A Book by the Toilet

The book on the counter was sectioned by a coupon bookmark. The only words showing from the coupon advertised a discount headline, ‘Receive a Free…’ Not enough of the copy was revealed to answer what ‘Free’ item would be offered if I only opened the book to that page. What could it be? Maybe there would be some ‘buy one get-one’ at the store down the street with doors, or some code to be entered for one more promise lost in the shuffle of websites.

There were many books stationed throughout the house to captivate any reader, but this one volume held a strategic advantage. It was placed by the one seat that holds the visitor captive. That toilet that keeps us placed and bonds our free will to get up and leave. Not like the soft cushion by the end table in the living room where another book rests with another bookmark stuck at a page where the bad guy is just about to get his twist of fate. Or, that book in the office with its platoon of sticky notes marking page upon page of affirmations to make me better, break a habit, or just get me to finish one task of the day. The book in the living room is marked with the family tree and an old church bulletin from 1960 something marks a scripture that meant something once. The thought was something about ‘my word will not go void, but will produce…’ something or other. Then, the book by the bed on the nightstand is a whole different story.

Each of these volumes had been marked for some reason to re-read some line or two. This edition from my favorite author lies face down with a coupon. Since there must be something important marked, I picked it up. Upon opening to the placement of the bookmark, I found nothing. The thing had been placed between two empty white pages. “Why would I do that?” I wondered.

This famous and favorite author had filled my imagination for years with countless metaphors. His plain speech had been colored with fanciful descriptions that on occasion would end up in sentences as long as paragraphs. The writer could hold me captive past colons and commas to the end of the page the way this damn toilet binds be in this seated position. With all of his symbols, analogies, similes, and comparisons, why would I mark a blank page with nothing to give? Is that emptiness a challenge for a writer with no audience to just keep writing? Do all the pages before that led to this blank empty space mean nothing as well? On an earlier page he once wrote that time is hungry. There is much truth in the metaphor as time has eaten away many dreams and filled volumes with the ‘what if’ questions. The blank page became a beacon to turn the tables and begin the daily task to devour time instead.

The white of the blank paper began to burn into my retina. A bright light at the end of the tunnel of death as if a warning becomes clearer and clearer with years left behind and a future that has been revealed.

Pages before filled with things to do and places to go; finish school, get a job, get married, get a better job, make a sale, hit a quota, buy a stock, build a 401k, pay for this, pay for that, get that car, get that boat, get that house, color your hair, lose some weight…get a break. Pages and pages filled all leading up to this one empty blank space left that screams, “What’s next?”

The writer with no audience is stuck on a toilet.

How different is that from anyone else? Do all the things we believe are important end up with nothing more than a blank page? What is it we chase only to find out we were the ones being chased? The blank empty page is the very thing that pulls us into an unknown future. The fact that we do not know is the thing that drives us. This is easy when youth is on your side. That is the mystery, the cliff hanger, the reason to turn the page.

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Sunday Morning Confessions

 “This morning I hired a prostitute,” the man said.

That caused an uncomfortable rustle. An uneasy tension filled the room. The preacher on the stage continued, “She was hitchhiking, so I picked her up and told her how dangerous that is. Turns out she wasn’t hitching at all, just advertising.”

The sanctuary was full that morning as more and more followers have grown the congregation. If business kept up that way, they’d have to add services to turn over the seats and move crowds in and out each Sunday, or build a bigger place. The reverend was against that big time. He said anything of the sort is way too big of a distraction. All the fund raising, land buying, architects, contractors, and the worst of it all, building committees lead by elders of the church with nothing better to do but complain. He continued, “Darlene, that’s her name. She’s right up here in the front row, stand up Darlene.”

An attractive young woman in her twenties stood. She was obviously not dressed for church; or hitchhiking. Her tight jeans, high heels, pull over tank top showed a lot of Darlene.

“Darlene will be working in the office. That’s why I hired her. I want you to get to know Darlene as she is an example of a new vision I have for the church.”

The preacher paused and walked a few steps closer to his flock around the podium.

“That vision is just six words. This is easy to remember, and easy to say over and over. Ready?”

Another pause, while the thought of a new vision and a prostitute running the church business all in one Sunday service sinks in. Events such as this may seem like a lot to take in. That is if you do not know the pastor. For a preacher, the man is full of surprises. He takes in a breath, smiles, and announces, our job is to ‘Be Christ like; not just Christian.”

He let those words hang in the air.

“Be Christ like; not just Christian!”

When he nearly shouts his statement, the voice bounced off the large panes of glass windows, “Just six words. You can handle that. Repeat them with me.”

One old lady in the front row yells back, “Be Christ like, not just Christian.”

She tugged on the tweed lapel of the coat a size or two too big on the old man beside her. He resisted her coaxing to stand up, but he gave in and with a bowed head gave a thumbs up and the woman turned to the members of the small church and shouted out her six words again. She started the contagion and like some gravely cough or sneeze the thing spread back two pews and grew across the sanctuary. When Darlene, the whore stood, she lifted arms in praise and nearly exposed her braw less breasts tucked in her tank top; right there in church as she yelled, “Be Christ like; not just Christian!”

To draw attention away from what many may call temptation the organist jumped in with a hymn called, To Be Like Jesus, and that gets the congregation standing, shouting and singing.

The rally built up with intensity. Members chanted; some even moved to the isles to shout and dance waving their arms.  Just as the virus had spread, the thing retreated and seats were taken with silence once again filled the place with the final notes from the song.

Sunday morning sun beams arched down from the stained glass windows illuminating clouds of dust only seen in that light from above. The preacher smiled in his warmth of success from his new line and saw in the audience a look in the faces of members filled to bursting with stories about sin and salvation, and with the success of the rally still pounding hearts. He gained that special confidence to take it up a notch “Does anyone have anything to share in the ways of testimony this morning”

“Yeah, I can share,” the voice from the last pew turned heads.

A man in a worn brown suit stood. His plaid flannel shirt buttoned to the top with no tie; his Sunday best. The guy walked up to the podium and before speaking, he lit a cigarette, “I quit last year. But, I started again.”

He takes a long deep inhale on the thing as it burned down near the two fingers holding it. As he exhaled, he crushed the butt out on the surface of the podium. “There you be,” he said, “Quit again.”

The man looks around the church taking in the view and raised his hands mocking praise, “It’s a miracle! I quit again. God saved me and I am free!”

Then he pats his pockets, and shrugs, “No, never mind. I just forgot to buy another pack. Not God at all. You want to be Christ like? That it? Then, listen up. The thing is, God does not care if you decide to kill yourself on your own with bad decisions. That just makes his job easier. Give the angel of death a day off.”

What a strange Sunday morning could be the description on the faces in the crowd; an old farmer smoking in church and a nearly exposed prostitute leading a chant about Jesus. What could be next?

The preacher cleared his throat upon returning to the podium, “I believe what Bother Jones was trying to get at is the reality that we have a choice. To quit or not to quit.”

“Amen!” from a member. “That’s right from another”

Like any good man of the word, the preacher could think fast on his feet and used the old man to tell a story about one of the final things Jesus did, “There came a time for the sermon on the mount. You may have heard about it. But, the key message is all about choice. There’s a lot of stuff that comes before us and demands some action. He said there are only two choices that count. Smart folks at Columbia University did a study that said on average we have about seventy decisions to make everyday. Everyday! That racks up over twenty five thousand a year. Imagine all these decisions and Jesus said we only have two.”

Members look at one another and take in the facts.

“How can that be?” asked the preacher. “How can we get our heads around this and make sense of our mission to be Christ like, and not just Christian?”

Heads nodded in agreement and he continued, “We have to know the answer he gave about choices. He said only two. There’s the wide path where everyone goes and the narrow one that is the harder of the two choices. Only two. Be Christ like, or just be Christian.”

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What the hell are you doing with a gun?

The street in Asheville, North Carolina winds down a few blocks to the stump of a brick building from another incarnation. Once a house, once a business, old bricks shed their red dust from the decades of storms. Over the entrance door, the current sign carved and painted in wood shows an angry bear standing over a donkey looking sleepy in the other direction. The name painted beneath each animal Bear Ass Pub and Brew. With the name Bear Ass, the casual visitor may expect nearly naked servers, and maybe even a pole for half time dancing. But, not so the case of the local Pub and Brew. Occasional visits from convention attendees, guys hoping for bad luck to strike will wander in, look around, and order a brew. Once they stood as much quiet as they could, they’d ask the bar tender, “Where’s the action?”

“This is it Pal,” is the usual answer that chases the intruder away.

Darkness inside the pub secreted the conversations of locals. One morning not long ago, the door opened letting an eye melting glare of hot sunlight shoot in. Woody came in wearing his favorite vintage Wilsons leather jacket. Woody liked that old windbreaker style with the collar up around his neck like a turtle and the full front length unzipped and open. His garment spoke cool sleek seventies suburban and not that bulky motorcycle jacket or aviators bundle with a wool collar. Woody liked cool.

“You must be happy to see me,” said John when he noticed a bulge on Woody’s right upper thigh. “When did you start packing?”

“Since the world has gone ape shit,” Woody answered.

“I did not know you to be a gun enthusiast.”

Woody pulled up on the stool next to John and signed Eve to bring some coffee.

“You bet I am. I call this baby my round trip.”

“You named your gun round trip?”

Eve poured coffee for Woody, “What’s that I saw in your pants Woody?”

“Just explaining to John here the good sense of the concealed carry permit here in the great state of North Carolina.”

John added, “He named his gun round trip?”

“Strange name,” offered Eve.

“Makes perfect sense,” Woody said. He patted the holster, “She’s called round trip because if I go some where, she is insurance that I’ll come back.”

Eve laughed, John snorted out a chuckle. When she turned to check on old man Kirkland down at the other end of the bar, John said, “That is one fancy holster.”

“Special order from Galco.”

“Who’s that?”

“Just about the biggest leather company there is. Police, military, and people all over the world buy their stuff. They’re even popular in the movies.”

“Hmm,” John sipped coffee, “never heard of ‘em.”

“Back in the sixties they started up in Chicago and at the time was called the Famous Jackass Leather Company.”

John leaned back to laugh out loud, “Jackass Leather, you could be their spokesman.”

“They called it that because the guy that started the business was so damned hard headed about quality. They changed it to Galco when they moved to Arizona in the eighties. According to what I read, Chicago banned firearms in 1982.”

“That would hurt sales for a gun holster company for sure,” said John.

Eve returned, “Top it off?’

Woody tipped his cup to her and listened to her advice, “Better stay away from Pack Square. Protesters will have your hide.”

Just up the street and over a few blocks at Spruce Street and College Street, Pack Square has been a gathering place for locals to get vocal since George Pack donated the green space more than a century ago. Over the years, festivals, fireworks, holidays, and protesters have marched, spoke out, made a point or two and gone back home. Gun control would sure be on the list.

“Yeah, well, the only protests up there ever caught my attention was the Go Topless Day.”

“That the day all the ladies take off their blouses?” asked John.

“What could be better?” Woody answered.

Eve jumped in, “You boys should know the ladies do that for a good reason.”

“Hell, they don’t need no reason to show off their boobs.”

“The event,” she corrected sternly,  “is to call attention every year to women’s right to vote. “You know damn well laws that rule men and women differently are just wrong. I went last year.”

“Did you reveal your girls?”

“As a matter of fact, I did.”

“Damn, wish I’d been there,” said Woody.

“We can hardly get you to pour coffee,” added John. “And you go downtown and strip in broad daylight. What is this world coming to?”

Eve poured coffee with enough force to splash over onto the counter, “I have you know,” she now added some emphasis, “The lady that organized the thing gave a speech and said it clear that we live in a country that says it is all right for some man to carry a gun in public – but my breasts are an offense.”

She cupped both breasts in her hands and waved them back and forth near the guy’s faces.

“The smart folks in Raleigh laid out some rules about packing,” said Woody. “I do not recall such restrictions here in Asheville about wiggling your jigglies in public.”

“What rules?”

“Got to be twenty one, no driving offenses on record, can’t be no criminal, and must be sane or least show some damn common sense.”

Eve smiled and questioned, “How the hell they let you get qualified. All I can see is the fact that you are way past twenty one.”

“Damn woman,” he said and stood up. “Let me show you what for.”

Woody pulled back the opening of his leather jacket to reveal a shiny leather belt holster, “This here is the special order exotic shark holster. And, my baby I call round trip here is a Glock 19. The famous one on television and in the movies.”

“You know how to use that gun?” She asked.

Woody drew the gun from the belt and proudly displayed the four inch barrel.

Eve couldn’t help but say, “All you got is four inches?”

John laughed, but the insult rattled Woody a bit. Acting like some cop he had seen on TV, he raised the gun in his right hand and began to rack a slide. He squeezed the grip with his left hand, as he held the slide and pushed the gun forward and back to load the round. As soon as the slide clicked the ammo in, the gun went off with a loud ear piercing crack noise that echoed as it sent its load straight into the taxidermy deer head over the entry door. The impact caused hair and plaster to rain down in a shower over the head of Deputy Moffit who was just coming in.

Quiet fell over the Bear Ass Pub. The silence filled every inch and cranny. Dust settled on the deputy, “It figures. Woody, what the hell are you doing with a gun?”

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