Saturday, August 27, 2011

56. Commuting

Of all things, C.W. decided he wanted to learn to drive. Actually, as one who had piloted the galaxy on more than one occasion, he picked up the internal combustion engine easily. His main complaints are the mechanical inefficiencies─easily the worst design in the cosmos─and the unpredictability of his fellow motorists─doubtless the least attentive in existence. Nonetheless, we made it through the orientation and were making our final test run.

I had to smile. He had assumed the shape of a senior citizen, a lady, arguing that this would provide some degree of sympathy from inquisitive police officers or state troopers. There proved little to worry about, though. He maneuvered flawlessly with only a periodic “Oh, that poor dear should really pay attention.”

We tested his prowess in downtown traffic and then eased onto the interstate and headed out one of the major arteries serving the city. He seemed to enjoy the speed and flow of interstate traffic and I only found it necessary to caution him (her) about his speed once or twice.

“Sort of makes you feel both powerful and connected to others at the same time, doesn’t it?” he said. “I’m beginning to understand the attraction that operating a personal vehicle has for your species.”

“I suppose that is one way to put it,” I said.

“I mean, after all, you poor folks have so little opportunity to feel powerful.”

I ignored him. I knew he was only trying to wind me up. It is a frequent tactic of his.

At any rate, our attention shifted as we topped a hill and observed a long line of vehicles inching along the lanes opposite ours. They were heading into Little Rock but at a snail’s pace on this weekday morning.

“Must be a traffic accident back there, the poor people,” C.W. said in his most matronly voice.

I looked at him to see if he was putting me on. No, he looked serious.

“The traffic is that way every morning, C.W.” I said.

“Every morning?”


“What’s causing it?”

“People commuting to work from other cities.”

“They live somewhere else and endure this every morning to get to work?”

“Every morning of the week.”

“Why don’t they work where they live?”

“Not enough jobs.”

”Then why don’t they live where they work?” he said as the freeway curved, providing a view of a line of creeping vehicles as far as the eye could see.

“They have their reasons, I suppose.”

I could sense his databank whirring through a complex statistical analysis.

“I see only one strong correlative factor,” he said.

I didn’t say anything.

“Don’t tell me …,” he said, stopping short to think.

“I’m afraid so,” I said.

“What is it with your species and skin pigment?” he said.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I really don’t know.”

“Why you poor dears,” he said as he pushed the vehicle’s speed well beyond the legal limit.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

55. Stereotypes

August brings many things in our state, the most noticeable of these being heat. But it also produces great fruit. So it was no surprise when I saw C.W. Approaching me in the park carrying an ice chest and looking for all the world like a real country bumpkin. I’m talking overalls that stopped two inches above his ankles, a straw hat, and a dingy blue shirt topped off with a red bandana tied around his neck.

I was not surprised when, after sitting beside me, he opened his ice-chest to reveal two full crescents of watermelon, one of the treats that make Arkansas bearable in August.

“Lookee here what I brung us,” he said in his best imitation of a hick southern accent. He retrieved a slice and tried to hand it to me but I declined.

“Don’chew like watermelon?” he said.

“Not right here and right now.”

“Don’t mind if I do?”

A year or so ago I would have found it embarrassing but I have developed a tolerance for his antics. Besides, most of the visitors to the park are tourists so, who cares?

I shrugged and watched him as he took the slice in his hands and studied it. He lifted it toward his face but then stopped and lowered it, turning to me.

“How do y’all do this?”

“Do what?”

“Eat watermelon this way.”

“What way?”

“Just cramming your face down in it.”

I just looked at him.

“I mean there has to be some secret to it.” He raised the slice toward his face, but stopped short again. “Ain’t there?”

“Why are you asking me?”

“Ain’t you a country boy?”

“I was raised one.”

“Country roots?”

“As country as you can get.”

“Then what is the secret? How do people in the country do it?

“Want to know a real secret?”

“That’s the general idee,” he said trying again to sound “country.”

I have never in my life seen anyone raised in the country eat watermelon that way.”


“Sorry, but the only people I have ever seen stick their face in a melon and cover themselves with sticky juice are city kids at parties and festivals.”

“You gotta be puttin’ me on.”

“Sorry, my mother would have worn a persimmon tree switch out on us if she had ever caught us eating a watermelon that way.”

“Then how, uh, how did you?”

Southern cats are too cool for sloppy eating habits
“With eating utensils, how do you think?”

“Well black people sure did it this way, didn’t they?”

“I’ve never seen a black person eat a watermelon, but I seriously doubt it.”

“But all them pictures…”

“Dehumanizing stereotypes are hard to amend.”

“What makes you think that some of your country cousins might not have done it this way?”

“Well there is one good reason, a real southern one.

”What’s that?”


Sunday, August 14, 2011

54. Privacy

It was August, when the climate doesn’t support civilized life in our part of the world. It is a good time to avoid contact with strangers and any sort of extended arguments. Walking is best done as early as possible in the morning.

So, daylight found me circling our downtown park, thinking about lost loves and missed opportunities. The park was deserted, that is until a figure emerged from a walking path and filed in a dozen or so feet behind me.

It was a well-rounded female dressed in spandex pants and a white t-shirt, both several sizes too small. I chose to ignore her and resumed my thoughts until she closed the gap and began speaking in a voice that pierced the morning peace like a flying shard of glass.

“By God you’d better not start that stuff up with me again.”

I looked and saw that she had an “ear-bud” attached and was undoubtedly carrying on a phone conversation. I continued walking.

“That’s what I told him,” she said. “He just acted like I was one of them two-bit whores he hangs out with.”

I walked faster, hoping to distance myself from the telephone talker. No luck—she sped up as well, even sounding closer that before.

“Then he come across that bed and started tryin’ to make up with me.”

She was quiet momentarily as the person on the other end said something. I took the opportunity to turn right in another attempt to escape.

“Hell, no,” she resumed as she followed me. “I told him he wadn’t gettin’ nothin’ off me as long as he kept actin’ the way he’d been doin’”

I went into a very slow jog, actually more of a waddle, hoping to gain some distance. It worked for a few minutes before I heard her gaining on me.

“Well, hell I had to go to the Doctor that morning and take a stool sample. I’m here to tell you it was stinkin’ like hell before I got there. I finally got in around ten-thirty and he put me up on that table … “

I had heard enough. Luckily, I was passing a bench and managed ease onto it so she could pass on by and take her conversation with her.

Unbelievably, she sat down beside me and started up again.

“Then I caught Betty Lou and her boyfriend in her bedroom when I got back and he had his hand just about …”

I jumped up again and started off. “Hey big dope,” she said. “Where do you think you’re going?”

I turned around and stared. “C.W. have you gone completely mad?”


“Are you trying to be a total idiot?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean with this telephone crap?”

“Don’t you enjoy listening to it?”

“Not particularly. It’s disgusting.”

“Hell, that was tame compared to what I hear on a daily basis,” he stopped and spoke into the earpiece. “I’ll call you back later.” Then he turned to me. “Is there no conversation you people won’t share publicly?”

“Sometimes I think not.”

“Weird,” he said, as he folded the phone and stared into space.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

53. Running Away

We were experiencing the “Dog Days of Summer” and I was going for a walk but not venturing far from the condominium. I stopped to watch the construction at the park across Ninth Street when a young boy of five or six years of age walked up to me. Assuming he was from the church school next door, I ignored him until he spoke.

“Mr. can you help me?”

I looked around. It is no longer safe for a grown man to talk publicly to a child he doesn’t know.

“Please,” he said.

“What do you need?”

“I’m running away from home.”

Then I noticed he was carrying a grocery bag filled, I assumed, with his traveling gear. I became suspicious but decided to play along.

“And why are you running away?”

“I’m tired,” he said. “I need some rest.”


“Yes, Mama has me in two baseball leagues, a soccer league, swimming lessons, and a dance class.”

“All of that?”

It’s worse,” he said. “Now she wants to make me go to Vacation Bible School.”

“I see.”

“She calls it VBS but I know what it is.”

Continuing to play along, I said, “So you think your days are getting pretty full?”

“I’m so tired of doin’ stuff that I can’t sleep,” he said. “And besides …”

“Besides what?”

“My friend Tommy told me about a neat game you can play without any adults around at all.”


“Yes, it’s called ‘Space Fighters’ and you pretend that you and your friends are

Starship Troopers. All you need is some cardboard boxes and somewhere to play pretend.”

“You don’t say.”

“Yep. Don’t that sound like fun?”

“Indeed,” I said. “And where are you going to play this game?”

“In a place called the ‘One Hundred Acre Wood.”

“Sounds like a fun place to me.”

“And I could rest when we weren’t busy playing.”

“You mean take a nap or something?”

“Heck no,” he said. “I could read a book or something,” he thought for a moment and added, “Have you ever laid on your back and watched the clouds?”

“Once or twice.”

“I try to do that sometimes at baseball practice,” he said. “But the last time I did I got hit in the head by a fly ball.”

He paused and looked at me with this most wistful look. “Then they was going to kick me off the team but my mother and the coach got into an awful fight and they said I could stay on if I paid attention.”

“C.W.,” I said finally. “I get the picture.”

“What?” he said.

“Come on …” I started but just then a car screeched to a halt and a woman jumped out. She gave me a withering look and pushed the screaming child into the back seat. The car sped away.

“Suffer the little children,” a voice said. I turned and realized a priest from the school had been watching the whole affair.

“I was just standing here, Father,” I explained as I turned back toward the condo.

As I did, I heard him say to my back. “You are a most amazing species.”

Monday, August 1, 2011

Victory Over Drugs

Sometimes C.W. tones down his appearance and this was one of those days. He asked me to meet him at a coffee shop in our local library complex.

Arriving, I recognized him straight away. He appeared as … how will I describe him? Well, “Grandpa Walton” would fit as well as anything.

He sat at one of the large tables with newspapers spread in front of him and a large coffee in his hand. He peeked over the top of a pair of reading glasses and motioned for me to sit.

“They don’t have real cups in here,” he said. “They serve coffee in these paper-sorta things.”

“You don’t find real cups much anymore,” I said. It’s best to agree with him just wait for the conversation to unravel. Patrons were stirring about in the shop, some studying the bookshelves lining the area. No one paid us any mind, a fact with probably says more about library patrons than it does about the species in general.

“Says here,” he began. “Let’s see, where is it?” He stirred the stack of newspapers, looking for a specific item. I waited.

“Ah, here it is,” he said, pulling the selection in front of him as he adjusted his spectacles. Then he took a sip of coffee.

“This is one of those “bits from yesteryear” columns—from a county newspaper out in West Virginia. “Says here from 40 years ago,” he looked at me and repeated, “Forty years ago.” The he resumed, “ ‘… the County Sheriff’s department destroyed a ten-acre field of marijuana plants this past Saturday and arrested the owner as it continues the war against drugs in America.’”

He looked at me over his spectacles as if I had been the owner of said crop. I knew how a suspect in a murder case must feel when he takes the witness stand. He sipped his coffee.

After several seconds he spoke. “Forty years, eh?”


“Been waging this so-called ‘war on drugs’ for 40 years?”

“Probably longer than that.”


“And what?”

“Has your species been victorious?”

“Uh, no.”

“Nearly so?”

“Not quite.”

“How about a status report then? He said. “How are we doing … drugs pretty near defeated? Have they requested a truce to talk peace?”

“Not exactly.”

“What, exactly?”

“It gets more hopeless and costly each day.”

He fumbled among the papers again and slid out a handwritten note. “Here’s something,” he said. “This man of your species, Clausewitz, says that war is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.”

“I’m sure he said that.”

“So are you compelling ‘drugs’ to your will?”

“I’m afraid it’s the other way around.”

“Still burning crops and arresting people after all these years?”


He scattered papers around and produced another note. “Here’s one more,” he said. “Can’t find the exact author but it is widely quoted.”

“Let’s hear it,” I said.

“The definition of ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

“Far out, man,” I said.