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>A Halloween of Shame…

June 9, 2011


A kid finds work, Fat Duck has a routine, my movie review of Unstoppable, an update and excerpt from Ripped From My Cold Young Fingers, Thanks to DebA for her review of From My Cold Young Fingers, and more…
My First Job: I sit here staring at a blank page trying to think of a story, any story, from my past that might have value, entertainment or otherwise. My first thought is, how sad it is that I’m well past four decades and can’t think of a single story worth your time? Fortunately, my mind refused to believe I’d lived four completely useless decades, so it burped up a tiny dribble of a story. Whew! Apparently I’ve lived at least six hours of notable time J.
I grew up in a rural Maine city, which means we had running water, electricity, a train (oh, make that 6 hours plus a train story for next time J), enough traffic to grab bumpers and skateboard behind, and pretty much everything that everyone else has or had at that time. I lived just one block from a family-owned corner store and bakery. The owner of that store was gruff and seemed to be in a constant “let me explain something to you” mode, at least in regards to the neighborhood children that used to flock to the place like seagulls around a fast food parking lot. It was Halloween Day, and I was probably ten or eleven–just at the age when you’re supposed to be too old for Halloween but secretly look forward to it.
Well, one Halloween Day the gruff old store owner who knew every neighborhood kid by face and family, if not by name, intercepted my best friend Jones and I as we were passing through his fine establishment for one of the dozen reasons we thought of each day.
“You kids want to make some money?” he asked.
Excited, Jones and I exchanged glances. It was every kid’s dream. Sure, there were older people with jobs, and even some older kids had jobs, but how many kids our age had a chance to pad our usually empty pockets. Of course, we jumped at the chance.
“Sure,” I said. “What do you need us to do?”
Of course, Mr. Gruff didn’t take our job acceptance at face value, not when he had a chance to lecture us on the way the world used to be so undependable but was now filled with kids who had no sense of responsibility. He finished by saying, “So you two really think you can do this job and be responsible, because I’m not so sure.”
I didn’t even have to look at Jones to say, “We can do it!”
We were probably going to have to unload a truck or maybe do some sweeping or cleaning. Either way, it seemed certain we could wrap this project up, get paid and still have plenty of time left over to harass hundreds of little kids as they went about their candy collecting that night. Yeah, it was turning out to be a really good day.
Chests out, faces pursed with determination, we followed Mr. Gruff outside the store and around the corner. When we marched past the back of the store and the next two buildings, I wondered if there was a hidden warehouse down the block.
“Where’s he taking us?” Jones whispered from about three steps behind the store owner.
I shrugged. Everyone knew that the store family owned several nearby buildings, but I had no clue which ones. About the fourth building down, the store owner marched into a long, narrow driveway that was overstuffed with a fancy motorhome.
Jones and I had, of course, seen the motorhome hundreds of times as we walked, ran, and bicycled up and down that main artery between the local grocery store, library, and our railroad-bordered neighborhood two blocks the other way. Neither of us, however, had known the vehicle was his. It made sense, I thought. Why wouldn’t a rich store owner own a fancy motorhome?
“So what do you think?” Mr. Gruff said, standing beside his shiny vehicle.
Was he looking for a compliment? Neither Jones nor I really knew anyone with money, so we had never been this close to a motorhome. What did he expect us to say?
“It’s nice,” I offered.
“So what do you think of your job?” he asked, hands on hips, staring at the motorhome.
“You want us to clean it?” Jones asked, his neck craned to look up at the monstrosity.
I knew what he was thinking. We were barely taller than the tires. We’d need a couple of good ladders and a pretty powerful hose to get this job done. I also had a sinking feeling that this little project might interfere with our Halloween adventures.  Suddenly, being employed wasn’t sounding like such a great idea.
“No, I don’t need you to clean it,” Mr. Gruff said, brushing a tiny piece of dust off the shiny blue finish. It did look impeccable, certainly in comparison to the rust buckets that both Jones’ and my parents drove and seldom, if ever, cleaned.
“Neither of us has a license,” I offered, truly confused as to what other service he might be expecting.
“I want you two to guard it,” Mr. Gruff announced.
That sinking feeling in my stomach suddenly turned to a cramp. I swallowed hard, having already put the pieces of the puzzle together.
“You want us to guard your motorhome tonight,” I said, “on Halloween.”
Mr. Gruff wiped his hands on his apron, something I noticed all bakers tended to do. Back then, it seemed like a stealthy signal from a secret baker’s guild, but I’ve recently come to believe it’s just to clean their hands.     
“Most kids your age are useless,” he said, “but you boys seem to be a little different. You said you wanted some work, and here it is. Frankly, I’ll be depending on you to make sure no one throws anything at my motorhome tonight. ‘That going to be a problem?” He wiped his hands on his apron again.
Like a couple of whipped dogs, Jones and shook our heads. We took the job.
Just as agreed, that evening at 5:00 pm we trudged up the street to take our positions in front of the motorhome, a vehicle we had already grown to hate. Mr. Gruff had two folding chairs ready and even handed us both a Coke.
“Remember what I told you,” he said. “No one touches my motorhome. Got it?”
With no enthusiasm at all, we nodded.
The first hour passed and we were okay. It wasn’t really that dark and only a few really young kids in costumes had walked by with their parents. Who cared about Halloween?
By 6:15 pm, however, our resolve was tested when we saw a dozen of our friends going by, some in costumes, some not, but all with big smiles on their faces. They were heading out to have the time of their lives.
Not us. We sat there. And sat there. And sat there.
By 6:30 pm, the silence between us was as thick as Mr. Gruff’s chocolate frosting.
Another cluster of our friends passed.
“No one tried to throw anything yet,” Jones finally said.
I glanced behind and up at the motorhome that towered over us like a school principal. It didn’t have a single smear from thrown candy or anything else.
“Seems a shame to make them waste money when nothing’s going to happen,” I said. I was leaning forward in my seat…just to ease the cramp in my back.
“Wasn’t that Kenny?” Jones said, pointing down the street to a shadow that could have been anything from a dog to an elderly woman.
“Yeah, I think it was,” I said, standing…to get a better view of Kenny’s shadow.
Jones was already on his feet.
“You don’t want to wear a stupid costume, do you?” he asked.
“That’s no fun,” I told him as we jogged in the direction of our friends.
6:30 pm.
Fat Duck Settles Into a Routine: Fat Duck and I seem to have found a routine (assuming a routine can be as short as 5 to 7 days). At about eight each morning, I let him out of his cage. I then throw bread across the driveway to Original Duck and his few wild mallard followers. I then throw three pieces of bread to the bottom of the stairs for Fat Duck. After nibbling at a few crumbs he left outside his cage the night before, he flies down to the driveway and eats most of his breakfast. On the good mornings, he then wanders off to the side of the pond and his hay bale. On the bad mornings, he forgets and comes back up onto the porch where I have to shoo him away whenever I happen to notice he’s back.
Then, for the rest of the day he lives the life of Riley and relaxes by the pond. Near dusk, he waits for me to come fetch him off his hay bale. Now, this isn’t as simple as it sounds, because the hay bale has to be approached circularly so that I come at it from between the bale and the pond, otherwise Fat Duck might instinctively fly into the water (which, as we’ve discussed, he hates). Once I have circled around and come up behind Fat Duck–he never looks anyone in the eye–and poke him in the back. The poke is necessary because sometime during the afternoon, he has both forgotten that he can fly and has developed a fear of 16-inch hay-bale heights. I sometimes have to poke him a second time before he takes the hint and re-remembers that his wings are for flying and he flutters down onto the driveway. I then march behind him until he sees the porch stairs.
And that’s it. Once he sees the stairs, he remembers how much he likes it up there. I follow him up, herd him a couple of steps and close him into his cage. As I fill his water bowl and drop in a couple more slices of bread, he says, “huh-huh,” a sound like you might make if you cleaned your glasses by fogging them up, which I choose to believe is Fat Duck for “Thank You.”
Of course, next week, he may have a whole new personality. After all, that’s what makes him famous.
My Movie Review of “Unstoppable” – 2010, starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, directed by Tony Scott.
My rating ««« (three out of five stars)
A half-mile-long freight train full of toxic chemicals accidentally has its throttle set to full speed and is sent hurtling–unmanned–through the Pennsylvania countryside. Experienced engineer (Denzel Washington) and new conductor (Chris Pike) throw all caution to the wind to pursue the “land missile” in a separate locomotive.
Will their most unusual scheme succeed in saving Stanton, Pennsylvania? Or will they just be adding their own deaths to the inevitable carnage?
I have to say, this movie is populated with an incredible cast, starting with Dewey the bumbling conductor that lets the train roll away (Ethan Suplee of My Name is Earl fame), Galvin the head of train operations (Kevin Dunn), Connie the Yard Boss (Rosario Dawson), Ned the Welder turned Locomotive Chaser (Lew Temple). Combined with the two a-list stars, this should have been a slam dunk.
Unfortunately, the premise teetered on the edge of unbelievable for me. Suffice it to say that when someone says it’s impossible to derail a train, I say *&^%$#it! What exactly would be so hard about pulling a couple of rails? Last I knew, trains can’t fly, especially around curves. What? You don’t have time to pull rails but you do have time to round up military-style rescue crews and special on-top-of-the-track derailment equipment?
Okay, so let’s get past that unlikely conundrum and move onto the lesser plot issues. Since when don’t railroad companies know what their trains can and can’t do under power? Since when do onboard engineers have to make guesses instead of companies relying upon disaster assessment specialists and advisors? Again, I’ll leave that issue to smarter men.
So what do those concerns leave us with? A pretty good piece of action eye candy with some mostly good speeding train effects. It also allows us to enjoy some pretty great actors saying and doing some almost believable things.
Worth a Redbox fee, but probably not more than that.
“Ripped From My Cold Young Fingers,” update & excerpt: I was desperate to give you all good news this evening and say my review of the first edit is done. Unfortunately, I still have about 50 pages to go, which means another day to a few days.
Here’s an excerpt from the latest edits…
“Grandma Clara! Grandma Clara!” I yelled as I rushed into my kitchen. Uncle Finneus appeared beside me. Of course, my grandmother had long ago returned to Heaven for the night.
“Out,” I said, to my Uncle Finneus. “Out of here right now!”
I was glad when he shrugged and disappeared. The last thing I needed was for his black sensibilities to affect my grandmother’s willingness to help.
“Grandma Clara!”
Suddenly she appeared. Her face was tight with concern.
“What is it, Nate?”
“It’s Vicky. Her light turned red. She’s going to die!”
Grandma Clara’s hand shot to her mouth.
“Oh no,” she breathed. “That poor child!”
“What do you mean that poor child? We have to do something. We have to stop this!”
Though her body trembled with concern, she said, “I’m sorry, Nate. There is nothing we can do. I can’t interfere down there. No one can.”
“That’s crazy. God created the Earth, everything. Why can’t he help my sister?”
“Nate, the Earth, the heavens, even Hell, they’re all part of a system. That system can only exist with rules, rules that we can’t break.”
“This makes no sense. You know what’s going to happen!”
Uncle Finneus knocked from the other side of his basement door.
“Not now!” I screamed at him.
“We have to help, Grandma. I can’t just let her die.”
“Nathaniel,” she said with a measured tone, “there is nothing we can do. I’m sorry.”
Uncle Finneus beat at the door.
“I said not now!”
“It’s time for me to go, Nate,” Grandmother Clara said. “I can’t be party to this.”
“To what?” I asked, turning to face her. But she had already disappeared.
“For God’s sake, Nate. Open the damned door!”
I did as demanded, and Uncle Finneus stormed up into the kitchen. He had his hat in hand and his hair was wildly askew. His eyes danced angrily back and forth. I watched as he took a series of breaths to recover himself. He ran his fingers through his hair, and then somewhat calmly placed his top hat back on his head. Within his anger, I thought I recognized a sliver of what had allowed him to fight his way up to me. The fire was still in his eyes as he spoke.
“Do I strike you as a particularly frivolous man?”
I could hear the sarcasm in his voice and didn’t think this was the moment to mention that I didn’t know what the word frivolous meant. I shook my head.
“Then why, pray tell, young Nathaniel, would you choose to ignore my knocking when it was evidently URGENT?”
“Uncle Finneus, maybe this isn’t the best time for you to drag your point out too long. My sister is about to die, and I need to call Aunt Alice and the others for help. What do you want?”
“Your grandmother was lying.”
“Grandma Clara?” I asked.
“None other.”
“She can’t lie,” I said. “She’s an angel.”
Thanks DebA for your kind review of “From My Cold Young Fingers – Advance Reading Copy (under-heaven)” (Kindle Edition)
Her review…
««««« (five out of five stars)
Very Nice, 25 May 2011
This story about a little boy murdered in the 1940’s takes an immediate twist when we discover that all kinds of souls (even those from Hell) can meet in a place called Under-Heaven. An unexpected pleasure to read. The mystery about Heaven, life after death and this possible place in between was fascinating. The plot moved well and kept me intrigued the way scenes moved from Under-Heaven to Earth and back again. I really enjoyed the story and the unfolding mysteries kept me guessing right to the end. I highly recommend the book. Nate and the entire cast of other characters were lovable and the author certainly brought them to life. While not a Christian book, this fictional Under-Heaven satisfied my belief system and gave me hope that in our world filled with pain and tragedy, there is goodness and purpose. Pick up “From My Cold Young Fingers” and you will not put it down.
Wrapping up: I apologize for taking so long to get the chat/blog session started tonight, but my youngest son had his high school Freshman Year awards ceremony, and family is always a priority. We were very proud to see him accept his award this evening J.
My Thanks: I once dreamt of writing for a living. Though a lot of my time is spent writing for nonprofit corporations and charities around the country, work that is incredibly fulfilling and that I will continue to do long after it is required on my end, each and every day more of my income comes directly from readers of my books. Please know that I couldn’t be more sincere in my appreciation.
One Comment
  1. >Hi Tim,Great blog site! I'd love to take part in your upcoming author sessions. Please contact me: texasdruids@hotmail.comOr at either of my blog sites:

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