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Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.

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words.

words arranged in sentences.

sentences into paragraphs.

paragraphs into chapters.

chapters into a novel.

first sentence:

The lines in his face looked like furrows in the dirt, deep and irregular, grey and dusty, as if someone had made a half-hearted attempt to start a garden in a barren corner of the earth, and then just given up.

last sentence:

She pushed the joy stick and her chair turned and she looked at Lucas, smiling as best she could, and knowing that he wouldn’t be able to understand her, told him she loved him, knowing that he understood her perfectly.

the space in between:

well, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

 

Lucas

If she were being truthful – and she wasn’t – she would have acknowledged that she was calling just to hear his crazy Cajun-Jersey accent, his easy and relaxed way of talking, to imagine his comfortable, confident masculinity, his close-cut hair, his stubbled beard, his crooked smile, his worn t-shirt and his muscled arms weathered from years on the rig, his jeans hanging loosely on his hips, his sneakers, white at one time, but now a dirty gray from days on the pier and the beach and the sidewalks of Galveston. If she were being truthful, she would have told him that she just needed an excuse, any excuse, to call, because her days were few and her opportunities to smile were fewer, and it had been so long since she even had a reason to smile and that simply hearing his voice had accomplished that and more, and she knew right then that she wanted to see him, to be in his company, and that she would, even if she had to steal a car and drive to Galveston.


copyright 2018, joseph e bird, from the novel Heather Girl.

miracles

mountain sun

“And whether you believe in miracles or not, I can guarantee that you will experience one. It may not be the miracle you’ve prayed for. God probably won’t undo what’s been done. The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day.”

― William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace


photo-art copyright 2016, gloria m bird

john

He is severely disabled.

It’s obvious just from watching him for a few minutes.

His walk looks painful.  He knees come together in an angle that is not in the least bit natural. He stops, and then one of his knees moves out in the opposite direction, poking sideways through his filthy trousers.

He’s picking up something in the parking lot.  A stray coin, maybe?  A valuable scrap of  something.  He moves on, slowly.  Near a light pole, he stops and puts his collection on top of the concrete base of the light pole.  Some he tosses back onto the parking lot.

I’ve seen him around town before.  One Sunday he just walked out in the middle of traffic to cross the street.  His disability is not only physical, it’s mental.

We’re in line at KFC.  Yes, we eat there a lot.  Good chicken.

This particular KFC is not in the affluent part of town.  Not that there is an affluent part of my town.  But it’s near the homeless shelter.  Near St. Mark’s where lunches are provided to those in need.  Near the bridges, where some choose to make their homes.

Should we buy him something to eat? my wife asks.

I don’t know. 

I didn’t know if he would take it.  Didn’t know if he would just cuss us.  Didn’t even know if he really needed it.

We place our order. Just for us.

At the window, we ask if they know anything about the guy wandering the parking lot.

That’s John, she says.  We give him something to eat every day.

She asks us to pull up while our order is prepared.

John’s off to the side of us now, emptying his pockets on the sidewalk.  Just stuff.  Rocks.  Dirt.  Who knows what.

She brings our food.

John, are you ready to eat?

He nods.  He mills around a bit before they go inside.

One other time I was inside at this store and there was an older gentleman with a cane.  He was not as bad off as John.  Seemed like he had all his faculties, as they say, but life had not been generous to him.  The manager asked what he wanted.  A cola, he answered.  He reached in his pocket for some change.  The manager waved him off.

Don’t worry about it.

The folks working at this KFC are probably making minimum wage, maybe a little more.  They don’t have a lot of money to spare.  And the store itself is probably working on razor-thin margins. Giving away food is not in their best interests.

And yet they do.

Let others fight about borders and immigration and gun control and geopolitics.

Our neighbor is in need.

Our neighbor needs something to eat.

An Iraqi, an Iranian, an Italian, and two Americans.

Not the beginning of a joke.

Not the beginning of a tragic story.

Not the beginning of a world-changing summit.

Just strangers meeting in an Italian coffee shop in West Virginia, of all places.

Joe and Gloria, the Americans, trying gelato for the first time. They take their little dessert cups to the sunroom and wait for their coffee. It’s a cozy little room with seating that’s just right to encourage conversation, even with people you don’t know.

Enter Nadia and Ester. Young ladies in their twenties. We exchange hellos and other pleasantries.

Ester is outgoing; Nadia a little more quiet.

Gloria is outgoing; Joe a little more quiet.

So Ester and Gloria talk. Ester says she will soon begin working at the Italian coffee shop we are now in. Gloria inquires about her accent. Persian, she says, but everyone thinks she’s Italian because she currently works at a local pizzeria. She is from Iran. Nadia is from Iraq. They’ve been in the United States a few years, each coming under different circumstances. They met here and became friends.

Gradually, Joe and Nadia enter the conversation. They all talk about language (Farsi, Arabic, English, and Mandarin), they talk about work, they talk about coffee. They don’t talk about politics.

Until Roberto walks into the room. He can’t help himself. He owns this coffee shop and has worked hard to make it a success. He’s a successful business person. He’s a nice guy and is very, very outgoing. And he has a heart for the less fortunate. He expresses his heart in terms of worldwide political and economic philosophies.

The others listen, the others being the Iranian, the Iraqi, and the two Americans. Geopolitics is beyond their realm of understanding, really. What countries do is beyond their control. They speak of respect for individuals and love and taking care of your neighbor in need. That’s all.

Ester says she is blessed to be in America. Joe says America is blessed to have her.

Roberto would have gone on all night, spirited man that he is. But it’s time to go. Roberto is very pleased with the international exchange that has just occurred. Everyone seems pleased. There are smiles all around. Nadia gives Gloria a hug.

We’re different. We’re the same. We have different perspectives, but we all want the same thing.

Just to live a life with meaning.

This is what the world should be.


Editor’s Note:  This is a true story.  The names have been changed to respect privacy.

give the world a nudge

“Playwright Tom Stoppard once said the reason he writes is because every once in a while you put a few words together in the right order and you’re able to give the world a nudge. And sometimes I’m able to do that.”

— Charles Krauthammer

nantucket sleighride

Snyder Family 1 for web
The Snyder Family Band in St. Albans, WV

A warm summer’s evening in Small Town USA, and some of the best music you’ll hear anywhere.  And that, my friends, is no exaggeration.  There will be no bad video uploads from me to taint the amazing musicianship of this family.  Look them up yourself.  You know how do to that.  Or take a look at Zeb’s take on Turkey in the Straw.

But they’re more than just another bluegrass band.  Zeb introduced one number as a prog rock (progressive rock) that Samantha wrote, and you could definitely hear the classical influence.  And Zeb’s got more than a little southern rock in his soul.  I don’t know if the two write together, but their play together is so tight, even as they take turns with virtuoso solos.  And there’s Dad – Bud – in the background, the glue that holds everything together as he puts down the bass line and keeps the rhythm.  The star of tomorrow?  Yeah, that’s Owen, who at twelve years old has a stage presence well beyond his years.  Mom?  She shows up onstage in some of the old photos on the internet, but she’s behind the scenes now, doing what all moms do, I imagine, and that’s keeping everybody in line as she manages the group.

In Small Town USA, they don’t care if you run all over the place taking pictures.  And backstage is just behind the yellow caution tape, where I got a chance to talk to Zeb and Owen and tell them how much I appreciated their music.  A great night, for sure.  Check out my photos below.

Zeb and Samantha 1 for web
Samantha and Zeb
Samantha Fresco for web
Samantha sings.
ZEb Fresco for web
Zeb high up on the fret board.
Owne Snyder plays for web
Young Owen.  You know you’re good when you can close your eyes while you play.
Bud Snyder for web
Bud is the rock, in more ways than one.  Happy Father’s Day.

check swing

Her father stirred. He raised his head and looked around.

“Pip?”

Wayne and Heather looked at each other.

He father pushed himself up in the chair. “Pip?” His voice was stronger.

It took her back to the garage. Her tomboy, grease-monkey days. The good days. The best days.

It was a nickname Wayne had started and she had always hated. Pip.  Pippi.  As in Pippi Longstocking. Precocious kid from an old movie. Goofy, red pigtails and a gap-toothed smile that seemed frozen in perpetual amazement. She hated the reference. She hated the name. Which only made Wayne use it more.

Sometime after Wayne had begun his new quest to irritate his little sister, she was in the garage with her father. It was a hot summer evening. A fan blowing the greasy air around, making it just cool enough to be tolerable. A Reds game on the radio. He was working, she was watching. Just happy to be away from Wayne. She would go from bench to bench, running her hands over the cool steel of the tools, picking up a hammer or a pipe wrench or anything that looked too big and heavy to handle. She would hold it in both hands, amazed that anyone could make use of something so cumbersome.

The radio announcer droned on. The sleepy one. There were always two doing the game. One was more energetic and then there was the sleepy one. Talking so slow.  So easy.  She could sleep to the sound of his soothing voice.

Two and two the count.

She had no idea what that meant. Meaningless numbers. Just part of the peaceful background.

Check swing, fouled off.

“Did he just say Chuck Swain?”

“What’d you say?”

“The radio announcer. He just said something about Chuck Swain? Why would he be talking about Chuck Swain?” Chuck Swain being her friend who lived two blocks over.

Her father laughed.

“No, not Chuck Swain. Check swing. It’s when the batter almost swings but stops himself. Check swing.”

“Oh.”

Swing and a miss. That’s the third strikeout for Hernandez.

Her father laughed again. “Chuck Swain. That’s a good one.”

It made her feel good to make her father laugh.

“Hey, Pip, can you hand me those channel locks on the bench there?”

Pip. Not Pippi. Just Pip. And there was something in the way he said it that was not demeaning. Not a nickname to be cruel, a pet name. A name that would be special to her for the next several years.

She studied the assortment of wrenches on the bench. She saw one with the words Channel Lock imprinted on the silvery-gray steel.

“This one, Daddy?” It was heavier than she thought it would be and she almost dropped it on her foot.

He looked up from under the hood of the car. “Yeah. That’s it.”

He took the wrench and positioned it around a fitting. Somewhere down in the tangle of greasy parts and rubber hoses, she saw another wrench at the other end of the fitting.

“Here, hold this.” He motioned for her to take the handles of the channel locks. “Both hands. I’m going to turn the other wrench and I want you to try to keep the wrench from turning, ok? Just pull back and don’t let it turn.”

She nodded, completely sure that she wouldn’t be able to do what he had asked. And when he started on his end, the wrench in her hand lurched forward.

“Ok, pull back hard.”

She steeled herself and pulled back, putting as much of her ninety pounds as she could in the effort.

He grunted. She felt the pull on the wrench, but resisted. It moved a little and she pulled even harder. Then it broke loose. The wrench stayed wrapped around the fitting but she fell backwards and ended up on the floor.

“Got it.” Then he saw her sprawled out. “You ok?”

“Did you get it loose?”

“We got it loose. Good job, Pip.”

He helped her up and he went back to work. But everything had changed.

 

And now, in Wayne’s spartan living room in Texas, this old man spoke and she responded.

She walked over to the sofa and sat down as he followed her with his eyes.

“Hi, Daddy.”


copyright 2018, joseph e bird, from the novel Heather Girl

coffee people

Tuesday – that’s her name – served me a cup of coffee today.  I know because her name tag said so.  Sometimes it’s Tara.  Sometimes Gina.  Savannah.  George, the Australian.  Others don’t wear name tags.

I’ve tried calling them by name.  They don’t like that.  It’s as if I’m crossing a social boundary and that makes them uncomfortable.  So I’ll just be anonymous coffee buyer and you be whoever you are and we won’t let our worlds collide.

The crew has changed.  I still see the old crew on the street now and then.  The guy with the long hair who wears a trench coat.  One of the old girls worked at KFC for a while.

I never knew the tough guy’s name.  Wore tight t-shirts to show off his muscles.  Friendly enough, but always had a smirk.  Like the guy in school who sat in the back of the class, always on the edge of trouble.  The guy you thought was funny but you always wanted to keep your distance because you didn’t want to be the center of whatever mayhem was brewing.

One morning he has a big bandage on his arm.  I ask about it.  He gives me the smirk.  Then launches into his story.  Some kind of altercation at the drive-through window.  The other guy had a knife and cut him.  But he got the knife and the guy drove off.  Big smirk.  Just another tough-guy story.

The franchise changed hands about a year ago.  The old manager left.  The old crew was replaced. Where are they now?  What’s trench coat guy doing?  Tough guy?

The new people are ok.  I haven’t seen Tara in a while.  She’s probably moved on.

Tara’s a little shy, but I get the feeling she wants to be outgoing.  She has a slight speech impediment.  Can’t pronounce her Rs.  I had the same problem when I was a kid.  My mother and my sisters tried to help.  They started out with good intentions, thinking they could really help me, but when I continued to fail, I became a source of great amusement.  Uncontrollable laughter.  Not cruel, just fun.  Eventually a school speech therapist helped me figure it out.  I always wanted to talk to Tara.  Because we had that in common.

In the world of #MeToo I think it’s important to point out that I am so much older than the kids that work at the coffee joint and I know I’m older and I’m very happily married and have no intention of being the old man creep.  Just to be clear.

I’ve never been one to have many friends.  I never have long talks about life.  Maybe that’s the difference.  Other people have friends and the imaginary boundary between coffee server and customer is easier to maintain.

And so I sit at my table, sipping my coffee.  I think I’ll quit reading name tags.  They don’t really want me to.  They don’t want to know my name.  I’m just anonymous coffee buyer.

 

 

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