A Toast

Let us be merry with song and drink,
To the point we may not think.
Full of laughter and friends abound,
Here’s to forgotten minds but souls found.
Acts of courage and full of nerve,
Due to the spirits that we serve.
To create a shot of particular flavor,
Or pour a drink for one to savor.

Whether it’s a stein, a glass or ordinary cup,
With beers and cocktails, we’ll fill you up.
Not in money from tips we receive,
But in people is what we truly believe.
Free from the everyday stress and strife,
To serve another is a great joy in life.
So gather near and tip your cup,
We’ll always do our best to fill you up.

Vacant

Alice pulled the empty suitcase behind her. The wheels groaned against the textured concrete of the parking garage. She emptied her lungs in relief as the elevator doors closed and moments later released her into the familiar hotel lobby.

A desk clerk tracked her approach. “Welcome back to the Excelsior, Ms. Fillmore.”

“My usual room, and would you please send up a bottle of champagne.”

After six weeks, Alice knew this room—the sound of the latch securing the door, the smell of the jasmine air freshener, the caress of the Turkish cotton robe, and most of all, the sound of her two visitors’ knocks. But who would get there first, the champagne or her lover?

Today it was the champagne—a whole glass first.

Her lover’s knock bounced through the room like the first notes of a favorite song. She paused at the door, tousling her hair in the full-length mirror on the back. She turned and pulled the handle. Her lips erased his smile and swallowed his words. “Let–me–get–in–the–room.”

“What took you so long? I was starting to worry.”

A recap of the week’s events melted into cooing, then passion, and finally silence.

She rolled off him. “Set the alarm, honey. I have to be up in twenty-five minutes.”

The alarm lesson emerged the second week when, after crashing for two hours, they had to excuse their excuses to their spouses with more extreme lies. Since then, they always set an alarm, regardless if it was for ten or forty-five minutes.

They never talked about the people at home. The only thing each of them knew was the other was expected to be home to put the kids to bed and free up their significant others for two hours of their own “mental health”.

Alice met this lover at the gym through brief conversation between exercises. The relationship quickly escalated to coffee afterward, then drinks instead of the gym until their Thursday night rendezvous at the Excelsior.

Alice wasn’t miserable in her marriage. She just needed more excitement—she deserved more excitement.

Passion had dissolved by year nine, quickly escalating to her first affair with a twenty-five year old bartender. Now it was a six-week courtship with this lover.

Doubt sprouted after all three kids were in school, her days decelerating without having to chase them around. As life stalled, the questions increased.

     What would it be like with another man?

     Was she still attractive?

     Was it so wrong to want pleasure?

This lover answered all those questions.

The alarm shrieked. Her hand crawled across his chest and slapped the snooze.

He said, “Why doesn’t the rest of the week go this fast?”

She curled against him. “Maybe we can squeeze in a meeting Monday or Tuesday.”

“You know Thursday is the only night. Besides, I don’t want you to get sick of me.” He rolled her over on her back and pressed himself on top of her.

– – –

     Her husband was finishing the dishes when she got home. “How was the gym?”

“Went to the museum instead.” She riffled through the mail on the counter. “There’s a new American Art exhibit there.”

“Why don’t we go to the museum anymore?”

“Because there’s only 24 hours in a day.”

He wiped his hands on his apron. “Someday.”

“What are you doing tonight?” She tossed the mail on the counter, her eyes scanning the room, avoiding him.

“Going to the Big Empty for a few drinks.” He removed the apron, folded it, and put in the drawer next to the sink. “Kids have already had their baths and are in their rooms.”

She walked over to the refrigerator and opened the door, just staring inside. “When are you taking me there?”

“Come tonight. Let’s call a sitter.”

“Sweet of you, but no. I’m wiped out.” She closed the door without taking anything out, offering a tight-lipped smile as she left the kitchen. “I’m going to go tuck the children in. Have fun tonight.”

– – –

     At the Big Empty, Alice’s husband leaned toward a woman seated at the bar, patting the unoccupied stool next to her. “Is this spot taken?”

“Just me and my martini,” the woman said. “Plenty of room for her on the bar.”

He motioned for the bartender to make him the same. “I’ll add one to keep her company. Martinis measure my stay. Two is the objective; three is the limit.”

“I’m on two, so you need to catch up. We’ll be able to communicate as long as we retain a one martini gap.”

He climbed into the neighboring stool, scooting closer to the bar. “Easier to speed up than slow down.”

A few moments of uncomfortable silence passed. The woman took another drink. “I have to be careful when I don’t have my designated driver.”

“Married? Me, too.” The bartender delivered his martini. He immediately plucked one of the olives from the drink sword.

“He’s home with the kids.” She tore off the corner of her napkin.

Alice’s husband nodded. “Same here. We used to go out together. Now we pass in the doorway.”

The woman lifted her drink to toast. “I just hope when the kids are gone we still know each other.”

“I hope we make it that long.” He touched his glass to hers, spilling some gin over the side.

She put the glass to her lips but didn’t drink anything. More silence passed. She ripped another strip from her napkin. “It does get lonely.”

“Do you still love him?” he asked.

She rubbed her finger around the rim of her empty glass. “Honestly, I don’t even know anymore. You?”

He didn’t hesitate to answer. “Take the kids out and it was over years ago.”

She looked at him then straight ahead, connecting with his eyes in the mirror behind the bar. “Have you ever—I mean, it’s none of my business.” She lowered her longing gaze back to her dry glass.

He held up two fingers to the bartender to signal for another round. Chewing on another olive, he said, “One time I met someone, but I didn’t go through with it.”

“I wish I was as strong.”

“Strong? I was petrified,” he said. “If I can’t satisfy one woman why should I try two?”

“Most men don’t care about the woman.”

He gulped the remainder of his drink. “Guilt is a powerful motivator.”

The bartender brought two fresh cocktails. She said, “We all deserve to feel good.”

He slid the full martini close to him and bent down to sip so not to spill any. “I think commitment should take precedence over pleasure.”

She removed the fresh napkin from under her drink and tore off a fresh piece, adding it to the pile in front of her. “It’s not a jail sentence. Besides, do you think your wife is as committed?”

He said, “She’s a great mother.”

“So am I; my husband’s a good father. I still think he’s having an affair. He comes home cleaner than when he leaves in the morning.”

“And you?” he asked.

She twiddled with the strands of napkin. “Am I or have I?”

“Both.”

“No and yes,” she said. “I don’t restrict myself if I’m interested.”

“What interests you?” he asked.

She turned again to face him, but this time didn’t look away. “Conversation, mystery, strength.”

He rotated in his chair toward her. “Why don’t you just say perfection?”

She laughed. “A woman has to have standards.”

“So if I excuse myself now does that make me mysterious?” He drained the remainder of his drink.

She put her hand on his knee. “Or uninterested.”

He kissed her cheek and placed a fifty on the bar. “Hopefully the former. Drinks are on me.”

She removed her hand from his knee. “Thanks for the cocktails…and the conversation. See you here again?”

He pushed back from the bar, studying himself in the mirror. “Every Thursday from nine to eleven.”

– – –

     Alice was reading in bed when he got home. “How was the Big Empty?”

“Too loud and too crowded. I think I’ll take a shower.”

The lights were off when he returned. Alice was on her side facing away.

He curled up behind her. “If we didn’t have kids, would we still be together?”

She stared into the darkness. “Where did this come from?”

“I had an interesting conversation with a lady at the bar. She reminded me a lot of you.”

Alice turned toward him. “What did she say?”

“The way she talked, her and her husband sounded more like colleagues.”

Alice bristled. “Raising a family is a fulltime job.”

He put his hand on her arm, rubbing gently. “But she was so accepting of infidelity. She’s had affairs; she thinks her husband is having an affair. Maybe they’ve given up.”

“I doubt it. She’s just acting on the doubt she sees in his eyes.” Alice placed her hand on the side of his face. “Have you ever thought about an affair?”

He rolled on his back, staring at the ceiling. “Once, but I didn’t go through with it. You?”

“No. When do I have time?”

“We’re apart so much, there seems to be ample opportunity.”

“Were you attracted to this woman?” Alice asked.

“Yes–I don’t know–maybe.” He grew quiet for a moment. “It evoked feelings I haven’t had in a while—fear.”

She moved closer to him. “Tell me. I’ll understand.”

“I just don’t want to wake up one day and realize our life has been bullshit.”

“Don’t even think like that. Look at our kids.”

“But what about us? Are we still in love?”

She touched his forehead with her lips. “I love you. That has never and will never change.”

“I know that, but we seem to be growing apart.”

She pushed him on his back and eased on top. “Have I ever let you down before?”

He wrapped his arms around her. “No more talking.”

That night there were only two people in the room—no kids, no Excelsior Hotel, no Big Empty—only two, the same two that spent the first nine years committed to one another.

Next Thursday Alice was home at seven o’clock—just as she was for the next five weeks when they shared their evenings of mental health.

On week six she said, “Would you be upset if I went to the gym on Thursday? I need to drop a few pounds.”

He looked up from his magazine. “Tired of playing house already?”

“Don’t be like that. I promise I’ll be home by nine. You could probably use a night out by yourself, too.”

– – –

     At the gym, Alice strained to pull the bar behind her neck.

A man studied her movement. “You know, it’s better to pull it to the chest. Less chance of injury too.”

“All about the burn, right?” she said.

He stood behind her and placed his hands on the bar. “Pull and exhale. Slow release and inhale.”

She let go of the bar at the top of the movement. “I hate weights.”

“Gravity is your friend. Come on, one more.” He pulled the bar down toward her. She reached up, took the bar in her hands, and brought it to her chest. “That’s it,” he said.

She slowly extended her arms returning the weight to the stack. “Thanks for the help. Are you new here?”

“One month.” He stepped back, giving her space to exit the machine. “Haven’t seen you before either.”

She stood and faced him. “Consistency is a problem for me.”

“Just take it one rep at a time.” His eyes traveled the full length of her body. “Enjoy your workout. I guess I’ll see you around.”

She peeked out from behind a sportive smile. “I hope so.”

The Trinity

“What’s it going to be? Are you in or out?” Ashley asks.

It seems like an easy question—one I’d hoped to hear when I agreed to come to their hotel room—but in the past fifteen minutes my already unfortunate day got worse.

New York can be a lonely place, but when two security guards show up at your desk to escort you from the building, it becomes even more isolating. The reason: Poor company performance. The reality: I was unemployed.

With no one to go home to, I indulged in dinner at Balthazar. I should’ve been eating out of a vending machine, but I was in denial. Without a reservation, the only table available was a small two-top by the window in the bar area.

“Do you mind if I ask what you’re drinking?” the woman next to me asked with a notable southern drawl.

“Mojito. Rum, mint, lime, and sugar. Would you like to try one?” I motioned for the server to bring two more.

With a matching accent the other girl at her table said, “Dana, you never told me how cordial everyone is in New York.”

“Ashley, sweetheart, that’s why we have to get you out of Dallas more often.”

The server returned with the cocktails.

“What shall we drr—fuck!” Reaching for my glass, I knocked over my water, spilling it between our tables.

Ashley pulled her legs back. “Not my new shoes.”

“This is exactly the kind of day I’m having,” I said. “Fortunately, it’s only water.”

“But these are Manolo Blahniks, and I haven’t treated them yet.”

“Calm down, Ash. You should never wear something you can’t afford to damage.”

I reached down and cupped Ashley’s right foot. “They are beautiful shoes—capped leather toe, olive suede sides and back, tied at the ankle, and a three-and-a-half-inch heel. From Cinderella to Dorothy, shoes are a woman’s source of power.”

“A man that appreciates footwear other than boots? Ashley, we may have found one worth keeping.”

Four hours and three bars later, I was beginning to believe that both might keep me—at least for one night. Even though they were sisters, both women had been equally flirtatious throughout the night, which paralyzed me because I was afraid to show interest in either direction for fear of discouraging the other.

Dana said, “How about one more drink here? First, I must excuse myself to the ladies’ room. Ashley, honey, do you want to go?”

“No, I’m okay. I’ll keep Ben company.”

“Suit yourself. Be back in a few.”

I turned to Ashley. “Another Red Bull and vod—“

Her lips slammed against my mouth.

I pulled back. “What about Dana?”

“It’s not her choice. It’s yours. Which one do you want?”

“I know that I don’t want to cause any problems.”

“This isn’t the first time we’ve been attracted to the same guy. Sometimes men go for Dana and sometimes me. Do you want younger or older?”

Dana returned. “Who’s going to the bar?”

“We want to go back to our room,” Ashley said, rubbing my leg under the table.

“You little tramp,” Dana said. “You’ve been waiting all night for a chance to get him alone.”

I said, “Let’s not ruin the evening. You two are the only bright spot in my miserable day.”

“Of course not,” Dana said. “You do have a decision to make, though. There’s two beds, but you can only be in one.”

Right or left. That’s what my evening came down to. Other than the age, the two women were so similar in the light; the only difference would be whether I was in the bed on the right or the left.

Once in the room, I learned choosing Ashley meant I would be on the left. I counted shopping bags while I lay in bed waiting for the girls to finish in the restroom. Which store hadn’t they been to? I saw Gucci, Versace, Prada, Ferragamo, Louis Vuitton, Moschino, DKNY.

Ashley exited, followed by Dana, both obviously wearing newly purchased sleepwear.

Dana said, “I hope you don’t mind the TV on. I don’t care what you do, but I don’t want to hear it.”

Initially even though I was with Ashley, I couldn’t stop thinking about Dana. Was she watching? Should I have chosen her? But once Ashley pulled me on top of her, my thoughts focused entirely on her. That is, until I felt another hand on my shoulder.

I froze.

Ashley asked, “What’s wrong?”

Dana’s nails passed down my back. “I’m sorry, Ash. I thought I could allow this.”
I lay still, staring at Ashley, who looked equally confused. Dana pressed her nails deeper into my back as she reversed direction, stopping at my hairline.

I looked up at her—a hair dryer brandished in her right hand. “What the—”

Thud! Dana bashed me in the head. Thud! A second time.

Dazed, I rolled off Ashley. But as I tried to sit up, Dana wrapped the cord around my neck.

“You crazy bitch,” Ashley said. “We can’t do this again.”

I clawed at the tightly drawn cord.

Ashley grabbed Dana by the wrists. “I didn’t go through everything with Dad to ruin it now.”

The two sisters struggled and fell onto the other bed.

Air rushed into my lungs. I ripped the cord from around my neck and scrambled on the floor in search of my clothes.

My pants were on the floor underneath the comforter; my shirt, who cares? First my left leg then my right as I hopped frantically toward the door.

Ashley crawled across the bed toward me. “Wait, don’t go. Let us explain.”

Dana said, “We’ll make it worth your while.”

I unchained the door. “You fucking tried to kill me.”

“Just don’t go,” Dana said. “What’ll it take to forget this?”

I should’ve run but there was nothing to run to. I said, “How about the truth?”

Ashley said, “Tell him, Mom. If he goes to the police, we’re screwed.”

“Mom? You two are nuts.” I unlocked the door.

Dana said, “Wait. Fifty thousand dollars. We’ll give you fifty thousand. You lost your job, right?”

I turned toward them. “I’m listening.”

Dana said, “Okay, we haven’t been completely honest with you. We’re really not sisters, and we’re not celebrating Ashley’s graduation. She’s my daughter, and her father, my husband, recently passed away.”

“Why should I believe you?”

Ashley picked up my shirt from the chair and brought it to me. “Why lie at this point?”

“To save your ass. Tell me what he died from.”

Ashley sat on the bed and buried her face in her hands. “Jealousy, cancer, what does it matter? We loved him—probably too much.”

Dana said, “He was dying. We just speeded up the process.”

Ashley sat back down on the bed. “Without him and without each other, we’d be completely alone.”

“So you killed him?”

“To save our relationship,” Dana said. Her emotionless tone made me question whether she was capable of any relationship.

And that’s what brought me to this point, to this decision. But this time I don’t have to choose between them. I accept both or neither.

Ashley repeats her question. “Are you in or out?”

I sit down on the bed across from Ashley with my back to the door. “You’ll give me fifty thousand dollars to keep my mouth shut?”

Dana says, “It’ll have to be in installments; otherwise, someone might get suspicious.”

“What’s my guarantee you’ll pay me?”

Dana says, “If we don’t, you can turn us in. How do we know you won’t keep asking for more?”

“You don’t, but what choice do you have? You’re still way ahead in the deal. Besides, I don’t even know if anyone would believe me.”

Ashley walks toward the restroom. “This trip just got real expensive. I need a Valium.”

Dana extends her hand. “So, it’s settled? Fifty thousand in five installments?”

I grasp her hand, but as I attempt to let go, she squeezes tighter and grabs my other hand with her left. I turn to Ashley for an explanation, but one of the Manolo Blahniks clutched tightly in her raised hand drives toward my skull.

“We worked too hard for that money to just give it away.”

9 Types of Facebookers

Facebook offers users a blank slate to express themselves whenever to whomever with whatever they want. So why is it that despite complete freedom of expression, people fall into one of the following nine types of Facebookers?

1) The Insignificant Tool: These pathetic posters are the single biggest reason people deactivate their Facebook account. Delivering such earth-shattering revelations as “At the bank. The line is long.”, they reveal in pain-staking detail just how boring their life is. Please Facebook, add a Who Cares button so we can all easily provide feedback to this lonely hearts society and save us from being informed what they have for dinner every night.

2) The Happy Ass: It’s all sunshine and puppy dogs for these blithe broadcasters. They never have a bad day and feel compelled to spread their overflowing joy and positive outlook to everyone in every situation. If they believe so much in the power of positive thought, they should all jump off a ten-story building and flap their arms. They can convince themselves they are flying, but reality will have a different message.

3) The Self-Involved Soothsayer: Truth flows effortlessly from these wise sages, and they are kind enough to bestow their nuggets of wisdom free of charge. But beware. Eventually one of two things will happen: either they will ask you to join their cult, or they will want you to buy their book. If they are really as smart as they profess to be, they would know that we really don’t care what they have to say and keep their astute observations to themselves.

4) The Mindless Parrot: Incapable of original thought, these lazy repeaters love to express themselves through the words of others. Always quoting in their posts, they believe in intellect by association, hoping if they repeat what a wise person said, we will think they are smart. Here’s an idea: stop pretending and say what you think. Even if it is the stupidest thing ever said, you can always claim you were being ironic.

5) The Shameless Promoter: Persistent peddling is the specialty of these online snake oil salesmen. Never really getting the social part of social networking, they are always selling regardless if we are buying. My question is, if their product was really so good, wouldn’t it sell itself through word of mouth? A little more time creating and developing would save us all having to continually ignore the same tired marketing. Just because their mother believes in their talents doesn’t mean we have to.

6) The Religious Crusader: These possessed preachers have seen the light. Powered by the grace of a higher being, they are on this planet to save us all. What they have not been blessed with is intuition. If we don’t answer the door when Jehovah Witnesses come knocking, why would we want to read their spiritual musings when we are really just trying to cyber-stalk our new secret crush? They should just swallow the sermon and let us be. The greatest sign of doubt is a bold opinion.

7) The Political Pundit: Politics is a banned subject at cocktail parties. Facebook should be no different. Controversy is the main motivation for these wannabe stumpers. They thrive on two things: being right and pissing other people off. Unable to achieve the former, they focus on the latter. Claiming to follow the party line, they instead bend it as far as they can to incite others. If they truly believed what they were saying, would they have to infuse their rhetoric with so much passion? The reason voting booths have a maximum occupancy of one is because political beliefs are meant to be thought not spoken.

8) The Obsessed Gamer: Escaping to the virtual world, these closet competitors raise crops, husband animals, and execute contract killings to hide from the pressures of day-to-day life. If this is truly a form of solitary meditation as they claim, why do they always solicit our help? It’s like going to a fetish party they know others are not interested in and then calling in the middle of the night for a lift home when their ride leaves. Honestly we don’t care what kind of freaky, funky stuff you are involved in. Just leave us out of it.

9) The Silent Assassin: Only Facebook itself knows how frequently these peepers visit because they never actually say anything. Like a people-watcher in a crowded public place, they merely observe and judge, always remaining steadfastly silent. What they don’t know is that we know they’re watching, seeing right through the fake surprise they show when in conversation we reference our posts and pictures. Best way we can draw these snipers off the grassy knoll is to block them from seeing our walls. Eventually they’ll contact us with some lame excuse how they accidently stumbled upon our profile and couldn’t view it. Puh-lease.

Sleepwalking

Each night I lie in bed weary from the day, yet unable to fall asleep. As my body relaxes, my soul rises to judge my choices of the day and the ones before. The guilt, jealousy, and fear I work so hard to repress consume me. Restlessness is the only constant. The more still I remain, the more my mind races and the deeper the questions stab.

My sleep is light, allowing me to remember my dreams. As my conscious life has become a struggle, I look forward to the unconscious wandering in my dreams. It is a welcome freedom in my life.

In the dreams my soul drifts, each time arriving at a stone watchtower. Nothing special about this tower, yet I know there is a reason for my visit. When I try to find the tower, I never arrive. The moment I forget my purpose, the path opens. The haze clouding my journey always seems to fade when I feel the darkness will swallow me.

In the tower I climb the winding stairs, relishing the crisp air and soaking up the comfort of the night. At the top the goodness of the stars showers upon me and the beauty of the earth radiates up to me. Above is the infinite sky and below, a magnificent garden. Both cause me to wonder whether I will ever get closer than the gaze I enjoy each night.

I long for the day when I am free to dance in the garden below. I wonder if that day will ever come and question if I even deserve it. Rather than haunt myself with the same questions night after night, I am content to focus on the moment, merely admiring life as it changes before my eyes.

One night I notice my watchtower is not the only one positioned to admire the garden. As I look across at my newfound neighbor, I see that my eyes are not the only ones able to allow the beauty to enter. Perched in the neighboring tower is a magnificent creature as beautiful as the garden below and as enchanting as the sky above.

In the nights that follow, I not only climb the stairs anticipating the blessed perspective but also of gazing upon my new friend. Night after night, I find beauty across the way as well as down below. As the nights pass, however, although we share the same garden, my friend doesn’t see the beauty I see, nor does my friend see me.

I motion to my neighbor, screaming to the person who has become the focus of my search. No response. The eyes across from me are fixed to the sky, and sadness shrouds my friend’s face. I desperately want my neighbor to see what I see, to feel what I feel.

My desires turn to frustration. I too became sad. Now each night I visit, sorrow rather than joy fills me. My nightly wandering becomes as painful as my daily searching. How does something so full of life transform into such a source of pain?

Searching for an answer, a tear runs down my face and falls to the ground. Following its course I am reminded of the beauty below. Suddenly the garden is more glorious than ever. My eyes pan and awaken to beauty I have seen but never truly known. I allow the grace to reach up to me and the possibilities of life to spray down upon me. I set my eyes free upon the garden to wander and renew my faith in life. I know eventually my energy will overflow and carry me to its source.

Admiring the garden, my eyes rise to the sky then fall back to the ground. The undulation follows my breathing. With each inhale I look up, and each exhale directs my eyes downward.

As I wonder what is commanding my eyes, my vision falls upon my friend in the other watchtower. But this time my companion is not sad. Finally I feel the gaze from another warm me as I have intended mine to do so many nights before. Our eyes meet. We smile. It is time to descend.

At the bottom our eyes reconnect. Guided by our gaze we meet between the two towers. Unsure which way to go, we hesitate. Who should take the lead? Who should follow? Our stare deepens, awaiting a sign or some direction. The smiles return to our faces. Our hands join. The grip tightens, pulsing through my whole body. Our feet step in the same direction. We enter the garden.

The glory around us surpasses the beauty experienced from above. Each step the grace penetrates deeper—protecting, nourishing, guiding. Fears and doubts fade. My perspective widens. For the first time I can see – not just through my eyes but through those of another. The search is over.

First Words

“Come on, Brendan, say it. You know Mommy loves you. Say it, ‘Mama.’”

Propped in his chair Brendan just stared straight ahead, unaffected by the encouraging words dancing around him. Flinging the remains of his breakfast, he laughed, banged his tray, and said, “Wigglewort!”

Brendan had been saying this word for several days. Although technically his first spoken word, it was discounted by those around him, perhaps for its nonsensical nature, but more likely because they hoped for another, more personal utterance.

“No Brendan, not ‘wigglewort,’ ‘Mama.’ I know you can do it. Be a big boy, say ‘Mama.’”

Brendan’s father entered from the backyard where, evident by the fresh green stains on his shoes and the beaded sweat on his forehead, he had just finished mowing the lawn. “No luck, huh? I wish I knew where he picked up that word. Wherever it was, he sure enjoys saying it, doesn’t he? Maybe I’ll give him a try. You want to come sit outside with Daddy, Brendan?”

He wiped Brendan’s hands and face and released him from the high chair with a swift tug. With a series of squeals and giggles Brendan offered approval for his newly found freedom and for the elevated view provided by his father. The world always appeared less intimidating when seen from the vantage point of an adult.

Outside they sat on the patio to admire the fresh-cut grass, away from any distractions. He perched Brendan on his knee and gently bounced him up and down. But despite Brendan’s enjoyment, his father paused, turning him around. “Okay, Brendan, it’s time. All you have to do is say, ‘Daddy.’ Come, on boy. It’s your old dad. Say it, ‘Daddy.’”

Instead of the anticipated response, Brendan let loose with a hearty belly laugh and said, “Wigglewort!”

“No, not ‘wigglewort,’ ‘Daddy.’ Be a sport. ‘Daddy.’”

“Wigglewort, wigglewort,” Brendan said.
From inside, a familiar voice flowed, “Where’s Grandma’s little baby?”

His father said, “Look Brendan, Grandma and Grandpa are here.”

“Has he said anything yet?” Grandma asked.

“Only that word ‘wigglewort’ or whatever he’s saying. I can’t make much out of it.”

“Let’s see if Grandma can get her baby to talk. Hi, Brendan. My, look how cute you are. Yes, you are. Come on, how about a smile for Grandma?”

Grandma liked to take Brendan into the living room and coax him from the couch. Everyone had his or her favorite place to play with Brendan. Each claimed it was Brendan’s favorite also, but then again, he wasn’t given a say in the matter.

“My, you’re getting so big and how you like to squirm. Sit still, Grandma can hardly hold onto you. Can you say Grandma? Who’s got you? Grandma does, right? Gamma, Gamma.”

Brendan took a deep breath and gave his usual reply, “Wigglewort! Wigglewort!”

With those two little words, he deflated Grandma’s ambition, which had been building since the last time she attempted to coach him.

Grandpa swooped in. “I think it’s time Brendan and Grandpa sit on the porch and have a nice talk.”

Grandpa enjoyed sitting with Brendan on the porch in the rocking chair he had bought the family for Christmas. From there, he was able to showcase his grandson to the entire neighborhood. “Don’t let the others bother you,” he said. “You’ll talk when you’re ready to. Just sit here with Grandpa and enjoy the weather. We’ll watch the cars go by. Grandpa won’t put any pressure on you. No, not Grandpa. Grandpa just likes to rock with his little man. Grandpa and Brendan. Brendan and Grandpa.”

These subtle suggestions weren’t going to work on Brendan either. When the next car passed and Grandpa displayed a wide grin and offered a friendly nod, Brendan giggled and said, “Wigglewort!”

Grandpa sighed. “Well, it was worth a try. Maybe lunch is ready.”

“Any luck?” Grandma asked.

“No, we were just watching cars go by anyway. You’re putting put too much pressure on the boy. He’ll speak when he’s ready. How’s lunch coming along?”

Brendan’s mom said, “Food is on the table. Put Brendan in his playpen while we eat.”

Grandpa did as told, and then the four adults sat down for lunch while Brendan’s dog Hawthorne took his usual position next to him. If Brendan was ever in the playpen, Hawthorne was close by, watching over him. There had been some concern as to how the dog would respond to Brendan being the center of attention. But from Brendan’s first days at home, Hawthorne had not shown a single green hair on his hide. Instead, he was perhaps the most protective.

As the adults ate, they became engrossed in their own conversation, forgetting the frustrating events of the morning. “Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah,” was all Brendan could understand, which wasn’t too far from the actual content.

Bored with the adults, Brendan rolled over and there was Hawthorne, right where he always was, staring back at Brendan, ready for anything.

As most actions Brendan performed, there was no warning sign for what took place next – the words just bubbled out, “Hawthawn! Hawthawn!”

Brendan’s mother said, “Did you hear that?”

Brendan’s father looked at the other three for confirmation. “Did he just say what I thought he said?”

Grandma dropped her fork. “If that don’t beat all. He said ‘Hawthorne.’ He said the dog’s name.”

Grandpa said, “I told you that you were putting too much pressure on him.”

Brendan repeated himself, “Hawthawn! Hawthawn!”

Throughout it all, Hawthorne never moved. He just sat there staring at Brendan, watching over him.

Myth and the Millennium

“Hey Tooth, over here!” he shouted waving his arm from the third row. It had been a hundred years since the last MFA meeting, but she recognized the crimson jacket with white trim immediately.

“Good to see you,” she said, squeezing down the row past other familiar faces. “Hard to believe another meeting is here already. E.B., you still recovering from the holiday a few weeks ago?”

“Yeah, it gets harder every year. I don’t know how you do it all year long, Tooth.”

“I get a lot of help. It’s all in how you delegate, my friend.”

A hearty laugh shot out from the man in the red jacket as he stroked his beard. “You can say that again. If I didn’t delegate, I would’ve been washed up years ago. The Mrs. helps out quite a bit, too. She’s really the backbone behind the whole operation. I’m just the front man.”

“So what’s the scoop?” Tooth asked. “Any good gossip? I hope the leprechauns and elves don’t get into it again this year.”

E.B. pushed his ears back. “You know they will. Happens every time. Always trying to ‘one up’ each other. Can’t you do something about your elves, Santa?”

“I have no control over them, probably less than ever. Since the last meeting, they’ve unionized. Oh, I don’t even want to go into the trouble I’ve had this century.”

It wasn’t just Santa that had been having trouble the past hundred years. Anxiety pervaded this meeting of the Mythical Figure Association. Not only had the 20th century seen more change than any other, but also the next millennium was about to begin, and there was concern that myth may disappear completely.

“Santa, you aren’t the only one who’s had headaches,” E.B. said. “Look at the Boogie Man over there. Hollywood has killed his career. Remember when the mere mention of him would terrify kids. Now, he’s lucky to even startle someone.”

Tooth shook her head. “The same can be said for the Sand Man. People used to lie back and wait for him to visit. Now they don’t bother. They pop a few pills, have a few drinks, or simply watch TV to fall asleep.”

E.B. pointed to the front. “We’re about to start. Jack is walking on stage.”

A man with a chilly demeanor stepped up to the podium. “Please take your seats everyone. It’s time to get started. Please, everyone.”

“Leave it to Frost to ruin a good time,” one of the elves yelled from the back.
Not to be outdone, a leprechaun said, “We should have our next meeting in Bermuda. Let’s see how spunky you are there, Jack.”

“Come on, now,” Jack said, seemingly unfazed. “Isn’t it a little early for you guys to start in? Usually, you wait until at least lunch.”

Whispers of laughter tempered the palpable anticipation.

Jack said, “On behalf of the MFA, I would like to welcome everyone to the 21st centennial meeting, Myth and the Millennium. First, I would like to thank our host, who graciously makes his home our home. Santa, please stand.”

The crowd applauded as Santa waved to the crowd.

“Before I introduce our keynote speaker, I would like to say how excited and honored I am to kickoff this very important and crucial conference. I still haven’t decided if it was a decision based on merit, or just an attempt to influence me to go easy with the weather. Regardless, it is indeed a great honor.

“I hope everyone has received their packets of information and has spent some time going over the contents. I think the Steering Committee has done an outstanding job including something for everyone. At this time I also would like to thank the Grim Reaper and Johnny Appleseed for volunteering their time to work the registration booth.

“As I look out into the crowd, I’m reminded of the resources each of us has in our peers. It’s a rare opportunity for each of us to spend a week with one another, and it’s through our support and friendship that we can embrace these turbulent times.

“Our speaker today is no stranger to any of us. He’s been with us since the—well, the beginning of time. His patience, wisdom, and vision have earned him the respect of all. Over the years, people have taken him for granted, attempted to steal here and there, and occasionally tried to beat him at his own game. But he has always withstood the tests posed to him, never judging, merely offering compassion. He is ever inching on, steadily, confidently. Today, he will be giving a speech titled The Time Is Now. Please put your cold hands together for Father Time.”

The crowd rose and cheered wildly, continuing for several minutes.

Father Time warmly smiled while he waited for the applause to subside. “Standing before you today, I can’t help but think about the last time I spoke. The changes that have occurred the past hundred years amaze me probably more than any other century. But it’s more than the changes that pose such a contrast. It’s the mood. At the beginning of the last century there was a mood of celebration, of anticipation, of hope for the years to come. While I feel some of the excitement is still there, the intention and underlying feelings of people are quite different.

“In the 19th century, the world was on the move, economies were growing, and the future held promise. While economies now appear stronger than ever, the future is much more uncertain. And some people, rather than focus on going somewhere, are propelled more by a desire to escape, to flee from the current circumstances. Their faith in tradition and ritual has been replaced by a myopic vision of self-service. This, in turn, has greatly affected each of us. The role of myth is now equated with that of fiction, of make-believe. Our roles as educators and vehicles to adulthood have been transformed to one of entertainment. ‘What’s in it for me?’ is the question on each human’s mind.

“Due to an improved economic climate, many of the issues and problems I speak of today are ignored on a daily basis. But they are not invisible. Children are told that to dream is to be unrealistic, and to be real, one must be practical, yet practicality seems to be rooted in the safe, in the mundane. The once quiet desperation has now become quite deafening, recognizable in the faces and actions of youth. Accordingly, it has greatly affected other dimensions of the population from parents, grandparents, teachers, politicians, even us.

“Judging from the conversations I have already had with some of you, it goes without saying that never has there been a more critical meeting than this one. What I hope to accomplish in my speech today and in my time here this week is to make each of you realize that the past is behind us, that The Time is Now. Our concern for the future is real, but the time to address it is now. Times have changed, but they have changed for a reason. If the ‘good old days’ were so good, why did they change? Gone are the simplicity and the innocence of yesteryear, but in their place are more enlightened, educated individuals, more conscious of the world in which they live than any other time. So I ask you, as you sit down with your colleagues and are tempted to reminisce about the past, be cautious of how many of your stories begin with ‘Back in the day.’ Remind yourself, the time is now. Thank You.”

The meaning and impact of Father Time’s words hung in the air long after the applause subsided. His words assuaged the tension previously saturating the air, as if Father Time’s speech had held up a large mirror and said, ‘Look at yourself.’”

Jack Frost stepped behind the microphone and stared longingly into the crowd, perhaps trying to find the right words, perhaps waiting for the right time.

“It has never been easy. All of us know that. We feel as if we are on an island with no one in the world to help us. Again, I want to reiterate my point from my opening comments: reach out to those around you. You are not in this alone. Think about the next meeting a hundred years from now. What do you want to be talking about? Let’s create the vision and go build it. I thank you for the opportunity to speak and hereby declare the 21st conference of the Mythical Figure Association open. I hope you not only benefit from the conference but enjoy yourselves as well.”

As the various figures filed out of the hall, Santa spoke first. “Well, it seems we have our work cut out for us. Which seminars are you planning to attend?”

E.B. said, “I don’t know. There are so many good ones. I hope they repeat throughout the week so I have a chance to see them all. Listen to some of these, Marketing for the Millennium, Technology: Friend or Foe, and Blastoff – Empowering Your Employees.”

Tooth said, “I especially like Belief: It Starts With You! and People Not Profits.”

As the three old friends approached the door, someone frantically entered the hall.

E.B. said, “Hey Cupid, running late today? You look a little haggard.”

“Oh, hey. Did I miss the opening ceremony? I had a heck of a time getting here. I’ve been so busy lately. You know, it’s that time of year. Love is in the air. I’m so looking forward to this week.”

“I think we all need to take some time for ourselves,” Santa said. “The registration booth is out in the lobby. There should still be someone there for late arrivers.”

“Thanks, I’ll catch up with you later. Save a seat for me at lunch.”

The Easter Bunny, Santa, and the Tooth Fairy walked into the lobby in silence.

Tooth motioned toward the registration booth. “Look at that. As much as I worry about what the future holds, I know the answers are right here with us. Where else can you see the Grim Reaper, Johnny Appleseed, and Cupid conversing with one another except at an MFA meeting? I think it’s going to be a good century.”

Hooker or Hippy

As a fan of Jung and mathematics, give me a 4×4 matrix that distills Jung’s theory of psychological types into an understandable and useful form like the Myers Briggs personality inventory (MBTI), a Vietnamese delivery menu, and a bag of gingersnaps, and I don’t leave my domain for at least 48 hours. But in our capitalistic society, sixteen personality types may be overestimating our vapid culture.

When analyzing people I have always applied a much simpler1x2 matrix: hooker (HO) or hippy (HI). (The word should conjure a strong enough image that I don’t need to describe the types.).

Try this lens on. Examine people around you with respect to their commercial inclinations—are they hookers or hippies? The clues are always there. Pay attention to shoes, bracelets, clothing brands, reading material, perfumes/colognes, word choices, etc.

Although I still believe are one or another, a field test in South Beach prompted me to change the instrument of evaluation from a matrix to a continuum.

The impetus for revision came from a discussion in which a participant kept using the term stripper interchangeably with hooker. When I challenged the person that strippers and hookers are not the same, the flaw in my theory stuck out like a one-inch hair from a woman’s chin.

The sixteen personality buckets of the MBTI still seem too static, but perhaps distinct personality type milestones exist along the continuum, providing a contextual understanding as to precisely where an individual belongs.

Literal variances are the guide to understanding the figurative deviation in the types. If one starts at the far left at Hooker and moves to the right, undoubtedly the first distinction is Stripper. While strippers and hookers are aesthetically tantamount—face glitter, body spray, wardrobe from the Frederick’s of Hollywood Working Girl Collection—the types are not cognate.

Even though interaction with both may result in physical release, an incorrect judgment may have a noxious impact. To avoid the consequential masochism and self-reproach from a poor decision, internalize these five guidelines:

1. Strippers work in multiples of $20; hookers, in multiples of $100. A three-song private dance may cost you $60, but it’s significantly cheaper than the thirty seconds you give your lady of the evening at $500 a squirt.

2. Strippers say, “May I give you a private dance?” Hookers say, “I’ll take care of you if you take care of me.” The song may never be “Stairway to Heaven,” but at least she’s up front and honest. The scarlet woman sets her trap with ambiguity. By the time she has her dose of sodium pentothal money is no object for you.

3. Strippers have bouncers in the foreground; hookers have pimps in the background. A line of defense is paramount for both working girls. Recognize the protection, and you will know the temptress.

4. Strippers market their services in the club; hookers work the phones and beat the streets. Don’t promote your ego to CDM (Chief Decision Maker). If she asks for your number, you’re being solicited. They’re known as Call Girls because they’ll call you.

5. Strippers aren’t concerned whether you have a condom; a hooker requires one. Your visit to the Velvet Room may cause you to make a stop at the Amoco on the way home to throw your boxers away, so your wife is unaware of your Sunday afternoon satisfaction, but have you ever heard of anyone getting pregnant or contracting a disease through a layer of cotton and denim? If you need a condom, don’t reach for the one in your wallet. Extra cash is the only thing you’ll need from there. Harlots always come prepared. She’s protecting herself from you, not you from her.

In our transactional society, whether it’s money, cigarettes, or information, people are always giving and receiving. To survive one must understand the nature of the person on the other side of the relationship. The better one comprehends where the person fits on the Hooker-Hippy continuum, the better the interaction will be.