March 13th was a miserable day for many people. First, for many of us across much of the USA, we had to deal with cancelled flights to far-off destinations, too many inches of snow, and blizzard conditions that kept us from skinny-dipping at our favorite lakes.
To top it all off — Facebook decided to destroy our lives.
Our self-esteem shattered like the remains of a china shop when Ferdinand the Bull went through it. I mean, after all, how in the world could Mark Zuckerberg live with himself knowing that 97% of the world’s population lay awake in the wee hours of their night and day bemoaning the fact that FB was almost totally inaccessible?
We moaned, we cried, we lamented the boringness of life without FB. We muttered at our screens and decided that we would petition Congress to hold Mark Z accountable.
Less than 24 hours later, some people are still cut off from the real Facebook world. Their lives are shredded beyond belief. Young and old alike are already learning how hard life is when you are not able to post a new picture or video of their pet eating yellow snow, their baby staring incredulously at Dad dancing to the whimsical strains of “Baby Shark, doo-doo-doo-do”, or a picture of a half-eaten burger from In-N-Out informing the world of how much better it is than Whataburger.
As the saying goes, one must strike while the hay is on fire or make irons while it is hot. Whatever — but first, a brief caveat.
If you have never been on Facegram or Instabook and/or are able to make it through massively extended periods of time (like say 5–10 minutes) without putting something on a social media platform, then this helpful solution is NOT for you. Just go away and read your newspaper, stand up to change channels on your massive console TV box, or whatever else it is that you boring people do with your lives.
With that caveat out in the open, I am proud to announce that I am starting a new self-help club, organization, fraternity, or whatever word you prefer to use.
Extended drumroll — ok, that’s enough. May I present —
FacebookersAnonymous for Life Associations without Life Ambitions (or FA-LA-LA for short)
Don’t worry, FA-LA-LA is totally anonymous and is designed so you never have to admit to the world that you are an addict. The price is within the reach of everybody with only one low recurring price of $9.95 per month (payable in Yen, Euros, Dollars, Pesos, Shekels, or Bitcoin once every two weeks). You too can be a part of FA-LA-LA where we dance to our own tunes and demand immediate action from Mark Z.
The entry process is simple. Just submit your name, birthday, personal email address, GPS coordinates for your local Gold’s Gym (you know the one you never use but still pay for), blood type, and type of bicycle you are supposed to ride but leave in the garage AND we assure you that you will remain an anonymous member of FA-LA-LA. Each month you will receive a personalized newsletter in which we distribute the details of each new member so you can greet them in a personalized, non-agressive-passive, anonymous type of way.
You will also find options that will never allow you to opt out of unwanted spam mails petitioning you for more money to fight the corporate giants that would make dastardly attempts to keep you from posting more of your life out in the open each and every five minutes of your life.
Don’t delay. Act now before more precious minutes go to waste away from the watchful eyes of Mark Z and his nefarious tribe.
Extolling the virtues of Facebook one post at a time,
The Executive Committee of FA-LA-LA
PS — It is our intention to share more of the benefits of joining our exclusive yet totally open anonymous club, but my wife keeps reminding me that FB is operating as normal again. At least for today or this week. Back later.
I have always loved the sound of an LP playing on the record player. For youngsters reading, just Google it. It is kind of like a CD but several times bigger and to listen to an hour of music normally involved turning the LP (or record) over halfway through your song selection.
My British uncle retired from the Royal Air Force after playing the trumpet for several of the RAF bands throughout England, Germany, and in various places around the world. I have just about every album of every band that he played in beginning with his first around 1970–1971 when he was stationed with the Southern Band of the Royal Air Force.
There was a wide selection down through the years that were recorded. These include: The RAF Band in Germany played movie themes, while The Western Band of the Royal Air Force offered a special arrangement of well-known classical pieces.
One of my favorite items that I owned as a teenager was a big record player console. It was a piece of furniture. As much as possible, it had one volume setting — LOUD!
Fast forward to the present and one of my sons obtained a nice little record player box from Sam’s Club. He and my wife promptly went to a local music store and he purchased several old albums including some nice Christmas selections as well as several Glenn Miller recordings.
I must say that the kid has good taste.I taught him well.
My girls who will both be teenagers this year often see me moving to the music and keep asking my wife to dance with me to the crackly tunes of the Big Band Era.
The problem is that she can’t dance.
My feet get to tapping when I hear the strains of Chattanooga Choo-Choo, In the Mood, or Little Brown Jug come out of the little box. It just makes me want to get up and sashay across the floor — with my wife.
The problem is that she can’t dance.
This last Sunday, I got up early as usual and put on another Glenn Miller album and turned up the volume a notch or two. Considering we had just lost an hour of sleep, I thought that Moonlight Serenade might be in order; however, everybody was still asleep. What I thought about doing was picking up the phone to dial Pennsylvania 6–5000 and ask my wife if she wanted to wake up and come into the living room so we could cut a rug together.
The problem is that she can’t dance.
She did wake up, and came to the living room where I pretended that I was asleep in my easy chair. But I had not fooled her because one of my girls had already gotten up and had seen my feet tapping to the sound of trumpets and jazz.
Standing to my feet, I put one arm around my wife, took her hand in mine, and proceeded to waltz around the floor. She dipped while I tried to sashay. She swung around while I tried to shimmy in my best James Cagney or Bing Crosby impersonation.
That’s when I learned the sad truth.
The problem is that I can’t dance!
I can’t even make a serious attempt at pulling off a Carlton Banks dance from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The truth is that instead of looking like a graceful pair of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, my form looked more like — well, the above picture will give you an idea.
Rarely do I find anything nice to say about the TSA. Thanks to the events of September 11, the overzealous efforts of Congress, and the willingness to surrender more of our freedoms, Homeland Security began to make life much more difficult for travelers.
Personally, I resent the intrusions imposed on American citizens simply using airlines as a quick mode of transportation from one part of the US to another. However, I do have some appreciation for the protection airport security seems to have provided in keeping terrorists from boarding airplanes again.
Strangely, those same terrorists though can still just walk across a very unsecured border from Mexico into the US or from just about any part of Canada into the US as well. But I digress as that would be a story for another day.
In 2012, our family moved from Liberia, West Africa back to the United States. As we prepared to depart, we checked our bags and entered the Duty Free Zone at the Roberts International Airport located in Monrovia. While there, we availed ourselves of one last shopping experience as we purchased several Liberian artifacts from the various shops.
One of my purchases was a very nice walking cane that had been carved by a local artist. It was carved out of one of the hardwood trees that are found in abundance throughout West Africa. Before making my purchase, I asked to verify that there would be no issues in getting my cane through customs as we made our way first to Europe and then back to the US.
Assured that there would be no problems, I purchased the beautiful walking stick and we prepared to board the plane.
Nobody said a word to me about the cane and one or two stewardesses even commented on the beauty of the hardwood as well as the artist’s skill.
Arriving in Brussels, Belgium, we proceeded to walk through the entire airport for about five hours. Not once did anybody stop me or ask me if the cane was some kind of a weapon. Common sense prevailed and again I had a couple of staff members comment on how nice a cane I had. At no point did I attempt to walk with it. There was nothing on the bottom to prevent it from slipping on the tiled airport floors and it was really only for decoration.
We arrived back to the US and landed in an airport on the east coast. Disembarking, we had to get all of our bags, go through Customs, and then to make our connecting flight, we had to recheck our bag and go through Security again.
Remember, I have been carrying my new West African cane through three different airports on three different continents. Not one time did anybody question me about why I was carrying this cane with me. Not one time did any police or soldiers follow me and wonder if I was going to attack somebody with my prized possession.
Until we had to go through TSA security to fly from one US to another.
Having already been up for way too many hours, we did not want to have to deal with another inconvenience, but had no choice.
Finally arriving at the front of the line, the TSA staff member took one look at my cane and said, “You cannot take that with you on the plane!”
She was NOT rude about it, but simply had a job to do.
I asked what I was supposed to do with it. Her response was that I would have to check it in and it would go into the hold of the plane. However, I knew full well that somewhere along the way that my exquisitely carved cane would disappear and would never make it to our final stop in Memphis, Tennessee where we had family waiting to pick us up and welcome us back to the US.
I graciously told the TSA staff member that I was not prepared to put my nice new cane and asked why there should be a problem. I told her that we had now crossed three continents and three airports without one concern.
She looked at my wife and I for a minute and responded.
“The only way that you can take the cane on the plane is if it is a medical device.”
I looked back at her and said, “But it is not a medical device.”
She paused, looked at my wife again, and spoke again but emphasized a few words.
“Sir, the ONLY way that YOU can take the cane ON the plane is IF it is a medical device!”
My wife nudged me as she caught on a little quicker than I had done. “Sweetheart, she is saying that you have to use it as an actual cane.”
Not wanting to be dishonest in anyway, it was true that I had been sick in Liberia. In fact, one of my daughters and I had almost died. While I did not use the cane to walk around, it often hurt just to walk. My joints ached from the ravages of severe cases of typhoid and malaria, but I did not want to mislead the TSA staff member either. While in Liberia, I did have to use a walking stick regularly to help support myself at times while on the various roads and trails in the jungles.
“Yes, I can use my cane as a medical device.” I informed her hoping that with such a declaration she would let us pass and we could board our fourth and final flight.
The TSA staffer said, “Sir, in order to let you take the cane on the airplane, I will have to see you actually using the cane as a medical device or aid to walking.”
Are you kidding me?
The bottom of the cane was slick wood and we were on a slick tiled floor. By the time I was done demonstrating my “need” for a cane, I probably would need a real cane or a wheelchair.
However, not wanting to lose my cane, I decided it was best to oblige. With a few slightly exaggerated limps, I sashayed, glided, and attempted to do-ci-do across the TSA Security enclosure while making sure that I did not slip, fall to the floor, and crack my head open.
With a wry smile, she responded. “Yep, looks like you definitely need your medical device. Have a safe trip!”
It was all I could do to keep a straight face as I used my medical device to limp my way around the corner and away from the TSA area.
I still have that cane and every time I see it, it reminds me of the day that a West African cane was allowed to beat TSA at their own game.
To the kind, unnamed TSA staff member, “Thank you and walk on!”
The road of life has never been easy. I have long struggled with health issues, some of them that brought me close to death. However, in the midst of all the struggles, even when living deep, DEEP in the steamy jungles of Liberia, West Africa, we never went without a meal and we have managed to always pay our bills.
Now, I tend to be the kind of person who likes things to be a certain way. In the early years of our marriage, life was difficult on many levels. This was especially true when it came to finances. We can remember having to determine whether we wanted to live off of rice and beans or macaroni and ground beef in order to purchase necessities for our babies.
It seemed that every time we managed to save just a little that another big bill would show up. I was already working two jobs (1 full-time, and 1 part-time) for about 65 hours per week just to make ends meet. My wife and I only had one vehicle and still only have one to this day, but we were thankful that our situation was much better than most of the world.
Ok, let’s rewind to that last sentence and try to clarify.
You see, while I was working as a word processing specialist in the day, and then loading boxes into big trucks at all hours, I was NOT actually being very thankful. However, my wife was thankful because it allowed her to be a stay-at-home mom.
One incident that remains me to this day is just as clear as if it had just happened. The main reason is probably because it helped me to adjust my attitude on life.
In approximately 1991 or 1992, we lived in the US state of North Carolina. We were hoping to purchase a little home, but could never seem to save up enough to even pay our monthly bills.
One hot August day, we took our station wagon (an estate for UK readers) to the mechanic and learned it was going to take about $400 to make necessary repairs. That was a lot of money in the early 90’s and we had only managed to just save up about $500 or $600 in the bank account.
Going to my bank, I pulled up to the ATM Cash Machine while muttering under my breath about how unfair life was treating us. Ok, another confession, my wife was sitting beside me with our babies in the back, but I was actually complaining about how unfair life was treating me.
I took out my wallet, grabbed my ATM card and jammed it into the machine. In a careless manner, I punched in my PIN code and waited.
The machine hummed and whirred and then spit my card back out. On the screen, the words “ERROR — INVALID CODE” appeared.
Already frustrated, I verified the PIN code with my wife and jammed the card back into the machine. Slowly, with great deliberation, and muttering quite profusely, I slowly entered my PIN once again.
The machine hummed and whirred and then spit my card back out. On the screen, the words “ERROR — INVALID CODE” appeared again.
By now, I was quite furious. Life was going downhill once again and I could not even access my bank account.
The sun was setting low in the sky and I had a lucid moment and thought that maybe a reflection on the machine was not allowing my PIN code to go through.
Putting the car in Park, I stepped out of my vehicle and stood close to the machine. I had the presence of mind to know that if you entered the PIN code incorrectly three times in quick succession that the machine would swallow your card. This would have created an even bigger headache as it was almost 5pm on a Friday evening.
Not so carefully and with only a cursory glance at my card, I jammed it into the machine for my third and final attempt while muttering about stupid banks and how they conspired to keep my money just when I needed it the most.
Quicker than Jack being nimble while jumping over the candlestick, I mashed the CANCEL button for all that I was worth. The machine whirred and hummed before FINALLY reluctantly spitting out my card.
With my wife sitting quite calmly in her seat watching me, I waved my card at her as she just laughed. I am sure she was laughing WITH me and not AT me, but I suddenly felt very, VERY foolish when I realized that the card in my hand was NOT my debit card.
It was my Driver’s License!
North Carolina had recently introduced a magnetic stripe on the back and with the sun’s bright glare I had mistaken my driver’s license for my debit card. Yes, that is the story that I am sticking with — it MUST have been the sun!
Even to this day, almost 20 years later, I still keep my driver’s license together in my wallet with my debit cards. Every time I pull up to an ATM machine, I never fail to remember the story of how I had to be taught a lesson in humility.
Since that time, we have moved to England twice, to Liberia, West Africa, and now reside permanently in the USA. Through the years, that experience has helped me to realize how truly blessed my family and I have been. Never hungry and richer in so many ways more than the vast majority of the world, I know that I need to take time to assess each situation that we encounter.
Is it really worth getting angry or upset when God has been so good to me?
Does my life have to be in such a hurry that I cannot take enough time to verify which card I am trying to put into the ATM?
If I am in that much of a hurry, then there are probably other things wrong in my mind and heart that need to be dealt with.
My life may not be what I was hoping when I was younger. My bank accounts will probably never reflect the savings I wish they had. My car may not be the best, biggest, or fastest. However, what I have is far more than I deserve.
Take time to slow down today.
PS — I pulled out the correct card with my wife still laughing at me and gently inserted it into the ATM Cash Machine which promptly delivered the required $400 I needed to pay the bill.
My original thought when challenged to do this was that there is NOTHING quirky about me. I am, well, I am just me! After all, if the rest of the world was just like me, then it would be a boring place.
While speaking openly about my hesitations, my lovely wife, Violet, gave me one of those looks that made it clear that she KNOWS I am quirky. Therefore, I must write and share before she writes on my behalf. LOL
1. I was born in England and consider myself to be quite British. I spent several years growing up in the UK as well as an adult. However, I have NO British accent. I tell people that it never came through Customs and Immigration. There are times that I imitate various accents from around the UK. When I lived there, I could copycat local dialects after being around locals for a very short time.
2. Sometimes, when I am serious or in a serious situation, I smile or emit what some term as nervous laughter. It is not that I think the situation is funny, but I think is simply a response that was learned as a child.
3. When I was growing up, we did not have a TV until I was about 14. We would visit friends or family though and I learned to like the tv series, Star Trek. I was particularly fascinated with Spock, who was supposedly from Vulcan. The fact that he could raise his eyebrows independent of each other triggered me to learn how to do this. I have spent hours learning to control the muscles in my eyebrows. Today, I can still raise one or the other at will, simultaneously or separately. My children have always thought it funny that I can keep time to music using my eyebrows!
4. I love languages. Through the years, I have taken Spanish, Biblical Hebrew, Greek, and Russian at university levels. However, I have also dabbled to various levels and am self-taught in Esperanto, German, Icelandic, and most recently Mandarin. The latter is becoming a favorite and I often visit a couple of local businesses owned by people from China or Taiwan. Each of them are so kind and friendly and have helped me gain a larger vocabulary in Mandarin.
5. Food videos are one of my quirks. I subscribe and watch every video of Mark Wiens of Migrationology, The Food Ranger, and Strictly Dumpling. I have enjoyed food from various parts of the world and watching one more video while eating a meal or a snack is a great pastime with the family. One day, I want to be able to visit some other countries and enjoy street vendor cooking again. Speaking of The Food Ranger, it was watching Trevor James that got me started on learning Mandarin. Tai hao le!
6. I am very protective of family and friends. One of my quirks is that I do not have a lot of close friends because of this. It has both positive and negative impacts because most do not understand the way my brain works.
7. Speaking of brains, I am a very odd creature in the midst of one-dimensional thinking males. I am actually a multi-track thinker and often have any number of conversations or ideas going on in my head at one time. I can concentrate on each exclusively and there are times that I think I have had a conversation with a family member or friend, but I did not. In my mind, I have already come to what I consider is the most logical conclusion.
8. Being British, I have a dry sense of humour (that is humor to Americans). Whether it is enjoying Chicken Run for the 2,417th time, Mr. Bean, or other British shows, my puns often reflect diversity from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Some understand, while others look at me like I am weird.
9. I have a problem with my eyesight. I am actually blind from birth in my right eye due to having no natural pupil. My pupil is an irregular implant. Being from a strong military background on both sides of the Atlantic, I tried to gain entrance into and have been rejected by the British Army, The Royal Air Force (2 times in 2 different towns), the US Navy, the US Air Force (6 different times with 6 different recruiters), and the US Army. I finally was accepted into the US Army and went to Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Sworn in early September, I was then medically discharged for my eyesight end of January. It was one of the worst days of my life. I still regret not being able to serve as a full-time career in the military. I am immensely patriotic and still visit military bases when I can and just imagine what it would be like to still wear the uniform.
10. The last quirky thing I can think of is that I love aeroplanes (airplanes to the Yanks — LOL). It does not matter what size or shape, slow or fast, military or civilian, I love watching them fly. We live under the flight path of a regional airport and if I hear a plane, I am outside watching it. If a plane is on final approach or preparing to take off, I will park on the side of the road and watch it. I have had the privilege of taking a few flying lessons in civilian aircraft as well as a glider. Loved every minute of it. Strangely, while I have been to numerous airshows and have sat or flown in many civilian and military aircraft, I have yet to step foot on a helicopter.
Ron Dell stumbled through the snow as he walked through the small town square of Ridenvale. Like many of the communities scattered along the mountains of western Pennsylvania, the town had seen better days. Coal mining had brought wealth, but now poverty ruled the valleys.
Through the last couple of years, Ron had sold just about everything he owned just to make ends meet. His dream car was one of the last items sold to a buyer who knew an incredible deal when he heard one. Sadly, the young man had only known life as a miner. His father was a miner, as was his grandfather, and even his great-grandfather before him.
Today was Ron’s last day at work.
The mine was being shut down. The pit foremen solemnly informed each of the workers that it was only supposed to be “temporary.” But nobody was fooled. The black seams buried deep in the earth had provided a living, but the world was changing.
The sad part was that the news had come at the worst time of the year. While much of America was fighting over the latest sales on the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday had really turned black for Ridenvale. The news arrived with a whimper though, for they all knew that it was coming. The work hours were at a minimum with mandatory days off. Even the pit bosses had openly spoken of the diminished production levels. Train cars full of coal sat on sidings all over the state with nowhere to go.
Thankful that he still had enough food to last through the holiday, he walked through the gates to Amiro #17 for the final time. He and his immediate family had never worked at any other pit location. While he was uncertain of the future, he was sad for his colleagues who had families. Christmas would not be easy.
But then, there was Bronwen.
Ah, his heart skipped a beat as he punched his timecard. Hair as black as her name, she and her sisters were all named after birds. Bronwen was the oldest, followed by Deryn, Robin, Griffon, and Rhea. Bronwen’s parents were of proud and solid Welsh lineage which was reflected in the chosen names of most of their children.
From the moment, Ron caught the tall girl’s eye at church, his primary goal in life had been to win her hand. They had been dating for almost two years. Sometimes, with money so tight, dates had involved a simple walk through the town square or a stroll by the river that meandered through the outskirts of town.
Pushing the button for the pit elevator to descend through the pitch black shaft, Ron muttered to himself. “Now, I will never be able to provide for Bronwen. Life can be so unfair.”
With an eerie clang, the doors to the elevator car slid open, and Ron saw that the last of his colleagues were already waiting for him along with the pit boss, Joe Firth. Calling the workers to gather around him in the stifling heat, Joe began to speak.
“Evening, I am sorry it has come to this, but as you each know. We are the last shift that will work in Amiro #17. However, this is also going to be a short shift as the coal we will be blasting off the face is not going to be removed. Tonight, we should be done in about 5 hours. Don’t overexert yourself tonight, and as always…”
“Be careful and go home safely!” Each of the men called in unison.
“Ron, stay behind for just a moment.”
“Yeah, what’s up, Joe?”
“As the shift lead, I am making you responsible for the closure of each auxiliary shaft. When the men are done, I want you to ensure that all four locations have been emptied of personnel. Have two colleagues from each shaft wait as the others make the journey back to the surface. When the last inspection has concluded, all nine of you are to ride back topside together.”
“Sure thing, and no matter what happens, I just want to say that you have been a great pit boss. I am sure we will see each other around town. Don’t be a stranger.” Ron grinned and through the gloom and the dust already filling the air, he saw a slight smile cross Joe’s face.
The night shift moved quickly and arrived at their stations. Nobody really expected them to do any real work, so most of them simply talked about their hopes for the future. Some sat in silence on crates littered throughout the horizontal cuts close to the ore face. Going home in the middle of the night would not be what any of them had chosen.
Those who had children already feared the conversations that would take place with tomorrow being Christmas Eve. The little ones would not understand that gifts from Santa Claus would be very simple this year as well.
Walking alone through each sublevel, Ron had plenty of time to think about Bronwen. Their lives seemed like one already, and both loved to talk about the family they wanted to raise. However, they were also old enough to realize that a life together might mean moving away from the only life they knew. He had heard that the far western state of Nevada had gold mines. The rumor was that they were willing to hire anybody who would move west.
The five hours moved quickly and soon the claxon sounded indicating the end of shift. Each worker from the four shafts said their goodbyes as they waited their turn to go back to the surface. Finally, there were just nine left on sublevel 23. Ron had already walked each location, but following Joe’s orders, he did one last inspection. Each one was empty with the exception of leftover shirts, empty lunchboxes, and water barrels.
Turning away from the last of the four ore faces, the mine went completely dark. It did not happen often, but even pit miners faced their own fears when the lights failed. It could mean anything including a collapse further up the shafts.
Willing himself to remain, he lit his headlamp and began to carefully make his way back to the eight colleagues waiting at the elevator. A rush of wind, followed by the creaking of timbers caused Ron to pause for a moment. He thought he heard something else, but he chalked it up to his imagination.
Starting up again, he never saw the discarded beam and stumbled over it. Falling to the ground, his lamp went out. Reaching down to steady himself, he felt two small cold objects sticking out of the edge of the wall. Crumbling under his touch, the objects fell into his hand and he tucked them in a pocket where he immediately forgot about them. Reaching up with his other hand to turn his lamp back on and made the final trek back to the elevator.
All nine colleagues rode the long trip back to the surface in silence. Everything that had needed to be said had already been said. Stepping out, each man shook hands and walked off to their respective homes.
Ron walked back through the town square and wondered what he would say to Bronwen. He had planned something special to say on Christmas Eve at the evening church service, and had already gained the approval of her father, who also happened to be his pit boss, Joe Firth.
Waking up in the early hours of the evening, Ron walked to the outskirts of town where the Firth’s lived. Bronwen was already waiting for him. She ran from the porch and threw herself into his arms.
Disentangling himself, Ron asked her to walk with him. Slowly, they reached the town square. A small selection of lights twinkled from each storefront and each lamppost. Brushing the snow off a bench, he asked her to sit while he shared some thoughts. If he had been nervous speaking with her father, he was even more so now.
“Bronwen, I have nothing to offer you right now, but I love you with all my heart. I have heard that there is work in the state of Nevada for miners like myself. It would not be easy life, but…”
He stopped pacing and knelt in front of her. “Bronwen Firth, I am asking you to be my wife, if you will have me forever. I can’t even afford to buy you a ring, but will you marry me?”
Bronwen’s long slender fingers flew to her face in surprise. She had no idea that Ron had even spoken with her father.
Both arms reached around the young man’s neck as she buried her face in the top of his dark brown curly hair.
“Oh Ron, my dear Ron. I don’t need a ring for I will always have you. Yes, I will marry you and I will go wherever you choose to go!”
Raising his face with her gloved hands, their lips in a sweet and tender kiss.
Standing to his feet, Ron and Bronwen heard something hit the ground. Reaching down, Bronwen picked it up and exclaimed, “Oh Ron, it is beautiful. I thought you could not afford a ring.”
Shocked, Ron could only stare. He realized that the item that he had found in the dark recesses of the mine was none other than two simple bands of gold.
Holding them up to the light, she gasped. “My darling Ron, how did you manage this?”
Looking closely with the light of the town’s Christmas tree, Ron saw that words had been inscribed on each ring. The ancient Welsh language was delicately etched around the outside of each never ending circle of gold.
On the larger ring were the words,
One ring to show our love,
One ring to bind us.
While the companion ring read,
One ring to seal our love,
And forever to entwine us.
Placing one of the golden rings upon her hand, they were oblivious to the passing world.
“Bronwen, I found these in the mine as I was leaving the end of shift this morning. The wall crumbled under my fingers when I stumbled and these both fell into my hand. I did not buy these, but I give it to you with my love.”
“My precious Ron, our love was obviously meant to be. I will go with you side-by-side into whatever the future holds, even to Nevada. Our love will be like these rings — never ending and etched with promise.”
Encircling her waist with his arms, their lips met again sealing their promises under a star-filled sky.
Deep beneath the earth, unanswered cries rent through the dark empty depths of the now abandoned and permanently sealed mine shafts.
“Gone, my preciouses are gone! He stole them from us! Gollum, Gollum!”
Unless otherwise indicated, all names have NOT been changed in order to protect the guilty or the innocent. However, should Interpol come calling, then all stated names and places were a made up story just for the purpose of spreading goodwill throughout the Kingdom of Medium.
Without further ado –
Once upon a time in a kingdom far, far, FAHR away (must be read in your best Shrek or Donkey voice), there lived a brother and a sister. This particular fiefdom was so far away that it required travel by boat, yellow submarine, or airplane to get to. In order to protect my two much younger siblings (um, I mean two of the characters in this story), I will not tell you that the country lies to the east of Holland and France, nor will I tell you that it was a country that up until a couple of years before this event took place was actually two different countries.
For those who have a very poor grasp of geography and a lack of knowledge of world events, I will give you one small hint with the initials of the country W.est G.ermany, but don’t ask for any more hints because I vill not giff you eny more, Mein Fraulein und Mein Herr.
Across the waves far to the west there lived a couple, rather youngish at the time, who decided that it was time to visit sundry and sorted (not sordid) relatives living in this beautiful country. Before you could say Wienerschnitzel (bless you too), they climbed aboard a plane (faster than yellow submarines)and headed for a long trip to the old country.
Shortly after their arrival, it was determined by the youngish couple that this would be a great time to leave the kinder-noodles (roughly translates as offspring) with und grand-spoil-em-rotten-peoplen (equivalent to grandparents) and embark on a grand tour. The Black Forest in Bavaria was calling with all of its beauty, its luscious landscapes, and incredible fairy-tale like castles. By the way, it was rather disappointing to find out that Black Forest Gateaux does not come from Bavaria, but we saw lots of chateauxs.
Getting up early, we gave an extra helping of Wheaties to the 4 squirrels that resided under the hood of the French rental car. NEVER get a French rental car. They are slow as snails, even the ones that are getting ready to be eaten.
Four hours later, we arrived at our first destination of Neuschwanstein Castle and enjoyed an incredible tour of the castle that Walt Disney modeled his fairy-tale castle in all the stories with happy endings.
Feeling rather adventurous and only being about 30–40 minutes from the Austrian border, we decided that we would do a quick trip into Austria, have a late lunch while trying to determine if the hills really were alive with the sound of music. A quick confab between youngish couple and my two unnamed siblings (Sharon and Michael), we determined that as we had ALL brought our passports, that it would be an easy enough trip.
To be fair to one of my siblings, I will add that I actually am a dual citizen. I always carry two passports (one US and one British).
A quick car ride from the castle (but not as quick as it would have been in say a BMW or even a Volkswagen, we arrived at the border of the country we were visiting and Austria. Pulling up to the border guards who looked very menacing with their peashooters strapped to their shoulders, I greeted them in my best Deutsch accent.
With deepening scowls and obviously unimpressed with my ability to speak his language fluently, the soldier asked me in English to produce my passports. In the interest of good cross-border relationships, I responded in English as well.
Handing him BOTH of my passports, my wife’s passport, and my youngest brother’s passport, I reached back to get my youngest sister’s passport. She whispers back that she does NOT have her passport after all, but she does have something like a military ID that she used to get on base for work. I whispered back for her to hand that to me and we would see if that would allow us to cross the border as we really just wanted a quick visit with the Von Trapp family. I had confidence in confidence alone as I reached back through the window to hand the guard her ID.
Imagine my surprise when he would not do more than a cursory glance at her ID, the four passports, and waved us into Austria. Ah, the hills truly were alive. The sun was out and we could even hear the Mother Superior singing to us something about climb every mountain. We were ready.
An incredible lunch followed, but slightly disappointing as neither Rolf nor Liesl were available for the day. I think my brother and sister were hoping to make their acquaintances as well, but sadly, they were also disappointed.
By this time, we were only about an hour away from the Brenner Pass. This long tunnel goes under the Alps and is one of the entrances into the land of ravioli, spaghetti, and Bolognese sauce. Taking the tunnel is actually much easier than calling up Hannibal to hire an elephant.
Why not? With shouts of encouragement to the tired squirrels under the hood, we drove to the border of Italy. Using the same routine, because for some reason it didn’t make any sense for the driver to just hang on to the passports, we arrived at the border crossing. These soldiers looked even meaner and despite my repeated attempts to speak English with much hand and arm waving, they still not appear to understand what I was saying.
Finally, a border guard that spoke English asked for our passports. I handed him my TWO passports and my wife’s passport. My youngest brother who has a good Italian name similar to Michelangelo, but without the angel part (trust me on that one) handed me his passport. My sister still could not find hers, but dutifully handed me her military ID.
I handed her ID to the guard and was going to explain that we wanted to try the fine food, maybe ride in a Fiat down the canals of Venice, and maybe see about an Italian Job. Instead, he pushed the four passports through the window, waved us on through the military checkpoint, and went back inside his booth.
Driving from the beautiful colors of Austria, we entered the tunnel. Out the Italian side, the beautiful colored houses were drab brown, everything was dingy, and soldiers or police with sub-machine guns seemed to be standing on every corner. A couple of hours into the Italian countryside, a French car with four Americans were happily snapping pictures like good tourists.
Coming upon what looked like a decrepit and abandoned castle, we jumped out of the car and began taking pictures in the darkening gloom of evening. All of a sudden, searchlights began to click on. Scanning the darkness, they moved their way down the hillsides and were obviously getting ready to converge on the lone travelers.
A few feet away, I finally noticed a sign warning all tourists that this was a military installation and photography was NOT permitted. Now, why didn’t my brother or sister mention that to me previously? I don’t think I will ever know the answer.
Hissing through the darkness, I called to my fellow spies (um, I mean family) to get back in the car now. Just as one of the searchlights crossed and then recrossed the top of our car, I jammed the transmission into first gear and made a quick getaway that would have been the envy of James Bond.
My navigator wife was tasked with the responsibility of finding a viable escape route back to the Austrian border. After almost two hours of racing through mountain roads at breakneck speeds, I put the car through more curves than a German pretzel. It was during this time that we realized the gravity of our situation. We had now crossed not just one, but two international borders with passports good for three people — not four!
My sister was obviously concerned, even though we told her that should we get in trouble that we would appeal to the Pope to get her released, or at least send care packages through the Red Cross. For some reason, she was not amused, but I did remind her that she was actually the ONLY illegal in the car at that time.
Fortunately the massive troop buildup being orchestrated to find us was taking too long, and we pulled up safely to the Italian/Austrian border. Offering a quick prayer, we made a determination that if we managed to get back across two international borders using false pretenses that we would be forever thankful and that we would never ever criticize bad quality spaghetti noodles that don’t actually come from the town of Spah-getti in northern Italy.
Being way out in the middle of nowhere, these guards spoke no English — at all! With more fear than I ever had on top secret missions that I conducted while in Her Majesty’s Secret Service (different story for a different day), I handed FOUR passports to the guard.
It was now dark and I made sure that my sister was seated at the back of the car on the far side. Looking at each passport, the border guard came out with a flashlight and began looking at each passenger while holding the passports. Stepping back into his little hut, he picked up the phone and made a quick call with our passports in hand.
By now, my sister was sweating, but we tried to console her that Italian is not a hard language to learn and that she had always loved noodles.
Opening the window, the guard handed me the passports and said something in Italian. Unfortunately, my sister had not been spending much time on her foreign language study and could not translate, so we just sat there.
Opening the window again, he pointed several times at the car, said something in Italian, and shut the window while still speaking on the phone.
On the third time, he opened the window, yelled something in Italian, pointed at the Austrian border, and then yelled, “Go, DRIVE!”
So, we drove while he went back to ordered his nightly pizza from the local Little Caesar’s restaurant. I really hope they gave him extra cheese and anchovies because he was a real stinker.
Driving back through Austria late at night, we determined that we better not stop for the night until we were back in Germany. Sorry, for security purposes, the name of the country had to be redacted.
Arriving at the Austrian/German border, we felt coerced to use the same manipulation tactics. It was imperative that we remained calm so as not to cause any incident that might require a new nuclear proliferation treaty to be re-signed by Reagan and Gorbachev in Iceland which incidentally has no borders you can drive across thus making it a safer country to visit.
The Austrian border held no issues though and the border guard barely even looked at the FOUR passports that I handed him. From my understanding, he was later reassigned to watch over foreign visitors to the Gulags of far eastern Siberia. Thankfully, he had already enjoyed a frappe and a strudel that would have brought a smile to the face of even the Baroness Von Schrader.
Waving us through the final checkpoint, we broke into a rousing rendition of “Deutschland Uber Alles.” Despite the fact, that only my youngest brother spoke fluent German, plenty of deep guttural throat-clearings made it sound quite impressive. It would have probably brought tears to the eyes of the best choir in Berlin or Munich.
And that concludes the true, honest-to-goodness, non-fabricated, and definitely non-embellished account of how my two passports saved the day for my sister after she illegally crossed FOUR different borders on the same day. Thankfully, she still talks to me and doesn’t even have a German or Italian accent, which is kind of what I expected. After all, research does say that…oh never mind.
Blending in had never been a problem for me. Obnoxiously plain, I would never stand out in a crowd and that makes it even harder for others to notice where I fit in the grand scheme of things.
I take great pride that I can be right in front of you, and you would simply look right past me. This is true no matter where you might see me. Some thought they had spotted me in the country, while others insisted that I never left the city. A few tried to find me while thinking that my flashy wardrobe would let the authorities capture me, but they were all wrong.
My prowess at escaping and hiding would have made Frank Abagnale, Jr. jealous. The movie about his life called “Catch Me If You Can” pales in comparison with the life I lead.
Some have tried to find me for years, but I quickly give them the slip. My ability to disappear so easily has frustrated old and young alike, and I am certain that when I pull a Jason Bourne and disappear that not even Sherlock Holmes would be able to locate me.
I have a team of individuals that I work with and they are just as good at their jobs as I am. We used to have a much larger organization, but some of our numbers preferred to live life on the edge. Without one exception, they all got caught. We tried to warn them that living a straight life would make them vulnerable, but they refused to listen.
Tonight was just another job for me, but I knew it required a high degree of stealth. It was probably my most dangerous job that I had ever undertaken. Surrounded by individuals of all shapes and sizes, I found myself staring right into the eyes of an enemy. I was certain that he had not seen me, or that my disguise was just too good. He and his partner looked like rank amateurs and I was shocked that they had been sent to do the job of trying to bring me in. Others far better than they had tried and failed.
As casually as I could, I leaned back further into the dark recess of my hiding place. It was the best I could find for the night yet it seemed that I was totally exposed to the elements. If I could just remain still for a little longer, then I was certain they would forget about me and move on to their next target. Watching their eyes flick back and forth, at times I thought they hovered briefly over me, but there was no recognition. I knew I was at the top of my game.
But I should have known better. One day, I knew my cockiness was going to bring me down, just like James Bond brought down each of his enemies.
However, I was certain that tonight would not be that night. Both of my hunters disappeared and I took the opportunity to slip out of hiding. Staying in the shadows, I carefully chose a path that would allow me to turn the tables on the two amateurs.
Two more blocks and I would be free.
Rage permeated the air as they realized they had been duped. I expected that their bosses would call them on the carpet after letting me disappear, but that was not my problem.
Once again, I had slipped from their grasp like a greased banana in the hand of a monkey. But, wait…
These two would not give up. Spotlights split the night and I knew they were on to me. They had called in reinforcements and exhausted, I could go no further. I tried to pull myself together and gather enough strength for one last-ditch effort to hide, but it was to no avail. The lights methodically covered each strip of land as they narrowed their search and I knew it was only a matter of time.
I slunk down and tried to get as flat as possible. Maybe, I would get lucky tonight.
I never heard the steps that led him to my hiding place as I had been too focused on the lights. My mistake cost me dearly and I felt his cold, sticky hand close around one of my joints. I froze in abject fear as I became stiff as a board.
No amount of struggle made a difference as my captor pulled me into the light. It was over and I had finally lost. With my capture, everything simply fell into place as I became a part of the big picture.
“Hey Mary, look here! I found the last piece of the puzzle that we have been looking for.”
Murderous thoughts flooded my brain until it consumed me. She should have known better than to cross paths with me, now she would pay for everything she represented.
For too many nights, I had watched her mock me. Her actions showed that she was oblivious to my feelings or my emotions. It had been a long time since I had chosen to endure the humiliation.
One would be wise to assume that I could have just asked her to move out, but in many ways I guess I am but a coward at heart.
Our relationship had started innocently enough for I was amazed at the grace she exhibited when she moved. Her long slender legs were the things of dreams, and there had been more than one of those in recent days.
Sadly, her actions had changed, almost overnight, and the dreams turned to nightmares. In these night terrors, there was no escape. Waking up in cold sweats, I could only imagine that it would be a matter of time before one of us would end up dead.
Each day, I warily sampled my breakfast, lunch, and dinner wondering whether she intended to poison me. My imagination ran wild as to what it would feel like to die such a gruesome death. All that took place was that my heart became more determined to find a way to remove her from my life.
Yet, I was also selfish. I could have allowed her to leave and live with another, but I would never be willing to share her. Looking back now, I can remember her dark eyes watched me and I knew she was waiting for me to drift off to another round of troubled dreams.
Often I would try to stay awake as long as possible fearing what the night might bring. Her stamina surpassed mine on several levels, but I was not able to stay awake for long.
We would argue incessantly, but she always managed to have the upper hand. I pleaded with her to just leave and enjoy her life with others, but she normally ignored me.
The finale came sooner than I was expecting. After a long day at work, I came home only to become entangled in another argument with her. The results terrified me, and my children screamed as they watched us face off once again.
Putting the children to bed, I prepared one last attempt to reconcile, but she refused to listen. The arguments escalated again until I thought it would wake the children. Walking into our bedroom, I shut the door, but I knew it was futile. Threats would no longer work and we both knew it.
Before I could contain my anger, I grabbed a large walking stick from the closet. Screaming at her to just leave us alone, the chase began and it was over almost before it had started. Blood splattered on the wall and my weapon as I hit her over and over again.
Collapsing in sheer exhaustion, I fell onto the bed. I knew with the deed complete, I would have to remove the body before my children woke up. For the first time in a very long time, I was free, no matter what tomorrow held.
Summoning up the courage necessary, I drifted off to a dreamless state knowing I would have a little time in the morning.
The sun was streaming through the lace that covered my bedroom when I finally awoke. My mind told me it would be a beautiful day, but then the memory of the previous night brought reality crashing down on me.
I was now fully awake. Sitting straight up in bed, my mind seemed a little fuddled as I stared at the bat in the corner and the wall. There was no blood and no evidence of the damage that I know I had inflicted.
On the pillow beside me, a paper fluttered in the breeze from the fan beside our bed. Picking it up, I read it twice through trying to ascertain what had transpired.
“Don’t worry, I took care of the body.”
At that moment, the door handle clicked and a hand pushed open the bedroom door. Stepping into the room, my wife spoke to me.
“Sweetheart, I see you read my message. I was afraid you would wake up before I returned from my college class, so I left the note.”
“Violet, what is going on? What did you do with her?”
“Sweetheart, I came home and cleaned up the mess. You and our children will never have to worry about her again!”
My mind whirled with the realization that my wife had covered my tracks so carefully, but then she spoke again.
“I just have one question. Did you really have to use a bat to kill the spider that lived in the corner?”
Originally Published here at Warrior Writers on Medium
The temptation started early. In fact, it had persisted for quite some time.
My mind whirled as I contemplated what I should do next. From my earliest memories, I recalled a time when there was no temptation accompanying the door. It existed but I was blissfully unaware of its presence.
Staring at my reflection in the mirror that hung on my bedroom wall, I recalled the dire warnings of those who had many years of life’s experience behind them.
“But what is behind that door?” I would ask innocently.
“Never you mind, laddie. That door is not for you.” It was the common response from my own parents, but their voices had long been silenced. Out of respect for their care and concern for me, my footsteps kept me walking away from the door.
Sadly, like many young people, the door ensconced in bright lights and surrounded by the allure of my broadening world beckoned me to disregard the warnings.
As I became a young man, I personally knew friends who had disobeyed. Walking through the door, their lives were forever annihilated.
Circumstances can change on a daily basis, and my mind told me that today, my circumstance was different. My situation demanded that I find a reason to open the door, but it was nothing more than a flimsy excuse that I had meticulously designed.
Refusing to look myself in the eyes, I continued preparing for my day. Like many young people, I had looked at the door. There were times I fantasized about possibly would happen should I disobey the warning. There were days that I passed the door and the agony of not knowing almost overruled the thought of any potential danger. But I still held myself in check.
Today was not really any different than any other day, but yet it was different. I, Jarrod King III, woke up knowing that today I would succumb to the temptation. There is no way to explain why or how I felt the way that I did. It was just there. Actually, that is not quite the truth. Planning my steps, I knew what I was going to do, where I was going to go, and how I would achieve my ultimate destination.
“Jarrod, you are a fool.” Walking past my mirror, I whispered the words to the reflection that only I could see.
Turning on my heel, I went back to the mirror but closed my eyes tightly. I already knew what I would see, but my mind forced me to take one final consideration. Opening my eyes, I stared back at myself and all I could focus on was the depths of my dark brown eyes.
Thoughts whirled through my brain as I contemplated my youth. Today, there would be nobody with me. Many days or weeks might pass before such a chance presented itself again. No, it had to be today. My reflection stared back at me. I turned to leave, but not before I saw that a knowing smile had crossed the lips of my reflection.
Adrenaline raced through my veins as I softly opened the door and snuck out of my home into the dreary mist of another winter’s morning.
While a few may have been able to stop me, my plans had ensured that I would not be followed. I had not even mentioned this in my diary, and there were no intentions of leaving any traces of my day should I survive whatever lay behind the door.
Startled, I stopped to reevaluate what I should do. As I walked down the cold path, three individuals merged out of the mist and boldly opened the door. There seemed to be no concern of the dangers and none of them had bothered to even look at the sign that read, “Do Not Open Under Any Circumstances.”
Squaring my shoulders, I knew I had to complete my task. Regardless of whether anybody else saw me, my mind was committed. Saying a whispered goodbye to the world as I knew it, I walked up to the door.
Grabbing with both hands, I pulled it open and was immediately overwhelmed. Lights and smells smothered my senses to the point of exhilaration.
Could my parents have been wrong about the dangers? Were the minds of my friends enlightened because of what I could see or was it all an illusion?
Stepping into the light, a voice forever changed my life.