House Behind the Magnolia Tree

It’s a little white house on a little hill in Van Buren, AR.  It’s small enough that the magnolia tree in front of it almost blocks the view from the street.  I ordered pizza once, and it took the pizza boy an hour and a half to find my house.  Had I known that I could have asked for him to return with a fresh pizza, I would have.  No one told me I could do that.

It was my home, and though it was not designed for privacy or comfort, it was the only place I could go to find them.  I was twelve.  What say did I have in where I lived?  Actually, I had plenty of say, because I could have decided to move away to a much bigger house in a different state that provided all the privacy an adolescent boy could want.  However, this is the hindsight I have now.  Back then I didn’t know these things were important.  Like many my age, I was content to live in the moment and not see anything further than that.  But if asked to go back and change any of it, I wouldn’t.

Because the magnolia tree was so massive, overgrown in my opinion, it was really what made up most of the privacy I had there.  I was lucky to have the largest room in the house, but this room for some reason was not designed with doors.  The explanation given to me was that the studs would not support an actual door in the doorways.  It made about as much sense to me then as it does now, only I didn’t know the right questions to ask then.  I could have asked, “Well have you tried putting one in?”  I never aspired to be an architect, but it still baffles me that the structure of the door frame was so fragile that any attempt to put a solid door in that space would compromise the structural integrity of the house.  The only kind of door that I was possible was a plastic, flimsy, sliding door about as thick as construction paper.  It also made perfect sense to my parents to place the well-behaved, non confrontational teenager in the room with no doors while the volatile, strong-willed four year-old had a room of his own with a solid wooden door that locked.  Only now am I seeing just how crazy this situation was.  Anyone could come into my room any time they wanted to.  Any.  Time.  Sure they could “knock”, but I was not often extended that courtesy by my brother, especially when he was angry with me and wanted to push all my books and CDs off my shelves.  He did this often enough that I had to develop a system for returning my books to their proper order.  They were in alphabetical order, and I think he knew that.  So he used it against me.

Ironically, I found a secret place for secluded reading in my brother’s room.  It was in his closet.  It took up the entire wall his room shared with the kitchen, and in the back corner behind his door, I could sit and read by a crack of light.  My mom was the first to find me, so she would distract my brother to keep him from looking for me.  She understood my need for solitude because I got it from her.  Thing was, the kid was too young to realize that corner of the house even existed.  There was nothing that he needed in that place, so he never thought to look there.  Plus his closet was a black hole for his junk and my mom’s junk.  It was a miracle I even found the space. Certainly there’d be no way I could fit in that spot now, having grown a foot taller as well as a few inches around.  Back then, I was just skinny enough to fit and avoid the rusty nails protruding from the inner walls.

What excited me about this spot was at first my parents didn’t even know about it.  I would hear them call my name and pass in and out of the rooms looking for me.  It was a thrilling feeling being hidden.  I never gave away my position willingly for fear of compromising it.  Instead I’d wait until I knew they were far enough away not to hear me emerge to answer their calls, pretending as if I had been in plain sight the entire time.

Over time I learned how to deal with the lack of privacy I was given.  My flimsy doors were eventually upgraded to less flimsy doors with small hooks for locks that I could manipulate in such a way that my brother had a harder time intruding.  Before there was no warning prior to the whoosh of the plastic as he entered in a frenzy.  With sturdier doors I could at least intervene before he was able to penetrate the barrier. Again, if I had known I was allowed to, I would have striven for positive change. I would have fought to preserve my rights as a citizen. But I was a kid. I didn’t know I had rights.

Goulash and Pea Salad

I have always enjoyed my mom’s cooking.  I’m sure it was a blessing to my mom that I was never a picky eater, but that is not to say that I would not have been able to tell if her food was bad.  She was a good cook because she learned from her mother who was also a good cook and most likely so on.  I don’t remember much about my great grandmother’s cooking.  Chances are she was also proficient in the culinary arts, but I was too young to appreciate her work before she passed.  She was really nice to me, though, and I think that’s an important trait cooks need to have.  I always say people like my cooking because my extra ingredient is love.

My favorite thing that my mom used to cook for me as a kid was what she called goulash.  I always thought it was a funny name that she called it.  I used to laugh when we’d say it like it was our own personal joke.  As it turns out it is an actual dish.  Wikipedia says it’s Hungarian or something like that.  It’s basically a kind of stew.  Noodles and meat mostly.  But it was always a treat when she made it.

Goulash-1

Along with the main course was the side dish of pea salad.  That one I actually couldn’t describe to you properly because I don’t actually know what she puts in it.  I know there are peas.  Sometimes eggs I think and the white glue that holds it all tougher, I’m guessing mayonnaise.  All I know is that it tastes so good I could eat a bucket of it by myself and never need to know what it was.  Maybe it’s ranch, though.

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Ok, now I need to call my mom.  I’m going to have to know so I can make it myself.

Addison In Trouble

Jim held Addison’s hand and guided her along the path past the tulip garden and the wishing fountain.  Jim noticed the young man tossing a coin into the fountain, the bearded gentleman standing behind him, one hand on the boy’s shoulder, the other making gestures as if he was explaining the reasoning behind the offering.  A slender woman with curly hair sat on the bench behind them next to a stroller.  On the far side of the fountain, Jim saw a couple playing with their dogs.  He was attempting to observe everything.  He was looking for anything out of the ordinary.

Jim’s heart was trying to control the quickness of his heart, but he was nervous.  He tried not to think about what he was going to say to the girl when the found a place to stop and talk, but the thought persisted.  There were many times, Jim thought, that taking a mark to a secluded place to “share” something with them was easy.  He’d done it countless times before.  But this girl was special because someone had told Jim to find her.  She was not another face in the crowd to seduce and con out of a large sum of money.  Sure there was money involved, but usually Jim was the only person interested in making contact with these women.  He had been warned, though that the clock was ticking on this one.  Jim knew that in order to get her to trust him quickly, he was going to have to lie to her.

***

Addison did not know anything about this man but thought he seemed trustworthy.  There were things he knew about her that no one would know unless they knew her family.  She was afraid to say yes to following him, but when he said she might be in danger, she reacted and let him lead her across the street from the diner to the park.

She tried rationalizing the situation to combat the fear.  But it overtook her after passing the fountain and her feet stopped moving.

“Don’t stop, please” Jim said to her.  She could see the urgency in his face.  “We have to keep moving.  We’re going to meet someone here in the park and they don’t have time to wait.”

Meet someone, she thought.  He didn’t say that before.

“Ok, what?  I’m seriously going to start freaking out if you’re going to keep surprising me.  I didn’t know we were meeting someone.  You just said we needed to get away from people who might be after me.”

“Right” he said.  “And I have a friend that is going to take us somewhere safe.”

“But why are we meeting him in the middle of the park?” she said.  She was feeling the doubt and panic now.

“Look, you just have to trust me.  Or you can turn back and someone else will pick you up.  And they’re going to be . . . rough with you.”

Addison thought Jim looked on the verge of panic, too.  If this guy’s conning me, he’s had some experience faking.

***

Antonia was knitting.  Her grandson was due a month away, and she wanted to have this sweater ready to keep him warm.  She had to knit through intermittent pain because her arthritis would sometimes flair.  When the pain would swell, she would look up and breathe deeply until it subsided.  On this day she looked up just as a young man and woman were briskly walking on the path past her.  The man was leading the girl behind him, and they both looked to Antonia like they were lost and frustrated.  Her pain had died away, but Antonia could not help but watch the two as the came closer to her.  When the were nearly in front of her bench, the girl broke grip with the man and started to protest.  She was flailing her arms, stomping her feet, and shouting at the man.  Antonia only spoke Russian, so she did not understand what the two of them were arguing about, but it did not seem that they were a couple.  If they had been, Antonia, thought, the man would have tried to take her hand again in a reassuring way.  Instead he put his face in his hands and started to cry.  Language barrier aside, it sounded fake to Antonia.  However, the girl seemed to act apologetic toward the man.  This surprised Antonia, because she didn’t think this girl would be so gullible.  She wished she knew how to speak to her and tell her to leave the man, but all she knew how to say was “Go”.  She shouted it to her several times before the man turned and said something Antonia assumed was rude, judging by the look on his face.  She decided to go back to her knitting, and the girl took off the way she had come.  The man followed, shouting.

The Car and the Cow

The picture behind my dad’s head is crooked.  I can’t help but see it every time I look at him.  The problem with this picture is that it’s not a framed picture; it’s part of the wall.  Instead of buying a framed picture like a normal establishment, this restaurant has purchased an adhesive print and stuck it to the wall I am facing.  It’s a picture of a garage.  There is an old car in the garage, one that I have seen many times at my grandpa’s house, only this one is restored.  There are no rust spots on this old Chevy.  It’s baby blue and the shiny tires are whitewall.  The point of view of the picture is from the ground as the artist was looking up at the car from the floor of the garage.  Surrounding the car are vintage signs from old gas stations and roadside eateries.  Some are leaning against the support beams of the garage.  Some are hanging on the walls.  My dad would probably recognize some of these sings were he looking at the same thing as me.  I don’t know what he sees.  My mom sees a watercolor of a cow behind my head.  She says it’s the style now to have that kind of painting in your house.  My dad does not care for it.

If I could change anything, I would fix that crooked picture.  It could be that the picture looks crooked because the one next to it is.  That’s what is frustrating about decorating if you are a particular person like me.  A picture could be straight and the devices I use to tell me that it is straight confirms that it is straight, but I won’t stop staring at this picture.  I’m not convinced.  Something has to be wrong.  I picture myself carving the picture out of the drywall and repositioning it.  Yes, that would create more problems.  I am proud to say that in reality I am able to withstand the urge to find a large knife and start destroying property.  However, inside my mind I am carving away, and it makes me feel better.

I have changed my mind.  The thing I would fix would not be the positioning of the picture behind my dad.  I would instead redecorate the entire restaurant.  Apart from the grouping of crooked pictures I have been placed in front of – and yes there are two other but I cannot expend the energy to look away from the crooked one – none of the pictures in the this place relate to one another.  There is picture behind my mom’s head of a old man.  Then there is the aforementioned cow.  The cow is an attractive painting, but the only theme it adheres to in this establishment is the theme of “Hey they said we should put pictures on the wall”.  Mission Accomplished.  Good thing the food is good here or I wouldn’t recommend it to my friends.

Chocolate or Vanilla

So yo think that there are only two kinds of people in this world?

Essentially, yes.  Those that like chocolate and those that like vanilla.

You see, I disagree.  There are just some people that don’t like either.

Well, if you tell people they have to pick one or the other, they will pick the one they prefer.

But what about those people that like neither.  What about the people that prefer strawberry?

Strawberry isn’t a flavor, it’s a fruit.  I’m talking strictly chocolate or vanilla.  People will either pick one or the other.

No they won’t.  Some people don’t like either.

But if you tell someone they have to pick one or the other, they will go for the one that they prefer the most.

Why are we all of a sudden in some kind of distopian world where people are forced to make choices between two things they don’t want?  The world isn’t all black and white, you know?

Sure it is.  There’s a right way and a wrong way.  There’s day time and there’s night time.  There’s a time for laughing and a time for crying.  There’s a time for chocolate and a time for vanilla.

You’re crazy.  You have to account for those that choose not to choose.  That’s also an option.

Not if you put it in front of them and say they have to choose one of them.

What is this scenario?  Why are you forcing chocolate or vanilla on these poor people?  Is there a gun to their head?

No.

Then why is it so important that they make a choice one way or the other?

It’s not.  I’m just saying that if you tell someone they have to pick one or the other, they’re going to-

You’re not even going to get 100 percent, hell 75 percent participation.  Some will tell you to buzz off.

I’m not planning on actually walking the streets like Jay Leno asking random folks which flavor they choose.

Why not?  Instead of sitting here arguing, I think you should grab a notebook and a pen a head downtown for some raw data.  You’re going to need to back this argument up with some cold hard facts.

I’m not doing that.

Why?

Because it’s stupid.

Do it in the name of science.  Hell, do it in the name of proving yourself right.

I just don’t see how you don’t understand what I’m trying to say here.  I’m not a dictator who’s eliminated all flavors but chocolate and vanilla.  There is no crisis that demands people take sides.  I just think that if you ask random people chocolate or vanilla, they are going to pick the-

No I get it.

one that they prefer.

I’m telling you it’s not that simple.  The world does not work in absolutes.

It’s not- look I’m just saying everyone has a preference wether they like the flavors or not.  

How did we even get on this topic?

We were talking about ice cream.  I wanted some before, but all this debating has made me lose interest.  

Ooo, now I want some.  I’ll buy yours, too, but on one condition.

What’s that?

No, thank you.

First Meeting

I stood back and spent the few extra seconds I had left before we exchanged words to take off my coat.  I knew who she was because she told me she’d be wearing a flower in her hair.  It was white and it stood out from her dark locks.  It drew me to her.

There is only a second, really, just the smallest moment before I find out if this girl is worth talking to.  In an instant I’d seat myself next to her at the bar and hear her voice for the first time.  It’s like I was waiting in the wings about to take the stage.  The show would commence, and there’d be no turning back.

Before she turned to see me, I noticed her posture.  She sat proudly on the stool, her forearms on the bar, her fingers around her pint glass.  She knew I was coming, but she looked more relaxed than me.  Patiently waiting.  Maybe she was thinking what I was thinking as well, that things could change after tonight.  Our lives could be much different after I sat down.

She turned to greet me, and I saw her face just as in the photograph, her light, round face, thin lips and delicate smile.  I was instantly happy to meet her.  And as the night went on, I found that this woman saw the world in a way that I can relate to.  The conversation turned philosophical within the first few minutes which intrigued me.  The more people I meet in my life, the more I notice that many of them tend to shy away from the important subjects.  It’s much easier to discuss the mundane because the opinions of others in those areas don’t usually challenge your own world view.  She seemed to get it, though.  She shared with me some of her disappointments and I admired her confidence in spite of them.  She also shared with me her affinity for beer which we used to toast the lessons of life.

There was a warmth about her that made me feel comfortable.  As we walked to my car from the bar, our steps fell together like we’d taken them before.  I could have mistaken her excellent people skills for an actually enjoyment of my company, but things were going well enough for that thought not to cross my mind until much later.  I was content hearing the words come from her mouth and not wishing she’d chosen any one differently.  I on the other hand could tell immediately her lack of interest when I mentioned a particular sports team I liked.  I wasn’t looking at her face because we were walking side by side, but her tone was definitely less interested than before I brought it up.

What I read from her face as the night progressed was that she was enjoying herself.  She turned out to be more of a mystery than I had thought, because she hid her discomfort from me well.  It wasn’t that she was displeased with me, but she didn’t actually enjoy the show we attended as much as I did.  She revealed that to me much later.  But that night every glance I snuck of her face showed me a relaxed smile and a tentative gaze.  She even took me by my arm as we walked back to the car.  I suppose no matter how honest you want to be from the beginning, it’s best not to show all your cards right away.

Ditched

There is one single spot in the center of the paper where it looks like the persistent tears finally got the best of Laura as she wrote this letter to Will.  I found it chasing after Rufus in a ditch at the park.  He’s still not able to control his urge to chase small animals.  This time he’d caught me off guard and pulled when I was tying my shoe.

It seems that the addressee, Will, has given up on Laura.  Her words to him tell that much.  Also I found the letter inside a wadded up envelope that was only half opened.  I guess he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.  If I knew who Will was, though, I would make him read the letter and see the genuine remorse Laura feels for her actions.  It’s probably over the top, but she says she won’t be able to live without him.  My guess is she’ll be fine, unless Will left with her medication and her money.  In that case I’d want Will to at least spot her some dough.  I’d do it.  If I knew Laura.

But unless she’s a sociopath and was just drinking a cold beverage that dripped on the paper, this girl really hurts for Will.  I mean, she convinced me, and I don’t even know her.  I guess the only option here is to put the letter back where I found it in hopes that Will has a change of heart and returns for it.  Pray it doesn’t take him long.  It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, and this ink is not waterproof.