Thanksgiving Kindnesses…

I have a lot of memories of Thanksgiving dinners in a lot of different places, with families that were not my own.

One of the strangest, and perhaps the sweetest, was when I was in military school in Virginia. The school did not completely shut down over the holiday. Most people went home, but you could stay if you wanted, and a few of us did. They would feed us, but other than that we were generally on our own.

I never would go home to New York, it was a long set of bus or train rides for just a few days, especially with Christmas so close at hand. Not to mention the cost. We didn’t have a lot of money and so I stayed. One year I went with some people from a little town in the valley. I had met them at church and they’d befriended me. Kind souls,  they lived in a house built in the late 18th century in the middle of nowhere. But that’s another story, warm and sweet in its own right.

The teacher’s name was Captain Mason, but upon meeting him I immediately nicknamed him “Dancing Bear”. The name stuck, but it was not a mean name. He was much loved among the cadets that took his classes. I had him for French and English and he ignited my love for theater by encouraging me to appear in two plays he and another teacher produced. I owe much to this man, as he challenged us with literature and writing , and spent his own time and money exposing us to the arts in various places around Virginia. Romeo and Juliet at the University of Richmond, “The Miser” by Molière at the University of Virginia, in a beautiful theatre that looked like Jefferson himself had designed it…because he had.  And the play was completely in French.

But this was not about learning. This was about kindness and two cadets who didn’t have family to go to and would have had something not very special in the mess hall on that particular Thursday.  Instead he took us with him to his mother’s home on the family farm.  She lived in a mobile home in the snow covered beauty of the Shenandoah Valley.

The other cadet and I wandered around the farm in the deep snow, talking to animals, and exploring a huge stone and wood barn, before returning for dinner with our two hosts in the tiny trailer. We were treated like kings, and the trailer was warm and cozy.  It might as well have been a mansion.

Fish Out of Water – Writing Prompt

Sister Agnes looked around “Reverend Mother are you sure this is a good idea? It’s…I mean…it’s…”

Mother Natalie looked at the younger sister “gross and disgusting. Is that what you are trying to say Sister Agnes?”

“Yes Mother, I was. I feel dirty!” She blurted out.

“And what do you think our lord would have done? Did he avoid the places where the sinners were?”

“No Reverend Mother, he did not.” Agnes gave up the fight.

“Good. Lets get down to business then and see what goes on in these places.” The older nun waved the rest of the sisters into the bar where they all took seats around a table in the very back. She however found a table up front, and turned around looking at them. They all got up and joined her.

They expected to be shocked and surprised. They were not disappointed. The first surprise was that no one paid them any particular attention. Of course, they weren’t wearing habits, but still, they expected that a group of middle aged and older women would stick out like a sore thumb at a “Gentleman’s Club”. Instead, as they looked around, they saw a motley mix of people; young men doing a bachelor party, a few regulars, probably, that were sitting by themselves, and a scattering of women, some by themselves, of all ages. The rest were mostly men, but a surprising number of them had women with them.

They had walked in during a temporary lull in the action, but soon the stage lights popped on and the show started. Two women came out on stage, fully dressed, and danced with each other. Agnes heard Terese, one of the older nuns, say that they looked cute. Then with one swift motion, and the sound of parting velcro, one of them was suddenly completely nude. The crowd went wild. The Nuns all sat transfixed, even Mother Natalie who had that distinct look of someone who had gotten in over their head.

The performers, sensing their discomfort, were on them like racoons on a picnic table. One of them, the one that was fully dressed, handed Sister Nola, who had just turned 81, the end of a long ribbon. She told her to hold tight and not let go. Nola nodded and hung on with all her might. The dancer jumped on a pole and spun around, her legs and feet circling in an arc around the pole. Nola, holding the ribbon, unwittingly undressed her. The crowd roared. A few of the nuns giggled but stopped when Mother Natalie shot them a look. However when Natalie turned back to see what was going to happen next, she saw Nola, all 95 pounds of her dancing with the two strippers. She put her head in her hands.

I Saw You Walking In The Rain

Image by wal_172619 from Pixabay 

I saw you walking in the rain

Your raincoat says you planned it

Walked out the door in the pouring rain

Not to get anywhere, just to walk

.

Likely a young mother

Which is normal in this neighborhood

But no dog on a leash

Which is not

.

What compelled you to walk now

When even with the coat

You will be soaked through

Walk through your front door, shivering

.

What compels anyone out the door

In the rain

It takes something special

To face this weather

.

Maybe it’s just your time to walk

Napping babies have short fuses

You get what you can

You walk when you can

.

But maybe you’re sad

Or just over it and need space

Or planning a baby shower

I will never know

.

I’d like to say hello

To make you look up

To see your eyes

So I could smile at you

.

Because maybe that’s what you need

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

The Island

The volunteer fire department in the middle of the nation’s largest city.

I remember old houses, weathered by wind and salt air and knocked sideways by hurricanes on their way to more newsworthy places. It was an island across the bay from Kennedy airport, surrounded by brackish water and interwoven by canals…fodder for tropical storms. It was populated by tough men and tougher women, union democrats with American flags on every porch and ready fists if you didn’t like it.

I made a few friends among the kids but generally, like their parents, they were wary of outsiders. The girls had gravelly voices and they might kiss a guy or they might slug him and then change their minds the next day. Either way there were brothers to deal with. I was known to them, but still an outsider…I kept my distance. The feeling was mutual.

This was my grandparent’s turf. My cousin once asked if I thought Grandpa, a union shop steward, had ever hurt somebody, like maybe for getting outta line on a job site. I stared at him for a moment and we both burst into laughter. Grandpa didn’t look for trouble, but he wouldn’t run from it either. He’d taught me at a young age to stand my ground. “Don’t start any fights. But if you think someone’s gonna hit you, hit them first.”

The island had no city fire service because of the drawbridges at both ends. Subway station yes, NYPD yes, public school yes. But they had to build their own volunteer fire and ambulance service. The men in my family volunteered…it was a source of pride and damn near mandatory. I remember the jackets they wore, like high school letter jackets; BCFD stitched on the back instead of the school name.

I don’t recall grandpa having any real prejudices other than for people who he thought were lazy. A same sex couple, two men, moved in 2 doors down from him. That was a novelty in the 1960’s on this rough and tumble working class Island. To be honest, being cut from the same cloth as my Grandfather, they were a novelty to me as well. I asked what he thought about it. “They keep their house nice. They don’t bother nobody.” And that was it…mind your own business and don’t let your house go to shit. It didn’t seem a lot to ask.

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

Quiet

Image by Okan Caliskan from Pixabay 

Somewhere between sunset and sunrise

We exist, brothers and sisters,

In our nether world

Shared with more productive denizens

Servants of the light dwellers

Police and trash collectors

And tough waitresses at bad diners

They inhabit the world because they have a purpose

We inhabit it because we have none

.

The quiet is a sound of it’s own

It speaks to us

.

We are together and alone

Finding each other would relieve our ennui

Disqualifying us from this nocturnal club

This place is for the heartbroken

For the lonely

For the hopeless

For the over thinkers

For the overly dramatic

.

We are inferior and superior

We hide our fear with introspection

Writing poems that no one will read

We turn our noses up at what we most want

.

We can spot each other

I can pick out a soul lost in the night

They smile and laugh a little too hard

But I can see it in their eyes

The fear that no one cares

The fear that they will wander forever

Stuck in this darkness

“I should have been a pair of ragged claws”*

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

*The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock – TS Eliot

The Long Sweet Goodbye

Photo – Roger Puta

The rails had seen better days

So we crept along at a snail’s pace

Under big blue midwestern skies

Young corn, wheat and hay flanking us

We stood in the open vestibule

Taking in the fresh air

Feeling the heat

Of that early summer morning

We stopped behind a row of tidy houses

Eating breakfast in the diner

Enjoying the shade of their pretty backyards

Waiting for the more important trains

Which was all of the other trains

To get where they needed to go first

Late? Hours not minutes

No one was in a hurry

Conductors still whistled and held kerosene lamps

Porters still turned down bunks

Chefs still cooked from scratch

Food made in motion

Served on real railroad china

Waiters holding onto their pride to the last

The great lines were dying

Some of them died sweetly, softly

And we mourned sweetly, softly

For that which once was

And could never be again

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

Baggage Claim

Image by Victoria_Borodinova from Pixabay 

“Hi. We just landed.”

“We? Who else is with you. You told me you were traveling alone.”

Sighs. “Just a figure of speech honey. I’m with a whole planeload of people.”

“Like the last time? Are you sure Heather isn’t with you?”

Looks over at Heather. “I told you. I should be home in about an hour.”

“Did you carry on? Seems like there is a delay in baggage claim every time”.

“It’s a busy airport. They are short on help, 9pm is like rush hour for incoming flights.”

“I was talking to Roger at the party. He told me he never has issues. I guess you just have bad luck eh?”

“Look. I know what you’re getting at and I don’t appreciate it. I will be home as soon as I can. See you in a bit.”

Ends the call and takes Heather’s hand. “I better head straight home.”

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

Zero Degrees of Seperation

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day”*

We’ll call her Judy. Not her name but if you’ve been around Indianapolis for 30 years or so you’ll remember her. She looked like a news anchorwoman because, well, that’s what she was.

She had me at “Film at 11”. And I was gunning for her.

I was young, single, and had absolutely no fear about asking women out. Even women I had known for about 30 seconds. A lot of times I struck out. Okay, probably most times. But not always…so I did not feel like I was dreaming when I set out to meet this striking newscaster. You just never knew until you tried.

I had friends that worked in broadcasting…but not at that station. They were friends that knew people that knew her. Two degrees of separation as the saying goes. Not as good as one degree but a hell of a lot better than six. They were helpful, they had a few suggestions on how to get in front of her but they were all like “we can introduce you to someone that knows someone that knows her.” Nah. If you are going to go the “introduced by a friend” route they needed to know you better than that. So I decided I was on my own. I laid a plan.

That year I was running the Indianapolis 500 Mini-Marathon and her station was a sponsor. They were talking about it on the air. They were going to have a table at about the ten mile mark where they would be giving out water, shooting some video and cheering people on. She was looking forward to being there. I was looking forward to her being there. My grandfather told me that an important skill for a man was being able to make a woman laugh. My uncles all had that gift and as always I did my best to emulate them.

My plan was simple. When I saw the TV station’s tent I would change pace, maneuver and do whatever it took to put me close to her. Stretch goal was to get a cup of water from her if she was giving out water. Then I would say something witty, she would laugh and I would follow up with a phone message. I am aging myself I know, but email was not yet in widespread use. I had no idea what I was going to say to her but I was going to make it up on the fly…often worked best. I could not control whether she called me back or not, all I could do was execute my part of the plan. Like most simple plans there was little that could go wrong.

Now it’s race day and I’m slowing down at about nine miles so I can look like I’m not working too hard when I get to the TV tent. I can see it up ahead. I start trying to figure out exactly where she is. I see her co-anchor and a few intern looking types. I am not seeing a tall blonde. I am going really slow now, maybe she is hidden behind the remote truck. No. I look over at the male anchor and yell “Where the hell is Judy????”. He yells back, friendly like, “she got pulled off to do another assignment”. FML. Oh well, it was a shot in the dark anyway, and I laugh at myself as I am running. I don’t think about trying again. The gods have spoken, she would have been there if it had been meant to be.

Life goes on and I am sitting in the waiting room at the former Metro Health facility over off of Lafayette Road. Don’t remember why I am there. It doesn’t matter. As I am waiting a pretty girl comes out and sits near me with the usual and customary one-seat of separation. We exchange nods. She is pretty. She is friendly. She looks familiar. While we are chatting it sinks in…she is a TV reporter. Holy shit. From the same station as Judy….one degree of separation! Man, this was as good a chance as I was gonna get. As we are talking I am trying to figure out how to leverage this new opportunity when I realize something. The young lady I am talking to is sending signals. Was it a sure thing? No of course not, but I was pretty sure she would get a drink with me or drop her phone number if I asked her. The crazy thing is she was really cute but I couldn’t shift gears. I could not figure out a way to take the conversation from “hey we seem to be hitting it off” to “oh by the way do you know Judy?” How rude would that be? Why didn’t I just hit on her? I don’t know. My mind was locked up and not doing anything seemed like the best thing. FML. Again.

There is a small theatre a few floors up from the main stage at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. Not the roof ballroom…below that. I was a season ticket holder and so I sometimes took a date, sometimes a friend to see shows with me. In this case it was a date but not someone I felt real strong about. (If you are thinking it might be you, it wasn’t. I swear. ). The layout is a little fuzzy all these years later but I remember we were seated at round tables, the kind you sit at when you are listening to a lunch speaker at a conference. Except this was a play and it was dark. Which play? I don’t remember, I saw a lot of plays there. It might have been Strindberg or some other depressing Scandinavian crap. It might as well have been. Maybe one where the wife kills herself because she thinks her husband is dead but then he comes home after taking a detour to get a loaf of bread and a carton of milk and schtup his sister-in-law. Anyhoo, we all turned our chairs around to face the stage, maneuvering so that no one was blocking our views. My date was sitting to my left and a bit behind. I scooted more to the right so she could see better and I bumped into someone from the next table who was also maneuvering. We apologized and I looked into her face. I was staring at Judy. Zero degrees of separation. She was sitting with a table of women.

If I had brought a male friend with me it would have been game on. Not tonight. I was with a woman. You know there is no way to make this happen. Even had I wanted to be rude to my female guest, it would have been noted by Judy and her table of friends and I would have been placed in the “jerk” category never to emerge. (Jerk is much higher status than friend zone, but to make it work you actually have to be a jerk). And so there we sat. Judy, oblivious to the trauma she was causing, and me. Occasionally bumping elbows, her legs crossing and invading my space. I felt like I was in the plot of “Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” and someone had turned on the Improbability Drive.

Can you imagine the phone message I could have left her? “Hi, you were driving me bat-shit at the play the other night but I was with another woman so I couldn’t properly flirt with you. I was wondering…”. FML over and out.

And thus ended our one sided relationship. I regret nothing but at the time it seemed like the Gods had it in for me.

“Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
but there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.”*

*“Casey At The Bat” – Ernest Thayer

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

Honey I Love You, My Suzy Q

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: They are smaller than they used to be. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care what the current purveyors of the legacy say. They are smaller. Full stop. I am an expert, I should know. Based on my consumption of these chocolate and cream delicacies in college alone, there should have been enough revenue and profit to endow the brand for millennia. I don’t know what they did with the money.

My Uncle Bobby, on the right, working at Drakes Bakeries.

There is a bit of betrayal here as well. You see my family worked for Drakes Bakeries. A lot of my family. Their coworkers became godmothers and godfathers, husbands and wives and life long friends. In the Northeast they were bigger than Hostess and had their own, better, treats. Hostess used a spongy type of recipe for its cakes. Drakes used a heavy Devils Food. If you ate a Devil Dog or Yankee Doodle for example, the cake would stick to the roof of your mouth. You needed to drink milk with Drakes Cakes. They were better. Me extolling Suzy Qs is like a Pepsi family admitting that Coke ain’t so bad. Treachery.

Naturally there are stories in my life that revolve around Devil Dogs or Ring Dings or Yankee Doodles. But this is about Suzy Qs. And I gotta tell you they’re pretty damned good. And like the Drakes Cakes, there are stories.

Suzy Qs and Mountain Dews got me through my first Computer Science class. I spent a lot of time in the lab, half programming and half eyeballing the lab assistant. Either way i needed constant sugar and caffeine infusions and right down the hall were the vending machines. It was just too easy.

One day I ran across this girl out by the vending machine area. Turns out she was one of those vitamin chicks. But, she was hot for days and so normally I’m gonna listen to whatever the hell she’s saying. So she starts going on about her concern for my health. Now if I thought she actually gave two shits about my health or if there were any possibility of exploiting her professed concern that would have been different. But this was one of those bullshit pyramid schemes and she doubled down “If only you used (insert bullshit vitamin product name here) you wouldn’t have to eat those awful things.” She waited. She was pretty. She was used to guys agreeing with her just on the main chance. I stared back. And then I went full John Belushi on her. I stuffed the entire (original larger size) Suzy Q in my mouth and begin chewing, noting with satisfaction that a good portion was escaping out the sides of my mouth. She looked at me in disgust, turned on her heel and stalked off. Was it as good as sex? No, but that wasn’t going to happen anyway. But I’ll tell you, as I walked away, wiping the mushed chocolate and cream from my cheeks I was walking away with my dignity intact.

And that wasn’t the last incident. But if I told you about it you’d never believe me. Except that there was a witness…

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved