard it before but I can’t remember what it is. That’s so annoying. I hate when that happens. And it happens a lot, especially lately. So many things people say to me sound familiar but not familiar enough to register in my brain. I used to have a great memory, I think. Then again, maybe I never did and me thinking I did is part of the bad memory I’m dealing with. One thing I can remember, in fact I’ve memorized, is how many holes are in the ceiling tiles directly over my bed. 1,367. One freaking thousand, three hundred sixty seven. Since the first day I took the time to count them it’s always been 1,367. I used to count them every day, hoping I had counted wrong and had somehow added too many or too few. Anything to make it different, break things up a bit. I remember how nervous I’d be as I’d get closer to 1,300. It was pretty thrilling for the first few weeks but it wore off when it became obvious the final count wasn’t going to change. I haven’t counted them in a while. It’s nice to have something in my back pocket for another day.

I’m a little tired. I’m not sure why because I don’t do much to wear myself out but I find myself only able to stay awake for short periods of time. Being alert takes a lot of energy and before long I’ll start fading into sleep, or rest I should say, because I never really sleep, only to get jolted back awake by that beeping monitor. But it’s time now. I need to rest. Monitor be damned.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Fifty: Save Me, Black Jesus

[A story in many parts: Part Two of Thirteen]

Who’s here? I hate when I can sense someone’s in the room but can’t see them until they creep into my way-too-narrow field of vision. It still scares me and I can’t seem to get used to it. Oh, it’s the nurse. It’s the black nurse with the big butt. I think her name is Danella. She’s always singing and I hate that. What is it about black women and singing? It’s like a constant, low-level buzz, loud enough to get my attention but too soft to pick out the tune. Not that I’d know what the song was; I doubt Danella and I listen to the same radio stations. When she’s not singing she hardly ever says anything to me outside of “good morning.” Some of the nurses give me a play by play of what they’re doing—“Now, Mr. C, I’m going to check your I.V. right now” or “I’m going to lift you up so I can change your sheet”--but she just smiles and gets it done. I like that. Maybe she’s just trying to finish up as quick as she can because she can tell I’m not real fond of black people. Nothing personal, really, just something that flows through the sap of my family tree and has for a long time. Not any different than freckles or bowed legs, it’s just who we are. The problem is, lying here has made me a bit more vulnerable than I’d like so I don’t get a lot of say in who comes in and takes care of me. There was a time I wouldn’t have let a black person touch me but Danella’s proven to be all right, at least for a black woman. I got no complaints. In fact, most of the nurses—black, white or whatever—seem to do a good job, at least by me, which is all I can vouch for. To be honest, I’m not too sure what the hell she or any of the other nurses do when they come in for their rounds. If they’re poking me or sticking me with needles I can’t tell. I quit feeling that stuff a long time ago which is really odd. Sometimes I see a washcloth and I assume they’re cleaning me up. I’ve heard them refer to it as a “bed bath” or “sponge bath” but I’m sad to report I can’t feel that either which moves way beyond odd to sad. What I’d give to feel a tingle down there again.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Forty-nine: Save Me, Black Jesus

[A story in many parts: Part One of Thirteen]

With all of the technological genius swirling around the world today couldn’t they have figured out a way to build a heart monitor with a mute button? Don’t they realize how hard it is to get any rest with the constant beeping every single hour of the day and night? Annoying doesn’t come close to describing what the damn thing does to me. On a rare, good day I can ignore it, but mostly it’s a constant pinging in my brain that echoes through my insides like fingernails on a chalkboard. I will definitely have to add that to my list of things to deal with when I come out of this. And, oh, the list is long, my friend. It is so long. I hate, hate, hate that Hector was right when he kept telling me I should slow down every now and then and recharge, try to see what I might be missing while I sprinted through life. I used to laugh at him and go on some rant about living life to the fullest or some other selfish jabber and he’d shake his head but let it slide. He was good like that. But now, being forced to slow down--hell, I’m practically at a dead stop--has been good for me. Made me much more aware of stuff around me. It’s given me a chance to check out my surroundings, which, unfortunately right now, is pretty much next to nothing. Ceiling tiles and the ever-present, funky, eye-watering hospital smell. I guess I’m lucky Hector’s a better man than me because he’s done very little gloating the few times he’s stopped by to see me. I can’t say I’d be as kind.

Some days I hate the visits. My concept of time is all shot to hell so it’s always a surprise when someone all of a sudden appears in my room, carrying flowers, cards or balloons--I hate the balloons, by the way—sporting a forced smile and spouting every hospital cliché in the book. “You look good.” “How’s the food?” Whatever. Eve’s been my most consistent visitor, naturally. She doesn’t have a lot of choice, seeing as she’s married to me. At least she’s still taking the “sickness and health” part of the marriage vows seriously and holding up her end of the deal. In a way I’m doing the same thing. Hell, in order for it to kick in one of us had to be sick. It sucks that it’s me but there was always a 50/50 chance. I’m not sure if the situation were reversed I’d of stuck it out this long but most days I’m glad she has. There’re times, though, I want to scream at her to leave and get on with her day, quit wasting her time. It’s during those visits that her happy, clappy attitude and faked cheeriness are so annoying. The way she holds my hand and rubs the top of it while talking to me can drive me crazy. I want to yell “Stop it! Let go of me! It’s not doing any good!” but if I did that she’d be hurt and it’d probably make her think twice about showing up the other days I need her here. So I suffer through it. In silence.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Forty-eight


All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

Entry Forty-seven: Sitting in the Stand.

[A story in many parts: Part Sixteen, the final installment]

As it got dark, I surmised that just as many people were praying I wouldn't shoot a deer as there were people praying I would. They seem to have canceled each other out. One lesson I learned was you don't pass up on the Thursday deer. Even though, as I looked at it through the scope I felt like I was getting ready to shoot someone's pet, I still should have squeezed off a shot. We would have had some meat to take home or at least a bruised arm to prove I shot the gun.

We ended the evening back at the lodge, eating a late dinner and then sharing our experiences of the weekend. As the evening wore down, Daryl asked dad to sing “The Lord’s Prayer” and we followed that by a group sing of “Amazing Grace.” Eventually everyone drifted off to their bunks and the hunting trip was officially over. I'm glad I took that trip. Entering dad's hunting world had been a good experience. I couldn't say that I was bitten by the hunting bug, but I was very grateful for the "dad time" that I got in. All in all, about all I killed that weekend was time…

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Forty-six: Sitting in the Stand.

[A story in many parts: Part Fifteen]

I sensed a certain "last day!" "Last session!" "Let's kill something!" fever sweeping the lodge, so I pulled myself off the sofa and returned to the woods for my last session. Everyone wanted me to shoot a deer, so I figured the least I could do was put in the time, if not for me, then at least for everyone else. I was taken to a spot I hadn’t seen before. It was set off deeper in the woods but it had a nice, clear, wide shooting lane. The biggest problem was it was very hot, complicated by the stand being very small. I was crammed in there. It didn’t help that by that time I had added a sterno plus a cooler packed with an obscene supply of Carl Buddig lunch meats to my supplies. It helped cut through the loneliness, but it cramped my space. I used my new trick of tying my backpack to the rope amenity and after knocking it off the top of the stand a couple of times and dragging it back up, I left it on the ground until I needed it. That, at least, gave me some leg room.

It was almost funny how little wildlife I had spotted while I was there. Outside of birds and insects, I had seen nary hide nor hair of God's creatures. While sitting in the stand, searching for wildlife, I realized you disappoint half the people whether you come home with a deer or not. The hunters want you to kill something and, if you don’t, will look on you with pity, or worse, disdain. The anti-hunters want you to miss and, if you do bag a deer, will think you are an insensitive barbarian. Great hobby, eh?

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Forty-five: Sitting in the Stand.

[A story in many parts: Part Fourteen]

I learned some interesting things on this trip. How to load and unload a gun. How to sight a gun. What to cram into your backpack for the sitting sessions in the stands. This may not have been an officially sanctioned list but I found that carrying a personal stash of bug spray (unscented), bottled water, snacks, binoculars, ammunition, books, toilet paper and sinus/headache medicine served me well. I also learned that men are born storytellers. Whether it was about golf or hunting, there was nothing quite like rehashing the same shot over and over again. I found it humorous that, no matter how boring it may have been to sit through someone else's story, the story that I had to tell was incredibly interesting and well thought out. If only everyone else were as clever as me…

The good news was that Pablo and Tony picked me up a little after nine and we headed back to the lodge. The bad news was that my "special" spot wasn't very special. I didn't see a thing. In fact, none of us saw anything. Upon returning, I changed my clothes with every intention of being done for the day. My back was killing me and, having been shut out, I decided to eat lunch, stretch out and watch college football fed through the satellite dish. For lunch, dad, Jeff and I drove into Walterboro, bought subs and brought them back to the lodge to watch football. Everyone else headed back to Rachael's for their farewell lunch. I noticed that everyone had been telling a lot of snake stories and it was creeping me out. Our party had killed three copperheads since we had been there and news like that made me think twice before visiting the little men's room in the woods. Jason (the taxidermist) shot the biggest deer of the weekend on Saturday morning. In fact, it was so big that dad and I got our picture made with it. I figured it was like telling all of those stories. Before too long, dad and I would be arguing over which one of us shot it. Jason said he wanted to create a full body mount of the deer when he returned home. I'm not sure who was happier, Jason or his dad. I‘m pretty sure the deer was not pleased.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Forty-four: Sitting in the Stand.

[A story in many parts: Part Thirteen]

Wake-up was, once again, at 5:00 a.m. but I could sense the enthusiasm for the hunt had waned a bit since Thursday morning. Everyone seemed to be dragging and someone recycled the continental breakfast joke from Thursday. Again, no one laughed.

That morning they took me to an entirely different place located on a separate tract of land, away from where I’d been hunting the previous days. I think it was a "special" place because word was out that it was my first hunt and everyone wanted me to kill something. The need for a "vicarious kill" had reached a fever pitch. Two new guys, I believe they were members of the Plantation hunting club, were my drivers that morning. Their names were Tony and Pablo and they were from Miami. It was a little weird taking off by myself with two guys I didn't know to an area I had never been to before, but I had to suppress all of the Hollywood scenarios that were rushing through my mind. A hunter had to do what a hunter had to do. I ended up in a tripod stand on the edge of a road surrounded by really dense forest. I was instructed to look down both sides of the road because the deer were supposed to cross at any number of places along the path. It was cloudy at the onset and it had started warming up, but it was very quiet. Maybe too quiet. I sat in the dark hoping Tony and Pablo remembered where they left me.

As I sat there I began to ruminate on the subculture that is hunting. I could not fathom doing this very often. Dad told me once the hunting season starts, these guys are gone constantly. And this is it. Outside of actually shooting something, this is what they do. Sit. Wait. Wait. Anticipate. I think that's where the adrenaline comes from—the anticipation. My problem was I had no experience to base any anticipation on, so I sat there and anticipated nothing. I was proving to be quite successful at that. I enjoyed the solitude and the slowing down, but was finding myself in a desperate need of a family fix. I started imagining what Hope and the kids were doing while I sat there. Eating breakfast, getting the kids ready for their soccer games; eating lunch; not sitting in the woods waiting for an animal to appear.

In earlier talks, Dad he told me how this particular trip was different than the previous ones. When they traveled to Texas, they all rode together and would have two days of sharing and talking on the way. The facilities in Texas didn't have a television and during their free time they rode around and explored the grounds. He was disappointed in the lack of "fellowship" time. The problem was we didn't finish until 9:00 at night and after we ate, there wasn't a lot of time to visit. He also said that, after 15 years, this whole gig may be getting old. I know I aged over the weekend. I can only imagine what multiple trips would do to me.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Forty-three: Sitting in the Stand

After a brief detour through the holidays, we now return to our regularly scheduled programming...

[A story in many parts: Part Twelve]

We arrived back at the lodge at 11:30 but didn’t leave for lunch until 1:00 p.m. We were late in leaving because the other group had spent most of the morning trying to find a deer that Jeff shot. After they found it they discovered the reason it was so hard to locate was because it was so small. Someone cruelly asked if he could have one of the rabbit's feet for his kid back home. The positive side of the whole event was the bar had been lowered and, at that point, about anything would be accepted.

I was sensing a pattern in the driver’s. Whenever they picked me up, he would ask, “Did you see anything?” and when I answered “No,” he would look shocked, then shake his head in disbelief. The implied message was that, just yesterday, he had spotted 126 deer grazing in that exact field, yet today... I think I would have felt better if it weren’t the exact same reaction each time. I’m sure the manual on “Picking Up The Customer” had more than one accepted response.

I didn’t see anything during the afternoon hunt. Just five hours of sitting and staring. When it got dark, I climbed down out of my stand and waited by the road for the limo service. After a little while I heard someone approaching on foot and was glad to see my dad walking up. We visited until the limo arrived and finally ate dinner at 9:15. The vapor woman was a great cook. She had mastered the art of serving five starches combined with enormous portions of meat. Combine that with sitting all day where not moving is a requirement and I began to understand the girth of my fellow hunters.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Forty-two

Happy Thanksgiving.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

Entry Forty-one: Thanks.

[I'm taking a break from the other stories to bring you this holiday-themed chestnut in seven parts. Today: 7 of 7]

“Father God, we are thankful for everything you have provided for us and we want to take this opportunity, gathered as a family, to verbalize what we feel in our hearts…” As Father prayed, my mind started settling on some of the things I was thankful for. My wife, my longsuffering wife, who still loves me regardless; two wonderful kids; my family is relatively healthy; I’m employed and doing okay financially; we have two cars that, though not new, run; a great house; some wonderful friends; a cool dog; extended family that I get along with reasonably well; great parents who love my wife like one of their own kids; a church that cares about me; I still have a full head of hair… In the midst of all these things I was thankful for, I realized it wasn’t hard to come up with an answer to Father’s traditional question. After just a few moments of reflection I had been overwhelmed with choices. Then I started feeling bad about what we had just done, ruining Fathers tradition and letting our anxiety muck up the positives of the drill. I considered asking for a do-over, but didn’t know how to approach it without embarrassing everyone else. Then Father’s voice cut through my internal monologue with the close of his Thanksgiving prayer.

“…and I ask that you prepare all of us in these next few weeks as we search our hearts and minds, trying to come up with things we are thankful for to share at the Christmas dinner in just under four weeks. Remind the family that they have been warned. In Your name we pray, amen.”

I looked around as we all released hands and nearly everyone was smiling. Maybe I hadn’t been alone in my thoughts. Regardless, my “do-over” had been scheduled and that was one more thing for which I could be thankful.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Forty: Thanks.

[I'm taking a break from the other stories to bring you this holiday-themed chestnut in seven parts. Today: 6 of 7]

There was an audible gasp in the room as people worked diligently to process what had just happened. I stared at my cousin Rob, who was next in line, and began sending him telepathic messages, trying to force his will to bend to my bidding. I needed him to realize that we were on the cusp of a huge breakthrough and his answer, his lone voice across the dining table, his correct response, could alter our annual pre-dinner ritual forever.

Rob was wide-eyed, biting his bottom lip, grappling with what he wanted to do, unsure if it was right, obviously feeling the enormity of the moment on his 26-year-old shoulders. “Uhm… I think… what I’m thankful for is… what he said.” Bingo! The little Dutch boy had pulled his finger from the dike and no one was going to be able to stop what came next.

“What he said,” said Sarah.

“What she said,” said Catherine.

“What she said,” said Dexter.

A succession of “he said/she said” answers followed and with each new proclamation fresh boldness permeated the room and the entire table was responding in record time. Every cousin, aunt, uncle and marginal relative was swept up in the moment and by the time it reached my chair no other alternative crossed my mind. “What he said,” flowed from my lips like a reflex, here and gone before I realized it was my turn. I was so caught up in the adrenaline of the moment that it wasn’t until the last person answered that I finally took notice of Father’s reaction to the whole episode. He was smiling, even laughing a little, but there was a hint of disappointment in his eyes as he said, “I’m thankful you all let me get away with this tradition as long as you have. I’ll pray and we’ll eat.” This was greeted with applause and laughter that quickly subsided as Father lowered his head to pray. We all grabbed hands and joined him.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-nine: Thanks.

[I'm taking a break from the other stories to bring you this holiday-themed chestnut in seven parts. Today: 5 of 7]

Next up was my younger brother. He is in possession of a big, giant brain so his Thanksgiving response is usually so obtuse that no one understands it. One year he spouted a rambling medical definition for his “thanks” that was greeted with complete silence by all in attendance. It wasn’t until after dinner when I asked him for a clarification that I found out he had just told a room full of beloved friends and family that he was thankful for being able to “poop.”

This year, he took a surprisingly different approach by placing his arm across my Grandmother’s shoulders and saying, “What she said.” He uttered it with no anger, no sarcasm and no malice in his heart. He just looked at Father with a large, sincere smile on his face. I was stunned. It was a brave line of attack and as with all such daring ventures, it bordered on stupid. He was confident even though he had to know it was a risk.

“Are you sure?” Father asked.

“Yes sir, I am,” my brother answered, his smile huge but still not showing any sign of being forced.

Father’s next words were simple but they held the potential to alter holiday tradition within the O’Neil household for generations to come. They resounded with such power that their mere declaration caused tiny fissures in the familial foundations on which we had long relied. He looked my brother in the eyes and, without blinking, said, “Okay. Next?”

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-eight: Thanks.

[I'm taking a break from the other stories to bring you this holiday-themed chestnut in seven parts. Today: 4 of 7]

Every year one of the cousins is going through their “invisible friend” phase so, on cue, my seven year-old niece did her part and told us she was thankful for “Beatrice.” It’s cute and it’s hard to be annoyed with it since she is so young. My brother tried it once, telling everyone at the table he was thankful for his friend “Sparky,” but it was creepy because he was 19 and in college.

My grandmother was next in line and she is a wild card because of her age. She just turned 96 and each year her answers have gotten more eccentric and, inevitably, funnier. There was a long pause while we waited for her to say something but she was staring at her reflection in her empty plate, making faces, amused and content. Father cleared his throat and she looked up, did a slow turn with her head, taking in everyone around the table, and then asked, “Why is everyone staring at me?”

“It’s your turn to tell us what you’re thankful for, Grammie.” My sister played the role of White Knight, trying to keep the momentum moving forward. Grandmother stared at her for several seconds and finally said, “Are we still playing that ridiculous game? I told your Father it was annoying the first year he came up with it. People want to eat, not talk! Apparently he doesn’t listen to his mother anymore.” She quickly looked away from my sister and resumed staring at her empty plate.

After a few moments of awkward silence, waiting for her answer, she blurted out, “Pass!” and continued looking down, defiant and obviously irritated. A few of the younger kids started laughing but were quickly shut down by glares and unseen grips on little legs under the table.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-seven: Thanks.

[I'm taking a break from the other stories to bring you this holiday-themed chestnut in seven parts. Today: 3 of 7]

The key was to go first, or at least go early, because the closer you were to the end the more creative you had to be with your answer. According to the unwritten yet firmly memorized rules the order was established clockwise based on the first person chosen. Dad was throwing Aunt Rose a bone. First was good and she knew it.

“I’m thankful for my children,” said Aunt Rose, speaking slowly with a big smile on her face that everyone correctly interpreted as having nothing to do with parental pride but everything to do with her knowledge that she just screwed the rest of the family out of the easiest answer.

“I’m thankful for my parents.” My cousin took the second easiest answer and the tension around the rest of the table congealed thicker than Uncle Neal’s giblet gravy. I conducted a silent, mental calculation and determined I was Designated Thanker #18, which, obviously, put me closer to the end than the beginning. That was dangerous territory, being so late, and I was going to have to come up with something particularly clever.

My aunt Phyllis mentioned she was thankful for the food, which, I felt, was a bit of a cheat since Father had already alluded to that in his opening monologue but she got away with it because she is old as dirt which allowed her to play the sympathy angle. She sealed it by pretending to have something caught in her throat then quickly taking a sip of water while cutting her eyes to my Uncle Phil sitting next to her. He picked up on the one-act play and reached over, patted Phyllis on the back and asked if she was okay. She nodded yes and he exclaimed, “I’m thankful my beautiful bride is okay.” It was brilliant, obviously rehearsed and I thought I was going to puke.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-six: Thanks.

[I'm taking a break from the other stories to bring you this holiday-themed chestnut in seven parts. Today: 2 of 7]

All twenty-three of us clapped politely although the spread that was laid before us probably deserved a standing ovation. The dining room table had been stretched to the maximum using every available extension leaf and it was covered in food, place settings and classy table top arrangements of pinecones, toile and dried, multi-colored corn cobs. It was overwhelming, the combination of colors and smells all mingling perfectly to tease eyes and noses, and it was killing me to have to wait to eat, but we weren’t even close to picking up our forks. Father continued.

“As most of you know, the O’Neil’s have a little tradition at Thanksgiving and I would like to invite everyone to join us this year before we break bread.” My uncle kicked me but was staring straight down into his empty plate. The rest of our guests were reacting one of two ways. The ones who had no idea what was coming were smiling, their eyes full of anticipation, possibly expecting a gift or, at minimum, a handshake or hug. The veterans were sporting wide-eyed looks of fear, especially the ones who forgot what was coming and were not prepared. Their palpable fear helped me relax. This had a chance of being fun.

“What we like to do is go around the table and have each one of you share with us one thing you are thankful for. There is only one rule and that is you can’t repeat what someone else has said. That gives us a chance to hear a wide variety of responses before we pray and thank the Lord for all he has provided for us.” He scanned the faces at the table, smiling at them all, seemingly unaware of the knotted guts and dry mouths his little speech had just induced. “Aunt Rose, why don’t you start?” And so it began.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-five: Thanks.

[I'm taking a break from the other stories to bring you this holiday-themed chestnut in seven parts. Today: 1 of 7]

I felt someone nudge my foot under the table and knew Uncle Stan was signaling the time had arrived. As I scanned the faces of the guests at our Thanksgiving dinner, I imagined most of them forgot it was coming, which was easy to do since it occurred only one time each year. There were a few neophytes scattered throughout the guest list, blissfully ignorant of what was next on the holiday agenda and I worried about them. We were about to embark on a potentially painful activity but it helped to be surrounded by friends and family and not have to go it alone. Knowing others would struggle didn’t make me less anxious, just less lonely.

“I want to thank you all for joining us for our Thanksgiving meal.” Father had determined everyone was sufficiently in place and he wanted to begin the repast, so he stood and brought forth his traditional greeting. “It is always so wonderful to have friends and family here with us and, I must say, everything looks absolutely delicious. Thank you to everyone who participated in bringing food and especially thank you to my wife for all of her hard work in the kitchen and in preparing the lovely decorated home in which we are all sitting.” He motioned toward my mother with one arm, extending his hand in casual recognition. He smiled at her, she returned it and gave a small nod. It was corny but they were able to pull it off with a minimal induction of nausea.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-four

The woman leading the class was obviously in the final weeks, or possibly minutes, of pregnancy. Although she was engaging and funny, no one in the class noticed anything but her gigantic, ready-for-baby breasts. They were two scud missiles resting uncomfortably on top of her belly, prepared to provide enough milk for a medium-sized African village. Peace Corp Ready M.R.E.’s for that fortunate, future child, hiding behind the gigantic gingham curtain disguised as a dress on our substitute teacher.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-three

God is watching us [part two].

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

Entry Thirty-two: Sitting in the Stand

[A story in many parts: Part Eleven]

We were awake and ready to hunt at 5:00 a.m. the next morning. We crammed seven guys (plus a driver) into the Suburban and it was a bit snug. Most of the hunters on this trip had long outgrown the small and medium racks at Walmart. Then add guns, cushions and bags to the payload and the space became cramped in short order. One thing I had begun to notice was most of the guys had been hunting so long they're all near deaf. If the highlight of your life involved loud explosions less than five inches from your ear, you had to expect some damage to your sense of hearing. They lived in a world of repeated sentences and blank stares. Or worse, the "friendly chuckle." That is the half-laugh people give when they don't understand what you said but they are too polite to ask you to repeat yourself. Or don't care. For some reason, I know that "chuckle" well and it has nothing to do with hunting or tinitis. The communication in the Suburban was rough, but, ultimately as complete as it needed to be.

The temperature had dropped a little bit, so everyone was hoping the coolness would help flush the deer out of the woods. I heard three shots early that morning, so I was thinking the weather was working its charm. I was sensing disappointment in some of the fellow hunters as each session went by and no deer were shot. Stepping back and analyzing exactly what we are doing made me feel a bit goofy. We were sitting in chairs for three to four hours at a stretch waiting for an animal to come out of it's comfort zone to eat corn that does not naturally exist in large piles in the middle of open areas in the woods. The whole time we are waiting we couldn't move, make noise or go to the bathroom (which required both moving and making noise) for fear of scaring away the unseen (and possibly nonexistent) animal. Of course, if I step back and analyze anything I do and break it down in black and white logic, it sounds ridiculous. Going to a football game. Eating. Working. Praying. So I figured what the heck, let's hunt. I sure wasn’t going to stop praying.

As the morning churned on, the wind picked up and the temperature continued to drop. The sky was still clear so it was just about perfect. For hunting? I couldn't tell. But for sitting around and relaxing? Absolutely. I hadn't seen a thing all morning, but I had heard a lot of shots both near and far.

On the ride back to the lodge I found out the morning session had produced a couple of kills. Lee shot his second deer but, unfortunately, it was a "button buck." In other words, it's horns had just started growing and they hadn't broken through the skin yet. Most hunting camps frown upon the killing of a "button" because, if allowed to live one more year, it would have a chance to get bigger and develop into a possible "trophy" deer for someone in the future. The problem was, from a distance—even through a scope—it was hard to distinguish the "button" from a doe. Lee swore that he checked it as best he could and thought it was a doe. But, as someone so colorfully pointed out, "Oops! That doe has balls!" Lee was embarrassed about killing it, but it was hard to throw the deer back.

We arrived at Daryl's stand but he wouldn't come down. He had shot a doe and it had dropped in some thick brush and he wanted to guide us to it from his stand, afraid we’d never find it without his help. We drove out into the field and when we located it we waved to him and he came down to join us. The deer was actually a spike buck, not a doe, and it was pretty big. Apparently, Daryl's eyes aren't what they used to be. Some of the veteran hunters decided to play a trick on Daryl. I witnessed for the first time the dark side of The Hunter. We switched Daryl's buck with Lee’s deer and when Daryl walked up, we led Daryl to believe he had actually shot a “button.” He was heartbroken and he took it pretty hard. If it had not been so funny, I might have felt sorry for him. We let him off the hook after 15 long minutes. My only concern was that we had just carved several months off Daryl’s already limited life expectancy.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-one

The Living Room of Mystery

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

Entry Thirty: Love God. Love Folks.

“Can I pour you a glass of something?” Naomi’s mom was in the kitchen, visible from the front door Naomi had just entered. Her mom was holding a bottle of red wine in the air, cleverly hiding the label from Naomi’s view, offering a drink. It was probably cheap but it was free. The universe remained in balance.

“Sure,” Naomi said. “But don’t be chintzy with the pour.” She smiled, both of them aware that her mom was notorious for offering a full glass. It was part of her hospitality gene. Or it could be an alcoholic gene. Either way, at this moment, it worked in Naomi’s favor.

“Do your students know how much you drink?” Naomi asked.

“It’s their fault that I drink at all, whether they’re aware of it or not.” She handed Naomi a glass, careful not to slosh any over the edge. “They’ll understand one day. And on that day in the distant—or near—future they read about their former teacher in the obits, discovering she came to her demise via acute alcohol poisoning, they will say to themselves ‘I may have had something to do with that.’”

Naomi set her glass down on the bar and slid on to one of the stools, stationing herself in a favorable spot to enjoy her wine and freely converse with her mom as she prepared dinner. They were quiet for a few minutes, reverently allowing the Pinot a few moments to itself as it led the charge to relaxation and release. Finally, Naomi asked her mom how her day had played out.

“Typical Monday. I handed back their writing projects today.” She was mixing flour and eggs in a glass bowl, preparing a cake for dessert. “The slackers received them without comment. The overachievers sweated and chewed their fingernails until they could lay eyes on their magnificent, weighted grades. It’s why I always give them their papers last.” She set aside the bowl, pushed a strand of wayward hair off her eyes with the back of her hand, leaving a white swatch of flour on her forehead. Unaware, or unfazed, she offered her wine glass in a mock toast, proud of her devious mind.

“Why do you take so much joy in torturing the brainiacs?” Naomi knew the answer but felt humanely obligated to ask if for no other reason than to offer a slight defense of the students.

“I tell you, daughter of mine, the smart kids are consistently the most obnoxious, competitive twits on the planet and I feel it is my civic duty to tweak them when the opportunity is afforded me.” She began mixing the cake ingredients again, folding in more flour and causing minor dust dervishes above the mouth of the bowl. “Everyone else in academia tends to kiss their little, pimply, puckered asses and I don’t think a few whacks with an emotional ruler will kill them.” She took a sip of wine, the pause providing just the right touch of dramatic effect. “In fact, it will probably do them some good in the long run.”

“And you’re okay playing god?” Naomi didn’t find this side of her mom to be her best.

Her mom laughed. “I don’t see myself as god, so much. More like an intervening angel, sent here to give them one small taste of the real world in the midst of their glory. It’s a minor role I play, but it’s quite fulfilling.”

Naomi stared at her mother, not sure whether to admire her or despise her. The fine line between boldness and idiocy was never more blurred. As she struggled with her maternal evaluation a knot began forming in her stomach, not severe, but not so subtle that it could be ignored. She brought the wine glass to her lips hoping a coating of alcohol would appease the knot, but it was still on the march, moving slowly, crawling northward into her chest and finally into her throat, constricting and making it hard to breathe or swallow. Naomi had one clear thought. “I’m just like her.” And her lurching, gasping physical reaction was an answer without words. Or oxygen.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Twenty-nine: Sitting in the Stand

[A story in many parts: Part Ten]

I had been immersed into a very funny subculture. That refers to funny “ha ha” as well as funny “strange.” For example, the only topic of conversation the entire weekend was hunting.

"I gotta' buddy who went down to Peru…"

"I 'member that one time in Texas…"

If they weren't talking about their own trips, they were talking about a trip they heard about from someone else. I believe that's why they listen so intently to each other's stories. If they re-tell someone else's story enough times it could eventually become one of their own. And they were always zinging each other, reminding each other about an undersized kill, a missed opportunity or any bonehead thing that anyone ever did. That did not bode well for me, the rookie.

There is a certain etiquette and courtesy in their story telling. Everyone gets to tell one story and then they wait while everyone else shares. If someone hesitates, they lose their turn. The elder statesman of the group gets to end each round. In that particular group, the elder statesman was Daryl, and he could spin the stories and lay out the ribbing as well as anyone. He was not only the oldest member of the party, but he apparently had the most money, which meant he had the most hunting toys. Everything from cammo wraps for your gun to odor-less soap to bathe with (so the animals can't smell your scent of Irish Spring). And it isn't cheap. I was thumbing through some of the leisure time reading materials the lodge had laying around—outdoor magazines and hunting supply catalogs—and the prices were shocking. Scopes, guns, ammunition, little camaflogue buckets to pee in; they had thought of everything. I gathered from the tales being spun that the guys hunting that weekend weren't restricted to hunting in the south. A lot of them had taken hunting trips to places all over the continent. Moose hunting in Canada. Bear hunting in Montana. Elk hunting in Colorado. The costs incurred to take the trips must have been enormous. Then, just when I thought they had run out of hunting stories, they started telling fishing stories. The energy in the room would get resurrected and everyone would get cranked up all over again. It was quite entertaining and pervasive. No moment was lost. On the way back from lunch one day, we listened to a book-on-tape called "Life Lessons from a Deer Stand." I had entered my dad's world and it smelled of gun powder and stale canvas.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Twenty-eight: Love God. Love Folks.

As she wound through the corkscrew of the parking garage it became clear that Naomi was going to have to park on the top level where her car would be unprotected from the elements. “Great, just great,” she muttered. “Monday’s suck.” She found a parking slot in the partial shade of the building but knew it was only good for the morning hours. By noon her car would be in full sun and the interior a furnace by the end of the day. She shifted the gear into park but she didn’t move, staring straight ahead, unblinking, mind landing on nothing in particular but flying past a hundred little things. Her headache had eased off but the heaviness, the deep funk she kept fighting, was lingering a little longer this morning. It was a rude guest, overstaying its welcome, lingering for an extra cup of coffee fully aware she had to get to work. Naomi abruptly snapped out of her stare, opened the door and grabbed her briefcase and bag full of workout clothes from the backseat. She had almost forgotten that she promised Erica she’d go to the gym with her at lunch and was glad her gym bag had been sitting by the front door as a reminder.

She made her way to the elevators on the first floor and promptly zoned out again as she waited for a portal to slide open and lift her to another workday. “How are you doing this morning?” The question cut into her personal fog but she didn’t react right away. She cut her eyes toward the voice and recognized the man who spoke. She didn’t know his name but his reputation for being one of the happy ones was well known throughout the building. He was safe, if only marginally.

“Oh, you know, it’s Monday so that cuts into any possibility that the morning can be great. Good is the zenith, I’m afraid.” She was surprised at her clarity.

He chuckled and asked, “So are you good this morning?”

She looked at him and tried to smile but the result was not convincing. “Not yet.” Then she turned away from him and stared at the closed elevator doors, hoping he would figure out that the conversation, according to her, had run its course.

“Well, it’s early,” he responded. “I hope your day improves.” She didn’t respond which might have been rude but she had no energy for happy talk this early in the morning. The elevator arrived and they rode in silence until the car stopped at the twelfth floor to allow her to exit. She expected him to say something else but was relieved when he let her leave in silence. She hated being impolite but sometimes that was the only way to fend off the happy ones. It was a small victory and maybe it was an indication her day was starting to improve.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Twenty-seven: Homage to Fromage

The original purpose of processed cheese food squares.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

Entry Twenty-six: Sitting in the Stand

[A story in many parts: Part Nine]

I was picked up around 8:00 p.m. and, after gathering everyone else, we made it back to the lodge at 9:00. Part of the "end of hunt" tradition is for everyone to wait outside the lodge and greet the other hunters as they roll back into camp, hoping someone had some luck. If you had already killed something, you wanted to see if anyone bagged anything bigger. If you didn't kill anything, you wanted to enjoy a vicarious kill. "How'd ya' do?" was the consensus greeting. Lee was the only person who shot a deer on day one. Of course he sat in his stand all day, never coming in for lunch. I believe I heard that is referred to as "hunting hard." His persistence paid off, although he was so stiff he had trouble walking. I had a lot to learn.

We ate a late dinner and the cook lady came and went like vapor. It was either a vapor or the smoke from her cigarette. The biggest news of the evening was that everyone got a shower. I had noticed that the bathing facilities had remained relatively quiet and I didn't know if I was being treated to another hunting trip "tradition." I was a tad bit concerned about the ramifications of that one, but my fears disappeared with the first sound of the showerhead being engaged. Everyone else was clean and asleep in their beds by 11:00 p.m. I sat up, watching a few shows on The Sundance Film Channel and the Independent Film Channel. I would have asked someone to sit up with me but I'm not sure anyone else on the trip was interested in watching a short, symbolically charged Indian film about a boy and his duck. With subtitles.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Twenty-five

Janice exited the large, gray, stucco building from the side entrance, dropping her exactly 112 steps away from the lot where her car was parked. As she slid her security badge into her purse it started raining. Not a hard, apocalyptic rain but more what her mom would refer to as a “mizzle,” which was one of a thousand descriptors her mom makes up when she can’t recall the globally accepted phrase. She then incorporates it into common conversation until it is Webster’s ready and becomes a part of her every day speech. In mom-speak, a “mizzle” describes a rain that is at the exact point on its evolutionary journey between a mist and a drizzle. Regardless of the noun used to describe it, a mizzle is an annoying weather system. Janice hesitated under the awning and thought, “What looks more ridiculous: using an umbrella when it’s barely drizzling or walking through the mist and not using the umbrella you are obviously carrying?” The indecisive insight was another gift from mom, one in which Janice doubted mom had created a word for since she would deny she possessed that gift. And then she wouldn’t. And then she would.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Twenty-four

Posted without comment.

Dang it, I did it again...

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

Entry Twenty-three: Sitting in the Stand

[A story in many parts: Part Eight]

When we got back to the lodge, we cleaned up and everyone headed into "town" to eat at a restaurant called Rachael's. "Town" was a six building stretch of farm road about ten minutes from the lodge. Rachael's was a diner that occupied the first floor of an old house and it was known for its all-you-can-eat buffet of country-style food. Fried chicken was on the menu every day along with the usual suspects of greens, mashed potatoes, corn, beans, etc… A sign by the door informed us that on Thursday they added pork chops to the meat selections. Everyone ate their fill. I got a little concerned when we made a quick trip across the street to the supermarket and everyone bought some aspirin and antacids but that was before I realized Rachael’s was the only restaurant in town. Everyone else knew what was coming. Back at the lodge everyone fell asleep. Five a.m. wake-up call plus AYCE buffet equals nap. That particular brand of math was not rocket science. Amazingly, at three o'clock, everyone was awake and ready to hunt some more.

The late afternoon shift found me sitting in a stand on the edge of a plowed field. This particular stand was quite different from the one I had graced that morning because this one was really high in the air, almost like a tree house but without walls or a tree. In fact, I felt more like a sentry than a hunter. The stand was bigger which made it more comfortable. Remembering my cushion added to the comfort as well, plus the breeze had picked up which cooled things down somewhat. I assumed it was a breeze. As high as I was sitting I could have been experiencing a jet stream.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see a deer or not. If I saw one, I had to make a decision whether to shoot it or not. If I didn’t see one, the decision was made for me. I never had a burning desire to shoot a deer, yet I've never been opposed to it either. Does that make me an agnostic in the religion of hunting? At that time, only one person had even spotted a deer since we'd been there, so I decided to let it play out and deal with things as they came.

After an hour of solitude I noticed something out of the corner of my eye moving along the edge of the woods to my right. I slowly put down my book, set down my box of ginger snaps and reached for my gun. I looked through the scope and slowly scanned to where I thought I had seen the movement. As if materializing out of nowhere, a deer walked out of the woods into the open field. It took three or four steps and just stood there, broadside. Almost like it was on a kamikaze mission for quadrupeds. As I looked it over through the scope I figured out two things: it was a doe and it was really small. I stayed locked on to it through the site. All I had to do was squeeze the trigger and I honestly believe I would have downed it, but a lot of thoughts were careening through my mind. Did I want to shoot a deer that was the size of a Doberman and face those jokers back at the lodge? Should I be a little more selective and wait for something with horns? Or at least a valid I.D.? I felt like I was settling for a "last afternoon of the hunt/desperation deer" on the first day. So I let it go. Oddly enough, it stood there broadside for a long time, almost like it knew it wasn't worth shooting. There is nothing worse than a deer with low self-esteem. I've heard that low self-worth deer meat can tend to taste "gamey."

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Twenty-two: Love God. Love Folks.

Naomi stepped out of the shower and quickly wrapped herself in her robe even though she was not completely dry. The large mirror directly across from the shower door was in place whether she chose to give it credence or not and she would rather face it wrapped in bulky terry cloth than stripped, flaws exposed. No matter how hard she tried to place all her focus on her face, which was attractive, even pretty, with a small nose and even-toned skin carrying few wrinkles, the extra weight around her middle and backside always grabbed the attention. As she towel dried her hair she glanced over at the corner of the bathroom, eyeing the floor scales. She knew she would eventually drag herself to their shifty steps no matter how many memorized positive reinforcements she repeated to herself or how convincing the inner voice sounded. She diligently fought the urge but it was more for the salve of continuity than for any real chance it would succeed.

As she applied her eyeliner and mascara, the red lines crowding her eyeballs were a snarled reminder of her weekend. Too much alcohol, not enough food and practically zero hours of sleep. According to all senses of propriety and reason she should have grown beyond that behavior but she wasn’t even to the point of desiring to slow down, much less nearing the place of taking a vow or pledge. Of course, difficult mornings like this had a way of releasing some of those thoughts for a quick lap around her mind. She usually began her emotional and mental attack on Mondays in the waning hours of Sunday but last night was a particular blur, starting with friends and drinks at O’Callahan’s downtown and ending someplace bright and loud where the name of the establishment was less important than its closing time. Along with the dull throb at her temples, the previous nights activities gave her a late start on her Monday prep. She had a staff meeting at 9:30 and was free until two when she was scheduled to meet with the project team to discuss the upcoming weeks milestones. And she was supposed to go to her mom’s for dinner. “Ah yes, the weekly grilling,” she confided to her reflection as she brushed out her hair. And she wasn’t referring to chicken or hot dogs.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Twenty-one

Conga Dreams.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

Entry Twenty: Sitting in the Stand

[A story in many parts: Part Seven]

I finally got settled and waited. The weather was clear and warm and if it weren't for my throbbing back, I would have been comfortable and relaxed. The scuttlebutt at the lodge was that the weather was too warm to see any deer but I was hoping that wasn’t true. I hated thinking this was a lost cause before we ever started. I wanted to at least come out every day believing that something would show up. Initially it was quiet, except for the occasional plane or train that blew by in the distance. I say quiet in the sense that any noise outside of the normal forest noises were absent. There were a lot of critter sounds surrounding me and it made for a fairly disconcerting start to the morning. It was pitch black and, for a while at least, I couldn't see my hands. I was in an unknown stretch of unknown forest and all around me was rustling, grubbing and scratching noises. It didn’t get any more comforting as my eyes adjusted to the dark. I couldn’t help but start putting "faces" with the noises; I was seeing stuff moving all around me. In the trees. Coming down the road. If I stared long enough I could see anything. I regretted not buying any night vision equipment.

I heard the first shot ring out through the woods around 7:30. It was over to my right. I thought either someone shot a deer or they got really bored and did a "maintenance check" on their equipment. Or maybe they chose not to use their rope amenity and had an accident. I heard another shot 15 minutes later, so I started believing that gunfire meant there had been deer sightings. Meanwhile, I sat and scanned and imagined some Native American hunting spirit had materialized and was walking toward me through the trees. Would a rifle stop a spirit? Would a cushion?

The Plantation Suburban ferry picked me up shortly after10:00 a.m. and we started the slow crawl back to the lodge. The truck was hampered by the rutted roads of the woods plus we had to stop every four minutes to pick-up another hunter. It was more like riding a Greyhound bus only without the vending machines. It was very somber in the Suburban because every hunter we picked up had the same sad story to tell: saw nothing, shot nothing. When we stopped to pick up Mike, he told us he had been the one who had squeezed off the shots earlier in the morning. That little bit of information spread through the truck like the flu. Minutes earlier the truck had been filled with quiet, introspective adults heading back to the base camp. Before I knew it, everyone rushed out of the truck and started quizzing Mike intently about what had happened. When he revealed that he had shot at the deer but it had run off ("but I'm sure that I hit him"—that was not the last time I heard that phrase that weekend), you'd have thought that someone had just placed in our hands clues to the treasure of the Sierra Madre. Everyone immediately spread out looking for signs—blood, tracks, a note—that would lead us to the dead or wounded deer. In retrospect, it probably looked pretty funny with all of us in broad daylight, dressed in cammies, carrying guns and walking around very slowly, staring at the ground. Kind of like a bunch of golfers looking for an out-of-bounds ball—but with no time limit. Yet, I felt a real sense of obligation to help. I was part of the team. I was a hunter. If one of the team happened to find the tracks or the deer itself, there was attached some sense that they helped drop the animal and therefore could get some emotional credit. Unfortunately, after an exhaustive search, we had to surmise that Mike had missed. I looked around to see everyone's reaction at someone missing a deer and it wasn't too critical. Maybe they wouldn't be too hard on me if I suffered the same fate. Of course, no one else had even shot yet, so who could talk?

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Nineteen: Love God. Love Folks.

“Clean up on aisle three. JB, clean up on aisle three.” The announcement over the intercom could not have come at a worse moment. Johnnie was just returning from helping deliver old lady Dugan’s groceries to her car and he needed to get back to the parking lot to gather carts. Saturday’s were always their busiest day of the week but this morning had been more hectic than usual, reminiscent of when a hurricane was approaching or folks planning for a home football game. All the bag boys had been scrambling to keep up with demand and no one had been able to take their morning break. Now a clean up on aisle three. “I hope to god it’s not puke,” thought Johnny as he hurried to the storeroom in the back of the store to grab the cleaning supplies.

As he turned the corner of the aisle to face his next project he was relieved that it was just a spilt soda, although it must have been extra large because the splash and spread was far reaching. “I’ll bet the person that dropped it ditches the cup and doesn’t pay,” he thought. He didn’t used to be this cynical but working at the grocery store for two years had opened his eyes to some surprising facts. People are pigs and people are greedy, looking for a handout and a deal whether it’s being offered or not. The realizations had been troubling at first but over time they had grafted into this thinking and were now as factual as cold ice and wobbly -wheeled grocery carts.

As he wound his way to the front of the store and beyond to gather carts, he heard his name being called. The store manager was waving at him and he had a nasty scowl on his face. Johnny hurried toward him and was met with the low hiss of anger and disappointment.

“Busby, the lot is overflowing with carts. If I’m not mistaken that’s your responsibility today, am I right?” Johnny began to answer but was cut off by the flushed face and emotional edge dripping from his boss’s voice. “Get out there and gather carts right now. I had a customer complain, for crying out loud. We can’t have that.” Johnnie hesitated, waiting to see if there was more verbal flagellation coming his way. “Well go! What are you waiting for?”

Johnny exited through the automatic doors and jogged toward the cart retaining area farthest from the store. “Piggy, greedy and deranged. Piggy, greedy and deranged.” He repeated the phrase in a rhythm, matching the tempo of his trot. He was learning a lot at this job.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle