Friday, September 21, 2018

GLADYS GOES ON A ROAD TRIP



“Shut up Karen,” Gladys responded irritated “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”  Gladys put on her blinker and turned left onto FM 1225.  “I know where I’m going.”  She drove along at the maximum speed allowed enthralled by the lush green pastures and woods. 

She reached over and adjusted the volume on the radio which was tuned to one of her favorite Oldies Country station.  George Jones was stopping loving her today and Willie Nelson was about to be on the road again when she realized nothing looked familiar.  Karen yelled “make the next left on to County road Five- Five- Four”.

“No!  Damn it, Karen you are going to get me lost again.  The last time we took a road trip I ended up on the edge of an arroyo with no way to turn around.  I had to back almost a mile in order to get out of that mess.  Nope if I just stay on this road long enough it will take me into the next town and I can catch the highway.”

“Make the next left onto County Road Five-Five-Four, then go 2 and ½ miles to Highway One-Six-Seven” Karen demanded.

“Listen here, Karen, if you don’t stop being so bossy I’m not asking you to come with me anymore.   I am telling you I am just going to stay on this road until we get to that little town up the road.  What’s the name of it?  Teasletown?  Weasletown?  Anyway, I am NOT turning on some gravel road that will lead me to the edge of a cliff with no way to turn around.  Been there done that!” Gladys responded.

Gladys turned the music down even a little lower, hoping that would make her feel less lost and she slowed down to just above the minimum speed allowed by law.  So slow in fact a man on a tractor passed her giving her a big old one finger wave.  She crept along searching for something familiar. She looked over at Karen, who by this time wasn’t speaking to her.  She humpfed and went back to squinting out the front windshield and creeping along at a snail’s pace.
 
“Is the turn up here soon?” she inquired.

“When you are able, make a U-turn and go to County Road Five-Five-Four, then go two- and one-half miles to Highway One-Six-Seven” Karen stated adamantly.

“Gawddamnit Karen, I told you, I am NOT turning around.  How far is it to the next town?  I need a Starbucks or at the very least a Micky-D’s coffee.  I am beginning to get a migraine.” Gladys retorted.

“In eight and a half miles there is a Diner on your right.” Karen responded trying to be helpful.

“Is that where Weasle-Teasletown is?  I don’t want a diner I just want a drive through.” Gladys was getting short on temper. 

She drove down a hill and up the other side, she passed over Sleepy Woman Creek with its brown water flowing almost to the crest.  She sped up a little in anticipation of the bitter hot black liquid that would calm the pounding in her head.  She slowed to watch as a herd of cattle moseyed down a knoll and into a tank to get some relief from the late summer heat.  She pulled over, took out her phone and snapped a picture of a longhorn relaxing in the shade of an oak tree.  It really was a pretty drive, even if she didn’t know where she was.  She pulled back onto the blacktop and sped up a bit “how much further” she queried.

Karen sat silent.  Gladys nudged her, but Karen didn’t respond.  Gladys poked her; still Karen sat silent.  “Damn-it Karen!  I asked you a question.  Are you just going to sull up and ignore me?  How much further?”

Finally, after a few minutes “in three miles exit to the right.” 

“So that’s where the diner is or that’s where I turn to get on the highway?” Gladys asked

Again, Karen sat silent, in defiance.  She had told Gladys to turn on the county road, then she had told her to turn around, but Gladys wouldn’t listen.  She wouldn’t do as she suggested.  Okay, yes, there was that one time where she had instructed Gladys to stay on Arroyo Grande and it had ended in a deep valley with no way out.  She didn’t map it, she was just following the map she had been given.  It wasn’t her fault.  And traveling with Gladys was no picnic.  I mean she wouldn’t take her instruction and then yell at her for getting lost.  Also, she was horrible about changing her route on a whim and not giving her enough time to catch up and locate her on the map.  It wasn’t easy being Gladys’s navigator.  Heck, Karen thought, I’d rather have been Amelia Earhart’s navigator. 

“Has it been three miles yet?  I don’t see anything.” Gladys stated nervously.

“In two miles exit to the right.” Karen replied dryly.

Gladys drove on anxiously watching for the exit as Karen sat silently dejected in the passenger seat.  “I see it!” Gladys screamed excitedly.  She exited right and pulled in to the front of the Easy Inn Diner.  It was deserted and dark.  The windows were dust covered and the door was sealed shut with a plywood guard.  “It’s CLOSED!” she yelled at Karen.   “Where is the nearest fillin station with coffee?” she screamed.

Karen sat quiet.  She was not going to respond to Gladys’s craziness.  She was going to sit in the wasteland of nothingness and ignore the ranting and demanding of her companion. 

Gladys once more eased onto the black top and put her foot on the accelerator.  “I’mma tell you what, Karen.  This shit has got to stop.  I mean, you give me bad directions, you take me down dead-end streets and then you sull up and won’t talk to me for miles and miles.  Remember that time out in the desert on the Interstate?  Remember how you didn’t talk to me for almost five hours?  I mean I know there was nothing out there but dirt and cactus, but still a little conversation would have been nice.   No, you decided you just weren’t going to have any input at all.  Everyone told me to take you with me.  I would get lost without you.  Well, you get me lost, and here is another example of just that.  You got me out here in the middle of the state and I am lost!  L*O*S*T just like them people in that show.  What do you have to say to that?”

Karen sat quiet.  She had nothing to say.  What could she say? She spun on this.  She thought and finally responded “when safe make a U-turn.”

“Fine, I’ll make a U-turn.”  She eased to the shoulder looked both ways at the non-existent traffic and made a U-turn.  “Now what, Karen?”

Then she pipped up “In two and three quarters mile take a left onto Highway One-Five-Five, go 37 miles and your destination will be on the right.”

Gladys sighed, it was this way every-time she used Karen Cortana to map her route.  Maybe it was time for her to friend Suzie Siri.





Friday, September 14, 2018

THE STORM



 Gladys peered out the window at the ominous clouds rolling and bubbling.  They had just appeared, menacing and dark.  Jim Cantore had been preaching for a solid week that the storm would be heading her way.  Get out he preached.  He showed the graph’s and the models of where the storm would make landfall.  He pointed right at her little town on the coast of North Carolina. 


It was almost time for school to be out, so she grabbed the dogs and they made their way down the street to meet her daughter.  The air hung heavy with foreboding and her shoulders hunched under the weight of the weather.  Living on a military base has it advantages, one of which is security.  At each crossing stood a marine, stalwart and unmovable as the winds started to blow.   A simple “afternoon ma’am” was all the greeting needed as they protected the rambunctious children exploding through the door after a long day of confinement. 
Tadpole ran up to Gladys bookbag bulging with papers.  “Momma!  Mrs. Warren gave us all our homework for the next week.  She says that the storm is gonna blow us into next week!  Does that mean we don’t get a weekend?”  She shoved the bookbag and lunch pail toward Gladys and took her hand. 
Together they bent their heads to the wind.  Living only a mile from the coast of the Atlantic Ocean they were used to winds and storms but this one felt different.  The weather channel was reporting it to be one of the largest storms in history.  It was coming from Africa and gathering force as it moved westward.  There was a buzz about the housing development.  Cars loaded with suitcases, men boarded windows while women grabbed clothes from clothes lines and threw baskets into waiting hatchbacks and sedans.  They were bugging out, all of them, except Gladys and Tadpole.  They had no-where to go.
Gladys’s neighbor, Trixie, with her Irish Setter riding shotgun headed out for her parents in Charlotte, while Vera her neighbor across the street loaded up her four kids and set out for Ashville.  They all had a place to go.  The made their way across the state to the mountains or the city, to welcoming homes of loved ones and friends.  Gladys had no place to go.  The thought of a shelter in Charlotte or even to Elizabethtown scared her more than staying and facing a bully of a storm.   After all, how bad could Hugo be?  Hugo sounded more like a big fluffy character.  All blow and no show.  With this thought the mother and daughter duo made it to the door of their bungalow. 
Gladys surveyed her yard.  She secured anything that could or would become a projectile and then set about taping her windows with large X’s like the newspaper had instructed.  She moved furniture and electronics away from windows.  She filled the bathtub with water and filled every single Ziplock bag, jar and bottle with water and put it in her freezer and refrigerator.  She took stock of her canned food and made sure she had plenty of charcoal in her store room for her grill.  She had powdered milk and lots of MRE’s, or for you non-military, Meals Ready To Eat.  All was good at least so far.
Saturday the weather channel preached to all who would listen to get out.  Leave the coast they yelled.   She was a little frightened but she was a native-born Texan.  She had tornadoes and hurricanes, droughts and floods, sand storms and blustering winds, heck she had survived all those things, she would be fine. 
Sunday, they started reporting the damages.  The storm surged and the rains started.  The winds blew and the sky grew dark.  Gladys watched through the masking tapped X on her kitchen window as branches broke and debris swirled in Hugo’s breath.  She was still strong in her conviction that she had made the right decision, not traveling to Charlotte. 
The wind howled as night fell, rain pounded like the beating of a drum.  Gladys settled down with her book, flashlight at the ready.  She dosed for a bit, waiting for the storm to pass, realizing it hadn’t even gotten started yet. 
A loud shrill trill woke her from sleep.  It screamed again causing her to jump and run for the kitchen.  She lifted the receiver and listened to the scream of the storm invaded her call. 
“Hello?   Is this Gladys?  Gladys Mc…” came the voice through the static.
“Yes.  Hello???  Hello?” she yelled over the screech of the connection.
“This is mmhmmm from NPR.  Can you hear me?” the voice yelled back.
Gladys shifted the receiver and peeked out the window “Yes.  If you hell I can hear you.  It must be the storm interrupting our call.”
“Mrs. McGuilicutty, I would like to get a statement from you on the storm” came the request.
“It’s really blowing.  We started having heavy rain a few hours ago.  It seems like it is hitting the south facing beaches the most.  So far, we have only lost some tree limbs” Gladys shouted into the phone.
The NPR correspondent shouted “That’s great.  Can you see outside or are your windows boarded up?”
“No, I can see.  I taped my windows.  What would you like to know?” Gladys hollered back.
“What do you see?  What does it look like in your neighborhood?”  Miss. NPR queried.
About that time a strong gust began and from somewhere down the street a large galvanized thirty-gallon trash receptacle flew past her window, then another.  A child’s bicycle went sailing down the street along with a large Play School playhouse.  Gladys waiting thinking maybe Elmira Gulch pedaling her bike would be next but just more debris.
“Well, Miss NPR, right now I see debris.  I see lots of debris.  A trash can, a playhouse and oh, look there goes a UFO.”  Gladys yelled excitedly exclaimed.
“UFO?” the correspondent asked incredulously.
“Well, maybe it was just a trash can lid, but it was big and round a silver.  Could have been sent by aliens.” Gladys chuckled.
The correspondent grew quiet.
“Hello?  Miss NPR?  Are you still there?” Gladys asked concerned.
“Um, yes.  Thank you for your statement.  Stay safe.” And with that the NPR correspondent was gone. 
Gladys waited for a few moments listening to the storm screech and whine through the phone lines.  NPR was gone.  Her neighbors were gone.  Now it was just Hugo pitching a fit outside, knocking on her windows and doors like a vampire wanting her to invite him in. 
She looked at the clock and it was getting close to midnight.  Then it went quiet.  Deathly quiet.  The electricity flickered then popped off.   She grabbed her flashlight and checked on Tadpole sleeping soundly on the couch, completely unaware of the danger that lurked in the night.  She grabbed her up and headed for the hallway closet.  No windows, reinforced, in the middle of the house.  She hunkered down her black Labrador Retriever and her Yorkshire Terrier instinctively crowding in with her.  They waited for the worst.   They held their breath and counted the minutes which felt like hours. 
In the distance they heard the rumble and felt the shift of the house on its foundation as the winds once again began their assault.  The eye had passed and they were on the backside of the storm.  Relieved they made their way back to the couch and waited in the dark for the first hint of morning. 
When the sun rose, the traces of Hugo lay all around.  Piles of toys mixed with shrubs and trash blocked the storm drains.  The ditches swelled with water swiftly fighting its way back to the ocean taking the paths of least resistance, cutting new streams through yards and over roads.  The world was bloated and dismal, but Gladys and Tadpole had withstood the storm.  They began gathering debris, depositing it into bags and errant cans that had made there way on the wings of the wind to yards and on top of carports. 
The electricity was restored within forty-eight hours and yet her neighbors were still abroad.   The television once again working, Gladys tuned to the weather channel.  She watched mortified at the destruction, not in her neck of the woods but to where her neighbors had fled.  Charlotte had been devastated.  Jim Cantore stood in the aftermath of multiple tornadoes and high winds. 
Hugo had saved his wrath for the inland communities.  Gladys’s neck of the woods had remained safe, a little worse for wear, but safe. 









Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A MEMORY OF 9-11-2001



I was on my way to New Orleans from Shreveport, Louisiana for work.  The sky was gray with an ominous threat of a deluge as I sped down Interstate 49.  Traffic began to thin out down around Alexandria, which I thought was a bit odd but was a nice change.  The lush green of the fields caressed the sides of the highway with occasional stands of palmettos.  Here and there old houses and barns sagged beneath the weight of kudzu and time.  It was a lovely drive but at that time still a bit remote.


As I neared Alexandria, knowing this would be my last chance before Lafayette, I pulled into a truck stop.  It was as crowded as I had ever seen it.  There were big rigs in all colors and shades of road weariness parked willy-nilly, here and there.   Mother Nature was singing her siren song as I quickly made my way to the restrooms.  I passed motorist standing in the aisles staring at a small fifteen-inch television sitting on the counter.  Everyone was frozen as if an evil sorcerer had cast a spell upon them. 

I returned from the Ladies to find them all still in the same place spellbound by the small screen.  I noticed tears in eyes of big burly men and women openly weeping.  I edged my way forward.  A bear of a man was standing next to a lanky scarecrow, they both had tears rolling down their faces diluting the coffee growing cold in their hands.  I edged closer and followed their gaze to the T.V. that stood there.
 
My breath left my body.  My legs were weak as the second plane veered dipped and then flew into the second tower.  I felt a hand on my shoulder and I looked up at a complete stranger holding me up and cried “is this real?  Is this really happening?”  He nodded an affirmative. 

I looked around at the people standing in the rows of candy bars and beef jerky.  Tears flowed freely, choked sounds of dismay and disbelief drowned out the country music on the speakers.  A man toward the back said “do y’all mind if I pray?”  Not one person objected.  They may have been Jewish or Baptist, Methodist or Buddhist they may have been Muslim but they all bowed their heads and prayed with that man in the back.  We asked for peace and safety for those in the towers, we prayed for those poor souls on the plane and we prayed for ourselves. 

When he finished his prayer not a soul made a move.  Not a soul left that store in the middle of the swamps.  We all stood and watched, wondering if we were safe.  More reports came.  They had bombed the Pentagon, there was a plane down in Pennsylvania.  They were going to crash into the White House.  They were going to take out Wall Street. 

We watched as people covered in white ash and blood ran from those burning collapsing towers and brave first responders and heroes ran toward them.  We watched as helicopters flew over the crash site and reporters spoke in excited voices from the fringes.  We watched, we wept and we wondered.  What happens now?

I slowly made my way out to my car and pickup my mobile phone.  I called my mom and my dad and told them I loved them.  I called my daughter and we cried together.  I called my office and told my co-workers I loved them and told them all to be safe.  I wanted those I loved to know it and feel it. 
I eventually made it to New Orleans.  Late for my appointment but the client didn’t care.  We were all in shock.  I got to my hotel in the French Quarter.  The desk clerk looked shell shocked.  People, zombie-like, moved through the machinations of their day.   The bellman led me to my room and helped me with my bags.  I tried to tip him but he refused.  Life was different.

In twenty-minutes time, life had changed.  People were unsure and humbled.  The vitriolic rhetoric of retribution had not yet started.  We were just trying to sort through the terror and strife.  I sat in my room watching hour after hour of reports from New York.  People looking for loved ones and first responders looking like ghosts reporting both good news and bad. 

Then came the awful replays of bodies jumping from eighteen stories up and those towers falling.  They played clips of a burning field detailing the crash site and the Pentagon scorched and gaping. 
As I made my way to dinner that evening I noticed people were more polite, a little friendlier and ignoble. 

Where were you on 9-11-01?

                                                                           

Monday, September 10, 2018

A STUDY IN HAIKU


I am exhausted.  I feel as if I have run the Boston Marathon, swam the English Channel and binged all 635 episodes of Gunsmoke all at one time.  I am pooped!  Why, Gladys are you so tired, you ask?  Okay, maybe you really don’t care, or maybe you are just kind of curious, but I am going to tell you why, whether you are or not.  I just spent the last four days sitting.  I spent the last four days sitting listening to poetry, prose and drama.  Why?  Why did I do this?  Because, my dears, just like Mt. Everest, it was there.

Once a year in my little town they have a festival of sorts for the arts.  Where poets and novelist, artist and dramatist, producers and directors all meet and share their works.  It is a meeting of the cerebral realm and honestly my cerebellum has been on pause for quite a while.
 
It was very enjoyable; listening as a group as others read their works, share their art and show their films.  Except there were people.  You see as a rule, I don’t people. 

I used to think I was an extrovert, then I realized that I probably wasn’t.  You see an extrovert thrives on people.  They draw their energy from being in crowds, feeding like Lestat only instead of blood they suck the energy from your soul.  An introvert on the other hand does not draw energy from the crowd, but, instead is drained from having to be around others. They become the suck-ee.  
 I did my MyersBriggs.  I am INFJ or XYZW or something.  Basically, it told me I am an Introvert, Intuitive, Feeling and Judging.  Yep, that pretty much describes me.  I have always felt too much.  So many feelings.  I know that your personality type changes over time.  Like I said before, I used to think I was an extrovert, but I wasn’t.  I digress.  Back to the festival of the artist.

We sat and listened as poets poured out their hearts and their feelings.  They rhymed and rhythmed all day.  Some were good, some bad, some just so-so.  We listened to the staccato of the rain beating a rhythm on the roof and the sing-song soliloquy of the poems.  It was a pleasant way to spend a couple of days.  

 I tell you all of this to say that I am in awe of these talented sonneteers.  I do not have the knack or the talent for poetry.  I don’t know if a Haiku is something you order at Benihana or a type of poem.  If you ask me what a pastoral is I would guess it’s something a preacher is responsible for.  A sonnet is a sun hat?  See I just don’t know.  I mean what makes it a poem and not just a story?  Does it have to rhyme? 

As I sat and listened to an older gent go on about what a Cowboy Don’t Do, I noticed the octogenarian woman’s t-shirt in front of me.  It said something on the back but she had another shirt on over it.  I looked at my cousin, nudged her and pointed.  She squinted and shrugged.  I leaned over and whispered “does that say Fuck It Up”?  

She squinted again and returned “No I think it says Suck it Up.” 

“Surely not, but, maybe that’s why she covered it up” I retorted.

“Well maybe she doesn’t know it says it” my cousin replied. 

Poets rose and fell.  Sonnets were read and ballads sung, yet I heard none of these.  I was obsessed with what the octogenarian’s shirt said. I squinted and squirmed.  I fidgeted and fussed like a two-year old in church giggling at the thought of an old woman’s shirt.  The day began to fade and the lights sparkled in the rain as the crowd dispersed.  I ran to catch up with the old woman’s shirt. 

“Excuse me, Excuse me!” I cried.

The woman stopped and bent her head toward me “yes dear” she croaked.

“Um, I know this is odd but, did you know there is something written on the back of your undershirt?” I stammered.

She handed me her umbrella and began unbuttoning her top shirt.

“NO! No, you don’t need to undress” trying to stop her “I just want to know what is on the back of your undershirt.”

She continued unbuttoning her shirt until a logo appeared on her left breast. “See this” she said.  “This here is my Alma Mater.”

I nodded a soggy yes as the rain began to pour “Ok.  But what does it say on the back of your shirt?”
“I’m getting there.  Don’t get your knickers in a knot.  I was in my Alma Mater’s drill team.  You know them girls that dance on the football field and at the basketball games.  We did little dances in short skirts and boots with tassels on em.”  She kept pointing at the emblem on her chest.

“OK, but the back…” I was cut short.

“I told you to keep your bloomers tight.  I’m getting there.”  She turned around and pulled her overshirt up to expose the writing on the back.”

There in big bold cursive letters was KICK IT UP!

I was a little disappointed but mystery solved.  It would have been a much better story had it said what I thought it said. I helped her redress handed her back her umbrella and thanked her profusely.  She smiled at me and said “Now you gotta go write a poem about it.”

I tried to explain that a poet I am not.  I don’t have a clue.  She just smiled and said “Well, figure it out and then go and Kick It Up.”

So here is my attempt at poetry.
 A Haiku by Gladys
 The Woman
I met a woman
Who said I should kick it up
Only I fucked it up.