Thursday, December 12, 2019

Scrooge Vs. Fred

Image result for carolers

“No Mom, we aren’t going.” It would be the only time our voices would be in unison all night.

“Get your coats on, we’re going.” She stated emphatically. Upset by our lack of any reaction besides the rolling of eyes and huffing in disgust she enlisted reinforcements. “Honey, tell the kids to get their coats on.” She looked down at Dad who was reading the evening Deseret News. Getting closer and adding volume she says, “Honey! We need to go, tell the kids to get their coats on.”

Putting the paper down he began to grasp what is going on, something he failed to note despite a very vocal argument having occupied most of the last 10-15 minutes. He shifts in his chair uncomfortably. Even with the amazing talent of being able to ignore sounds far beyond the limits OSHA would consider safe, he still deep down really just wants peace. As such, he hated taking sides, but quickly realized that there was only one side safe to be on. “Kids get your coats on.”

“Fine.” We know we have lost, but we know this is only the first battle. So we ad, “but we are only going to go to the homes on our street.”

“Okay, then grab some windex bottles, and a stack of newsletters.” Every year we handed out the family newsletter that always focused around the same joke, how Dad and the kids hated doing a float in the South Salt Lake City 4th of July Parade and how Mom had forced us to yet again. With the newsletter Mom gave a gift to the neighbors. So this year our living room was filled with a hundred bottles of windex.

The gifts were always something practical and cheap. She didn’t really have many other options. Dad for the past several years, had worked on and off as a substitute teacher, tutorer and newspaper delivery man. All jobs that made for hard work but little income. But what they lacked in income they made up for with conviction. Conviction to never take government or other forms of welfare. That is except the bags and bags of hand me down clothes that everyone knew they could drop off at our porch any time and that Mom would put them to good use.

“These pants I think would fit Megan, we can send those to the Millard’s.” She would say as she pulled the jeans from the large pile of clothes she had dumped out of the bags, carefully folding them and adding them to the stack she would take to the next family, since they didn’t fit any of us.

But now was not time for sorting clothes, she was preparing to give something else to the neighbors. We pulled on our hand me down coats and hats and headed out into the snow. Marie Landace, a kind widow, who lived next store since before I was born and her pet turtle were always our first stop.

“Hark the Harold,” Mom called out.

“We don’t know that one. Let’s do Jingle Bells.”

“No, here we go, she’s coming. Hark the Harold angels sing.” Mom started out loudly.

“That’s too high.” Dad interrupted but not loudly enough to stop her.

“Glory to the new born king.” She continued. By this time, the door was opened and slowly we each joined in, some even in the same key as Mom.

After the song ended Mom would say, “Who has the card and gift?” One of us would walk up and hand the newsletter and Windex bottle which Mom had added a note on the bottle saying, “May you see clearly this Christmas Season.” Or something, a little more clever but no less corny. “What’s your favorite Christmas Song?” She’d ask. Most people would then say Silent Night and we’d sing that. Then we would begin walking away as we sang, ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas.’

As soon as we finished the street as we predicted she would push us to go to the next house and the next, and the next. With each house the murmuring and mumbling would increase. We would look for any sign of hope we would be on our way back home. When the windex bottles ran out we thought for sure we’d be done. But Mom would just plow on and carol even without the great gift. That was one of the advantages about giving out windex, you could be fairly sure neighbors weren’t going to brag to each other about the great gift they got from the Gee’s and thereby let out of the bag that one of them had been robbed out of there free cleaning supplies.

At some point Dad would sense that if we went on any longer he would end up with Children lying in the street refusing to take another step, and at that point he would say, “Honey, maybe we should head home.”

She would glare at him, adding, “Don’t you start to,” but she could sense things were falling apart as Children sang further and further from the doorstep and started trying to sing, ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ for the opening number hoping to shorten the performance. We would trudge home feeling frozen and hard done by, only to go out and do it the next night.

Caroling to the neighbors was as much a part of my Christmas as Santa, the Nativity, or presents. I loved Christmas and couldn’t wait for that day when I’d get presents. We, like most kids hoped to get the latest game console or other big ticket items but deep down we knew that wasn’t in the cards. Many of our friends would get those things but our presents were always less expensive, and our gifts were just as often practical as fun. Socks were almost a guarantee. My whole outfit may have been hand me down, but I had a brand new, fresh out of the wrapper, socks at Christmas.

As much as I complained you would think I and my siblings hated caroling but I loved how it made me feel. I wouldn’t admit it to my Mother and I’m not sure I even was mature enough to admit it to myself when I lived at home. But I remember one of the first Christmas’s I spent away from home. I was in Wisconsin on my Mission in the town of Beaver Dam. Christmas Eve can be a tough night for missionary’s. People are with families and busy and not usually up for visits. Our mission president said we could stay in after 6 that night. An unusual treat since most nights we stayed out proselyting until 9PM.

As I prepared to spend the night just shooting the breeze with my companion I thought of all those nights caroling back home. Part of it was simple homesickness but I knew that what I wanted to do more than anything was to go caroling. I asked my companion and being a brand new missionary he said sure. I don’t recall how many people we sang to that night but I recall one home very vividly. It was a small white home in need of some paint. It has steps leading up to a small 3 foot by 2 foot porch. The stairs had an old splintered hand rail made of 2x4s along it. We knocked and began to sing, “Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing or the plains...”

As we sang an elderly women slowly opened the door. She couldn’t have been younger than 80. As she listened tears fell from her face. We sang as she wept. When we finished she said, “This is the first time in my life I have ever had carolers sing to me.”

From that time to this, I don’t think there has ever been a Christmas that I have not caroled. And while at times this has led to awkward moments. We caroled to a couple and the wife was from Eritrea. She looked very confused as we stood at her door singing. She turned to her husband and in her native tongue asked what we were doing. He thought and said, “Well, in America people...actually no people don’t really do this.” We went on to become very close friends after this.

Near the beginning of Charles Dickens the Christmas Carol, Dickens gives us two conflicting views of what Christmas is. First Scrooge gives us his view after his Nephew Fred says, “Don’t be cross Uncle.”

He replies, “What else can I be, when I live in such a world with fools as this. Merry Christmas? What is Christmas time but a time for paying bills without any money. A time for finding yourself a year older and not an hour richer. A time for having your books balanced and having every item in them presented as dead (debt) against you.” He then says to Fred. “What good has it (Christmas) ever done you.”

And Fred reply's, "There are many things from which I might have derived good by which I have not profited, I dare say, Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round-apart from... the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that-as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"

To which Scrooge replies, “Humbug.”

These two views of Christmas may seem contradictory, one right and one wrong. Yet the truth is, they both simultaneously exist all around us.

I have no doubt that at times, Christmas was a great stress to my parents. They knew they could not get us the gifts we really wanted. Indeed, if it wasn’t for them, doing what they both hated to do, rely on the welfare of loving neighbors and friends there may have been several years where I may have not even gotten socks. No doubt, in those years it would have been tempting to see things in the light of Scrooge. I’m sure at times my parents felt a year older and not an hour richer. That they were paying bills without any money and that if they spent almost anything it would simply add debt to their lives, something they refused to do.

But that is part of what’s so beautiful about these two descriptions of Christmas. They are describing the same thing, the same situations, only different viewpoints.

Too often, we get caught up in the consumerism of Christmas, buying things for people that they don’t really need with money we don’t really have. When we do, we allow Scrooge’s view of Christmas to seep into our lives and drowned out, what Christmas is really about.

That was the beauty of caroling with my family. When the only gift you have to offer is a bottle of windex, your presence and a song; you begin to see what Christmas is really about, what he who’s birth we celebrate wants us to focus on...People. To make it a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable time.

I know that my parents like everyone else, struggled in a world that can’t decide between Scrooges and Fred’s view of Christmas. The conflict of these two perspectives and figuring out how to make Fred’s the more dominant in our Christmas season is what A Christmas Carol is all about. In my mind, the key difference is found in Fred’s phrase, “men and women seem to open their shut up hearts.” That is what we get to witness every time we watch A Christmas Carol, one man’s journey through the process of opening his shut up heart.

Most of us won’t be visited by three spirits in order to guide us through such a journey. Instead God has placed people and loved ones who can help us change from someone who is shut up and looks inward to someone who truly opens up and begins to see ‘people below us as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.’

I now realize that was what my parents were slowly helping me to see, with each door knocked and carol sung. How grateful I am for this time of year when I can once again head out, Christmas newsletters, and grumbling kids in tow and remind myself what Christmas is all about.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Chapter 13 - Mounting Excuses

(As always if you are new to the book here are links to the earlier chapters, Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3 Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9 and Chapter 10, Chapter 11, and Chapter 12).

Chapter 13

Many men when faced with the alternatives of the wife at home who finds it hard to muster the same passion and emotion she once did, as she rounds 40, chases kids and deals with the realities of middle age; and the secretary at work who is paid full time to meet his every request and help support him 100%, finds himself more and more in love with the secretary.

Byron was no different, and the love he had for his assistant, Ms. Whitaker had been growing for a long time. And the feelings were very much mutual.

Ms. Whitaker had been with Byron since the first day he launched his own practice. Their love was as strong and perhaps stronger than most mothers have for their son. She was like a mother to him, a rebellious, nonconforming, but loving mother. She had been there when his mother died, and even attended the funeral.

Likewise, when Mrs. Whitaker had become Ms. Whitaker due to the untimely death of her husband, Byron became her closest confidant.

So, it was not surprising when she came into the office gushing over, wanting to talk.

“Byron, you’ll never guess what I did this weekend.”

“You are absolutely correct. I’ll never guess.”

“I was in San Diego to watch a Padres Game.”

“You drove 5 hours to watch a baseball game? I didn’t think you liked baseball.”

“I don’t. I hate it,” Ms. Whiticker said matter of factly.

“Yeah, sounds like it. I can tell by your tone that you had a horrible time,” Byron said.

“It wasn’t because of the game that I”m excited.”

“Ok, so what was it?”

“Well, do you remember the Morgans?”

“Oh, no! What happened?” Byron was always very careful about keeping relationships between doctor and patient very professional. Ms. Whitacker was careful with relationships, she just wasn’t so worried about the professional part.

“Why are you so negative. Nothing bad happened.”

“Ms. Whitacher, I love that you are the nicest person in the world to everyone who comes through that door. Sometimes, I think some keep coming back to see you, not me. But you really shouldn’t hang out with clients. It’s not proper.”

“Oh, please. I’m not their doctor. Anyways, you can scold me about that later. That’s not the point. The point is the Morgans are huge Padres fans.”

“So you’re willing to drive 5 hours to attend an event you hate just to disobey my advice about hanging out with clients?”

“Stop interrupting, well, they had two sets of tickets and had planned to go with the Cowden's.”

“The Mason’s know the Cowden’s?”

“I introduced them.”


“I know, not good protocol, blah, blah, blah. I would have told you earlier, but I knew you’d be all worried. We have great times together. You should see Mr. Cowden's impression of you.”

“I can’t believe this.”

“Now stop getting me off track. We haven’t even got to the point. See, the Cowden’s had to go out of town. Their daughter is going through a divorce in Ohio and they had to go to support her. They said they wished she lived here because they would have sent her and her deadbeat husband to you. But with the extra tickets they decided to invite myself and Daryl Goodman, their widower neighbor. And,” she paused for dramatic effect, “he’s awwwwesommmme.” She even added jazz hands for emphasis.

“Wow, you really like this guy. So, what makes him awwwwesommmmmme?” Bryon’s imitation was not nearly as energetic.

“Well, for one thing, he hates baseball.”

“So you spent 5 hours driving to a baseball game, about 4 hours watching a baseball game and 5 hours driving back from a baseball game and spent the time bonding with a guy over how much you both hate baseball.”

“Yeah. Isn’t it great?”

“Well, I am very excited for you.”

“I have another date with him on Thursday. Maybe, our date after that we could do a double with you and Julie.”

“Aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself. You better have date #2 before planning date #3.”

“You are probably right. But I think he is really a good man. I’d love for you to meet him.”

“Yeah, we could go to a rock concert and bond over how much we all hate rock concerts.”

“What do you and Julie like to do for dates? I know your big proponent of dates in marriage.”

“Oh, you know the usual stuff?”

“What’s the usual stuff? The Morgans said, you told them that original dates are important.” Byron knew this idea of Ms. Whitaker hanging out with clients was a problem.

“We like the usual, but original, usual stuff.”

“Oh, original, usual stuff. And what would that be?”

“Well, like eating out is something we like but a little while back we decided to eat at the Eiffel tower downtown because it was somewhat different or original.”

“I get it. Well, if there is a date #3. I’ll have to think of a fun, usual, and original date that you and Julie can come along with.”

“That sounds fun, um...but Julie was thinking she might go visit her parents this weekend.”

“Well then maybe date #4.”

“She did say, she was going to stay for a week or so.”

“A week or so?”

“Here mom is going through some things, so it might be a little bit.” That should buy him some time.

“Well, okay date #5, or #6. But we will get it worked out. If it gets that far.”

Unfortunately for Byron, it did get that far. He could only extend Julies pretend visit to her parents for so long. So pretty soon, he invented clubs, yoga, charity events, and bird watching trips.

Even persistent Ms. Whitaker eventually gave up on the idea of a double date. And Byron was able to slow down on his made up wife excuses, which was refreshing. Byron hated lying but like most of us, did it when the discomfort of doing it was less that the discomfort caused by facing the truth.

Things moved fairly uneventfully for 6 months, until snow fell over the Las Vegas valley. A good snowfall happened every 10 years or so and for Byron that was far too often. Years of shoveling snow had made no town big enough for both Byron and any fluffy white stuff. As he walked into the office it was clear Ms. Whitaker did not share his disdain for snow. She was positively beaming, beyond even her usual brightness.

About half way through the Day when he was between clients. Ms. Whitaker came in and asked, “Did you notice anything different about me today?”

Byron, like most men, hated this game. If he said, “your hair’s different and it’s not, it becomes proof that he doesn’t notice her hair, which for some reason is important. Even the, “I’m not sure.” is admittance of failures to observe, which is so easily considered as failure to care. But despite hating the game he did his best.

“You do seem extra excited. I assumed it was all this horrid white stuff.”

“I do love the snow, but there may be another reason for my excitement,” and she held out her hand.

She had continued to wear her wedding ring following the death of her husband. It was a modest ring reflective of her and her husband's finances at the time. It was now dwarfed by a ring with a much larger diamond. “Daryl proposed, we are getting married in June.”

“Wow. that is great news. Congratulations. I am very excited for you.”

“I can hardly wait. I only wish it could be sooner. But so much to plan and get ready. And even though we haven’t worked out the exact date I still want you and Julie to meet him.”

“Yeah, hopefully that will work out.”

This was much like parents saying, “we’ll see” when their son asked if they are going to get a pet giraffe for Christmas.

“Byron.” Her tone implied both the seriousness and how much what she was about to say meant to her. “Promise me you’ll at least both make it to the wedding.”

As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t bring himself to disappoint her, not right now.

“I will be there.”

“You and Julie both right? I want you both to be at the wedding.”

“You bet, Let me know the day and I’ll make sure we can make it.”

“Thanks Byron, it means a lot to me.”

As Ms. Whitaker went back to her desk in the lobby. Byron began to sweat. Could he really ask Julie to come? It had been a year and a half since the wedding. They had agreed, no contact. What would she say if he called up?

Did he even have her number? He had gotten a new phone a few months back and not all his contacts had transferred, some had to be manually added. Sure enough, Julie Smith, was listed with a phone number. Under company was listed the letter B. He wasn't sure what that was, probably a mistake, when he had entered it. But should he call her? Well, the wedding was 6 months away. No reason to bother her now. He should at least wait until they had a date, and who knew, maybe it would get called off. He was a widower, people who were younger than him were dying all the time. He pushed the thought out of his head, but maybe he could come up with a great excuse before then.

Problems plus time, rarely led to success but that is exactly what he hoped for now.


“Julie we are really looking forward to coming. I only wish it could be more than a weekend but your Dad has to go to LA for his conference.”

“I’m excited too. It seems like its getting longer and longer since I get a chance to see you.”

“And we haven’t had a chance to really sit down and get to know Byron. We haven’t seen or even talked to him since the wedding.”

“Oh.. yea, about that.”

“Is there something wrong honey. Is something going on between you and Byron?”

“No, not that mom.”

“I mean, I realize that the first few years in marriage can be tough. I mean it was a real shock to me how often your father wanted to.”

“Mom, stop. Byron and I are doing fine. It’s just that he has to be out of town for work that weekend.”

“For Work? I thought he was a marriage counselor.”

“He is, but they travel.”

“For what?”

“For like therapy.”

“You mean he goes on a cruise with a couple and councils them, while on the cruise.”

“Yeah! He does it all the time.”

“Well, your dad will be very disappointed.”

“Why’s Dad going to be disappointed?”

“Don’t get me wrong. I'd like to see Byron too, but your Dad has been asking a lot about him. Yesterday he asked if we should get his number from you so we could at least talk to him. But I thought he might consider that weird.”

“Yes, he would. He will be here next time you come.”

“But everything is going good between you two, right?”

“Yes, why do you keep asking?”

“I just want to be sure. You two are… you know.”

“Mom, if you are asking about intimacy. It’s none of your business.”

“You’re right, I was just wondering if we might get a big announcement soon.”

“Mom. I’ve told you before. I’m not pregnant.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes mom, I’m very sure.”

“Are you on birth control? Do you not like kids?”

“Mom, I’m not on birth control. And I think kids are wonderful.

“Just not for you.”

“No. Just not right now.”

“Julie, you’re over 30 years old, you don’t have many right now’s left.”

“Mom, don’t make me feel old.”

“It’s just biology, times ticking for all of us. For me too and I don’t want to over pressure you but.”

“Sure you don’t” Julie thought.

“But I think grandkids would be really nice.”

Julie new grandkids was important to her mom and probably her dad, even though he never brought it up. But hearing her talk with so much emotion was hard on Julie and she was starting to feel bad for her mother and in her pity told her what she knew she wanted to hear.

“Mom, Truth is” she allowed her voice to get quiet and her mothers anticipation rose. “We are trying. It’s just getting pregnant isn’t as easy as we thought.”

She could sense her mother instant and total relief.

“Honey, I totally understand. Why do you think that you didn’t come along until we’d been married for three years? We tried, and tried, and tried.”

“All right, Mom.”

“No, the reason I am telling you is we found out we were trying too hard.”

“I'm not sure I want to hear this story.”

Her mother ignored her and continued, “We got so worried we finally. Went to see a fertility specialist. And he told us we were trying to hard. ‘Tiger needs his rest.’

“Okay, Mom. I think we can be done with this story.”

“I only bring it up because a month later you were on your way. Resting the tiger, works.”

“We can try that. I promise we will, ‘rest the tiger’ but only if we talk about something else.”

“I’m so happy you’re trying. I’ll let you know if I come up with any other pointers. We can’t wait to see you soon.”

Julie instantly felt guilty for misleading her mother. Not only because she lied but she did not look forward to any pointers her mother might bring to her. The only relief she had was that her mother was at least happy about her.

It was a really quick moment on her feet that had allowed her to come up with the happy couple cruise, as an excuse for Byron, but excuses were getting harder to come by. Becky, thought Byron was a vampire except unlike vampires he didn’t even come out at night.

Now almost 2 years into their marriage she wondered if marriage had simply changed the type of excuse she had to come up with. Before it was excuses to avoid blind dates and weird men. Now it was excuses for why her husband couldn’t come to parties and avoiding double dates. Before it was excuses to her Mom on why she wasn’t married and now it was excuses for why she wasn’t pregnant.

‘I guess nothing is perfect,’ Julie thought, as she turned her wedding band in her hand.


Here is a link to Chapter 14

Chapter 12 - The Honeymoon

(As always if you are new to the book here are links to the earlier chapters, Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3 Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9 and Chapter 10, and Chapter 11).

Julie arrived to work early the following Monday. She wanted to make sure everything was ready. A refreshing Sunday had helped her get over her sorrow of not having Byron to talk to and she was ready to begin her new life as a married, albeit distantly, woman.

The week previous she had taken leave, this not only gave her time to finalize all the wedding plans, but also gave her sufficient time off for people to assume she had been on a honeymoon. They didn’t need to know she had just been married the past Saturday.

She was well prepared, a new name plate, had been acquired. Julie had debated legally changing her name but it had seemed a bit too much effort, so instead the name plate that once read Julie Smith now simply read, “Mrs. Julie Smith.” No one really put the prefix on their name plate but she would break the mold if it meant one more point that proved to the world, particularly Larry’s world, that she was indeed married.

Several pictures had been purchased and printed of her and Byron. She was now trying various places in the office to place them. Once they all had a home, she pulled out a thumb drive with an updated slideshow to use as a screensaver. Throughout the last few weeks she had taken selfies of herself and Byron at almost every place they had gone. And she had quite a convincing collection that would play across her screen. Sitting back she looked over her handy work with pride and satisfaction. No one visiting this office would dare say that this was the office of an old maid. Instead, it was clearly a happily married, not to hit on, set up with, or feel pity for, woman.

The day to day work was just that, like any other day. But all her little efforts were paying off. At a morning meeting Jan noticed her ring, and congratulations followed. When Ryan came in to hand her a set of plans he noticed the picture and asked, “ Who’s this?”

“That’s my husband, Byron,” came her ready reply.

“You’re married?”

“Yup, just recently.”

He too followed with congratulations.

And when the boss walked by, he asked, “How was your time off?”

“It was great.”

“Are these pictures new...wait...did you get married?”

“Yes, I did.”

Then he said the thing all the co-workers had said in their head but were not willing to say out loud. “Oh, I guess you really did have a boyfriend.”

“You thought I made him up?” Julie said.

Her boss instantly regretted allowing his tongue to outpace his better judgement and defensively said, “No, of course not. Although, Larry was convinced you did.”

“You can’t trust anything Larry says.” Boy, that felt good to say, she thought.

“Well, you have a good day.”’ The boss said on his way out.

Julie muttered as he left, “Oh trust me, I will.”

But as good as all this felt the real moment of glory wouldn’t be until Larry had walked through that door. And this was the one point that had been the grey lining on an otherwise perfect day. Larry usually had annoyingly interrupted her 4 times by now. It would be just like him to call in sick on the only day of his existence that Julie was actually looking forward to seeing him.

For a brief moment, Julie contemplated walking by his cube, simply to verify he was in. But, where was his cube? She had avoided seeing him for so long that she had forgotten exactly where he sat. Not that she never needed to get a hold of him. After all, he was the drafting lead on several of her projects, but if she ever had something to show him or give him she put it on the side of her desk, knowing that in a few minutes he’d be poking his head in. Now that she thought about it, it wasn’t just for things for Larry. She often set things for other people aside, thinking, ‘I’ll have Larry grab it when he comes by and take it to them.’

There was a brief moment of fear as she thought all this effort was putting an end to her free office delivery service. But the benefits were great and that wasn’t even counting the added exercise, and this put her mind at ease. And right on cue, Larry’s little pointy head made its entrance, “Hey JuJu bug, miss me. I was off this morning getting my pearly whites cleaned. I want to keep your view, top notch.” The smile he gave was almost as obnoxious as he was.

“It’s Julie, or better yet, you can call me Mrs. Smith.”

“Mrs? I hate to break it to you babe, but that’s usually not given as an honorary title.”

“Very funny Larry.”

“Thanks, I am pretty clever.”

“For your information, I am very, very happy to let you know that while I was out, I got married.”

“Yeah right...nice try. To who? Your imaginary…” His face looked much like Prince Humperdinck when he discovered Wesley, very much alive and in the bedroom of his fiance.

“Oh, you like that picture. It was taken of Byron and I,” she paused, “on our wedding day.” She had purposely chosen the photo that was displayed most predominantly because the perspective made Byron look rather tall and impressive.

“Lovely,” he said as clearly as anyone’s whose world had just crashed down around his perfectly clean teeth could. “You know… I was...well...just kidding this whole time. I knew he was real. If you’ll excuse me, I need to run to a meeting.” And he was off.

If was with much more joy than guilt that Julie sat back knowing that the meeting he had to rush off to only had two invitees, himself and a box of tissues.


Julie wasn’t the only one who was finding wedded bliss. Monday mornings were not Byron's favorite but today had a special feeling in the air. Today, he was going to work not only as a marriage counselor but a married marriage counselor. He would never have to hear his clients say "well how would you know?", "you wouldn't understand", or his favorite "that's easy for a single guy to say." The gold band still gleaned from its newness. It was probably thicker than most bands, but he wanted the fact that he was married to be noticed rather than spoke. As long as nothing was said, he wouldn't have to mention the fact that he was newly wed, at least not to his new clients.

He had been around long enough to realize that no one took newly weds seriously. Whenever his clients commented on seeing a couple that looked like they were enjoying being together, they would quickly say, "Oh, they must be newly weds, like they know anything about marriage." He continued to think of ways of helping his clients realize he was married without getting himself labeled as in the "honeymoon stage."

Byron’s first act was to give birth to a small army of fake internet profiles that were now running a rather successful, ‘Dr. Lewis is a happily married man,’ PR campaign. For every comment on or similar site that scathed about his lack of ring, certificate and therefore qualification, was met with a response from harleys4life343 or balletmom751647 (It appears ballet is really making a comeback.) saying, “Not that it matters, because councilors can be good, even if not married, but you might want to check your facts, because I know for a fact, that Dr. Lewis is happily married.”

Byron had been torn if the ‘happily’ was too much. He had deleted it, put it back, and then deleted it about 5 times before ultimately saying, ‘I am married, and I’m happy, so I’m happily married.’

As weeks rolled on, it became clear that balletmom751647 knew how to run a PR campaign. The number of dropped clients was doing just that, dropping, while the number of new clients was expanding. Before long, all of his minions, even his favorite hipster, vegan_burkenstocks4ever found themselves in early retirement.

Byron was even allowing himself to do the one thing he swore he would never do, use his own experience in his counseling. “You know, Mr. Jordan, I find in my relationship, sometimes my wife needs her space, some time alone, some “me” time. Maybe you just need to give her some room.”

Often in defense of marriage; and his billable rate, Byron would say to clients, “Marriage is one of the best life and financial decisions you will ever make.” And for him it was true. The improved business far more than made up what he had to pay Julie each month. He couldn’t see a downside to this marriage thing. That is, until his secretary fell in love.

Here is Chapter 13.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Chapter 2 - Following Honey

Image result for A&W homeless

(If you are new to my John York book here is a link to Chapter 1.)

The waves crashed against the rock cliffs hundreds of feet below. The moon was just bright enough to make out the white foam from the waves as they kept up their rhythmic dance along where a vast sea met the land. “It’s been too long.” John York thought to himself. Work took John all over the world but there was something special about California’s coast line. It drew him in even as he avoided it. For amidst all its beauty it carried with it, great pain. Ocean breeze had become a cliche with every air freshener or candle maker trying to provide you access to it, even if you lived in the dust bowl of Kansas, but only the true fragrance reminded him of her.

How long had it been? He tried to stop his mind from asking the question, one whose answer he knew perfectly: 7 years. It was hard not to know the answer to a question you ask yourself multiple times everyday. When he woke up, when he was in the shower, when he sat down for lunch, anytime he tried to clear his mind, there it was. The only thing that entered his mind as often was the thought to stop asking, to let it go, to move on, and then the inevitable thought. “Will I see her again?”

But he wasn’t here to be dragged into his past like surf back into the vast ocean from whence it had come, nor was he here to simply enjoy the view. At least, not the view that anyone's eyes would naturally be drawn to, from this particular vantage point. It had taken him over 45 mins of hiking through thick brush and far too many thorns to get to this view. Below sat a mansion that was vast enough that even the word mansion seemed lacking. Arnold McMaster’s Father had owned the property before him back when coastal property in Southern California could be afforded by your everyday millionaire. Had that not been the case, even a fortune like the CEO’s of McMaster Mattresses would have been unable to purchase this much land, in this perfect a location.

Located far enough north of Los Angeles to have the amazing cliffs and yet close enough to make the commute to the mattress factory in the metropolis reasonable. Not that traffic was really an issue for the McMaster family. Arnold McMaster, the Master of the McMasters had his Chauffeur leave every morning promptly at 4:30 to be in the office by 4:45, priding himself that he beat even most people on the east coast to work. This had been his practice since his youth, and the business had been propped up by no shortage of sheer grit and hard work. He used to stay late enough that there was also little traffic on the way home, which, in LA, meant some very late nights. However, since his 80th birthday he was not putting in the hours he once did and often left the office in the early afternoon.

The other McMasters in the house, the pudgy man who spurned root beer floats and called himself Jake and his sister Adaline, who went by Jennifer, (John York regretted that he would be unable to give her the same lecture he had so eloquently given Barnaby about the world being chock full of Jennifers, but he knew such an opportunity would not present itself given the circumstances that she and he would meet under.) They too had very regimented schedules. They both held high positions in the mattress company, at least in pay, not necessarily in responsibility. They left every day shortly after waking up around 11:30. After stopping for a nice lunch and catching up on facebook and latest news from buzzfeed, they would wander into work just as their father was on his way out. They would leave promptly at 5, unless they felt like leaving earlier. Traffic at this time would have been horrendous but luckily their favorite bars, and clubs were all a short distance from the office.

This was John’s fourth trip to this particular look out, it was one of his many stops that he had made in order to understand the goings and comings of the McMasters. But the persons whose goings and comings he had spent the most time studying wasn’t a McMaster at all. Exactly on que, the small pink porsche boxster pulled up to the gate. John York wished that all the people he had to follow would chose to drive custom made bright pink cars, not that he needed it. He could track a rainbow through a gay parade. Yet he was always grateful when life made things easy.

Mrs. Honey’s habits were much more mundane then her vehicle but no less expensive. She worked very hard at her chosen profession, shopping. John York had seen the insides of more jewelry shops, hat shops, clothes shops, pet shops and even soap shops than he hoped he would ever have to endure. The one establishment that she went into that she didn’t do any shopping at was McMaster Mattresses, several times a day she would stop by to see how the old man was doing. From a distance, it became very clear that to Mrs. Honey the business was not only useful as a place to manufacture sleep aides but also a very useful bank. The best bank you could possibly think of, one that allows withdrawals without requiring any deposits.

Tonight was exactly what John York had hoped for. While the going and coming of the McMaster Clan was his primary interest, the other thing that he hoped to gain by these late night house watch parties was a decent layout of the home. From his studies, he had figured out which of the guests homes belong to each of the children, and most of the layout of the main home. But several rooms, particularly on the upper floor had remained a mystery. But tonight with perfect weather, the curtains had been drawn and windows opened.

Despite his profession often requiring him to expand the limits of what was strictly legal, he liked to keep such activity to a minimum. Sneaking around someone's home without permission was something he generally avoided. But, at times, it was necessary, and when it became necessary he had learned the two most important rooms to be prepared to enter were the bedroom and the study. He now knew where both were located.

But with this information in hand it was time to be on the move. The past few nights had always had a surprising ending, and that was with the pink porsche making an exit. There could be many reasons for such an exit. While the number of people who waited until marriage to consummate their relationship seemed to be ever shrinking, John York did know such people existed. Mr. McMaster was a devout Catholic, who each Sunday after putting in a few hours at the office, attended mass. But John York had known many devout Catholics, who contrary to Billy Joel’s theory, didn’t start much too late. The other possibility was Ms. Honey’s morals, she did not strike him as religious in anyway. However, if one was after an old man’s fortune, it would be wise to find or feign morals and hold out the goods until you have secured your spot in the family tree as rightful heir. But wise, was not a word regularly coupled with Ms. Honey. It is true that if she had been in a battle of wits with a jellyfish she would have likely won, but that is only if it happened to not be a particularly smart jellyfish. There was also the possibility that she helped the old man to bed, as it were, and then departed. After all, at 85 some people keep some rather early bedtimes.

So, this left John York with a particularly hard choice. With the bedroom window open he could observe at what time the old man did chose to retire, and even perhaps his activities prior to laying down for the night, but more importantly he wanted to know where that little pink boxster went to each night. With the decision made, he packed up his high powered binoculars and headed to his car. As noted earlier, it was quite a hike, but he would have to do it at a rapid pace if he was going to make it.

Forty five minutes later and he sat quietly with his headlights off, on the side of the road. The pattern of what time she left and in what direction had been the same for the past few nights. Knowing this allowed John York the rare opportunity of not waiting long. Five minutes after picking his spot, he saw the unique headlights of the little Porsche coming up behind him. As she passed he began to follow. It was now a little after 9 and the roads were busy but not packed. This made keeping track of her car more difficult as she carelessly cut people off and sped around semi’s. Usually, John York took care to ensure that there was no chance the person could figure out he was following them. With Scarlet, such precautions were totally unnecessary. She didn’t seem to notice anyone or anything on the road. Given her driving habits, John York would have put her life expectancy on par with that of Mr. McMaster. If Barnaby had seen her drive, he thought, maybe he wouldn’t have been so worried.

The neighborhood in which he now found himself was very different from the one they had left. Apartments were everywhere, people and litter lined the streets as they drove by pawn, smoke, and liquor shops. The car pulled up to one side of a yellow rundown duplex that sat back no more than 5 feet from the street. There was no shortage of vagrants throughout the neighborhoods but there was a particular gathering outside the home she pulled up to, as if they had been waiting for her.

As she pulled up they gathered around. Two questions instantly came to John York. One was how her car stayed unstolen in this neighborhood and more prominent on his mind, why the conflagration of homeless acting as a greeting party. John York could see the disdain in Scarlet’s eyes as she walked out of the car.

“What you got for us tonight Ms. Honey?” one of them called out.

Her hands were filled with shopping bags and she carefully selected two bags and handed them over. “You know the deal. Keep the car safe.” The group crowded around the bags and began to riffle through the contents as Ms. Honey went inside.

Given how generous Master McMaster seemed to be with his money he was surprised to see his girlfriend living in such conditions. Especially since two guests homes remained unoccupied.

As he thought his eyes caught a beautiful sight just down the street, an A&W sign. A smile kept across his face. Tonight he would get to do two things he loved, drink root beer floats, and interview the homeless. A pretty good way to spend his last night as John York.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Chapter 11- The Wedding Night

(As always if you are new to the book here are links to the earlier chapters, Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3 Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9 and Chapter 10).

Byron awoke to see a bright light shining ahead of him. He would have assumed he was dead except for the paramedic standing behind it.

“Oh good, you’re not dead. I thought I was going to be the world's fastest widow.” Came the voice of Julie standing behind the paramedic.

“I don’t know, I’ve seen some pretty fast widows.” said Byron with a weak smile.

“Glad to see that the trauma of our wedding didn’t damage your sense of humor.”

The paramedic had him sit up and gave him a drink. “You feel okay?” he asked.

“I think I’ll be okay. I am feeling much better now.”

“I think he’ll be fine.” The parametric said to Julie. “Give him plenty of fluids and no strenuous activity for the next day or two.” He winked during the last statement. “You’d be amazed how many weddings we get called out to.” Then whispering to Julie, “always the groom.”

The paramedic picked up his bag and then left. Julie was now alone with Byron.

“So, what happened out there?” Julie asked.

“I felt really sick.”

“I figured out that much.”

“I guess I was more nervous than I expected.”

“Is marrying me, even though you won’t have to see me, really that scary?”

“It wasn’t you. It just sort of hit me.” He wanted to tell her more. Share about how the idea of their marriage kind of tore him apart. And that as he went to actually go forward with it he felt this was a serious commitment that he wasn’t taking seriously. But the trust needed for that conversation was not there yet between them, even if they were husband and wife, and Julie was not the person. After all, she didn’t have any issue, saying he wasn’t taking it seriously enough would only be insinuating that she wasn’t either. He had no desire to implicate her.

“I wonder what everyone thought.”

“I’ll tell you what they thought. My Aunt Maybell said, ‘He must sure know how to throw a good bachelor party.’”

“Oh great, they think I’m a drunk.”

“Don’t worry about them. Most of them are my family, so you will never have to see them again. I’m just glad you are feeling better.” This was said with more sincerity than Byron expected for someone's who’s wedding day he had just ruined. Perhaps she really did care about him. And speaking of their wedding day, Byron had to ask, “So, are we married?”

“I think they are going to let us slip under the bar. Or at least I got this. “Julie held up their wedding certificate. “Father Young said the only part we didn’t get to before you baptized him in stomach acid was the kiss. Which, no offense, I wasn’t looking forward to. Given the circumstances, I mean. “

Byron wasn’t sure if she meant the fact that they didn’t love each other or that he had just vomited, so despite being a bit wounded said, “I understand.”

“Someone noted I might get a chance to give you mouth to mouth instead but I had seen what just came out of you, and I also noticed you were still breathing.

Byron wasn’t sure he liked the order she noted those two items and almost asked what she would have done if he hadn’t been breathing, but decided he better not ask questions he didn’t want the answer to.

“Where is everyone else?”

Most people went home, only ones left are your secretary, my friend Becky, and our parents.”

“So, what’s the plan from here?” Byron asked.

“What do you mean?”

“What’s next?”

Fear ran through Julie, did this guy just trick her into a real marriage by pretending they’d live separately and now that it was official change the plan.

“What do you mean. You go your way, and I go mine.”

“Yeah” Byron was now confused. “But how, we can’t go out in the parking lot and walk into our separate cars and wave goodbye to our parents and each other at the same time. Might not go over to well.”

With the realization that he meant short term and not long term Julie sighed. “I have that all planned. I thought we talked about it.”

“If you did, it left my mind as completely as my breakfast left my stomach.”

“Well we walk out and convince everyone you’re okay. That part is new. My Mom will cry, we hug and then walk. We ignore Father Young scrubbing the carpet at the front of the church, probably also crying. Head out the front steps, they toss rice as we walk down to your car, which no doubt is covered in Oreos, stringers, silly string and a just married sign in the back window.”

“My car?”

“Don’t interrupt, it will wash off. Then you will drive me across town to the Hampton Inn, that I have a reservation at. See, my parents will be at my home for one more night. They are driving my car home. You drive off. Is your Dad staying in town tonight?”

“No, he flys out this afternoon.”

“Okay, then you drive around, do some shopping or whatever you want until your Dad leaves and you go home. I get a great night's sleep, take a Uber home in the morning and we both go back to our separate lives.”

And so it was. Well, mostly. Julie forgot to mention a few points. First, after everyone was assumed Byron was truly okay, sensing this may be the last time he would see Byron for a while, his Father held him close, and then pulled him away and while still bracing his shoulders looked at him. It was a look Byron had never really seen in his Father. It was contentment and pride, honor, love and esteem. It was a look every boy instinctively hopes to see in the eyes of their father. It expressed fulfillment of expectations for both Father and Son. More clearly, then the limitations of words could express. It said, “Son, you are now a man.”

Byron didn’t know this existed and yet knew he had always wanted it. And while a rush of joy began to flow it was quickly tempered with inadequacy. For he knew what led his father to look at him with this look was all falsehoods. The moment was beautiful, but it was built on lies. And poor foundations didn’t discriminate based on the beauty of the edifice they held, and Byron knew it.

The next departure between Julie's carefully crafted future and reality was the next Father. Pelham embraced Byron as he went through the line and whispered in his ear. “She’s yours now, remember your promise and vows and you’ll do fine.” Instantly, the nausea had found its way back home. But with nothing left in his stomach to churn and expel, it did not last.

From that point, Julie's tell got back on track, the crying Mother, the rice, the decorated car and ultimately Byron found himself parked below the archway marking the entrance to the Hampton Inn across town.

Throwing the car into park, he said, “I’ll get the door.” As he hopped out and began to help Julie out of the passenger seat. Her outfit was much more traditional than his and the poof of her wedding dress did not make exit from the vehicle easy. Once standing up right her bag was retrieved from the back seat and the two stood awkwardly for a minute.

“Well, I guess this is…”

Byron paused, “good bye.” He couldn’t think of a better word but hated it once it came out. They both did. It seemed too cold, too final, and while they didn’t like it neither could contradict it.

“I’ll send you your first check to the routing number you gave me, first of the month,” Byron continued.

“You know, I feel kind of bad taking the money.” Julie responded. “After all, this will benefit me too.”

“No, a deal is a deal, and I always stand by my word.”

Another long pause.

“Well, I better go. “ Julie reluctantly said.

“Okay” Byron reluctantly agreed.

They looked at each other and both leaned in for a hug. It was more than a goodbye, it was nice to meet you hug. It expressed, friendship, an honest gladness for having known one another, and most importantly desire. Not a desire for passion, but a desire for this to be more, more than goodbye, more than a short lived friendship that ended in a long, distant marriage of convenience, and in the emotion of the hug Julie turned her head and gave Byron a small peck on the cheek.

Shocked Byron instantly let go, and just as instantly said, “Thank you.”

“Thank you?” Julie asked, “for what?”

The honest answer was, “the kiss” but Byron instincts had stopped and while Julie would have loved the honest answer, and may have replied with, “if you liked that, try this on for size.” But we will never know, for Byron, in an effort to cover his instinctive reply, to what he now saw as a kindly, no more than one would give to an Aunt when saying hello in many cultures kiss said, “for being willing to marry me and go on this journey. Not everyone would be willing to marry someone they would never see again.”

The reminder of the words, “never see,” was sufficient to end whatever moment they had.

“Well, thank you, I think it will work well for us both. Have a good one.” and with that Julie headed toward the doors that slid open and then shut behind her. Byron shortly thereafter pulled out, leaving his bride to approach a front desk clerk who, given his view of their last exchange had a very confused look on his face.

As Julie had predicted Byron did a little shopping to ensure there was no chance encounter with his father, grabbed a bite to eat and then headed home. Early evening found him sitting wondering what he did with his nights before they had been filled with nightly calls to Julie, to go over wedding plans. It was only six weeks ago and yet it felt an earlier, distant life. And as much as the past without her seemed distant, a future without her seemed impossible. He wasn't in love, or at least that is what he kept saying to himself. He simply liked her company. And he began to think of an excuse to call, as he stared down at her contact information on his cell phone.

Julie too was not enjoying the relaxing evening at the hotel she had envisioned. Six weeks ago, when things were on her mind she’d always call Becky, but she had worked so hard to avoid her over the past 6 weeks. She didn’t want all the piercing questions about Byron, and how they met, and how could it be happening so fast and what if she had asked, “isn’t that guy from the newspaper. Is it?” So, she had limited her contact with Becky. Wedding plans with Byron had more than filled the void, but with no plans the void was very apparent. And she couldn’t exactly restart calling Becky tonight. “I’m just sitting around on the first night of my honeymoon, thought I’d give you a call.” Probably wasn't the right way to restart their relationship, especially if she hoped to avoid questions about her marriage. The other option was Byron. She really didn’t have a reason to call but she always enjoyed talking to him. Maybe, she should just call.

So, both sat looking at each others contact information on their cell phones. But Byron and Julie had agreed that after marriage, no contact, and unfortunately for both, they had married someone who were true to their words. So, while phones were stared at a plenty, neither rang.

Here is Chapter 12

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

1 year Election Day Goal

Today is election day in the US. That means in 1 year we will be electing the person we want to be the president of our country for the next four years. At this point it will likely be Trump, Biden, Warren, or Sanders. Of course, there are many more on the democratic side and who knows, maybe an independent or two will throw their name in the hat.

I am making a goal, a simple one. To say nothing negative about any of them over the next year. Not to focus on where I disagree or why I think they will be bad for our country but rather focus on their good traits, what we have in common and how they could help our country. Everyone of them is hard working, successful people in their own right, and that is what I will focus on.

This is stupid and ignorant, some may say. You are simply putting your head in the sand. You need to know the truth and expose them for what they are. I am not at all blind to the fact that these are not perfect people. They often have policies or proposals I disagree with, they may not live their lives to my standards, but trust me, the negatives of each and everyone of these candidates will be covered ad nauseam. Unfortunately, there is so much effort in telling you why they are bad for our country, no matter who the candidates are, we are likely to feel we are stuck with the lesser of two evils.

And much of this is our own fault. If it bothers you to hear or acknowledge anything good about Trump, or vice versa, Biden or Warren, I think that is a shame and might say more about you than about them. I will still weigh, the good and bad of all candidates on the ballet. But my hope is by focusing on the positive I can actually go into the voting both excited about voting for our next leader, instead of fearfully voting against their opponent.