Posted by: Ken A Locke | October 9, 2017

I Saw A Man Today

I saw a man yesterday.

He stood at a gravestone. In grass, at an angle to the front of the stone. So he could read the epitaph, but did not have to absorb it head on. The pitiless truth of death a glancing blow.


He had a yellow trucker’s cap on. Bright yellow, with mesh around the back. Printing on the cap in cheery white letters. One size fits all.


He had on velcro walking shoes, tan slacks, and a blue windbreaker. It was a warm day. The sun did not reach him.


He stood in mourning. He stood in confusion (he knew WHY he was standing there – I don’t mean that).


I mean THIS: he was confused why he hadn’t gone WITH her.


‘What am I going to do with the rest of the day?’


His handlers stood a respectful distance away; midway between the grave and the sedan. As if he had asked them before to leave him alone with grief.


Sometimes he wants to feel the full dose of sadness. Sometimes others standing close don’t actually help him take the pain. The unalloyed concentration of feeling. The hammered, throbbing thumb before the numbing ice. Keening.


A purity of searing solitude is the only song he can hear.


Who of us knows that pain, or that loss, or that grief? I only know enough to not speak, especially to a man in a yellow cap and tears in the creases of his face.


The tear gets hung up on a few stray whiskers before it tracks off his jaw, down his loosened neck, and into his frayed collar.


Why should he? Wear a new shirt, that is.


He hopes he won’t be around long enough to need a new wardrobe.


And yet…


And yet, he still visits the grave. He puts his hand in his pocket. Resolutely jangles his change. Adjusts his cap. Roughly brushes his nose with a clubbed hand. Allergy season. Not despair.


There is a nobility there. Easier to stay inside. Watch the television (even though there are no good programs on anymore) (And he can’t watch their favorite program, either – she isn’t there to laugh with him).


“Noblesse Oblige” – The art of doing the right thing because people are counting on you to set the standard.  Even when, especially when, it is hard.


He is a member of the royalty of the wounded. The only way in is through suffering. The doorway to the club appeared after his first gallon of tears. It opened after he stopped counting the mornings that he threw half a pot of coffee away. After the creamer (only she drank it) went sour.


Do they sell butter half a stick at a time?


I saw a man yesterday.


I saw a noble man.

Posted by: Ken A Locke | September 12, 2017

Well done, Writer, well done

Ian McEwen wrote an astonishing book called Atonement. We find out that he has created an author who needs to make atonement for a sin early in her life. It’s one of those ‘stories within a story’. But the kind where, when you realize it, you have to put the book down and close your eyes for a second because your world just changed. Like after All The Light We Cannot See or Me Before You or Behind Her Eyes or Bel Canto (all books that I have had to put down because they completely changed my reality).

The MOVIE gets straight to the point of the shattering betrayal by younger sister Briony (pronounced BRY-uhny) (could we BE any more English? I love it). Briony sees the servant boy, Robbie, apparently impose himself on Briony’s older sister Cecilia, first at the fountain outside where the vase gets broken, then in the library where she sees them joined in sexual congress. She has little idea what sex is, of course, because she is young, and protected, and aristocratic, and these sorts of families don’t talk about those sorts of things.

The BOOK takes a certain amount of patience and focused time to see what McEwen would like to unpack for the reader first. He is brilliant at setting the scene, providing context, introducing smaller characters (who have a huge impact), exposing variables and tendencies. Because they all matter, in the end, to the characters he creates. No one is made hero or scapegoat in a vacuum, at least not in a McEwen novel.

We find out, later, that Cecilia and Robbie are indeed in love and burn with a pure passion that both brings them together and ruins them (mostly because aristocratic lips curl at the thought of a servant boy and a woman of class being together).

The deepest and irrevocable betrayal comes when Briony sees someone assault a different house guest – Lola. Lola can’t tell who is trying to rape her, and Briony only sees a retreating male form. Briony makes the connection with Robbie, from earlier, to this attempted rape and says it was Robbie also – she is sure of it.

He gets sent to prison, then the war starts, then he gets to join the army as a conscript (his other choice was to stay in prison forever). Cecilia ends up as a trained nurse, as does Briony.

The betrayal is this: Briony loved Robbie for herself and did NOT know it was Robbie who tried to rape Lola. In fact, Briony later remembers it is a different guy who does the raping (a perfectly foppish, yet sinister Benedict Cumberbatch)(who, near the end, marries Lola). Since Briony couldn’t have Robbie, no one could have Robbie.

She (played masterfully by Vanessa Redgrave as the older writer Briony) writes the book to give them the life and happiness they deserved.

“I like to think that it isn’t a weakness or evasion, but a final act of kindness, a stand against oblivion and despair, to let my lovers live and to untie them at the end. I gave them happiness, but I was not so self-serving as to let them forgive me.”

What really happened is that Robbie died the day before the evacuation at Dunkirk, and Cecilia died from a German bomb on her subway station/bomb shelter. And then I remember that these characters have been made real in my mind because of the excellence of the writer. It didn’t really happen. But how could they NOT have existed – it turned all so real in my head. Well done, writer, well done.

All these tears, mostly mine, over a made-up story about the rich English. Isn’t that the essence of storytelling?

Posted by: Ken A Locke | September 5, 2017

Our Son Marries and We Gain A Daughter -A Glorious Weekend.

Picture a two pieces of driftwood, first in an ocean, then finding land. Together.  Picture two strangers growing into friends… then best friends… then into the love of each other’s life.  Surround those two with freshly-met, new family (for, indeed, EVERYone that shared this is now family) that swells the celebration with a riotous gout of joy, happiness, love, and depth of feeling.

Thus did we, Ken and Angie – the groom’s parents – find ourselves. An idyllic estate outside of Parker, CO, hosted both family and friends for the three-day weekend. Little did we know that, although we knew it would be cool, this would be a time filled with such profound emotion, abiding confidence, and an honored pride in knowing and sharing with all these people.

A lovely invitation that gives little indication of the glory and perfection to come.

Part of The Estate where Ethan and Amanda married each other.

Amanda and Ethan sharing their hopes for the weekend.

Angie and Ken (that’s us) – so proud and moved to be part of Ethan and Amanda’s joy.

Profound and total joy and commitment on their faces. Many of us weep.

Angie, Mark, June, and Ken – the pure privilege and happiness of new family.

Jacob, Cassidy, Ethan recreating a childhood picture pose. Our hearts flood.

The benediction of a sunset on the day.

I’ve never seen a happier mother or a happier groom. Dancing in the evening.

The women of the wedding all showing their team spirit. Three generations filled the party and gave us reason to stop worrying about anything; we’ll be fine. The posing of this picture, in real-time, was hilarious and joyful.

Ethan’s long-time group of friends traveled from all over the country to come and welcome Amanda into the club. What started as a rowdy group of boys playing “Risk” and chess in each other’s basements has grown into the next generation of brilliant people who will look after stuff so we don’t have to.

At the meeting in which Amanda and Ethan shared their hopes for the weekend, we all took a turn naming ourselves and sharing a favorite wedding memory. What, at first, seemed like a logistical job assignment meeting turned into a heartfelt time of generational sharing and blessing and recognition of the unique measure of the weekend. We knew we were gaining a daughter – we didn’t realize how rich the experience would be.

Remember how ‘mithril’ was a gift beyond price? Remember the packed days of summer that Calvin and Hobbes lived through? Remember your excitement at seeing seeds sprout into a perfect garden? Think of the majesty of the sequoias, the untiring determination of a ruby-throated hummingbird, the thundering roar of Niagara Falls, the whisper of a breeze through the your favorite forest. Remind yourself of the smile of grandparents, who love us always and no matter what. Remember the pride of parents when they see a kid find their path. Feel your face crackle with beauty at the rising of the sun, or the perfection of a song, or the rightness of a well-written poem.

All of that.

Ethan and Amanda gave ALL of that to us this weekend.

Posted by: Ken A Locke | March 15, 2017

Shattered By This Story

Do you count the blessing of every day?  I thought I did, until I came across this story as I casually perused the local violin shop’s website.  In considering selling my viola, I looked up the shop’s website, McHugh’s Violins.  He has a sterling reputation and did some excellent repair work for me a few years ago in preparation for my return to the concert stage (my return was not nearly as dramatic as it sounds).

As I blithely wend my way through my retirement and into my second career as a writer, I consider passing on my wonderful musical instrument, the viola that my parents had gifted me upon graduation from high school.

I spent my years at University of Northern Colorado playing for hours – in chamber groups, in a practice room, in at least 3 different symphonies.  I loved those days.  The gift of serenity through classical music came to me as a 4th grader, playing “Barcarolle”, and continued through all the years I played.  Even though my practice hours were on the low side of the spectrum of music majors at UNC, I did still spend hours in Fraser Hall on that campus.  My wife and I fell in love in those hallways and practice rooms and rehearsals and concert halls.

I recently tried a revival of my career in the viola section, but, due to a series of realizations, the largest of which was I didn’t want to practice the hours I needed in order to excel again, I now count myself as a listener rather than a player.

I have different ambitions and dreams now yet no less hopeful that when I wanted to be an actual viola player in a professional, full-time orchestra.  I am creating a different kind of art but I love that I write best when I run endless classical music through my Bose headphones.

Back to the violin shop.  I got no further than the first sentence on his website (“My sweet wife Susie passed away peacefully on October 18th, 2016”) when I clicked on this link, “Our Journey”, and read his faithful, loving, heartbreaking, shattering account of their loving battle with her cancer.  I can’t imagine.  His and her story stopped time for me as I read from the beginning entry to the final one.  Please, take a few minutes and read.

Another friend of ours has blogged her entire journey through cancer.  The short answer is, in her words, “cancer sucks”, but that friends and family deeply matter.  You can read her journey right here in Michelle’s Blog.

 

I realize that today’s the day.  Make your move; make your memories; make your love known.

Posted by: Ken A Locke | February 12, 2017

Brothel Tokens and Cartography

The Delano District of Wichita, KS, used to be for cowboys.  Did you know that cowboys weren’t “cowboys” until they crossed into Oklahoma?  They were “drovers” because the men in question didn’t like to be called “boys”.

Cowboys could drive their cattle all the way into Wichita, which meant across the Arkansas River and to the stockyards, but they had to go back to Delano for whoring and drinking.  Cowboys were NOT ALLOWED TO STAY in Wichita because they would cause too much trouble looking for drink and women.  Plus Delano was a separate place.  Now it is merely a historic district of Wichita.

Have a look at the gold coin in the pictures.  That is a”brothel token”.  A real thing that cowboys or drovers used to get upon completion of a cattle drive.  “Good for one dollar in trade in girls, whiskey, or food” is what it says on the front.

In a little under 65 minutes yesterday, I learned an astounding amount of Kansas cattle history at Westlink Library, in Wichita, KS (Wichita Public Library).  Westlink staff had invited Tom Averill from Washburn University and Mary Lou Rivers from the Chisholm Trail 150th Anniversary Celebration (Chisholm Trail 150th) to come speak to a select few readers who had an hour (plus 5 minutes) to spare.

We had all agreed to read this book.  I happened to see it in a stack by the librarian’s elbow a few weeks ago and asked if I could attend the book talk.  As is their wont, the library happily said yes and set me up as an attendee.  Free.  No charge to come hear living history.

The book centers around an ‘eastern’ Kansan, Leo, who goes out west (near Hays) to teach and both get away from bad decisions back east and start over in the west.  He meets up with a cowboy/rancher and another, older cowboy who have always worked cattle and the land.  The ‘executive summary’ of the book is (and there will NOT be a test) that Leo learns enough to be a cowboy and help drive cattle all the way into Kansas City to the Stockyards back in the 1970’s.  Nice little story, right?

It was only after the expert treatment and discussion from the Washburn professor that I realized how deep the comparisons to life’s complexities the story ran.  As we discussed characters, archetypes, foreboding, and allegory I realized how many books carried similar themes in them.   I thought of Cold Mountain, Lord of the Flies, Lonesome Dove, and the movies City Slickers and The Graduate.  Those of you who teach will already know this.  Those of you who read will have already seen this.  Even though I read quite a bit, the profound truths that we polished took me by surprise during those 65 minutes.  I left the library grateful for the discovery of a vital geographical landmark in my personal map of understanding.

I’ll explain.

As I write, read, interact, absorb, understand, and share with my world (that is, the people I come in contact with), I see myself standing on a particular spot of earth.  Sometimes it is a ridge, sometimes a valley, sometimes a shore, sometimes a cave.  My clearest understanding places are the ridges and peaks of the map – I have a fairly good understanding and can explain lucidly what the situation is.  Air Traffic Control is one of those – I mostly “get it”, and can talk a person through the basic systems.  20th century fiction is another; I’m conversant in a lot of what has been written in the last 70 years.  The valleys, shores, caves are topics in which I have little understanding or data of background to help me out.  The whole refugee situation, for instance, feels like a shore for me.  I know there is a huge problem, but I have little empirical, experienced data to make super decisions with, other than to say ‘we ought to be helping find a solution’.  Clear as mud? OK, on we go.

The joy of adding landmarks to my personal cartography made that book session a gift.  I simply grinned at each person who added a story yesterday.  One of the ladies had a relative (he was a ‘several greats’ relative) who actually remembered how the cattle drive went and how much the pay was – passed down so she knew it.  Another expert marveled at how many people said the Chisholm Trail passed across their land.  She described how the trail moved around a lot – the dry seasons it had to follow water more closely; the wet seasons it had to stay higher to avoid soggy ground.  One point of discussion was how NYC people thought the entire state of Kansas was full of hicks and cowboys, but to cowboys you didn’t have to go farther than Kansas City to find city people (and yes, several of us DID say ‘everything’s up to date in Kansas City’).

Angie and I stopped in The Monarch, which is in Delano (where the cowboys could go, remember?), the other evening to cap off the work week.  The corner signpost, out the window, had a sign that said “The Chisholm Trail”.  We sat in the literal place where the cowboys came to recover from the long drives they’d just finished.

Discovery.  We are built for it.  We often stumble on it.  I certainly do…  it’s like opening the ‘junk drawer’ and realizing it is full of priceless memories.

I’ve got no real idea where we are headed, and I have precious few answers about what is going on today, but it sure is nice to look back over the ground we’ve covered.

Get to the ridge, set your load down, take a deep breath, and look around a little.  Let us know what you see.

Posted by: Ken A Locke | February 4, 2017

The Era of Milk and Laundry

I’ve been noticing lately, a change in our quantity and inventory.  A profound difference in quantities.  Normal items like milk, ground beef, laundry detergent, dryer sheets.

I remember a time when we went to the grocery store, to the dairy section, and put 2 GALLONS of milk into the cart.  No question.  We often wondered if we should just get 3 gallons so we didn’t have to come back midweek.  In our family’s heyday (not HayDay the tremendous phone game that I love to play – find that game in your app store) we would drink the crud out of milk.  2%.  Not whole, not skim.  Our kids would rush in from whatever middle or high school activity they just finished, grab the milk, and just glug.  Milk with dinner, milk before dinner, milk with cookies after dinner.  Angie and I would stand and marvel at their capacity.

Now that all three kids aren’t kids anymore, and are out of the house on their own, we find ourselves visiting the dairy section only now and then.  As a matter of fact, Ang drinks fat free 1/2 and 1/2 (fat-free half and half?  I’m not sure how to type that), and I mostly use whole milk for a cappuccino once or twice a week at home.  I USED to buy whole milk in (and here is my point about quantity) ONE QUART bottles until I had to pour over half down the drain because it spoiled in the three weeks it took me to drink it.  Now I buy ONE PINT.  And I hope that I use it before it goes bad.  Angie buys ONE PINT of “fat-free half and half” that lasts a week of morning coffee.

I know.  It’s not earth-shattering climate change data.  It’s not nearly the drastically different political change we’ve recently been experiencing.

Still.  Quantities.

Examine the change in quantities of a thing, and you can often demarcate a new era.  A new epoch.  A different time.  A season.  Of course, “for everything there is a season; there is nothing new under the sun”.

And, always, “Sunrise, Sunset”.

I trust there are still families buying milk in two-gallon trips to last them just a few days.  I’m sure the dairy industry has a steady supply of kids for whom “milk does a body good”.  I merely note that our family is now no longer leading the milk quantity consumption chart.

The other thing I am always amazed at is how little LAUNDRY we have to do.  We each do our own.  That way, we have clean what we want and when we want it.  “What do we want?? Clean Laundry!  When do we want it?? Uh, NOW, I guess!”

It used to be that, if we wanted to run a load or several of laundry, we’d have to get in line.  There was always an assembly line in front of the washer, the toilet next to it, the sink next to that, and sometimes (when we all had stuff to wash) out the door of the combo bathroom/laundry room.  5 people with either sports clothes or workout clothes plus work or school clothes – holy cow.  Go pee somewhere else cuz the door won’t shut until some more laundry is done.  Now, listen, when the kids were tiny, Ang usually ran the laundry.  But as we all grew, we each tried to do our own and take some responsibility.  It never fell to “only Mom” to get all that washing done.  We (mostly Angie) tried to get the kids to do their own, take charge, etc.  So when I say piles of laundry marching out into the hall, no one takes the blame.  It is simply a reality of QUANTITY.

Which brings me back to my point.  I can do a load of laundry literally whenever I feel like doing it.  I have two shirts I just bought that I want to wash before I wear them (and doesn’t EVERYone have to wash new clothes before you wear them??) and I may just throw them in here in a minute.  No waiting.  Plenty of laundry detergent.  Plenty of dryer sheets, too, for that matter.

It’s this kind of thing that marks the changing of the family season, even more than writing a new address for the kids in the address book (or typing a new address in their “contact”, as it were).

I love when the kids are home and I need to buy THREE pounds of ground beef for TMR (taco meat and rice).  TMR is just boring with one pound.  Oh, sure, a guy still makes it – it is just more fun when there a whole pile of people at the table (or in front of the TV watching “Big Business” or “Dumb and Dumber” for the millionth time) to eat it.

May I simply wish, then, that you enjoy the quantities that your season calls for.  Soon enough, those will change, and leave you wishing for more.

Posted by: Ken A Locke | December 24, 2016

Oysters, Potatoes, and Candles

I find myself remembering, with great fondness, Mom and Dad’s tradition of potato soup and oyster stew on Christmas Eve.  We did this as early as I can remember; always after we got back from church.

The Christmas Eve service is the one where you can play with fire, even if you are a little kid.  Because you ‘Pass the Peace of Christ’, you see.  Each person gets a candle upon entering the sanctuary, which, at the end of the service, you tip towards the lighted candle to light your own wick.  It is very important NOT to tip the LIGHTED candle.  The person with the lighted candle holds the flame straight up, and the ‘new candle’ tips toward the flame.  I loved this candle business because this was before the days of Boy Scouts where we were SUPPOSED to (reSPONSibly) play with fire.  The wax that managed to drip onto my fingers, through the paper candle holder, was merely a bonus to peel off and inspect for fingerprints.

With the heady responsibility of fire stewardship successfully carried out for another year, we returned to our warm home with the promise of two different kinds of soup.   Oyster crackers, all we could eat, made an appearance with Christmas Eve soup, too.  Take a moment and remember dropping those round crackers into soup; then slowly dunking them for a swim.  Although a simple meal, I now realize that potato soup takes quite a bit of work.  Fresh potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces, are not instantly ready.

Oyster stew, even with canned oysters, also takes a lot of preparation.  I dearly hope that I said ‘thank you’ to my mom for always having this traditional meal ready soon after our return from church.  I have only eaten oyster stew on Christmas Eve at my parent’s house in the middle of Nebraska.  I truly love the memory of this meal.  I imagine it is made other places in the world, but I have not tried it.

Imagine for a moment, having the luxury of choice.  Which pot will you fill your bowl with first?

Also, we got to open ONE present on Christmas Eve.  Only one – so the torment of choice dominated my very being, WHICH ONE FOR NOW??? What if I missed the best one?  Or more dire, what if I OPENED the best one on Christmas Eve – what would I do in the morning with no ‘good’ presents left??  Of course, it never came to that.  And we never got “bad” presents.  My over-active imagination at work, I guess.  I still have a ‘delayed gratification’ mentality about many things, gift-opening specifically.  If there was a way to NEVER open a gift, but still enjoy the feeling of having it to open, I would bottle that and sell it.

Gifts, of course, are for giving and opening, not for hoarding.

I do hope, this Eve, that you have a gift.  I hope you have a warm home to share.  I hope you have food to share.  I hope that your traditions are still alive, and that you have loved ones to whom you can pass these traditions.  Now that I am older, I realize how vital the message of Christmas Eve is; Jesus, on His way to save us from ourselves.

I wish blessings on you, your family, your tribe, and your efforts to bring light, peace, life, and love to this world.

Posted by: Ken A Locke | December 19, 2016

And Not a Drop to Drink

Poor little birds have no water to drink.  I’ve set out a heated base with a water dish on it.  Hopefully, this will allow our wild friends a sip of water now and then, so they can continue their rowdy lives in west Wichita.

From the comfort of my writing desk, in the swivel chair, I notice that the ‘water feature’ in our back yard has completely frozen.  The pump has stopped its faithful pumping, which has stopped the gentle trickle from pool one to pool two to the main pond.

I am always pleased to see the winter birds return to the back yard haven we’ve built; dark-eyes juncos, black-capped chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, and the cedar wax wings.  I haven’t put food out for years.  After all, I don’t want a bunch of moochers on my hands.  Plus bird seed tends to draw the ‘junk birds’, too.  Grackles and starlings show up in flocks; they have little regard for conscientious potty procedures.  Poop somewhere else, I say.

Not a world changer.  Not my job today.

Today, my job is to set out water for the thirsty.

Posted by: Ken A Locke | December 3, 2016

An Excerpt

I’ve had several requests from people I care about to show an excerpt from my #NaNoWriMo2016 manuscript, “Behind The Waterfalls”.  It’s a draft, so it won’t be perfect, but the setting in Chicago will be familiar to several choir people.  Here it is:

[Thus, the decision to put the parts of the gun into two fast food bags and one fast food cup and then into his string backpack.  He’d go for a quick run before breakfast.  He knew he’d have to report to breakfast by 7:30 so the director could ‘see his face’ and know that they were all on schedule for the morning.  There was time for a 25-minute jog along the morning streets of Chicago.  He’d go nowhere near last night’s street.  He’d throw his trash away, as if he had stopped for a snack while exercising.  A very American thing to do, after all.  Consume calories in order to burn calories.  Why else did we, as gym fanatics, take a 600 calorie gatorade on the treadmill with us?  At a brisk walk on the treadmill, with no incline (that hurts too much), the average member burned almost 400 calories an hour.  If they drank the entire gatorade, they’d have a net gain of 200 calories, if they managed to walk the entire hour.  

“Get back on task, Davis,” he muttered to himself.  Millard snored in the next bed.  He’d wanted to hear the whole story, but Davis told him ‘no, let’s rest first; it’ll be clearer in the morning’.  Which it already was, technically, but Millard had acquiesced, his eyes drooping, hands trembling.

Davis dressed quickly after the shower.  He pulled on his baggy basketball shorts in University of North Carolina colors, a ratty tank top that he’d really only brought along for lounging in the room after curfew, and his trusty ASICS running shoes.  He grabbed his string bag and key card, slid out of the room and quietly closed the door on the snoring Millard.

6:42.  Plenty of time to run out to the Navy Pier and drop the three parts of criminality along the way.  He’d return with a lighter string bag, a lighter conscience, and a new plan for downplaying the drama to Millard.  There was a chill in the air when he stepped through the revolving door of the hotel.  Humidity off Lake Michigan always made the wind cold, except in the month of two of summer when yearlong denizens welcomed the break.  Davis had never been to Chicago in the summer, and after this trip, had no plans to ever come back.  If he got away with THIS, he’d count his lucky stars and keep his head down.  As he warmed up, he was able to trot a little faster.  Once he got past the main street’s stoplights, it was a clear shot along the storefronts to the beginnings of the Navy Pier structure.  In truth, he had little idea why the place had Navy in the name.  Had he read even one plaque along the walkway, he’d have realized it was a landlocked training area for the Navy.  A cheaper one, especially for the boys who enlisted from the Great Lakes area.  Why, the Navy figured, put them all on trains down to an actual ocean when a third of them would fail basic training?  Fail them close to home, was the motto of the Navy way back when.

He only saw a few other people out at this time of the morning.  Most of the hard-core runners had been out and back home already.  Professionals started early so the runners had, for the most part, to be done and on their way by 6:30 so they could get to the office by 7.  Lots of the suits, as he thought of them, had strapped themselves into those jobs and it was their own fault.  He had no sympathy for them.  Davis’ plan was to get through this piddly high school shit, get to a 2-year college, and then be on his own way with his business brilliance.  He didn’t really think he needed any business training at all, but he agreed with his parents that he WOULD go get a 2-year degree (he’d negotiated them down from a 4-year Bachelor’s Degree – already winning in the negotiation department) just so they wouldn’t worry about him quite so much.  Trash cans dotted the pier and had little attention.  None of the cans was overflowing, but none looked completely empty, either.  Perfect for his needs.  He stopped to stretch near a cement bollard, a relic of the Navy, that had a trashcan in a metal permanent structure right next to it.

As he stretched his hamstring, which vibrated slightly from the chill, the adrenaline, and the effort, he casually unslung his bag.  Loosening the top, he reached in and grabbed the soda cup.  Although he was tempted to just get it over with and throw all three things in the same trash, he stopped himself.  He took only the cup and placed in well into the lip of the metal trash can holder, and saw the cup slide down the internal bag, resting with several other brands of fast food bags and cups.  ‘No one could ever tell there was a magazine of bullets in that cup unless they had a metal detector’, he thought, satisfied.  He trotted on, aiming for a distant can and bollard combo.  Reaching his intended target, he stretched the other hamstring, unslung the bag, and threw away the first of two small fast food bags.  This bag was the heaviest and bulkiest of the three because it contained the body of the beretta M9.  It was a calculated risk.  But still his best option.

“Hey, man, you ain’t throwin away any breakfast, now are ya?” he heard from behind him.

He turned, startled, “Oh, shit, man, you scared me!  Nah, I -” Davis said.

“Cuz I could sure use some hot food this morning, even warm food after that night.  It’s COLD out here now; summer’s over,” said the guy.  The guy looked homeless but harmless.  He had several layers of jackets on topped by an old Nike windbreaker.  The kind of windbreaker runners used to have back in the ‘90’s.

“Nah, man, I just brought my bag and got to thinking it was heavy and so I looked into it and realized I had a bunch of fast food trash in there.  It shouldn’t weigh that much, but damn, it was slowin’ me down,” Davis chuckled, unconsciously matching his speech rate and language to the guy’s own.  “If I had any money with me, I’d give you some.  I agree this is cold.  It’s my last morning here with the high school group.  We’re headed back west in a couple hours and I wanted one last look at this amazing view.  This sure seems like the ocean to ME; I’ve never seen anything so big.  The biggest water I’ve ever seen before this is a reservoir – NOT the same.”

“Yeah, you got that right, for sure.  Ok, man, you take care. Maybe next time bring some food or some money – I could sure use some right now, like I said,” his last comment as Davis turned to trot off.

Davis resisted the urge to turn around and see if the guy believed his story about the fast food or not.  Resisted turning to see if his plant would go unnoticed, or the entire story would unravel, right then and there.  Had he looked, he’d have seen the homeless guy, an Iraq war veteran, holding the open bag and looking down at what was surely a familiar weapon, one that the entire US Army carried as an officer sidearm.  Davis didn’t know that his whole sham had begun to unravel right at that point.

He wouldn’t know, in fact, until he got all the way back to his hometown, an unassuming small town on the edge of the Flint Hills of Kansas.  The third gun part dropoff maneuver was successful, the shower and cleanup and packing was normal, and he even made it to breakfast where he had to show his face to the director before her headcount was satisfied.  The bus trip home, while dull and monotonous, was without incident.  Millard had kept his distance once Davis explained that the only way to play it cool was to play it cool.  Hang with other friends; eat with a slightly different group on the way back.  It wasn’t as if ALL the students weren’t friends with EVERYone.  It was one big happy family, after all.  Millard had hung around with a few of the other tenors, and that group typically had a few sopranos (second sopranos, naturally; the first sopranos kept to themselves) that seemed happy to get to first base, but got quickly offended when a hand’s journey took itself to the upper slopes of a breast.  ‘So it goes’, Davis thought.  ‘Better that Millard gets frustrated in that pursuit than getting no answers from me’.

As they drove the last few miles to the high school, Davis mapped out his plan for the day.  He’d go home, dump his stuff, change into his self-prescribed uniform of shorts and flip-flops and go get some chips, roller meat, and a huge Coke from Casey’s.  It’d been long enough since he had freedom of movement without having to get approval from the choir director, or the bus driver, or one of the chaperones that constantly dogged their steps.  ‘Chicago can go screw.  I’m ready for some “me time”’ he silently pronounced.  Thumped his chest quietly as a tribute to himself.

“Uh, students, I need your attention for a minute.  Students?  Hey, students! Listen up,” said the choir director’s initially calm then strident voice.  “We have a problem.  There has, apparently, been some sort of citywide unrest that happened while we’ve been away.  I have NO idea what happened, all I know is that the bus is about to be stopped at a roadblock.  It looks like police or some kind of law enforcement officials are standing ready to get on the bus and see who is onboard.  Now, don’t worry, I will stop them from coming all the way on.  But please make sure you have shoes on and can produce some kind of ID if they ask.  I’m sure it’s nothing, but just to be on the safe side, just sit quietly while I and the bus driver go out and talk to them, ok?” she finished.

Dread crossed both Millard’s and Davis’s face.  How they found out so quickly is anyone’s guess.  Little did they know that the officials were after much bigger fish.  One little murder in Chicago was not even remotely on their radar.]

 

Posted by: Ken A Locke | November 17, 2016

On Becoming A Writer

“A beach comber has no idea what to look for the first day he steps onto the sand.”

“No one believes a comet is limning the heavens before ink is splashed.”

“The ponies have been let free to run.”

“A muscle exercised must first depart from atrophy.”

“If you can avoid writing to do something else, then do that.  If you can’t stop yourself from writing, then be a writer.”

All of these images sift through my mind as I think about what it means to “Become A Writer”.  So many books on the craft, all faithfully read and underlined.  Pages dog-eared, notes scribbled into my Moleskine journal.  So many master authors read, re-read, considered.  Thoughts about how many writers actually wear a cravat, or a beret, or talismanic jewelry, when they are at their folio.  Producing work.

Never have I had the luxury of this bemused pursuit of a craft.  I love my career’s history and the provision we enjoyed as a result.  (Read about my first career here and here) Now, though, I am able to, gently and persistently, remind myself that I am a ‘creative’ and that my day spent in writing and reading is, indeed, ‘mission-worthy’.  This free feeling is what I dreamed of and hoped for.  I recently spent an entire day at a conference of writers – the opening speaker referred to us as “an amazing group of creatives”.  My first anointing as such.

I’ve gotten to open an entire new set of maps to my world.  A fresh update to the topographical charts of a new mountain range.  Like when you say, ‘we should go there sometime’.  About the Grand Canyon, or either of the coastal Disney’s (how do you choose between a LAND and a WORLD?), or even those glaciers that are inaccessible on a casual drive-by but are an indelible set of images and memories once you finally get there.  From what I hear, we should get to those glaciers sooner rather than later.  So, too, these new vistas I glimpse on the skirt of my horizon.

Each day now, starting this November (the 2nd, because the 1st was a day of substitute teaching, bill-paying, and conversation with a warrior friend of mine), I have sat at one of my keyboards (ok, there are only two, but one of them is mobile – which means I can go sit in a field and imagine the journey across the Great Plains) and taken the time to write for several hours each day.  In part encouraged by the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing in a Month – or something like that), it has been a joy to get out this new muscle of mine.  I don’t promise anything better than drivel, but it feels GOOD.  It feels satisfying to clack away and have a new story to show for the day.

Have you ever had to prime a pump or start a gravity fed hose?  Our backyard water feature (too small to call a pond, too large to be a bucket) has a pump that occasionally gets clogged with leaves.  I have never had to suck on the outflow end to re-start the pump, but I have had to clonk the pump against the side or on a stone to get it to start moving water.  Hemingway’s best work produced in a rummy haze? Perhaps that was the liquid needed to prime the pump.

This very writing of mine is much like that pump.  It (I) have finally started moving water (ideas) and it looks like the mucky leaves, dead bugs, and seeds are starting to clear.

What runs now is fresh, clear water.  Excuse me while I go sample it.

Older Posts »

Categories