The Dilemma

(This is a short piece of fiction I wrote about a guy who had, well, a number of dilemmas.)

     The need had been prevalent since I deplaned in Phoenix beginning my three hour layover. I walked about as fast as someone could walk before that definition changed to running, not wanting to look panicked, but was increasingly becoming so. I finally saw the restroom sign, brushed past the first door which said “Women” and scooted right into the second, found a stall, pushed my luggage in, pants to the floor, plopped down...and the panic was over. I just sat there for a moment giving thanks, knowing that the people in this airport had no idea as to how close they had been to having tragedy striking them. By tragedy I meant them witnessing mine.
     I opened my backpack, took out my Kindle, and began to read the third chapter of Richard Carlson’s book I’d started earlier on my plane flight: “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff...and it’s all small stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life.” It wasn’t that I really needed the message of this book. In fact, I wasn’t sweating the small stuff enough and details of my job were not being taken care of causing me to lose clients. When you deal in business law you have to know every little element of a contract, agreement, whatever, or millions could be forfeited. Perhaps I was reading the book just to reassure myself that it is OK to not sweat the small stuff.
     Maybe I was in the wrong line of work anyway. I was an adequate law student at Pepperdine, but the subjects that really piqued my interests were the ones found in the required art classes. And it really didn’t matter what kind: music, painting, literature, any kind of self expression was interesting. In fact, I signed up for more of those classes than required because it was so enjoyable and fulfilling. I even had a small painting kit complete with oils, brushes, and the other paraphernalia required to express myself on canvas and had completed sixteen paintings by the end of my senior year, seventeen more as I continued my post-grad work. I had taken up guitar as well and each weekly half-hour lesson was like a breath of fresh air in the stifling atmosphere of law school. But I knew that art of any kind was not the way to make a living, so I did what many others do, I took the path my father took. He was, is, a lawyer, and I am as well.
     Carlson’s third chapter was entitled “Let Go of the Idea that Gentle, Relaxed People Can’t Be Superachievers.” That was me. Not the superachiever part but the gentle, relaxed...and you could add underachiever to that I suppose. Not my father. He would march through the fires of hell to win a case at almost any cost. When I was younger I remembered him in his home office working late into the night, sometimes still there when I got up for school the next morning. I first got to see him try a case one day when I was eleven. His steely stare could make a witness simply crumble in their seat. He was exhaustively prepared, never looking at a single note throughout a trial because he’d done his work, studying over and over every single minute detail of his case. That wasn’t me.
     I had joined a law firm right out of law school that my father had gotten me into located in Philadelphia, and the very next day I found a guitar teacher to continue my lessons, then started a new painting. It was going to be a good one, too, because fall had just begun and there was a tree-filled park across the street from my new apartment and the colors would be spectacular. I only hoped I could capture them with my oils.
     I continued reading. Carlson wrote, “I have had the good fortune to surround myself with some very relaxed, peaceful, and loving people. Some of these people are best-selling authors, loving parents, counselors, computer experts, and chief executive officers.” Well, that’s certainly not me. Maybe I should try to find like-minded people. No way this was possible in a law firm. These people were lions, not golden retrievers. I looked up from my book and pondered this situation. How can I get out of this place? I’m stuck. There seems to be no solution.
     I figured that I ought to finish up in the restroom and go find a coffee shop to finish out my layover. I was just getting ready to put away my Kindle, when a voice in the stall next to me said, “Excuse me, would you mind passing some toilet paper under the stall. I seem to have none over here.”
     It was a woman.
     It had not occurred to me when I was in my hasty quest that there would have been two women’s restroom doors right next to each other. I looked to my left and saw the tell-tale sanitary napkin disposal box that one would never find in the men’s restroom. I scooted my feet ever so slightly away from the direction of the Voice next door so she wouldn’t see my man shoes, and said in my best “woman’s” voice, “Sure, hold on.” I unraveled some toilet paper and handed it underneath, trying to keep my hairy knuckles from being seen. “Will that be enough?” I daintily asked.
     “Yes, thank you. I don’t know why this happens. It’s an airport restroom! You’d think someone would know that people in restrooms use toilet paper!” She complained.
     “Tell me about it!” What was I doing? The last thing I needed now was a conversation with someone who, if they knew, would clearly not want me next to them in this present condition. 
     “Where are you flying to?” She asked.
     “Los Angeles,” I responded, “to a convention on tort reform.”
     “Interesting. So, you’re a lawyer?”
     “Yes, business law. But my firm thought I could use some brushing up on learning about what is latest in the tort world. What do you do?” I’m an idiot.
     “I’m an artist. I’m headed to L.A. as well. I’ve got a show in North Hollywood with another artist.”
     “I’d love to see your work.” I replied, realizing again that having a conversation with a woman is best done when your pants aren’t bunched down around your ankles.
     “Hold on.” I could hear her fumbling through her purse, a pen click, three seconds of silence, then a business card appeared underneath the stall. “Here is my card and where the show is. I’d love to see you there.” she said. “What’s your name?”
     I looked at her card and saw that her name was Clarice Evans. I was a huge fan. My name is Barry Clark which would never fly if I stated THAT fact to her.
     “Mary Clark,” I replied.
     “Good to meet you, Mary,” Clarice said, “I’ve got to run. My flight is in twenty minutes and I need to get to the gate. Shall I wait for you?”
     “Uh, no, I’ve...got some more to do?” How do you actually say that? “Plus, I’m reading a book and want to finish this chapter.” That was just dumb.
     “Uh...Ok...well maybe I’ll see you later,” she replied. “Bye.”
     I heard her stall door open, some water running in the sink, a hand dryer, footsteps, and she was gone. I shoved my kindle into the backpack, finished my “business,” yanked up my pants, and stood there listening. People were coming and going all the time. There was no moment when that room was empty. I could wait if I wanted since my flight was hours from departing. I had some interesting choices. The first was to wait and wait, possible for hours until the room was completely empty. The second was to simply walk out and say, “Sorry, I made a mistake. I’ll be gone shortly.” I would be embarrassed for a scant few seconds, then I could get on with my life. Most would understand that I had just made a slight error and took the wrong door. Some would judge me quietly, thinking that I should have paid more attention to the signage, but what could I do now?
     I made my decision. There was only one way to do this. I toggled the lock on the stall door, opened it, walked confidently to the sink, and said, “Hello ladies. Sorry about this. My mistake. I’ll be out of here momentarily,” and walked confidently out the door and into the airport terminal.

Saw Grandma

(This is a piece of fiction I wrote for fun. When I was a little boy we would occasionally go to camp meetings at Camp Sychar in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, not in Iowa as the story states but who's keeping track? There was a woman who played the saw. I remembered this and thought I might take the story further...)
    
   Edna McGrath put her saw back into its case and gave her bow a quick coat of rosin before storing it as well. She had spent the last hour practicing, preparing for the two weeks of revival services that were beginning this evening at the Camp Sychar Pentecostal Campground. This promised to be really good because Wally and Ginger were the scheduled song evangelists and they seemed to really enjoy Edna playing her saw along with all of the music while she sat in her usual spot on the front, right bench. Edna loved working with Wally and Ginger and especially enjoyed their rendition of “Jesus is Coming Soon” and had composed a challenging counter-melody that fit perfectly into the chorus. It would be a pleasant surprise for Wally and Ginger without a doubt.
     The year was 1992 and Edna knew that the saw was becoming a rare instrument  and that soon her art form would be a thing of the past. That was acceptable to her. She knew nothing lasted forever, but she would play as long as she was able. Her father had taught her the art in between his stints overseas as a spy for the United States, and his work as a CIA operative. He was very active during his later years in many secret Cold War operations that would be known by none for decades. He had learned to play the saw from his mother, and no one knew how far back the tradition went in her family.
     Edna snapped the case shut and walked out into her little back yard. It was now 2:00pm, right on time. She was already in her work-out clothes so she commenced to stretching. At seventy-four she knew that this was essential and took it very seriously. Twenty minutes later she stood up, put on her light boxing gloves and walked over to the speed bag hanging beside her garage to work on her hand speed. Fifteen minutes later she ran into the house, grabbed her bag and saw case, and headed out to the driveway. She hopped into her 1957 Dodge Torqueflite, pushed the “Drive” button, and roared out onto the street toward the Muay Thai dojo about three miles from her home. Edna was already a 5th degree black belt in Kenjutsu, a form of Japanese sword fighting, was a licensed Ninja, and was working toward her first degree black belt in Muay Thai.
     It was a pleasant June day in Windsor Heights, Iowa, the small suburb of Des Moines, partly cloudy, ten percent chance of rain. As she neared the stop sign on 60th and University, her watch beeped. She looked down and saw the emergency icon flashing and the words, “6611 University Ave, Windsor Heights, 211 in progress.”
     6611 University? “That’s Mustard’s Restaurant!” she said aloud. She yanked the Dodge off to the side of the road, skidding to a halt. She then slid quickly over to the passenger side of the car giving her more room, pulled off her sweat pants and sweat shirt in seconds revealing her tight, midnight blue body suit with a big SG on the front. 
     Saw Grandma.
     She reached behind into the back seat, opened her saw case, and pulled out a matching blue mask. After putting it on she stretched the skin tight but supple hood up over her head that kept her gray hair from getting in her way. She then grabbed her saw, bow, and utility belt from the saw case, snapped it shut, slid back over to the driver’s seat and took off down 60th, tires squealing. She blew right past the stop sign and rounded the corner to the right onto University, gunning down the road toward Mustard’s just four blocks away.

     Zeke “Slim” Collins stood across the counter inside Mustard’s wearing a black ski mask and calmly pointing a sawed-off 12 gauge pump action shotgun six inches from the nose of Buck, the frightened assistant manager. Slim’s partner, Judd “T-Bone” Skinner, also wearing a mask, had two Colt 45 semi-automatic hand guns pointed at the restaurant diners that they had gathered over into one corner and who were laying face-down on the floor.
     “Here’s what’s gonna happen,” Slim snarled to the shaking Buck, “Yer gonna empty out the cash register into this here bag or you’ll get yerself a load of buckshot in yer noggin! That clear enough for ya?!?!”
     Buck nodded and slowly moved his shaking hand over to the register, not taking his eyes off of the menacing barrel of the shotgun, punched one of the buttons and the drawer opened. He obeyed Slim and started putting the money into the black, canvas bag that was resting open on the counter.
     T-Bone started his own project at the other part of the restaurant.
     “Alright, listen up!” he yelled, “Take yer wallets and purses out and slide ‘em across the floor to me...SLOWLY!!! You, there!” He pointed to a little girl who was laying beside her mother. “You come over her and put all the purses and wallets into this here bag.” He tossed a bag that was identical to Slim’s onto the floor.
The little girl slowly stood. When her mom started to rise in protest, T-Bone screamed at her, “Back onto the floor! If everybody does what we say, we’re outta here and no one gets hurt!”
Purses and wallets slid over to the feet of the little girl and she obediently began her assignment. The only sounds in the room were the rustling of the bags being filled and an occasional whimper from a frightened hostage. Then...what was that? From the kitchen a faint, three-note melody slowly started to repeat in a shrill, annoying tone. Slim and T-Bone looked at each other with uncertainty.
     “What is that?” Slim asked.
     “Sounds like an animal is in some sort of pain.” T-Bone responded. He yelled toward the kitchen, “Whoever you are, you better...”
     The music stopped suddenly and there was a hissing sound as something flew through the air so fast it was almost invisible. T-Bone felt an intense, sharp pain in his right hand, causing him to drop his Colt .45 onto the floor. He looked and saw a gleaming throwing star wedged into his wrist, the initials “SG” on both sides.
     “ARRGGHHH!” He dropped the other gun and his left hand reached over to try and remove the source of his sudden agony. Slim was distracted and barely saw the midnight blue flash that shot out of the kitchen and leapt over the counter. He knew immediately. “Look out!” he shouted, “It’s Saw Grandma!” But his warning came too late.
     A split second after Saw Grandma hurdled over the counter with the dexterity of an olympian, she leaped up and caught the left side of T-Bone’s head with her right foot, executing a perfect roundhouse kick. Slim leveled around his shot gun and fired once, but missed as Saw Grandma dove behind a booth, buckshot hitting the wall just above her. T-Bone was out cold. Slim ran across the room toward the booth, jumped up on top of it and fired his shotgun down onto the floor behind it, but he hit nothing because Saw Grandma was not there.
“Huh???” He whirled around just in time to see a saw spinning in Saw Grandma’s hand. He raised his gun again to fire, but Saw Grandma wielded the saw like a Japanese sword and spun the 12 gauge out of Slim’s hand into the air. She caught it with her left hand and tossed it into an empty booth twenty feet away. He lunged and took a swing at her, but she moved off to the side and used his momentum to push his face into a nearby table, then slammed the flat side of her saw into the back of his head. He joined is accomplice in unconsciousness. She reached to the back of her utility belt and took out two sets of handcuffs. She grabbed Slim’s wrist, dragged him over to the “resting” T-Bone, cuffed them together, then cuffed them to the floor rail that ran along the base of the counter.
     “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said, turning and addressing the stunned crowd, “please rise and walk safely out the front door. The authorities will be here momentarily and will make sure you each have your belongings back in short order. Thank you.”
     The people slowly stood. They’d all heard the tales, but to see Saw Grandma in action was a once in a lifetime experience and they never would forget it.
     “Thank you, Saw Grandma,” they said, “Thank  you.”
Saw Grandma darted through the kitchen and out of sight.
     After some time Edna was back behind the wheel of her Torqueflite. “I still have time for a quick session at the dojo, then to Camp Sychar,” she thought.
     Later that evening she settled into her place in the tabernacle, front bench, right side. People filed in as the pianist played. At 7:00pm sharp Wally and Ginger took the platform, welcomed everybody, and started the congregational singing.
     “Victory in Jesus,” thought Edna as Ginger played the intro to the first hymn, “and in the key of A flat. Typical key for camp meeting. Should be in G. Oh well.”

Muffet’s Rant

Afraid of a spider? SERIOUSLY??? I read those words that Goose penned earlier this month and was incensed at the ludicrous prospect of actually feeling fear toward something which I’d collected and studied over the years, spending the lion’s share of my useful life researching the arachnid. It is difficult, rather near impossible, to be published in that field as a women arachnologist…and to be criticized by another woman nonetheless! Let’s look at the poem:

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet
Eating her curds and whey
Along came a spider
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away

 First of all, who uses the word tuffet this day and age? One might even use pouffe or hassock if they dared use tuffet in common, everyday language. Goose couldn’t take a little time and come up with a different word or set of words to rhyme with Muffet? Like, “thought she could tough it” or “knew she could rough it” or “might never stuff it.” I’m not even a writer and I came up with those rhymes in ten seconds!

Secondly, curds and whey? Does Goose not understand the common diet of a healthy person? I was eating Greek yogurt with almonds and blueberries…brain food, which Goose clearly needs to add to her diet. And rhyming whey with away? That’s just lazy!

Thirdly, the spider sat down? This written by someone who obviously did NO research whatsoever into the actions of the everyday spider. Given her verbiage I pictured a brown recluse kicking back into an overstuffed chair, remote in one hand, cheap beer in the other, watching an episode of Judge Judy. What kind of spider, Goose? Did it really SIT? Your powers of observation are, well, nonexistent!!!

And lastly, my aforementioned complaint: FRIGHTENED??? BY A SPIDER??? Let’s look at the facts. I was sitting on my porch grabbing a quick afternoon snack, reading the latest arachnid peer-reviewed journal called Arachnattack, when I saw the very rare Heteropoda Davidbowie spider walking slowly toward me. Not only is this a rare spider, but it is known only to exist in Malaysia, not in southern Tennessee where I currently reside. I quickly set my yogurt down and ran indoors to fetch one of my spider containers. When I returned, it was gone. I was frightened away? Hardly, Ms. Goose!

Finally, and most importantly, this leads to a misunderstanding of who Mildred “Mother” Goose really is: a staff poet for the National Enquirer whose only purpose in life is to belittle and destroy whomever she dislikes for the sake of her own fame, however infamous it might be. For whatever reason I ended up in her crosshairs and she decided to include me in one of her scathing pieces of literary tripe. They must have been spying on me because, included in her poem was a picture of me running across my porch, Heteropoda Davidbowie in the foreground. They even misnamed the spider, calling it a daddy-long-legger. Again…seriously???

I’ve seen Goose’s work take other people down. With her “Hey! diddle, diddle…” piece of shark chum I watched jazz violinist Jimmy “Cat” Evans become completely scandalized and ruined, implying to the world that he was lost in the drug world of methamphetamine and envisioned such things as high flying cattle, laughing dogs, and infidelity among dishes and spoons. She practically ruined the Hickory Dickory Dock clock factory implying a pest problem and rumors that purchasers of said clocks would have their homes overrun with pests.

Ms. Goose, shame on you! It is tough enough in this world being a woman scientist without having to defend myself because of the shoddy journalistic work of a fraud! You need to reevaluate your work and take a year to apologize to the likes of the Cobbler, Cushy cow Bonnie, Humpty-Dumpty and all the king’s horses and men who simply did their best, Old King Cole (who was not a marijuana smoker), Little Boy Blue, and Old Mother Hubbard, just to name a scant few! I shall not hold my breath waiting because I doubt you have the decency to even see the wrong in what you are doing, but at least I’ve said what was needed to be said. Thank you.

Bridget D. Muffet, PhD.
Dept. Chair, Arachnology
Univ. of Tennessee

(P.S. Old Mother Hubbard finally snapped after a third reading Goose’s poem about her, and is currently undergoing shock therapy at the University of Colorado.)