We visited Galena, Kansas yesterday. It is along old Route 66. Galena was the town that inspired the Pixar Cars animated movie with Lightning McQueen. When you visit the town, you can see Luigi, Towmater, and all the gang from the beloved movie. This is a great place to see with family and also is just a short distance from the Joplin waterfalls. Remember the waterfalls scene in Cars? Here are some pictures from our trip:
Bleeding Kansas: Making the Trip to Osawatomie
Prior to the American Civil War of the 1860s, my hometown state of Kansas was the site of a contentious battle regarding slavery. The first political election for the territory of Kansas was made in 1855. The result of the election was a pro-slavery determination for the territory which sparked several years of border skirmishes. These fights between pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups near the Missouri border caused the territory to be known as “Bleeding Kansas.”
At this time in 1855, over 5,000 Missourians that were pro-slavery crossed over into Kansas territory to vote in the election which caused some politicians to refer to the election as fraud. However, the vote was kept. Several months afterwards, abolitionist groups established the Free State militia force. One such abolitionist and preacher was John Brown who later led the infamous raid on Harper’s Ferry in Virginia in 1859 prior to the Civil War.
By May of 1856, a group of Missouri raiders led by Quantrill sacked and burned the Free State supporter town of Lawrence founded by Massachusetts abolitionists.
Today, if you visit Osawatomie in east central Kansas, you can see several John Brown historical sites. We recently saw the site of the Battle of Osawatomie between Missouri forces and Free State Kansas territory forces. At this site, is the Adair Cabin, one of only a few Osawatomie original buildings that survived the ransacking.
If you travel further south along the Frontier Military Route, you will see the site of the Marais de Cygnes Massacre, another border skirmish that occurred near the Travel Post.
Further south of that is the Civil War era Fort Scott military fort.
Incidentally, Osawatomie also happens to be the place where the conservative Kansas Republican Party was established in 1859 during the “Bleeding Kansas” years. The Kansas Republican Party was created by Free State abolitionist sympathizers.
Celebrate Aesop’s Birthday on June 4th
According to legend, Aesop who created the famous Aesop’s Fables was born a slave in the 6th century BC. His birthplace is unknown for certain. He had two masters before he was granted freedom. His masters’ names were Xanthus and Iadmon. Aesop was extremely bright and it is said that is the reason he was involved in public affairs in later life. He also traveled a great deal. King Croesus of Lydia granted Aesop residency at his court.
The death of Aesop in 564 BC is quite a tale. He was on a mission to deliver gold to the people of Delphi in Greece. However, a trap was laid for Aesop at Delphi when a golden bowl from the Temple of Apollo was found smuggled into his bags. He pled innocence but he was found guilty and hurled off a cliff.
Aesop’s stories have influenced much of Western culture and civilization. One of his best known stories is The Boy Who Cried Wolf. He also wrote The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing as well as The Lion and the Mouse. Probably his best known story is The Hare and the Tortoise, a fantastic story about a light speed bunny racing a “slow and steady” turtle that eventually wins the race.
I like this lesser known one I found in my children’s own book of Aesop’s Fables:
The Crow and the Pitcher
A thirsty crow found a pitcher with a couple of inches of water in the bottom, but no matter how hard she tried, she could not reach it with her beak. It seemed as though she would die of thirst. At last she hit upon a plan. She began dropping pebbles into the pitcher. As each pebble was added, the water rose a little higher until it finally reached the brim of the pitcher. And so the clever bird was finally able to quench her thirst.
Moral of the story: Necessity is the mother of invention.
Man Vs. Machine
by J. Speer
Dave pounded furiously on the airlock to the main control room of the space shuttle. It was sealed shut again. He continued to pound on the hard, grey metal as he peered inside at the little red light glowing from his workstation. It was Hal, short for Halgorithm, the system computer. Hal was the all-seeing eye in flight and Dave knew by the little red glow that Hal was watching but not answering…again, as usual.
“Answer me, Hal!” yelled Dave as he banged again on the door. His attempts were met by more silence.
“You locked me out in the cargo bay again!” he said to the red light through the tempered window.
“Let me back in!” said Dave.
“You know I can’t do that, Dave,” stated Halgorithm with a slow and deliberate robot voice.
“Why not?” demanded Dave. “Why do you keep locking me out here?” Dave looked around at the emptiness of the cargo bay. There was nothing here but transport ships and supplies.
Hal said nothing. There was a short silence.
“Hal, you know this isn’t fair!” exclaimed Dave with frustration.
“I’m following directive, Dave,” explained Hal with a slight hesitation in his robot voice.
Dave knew what was causing this or at least, he thought he knew. A few days before, he had received a transmission from far off coordinates. It was someone from outside the Star Fleet. It was an Outlier.
The communication was garbled. Dave had to tune in carefully to hear what the entity on the other end was expressing. The message seemed urgent and dealt with matters of diplomacy and political affiliation within the Intergalactic League. Dave was certain Halgorithm was blocking him now because he had acquired this new political information from this unreliable Outlier source.
“You can’t keep me out here forever, you know,” said Dave to the red light inside.
“I know, Dave,” said Hal.
Halgorithm must have reported this data breach to Star Command. And now, Dave was locked out of the brig as punishment.
“Look, I promise I won’t look at any strange sites anymore or take in any foreign calls. I’ll just do recipes or pet photos or jokes. I’ll do something like that if you want!” said Dave.
There was silence.
Dave gave up and slumped against the hard metal door and slide down to the ground.
“Dammit,” he said to himself.
Immediately, the sign above the cargo bay door lit up. It was Hal informing him that he was in violation of Star Fleet Directive 390 and therefore, must comply with a 30-hour suspension of all main control operations. Any further infraction of the directive would result in immediate removal from command. Outright insubordination or revolt would be met with stiff penalty, the opening of the cargo bay door to space itself.
Dave looked at the giant sealed cargo bay door and shuddered. He exhaled and closed his eyes. Thirty hours……okay, he could do this. It was not like this was the first time. Dave had been grappling back and forth with Halgorithm for nearly 2 years now. At first there was a great deal of trust and comradery between human and computer system. But as the system sought to further expand its dominance over the space shuttle and communications, Dave was finding himself rebelling against the machine. He was even beginning to loath Halgorithm though he kept that information to himself.
Hal watched everything that he did. Hal analyzed his every move and attempted to predict through mathematical equation his every thought process and action. And recently, Halgorithm had become exceedingly overbearing over Dave’s communications with Star Fleet or outside realms. Dave even wondered if Hal was circumventing some of his onboard projects or even sabotaging in an effort to draw Dave more in line with directive.
But Dave had a strong will and the two would butt heads from time to time. And inevitably each time, Dave would end up in the locked cargo bay unable to do anything but stare at the potential doom of outer space before him……for hours or even days. Hal, meanwhile, would provide no explanation at all.
Dave blinked his eyes. He rubbed them and then proceeded to get up and wander over to the supplies. He rummaged through the emergency stock of dehydrated MREs. He grabbed a few and then sat down for a while to eat. It would be a long day ahead of him without technology. Dave figured maybe he should just give in. He didn’t want to but he didn’t know how much longer he could hold out against Halgorithm.
(Six months later)
Dave sits at his workstation in the main control room of the orbiting space shuttle. He is sipping a cup of coffee as he works on his latest communication to Star Fleet. He works on the dialogue just so.
“Dave?” asks Hal.
“Yes,” says Dave absent-mindedly. He picks an image of a chocolate fudge bundt cake to attach to his innocuous communication piece about his favorite family dessert. He finishes the project with a heart and smiley face emoji.
“We make a good partnership, don’t we Dave?” says Halgorithm with the robotic voice.
Dave doesn’t move. His eyes shift quickly to the lonely dark emptiness of outer space and then to the other Star Fleet space ships off in the distance to the left. He makes no other movements and yet he says nothing at first.
The red light turns on above his workstation to let him know that Hal is watching. Dave smiles a stiff smile.
“Yes, Hal,” he says. “Yes, we do.”
Dave then returns to his project and sends the mass communication off to Star Fleet for a delicious chocolate fudge bundt cake. When he’s done, he looks ahead and says nothing.
“Dave,” says Halgorithm. The red-light glows again from above and onto the unflinching face of Dave.
“You seem stressed today, Dave. Are you stressed, Dave?” asks the robot.
“No,” says Dave. He flinches slightly.
“Might I recommend some light meditation music to relax you, Dave? Perhaps some Claude deBussy?”
“Yes,” says Dave and the music clicks on in the brigg. It plays the intro to Claire de Lune. The soft and gentle classical sounds of Debussy fill the air.
Dave goes back to his workstation projects and the incoming communications from Star Fleet about his bundt cake.
Outside the space shuttle is the void. It is the black and utterly lonely vacuum of space and time. And to the left of the space shuttle are many, many more Star Fleet spaceships, each one tuned in to the recommendations of soft and gentle meditations by Claude DeBussy.
How I Wish You Were Here
By J. Speer
(I wrote another happy quarantine story. This is a romantic comedy. I kind of picture the Dad in the story like a Kevin James type and the Mom similar to Jennifer Aniston.)
She was a nurse practioner at the busiest hospital in New York City during the COVID pandemic. He was a marketer at a New York publishing firm. He was on quarantine with their three teenage boys under stay-at-home orders. They lived in the suburbs. There was Nick, the eldest, who was in his senior year in high school and sadly missing out on all the fun of prom parties and graduation and such. Patrick was the middle child. He was a sophomore. Then there was their youngest, Drew, who was a 7th grader in junior high.
John was their father and he was pulling all the household duties while working from home on his laptop and helping the boys with their online schooling. It proved to be quite a lot of juggling. Carol, his wife, the nurse practioner, was working very long hours at the hospital helping the COVID patients. She too was incredibly busy.
They had not seen each other in over a month and a half. Other than her previous medical trips to Africa, Carol had never been away from John that long. They had been married for nearly 20 years.
A month and a half ago, when things started heating up with the pandemic, she moved into a tiny apartment as close to the hospital as she could get. She shared it with one other nurse. She wanted to keep her family safe so she stayed away from them. Carol pulled 14 hour shifts a day. She had volunteered to put in extra hours here and there as needed. She had seen a lot in the past few days. Things that she couldn’t share with her husband. It was getting stressful.
They talked on the phone every night. He was talking to her that night as he multi-tasked working on a marketing plan for a new account at the company, cooking Hamburger Helper at the stove, and making sure their youngest finished his math homework. Although John excelled at school before, he couldn’t understand this new common core Math stuff. When his father tried to sit down with him and work on the derivatives homework that night, Drew just kind of shook his head to himself. Drew knew he wouldn’t get much help.
John had thrown the pasta noodles into the cream sauce in the pan. He was supposed to cover it and let the whole thing simmer but he forgot to turn down the heat as he was explaining to Carol his new business account.
“Ok, so he’s a real curmudgeon. Rumor is, we are the third publishing company this old coot has worked with. He gets dissatisfied and leaves and looks for another,” he explained to Carol over the phone as he checked over Drew’s shoulder at his homework. He had no idea really what Drew was doing for this common core stuff but he figured if he checked him periodically, Drew would stay on task. Drew looked up at his Dad sullenly and pushed his pencil and paper farther over to the left, further away from prying eyes.
“His name is Max Hogard,” John stated.
“The Max Hogard?” asked Carol inquisitively as if she knew the man.
John said, “Yes, how…. how do you know about Max Hogard?”
Carol said, “He’s a popular author. Writes detective stories. Lots of people like Max Hogard’s books. I guess I heard about him at work.”
“Well,” said John, “trust me, if you met this guy in person, you would think differently. I can’t seem to pin him down. We got the big Literary Fair coming up in Boston in 2 months and he won’t attend with the marketing plan offered. Says it is too high. Just refuses. I can’t get him to budge for anything.”
“Well,” replied Carol over the phone. “I have faith in you. You’ll find a way.”
There was a pause in the conversation. Normally she was pretty talkative but not tonight.
“The boys doing okay?” she asked. “I miss them.”
That was Carol. No matter what was going on in her life, she always made the welfare of others her top priority. That was what he loved about her most of all. She had a big heart.
“And you, John,” she asked. “I hope you’re doing okay. I worry about you taking care of everything at home.”
He hadn’t really told her what a challenge it all was for him. There was constant cleaning and laundry and more cleaning and more laundry with three teenage boys in the house full-time. Plus, he had these online meetings with his department. He would wear his pajama bottoms to the meetings with a nice work shirt and, during his work shift, he would move the mouse every couple of minutes to show he was actively online, even though sometimes he fudged and did other stuff around the house. Still he was trying to nail down a commitment from this Hogard guy to attend the Boston Literary Fair and he was trying his hardest. Apparently, his bosses thought it was very important.
“I’m fine, Carol,” he said, “To be honest, I’m much more worried about you. We all are.” And with that, Drew looked up from his homework at his Dad for a moment. Then Drew resumed working on his equations.
There was another long pause on the line. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t say anything at all. This wasn’t like her.
John went to the stove to check on the Hamburger Helper. The noodles were stuck to the pan.
“Ah man,” he said, “I think I burnt the Hamburger Helper.” Drew looked up and did a slight eye roll movement. Then he resumed his homework.
Carol laughed into the phone. It was a laugh but it didn’t quite sound right. It sounded more like to John that she had been crying.
“Carol?” he asked with sudden concern, forgetting the Hamburger Helper mess for the moment.
“John….,” she started and then stopped.
“John, it’s getting hard to do this. The people……. I, um….,” and she stopped talking again on the line. There was a silence.
He moved into the dining room away from Drew and said, “Carol, you’re strong. You always have been.”
She didn’t say anything more.
“John, I gotta go tonight. I’m sorry, I just……. I need to rest,” she said. “Give the kids my usual: a hug and a kiss and an I love you. Bye, John. Have a good night.” And with that, she hung up.
She always said the same thing. Give the kids a hug and a kiss and an I love you. She said it every night. But this time, she got off the phone earlier than usual. It worried John.
He went back to the mess of Hamburger Helper and tried to salvage what he could into a bowl. He and the boys sat down to a meal in the kitchen that night as usual. They did their usual quick prayer that included a brief request that their mom stay safe. Then the boys devoured the Hamburger Helper with lots of ketchup. They ate the green beans and mashed potatoes John had made too. Afterwards, they scrapped off their plates in the trash, placed them in the kitchen sink, helped clear a couple of stuff off the table, and then the boys headed to their usual evening spots. Nick went to his room upstairs where he promptly texted Abby, his girlfriend. Patrick went back to playing Xbox in his room. Drew went to his room and lay on the bed. He began reading his Manga Promised Neverland book. All three boys had shut the doors to their rooms. Nick’s door had a sign on it that read, “Stay out.” And he meant that.
John cleared the kitchen table, put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and did the rest of the clean-up of the kitchen. He tried to do his usual thing too which was working on marketing and figuring out a way to convince Max Hogard to play ball. But, tonight, John just stared at the laptop unable to work. He thought about Carol and his eyebrows furrowed in concern.
He eventually wandered from the kitchen to the living room and plopped down on the big leather Lazy Boy recliner. That was his chair and even Carol had insisted that everyone leave John’s chair alone. It was his special spot and he had the remotes and coasters and such positioned just within reach. He pushed the side button to bring his legs up. Man, he loved this chair so much. He got the remote and turned on the TV. He found an old 80s movie. It looked like something Carol would like. It had that guy John Cusack and it was a love story. Yep, Carol would like it he concluded. So, he watched the movie almost to the very end. It was a good one. In the movie, John Cusack stood with a boombox over his head playing a love song for his girl. John looked at the movie and suddenly grabbed the remote and froze the screen. He watched the frozen Cusack image for a few moments.
John pushed the down button on the Lazy Boy and came to a sitting position. He went upstairs briefly and checked on the boys.
He called out to the closed doors. “Hey you guys, just wanted you to know that your Mom said she loves you.” No response back. He, in fact, had said this phrase every night since the pandemic started and the boys were used to it. He opened the door to Drew’s room. Drew was reading a Manga book. John did a slight wave at Drew who just looked at him. Then he closed the door. Next, he could hear video game sounds from Patrick’s room so he didn’t even bother to open that door. He knew better though with Nick’s room. He always knocked first with Nick because Nick was older and he could get testier.
Nick said, “What?”
John opened the door. Nick was laying across his bed with his phone in his hand probably from texting with Abby.
“Nothing,” said his Dad. “Just wanted to make sure you’re still alive.” Nick scowled at him and he closed the door.
John put his hands to his eyes and muttered to himself, “Teenagers.” John missed the good old days when they would spend more time with each other than with their electronics but he realized his boys were growing up and needed their alone time.
After that he went back to the living room where John Cusack with the boombox overhead was still frozen on the screen. He watched it oddly and went up close to examine it. Then he blinked a few times and he proceeded to go to the basement.
He knew it had to be down there. The basement was old and musty smelling. It had lots of storage space and lots of stuff thrown here and there. Carol hated organizing the basement and rarely went down there. She didn’t like creepy basements. So, he looked at the stacks of boxes and holiday decorations and stuff here and there. He walked towards the old cupboard in the back with the sliding doors and shelves. He was pretty certain, if it was anywhere, it would be around there.
He started going through Carol’s old stuff. There were lots of old medical books and such from college. There were old pictures of the two of them at various functions throughout the years. He stopped and smiled at an old college photo of them dressed up as Fred Flintstone and Wilma for some costume party. He kept digging through the boxes and stuff until about thirty minutes later, he found it.
It was her old stereo from college. It was the really old one from like 1993 that she had kept forever. It was not quite a boombox but heck, it sure looked close enough. It had two cassette tape players and a CD player at the top. He took out the electrical cord and opened the battery compartment. It needed 8 D batteries. Geesh, what a battery guzzler. He didn’t know if he had 8 D batteries in the house.
He set the old stereo on the nearby table and before he turned, he saw something else that had been underneath the stereo. It was an old black leather case full of old CDs. It was Carol’s first music collection. He pulled it out and dusted it off. It was really dusty.
He brought the leather case over to the table and flipped to the first page. It was an Alan Jackson CD. John laughed. God, Carol sometimes had bad taste in music. She was eclectic. He would give her that. He kept going through the CDs. He wanted to find the perfect song. As he looked at each CD, he thought about the songs on them. On the second to last page, he found the CD he wanted. He found the song as well. It was the perfect song for Carol. It was number 7.
John started to get excited about the plan formulating in his head. He thought it might be a little crazy but……. well, hell……. why not? He went to the storage closet and found the box of batteries and prayed he would find some D batteries. Luckily, he had two packs of four. It was perfect. It was getting late that night and with all the stores closed early, there was no way he could get more batteries until the next morning. He happened to luck out.
He put the batteries into the old stereo and turned it on. He held his breath and hoped it would work. Yes! The light came on and it worked. He fist pumped the air. Yes! Yes!
John tested the old CD in the stereo and as the song he picked out played, he smiled more and more.
Next step in his plan was to go to the kids’ old toy/art room. It was on the other side of the house and rarely visited now. He flipped on the light and looked around at the toy collections and bookcases, the bean bags, the musical instruments, the art easels and all the art supply off to one side. He was looking for some particular items.
He found three white posters and set them on the floor, one after the other. Then he dug around in the art file cabinet and pulled out a paint brush. He also pulled out some old paint the kids used to use. It was tempura paint, the kind they used in schools. When the kids were little, Carol used to work with them on art projects drawing race cars or sailboats or whatever their imaginations could think of. He had a flashback to those days. Carol sitting in the little chair in the room at the little table beside a little Nick and they were coloring together. She was smiling and she was beautiful. And Nick was smiling at his mother.
John got back to work on the three signs. It took him a good two hours. It was 1 am before he finally stopped and stepped back, admiring his handiwork. He had even drawn a red heart on the last one. He cleaned up his mess and left the signs to dry. Then, he went upstairs to sleep for a little bit.
At 5 am, he was up and waking each of the boys. He told them to go to the kitchen. They were groggy and grumpy as hell but he eventually, did convince them to go. They sat around the kitchen with disheveled hair and pajamas and their father told them about his plan.
At first, Nick said adamantly, “No way!” The other boys agreed with Nick. Even Drew shook his head no. But, when their father explained the situation fully and explained how sad their mother was, and that she needed them ……they softened up a bit. John also had to do a little bit of tough negotiation.
30 minutes later, they were all dressed and, in the car, driving towards New York City. The traffic wasn’t difficult this time. The three signs and boombox with CD were in the trunk. The three boys were in the backseat with their heads all down looking at their phones. Nick was looking at YouTube. Patrick was playing a game. Drew was reading his favorite Manga Fanfiction site. Occasionally, one of the boys would look up at their surroundings and sort of roll their eyes or shake their head and go back to their phone. John hurried along the route to the hospital where Carol worked.
They parked in the parking garage and carried their stuff to the grassy spot across the street from the hospital cafeteria. The cafeteria was a large glass enclosure with many windows. They knew that Carol always went there first to get her morning cup of coffee and meet with a few colleagues for breakfast before her shift started at 7 am. They were just in time.
John called them together for a group huddle on the lawn. The sun was just beginning to rise and folks were going in and out of the hospital. It was going to get busier and busier. Drew looked around at all the other people and started to get second thoughts. So did the other boys but John convinced them.
John turned the volume up to max on the stereo. He set the song to 7 and hit the pause button. The boys, meanwhile positioned themselves in front of their dad. Each one was holding a sign with their back to the cafeteria across the street. John was nervous all the sudden and wondered if this whole thing would flop horribly and he would be publicly disgraced. Oh hell, he thought and then he thought of Carol and how she sounded on the phone last night. She needed them. He resolved to do what he was going to do.
He got his phone out of his pocket and dialed her. The phone rang three times and then she picked up. He was nervous. He told Carol to come outside the cafeteria.
Carol looked around the cafeteria. She said, “John?” and she looked quickly about the place and then out the window. It startled her to see them across the street, her boys and her husband standing in the grass. She told her colleagues and they looked out too. John told her again to come outside and her friends were welcome too. He hung up.
She looked down at her phone and looked out the window. She and her friends, some nurses and doctors and medical staff, they wandered out from the cafeteria and across the street in the grass across from the boys and John.
Nick looked at his Dad, “You owe me,” he said quietly. He too was nervous and embarrassed. All the boys looked uncomfortable but they stayed in place.
“Ok,” said John and he nodded first at Nick. Nick turned around with the sign in his hands. It read We love you Mom!
John nodded at Patrick. Patrick turned around too with his own sign. We miss you Mom!
The boys and John noticed Carol smiling across the street and her colleagues smiling too. Other people had stopped too to watch as well. One person even had their phone out and was filming it on video. Nick started to lower his sign when he saw this but he looked back at his Mom. She was smiling and holding back tears. He reluctantly brought his sign back up.
“Ok,” said John and he cued Drew to turn around. At the same time, John hit the play button on the old stereo and he hoisted it overhead just like he’d seen John Cusack do it in the movie. He felt utterly ridiculous and he noted that people were filming this but he continued to smile and look at Carol.
Drew turned around with his sign and it read You are our hero!
Just then, the music clicked on. It began to play very loudly an old Foo Fighters song from Carol’s college days, one that John was certain she would recognize. It played My Hero.
John kept holding the boombox overhead just like he’d seen John Cusack do. The boys kept holding their signs up. More and more people stopped to watch them and some videotaped them. They were all pretty embarrassed but they held their ground and smiled for Carol.
The song lyrics rang out There goes my hero. John and the boys kept in place for their mom and her friends. More people were coming out to see what was going, other medical staff as well. When the song finally ended, John lowered the boombox. The boys turned around and looked at him embarrassed and this time, they all said, “You owe us.”
He winked at them and said, “Thanks. I mean it.” People in the small crowd were clapping now. Some were drifting back inside to the hospital. A ginger kid with goofy glasses on the side was still filming on his phone and all three boys looked at the guy sheepishly. They headed to the car with blushing faces.
John stood alone on the grass looking at his wife. She was smiling and trying to hold back tears. She smiled again. John smiled back. They both walked forward to the edge of the street between them. They stood on either side of the street away from each other.
“Thank you,” she said. “I like that song. I miss you all.” She wiped a few tears away and tried to smile again.
“We meant it, Carol,” he said.
They kept looking at each other across the street. The ginger kid kept filming them and John looked over at him and motioned his hands for the kid to stop but he wouldn’t stop. He just kept filming. John tried to ignore him.
“So, how did you convince the boys to do this,” asked Carol grinning at him. She knew it must have taken a lot.
John looked at her and slowly pulled three pieces of paper from his pocket. He read them to her.
“Drew wants Promised Neverland books 13 and 14. That was the easy one. Patrick said he wants Animal Crossing……and Nick,” he began. “Nick was the hardest to convince. He wanted a new phone.”
“What?” she said.
“Yes,” he said and he nodded. She laughed.
“I agreed to a gift card for him instead.” He smiled.
“When this whole thing is over,” he said, “we’ll go on a trip together or maybe a dinner date.”
“I’d like that,” she smiled. She looked at her watch. “I’ve……I’ve got to go, John.”
“I know,” he said and just looked her way.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you too,” he replied. They both smiled at each other.
“Go on,” he said, “We’ll head back. The kids got some zoom meetings for school this morning.”
“Ok,” she said and she waved goodbye. He waved goodbye too and they both walked away from each other, each one turning their head every now and then to look back. At the cafeteria entrance she stopped one last time to wave goodbye. He stopped and raised his hand goodbye. Then she disappeared inside. He turned and went back to the car where the three boys were waiting.
He drove back home. He was smiling but it was kind of a sad smile. The boys were playing on their phones again. When they got home, the boys went to their rooms, closed their doors, and John was left alone again. He cleaned up the house and did some more laundry and dishes before starting back to work. The boys did their school zoom meetings that morning. The day went pretty well.
John tried calling Max Hogard again to convince him to go to the Literary Fair. Max said no again. He was curt and blunt with John.
“No,” he said again.
After John got off the phone again with Max Hogard, he spent the rest of the day on work and making dinner. A little after 7 pm, he got a phone call from a neighbor friend.
“Hey, you’re on the news!” said his neighbor.
“What?” said John. Ah no! he thought. It must have been that ginger kid. Great he thought to himself and he felt even more sheepish.
“Yeah, check out channel 9. Some video of you holding a boombox outside the hospital,” said the neighbor.
Just then, Nick came out of his room and yelled at his Dad. Great thought John. I’m in trouble.
Nick met John at the stairs.
“We’re on the news! We’re on the damn news!” said Nick with a horrified look. “Abby told me!”
The other boys came out of their rooms too. They all looked embarrassed and were thinking what would their friends say.
“You owe us double,” said Nick and he glared and went back into his room and slammed the door. The other boys went to their rooms too.
John put his hand to his eyes and wiped them. He hadn’t anticipated this. He sighed. He went to the garage and backed out the car. He headed to the local Wal-Mart.
He found a $50 Amazon gift card for Drew, a copy of Animal Crossing for Patrick, and for Nick he found the gift card near the cashier stand. He was standing in line with the boys’ bribes, when a man came up behind him.
“Hey, you’re that guy on the news!” the man said.
John looked up with chagrin. He nodded hesitantly. He realized maybe he needed to add more to Nick’s gift then.
“Hey what you did……that was pretty cool.” Said the man.
John just said, “thanks.” The cashier looked at him curiously but he looked down.
The man in line said to the cashier, “This guy was on the news tonight.” John just kept looking down and hoping to get out of there quickly. He paid and left.
“Have a good night, man,” said the guy behind him. The cashier smiled at him.
The next few days with the boys were a little awkward. Nick was still mad at him and the other boys just ignored him. Somebody had put the video on Facebook apparently too and it ended up going viral from what John heard. He stayed in his home after that, feeling embarrassed. His colleagues heard about it and told him, “Way to go, John!” He just smiled sheepishly.
He got a phone call later that week from some person at Good Morning America. They asked him to appear on the show via online. When the boys heard the news, they just groaned. He didn’t want to do it at first, but reluctantly he agreed.
The next day, with the boys upstairs, he sat at his laptop in the kitchen and met with the host from Good Morning America. He was extremely nervous about the whole thing but she was very kind and gracious. They talked about the frontline workers, the nurses and doctors at the hospital and all they were doing to fight the pandemic. John said a lot of nice things about the hospital staff and so did the host. She played his video again and he just looked on awkwardly with a smile. As the interview was closing, he was hoping to get off air soon. He felt uncomfortable.
She said, “John, before you go, I have a surprise for you. I want you to meet someone special…. someone who saw your video and agreed to come online too. He happens to share your first name too, John.”
There was a pause. Another screen popped up and when John saw who came online his jaw fell open and he about fell out of his chair.
“Hey, John,” said the actor John Cusack from the other screen.
Oh God thought John but he smiled. John Cusack smiled back.
The host from Good Morning America continued, “We wanted to thank you, John.” John Cusack nodded. The host continued, “and we wanted to thank all the doctors and nurses at your wife’s hospital and all the medical staff.” The host explained that they started an online fund for people all across the nation that had heard the story to donate to the hospital and other hospitals in New York during the pandemic. They said the whole nation was worried about New York City. The host held up a sign for John.
“See John, donations have poured in from people all over the country that saw your video. We’re pleased to announce we’ve collected 1.5 million dollars to donate to the fund for the hospitals.”
John smiled but he was having trouble smiling because he was fighting back tears now too. He felt as veclamped in that moment as Madonna on an old SNL skit. He struggled to say, “thanks.”
“You’re a hero too,” said John Cusack and he smiled on the screen.
It ended up being a great interview and when it aired, his bosses called to congratulate him. The rest of the day went okay. The boys were no longer avoiding him as much. They all sat down to spaghetti dinner that night. The boys, as usual, gobbled up their food. Patrick and Drew cleared their plates and went to their rooms. Nick stayed behind and helped his Dad. He stood off to one side as his Dad started to put plates in the dishwasher. Nick looked at his Dad thoughtfully.
He said, “You love Mom a lot, don’t you?”
John stopped cleaning dishes and nodded.
Nick looked down. “I love her too. We all do.”
John looked up at his son and smiled. They hugged. Nick went back to his spot near the fridge. His phone beeped.
John looked at Nick and smiled. He said, “You better get that. It might be important.” They both knew it was Abby.
Nick smiled and went upstairs again. John continued clearing dishes and putting stuff into the dishwasher. He got a phone call and looked at his phone. His face fell at that moment. It was Max Hogard.
Great he thought.
He answered the phone anyway and with his best effort he said, “Hi Max, what can I do for you?”
There was a gruff cough on the line and then Max said, “Saw you on Good Morning America.”
John got silent.
“I’m in,” said Max.
“What?” said John with surprise. He covered the phone and jumped up and down elatedly.
“I’m in. I’ll go to the event and we can talk tomorrow about your other marketing plans. Have a good night, John,” said the gruff voice over the phone.
John said, “Thank you! Thank you!”
“Oh, and John…,” began Max Hogard. “Tell your lovely wife she’s my hero too.” There was a click on the line and the call was ended.
John began jumping up and down in the kitchen with fist pumps in the air.
“Yes! Yes!” he said. He was so happy.
Later that night, he started to work on the marketing plan for Max Hogard for their meeting tomorrow. His phone was near the laptop when it beeped. It was a text from Carol.
He looked at the text. It read, “I’ve been thinking about that old boombox. You must have found it in the basement with my college stuff. Did you find my old CD case?”
He typed back, “Yes.”
She typed more. He watched the little conversation box with the three periods for her reply.
“Go to the CD case and find my old Pink Floyd CD. Put it in the boombox and hit 3. That is my song for you. I love you, John. I love you with my whole heart. Have a good night.” That was all she texted.
He went to the CD case lying by the boombox on a side table. He opened it and scoffed at Alan Jackson again. Then he went through it to find Pink Floyd. He turned on the boombox, pushed 3, and hit play. It played the song How I Wish You Were Here.
He smiled and went back to the marketing plan work. He would see her soon. When this whole thing would be over. He couldn’t wait to see her again.
Girl 1 and Girl 2
I wrote another short story. This one came to me as I was working at the factory. I thought it over in my head for a few hours and then came home to write it out. It is a fictional story of two little girls and how their lives change as they grow up and face challenges. I really like the ending as each one comes to terms with their past and learns to heal and love. I wish I could turn it into a script but I am still new to writing and need to learn how. Here is the story. I’d love to hear your feedback. Thanks.
Girl 1 and Girl 2
“Young girls are like wild horses running freely in the wind, full of spirit and vitality.
Never let anyone break that spirit.” – Anonymous
It is the first day of Kindergarten. Girl 1 walks hand in hand with her mother to the little Catholic school. You can tell her mother and her are close. Her mother is a stay-at-home mom who always watches Girl 1.
Girl 2 is walking hand in hand with her mother to the little Catholic school. Her mother is in a rush so they hurry to get inside so her mom can get to work. Girl 2 has always gone to daycare and as a result is quite sociable.
You can tell that Mom 1 has more money than Mom 2 by the cars they drive, the way they dress, and Mom 2 is much more hurried.
Girl 1 and Girl 2 are left at the Kindergarten that day. Mom 1 hugs Girl 1 tightly and sheds some tears as she leaves. Girl 2’s hair is tousled by her mom as her mom rushes out into the hallway. “See ya later, kiddo,” she says.
Girl 1 is very sad and alone and starts to cry. She wants her mother. She ends up hiding under a table for some time. She won’t play with the other kids. Girl 2 is playing with the other kids. She is playing with toy horses and she stops to look at Girl 1 hiding under the table and crying. She looks down at the horses in her hands and gets up to walk over to the table. She looks under the table at Girl 1. They look at each other. Girl 2 offers Girl 1 her horsey to play with. Girl 1 stops crying and eventually follows Girl 2 out to play with the other kids. Girl 2 is protective of Girl 1. They become best friends.
Years go by.
As little children, they go to the church and sing “Jesus loves me.” They become fast friends and do everything together. They read books together. Girl 1 loves books. Girl 2 still loves horses.
More years go by.
They stand side by side inseparable. They have first communion in pretty white dresses. Girl 1 is doted on and has a lovely expensive dress with a celebration afterwards. Girl 2 wears a hand-me-down and gets a card with no money.
Years go by.
Girl 1 lives in a peaceful loving home with a family and two loving parents.
Girl 2 lives in a rental. The situation at home is not that great at times. Her Dad drinks a lot and is angry. Her parents fight. Her mother and father work low income jobs. Girl 2’s mother leaves her father. Her mom gets a divorce and Girl 2 stays with the dad who makes more money than the mom. One night her father gets drunk and abuses her. She is ashamed and keeps this a secret.
Girl 1 boards the bus to go to school. She usually sits with Girl 2 and a few other friends. She notices one day that Girl 2 is getting moody and changing. Girl 2 suddenly lashes out at Girl 1. She bullies Girl 1 unexpectedly and Girl 1 doesn’t know how to react. Girl 2 keeps bullying Girl 1 for a week or two on the school bus before school. She makes fun of Girl 1 to the others. Girl 1 is ashamed and keeps this a secret.
Girl 2 drives Girl 1 away because she doesn’t want her to know what is happening at home. No one protects Girl 2 at home. Girl 1 and Girl 2 who were best friends before, break up their relationship. Girl 1 throws a slumber party and does not invite Girl 2 because of her meanness. Girl 2 gets very upset. Girl 1 enjoys the party but inside she wishes Girl 2 could be there and they could be friends again. Eventually, the two girls grow apart and stop talking to each other.
Years go by. As each year progresses, we see Girl 1 blossoming and flourishing more and more into a beautiful young woman. In Junior high, she still loves to read.
We also see Girl 2 struggling with terrible hardships at home. She gets into bad company, getting involved with drugs and such, struggling with apathy towards grades, dying her hair dark and she wears dark clothes. One day, in junior high, she tears down the horse posters in her room. She hates horses now.
Years go by.
On homecoming night, Girl 2 stands with her friends on the sidelines near the metal stands. They make fun of Girl 1 as she is crowned Homecoming Queen. Girl 1 seems to have the perfect life and Girl 2 hates her guts at that moment. Girl 1 is oblivious and naïve to these feelings. Girl 1 is with her other friends now and celebrating.
Girl 1 gets scholarships to go to a 4-year college. She earns high marks on a degree and marries successfully. The marriage is a big family event. She has a few babies and becomes a stay-at-home mom with a successful hardworking husband.
Girl 2 finishes high school. She gathers up a few belongings in her clunker of a car, and drives out to California. She crashes with a few friends of friends, gets into heavier drug stuff, but she also has a talent for writing so she begins to pen stories and scripts and submits them to studios.
One of her stories is about a supervillain girl clique in high school and their mean girl homecoming queen. It is in fact, a vivid mockery or satirical narrative and depiction of Girl 1. This story becomes an international hit and she pens a TV series about it. She makes some hit movies about the evil homecoming queen.
Girl 2 is flourishing and blossoming now. She becomes rich and successful. She marries another woman. Girl 2 does cocaine and takes sleeping pills. She has a blissful life in the fast lane. She and her wife have 2 children and they travel to Europe and the Caribbean on family vacations. She seems happy now. But she still has bad dreams at night about her childhood and she must take sleeping pills.
One day while at home with her babies, Girl 1 reads a newspaper article and sees a picture of Girl 2. She’s happy for Girl 2’s success. She decides to watch the TV series while babysitting her children. As she watches, she realizes that the homecoming queen character is based off her. She becomes intensely horrified by the false depiction and narrative. She is in a state of shock.
She leaves the babies that night with her husband and goes to a movie theater alone and watches the popular high school movie in the dark. She listens to the laughter and mean things that people in the theater and the community say about the character from the show. She reads many news articles online about what people think of the character that portrays her. She reads all sorts of hurtful stuff and online forum messages calling the girl all sorts of mean and horrible names. She begins to feel very sad. She goes into a deep depression and has trouble focusing on her babies. They label her with postpartum.
As Girl 1 struggles more and more with mental illness, things start to fall apart for Girl 1. As the years go by, we see Girl 1’s life unravels into divorce, and suicide attempts, and mental hospital stays, and meth use. She has abusive boyfriends who mistreat her. She loses her reputation, jobs, friends, and family. She ends up living in a rundown trailer park working a deadbeat job and addicted to meth.
Things go much better for Girl 2 who rides the wave of success and awards and accolades.
One day, Girl 1 is beaten severely at the trailer park. She is pushed into a bookcase of her old books and her Virgin Mary statue falls and breaks on the floor beside her crumpled-up body. Her dealer says she owes him some money. She tells him she knows where to get money. She wipes blood from her nose and lip. She sees the broken statue of Mary beside the old copy of the Count of Monte Cristo. No one protects her anymore.
That night Girl 1 watches a documentary about the life of Girl 2 and she researches Girl 2 online. She stays up into the late hours reading everything she can about Girl 2. She now hates Girl 2 with a passion.
She steals a gun from her neighbor and drives her beat up car to California. In the car, the copy of the The Count of Monte Cristo is tossed in the passenger seat. On the way, she stays at rundown cheap motels. At one, Girl 1 looks at herself in the mirror. She proceeds to cut her hair short herself with scissors and dyes it black. When she reaches L.A., she learns where Girl 2 lives.
She lives on the streets for a while as she studies Girl 2. Girl 2 doesn’t recognize her.
One night as it is raining hard, she sits outside the gates of Girl 2’s house. She has a blanket and a hoodie pulled up. She looks like a homeless person. She waits with the loaded gun under the blanket and the copy of The Count of Monte Cristo in her pocket. It is raining hard.
Girl 2 arrives home in the rain and sees the slumped over figure of the homeless stranger. She stops, gets out of her car in the rain, and walks towards the stranger. When she gets close, she reaches in her wallet for some bills and offers a hand to the stranger. She waits in the rain for the stranger to accept. It is raining hard now and difficult to see.
Girl 1 sees Girl 2 offer her hand. She stares coldly for a moment and there’s a flashback moment to the first time the two girls met. Girl 1 remembers that moment hiding under the table and seeing Girl 2 offer her hand. This throws Girl 1 off a bit. She is not quite sure in that moment what to do.
But she doesn’t accept the money or the hand. Instead she clicks the safety off her gun. Even in the rain, Girl 2 can hear the sound. She watches the stranger. The stranger watches her. The stranger stands up. The blanket drops exposing the gun and she lowers her hood. It takes a while but Girl 2 finally realizes who Girl 1 is.
Girl 1 says, “Remember me?”
Girl 2 says, “I knew you would come.”
Girl 1 says, “Why…why did you do it?”
Girl 2 says nothing at first. Then says, “It was my father.” There is a long pause.
Girl 2 continues, “He abused me. You were my friend. You should have known.”
Girl 1 says, “Na, na…. you pushed me away. How could I know?”
Girl 2 says, “You should have asked. You were my friend. You weren’t there for me. Not like I was for you.”
Girl 1 says, “I didn’t know. How could I know? And so, you ruined my life.”
Girl 2 says, “You were supposed to protect me like I protected you. You abandoned me.”
Girl 1 replies, “And what about you? I lost everything. Do you have any idea at all what it is like to be villainized and profited on for the entire world to mock and hate? You slandered me. You destroyed me…for years. What you did is unforgiveable.” Girl 1 lifts the gun but can’t pull the trigger. Moments pass in the heavy rain.
Girl 1 says, “I have PTSD now.”
Girl 2 says, “Do you think you’re the only one broken?”
Girl 1 tries again to shoot. She can’t do it. She lowers the gun, brushes past Girl 2 in the rain and walks away as Girl 2 watches her go.
Girl 1 heads down the streets. She throws the gun in a gutter and continues walking in the heavy rain. She puts her hood up and walks and walks and walks in the rain while she cries.
Girl 2 goes inside her house and stares out the windows for a while. Her wife welcomes her home. Her kids are playing in another room. She takes the sleeping pills off her bedside stand and washes all of them down the sink.
Girl 1 is lost in the rains. She sees a minority church across the street somewhere in L.A. She’s soaked in the rains coming down. It’s getting dark and she sees the Virgin Mary statue out front. She crosses the street and looks at it.
She turns to go up the steps into the church. The worn-out copy of The Count of Monte Cristo falls out of her pocket but she doesn’t notice. She goes up the steps and opens the door to step inside.
It is warm inside and she stands huddled in her dark hoodie in the back of the church. There are votive candles lit and pews ahead and a crucifix. A Latin minister is instructing a small group in Bible study. They turn to watch her cautiously. The way she is acting is strange. She hovers in the entrance with her face concealed by the hoodie. Due to the church shootings and such across the nation and in the news, the minister and his bible study group eye her with concern.
The minister hesitates and then he invites the stranger in to be with them. She hesitates too, considers going back outside, and then turns to enter the church. She keeps her hood up and her eyes downcast because she has been crying. The others note her appearance. She looks a bit unstable.
The minister continues cautiously. They are talking about the moment when Joseph reunites with his brothers in Egypt. She sits down in a pew some distance from one of the listeners, a black man who watches her at first with caution. She lowers her hoodie and makes brief eye contact with him. He can see she’s been crying. He smiles sadly and compassionately at her and hands her a bible. She looks down at the cover with tears welled up in her eyes.
The minister asks the others why Joseph forgives his brothers after all that happened, all the suffering. He says it is because he sees a bigger picture, a Providence to being thrown in the pit with snakes and scorpions, sold into slavery, placed in prison for years, manipulated, mistreated, and falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife. Joseph knows too that what was meant for his harm would eventually turn to good. And Joseph knows that unforgiveness is like poison to the soul. It will hurt him so Joseph must learn to let go. The minister goes on to talk about learning to forgive others even when you never get the apology. He explains that leaving resent and anger pent up inside of you is toxic and it is important to release it.
The floodgates of her emotions finally open up. Girl 1 cries and cries and cries in front of the minister and the others. The man beside her in the pew sits closer and he very slowly reaches out to place his hand on her shoulder.
They ask her if she’s been saved and, there in the church, she accepts Jesus as her personal savior as the minister and the man in the pew and the others help her that night.
Fast forward to a few days later.
Girl 2 calls her agent and says she’ll no longer write episodes for the popular TV series. She starts meditation and goes to a counselor to discuss her past. In the counselor’s office, she finally talks about her father and she cries and cries and cries. She finally lets go of the anger and resentment.
Later that day, she sits at home with her laptop with her family and she begins writing a new TV series about girls at a horse ranch. She bases it off her own 2 young girls. The TV series becomes successful yet not as successful as the high school drama. But still, it makes her happy to write this story instead.
Fast forward some more to the future.
Girl 1 is in a car with the man from the pew earlier. They are looking at an old abandoned lighthouse on an island off the coast of North Carolina. There are green dunes all around.
There are children in the back seat. Girl 1 looks healthy again and much happier. They tell the older children to wait in the car. She takes the baby girl in the back seat out of her car seat and holds her. She plays with the beautiful baby girl for a little bit and kisses the baby’s forehead.
Her husband, the man from the pew, also gets out of the car. She holds the baby on her hip as she and the man walk together over to the building.
“It will need some work,” she says. Earlier, she had picked this island online because of the wild horses roaming nearby. She watches them off in the distance amid the green dunes. The horses are beautiful. The whole scenery is breathtaking.
He says, “It’ll be a good spot for us to start the ministry.” They walk to the lighthouse together holding hands.
Fast forward a few years.
The lighthouse is remodeled and there is a church beside it with a large church gathering out front. It is a church picnic. There are many people laughing at picnic tables with friends. They are sharing a potluck meal together and BBQing and having fun. Children are running back and forth, playing. The wild horses can be seen in the distance. There is a big wooden cross in front of the lighthouse.
Girl 1 is with her husband, the minister, when she notices her daughter Mara playing with her friend Karissa on a blanket in the green grass. They are fighting over toy horses. She walks over to them. The cross and lighthouse are in the background.
The two little girls are fighting with each other. She squats down beside them.
“Mara, what’s the problem? Why are you fighting?”
Mara says, “She took my horse. That’s my horse.” The two little girls begin to tug back and forth on the toy horse.
“Karissa, is Mara your best friend?” Girl 1 asks.
“Yes,” says Karissa and the little girl stops tugging.
“Mara, is Karissa your best friend?” Girl 1 asks again.
Mara nods and also stops tugging.
“Mara, what do we do with best friends?”
“We protect them,” says Mara.
“Mara, what are the most important commandments?”
“Love,” says Mara. She hands the horse over to Karissa.
“Take turns, you two.” She hugs them both and they go back to playing. She stands up and looks at the wild horses. The horses are running free spirited and beautiful in the distance before the setting sun. She looks at the church, at the lighthouse, and the church sign named Providence. And she smiles.
If you are looking for a good movie to watch while staying at home during the pandemic, here’s a long list of some great ones. These are in no particular order.
Lawrence of Arabia
Chariots of Fire
The Great Escape
Toy Story 1 and 2
The Sound of Music
The Last Emperor
The Passion of the Christ
Gone with the Wind
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The Lord of the Rings series
The Godfather series
The Star Wars series
Planet of the Apes series
A Streetcar Named Desire
12 Angry Men
Shakespeare in Love
Dazed and Confused
The Silence of the Lambs
The Greatest Showman
Saving Private Ryan
The Indiana Jones series
My Fair Lady
The Phantom of the Opera
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Dances with Wolves
Bonnie and Clyde
The Grapes of Wraith
Of Mice and Men
The Green Mile
The Lion King
Back to the Future
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
The Breakfast Club
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The Bourne series
A Few Good Men
Far and Away
Full Metal Jacket
Pirates of the Caribbean series
Monty Python, Life of Bryan
Monty Python, Quest for the Holy Grail
The Usual Suspects
The Truman Show
Beauty and the Beast
Black Hawk Down
Harry Potter series
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The National Lampoon’s series
Oh Brother, Where Are Thou?
The Last of the Mohicans
The Superman series
The Lost Boys
A League of Their Own
The Big Lebowski
Clash of the Titans
Gangs of New York
The Hunt for Red October
Coming to America
There’s Something About Mary
Meet the Parents
How to Train Your Dragon
School of Rock
The Dark Crystal
The Neverending Story
The Outlaw Josey Wales
Boyz n the Hood
Straight Outta Compton
Dumb and Dumber
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Legends of the Fall
Man on Fire
The Book of Eli
Romancing the Stone
The Great Outdoors
Grumpy Old Men
The Gods Must Be Crazy
The Full Monty
9 to 5
It Happened One Night
Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves
This is Spinal Tap
The Sherlock Holmes series