Posted in flash fiction

The flamingo

As he pulled into the driveway, beads of sweat began to run down the side of his face. His stomach knotted. It was right there, in front of his house, was the upside down flamingo. They knew. They knew everything.

He had been so careful. He never used his real name. All the money was offshore. He never used the same burner phone twice. Every communication went through at least a dozen servers all over the world, each with different encryptions. Long hair, crewcut, mustache, goatee, clean shaven – he changed his look every month.

How did they know? How did they find out? How did they find out where he lived?

It didn’t matter. His whole world just turned upside down. He just kept on driving. He couldn’t go home. He couldn’t call his family. Or a friend.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a few folder bills. Thirty-seven dollars. He wouldn’t get far with that. But he couldn’t go to the ATM. He couldn’t cash a check. He dared not use a credit card. If he drove his car, some camera would pick up his license plate. He just had to keep moving. He had to keep out of sight.

There was only one option. He jabbed at the unused burner phone to get a taxi. He had just enough for a ride to the zoo. Flashing a fake membership card, he went from the turnstile right to the flamingo pond. Leaning on the rail, watching the wary birds, a quiet voice said, “That didn’t take long.”

“What do you want? Just leave my family alone.”

“You know what we want.”

He took the popcorn box, not surprised at how heavy it felt. It was the usual Glock. The clip was full, but he would only need one shot. He slowly walked towards the exit.

He vowed this would be the last time.

Just like last time.

Posted in Stories

My mind has left the building

At the beginning of a vacation, it usually takes me two to three days to transition from thinking about work stuff to not thinking about work stuff. I’ve discovered a shortcut to decompression. This trip to Dallas, we are pulling our camper trailer. My mind has immediately left work behind because I am not consumed with our travel.

RV park reservations, hookups, food, fuel stops, set ups, and wondering “will everything work?” Then there is Wifi, hotspot, laptops and extra monitors for my wife, propane, water tanks, tire pressures, beer for the fridge. If you’ve camped or glamped, you know the list goes on and on. Which is a good thing. I’m focused on that and not on the day to day activities of work.

I know how to pull the plug on the internet. I’m learning how to pull the plug on my mind.

Posted in noticing

Invisible

How long does something have to be in plain view before it becomes invisible?

We had to string a power cable for the camera over the front door. Obvious, unsightly, necessary and ugly. But I have to admit, when I paused to look at it today, I realized I don’t even notice it anymore. In just a matter of months it has become invisible.

So I wonder, what else becomes invisible with familiarity? What do we no longer notice or see going on around us because we see it every single day?

Could you describe all the pictures hanging on the walls of your home? Do you know which light bulbs aren’t working? What brand of TV do you own? What color is your front door? (Hey, don’t we all mostly go in and out of the garage?) What’s on that billboard you drive by every day?

More importantly, who do you no longer notice? At my son’s church, a police officer is stationed at the door every Sunday. I wonder how many people no longer notice him. He’s just part of the Sunday morning routine.

I’ve sat in enough choirs to know that some vocalists get so focused on their music that the director might as well be invisible!

Sometimes when I’m speaking, someone is looking off into the distance, as if I wasn’t even there.

I know what’s it’s like to be invisible.

Posted in Stories

The wrong color

A watermelon that has a red rind, green inside with white seeds to spit out.

A white Oreo cookie with dark chocolate cream filling.

Coffee that is light, and the half-and-half is a deep ebony hue.

White chocolate ice cream with dark vanilla sauce drizzled on top.

Black popcorn.

A green hotdog.

A light hamburger with a very dark bun.

Dark brown whipped cream.

Blue gold.

A stoplight where green means stop, red means go.

A black sun.

A green carrot.

Black instead of the “whites of your eyes.”

Recipes that call for egg blacks.

A blue tomato.

Orange lettuce.

A white clerical shirt with a black insert.

Yellow blueberries.

A whole mouth of black teeth.

A green orange.

Posted in memories

Do you remember melting crayons?

I’m really not sure why this memory recently came back to me. It might have been while thinking about how we entertained ourselves as kids. No phones, internet, Netflix, TikTok, or game systems. How about this: melting crayons.

So I had this Tensor high intensity lamp my parents bought me for the desk in my bedroom. I did plenty of homework under that lamp. Let me tell you, the descriptor high intensity was appropriate. It got hot under that lamp. It was perfect for melting crayons.

I’m not entirely sure when I had that revelation. It might have been after making stained glass windows by ironing crayon shavings between pieces of waxed paper in Sunday School. Or the wax you melted on a letter and impressed your initial into it kit that was popular back then. I was fascinate to hold a crayon as close as you possibly could to the bulb of a high intensity lamb, without touching it, of course, and watching the wax melt.

I began dripping melted wax onto a piece of ruled note book paper and slowly but surely creating a volcanic mountain. Then I would drip enough crayon for the bottom of the mountain and then drip a gold, silver or copper crayon (they were in the coveted Crayola 64 pack, remember?) into the middle. You could then cover the precious metal crayons with browns and greens. Now you had a vein of ore running through the mountain, which you could mine with the pointy end of your compass you bought to draw circles with at school. You could also bore through your wax mountain with a beam of light focused through a magnifying glass. If I got too close and touched the lamp bulb to the crayon, a gentle wisp of smoke floated into the room, with the smell of burnt wax.

I have no idea why this was so much fun and so time consuming. But these moments vividly resurface anytime I sit down to color with my grandchildren. And then I took them to the Crayola Experience in Dallas, TX. I watched as they melted crayons to make small toys to take home. I believe I enjoyed it more than they did!

Am I the only one who ever did this?

Posted in flash fiction

That’ll teach you!

“You son of a…”

From my backyard I could hear the volume go up with each expletive and each futile tug on the starter rope. My neighbor was reaching the end of his rope but wouldn’t give up trying to revive the expired lawnmower.

I climbed into the backyard kids fort to watch the kicking, screaming, and frustration reach the point of no return. Suddenly, with surprising strength and the wrath of Khan, he picked up the mower and angrily snapped it in two over his knee! “There! That’ll teach you!”

Now it sits out in front of his house, a memorial to his rage,

Posted in Stories, time

The gift of time

I think I have long underestimated the value of time. I am sure I am not the only one. I want to share how a few precious people brought this to my attention lately.

I went to visit a friend in the hospital last week. He joined our congregation a few years ago, is just a few years younger than me, and has always been a great encourager and support for me. He’s one of those guys who’s face lets me know he understand what I’m talking about.

Anyway, when I got to his room, his condition wasn’t great but was improving. His wife had another appointment and amazingly, no one came in the room while I was there. We had an uninterrupted forty-five minutes before his next diagnostic test. We talked about many topics, from the church to his family to upcoming trips and how he ended up in the hospital. After the sacrament and a prayer, he said, “Thanks. I don’t often get you to myself.”

Later than week, I sat down to visit with a woman whose husband had died two years ago. The time sure had flown since his funeral, especially during the Covid quarantine year. It turns out we had a lot of shared experiences to discuss. I also learned a lot of new things about her family and passion for horses. An afternoon flies by when you’ve got a bowl of peach dumplings and vanilla ice cream, and a miniature bull terrier licking your hand. It turns out we both really enjoyed that afternoon.

And then today I had an exclusive invitation to a 90th birthday celebration. I was the only gentleman to score a seat with some amazing, faithful sisters who gathered to mark this moment. When it was over and I was driving away, I thought, “The most important thing was that we were there.” We were there with her. We were there to celebrate with her. We were there to eat and drink, to smile and laugh, to make an ordinary day extraordinary.

After the tea, finger sandwiches and birthday cake, I got into my truck and got a message from my wife. Someone in the hospital. I stopped in on my way home. She was doing well, but was alone. Her husband had a ailing dog to care for. Those dogs, they grab our hearts and won’t let go! We laughed and cried and prayed. I’ve been there. And I’m glad I could be there.

I really don’t have much to give other than my time. Today God reminded me how valuable that gift is.

Posted in Stories

Familiar strangers

I ran across the term “familiar strangers” in Rob Walker’s newsletter The Art of Noticing, suggested to him by reader Laura Grace Weldon. A “familiar stranger” is someone you see regularly, but you don’t know personally.

I found that idea fascinating. What familiar strangers do I run across on a regular basis?

Like a lot of the people who work at the Publix supermarket close to me. I’m there several times a week. I know the names of managers, baggers, cashiers and shelf stockers because their names are on their badges. But that’s all I know about them. I follow their progress as they move up from bagger and cart cowboy to cashier, customer service, and assistant manager. If I stop at another Publix, of course none of them are there, and I feel strangely out of place.

The folks at the post office are familiar, too. I even know their spiel asking me if I need any insurance, delivery confirmation, or stamps. Most are exceptionally patient in the face of various customer demands. They’re pretty amazing strangers.

I recognize many of the front office workers and hygienists at the dentist’s office. Twice a year for many years I’ve interacted with many of them. I know my hygienist and dentist pretty well since we get to chat. But the rest are just familiar faces.

Other churches use our building for their worship services and meetings, usually when our congregation isn’t using it. Sometimes we overlap by a few minutes and I know the faces. But they’re usually speaking a different language.

Some of the contractors who do work around the church or our home are familiar faces who stop by a few times a year. There are familiar faces at some of the restaurants we frequent. I know the names of the dogs who walk by our house but not necessarily the names of their walkers.

Then there are the faces of those I no longer see. The tenant church who closed up shop last year. The neighbor’s wife who recently died. The doctors and assistants at my previous eye doctor. The cleaning crew we had to fire.

My circle of familiar strangers is a lot bigger than I realized. They are worth noticing.

Posted in dogs, Stories

Grrr

I was out one after noon walking two big brown dogs. One of them, Samson is ours. The other, Kennedy, is my daughters. They’re almost twins.

A hundred yards into our walk around the block, a miniature version of my dogs caught wind of our approach and came over to check us out. He must have been visiting, because I hadn’t seen him before. I braced myself, unsure of how hard my two would pull on their leashes. The little guy trotted over with his hackles up, but the initial sniffing was cordial.

Until the smaller dog snapped, warning us to stay away from his yard. The two bigger dogs woofed but took a step back, unsure of their next move. Really? O come on. He’s not more than a snack for you two beasts. Whatever. We’ll just ease on down the road.

So my question is, why does a little dog like that feel like they can take on a much bigger pair of opponents? And why are the big dogs afraid of such a small antagonist?

I guess dogs don’t pay that much attention to size. It more about territory. If you’re on my home field, I don’t care how big you are, I’m coming after you. You can pee on my mailbox post, but I’m just going to cover it as soon as you leave. I’m defending my home turf no matter what!

The big dogs are thinking, “<pant> <pant> You’re not much fun. Later.”