“Like predatory birds perched in dying trees, they wait. Watching with shifty eyes. Pain filled bellies growling for their next meal.  Once stripping every fleshy scrap of meat clean from the bones of the fallen, leaving no area untouched, they fly off to wait for another. Living out their purpose. Silent. Patient.” JSM

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

“Anything but that.”

 

 

One of my favorite pastimes is engaging with my buddies or Nancy, co-workers, family (and even my kids and their friends) in discussions that veer into other discussions. Conversations that make us laugh, stop and think, ponder and get out of the proverbial box. Some of my favorite chats are with my youngest on the brief rides to her school and back.  That kid and I have some deep talks.

Most times the conversation starts with, “What if…”

Simple trivial topics that pop up which eventually skew into other topics.

While waiting in line at the movies, after watching an episode of LOST or something brought up during a lengthy board game or road trip.

Then before we know it, we’re discussing the universe and the deepest trenches of the ocean, planets that rain diamonds sideways, simple philosophies, purpose and meaning and a plethora of other material. Fun food-for-thought dialogue. At times we’ve been known to instigate such conversations if only to see where it leads.

My problem (not necessarily really a problem, but certainly noticeable within my immediate circle), is when we dive headfirst into some of these discussions, I lock onto specific material, snap into a haze, then research the absolute crap out of it.

Hours and hours and hours invested. Videos and documentaries, articles and snippets, asking questions in forums and reading books, radio shows and podcasts, jotting notes and sites, digging deep, and not until I quench that thirst is my day considered complete.

Nancy will say, “You want to watch Flash or Arrow?”

“Just finishing up this video, be there soon.” Then forty five minutes later I drop into my chair for my superhero show.

They all get it. It’s just a part of who I am.

I transform into a sponge when something piques my interest. Sometimes I have to stop myself, “Alright dude. You’re down the rabbit hole far enough for now.  Hit the hay.”

Then I have a trillion things to think about while trying to fall asleep. My mind takes off running and races, and usually the next day at some point I pick up from where I left off and keep on going.

Only one of the strange hobbies I have. I’ve created a small archive in my mind of what many would believe is a stockpile of useless knowledge and information. I accept that premise and respect the opinion.  I live in the real world, but I love to explore.

The topics I’ve come across that merge into others and twist and turn and make one think, used to surprise me in the old life.

Not much surprises me anymore.

Since the Computer Seminar was during a time in the old life, it’s safe to say that Gill really and truly surprised me.

*****

Knowing over half of the folks in the seminar were rich beyond their wildest fantasy, I was baffled at the envelope’s contents.

My cheeks reddened and my eyes locked with his. “I don’t understand.”

The big man replied, “Like I said. Anything you need, you let me know.”

“What is this?” I withdrew a stack of pamphlets, index cards with hand drawn graphs covered in notations, and additional “material” from the envelope; rifling through them like playing cards.

“That my friend, is the sure fire way to reach Tier Two. We’ve started the base program and laid some groundwork with potential interested parties and all you need to do is follow the instructions. Stay on the arranged path. You’ll see there on page three we’ve adjusted the order process through Tier One. Just nail the specific targets, double your platform, reconnect with Bill and we can move onto the next phase of development.  This is an exciting time we live in Jeremy and what you hold in your hand is the key.  We’ve talked it over and decided that because we want you to succeed, we could cut a few corners. Not everyone gets this opportunity.”

“Cut a few corners?”

Bill jumped in. “The extra middle man has been eliminated.” He pointed to the thick stack and crossed his arms, “It shortens the process by at least… what do you think Gill… two months?  Maybe three?”

The leader nodded his reply and looked to the ceiling, “We could shoot for three. I can contact central office and see if we can get some additional material waived and who knows, maybe sometime next year you could be in the middle of the ladder somewhere.  Sound like a plan?  All you need to do is stay on track and we can’t lose. Welcome to the family.”

“Can’t lose? How am I supposed to get around? How am I supposed to attend these meetings and trainings and become a successful “salesman” without a car?”

Bill shrugged, “Guessing insurance will take care of that. The driver of the plow truck was at fault.”

I looked to the floor at his feet and scowled, “You don’t understand. This plan.  This outline you created doesn’t help me today.  I don’t even know how I’m getting home from here.”

Bill waved the comment off, “One of the travelers in the caravan volunteered to take you back. It’s covered.”

I darted my stare back and forth between them, “Great. So, that’s it.”

Gill swung his hands behind his back, “Yup. That’s it.”

I took one step forward, “Gill you said anything I need, you’ll help, right?”

“I did say that, yes. Whatever we can do to help.”

“OK, how about you take care of a new car for me. That’s what I need.  That’s the help I’m looking for. Not… this.”  I flopped the envelope in the air between us and dropped my arms to the side in defeat.

The two men snickered and the big man replied, “Get you another car? Oh… I said I’ll help in any way I can… but… buy a car for you? I’m sorry.  Let’s be realistic.  Anything but that.”

 

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“Time doesn’t have an off switch.” JSM

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

True Colors

 

 

I’ve been put on the spot three times in my life, and the end result was always the same. I clam up. Shut down if you will.  Go silent.

A communications class in college once forced me to give a presentation on a subject I was interested in. A mandatory exam. It was tough but I aced it; speaking about Disk Golf and how much I loved the sport to my fellow classmates. I got through it unscathed as I had time to prepare, research the topic, write it all down on cue cards and utilize my provided time effectively. I was able to practice before hand.

I may have stuttered or forgot to breathe but I received high marks in the class, and that’s all that really mattered.

I didn’t clam up and shut down in the classroom as I was more comfortable with the topic I chose and I had an inkling of what I was discussing.

Today, however, I organize and head staff and team meetings if asked. I speak at fundraisers, funerals and some community events and have pitched ideas to our major sponsors. It took a long time to reach that point, but it’s night and day from the old life.

My first clam up was during the blood disorder situation in my youth, when I was asked to stand before the congregation of my church and pray for a young child who was diagnosed with a life threatening illness.

I believe I was… ten? Maybe eleven? I think in hindsight the original idea was based on a concept that because so many had prayed for me, and continued to do so, I should do the same for another.

I get it… Now. Today.

Back then I was terrified.

I found my eyes pulled to a tile on the floor between my feet and I stood there staring at it, hands stuffed in pockets, mouth zipped shut and the bowed heads of the seated members to either side of me waited in silence for me to say something.

To say… anything.

I never spoke a word. I can’t say I didn’t pray for the kiddo in my own childlike way… but I never uttered a sound.  Scared to the point of shaking.

If I remember correctly a (super long) minute had passed before the pastor opened his eyes, clapped me on the shoulder with gentle taps and whispered, “You can go sit down now if you want, thank you.” I scurried out of the room and disappeared down the hallway to join the others in the kid area.  Zipping right on by my seat.

The second time was the afternoon a mechanized contraption spat out a dollar amount indicating what my child support total was per month.

All was fine until that moment.

My face and ears reddened, my eyes went bloodshot and I couldn’t look the judge in the face. I lowered my gaze to the table’s surface and snapped my mouth closed for the remainder of the proceedings, knowing if I spoke a word the nice officer standing off to the side, would haul me away in cuffs. Other than the final swearing, I was as silent as humanly possible.

Refusing the opportunity to speak publically at the Computer Seminar, is the third.

No matter what, I stood firm on my decision not to engage. Keep it all inside and don’t give them what they want. Don’t feed the collective hierarchy.

I don’t think I belong here. But let’s ride it out till at least the end of the day.

Gill continued his presentation, gliding back and forth across the stage with his sparkly suit. His ongoing speech comprised of subtle goading and micro manipulation, “Nothing to worry about. It’s ok to be shy. Everyone in this room started at the bottom tiers and worked our way to higher status, didn’t we? We’ve all shared our stories and it’s made us stronger.  Haven’t we?! We can all rise from the ashes like a phoenix reborn and turn those moments of struggle into something better!  Something fulfilling!  Something new and amazing! Is it hard work?  Of course it is.  None of us ever thought it was a walk in the park.  We had to improve our lives to advance!”

I leaned forward in my seat and fought the urge to leave the room. It was almost unbearable.

“We’re going to take a ten minute break and when we get back, we’ll continue with a few more testimonies and later on we’ll bring out Phil for the future projections. We’ll see you in a few minutes.” The DJ turned on some low elevator music, the center screen flashed with a statistics report and a side screen activated to show the image of a multi colored pie chart.

The adrenaline dropped away to the floor and I found myself exhaling in relief, slumping back in my chair.

Grinning ear to ear Bill appeared from the moving and mingling crowd and approached me, “Jeremy, please come with me. I have someone I want you to meet.”

“Sure.” I rose from my seat and apologized, “Listen, I didn’t mean to shut down like that. I don’t do well in that kind of atmosphere.  Sorry.”

Our pace slowed and he turned to face me. “It’s ok. We all have our moments.  I told Gill and the others all about you and what I think will work for the future.  He’s really interested in you and wants to meet you face to face before we talk about the boring numbers.  He’s just around the corner over here.”

Bill sped ahead of me, approached the big man waiting in the back hall behind the stage, and the two shook hands. Gill’s sweaty face shined and his jacket twinkled in the light and I slowed down to give them their moment alone.

The events of the night before were discussed between the two, and the leader shook his head in disbelief at each part. He clapped his hand over his mouth, placed a palm on the forehead, crossed his arms, slowly moving the head side to side and said stuff like, “My, my, is that so? Oh my. That’s quite a story. Worth sharing indeed. I can’t fathom what everyone has been through.”  He finally turned to address me, “Jeremy, it’s so nice to meet you.  I hear nothing but good things from this guy.  How do you like it so far?”

“It’s quite the gig, sir. I appreciate it.”

“Don’t call me sir, call me, Gill.”  He reached out a meaty paw and grasped my hand.

Maybe I am special after all. A meeting with the bug guy?  Ok… let’s see where this goes.

“Bill and I have been discussing some ideas on ways to move forward with this and I think you could quite easily be the thing that ties it all together. Just based on what you’ve been through the past couple days coming all the way up here.  You don’t give up.  You have tenacity. You fight through the obstacles.  You know how to talk with a customer. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders and you see the bigger picture. This is what we need.  BizarroTech needs someone like you.” He folded his hands over his abdomen, the pitch now over, and he stepped back.

“Do I need to stand and talk about myself?”

They both chuckled, “No. Not if you don’t want to.  It’s just an icebreaker.  Nothing more.  You’ll get more comfortable as time moves on.”

“So… what now?”

“I’m glad you asked,” The big man reached into an inside jacket pocket.

Thinking he’s about to retrieve his sweat rag again, I became curious, when instead he pulled out a thick envelope. “You can look at it now, or wait until you get back home, but we believe that should cover it.”

Nervous excitement welling up, I turned the blank envelope around, “I can open it now?”

“Of course.”

What the devil is with all the secrecy around here? Can’t look at a piece of paper. Have to save it for a “special day”. Something sealed inside an envelope…

I wriggled it open, glanced inside, and my eyes flew up to his.

He cocked his head and smiled, “anything we can do to help, anything at all, Jeremy, you name it.”

 

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“Nothing worse than a blind man getting blindsided.” JSM

 

Chapter Thirteen

Lucky

 

 

I’ve led two separate and exceedingly different lives.

The new life, and what I call the “old life”.

This new life is very recent. The old life is decades long and at this stage of life, it feels like a trillion years ago.

My first Valentine’s Day with Nancy, among other gifts bestowed, I wrote her a lengthy heartfelt poem, it made her cry, it made her friends cry and its now sitting in a keepsake box among other personal trinkets.

One of the lines in that poem, “I see life now through a different lens…” is pretty much my new motto. I see this world in a different way than the way it was perceived during the old life. I see people, places and things through a new, unscratched, unblemished and mostly clean lens. The lens isn’t perfect, but it’s more user friendly in the here and now, and I keep it close by at all times.

To any person reading this that wears glasses (having worn them myself since I was two). You know that wonderful sensation when the old pair is swapped out for the new, and even though it may be fuzzy and disorientating at first, when the focus is finally there and the eyes lock onto the perfect image you breathe in a sigh of relief, test out the immediate surroundings then venture outside to see the crisper, clearer, sharper, colorful environment?

It’s like that.

Once the old life was no more, the new life produced something unexpected.

As though my perspective was once a prisoner. Waiting and hiding chained up in a small treasure chest deep within the recesses of my subconscious. It took a major personal event to chisel open a tunnel and set that prisoner free.

I have a new found respect for topics that never before existed in my mind. I appreciate certain facets of this world now, more than ever. Much of what I was once blinded to in the past opened up to a better view; once the current journey started rolling its wheels. I read into things with a clearer focus. I recognize things for what they are. I see between the lines and I can observe my reality from multiple perspectives.

It’s simultaneously a blessing and a curse.

I also consider myself lucky as well. I’ve dodged many bullets over the years and a buddy once told me, “No, you don’t dodge bullets.  You dodge missiles.”

So I also consider myself lucky to an extent.

Perhaps… not luck. Maybe I correctly played the hand that was dealt me.  The only difference between coincidence and fate is perception.

*****

 The moment Bill met my eyes at the back of the auditorium, I had a choice to make. Either: engage, or don’t engage.  Luckily for me, it wasn’t my turn.  Bill had bigger fish to chat about.

The big man running the show stepped to the side of the stage and pointed down to his BizarroTech subordinate. Bill looked to the floor and snickered before he started his speech.

“Good morning everyone. I have a story for you.”  He spoke into the microphone and Gill stood above him in quiet patience. The big man nodded his head in agreement before my mentor even started speaking as though the leader had already heard the story.

“I met a nice couple, and I just knew we were about to make big things happen. The drive and will to change their lives opened up a wellspring of hope, and I foresee a future where they will be as successful as possible.  But how about I let them speak.  It’s always better to hear the story right from the source, right?  Thomas?  Will you and Holly please stand up and introduce yourselves and tell them the story they all want to hear?”

Thomas pushed himself from the chair and placed his palm on Holly’s shoulder. “Hi everyone, I’m Thomas, this is my lovely wife, Holly, and we’re honored to be here among you today.  We met Bill and Linda about six months ago and with their help, guidance, and ultimately taking my own life in a direction I never saw coming, we were able to pay down our debt, eliminate two credit cards and our revenue stream continues to climb. We constructed a sturdy base and all we needed to do was follow the guidelines and stay on the course provided, and we have attained Tier Two status in a matter of months.

The room clapped their approval of Thomas’ testimony. Gill looked to the ceiling overhead and clasped his hands together as though in prayer.

The projectors reactivated and each screen was smeared with testimonials from dozens of others who reached specific Tier levels throughout time.

Bill nodded his approval and Thomas sat back down with his wife.

At this point my mind raced, how many does Bill have here under his wing? So… Does Bill just drive around aimlessly and scour steel mills and construction sites for recruits to persuade?

I thought I was special.

Come to find out, no, not special. Just a potential link in a large chain.

Another stood and gave their testimonial followed by another and another and yet another and the room clapped and spoke in unison at the prompted moments and Bill’s eyes returned to mine.

I cut into his stare and shook my head. No. I don’t want to stand and testify.  Not what I signed up for.

He must have understood my unspoken message and handed the microphone back to the staff behind the scenes. My mentor sat back down at the front of the audience and Gill continued in his stead.

“Ladies and gentleman. My BizarroTech friends and family.  At this time I speak on our good friend Bill’s behalf.  We all understand that sharing isn’t always the most comfortable thing to do, but it helps provide a clearer picture.  We have a new member of our family sitting at the back who is having difficulties sharing, and the story is a good one.  What do we say about struggles?”

The room answered the question in unison, “The greatest struggles produce the best stories.”

“Through struggle comes success!”

The room again exploded with hooting and clapping and whistling and only one thought crisscrossed through my mind.

Bullshit.

 

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“Don’t just be. Become.” JSM

 

 

Chapter Twelve

Church

 

When the door creaked open and a traveler poked a head inside my room, I stuffed the paper back into its pocket. I almost had it fully opened to see the cryptic message and personal incentive Bill kept referring to, but with a shrug I decided to leave it alone.

Instead of forcing it, I allowed it slide from memory as I was prompted to head to the main event with the others in the caravan and my attention was then pulled elsewhere.

It’s safe to say, other than church or a revival, I’ve never seen a gathering like it in my life.

Hear me out, hear me out. I say that with respect.

All my youth was spent in a church. I know the environment quite well. I was born into the church and remained in the church till some later years. My parents help build and establish a place of worship in my state’s capitol in the early 80’s. At its peak attendance we had roughly seventy five to eighty or so in the congregation, and it was a huge part of my life. I attended Wednesday night prayer meetings, had bible studies at home, participated in all the recreational activities, summer getaways with the pastor’s family, I was on the softball team, fundraised with rock-a-thons with the best of them, family picnics and barbeques after Sunday services and I was a youth pastor for a small group at the age of thirteen.

My grandparents were Baptist and attended their place of worship for their entire lives.

After my parents’ divorce when I was seventeen, we were asked to leave the church. Perhaps that’s a story for another day.

Upon our departure my father and I explored everything, everywhere. We bounced from church to church, small to large, and sometimes we stayed for a month or a week (maybe two, to get a good lay of the land), then the following Sunday we’d go across town to check out another location.  Never feeling comfortable with most of the available options.

We transformed into church vagabonds.

“Last one was Methodist.”

“How about this Pentecostal one?”

“Two months ago we were visiting Pentecostal. Presbyterian?”

“Maybe. Let’s look at that Lutheran one down the road too, while we’re making a list.”

“Hey, why not.”

If one were to ask what denomination I happen to be I would probably be along the lines of, Nazapentepresbybapatluthacathamormodist. I’ve seen it all.  Jack of all trades, master of none.

I happen to be accustomed to folks dancing in the aisles, singing long hymnals, speaking in tongues, abiding by the procedures and conventions, rejoicing in the spirit, singing with the small band behind the podium, singing in a full choir, group prayers, group healing sessions and sweaty browed pastors tearing their tie off commanding the devil be gone.

I’ve been witness to fire and brimstone sermons, I’ve watched people fall into the arms of others by a light touch of another’s breath and I’ve attended churches that are silent, soft-spoken and half the time in attendance is spent on knees in prayer. I’ve experienced my fair share of all of that.

And I respect it all.

The seminar was church. I was being taken to church, BizarroTech style.

The music and bass echoed in the halls outside the large gathering place and beside the entrance to the main event room stood multiple bulletin boards with photos of people’s faces attached, their position in BizarroTech and tier level, and just beside the doors were two long tables with additional pamphlets and materials available for further education and casual reading. I swore a Joker smile grew on each face as I walked by the vendors, while keeping in stride with my mentor.

The double doors opened and we crossed the threshold allowing the music to sweep by us into the hall. The moment we entered the darkened area, members of the caravan started clapping to the beat.

The main lights had been switched off and all the attendees were covered in shadows. Two spotlights attached to the back wall crisscrossed their beams over a staging area and illuminated a group of people at the front of the room clapping their hands and bopping to the music, pointing and waving to the others who were sitting close by in the audience. Wide smiles on each face and jewelry glinting in the flashes of white light.

Bright colored dresses for the ladies, reds, golds and lavenders, and each man wore a suit. Onyx black and “sparkly”.

Behind the stage and to either side for better viewing, stood large projector screens.

I followed Bill to my chair at the back of the room and he gestured me to have a seat while he sneaked closer to the front. I nodded my apprehensive agreement and Bill vanished into the shadowed crowd.

The music faded, and the once hidden dancers within the dark lowered themselves slow into their chairs; each wide open eye locked on the stage.

The lights raised from dark to dim and the clapping dropped from high overhead in praise, down to each lap, as the projectors activated and each screen glowed with a different colorful object.

One screen pictured an island surrounded by crystal clear water while the opposite screen showed a plane on a tarmac with smiling happy folks standing on the stairs leading inside the craft. The center screen flashed the faces of a variety of people in quick succession then faded away to become the image of a tropical resort surrounded by palm trees and scantily clad people on a beach. A jewel laden bracelet flashed into view from the side, and the central screen dissolved into the image of a room full of individuals sitting around a large table, having a discussion, with their focus on a white board covered in notes.

The screens continued to flash smiling faces and extravagant items, yachts, homes and villas, fancy things, mansions, clothing, spas and gymnasiums, a horse ranch, rings with their matching necklaces’, rubies and pearls, and the music continued to play in low tones. The central screen revealed a picture of a ladder with an arrow pointing up it to the word SUCCESS. BizarroTech continued to clap, hoot and holler.

A Joker grin smeared across each face.

A tall rotund man stepped onto the center stage and when the spotlights became one on his large frame, his suit glistened and flickered; reflecting small twinkles of golden light around his congregation.

He tapped the microphone attached to the fold of his jacket once, to ensure it was on, and bellowed into it.

“Yes! This is what it’s all about!  Am I right?  Come on!  Get that music back up there! Let’s do this!!” He waved his hand in a broad sweeping gesture across the stage and started clapping and dancing again as the DJ pushed the volume up to its earlier setting. The rest of the room joined him, and the once seated members of the audience jumped back up into dance mode and everyone was clapping along and jamming to the music in the aisles.

My eyes opened wide and stupefied I glanced around me. I felt like a stranger in a strange land.

The big man pulled a handkerchief from an inside pocket and dabbed his sweat covered forehead as the ladies around him moved off to the side of the staging area. The man smiled and echoed his own words.

“Yes. Yes indeed.  This is what it’s all about.  This is it.  Who else is with me today?  Who else knows that this is it!? Come on now! Let’s hear that noise!”

The room erupted into applause and whistling through fingers.

“Who else is with me today? I know who’s with me today… Each and every one of you, that’s who.  You’re here for a reason. Why are we here!?” Big man pointed around the room.

The audience replied in unison, “To change the world!”

“That’s right. To change the world.  How is this possible?  How can we, you and I, change this world?  Let me hear it!”

The members chanted their reply, all in one voice, “Sheer will! Hard work! Devotion!”

“Devotion. That’s right.  Only through devotion and commitment can we make the impossible, possible.”

Hands raised high overhead and clapped a thunderous agreement.

“For those of you who haven’t met me yet, or haven’t attained the impossible, my name is “Gill”, and I’m going to show you how to make your dreams come true. But before that, I need some stories.  Who here has a story? Who’s ready to share?”

Bill stood at the front of the room, activated his salesman smile and snatched a microphone from a stage hand. My mentor turned around to address the audience, locked his eyes with me at the back of the auditorium, and the room fell into a hush. Each head in the room turned towards him.

🙂 Thanks for reading and walking beside me on this adventure. I’m having an absolute blast sharing this with everyone. Feel free to subscribe below in the available area with an email and click “follow me”, and please share TotC with others.  More is on the way 🙂

“How can the rules be followed when the rules themselves aren’t clearly defined?” JSM

 

Chapter Eleven

The Rules

 

 

I don’t believe a smile crested my lips for the rest of that weekend.

Hang on a second… Wait… Nope.  Not a smile can I recall.

I felt bitter and sad. Not angry, but frustrated.

How many other ways could this weekend have gone? How much better could it have all turned out?

If I had listened to my buddy in the first place and really thought it through, I could be home safe and sound, peacefully snoring… and not dragging my feet into a hotel at three o’clock in the morning after two destructive accidents in which one person was seriously injured.

Sore, banged up, tired body. Thumping headache. Sharp stabbing prickles in my neck. Butterflies bumping around in my guts with relentless force.

“Bill, what time does the training start?”

He looked to his wrist and half smiled, “We need to be there at seven thirty, sharp.”

“Please tell me you’re kidding.”

“No. That’s the time it starts. We don’t want to miss the Keynote. That’s the best part. We’ll get in a quick breakfast and arrive as scheduled. Jeremy–” He stopped in the hall, lowered his head and dropped his luggage to the floor. For the first time since we met, he showed signs of weakness, fatigue and a slight drop in confidence. He looked beyond me down the hall, and rolled his tongue inside his cheek as though he was searching for the right words. Catching my stare he placed a hand on my shoulder and gripped it with a gentle squeeze, “–It’s been a tough night, for all of us, but everything will be fine.  Get a few hours’ sleep.  We’ll get through it and someday you’ll look back on this and laugh. Trust me.”  He winked, smiled the wicked grin, and snatched up his luggage again.

I followed him down the hall to my room.

The moment my head hit the pillow and my eyes closed shut, they opened again to the wakeup call a few hours later. It was time for breakfast. The passage of time from sleep to awake was instantaneous.

Bill knocks on the door at six fifteen and enters the room, “So… We ready for this? Where’s your formal wear?”

“Formal wear? Suit and tie?”

His eyes opened wide, “Yes. A suit.  You brought one didn’t you?”

“I was never told to bring a suit. I don’t think I own a suit.”

“That’s ok. We’ll make due.  Maybe I have something.  Did you at least bring something button up?”

I sifted through my luggage, “… I don’t see anything. Sorry.  I wish I’d known.”

“That’s alright.” He approached the door. “You’ll be sitting in the back of the room anyway.”

The second the words came out of his face was the moment the light switch dropped even further. In that instant, I knew I didn’t belong and I bristled up at the remark. “Bill, like I said, I didn’t know.  For not dressing up, I get punished? Back of the room?”

He looked surprised, “Oh, no, no. Not punishment.  All the new people sit in the back. You’ll be among a handful of others who are at the bottom rung of the tiers. The introductory stage. This entire seminar, Jeremy, all of this and everything you’re about to see and experience, is all for you.”

The butterflies returned and I sat down on the edge of the bed. “What do you mean?”

“I’m not joking. All of us doing this… the big wigs, the best of the best gathering from around the country and in some cases the world, all this money spent, all of it; is all for you and the few others like you. You think this is some annual event we like to do? Some family reunion? No.  We do this for our new people. We don’t mess around.  BizarroTech is serious with new recruits. You need to be shown what’s possible.  You still have the paper I gave you at my house?”

I reached to my wallet, “Yeah. It’s in here.”

“Don’t take it out. Keep it there. You’ll look at it in the future when the time’s right. I want that paper to be your incentive for now.  The rules of the game are to leave it alone until the time is perfect and only you’ll know when that time is.  Take it out of its safe place the moment that first big check arrives at your mailbox. Just remember what you’re about to see today, is what you can become yourself, in no time. Everything on that paper will come full circle. It’s all—for—you.” He pointed his finger at me and the smile returned. My mentor left the room and I reached to my wallet.

Game you say?

Some rules are meant to be bent. Especially with games.

On my Facebook profile I mention my love of games. Table top games, dice games, strategy games, role playing games, video games, and my favorite game–chess.

I also state I don’t like head games. Bill’s mention of the rules of the game, changed my patterns of thought.  I don’t like head games, but I can play them when needed.

I try to follow the rules. I always strive to do the right thing. I think before I act and speak, and I have a structured moral code that’s fairly solid.

But I can’t say I haven’t bent the rules from time to time. The devils are in those details however and tales for another time.

Keeping my eye on the door as though I was about to read something top secret and classified, my curiosity getting the better of me, I withdrew the paper from its pocket (hiding behind an old hand punched Subway card), and pulled open the folds. A sound in the hall forced me to stuff it back inside the wallet, but when no one entered the room, I pulled it back out and opened it halfway.

 

🙂 Thank you for continuing this journey with me and if you wish to receive a notification for further adventures, just provide an email in the area below, and click “follow me”. The email provided will not be used for any other purpose. Thank you for reading and subscribing to TotC.  I’ll see you at the seminar 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s easy to forgive. Forgiveness is a complete unification of mind and heart. Forgiveness is the easy part. Forgetting–is pulling a million splinters from the brain.”  JSM

 

Chapter Ten

Genesis

 

I still think about her from time to time. Usually by accident.

It’s always a fleeting moment. Something at work may have triggered it. Perhaps a conversation with a co-worker, or a run in with someone at the grocery store. Television maybe. Only a glimpse is provided though.

Every now and again her face appears, then dissipates from view just as fast. It catches me off guard and I never expect it.

“Whoa… where did that come from? She’s the LAST thing you should be thinking about.”

A quick shake of the head to clear the fog, and life moves on.

As though her image is frozen in time what appears to me is a black and white photograph. I can’t recall much detail, but I know it’s her. A ghostly outline on a hazy gray background.

On the day I snapped the mental photo of her, I remembered each sound around me. The yelling and escalated conversations, anger, the tears, the nausea, stress, despair, chaos and in regards to my level of comfort, it was too much to handle.  I eventually had to turn my back and walk away from the whole thing.

The only way for me to keep sane.

My mind has two specific defense mechanisms. I will react in one of two ways when provided with situations which I feel are too big for my britches; or if I get backed into a corner.

One defense is what I have coined, “the light switch” and the other, “the wall”. The wall is the more extreme of the two.

The wall is just that. For moments of time in my history, (years ago) I built high walls around myself.  A protective shield. A barrier designed for intentional isolation.  No one gets in, I stay put, and in the wake of my actions I’ll burn needed bridges if necessary. I break the wall down when ready.

The light switch is the most common.

The switch is always in “on” mode.  The light is always glowing and as bright as possible.

During needed moments I flip the switch down. I change my entire personality, reverse my thinking 180 degrees, turn off the lights and attempt to be as Vulcan as possible.  Zero emotion.  I emote nothing. Almost robotic.

“Priorities, responsibility, work. Three basic necessities for survival; water, shelter, food.”

High stress situations will force the light switch. It’s served me well over the years… considering the multiple circumstances throughout this journey. At times I have come to rely on it.

*****

I’m not sure how fast the car was moving, when it hit us head on, but if I were to venture a guess I’d estimate 45mph. The vehicle I was in was perhaps slowed down to twenty. It was a good collision.

I say “good” as if I was comparing it to an episode of Mythbusters where they test impact and velocity.

When the bumpers collided, the back tires were pulled from the ground and the SUV bounced when the tires returned to the surface. The front ends were caved in and steam poured out from under crumpled hoods. The air bags in the front deployed from their compartments.

I remember pulling my arms away from my face during the impact, but not by choice. The impact of two vehicles smashing together moves your body around, regardless. First, you lurch forward against the seatbelt and your head stretches down to the chest. If you’re my height, there’s a decent chance you may hit the seat in front of you. The body flings back into the cushion, snapping the head back, the body flails around momentarily within the available space and my cheek was smashed into the window.  I felt lucky by removing my glasses first.

A spidery fracture crept across the glass and once the two cars came to a complete stop, I ripped off the seatbelt, opened my door, fell out of the car, and scooped up a handful of fresh snow from the street.

I packed it into a loose ball and smeared the cold on the growing welt below my eye, and placed my backside down on the ground right where I was. I looked to my left and a chunk of black plastic debris was sitting in the snow beside me.

Some of the next hour or so, was a complete blur. Images. As though the voices around me were moving away, or dulled down.

The couple who ran into the caravan were elderly. The passenger was the husband.

While forced to wait for the authorities and the emergency vehicles, exchanging information, and feeling nothing but utter hopelessness, I developed the “light switch”. It was a slow evolution for the first couple of days, but the genesis of my primary defense mechanism started during this hour.

The woman driving refused to release her grip from the steering wheel, keeping her eyes on the wreck before her; white knuckled and shaking. Members of the caravan continued to instruct the couple, “No. Just stay put.  Wait for the ambulance and police.  Hold tight.  Help is coming.”

And stay put is exactly what they did, until a second circus within the same blizzard happened all around us.

The Canadian authorities treated us well that night. They provided transportation for travelers to nearby medical facilities and all who incurred injury were treated, and then additional transportation was offered to the designated hotels near the convention center.  Kudos and thanks for helping us through the incident.

Because of the blizzard, their arrival was not as expedient as we wished, but within that hour the road was once again covered with vehicles.

The medical team opened the door to the woman’s car and aided her onto the street, a gurney nearby, and at that moment of helping she went into immediate shock and collapsed into waiting arms.

My mind snapped a photo of her that night. The look on her face of sheer terror and instant panic. Her nearby husband grasping her hand and seeing him mouth the words, “It’ll be alright.  I know, I know.  I’m scared too.” I wonder to this very day if she survived that night. Her image is conjured from time to time.

A large man covered my view of the woman and her saddened counterpart.

“Folks, everyone gather round. We’re going to have to get you where you need to go now. Who needs to go where?”

“Officer, what’s wrong with the woman?”

“She went into shock?”

“Will she be alright?”

“We can hope so. She’s in good hands.  Let’s get the travelers to the hospital and who needs to go to the convention center?”

Luggage corralled, separated into different groups, and divvied up again, BizarroTech refused to let go. At one point it was insisted that everything comes to an end tonight.  That moment it was time to return home and be done. Walking was even provided as an option if necessary.

“Don’t worry, Jeremy. As soon as we’re done, you’ll get a ride home. Almost there. Gill is going to want to hear all about this.   Can’t wait for you to meet him.  Wonderful man.  Wonderful man.”

The light switch twitched when I pondered for a moment that I was being kidnapped.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“If a bridge must be burned leave nothing standing. Turn it to ash. Let the wind carry the remains away.” JSM

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

 

I’ve had multiple conversations recently with friends, coworkers and family and much of what we discuss is the overall pursuit of happiness. Doing what makes you happy.  Sure, we have our other conversations, but they always seem to veer into, “Are you still doing drawing, painting, yoga, music, meditating, writing, poetry, coding, funny movies or whatever?”

“Yes I am. I really enjoy it.  I haven’t been doing it long, but yeah.  It’s fun.”

“That’s what it’s all about.”

A friend showed me a picture on her phone of a new birdhouse she built and just beamed with pride at her first attempt to create something from nothing.

She tells me, “I’ve read articles online, magazines, watched the YouTube videos and always said I couldn’t do this. Then one day I went out, bought the materials, and did it.”

“I look forward to the next picture.”

Those who are close to me know I’m a bit of a hermit. I work nearby (Like… four hundred feet from my front door) and I enjoy being home. My routine is specific, I stay within a perimeter, I maintain a system and we travel out and about to other places when time is provided and the money is available.

Nancy works a second job five nights a week, and my kiddos aren’t always here. I’ve learned through the absence of others to appreciate myself. Learning to be alone and liking it for great chunks of time.

Yeah… I could walk or take a bike ride downtown, but I’m not big with crowds. I’ve come to enjoy my own company. At times, the only sound in the home is the furnace kicking on and off, birds chirping outside the window and the dog scuffling around upstairs.

I do see my buddies when possible and when our schedules match up, and we continue to have social time whether face to face or through messenger. I’m not saying I’m alone all the time. Just periods of time to include eight hours alone at work on most days.

I love all who reside with me and my home is an active home when it’s full, however, alone is how I spend a lot of my time. And you know what? That’s OK.  Sometimes within the absence of sound, it’s possible to find peace. Comfort within silence.

An uncomfortable silence? No.  Not so much.  More often than not an uncomfortable silence is called that for good reason.

Most of the remaining ride across the border to the Computer Seminar and convention center was in oppressive, uncomfortable, silence.

*****

 The caravan plowed through the gathering snow as if it wasn’t there. We’d be at our destination in no time. At the rate I was moving along before, in my now mangled car, it would have taken days to arrive.

At random intervals a traveler would try to spark up conversations or break the ice, but my replies were always quick and right to the point. I wasn’t in the mood for idle chit chat and kept my focus to the passing scenery out my window.

We stopped at a Tim Hortons, stretched, sipped coffee and made our way to a short stretch of highway that would take us the rest of the way to the end. All was going according to plan, despite the minor earlier inconvenience.

The blizzard raged on, the wind whipped up and the caravan was forced to slow down. Our vehicle now in the lead and the others not far behind.

Coming down the hill around a high right we noticed two vehicles creeping through the weather, fishtailing and skidding along the way. Once the lead car hit the middle of the hill, which connected to the flat stretch we were traveling along, it picked up speed, slid into the curve and pointed its nose and headlights straight at us. The following cross dialogue between the travelers within the SUV ensued.

“Is it gonna hit us?”

“Oh man, it’s gonna hit us!”

“Flash the high beams.”

“Breaks locked up, can’t stop! Can’t turn!”

“No, it’ll miss! It’s cutting to the side. No, no, I was wrong.”

“Why won’t they move?!”

“Get out of the way! Move!”

“Well… this is gonna hurt.”

“No. This isn’t happening!”

“Turn the wheel!”

“Oh no. Everyone brace for impact!”

“This thing have airbags?”

A head on collision was imminent and a traveler was correct. It did hurt.

I’ve been lucky. Never once broken a bone. I’ve only experienced a hairline fracture on a finger when a beam fell on it at work, some steel dust extracted from the eyes, and a couple of lacerations that needing mending, but nothing else physically. Bumps and bruises.  Many scary moments though, especially in the steel industry.

Tripped over my own feet once guiding a multi-ton I beam, which was wrapped up with a length of chain and driven into the building by a boom truck. Any motion will cause the heavy beam to swing. The truck moves at a snail pace.

Guiding the beam onto a tall pile, the vehicle drives onto a piece of debris and the action pulls the beam from my hand and I stumble forward. I lose my grip, trip over my boot and slip into the beam pile and the now swinging length of steel is moving and rotating around like a four thousand pound helicopter blade and all I can do is wait inside the safe space for it to come to a stop.

That was a fun experience.

I came to grips with the fact that a vehicle was about to collide into the SUV’s grill, at a speed that would do some heavy damage and potentially hurt someone.

I removed my glasses, placed them in my lap, and covered my arms over my face.

 

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