Sunday, January 5, 2020

Those Over Specialized Chickens

Image result for golden egg
Sometimes I feel like this is how the eggs out my chicken should look given how much they cost me


This is a follow up to my Miracle of Pineapple post so if you haven't read it, I suggest that one first.


Given it’s pitfalls it is easy to pick holes in capitalism, and perhaps someday I will write an essay on it, but today I wish to tackle the dangers of over specialization. As stated in my earlier post a lot of credit has to go to specialization. Without a man being a great crane operator and one who knew exactly how to run the plant, and scientists who spend their lives trying to improve crop yields on pineapples there is no way it would come to me for $0.99. This system maximizes economic output, and it does it well, but what it does not maximize or have any incentive to do so is Human Development.

This lesson came home to me recently as I have had the exceptional joy of raising chickens. I love my little flock. Every morning I or one of the kids goes out and opens the barn and my ducks and chickens run out to get their fill of chick feed I got from the local hardware store. Before I had chickens I had a few neighbors who had chickens. One day they offered to sell me some eggs. I said sure, how much? $5 a dozen. I nearly choked. There are on sale down at my local grocery store for $1.99, I thought I was going to get an inside deal. They explained something about organic, happy chickens laying better tasting eggs. Could happy chickens really be worth and extra $3 a dozen?

So, when I got chickens I decided to do a little analysis on what it costs me to farm for eggs. I had to pay a few bucks for each bird, some died, then I had to raise them for 16 months before they laid any eggs. My flock is the size such that I pay about $80 a month on feed. Admittingly, I think the doves run off with about as much as my chickens do. Also, Coyotes have made off with some of my birds from time to time. That led to at least $500+ in fence costs (not that it help, I'll make this a link to explain at a later date). I bought feeders and medicine from time to time. And I live in Southern Nevada, so during high heat they slow down laying eggs. I also don’t use artificial light so they slow down in the winter. Then once and a while one gets broody and my wife, thinks of a chicken wanting to be a Mother and she gives in and lets it hatch a few chicks. Needless to say, when it came time to sell our excess eggs I charge $5 a dozen, and am still losing money.

I was whining about this to one of my friends, wondering if I had lost my sanity, because Dr. Ballif who had taught me engineering economics would wonder if I had learned anything in that class. He said, “but you’re not raising chickens, you’re raising children.” And he is absolutely correct. My monthly egg budget has gone from $6 a month, to over $100 a month, but that’s not why I do it. I love the chickens some, but not that much. It’s for the kids. I think them getting up, feeding the chickens, teaches them regular importance of work. Seeing that if we forget to put them away, they can literally die from coyotes, teaches that there are consequences for our actions. They begin to understand where their food and meat comes from. They and I have had many lessons on mortality that are becoming more and more rare in our society.

I am reminded of what my mission president always told me, that the best missionaries came from farms. Why? Because they knew how to work. I want my kids to know how to work.

So, back to my point. Specialization. It has done some amazing things for us, given us great economic output. It has made it so I can spend my whole career focused on Dam Safety Engineering, or being a construction defect lawyer or an auto mechanic who only works on Fords. And I will be paid very well to do that. In fact, often the more we specialize the more money we make. A general practitioner will make a lot of money, but become a specialist in oncology, or radiology and make much more.

So, I have enough money to focus on my area and pay someone to work on my car. When I have a plumbing issue I can pay a specialist to fix it. If I want a fence put in my yard I can get a guy with all the right equipment to go out and put it in for me. I understand this might maximize economic output. After all, he could fix the leak in an hour and it will take me all day Saturday. (Time that I would of course productively spend catching up on Netflix.) But is that what is really best for my development as a human. Were we better off when the average person knew how to change a carburetor, fix a leaky faucet, and turn wheat into a loaf of bread?

If you think this is an anti-capitalist post you are incorrect. Capitalism and free markets do their job well, but they don't do everything. This is simply saying that while we live in a capitalistic and fairly free market society that incentives us to maximize economic output, perhaps we need to think a little bit more about our own development from time to time. This is easy to see with our kids, it’s always easier to do their jobs for them, but you know they need to learn. The same might be true for each of us. Once and a while we need to still make something from scratch. Have a little garden, even if all it leads to is the world's most expensive salad. Go ahead and fix the sink, even though you will have to call the plumber and it will cost two times as much because he has to correct all the mistakes you made. Or raise your own eggs and meat even though it will be the most expensive, time intensive food you will ever consume. We need to use some of the time and money that this wonderful economic system has given not just to pursue our unique profession or entertain ourselves but rather do many of the things our forefathers had to do, so we can not only develop our economy but also ourselves.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Miracle of Pineapple

Image result for can of pineapple


Today I am writing about the joys and sorrows associated with specialization. I want to start with speaking of the joys. To do so I want to write about the miracle of the pineapple. I have to admit that I stole this from "I, pencil", an essay by Leonard E. Read, but I like pineapples more than pencils, so mine is better. (Okay his is better and you should read it if you haven't, but please read mine too.)

Pineapples only grow in tropical climates. Because most of us have spent our lives outside tropical climates we may have never seen a pineapple plant. But for those desert dwellers like myself, they look much like a Yucca plant. From the time a new pineapple plant is planted in the ground it will take two years of watering, providing proper nutrition and other care for it to get one pineapple. It only grows one pineapple at a time. Then the next year the pineapple plant will get a second pineapple, and if you are lucky you will get one the next year. Then the plant will die. Plantations usually clear the field after the second harvest because it takes too much work for the third harvest when only some will get that third pineapple. So, it takes one plant three years to get you two pineapples.

The plants are rough and ask anyone who has ever spent any time harvesting the plants just how hard this can be. It has been known to be so hard on workers that they often lose their fingerprints from constant removal of skin in that area (not sure why they don’t use gloves). Whenever I speak of the miracle of the pineapple anywhere within a mile of my Uncle Preston he is quick to remind me that many pineapples are often harvested by teenagers who get swindled into a summer of labor so they can get a free trip to Hawaii. But I have no doubt that the back breaking labor well prepared him to be the great business man he is today, so he can’t complain too much.

Once the pineapple is harvested it is shipped to a processing plant. There it is cut and sliced. The juices are saved and then the pineapple is canned in a tin can with its juices and stacked and shipped. The shipping is no small feat. Most pineapples are grown on the islands, so after they are canned they are stacked, wrapped and loaded onto a truck and taken to a port. Then they are unloaded, and reloaded on an ocean liner. From there they again arrive and port and do the same thing in reverse order, from ship back to truck. And then once loaded on a truck they are sent out to a grocery store, where they are again unloaded, unwrapped and taken out by your local grocery stocker. Then you show up and by it for 99 cents.

As a side note fresh pineapple is only possible in the states because of air transport or refrigerated transport. Most comes over by air.


Everytime I bite into a pineapple fresh or canned, I can’t help but think what a miracle it is that I get to be enjoying, what I feel is, one of the most exquisite taste on this planet. Think for a moment how many people were involved to get that to you. There was a farmer/land owner, likely farm hands in planting, nurturing and caring for the plant. There was time, two years while it was grown. Then someone had to harvest, drive to the packing plant. The plant is full of operators, managers, and logistics personnel. The machines that are made specifically to chop and save the juices had to be designed, manufactured and maintained. The plant needs clean water to run, that has to be treated and pumped to the plant and there has to be infrastructure to take away the waste and garbage. They are put into tin cans, a metal that had to be mined shaped and go through it’s whole process. Then you need someone to pack the truck (did I mention there is another whole factory somewhere building the packing material that has it’s own story), trucker to drive and then off to the docks. Here there is another set of hundreds of employees who move containers around, work on timing of ships getting into port and what containers go where, millions of dollars in cranes and other equipment all specifically made to get things unloaded and reloaded quickly. Then to a vessel, that takes a whole crew to operate, to say nothing of the work that went into designing, and manufacturing it.

Next step is again at a port with the same costs and man power needed as on the other port. Then to a truck which travels a highway infrastructure that literally cost billions of dollars to put into place. And what about the gas it takes for these transportation to move? The mining, refining, and shipping to get it into place.

Then off to the grocery store with all its staff and logistics. And you get that can for what someone on minimum wage can make in less than 10 minutes.

Think for a minute what it would take you to get that pineapple and enjoy it with your family if you lived in Kansas and you had to do it alone? You couldn’t, is possibly the simplest answer but for fun think through it. Step 1 get to the coast. Without the benefits of refined oil, and manufactured machines i.e. a car, this would be very difficult. Step 2 cross the ocean, again on your own this to would be difficult if not impossible. But say your Nephi and built and then voila, a month later you arrive in beautiful Hawaii. Step 3 Plant a pineapple then care for it for 2 years. Step 4 harvest the pineapple. But remember the goal is to enjoy it with your family. So, you have to hope your wife hasn’t remarried in the past 2 years and figure out a way to preserve it why you take your month long journey back to Kansas. I could go on, but you get my point. That is the miracle of capitalism and made possible in large part by specialization. No central planning effort, no matter how good or how long could have possibly gotten you that can of goodness for any cheaper.

What has made it possible?

Mostly the fact that every person has an incentive to maximize profits and economic output. That is the real beauty of capitalism, I have an incentive to get you what you want, the more I get you what you want and need, the more products I can sell, the more money I can make. One of the ways this has been accomplished is specialization. We have become ultra-specialized and are only getting more so with time.

This has led to an amazing and miraculous economy. One that continues to stretch the limits of what economic output can be created. But unfortunately there are down sides. As the quote goes, “Capitalism is the worst economic system, except for all the others.” My next write up will be exploring one of the many limitations of capitalism, specifically specialization, but for now I think I’ll go open a can of pineapple and enjoy it.



Saturday, December 28, 2019

Chapter 15 - The First Date



(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, Chapter 12, Chapter 13 and Chapter 14).

Byron pulled up to Julie’s home exactly three minutes early at 6:27. Actually, he had been sitting in his car for over ten minutes about a block away, because he didn’t want to pull up too early. He had decided that three minutes early was about the perfect amount of time and now approached her home. The home was a perfect picture of suburbia. Like every home in Las Vegas it had been built in the last few years, but unlike most Vegas homes it didn’t look exactly like every other home on the block. It had well planted flower pop outs on the windows, a decorative vine arch over the entry and a nice picket fence around the yard. It was clear that Julie had done a lot to make this place hers. Byron was a little embarrassed seeing the home, the only thing he had done to make his home any different from the other homes in the neighborhood was slowly kill all his landscaping through neglect. Julie's thumb and probably all her fingers must have been more green than his.

He approached the fence with flowers in one hand and corsage in the other. The fence was a short, white picket fence, and he decided stepping over the fence would be easier than trying to open it with his hands full. Without too much effort, he put one leg over the fence. As his one leg hit the ground and he was left straddling the fence, he realized this fence was a bit higher than he had expected, and he had to stay on his toes to avoid injury. As he swung his other leg over the fence, the cuff of his pant leg caught the tip of a picket. He stopped before falling, but this caused him to hop on the one foot to keep his balance. He continued to hop in an effort to release his cuff. Quickly he realized that one limb was not enough to stable himself so leaning to one side, he dropped the flowers and his hand connected with the ground. With his stability regained he maneuvered the cuff of his pant leg off the fence, put both legs firmly on the ground, and dusted himself in an effort to recompose his suit. Quite proud of having not fallen, that is until he looked up. There Julie stood on the porch looking quite amused. “I didn’t know we were going dancing,” she said as she stepped off the porch and began to walk towards him. She stepped past him and reached for the gate. She flipped the latch and opened the gate. “Let me show you how this works.” She said in a sarcastic tone.

He was far too embarrassed to make any remark on the incident. So he said all he could think of. “I got you these.” He picked the flowers off the ground. Considering they had just been tossed a few feet to the side, they didn’t look too bad.

“Thank you” she said with a grin that told she wasn’t sure if flowers weren’t a little much for a first date. Which of course Byron was oblivious to.

“Oh, and I got you this.”

“You got me flowers and a corsage?” she said questioningly.

“Is that bad?” Byron knew he had seen his roommates and friends in the past get flowers, and sometimes corsages for nice dates. Had they never been given together? He hadn’t thought of it before.

“No, I guess it’s not bad. I just never heard of getting both. Do you usually give a girl both?”

When it came to dating, Byron knew he had no “usual,” but he thought now wasn’t a good time to bring it up. “No, I mean not all dates. Just nice ones.”

“Well, thank you. I guess,” she said, As uncertain of her own sincerity as she was of his.

She looked up at him to see if he was going to put the corsage on her wrist, but since he was already headed to the car, she did it herself.

While he did not know etiquette about putting on her corsage, he did not fail in the “getting the door” department. He opened, she sat, and he closed. At least that part went smoothly. As he walked around the car, Julie was busy inspecting it. The leather interior felt good, and she was surprised to see the car was so clean. She had no idea what kind of car it was, but she guessed it was expensive.

He opened the door and got in, and before starting the car he asked, “Which tie should I wear?”

“Which tie? She said confused.

“Which tie?” he restated gesturing to the back seat.

There she noticed the ten ties lining the back seat. As she looked, Byron noticed for the first time what she was wearing. He had been so embarrassed by the fence snag, and then so worried about the flowers and door, he had not noticed her dress. It was a light purple dress with short sleeves. It was long itself, rather modest, but a little form fitting, which considering her form… he didn’t mind. She turned to respond and he quickly turned away trying to look like he had been inspecting ties rather than thighs.

“Why are you having me pick? She asked.

“I wanted to match, us being married and all.”

“Oh, I see.” She looked over the ties and realized the answer to which one she would choose was “none of them.” He may have good taste in cars, but definitely not ties. “Why not the red one,” she finally replied.

“Does red go with purple?”

She knew the answer was “no” but had no reason to tell him that none of his ties went with her dress. And she was proud to realize she didn’t own a dress that went with any of his ties. So she simply answered, “yes.”

He started the car and after buckling up, began to drive away as he started to tie his tie.

“Shouldn’t you finish tying your tie first?” She said, as more of a suggestion than a question.

“Oh, I tie my tie while I drive all the time.” This wasn’t true, but he didn’t want to be late, and doing something Julie found risky made him feel a kind of gratification that overpowered his feelings of awkwardness. It also reminded him of his high school days where the tactic was probably most often applied to remedy the same feeling. Perhaps he felt a bit of a need to prove himself after his encounter with her fence.

Byron and Julie were both at a loss for words. What do you say to your spouse that you haven’t seen in over two years. It was funny that when they were seeing each other everyday planning the wedding they had tons to talk about, but now they should have two years worth of things to talk about and couldn’t think of anything.

“So, how have you been?”

“Good, you?”

“Good.”

That was it. Silence draped over them as both were stuck in thought trying to think of what to say or talk about.

“Want to listen to the Radio?” Julie asked.

“Sure.”

And thus ended the conversation until they arrived at Lake Las Vegas, parked and began to walk towards the pavilion where the wedding would be taking place. ‘If this entire night was going to be silent it was going to be long indeed.’ thought Julie. Byron wasn’t much happier and his only thought was, ‘Ms. Whitaker better be happy about this.’

But both of their feelings changed as they approached the location of the wedding. Dusk was just settling over the Las Vegas Valley and as it did the heat of the sun dissipated to a perfectly cool evening. The lake glistened in the last flecks of sunlight and a subtle breeze drifted by. The grounds would have looked more at home in the gardens of an English countryside than a dessert casio. There was green grass, small bushes and fountains throughout. As they got closer to where the ceremony was to take place, they noticed two rows of chairs that faced towards a beautiful waterfall were at the base stood an archway clearly set up for the wedding. Soft jazz music played in the background. The surroundings began to leak into both their moods and they couldn’t help but feel a sincere joy for being there. Byron looked over at Julie and realized that she added perfectly to the amazing setting. The last two years, which up to this moment he would have described as rather peachy were now looking more like a waste. Why had he waited so long to see her?

“Julie”

“Yes, Byron.”

“I’m glad you came.”

“You know, I am too.”

There were small groups of people gathering and taking their seats but there was still over a half hour before the ceremony started so they felt no rush to sit down.

“I wonder how Mr. Goodman is doing?” Byron questioned.

“Who is that?”

“The groom.”

“I am sure he is doing a lot better than you were on our wedding day.”

“I sure hope so.”

“Byron and Julie.” A voice called out from behind them. Turning around Julie and Byron came face to face with Father Young. “How are you two?”

“Great.” Julie got out. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m the lucky man performing the ceremony. We don’t do them at the church anymore, because we still haven’t got the stains out.” He looked over at Byron. “Just kidding,” But did add, “but we did have to replace that section of carpet.”

“Sorry about that.” Byron apologized.

“I’m just happy to see you two. And glad to see you two together.”

“Why? You thought we wouldn’t make it.” Julie said with a hint of offense.

“Not that at all. It’s just that I like to keep up and help the couples I marry and I haven’t had a chance to touch base with you. So, I am glad we have this interview.”

Interview? It was such an odd term for randomly running into each other. Byron didn’t like the word choice or how he said it. “But it looks like we have enough time before the ceremony starts can you two step this way we can sit over on that bench.”

Interview had been exactly what he meant. “Oh, Father, I think we better say hi to some of the other guests. Don’t you think?” Byron said.

“No, plenty of time for that after the ceremony.” And he herded them towards a small bench surrounded by some rather tall bushes. It was about as private as one could get in the area. Byron and Julie sat down. There wasn’t room for anyone else and there wasn’t anywhere else for Father Young to sit, but it became clear that he had no intention of sitting and he peered down at them as he began the interview.

“So, how is the marriage?” Father Young asked, thinking he would just need to dust the surface to see how this young couple was doing.

Byron looked at Julie, Julie looked at Byron. Neither of them wanted to tackle the question and was trying to convey to the other that they should take question 1, but they had very little history on reading each others ques. Finally, Byron spoke up, “The marriage?.. It’s great.”

The right answer, with the wrong delivery can very much be the wrong answer. And Father Young decided he better put away his dusting brush and pulled out his shovel and start digging.

“How is the communication between you two?”

Again they looked at one another.

“Oh it’s.” Byron started

“Communication?” Julie started over Byron

“Oh, sorry, you go.”

“No, go ahead.”

“No, you, go ahead.”

“What were you going to say?”

“Nothing, I don’t want to talk over you.”

“You won’t, you can go.”

Byron made a zipping motion over his lips and pointed to Julie. She breathed deep, turned to Father Young and said, “The communication is great.”

“I see, so when was the last time you two got out on a date? I don’t have to tell you Byron, dating in marriage can be very important.” Byron was beginning to see why some men in his office hated him so much.

Julie decided that this interview turned interrogation had to end. After all, they had a good marriage. They were happy, and better off than a lot of marriages she knew, even if they didn’t see each other. So, she decided to take over. “Father Young, you are so right.” And to add credence to what she was about to say she put her hand on Byron’s knee while she spoke. “Byron and I were just talking the other day that we need to get out together more often. That is why he asked that I drop the other commitments I had and come with him to this wedding.” She turned gave a look of perfect love, as if to show her admiration for him as she continued. “And we have decided next weekend to do something extra special.” She turned back to Father as she closed with, “I am so glad we get to be at this wedding to remind us of the vows we took.”

Two thoughts instantly went through Byron’s head. The first was that he really liked her touching his knee. He knew it was part of the show for Father Young, but fake or not he couldn’t help but like it. Second, Julie had missed her calling, there was no doubt she should have moved to LA and been in the movies.

“I am glad to hear that.” Father Young said as he put away the shovel and pulled back out the feather duster. “Don’t let it go too long between rekindling the romance. Well, I better get up to the front. Wish me luck, I never thought I needed it at these things until after your wedding.”

At first Byron was extremely happy to see him walking away, but as soon as he was a few yards away Julie moved her hand and Byron wanted to call out, “Come Back.” But he knew the act was up.

“You were amazing.”

“Thank you.” Julie accepted as she stood.

“That was award winning. And I know, I have seen a lot of people try to fake happy marriages in front of me.”

“I would like to thank the academy.” Julie pretended to give her speech.

“How did you do it?”

“Father Young wanted to see we had a happy marriage and we do, don’t we?”

“Ah.. yeah...I...guess.”

“I mean I am happy. Aren't you?”

“Yes. I am very happy.”

“So, once I decided we are happily married, I knew I could do what Father Young wanted to see to get him off our backs.”

“Well, my hat, if I had one would be off to you. Shall we take our seats.”

They headed to the seats and luckily for them just in time. They had barely let their posterior hit the chair but the wedding march started. As Ms. Whitacker stepped into view Julie couldn’t help but think of the day she had married. All she could remember was looking down and seeing Byron sitting on the pew looking like death itself. Remembering him in that vulnerable state, and thinking of her reviving him in the back office brought a rush of emotions. She really did care for this crazy guy, whom she called a husband. Looking over at him she suddenly realized that he was rather attractive. He was no model, but a sensible, very attractive man. Why hadn’t she noticed it before, was it the wedding, the atmosphere, the fact that he was wearing a normal suit? Whatever it was she was happy, to call him husband.

Five minutes later and Father Young was saying, “I now pronounce you Husband and Wife. You may now kiss the bride.”

They stood and cheered as Julie leaned over to Byron, “Wow, no one even passed out.”

“That’s because they are doing food, drinks and dancing afterwards. If I knew there was an eclair waiting for me after the ceremony maybe I would have stayed conscious for it.”

“Well we can go get some now.” But in so doing Julie had underestimated the passion for eclairs held by the Whitickers and Goodmans, before she could finish her sentence the line for stuffed pastries had already over stuffed the small gazebo where the pastries were being held. “I guess we are going to have to wait a little longer on that eclair.”

Music had once again started and there was a small dance floor set out for dancing. Byron may have never been a casa nova but the one thing he did know how to do was dance. “Do you want to dance?” He ventured.

“You dance?”

“A little. My mom may have forced me to take a class my freshman year of college.”

“Forced?”

“I say forced to protect my manhood, but I may have enjoyed it.”

“I would love to dance.”

Byron took her hand in his, slowly put his arm around her back and pulled her in close as she put her arm on his back. Her dancing experience was limited but with his lead she quickly got the basic foxtrot step.

“Want to learn more?”

“Sure.”

Byron only recalled a few steps from his class but it was enough for them to really enjoy being out dancing together.

“You are a very good dancer.” Julie said.

“You are quite good yourself.”

“I have a good teacher.” The song ended and everyone clapped. By now quite a few couples had joined them on the dance floor although most were simply swaying more than any official step.

The next song began to play, it was a waltz. “Do you know the waltz?” Byron asked.

“I’d really like to learn.”

Standing more by her side then in dancing he showed her the 1-2-3, 1-2-3 required to do the steps. After a few times side by side they re embraced and began to try it together. As the rhythm began a natural part of their movements they moved in closer and closer until they were slowly moving as Byron counted out , 1-2-3, 1-2-3. He grew quieter and quieter as they drew closer and closer. There cheeks met and they now silently moved becoming one with the breeze and the music. Unfortunately, the music eventually stopped, and although neither of them wanted to stop, continuing to dance without the aid of a song was too socially unacceptable. The next song was not a fox trot, swing, or waltz but rather more of a jump up and down and yell song, not being in Byron's repertoire, they decided to walk off the dance floor and back to another bench that sat down near the lake. Byron, took her arm as they walked.

“Thanks, that was a lot of fun. I never thought I’d like dancing so much.”

“I’ve always enjoyed it. But you don’t get many chances to do real ballroom dancing anymore.”

“You should go to your local bar, don’t most of them have ballroom dancing?” They both laughed.

As soon as they got to the bench Byron took a look back to the gazebo. The line had died down so he decided it was time to answer the call of the eclair. “I’ll go grab us a few goodies and punch.”

“Great.” Julie sat down and looked over the lake. It was perfect, really too perfect. She had never felt this way before. She found herself asking, ‘what changed?’ She hadn’t become rich, or gotten a new job. Everything she thought meant something in her life was the same right now as it had been this morning but she felt so different, so different, so good. The realities of life didn’t justify feeling this good but she did, she was fairly confident that if she took a few steps out into the lake she wouldn’t get wet, she had never felt so light, so vibrant. It was magic, perhaps she was under some sort of drug. But she couldn’t be, she hadn’t even tried the eclair or punch yet. No, she was in love. This must be what love was like, she thought, and she loved it.

At times putting a name to a feeling can be liberating and wonderful, but it can also have other effects. As soon as Julie realized what she was feeling was love, her mind took over and began to dominate a realm better left to the heart. ‘I am in love. I love my husband. That’s good. But if I would have known how wonderful love was, would I have committed to marry someone without it?’

Her heart would have known how to handle this. It was ready to joyfully accept this wonderful twist of fate but her mind was not as prepared. There is a reality that when we love someone, especially someone we don’t know well, we become prone to self doubt. Does he love me too? We ask. In grade school this plays out with notes carried by liaisons that ask the person to circle yes or no below the words, ‘do you like Julie’. But unfortunately, Julie didn’t have anything to write on, and no one to take Byron the message. So as Byron waited for his chance at the punch bowl behind Mrs. Goodman’s four pudgy nephews, Julie began to ask, ‘What if Byron doesn’t love me? After all, why would he. If he loved me he wouldn’t have waited two years to see me again. Yes, he danced with me, but he said he likes dancing. He probably would have liked dancing with Cinderella’s step sisters. No, what we have is purely a business deal. His caring for me was no more real than my act in front of Father Young. Of course, he would play nice and act friendly to me, but why wouldn’t he. It was all part of the act.’ She thought.

She could sense that the only thing more magical then the feeling she had would be feeling that way for someone and have them feel it in return. Because of Byron, that would forever be impossible. She had given up her chance at real love when she had committed to a marriage that was simply a business deal. Byron had gone from the man who gave her the magic, to the man who had robbed her of it forever, all while picking up an eclair.

“You should try these, they are amazing.” Byron said, with no shortage of frosting on his lips.

Julie turned and Byron was surprised to see tears in his wife's eyes. “I brought you some punch and two eclairs.” She tried to stop the tears as he spoke. “There kind of small but….”

“I’d like to go home.”

Byron wanted to object, but found it hard to argue something he didn’t at all comprehend. So instead all he got out was, “Okay.” Walking back to the car, he dumped the punch and eclairs into a nearby trash can and they had a long, silent drive home.

Next up Chapter 16

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.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Chapter 14_Popping the Question




(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, Chapter 12, and Chapter 13).

The wedding was only two weeks away, and time had done a lousy job of making things better. Ms. Whitaker was still well on her way to becoming Mrs. Goodman and was reminding Byron daily of it. “You better not come up with some excuse why you and Julie can’t be there at the last minute. It’s only going to be the perfect wedding with you there.”

“No. I’ll be there.” Byron promised.


He had repeated it so often that to make up something now would be impossible. He had left himself with no alternative, and with the day approaching he had decided that today was the day. He had blocked off an hour before lunch to make the phone call but he was already 15 minutes in and all he had done was stare at her contact information on his phone.


It was over 2 years since they had spoken. What would she think when he called?

He wasn’t really sure what he was afraid of. What was the worst thing that could happen? The unknown was never easy for him to face and the more unknown the unknown was, the scarier it felt. But he was afraid for more reasons than that. He was afraid in part because he cared. He cared about Julie. And because he cared, not talking, not contacting, not knowing if she cared was better than reaching out and potentially removing all doubt.

While he wouldn’t care to describe he knew he was about to call and ask a girl on a date. True it was his wife, which, under most circumstances, would increase the likelihood of receiving a positive response, but in his case, he wasn’t so sure. As he stared down at the phone, the modern little rectangular box that did so much more than simply make phone calls turned in his memory to an old fashioned telephone receiver, tan and attached to a box on the wall with a long, curly, tan cord. He held the receiver in his hand and was staring at a scrap of paper with similar information, a name and a phone number, Jennifer Wriggly, 343-5645.

Jennifer Wriggly had shared a freshman English class with him. Despite her obvious lack of ability in the subject, Byron had found himself favorably impressed by her. Jennifer definitely had it covered in the looks department. A tall blonde with long wavy hair, blue eyes and very favorable shape, not that he would admit to noticing the last. But while she looked great what really drew Byron in was her confidence. I could never be so stupid and so happy with myself, he would think. But she was, and as a consequence had no trouble drawing in friends. Whatever self confidence you may lack, she could make up for. This was before graduate school, with its presentations and papers and all the academic praise. Silently sitting at the back of classes reaping in high grades was his strength, and he was happy doing it. So quietly he would sit, secretly, definitely not openly, not even in his own mind, envying her confidence.

Since leaving high school, coming to a new town and having school to occupy his mind he hadn’t thought much of dating. However, with the prom approaching, his roommates couldn’t seem to think of anything else. Day in and day out they pushed Byron to ask someone. “I’m too busy, and besides I have no one to ask,” was always his response. At first he said it and meant it, but the more they spoke about it, the more he thought about it and the more he thought about it, the more he realized there was someone, one girl that he would love to go to the dance with.

The truth of the matter was by the time he realized that he would love to go with Jennifer it was way too late. There was only a week left until the dance and the chances that Jennifer had not been asked were so astronomical, actually by making some assumptions he had calculated it to be 1:149,000. So, he decided to drop the idea, at least for that dance. The next dance would be a much better opportunity.


The whole dance idea had left his mind until one day at the end of English class. Hoping to get some ideas on the next paper he had stayed after to speak with the professor. While discussing the use of asides, or over use, in his mind, in Shakespeare he realized there was a book in the basket underneath Jennifer's seat. Suddenly asides were just that. He wrapped up his conversation with the professor and went to the desk and opened the book. It was manna from heaven, not only was the book Jennifer's she had left full contact information in the front of the book and was requesting whoever might find it to go ahead and contact her. Jennifer was asking him to call her. Byron quickly wrote down the number, several times, on a scrap of paper with her name on it and placed the book in his backpack.

“Was that book left by a student?” the teacher broke his concentration.

“Yes”

“I can take it and bring it next time, if that would be easier for you.”

“Oh, um, yea, I guess that would be best.”

The teacher had robbed his chance of calling Jennifer to return the book. He did have her number though, a prize he would hold onto for several months until the next dance when roommates again began to prod. Over those months Byron debated over and over again if he should ask her to the dance, after all, even if he asked her before anyone else, she would probably say no.

After preparing for weeks the day he had promised himself he would call arrived. It had to be early enough to ask before she was asked by anyone else, yet late enough that he didn’t look as crazy as he was beginning to think he was. So, there he was, receiver in his hand staring down at the scrap of paper. Dialing was never such a difficult task. He started, stopped, started over but eventually the phone rang on the other side.

“Hello”

“Jennifer this is Byron and I have something to ask you, see in four weeks, the school will be putting on a dance and all of my roommates will be going to the dance, and since they are all going I thought, at least what I mean is.” He paused to breathe.

“Actually this is Brittany, Jennifer's roommate, I can go get her.”

“Oh...yea, that would be great.” Byron was glad this was a phone call so no one witnessed how much he was able to blush.
Jennifer came on and Byron ran the speech again without pauses.
“Who is this?” She questioned
“I’m Byron, I’m in your English class.”
“Well, um, Byron, I haven't even thought about the dance. I mean, I might be visiting home that weekend. I really don't know.”

“Oh, yeah, of course, I shouldn't have asked so soon. I'm sorry about that.” There followed a long pause.

“That's okay. I'll see you in English class, okay?”

“Yeah! I'll see you then.”

He never followed up to find out if she was going home. She was in English class the Friday before, and he assumed she avoided any eye contact with him, but he couldn't be sure because he worked so hard to avoid it with her. Somehow, he felt if they made eye contact, she would have to officially turn him down. Since he never talked to Jennifer again and avoided all the talk of the dance, his eyes would even avoid any hallways lined with pictures from the dance. He would never find out if she went to the dance with someone else or not, and he wanted it that way.

After this, he would avoid his roommates for a few weeks before each dance, engrossing himself in his school. His freshman year was the only year he even had roommates and therefore Jennifer was the last time asking a girl out had been a serious thought.

Now here he was standing again, looking at the phone. Who would have figured that when his crushed ego hung up the phone, it would take him 15 years to pick it up again. He sat up in his desk pulling himself out of his flashback and went back to business. At least the dialing part sure had gotten easier over the years.

“Hello, Clark County Credit Union.” The voice on the other line said brightly.
“Oh, excuse me. I thought this was Julie... must be a wrong number.” He went to hang up the phone when he realized the “b” in the contact information he had saved, probably stood for bank. That way he would be able to get her new contact information for money transfer without having to speak with her. He quickly picked up the phone, “Are you still there?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, I need the phone number for Julie Smith.”

“Sir, this is a credit union.”

“Yes, I know. She has an account with you.”

“I'm sorry sir, we can't give out personal information.”

“No, you can. I mean, I'm on the account.”

“Who am I speaking with?”

“This is Byron Lewis”

“And your relationship to Julie?”

“She's my wife.”

“Your wife?”...and you need her phone number?” He was beginning to realize how ridiculous this sounded. When he originally put her bank number instead of her own he never thought of what an awkward position it would put him in. He couldn't think of a good excuse; and the truth was the worst of them, so he went for the straight forward approach.

“Yes, I need her phone number.”

“Just a minute sir.” The pause became belated enough he was beginning to think she wasn't getting the phone number.

“Hello sir, this is the manager. What is it you need?”

“I need my wife's phone number.”

“Sir, it is difficult to believe that being her husband you would need to acquire her phone number from us, therefore we will need to verify your identity.” Next followed a lengthy conversation involving a social security number, birth date, mother's maiden name, first family pet, and the name of his first elementary school. All these he passed with flying colors, but then came the final question: “What day were you married?”

“Married?”

“Yes. Your anniversary.”

“Right. well, I know my anniversary,” he slowly stated, as he started scrolling through his calendar hoping he had his marriage written on there. “Well, it was two years ago... and it's currently 2008,” he continued his slow speech.

The banker helped with the math, “So, it was 2006, sir. What day?”

“Oh... yeah... the day. Here it is! I mean... June 5th. That's it, June 5th 2006.”

“That's correct. You probably should have called us for her number a week ago.” Byron looked at the calendar and realized it was June 9th, but was growing tired of the banker's commentary. He knew asking a girl out wouldn't be easy, but this was worse than he had imagined. After the dreary inquisition, he was given the number. It was now a half hour later and he was no closer to having a date. His patience was wearing thin.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Anytime you need your wife's number, just give us a call.”

Despite how much Byron hated the banker having a joke at his expense, the sarcastic comment did ensure that the first thing Byron did was save the new number and note the first as belonging to the bank. He again picked up the phone, praying the banker had given him the correct number. If he went through anything else he would spend his time coming up with an excuse for why his wife was yet again absent.

“Hello?”

“Hello, is this Julie?”

“Yes, who is this?”

“This is Byron.”

“Who?” This was starting to sound a lot like his call with Jennifer.

“Byron Lewis. I'm your husband.” The other end went silent and he heard muffled whispering.

“Oh, sorry, I couldn't hear you at first, we must have a bad connection. How are you doing honey?” Wow, he hadn't expected such a warm welcome.

“Good,” he cautiously responded.

“How has your day been?” she asked enthusiastically.

“My day? Well, it's been a good day. How was yours?”

“Oh, it was so good. You know, spending time shopping with Becky. I didn't expect you to call while you were in Alaska.”

“Alaska?! What made you think I was in Alaska? I've never been to Alaska.”

“So you're enjoying your trip, then?”

“I'm not on a trip! I'm in town.”

“Well honey, I have to run, but I'll give you a call back when I get home around 5.”

“Five?... um, do you have my number.”

“If it's easier for me to call you in your hotel room instead of on your cell phone that's fine.”

“No, you can use my cell. But, do you have it?”

“Is it the number you called me on?”

“No, that's my office. But that would be fine too. But five really isn't going to...”

“Okay, I'll call you then and there. Love you! Bye.” Before Byron could answer, the line went dead. That had to be the strangest phone call he had ever participated in. Had she heard him? He sensed she had, but could make no sense of her responses. He was beginning to wonder if asking her was even worth it, a whole night of a conversation like that. Had she gone crazy in just two years. But he really needed to show up with her at an event. So he better at least take her 5:00 phone call. He pushed for his secretary.

“Miss Whitacker, do I have an appointment at five?”

“Yes sir, you have a meeting with the Greshems?”

“Could you see if they are able to reschedule? I would like that hour free.”

“I will let you know.”

As he predicted the Greshems were happy to reschedule. There meetings were beginning to be quite routine. “Do you remember what we discussed last week?” he would ask.

“Yes”

“Well, how did it go?”

Mrs. Greshem would look down and say, “Well I would have tried it but Randy…..” Everything came down to Randy. And he believed Mrs. Greshem was growing as tired of coming up with what her husband had done to stop her from doing any thing as he was of hearing it.

Five o’ clock came and Byron sat ready at his desk. At about 5:10 he wondered if she was really going to call, By 5:15 his patience was wearing thin. ‘Why couldn’t she talk to me when I called earlier?’ he thought. After twenty minutes staring at the phone and debating in his mind if she was actually going to call he thought he better occupy his mind with something else. He had several books he had started and hoped to get a chance to finish. He walked over to his book shelf and picked one up. “How to manage time, and be on time while having a wife.” A book by his old professor. He laughed when her first read the title, but as the clients with such issues began to stock pile he decided he had better read it. Just as he opened to where he was in the book the phone rang.

“Hello, this is Doctor Lewis,” he replied.
“Hi Doctor, this is Julie.” The voice on the other side sounded much less peppy and happy to speak with him then it had earlier today.

“Yes, Hello Julie, I thought you were going to call at five.”

“I said about five…. Anyways why did you call. Is there something wrong?”

“No, I actually was wondering… well before I ask, what was the deal with Alaska?”

“Oh um… I was with somebody and I had told her… well it doesn't matter. Basically I didn’t expect you to call and I was not in a good position to talk. If you had called at a better time, I wouldn’t have had to say what I said,” She said rather defensively.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know there was a specific time I was supposed to call.” He said in a somewhat irritated fashion.

“Anyways, why did you call?”

“Oh yes, the reason I called was that I was hoping you would be able to... well, let me explain first.” He paused for acceptance but none came, so he started to think of how he would explain. Nothing came to mind, so he simply stated, “See my secretary is getting married in a few weeks and I was wondering if you could come?” there was a long pause.

“Why?”

“She has been planning this for months and she really wants you, I mean us, to be there.”

“As long as you’re there why does she care if I’m there?” she said.

“It would be nice, it’s getting hard to come up with excuses as to why you’re not at these events.”

“You think it’s easy for me? Where do you think Alaska came from?”

“I understand, but this is really big. It would be very nice if you could attend. I realize you have no obligation to attend as it is not part of our contract but I would appreciate it.” He had really hoped to avoid begging but it was looking like that exactly where this was headed.

“My company threw a big five year anniversary that fell on our anniversary last week, do you think it was easy to explain why my husband was, once again, not at the company party, and couldn’t be with me... ON OUR ANNIVERSARY? Did I call and beg you to come? No. I had to make up the story about Alaska.”

“This is really important.”

“Oh, my life's not? just yours.”

“I didn’t say that,” he said, more aggressively than he meant to.
“Don’t get angry. You the one who called and wanted to talk.”

“Your right, I’m sure we can work something out.” He paused for a moment to formulate his thoughts. “You come to my event I will go to one of yours.” Secretly he didn’t really see this as fair but now wasn’t the time to vocalize this.

“I’m not really sure I want you to come.”

“I thought you were sick of making excuses?” her grasp of logic seemed to be slipping.

“I am sick of making excuses but I didn’t say it was worth going to your events.” There was a pause as he wondered what else he could possibly say. But before he made the huge mistake of offering her money, she said, “I’m kidding I can come as long as you realize you owe me.” You owe me was a little strong in his mind so he made sure to clarify.

“You mean I will go with you to ONE of your events.”

“Yes, that’s what I mean. Why is everything a contract with you? Well, when is this big day of yours.”

“It’s next Friday night at 7:00.” He said quite relieved to have the asking part out of the way.

“Friday will work for me.”

“Good, well I will talk to you later then.”

“Wait, where is it?”

Byron was so focused on getting her to say, ‘yes’, he had completely forgotten about such details. “Sorry, of course you need the address, it is going to be at Lake Las Vegas, you know the main hotel there. The party will be in their outdoor greenhouse. Do you need directions.”

“No, I can work google as good as the next girl.”

“Okay I will see you there then.” He said, again trying to wrap up the call.

“Are we just going to meet there?” he heard as he began to hang up the phone.

He picked the phone back up, “Yea, I thought that would be most convenient.”

“So, you want your secretary to see that you do have a wife?’

“Yes?” he paused because of from his mind this question made no sense, hadn’t they already established why she was attending, a recap of the call seemed unnecessary in his mind.

“And you want your secretary to think we are happily married?”

“Yes” once again he didn’t see the relevance the question had.

“And we are going to come and go in separate cars?”

The line of questioning became crystal clear. “Good point” he hated to admit the questions that seemed so stupid led to something so smart. “We could meet in a nearby parking lot and then go from there.”

“You know, it would be easier for me if you just picked me up.”

“At your house?”

“Yes, at my house.”

“Yea, that’s where you live.” Wow he realized this phone call better end soon, it was not making him look to bright. “Yea, I can pick you up. Where do you live?”

“I still have your email, I can email you my address.”

“Perfect, I will see you then.” He breathed a sigh of relief as he went to hang up the phone.

“Wait,” he heard from the distant receiver.

“Yes, is there something else?”

“What time?”

“Didn’t I say it was at seven?”

“No, what time are you going to pick me up?”

“Oh, yea.. well how far do you live from Lake Las Vegas?”

“About fifteen minutes.”

“Okay I will pick you up at 6:30 then.”

“Sounds good, I will see you then.”

He paused to make sure she hung up first. He had imagined all he had to do was get her to say yes, little did he know you had to plan every detail before you called. With all that went into a date he was beginning to be happy that it was a part of his life he was able to skip.


Here is the link to Chapter 15

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.”

“What?”

“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 couple...cruise 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