Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

Wishing you a Happy New Year
Jack, Eddy, Darla, Leon, Zelda, and The Caretaker

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Psychology of Flowers

Last August, I finished mowing my lawn and was in the process of putting my mower back in the garage, when Darla came running across the driveway wearing what appeared to be a new bikini. To my knowledge, a bikini is all she wears during the summer months, and sometimes, according to her, she only wears half of it.
She threw her hands on her hips and said, “I didn’t think you were ever going to finish mowing.”
When Darla wants to talk about something important, she throws her hands on her hips and shifts her weight to one leg. I looked at her right leg slightly bent at the knee with her heel two inches up from her other one. The tags hanging on both the top and bottom should have clued me in she was posing for me.
“Do you think this makes me look fat?” she asked.
That question causes more divorces than any other question. I’m not married to Darla so I wasn’t worried about her using my answer against me in a court of law.
“For the record, Darla, you are two inches taller than Taylor Swift and five pounds lighter.” I was guessing at those numbers based on years of women watching.
“Eddy thinks she’s fat too.”
All I wanted was a tall glass of ice water, a shower, and two cold beers in that order, but leaving her standing there in that pose clearly upset with her husband was not an option. Having known my next-door neighbors for a total of five years, I know pretty much everything there is to know about their married lives, their pre-married lives, and what they plan to do, if they ever get divorced. Eddy and Darla are the kinds of people who like to tell other people everything. Whenever they have one of their little squabbles, they often threatened divorce, but only to me, if I can’t help them work things out. Looking back on it, I wish I had never told them I had taken a psychology course in college. Anticipating a long story, I decided to get control of the situation and a glass of water.
“Darla, would you like to come inside for a glass of ice water?”
“No, but if you have a bottle of wine, I’ll drink a glass of it.”
I pulled a chair out for her at the kitchen table. I prepared a pitcher of ice water and poured her a glass of my best cooking wine. She didn’t like it and switched to ice water. When she appeared satisfied with the water, I took a seat across from her and downed a glass and a half of water before I said, “Darla, before you start, I would like to tell you that I failed that psychology course in college.”
“You say that every time I come to you for help. You’re so humble. That’s what I like about you. I wish Eddy would learn how to be modest.”
She had a point there. Eddy was anything but modest. Eddy appeared to be the happiest man in the world. Everything he did had a purpose behind it, according to him.
“What happened?”
“Last night, I put on one of my sexiest nightgowns.”
I poured myself another glass of water and drank most it before I put the glass back down.
“And you know what stupid did?”
“I can’t imagine, Darla.”
“He stayed up and played that stupid video game on our computer until 3 A.M.”
“How do you know he stayed up until three?”
She put her hand on the table and said, “That’s when I went in there and told him it was then or never.”
Having a conversation with Darla was like walking through a minefield at night wearing a blindfold. “What did he say to you?”
“He said he was in the battle of his life, and if I didn’t keep coming in there interrupting him, he was going to get killed.”
“And what did you say to that.”
“I didn’t say anything. I walked over and pulled the power plug on the computer.”
Of all the squabbles, Eddy and Darla had thrown at me to resolve between them, that one sounded like the most serious one of all. The emotional scar left from that kind of act of aggression could linger for days, if not a week.
“Where did you bury the body?”
She knitted her brow and asked, “What body.”
“You mean Eddy is not dead.”
“No. He’s at work.”
She waited a few moments and then asked, “So what do you think?”
If I had passed that psychology course, I might have been able to give Darla a valid response, but instead, I said, “Go home and prepare Eddy’s favorite meal.”
“Why should I do that when he treated me that way?”
“You don’t want him to get the upper hand do you?”
“Well, if he walks in that door tonight carrying flowers, he’ll have it”
She rolled her eyes. “Eddy buy me flowers? That’ll be the day.”
“Okay, play it your way, but I have to remind you that I took a psychology course in college and that’s exactly what the professor said to do in cases like yours.”
After Darla left, I called The Co-Op Store where Eddy works.
“He’s loading a truck. He can call you back in an hour.”
Forty minutes later, Eddy called back and asked what’s up?
“Eddy, would you do me a favor on your way home from work?”
“Sure, man.”
“Stop by the flower shop and pick up a bouquet of flowers I ordered. Bring them home and give them to Darla.”
“She gave me a good idea for a short story, and I thought some flowers would be in order, but you better not tell her they’re from me. She’s liable to say something to Linda, and you know how jealous my wife can get over silly stuff like that.”
“You know, Darla’s the same way. One day I mentioned loading a truck for a hot-looking woman and the way Darla acted you’d have thought I’d run off with the woman. All I did was load her truck. What else am I suppose to do at the Co-Op?”
“How’s that contest going?”
“Oh man, last night I got the highest score I’ve ever gotten. The next thing I know, Darla came in and pulled the plug on me. Good thing she did, I had a hard enough time getting up this morning. I’m going to bed early tonight.”
I started to tell him not to count on getting a lot of rest, but decided to let him find out the hard way.
“They’re calling for me to get back to work. I won’t forget those flowers. Man, will Darla ever be surprised to see me walk in with flowers. You sure you don’t want me to tell her they’re from you?”
“Better not. I can’t afford a divorce.”
“Tell me about it.”
“See you, Eddy. I just finished mowing the lawn, and I’ve got to go jump in the shower.”

“The End”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Cast of Characters

Romance Writer, Jack LaBloom is on the verge of becoming the next big breakout author. From all accounts, the only thing holding him back is his writing.

We all live on a lake, which has a mystery of its own. Jack’s neighbors are the source of many of his short stories. Eddy and Darla, a young couple who married right out of high school, live next door to Jack. They provide him with constant inspiration on love and romance. They are also the only two beta readers still hanging on. Jack’s other beta readers abandoned ship long ago. About the same time his yacht, a twelve foot rowboat he calls The USS Sieve, starting taking on water.
Then there’s Zelda, the ninety-eight year old Psychic who lives on the other side of Jack’s cabin, in a restored trailer from the forties. There’s a human hand painted on the side of it with the words: Psychic Readings $1.00. As the rejections keep coming in, she gives Jack the kind of counseling only a charlatan can.

And last, but not least is Leon, a retired bank robber, who claims to be a financial adviser with years of experience in how to make money the easy way.

And speaking of that mystery, a singer/dancer from the 1920s era is said to have drowned herself in the lake, after her career was cut short by an unscrupulous manager and former lover. Her serenades still bring pleasure to those of us who live in Hamptons Lake Estates.

Who am I you might ask. I’m just the local caretaker, in charge of keeping the place tidy. I'll try to make sure Jack shares at least one short story per week. That's about all his beta readers can stomach.

I hope you enjoy Jack’s stories.

How Grandma's Gift Was Saved

Finding something online turned out to be harder than I imagined. About the time I zeroed in on a pair of red long-handle underwear for Eddy’s Christmas present, I heard a knock at my backdoor.
My neighbor grinned at me through the window. I could have sworn I heard his truck leave earlier that morning.
“Hi, Eddy. Come in. I thought you’d already left for work.” A blast of frigid air enveloped me when I pulled the door open wide to let him inside.
He stepped by me and unzipped his coat. "Darla's car wouldn't start this morning. She had to take the truck in to work. This cold spell must have wiped her battery out last night. Would you mind, if I borrowed your car to run an errand?”
“Not at all." My wife had left earlier in the morning to pick up a gift for Darla. On her way out the door, she gave me specific instructions to find something suitable for Eddy. That's not as easy as it sounds. What do you get a man who stacks varmint traps on his front porch? As cold as it was, that long-handled underwear might be a suitable present for Eddy. "I plan to stay here this morning and do my last minute Christmas shopping online.”
“Thanks." He gave the thumbs up sign. " I’ll have your car back by noon.”
When Eddy gives a thumbs up, it means he has a plan. Some of his previous plans have ranged from won't work to dangerous, depending on how much thought he cares to put into them. From the expression on his face, he was eager to tell me about something.
 “How about a cup of coffee, before you leave?” He nodded and followed me over to my kitchen counter. I pulled two mugs from our twenty-seven-year-old oak cabinets and set them by the coffee pot.
 “I only have time for one cup, because I need to go to the Pawn shop.”
Last summer, after they spent $400.00 on a five-day Florida vacation, I knew Eddy and Darla's finances were fragile, but I had no idea things had gotten so bad they were pawning their stuff to make ends meet.
I filled both cups with hot coffee and held one up for Eddy. “If you need a new battery, I don’t mine helping you out.”
 He grabbed the cup and took a sip. “Thanks, but Darla's dad is giving her one for an early Christmas present. He was having trouble figuring out what to get her anyway. He's going to drop one by tonight after he gets off work.
Now he really had my curiosity climbing Mount Everest. Eddy works for Darla's dad down at The Co-Op Store. If he didn't need to borrow my car to run to get a new battery, and he wasn't going in to work, what did he have planned?
As if he could read my mine, Eddy blurted out, "I’m going to sell my cuff links so I can buy a Christmas present for Darla.” He wrapped his other hand around the mug and took another sip.
Lifting my cup to my mouth to take in the aroma of fresh brewed coffee, I thought about the cuff links. Eddy was referring to a pair of gold cuff links his grandmother had given him when he graduated from high school. They had belonged to Eddy's great-grandfather and a remnant of the Great Depression. His grandmother told him she would have let herself starve to death, before she sold her father's cuff links. As far as I could tell, Eddy had only worn them once, at his wedding. I hated the thought of him selling something his grandmother had prized so highly.
“You shouldn't sell them, Eddy. Your grandmother would roll over in her grave.”
 “Oh, man. Why did you have to say that?” He took another sip of coffee and stared out the window. A Redbird picked sunflower seeds from our bird-feeder.
 How stupid could I be? His parents were killed in a car accident when he was a young boy, and his grandmother had raised him. I knew how much he missed her. My comment was both heartless and totally uncalled for in the holiday season. A time, when he probably misses her the most.
 I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “I’m sorry I said that about your Grandmother."
 He turned back around. Tears had formed in his eyes. “Darla is the best thing that ever happened to me. I want to give her something really nice this Christmas, for a change. Something better than socks, or pots and pans. If I have to sell my cuff links to get the money for it, I think Grandma would understand.”
"I'm sure she would." Okay, so his plan had merit, but that didn't solve the problem. “But a pawn shop won’t give you anywhere near what they’re worth.”
 Eddy put his cup down on the kitchen counter, and tilted his cap back like I had said something else wrong.
He gazed at me and said, “I know, but I called every jewelry store within fifty miles of here. Not a one of them was interested. Then I called Ron at Ron’s Pawn Shop on Third and Ripple. He said if they're real gold, and not scratched up, he might give me as much as $25.00 for them. They don't have scratches, so I'm going to take them over there and let him have a look.
 I knew what Darla had ordered for Eddy’s gift. He was going to be shocked when he opened it. If he thought twenty-five dollars was going to buy Darla a nice gift, I wondered what kind of pots and pans he’d given her. Made in China with superior lead alloys came to mine. So much, for eating black-eyed peas at their house on New Year's Eve.
 I couldn’t let him sell those cuff links to a sleazebag like Ron. “Eddy, I’ll give you twice that amount.” He could get a pretty decent set of pots and pans for fifty dollars. I had seen a set advertised in the Sunday paper. The same kind we had.
He shook his head, zipped his coat up, and pulled his cap back down. I had offered him twice the price, and he was going to walk out on me. Man, I couldn't win for losing. Apparently, he wouldn't sell them to me at any price. I regretted saying what I did about his grandmother rolling over in her grave. Before he reached the door, I said, "Eddy, I'm sorry. I know they're worth a lot more than fifty dollars to you."
He stopped and turned around. "Do you have any shirts with holes in them?"
He apparently had a strange way of negotiating the price. Sure, I had a couple of old worn out shirts, but my wife wouldn't let me wear them out in public. I didn't want him going out and buying a shirt for me, especially with my own money. Helping him get something nice for Darla was my goal, but I didn't want have to drain my bank account to do it. “Have you ever seen me wear a shirt with holes in it?”
“No, and that’s why I can’t sell them to you. My cuff links only work with shirts with holes in them.”
Oh, that's what he meant, instead of buttons. When misinterpreting a friend's words, the best way to straighten things out is to tell the truth, or in my case lie. “The only reason I don’t have a shirt with holes in it, is because I don’t have a pair of cuff links to wear with it.”
 He pressed his lips together for several seconds and looked down at the floor. Finally, he reached into his pocket and pulled out two gold cuff links. He held them out. “Okay, I’ll sell them to you.”
I took them and examined them, as if they would be my most prized possession. I didn't want to do anything else to hurt his feelings. They were one-eight inch thick by one inch squares of 18 carat gold. Heavier than any cuff links I owned. Three lines ran parallel near the edges forming a smaller square in the middle were his great-grandfather’s initials ER had been etched. ER were also Eddy's initials. Even the half-inch studs and swivels used to lock them in place were gold. In my estimation, based on their weight and a sheer guess, they were worth a few hundred dollars.
 Just because Ron was willing to take advantage of the situation, didn't mean I could. Eddy is a twenty-two year old kid with a high school education and a good heart, but more importantly, he was my friend. “Eddy, I can’t give you fifty dollars for these."
His opened the palms of both hands. "Why not? There's not a scratch on them."
     He was right about that, but I knew he wasn't trying to negotiate a higher price. "They could be worth several hundred dollars, maybe even a thousand. I think you should hang on to them. You know the price of gold has gone up quite a bit.”
A deal is a deal. Give me fifty bucks. That plus the fifty I can got for my shotgun will be just enough to buy that nice coat Darla had her eye on last Saturday at Dillards. I can't wait to see the look on her face when she opens her gift.”
I carefully placed the cuff links on the counter and gave Eddy fifty dollars. After he left, I called my wife and told her to take the coat back to Dillards and get Darla a nice set of pots and pans instead. If we were going to eat black eyed beans at our neighbor’s house, I wanted to make sure we didn't get lead poisoning.
A few days later, my Christmas shopping was complete. I attached the cuff links to a pair of red long-handle underwear and placed them in a box. After wrapping it with silver paper, and sticking a red bow in the middle, I wrote Eddy's name on the corner, in plain site. I hoped he liked getting underwear and cuff links for Christmas. What could be more suitable for a man who stores varmint traps on his front porch? The underwear will help keep him warm during the winter, and the cuff links will go well with that blue pin-point cotton shirt, with holes in it, from Lands' End, that I had helped Darla pick out online for Eddy. She wanted to get him a shirt his grandmother would've been proud to see him wear with those cuff links she gave him.

“The End.”