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Posts Tagged ‘Storytelling’

Depth is critical. Without it, life is two-dimensional and only has length and height.

3D, however, is by far richer because it adds depth. And depth adds dimension, perspective and soothes the mind, heart and soul because it helps bring things to life, and life into focus.

Similarly, in photography, depth of field allows us to discern distance between what is in focus while keeping an eye on what lies beyond.

Note that neither concept embraces looking back.

Ironically, last week before this post came out, I had captured a shot down by the bay that I’d sent to my blogging buddy, Mr. 3D, for his feedback, since he has a really good eye for photography, creativity and all things beachy keen.

My mother’s favorite flower was the camellia, a flower she paid handsomely for to enjoy in her native Chicago, but which grows abundantly here where she chose to live out her last years with me. So I always think of her in the winter when the camellias bloom so beautifully like this.

Some of you may be aware that I laid my mother to rest, summer before last.

Or so I thought!

In an odd and truly unusual religious turnaround, the priest sought me privately after church last week and made a very unexpected confession. “Er, I believe we found what appears to be more of your mother’s ashes, back in the sacristy. What would you like us to do?”

You see, the priest had been hit by a drunk driver the week before mother died (fortunately he was alright after a few weeks of recovery), so the interim priest did the funeral and interred her ashes in the church memorial garden.

I know mother was buried because I and my family was there in vivo to participate in the solemn event. We wept. We joined hands. We sang hymns and prayed. The children scooped grandmother into the earth. Rites were performed.

We said goodbye. Forever.

There was apparently some miscommunication about a second box that turned up long after what the rest of us thought was the actual second box, had been dispersed to the places her ashes were scattered over water. Somehow, the funeral home had created three boxes and delivered them to the church and with the main priest out of commission, nobody knew about Box 3.

Until this week. They’ve been doing a head-to-toe cleaning of the church as they prepare for the regional Diocesan Convention to descend upon our church later this week.

Mother was a photographer and she also had a great sense of humor, so I’m sure she was LHAO from all points beyond, when we learned she had actually been haunting the church for the past 18 months.

So when the priest asked me what I wanted him to do, for a split second, mother’s funny story about what to do with her ashes (pre-death) danced across my mind.

At some point in her 80s (she died at 93), some funeral home solicitor kept calling her every week trying to get her to buy a funeral plan. They were, as pesky solicitors are, relentless.

So one day mother, anticipating their call, decided to rig up a sure-fire way to get them to stop calling. Sure enough, the phone rang that day and she answered with a wry smirk on her face and when they asked yet again she’d decided yet to buy a plan with them, she said without skipping a beat,

“Yes, I’ve finally decided what plan I want. I want to be cremated and for my ashes to be divided into four. Each one of my children will get a portion of my ashes to keep in the trunks of their cars. That way, should they ever get stuck in the snow somewhere, I can still be of help to my children.”

The hapless funeral solicitor never called back. And I decided against suggesting this to the priest, although I might save the story for him for a lighter time in the future.

So yesterday, mother was officially laid to rest with the rest of her ashes, in the church garden where we thought we’d been going to visit (all of) her all along.

The garden happened to have many different-colored camellia bushes behind the memorial section, so I picked one for mother this morning and located her plot, which was newly disturbed with broken grass and unearthed dirt.

Rest finally in peace, Elizabeth Anne – and may you take some awesome photos in Heaven!

Thank You, God, for the gifts You have given me through my mother – love never ending, a happy spirit, an abundance of laughter, a zeal for learning, an eye for Your creation, a passion for seeking You…and for 3D and depth of all fields.

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Polo!

Here in the South, there is never a shortage of Big Occasions. Life is a revolving door of one Big Occasion after another, and, like the new Geico commercial says, we have “more fun than a slinky on an escalator.”

New Year’s Day is laden with meaningful traditions which involve black-eyed peas, collard greens and cornbread, and shortly thereafter we rev up for Mardi Gras. Then, about the time we’re polishing off the last Moon Pie and recycling our beads, it’s time to think about Spring Break, Easter and then summer vacation. Football season is a series of Big Occasions in and of itself, taking us through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and then we start all over again.

And down at the beach we have our own Big Occasions like snowbird and tourist seasons, seafood, beach, music and art festivals, Cajun and other local holidays, hurricane closure days with hurricane parties and all other manner of other excuses to eat, drink and be merry.

Sprinkle in all the usual holidays the rest of the country celebrates as well as those distinctly Southern, and it kind of makes it look like work/school is just something we do to fill the days in between all the Big Occasions and three-day weekends.

Even weekly Sunday School classes do not go without mini-buffets of sausage biscuits, fruit plates and Mrs. Eunice’s requisite Crockpot of Little Smokies. If there happens to be nothing special going on, someone will inevitably initiate the First Annual Something-Or-Other, guaranteed to draw a crowd. And we even make Big Occasions out of the things we can’t control, like births (the mother of all casserole contests), deaths (deviled egg showdowns) and yes, taxes (party at the Post Office!).

Y’all c’mon, now, y’heah?

Each spring and autumn where I live, we have another Big Occasion in the form of a polo tournament. The well-manicured lawn which sits idle most of the time bursts alive for two weekends each year with some of the top international polo players gracing our humble “horsey park,” as my youngest dubs the place we whiz past every day on our way to and from our daily routines.

Like the Kentucky Derby, most of the event is dedicated to food/drink, people-watching and enjoying the weather. And hats. Why, I can’t imagine – the horses are some of the most magnificent creatures to be seen, most of them thoroughbreds and well-trained animals, precise in their maneuvers and accurately reading the minds of others. I suppose the same could be said of the spectators. The players are an interesting sort, as well, with colorful backgrounds and stories to tell, if you ever get a chance to befriend one.

Nevertheless, the real focus of the event is the tailgating, with spreads of all kinds:

From the excruciatingly cozy (Triscuits, check – mimosa, check – smartphone, check) …

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…to the seasonally-correct, decked-out spread:

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You can tell folks’ priorities by what they whip out first – in this case, he got the bubbly going before the table was even set:

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Beautiful basketry, but where’s the food?! TELL me he didn’t make his gal trek back to the Escalade to get the cooler…

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This bloke couldn’t even wait for his chug-a-lug-of-choice to be poured into a more discreet cup (tut-tut):

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Creative pumpkinry at its best…

Polo Decos

For a minute it looked like a mannequin on a pole –

Polo Mannequin

…but upon second perspective, it was a lady with really BIG, um, equipment:

Polo Camera Chick

Oh, and of course, btw, there was some quality horsing around going on out there…

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Everyone was talking about it for weeks, with great anticipation. Nonetheless, the date somehow slipped her awareness when it crept up unexpectedly; she’d been caught up in the day-to-day busy-ness of her own little world and all it entailed. When it was far off, it was too far away on the calendar to take any details seriously. But when it was a day away, it came like a surprise. It was everyone else’s talking about it that jerked her into reality that it was time. Tomorrow. And it was then she realized she hadn’t been invited.

“So, what are your weekend plans?” one gingerly asked, poking around to see if she was going, too. Another commented about how much he and everybody else were looking forward to it, talking as if he assumed she, too, was invited.

But she wasn’t.

It seemed like everyone was except her.

How could that possibly happen? We were all supposed to be in this together. Everyone spoke the same language. Did the same things. Shared the same goals and values. She thought she had been close; close enough anyway, to these people. She had been under the impression that they had all been like-minded and that she had been one of them. The thought of quietly being omitted from the Big Event flooded her with a mix of melancholy, insult, shock, a tinge of bitterness and a ton of bewilderment. This rocked her world. She would have to look at herself in a way that would force her to reclassify her perception of herself, her perception of how others saw her, and her sense of value and worth.

Now worthless, she grappled with what it meant to be officially excluded. She had never really been in any inner circle of anything she’d ever encountered anyway – always an outsider. Always a sort-of. Ever the not-quite. She had even grown comfortable with outsider-ness. People had always been so gracious, and she always tried to be grateful and equally gracious, and then some. Leave everything a little better than you find it. But to be an outsider to an event in which inclusion was presumed to be a given, left her alone and despaired.

What went wrong, she wondered? She had done all the “right” things and she could not discern a difference between them getting to go, and her being left out. Sometimes she was a little lazy or careless, writing it off as human nature, and occasionally not having the energy or will to do right. Right was hard, sometimes. Forgiveness is plentiful. A little bad, yes. But good enough – she’d always assumed.

At the very last-minute, she was encouraged to go, but it was sort of an after-the-fact deal, since some of the original guests were unable to attend – other plans, they had. It was the sort of thing that you don’t want to be rude and decline even though you weren’t on the original guest list, and you’re appreciative of the chance, no doubt about that. But nevertheless, you will always know you weren’t part of the “real” group. You question whether the host is being tacky in recycling the invites, trying to fill seats, hoping not to let anything go to waste. Self-serving reasons. Or if the motives are truly genuine. And if they are genuine, why the second-hand invite?

Why always second? Why always outsider? Where’s my original invite?

She went anyway, wanting to be appropriate and sociable, yearning to be inside but not wanting to too much to look that way. It would be fun to see the festivities that everyone had talked up. The food would be exquisite, the décor breathtaking, and the outfits to die for.

Damn, the outfits! She didn’t have anything proper, nor did she have the means to get anything suitable. That was her dirty little secret, and maybe they knew that – maybe that was why she was always an outsider and they noticed but were too polite to say anything. But it showed, and there was no hiding it, yet she passed it off with flair and impressed people with her bold, self-assured style, making the best of what she’d been dealt. With this same style, she assembled an outfit that she thought would cut the mustard. She’d pulled this sort of thing off before, and had confidence that the host would not regret having invited her. She conquered the challenge with zeal. She’d be the life of the party, and she had such high hopes of having a fabulous time.

On her way in, it started out well enough – mutual compliments and well-wishing, saying and doing the right things, being the right way, and aspiring to be better. Somewhere along the way in the guest line, though, a stiff look dampened her moment. A bit down the line, a pleasantly disguised insult was imparted, the full impact of which wouldn’t register for days. A well-meaning sympathizer knowing full well she was a secondhand invite, delivered an ominous nonverbal gesture to direct her to get the absent-minded lipstick smudge off her teeth while engaging in a lively conversation. She could tell something was askew, but couldn’t put her finger on it. Had to be more than the smudge.

Suddenly the host appeared, and appeared a little stressed out. He forewent the introductions and welcomes, and got right down to business. She had not been wearing a proper wedding garment, was not a designer name he knew. This did not get past him, and she was immediately shown the door, ceremoniously tossed and skidding out the door. What garment she did have was rendered to rags as a result of the forceful ejection across the hard and abrasive bricks leading up to the grand establishment. The door slammed behind her and she could hear the loud music and talking and laughing going on behind the now-closed door, fading as she gathered herself up and, achingly, slinking away. Back to the rock she crawled out from under. Like good grief, she went through the shock, the anger, the bargaining, the denial. There was even a little egotistical justifying thrown in, rationalizing briefly that it was okay, bigger fish to fry anyhow. Nothing wrong with her, they could never understand life on the fringes, didn’t need ‘em anyway. All that stuff.

But no, there was no denying she had missed the boat on this one. What, was she sleeping? Had she been dreaming? Why hadn’t anyone stopped her and told her she wasn’t going to be invited? Or that there was a chance of getting bounced out after she was? Why had it seemed like everything was always fine, if it wasn’t? Why had everyone acted like everything was okay? Was this some kind of parallel universe? She quickly grew weary of trying to make sense of that which seemed senseless.

She didn’t know what to think, so she thought nothing. Not now, it was too painful. Just don’t think, she paradoxically thought. But it relentlessly haunted her and kept creeping back, and she helplessly thought anyway. She thought about all the fun the others were having, having with each other, celebrating and cutting up and having a big ‘ol time. And about her losing her chance, losing her sense of what was real, and losing her mind.

It was quiet now; she was farther away, lost and hungry. Dirty and ragged. She didn’t know where to go, so when the din of the party was well out of earshot and she had gone as far as she could, she found a tree with big, bulky roots, two of them forming a sort of cradle, and she fell in a crumpled heap between the roots, which supported her spent body and mind, both of which were at dead ends. The roots were hard, but welcoming.

She began to drift off to sleep, roused once by a breeze which carried a mocking sliver of the sound of the party ever so briefly – or was she imagining? And she tumbled down, down, down into a deep dream, more haunting, periodically jerking awake into the reality of her plight. There was no escape from reality or dream; both were equally tortuous to face, and there was no line between either.

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“You fi’n t’go back to the crazy hospital you done broke out of?” the graying, acutely psychotic man inquired, as I concluded the Sunday afternoon group therapy session.

“Yes, sir, I most certainly am,” I replied, with surly sincerity (knowing that the mentally ill tend to be more prophetic than most perceive).

I could say this and mean it. My last post was filled with cozy intentions about how time would be spent during the tropical storm. But, like all good intentions, they certainly paved the road to Hell. I think I caught a glimpse of the ghost of Erma Bombeck, smirking and waving at me as I went screaming and careening down that road this weekend.

Like a good blogger, I hit “publish,” closed the laptop and awoke from my online reverie. Except mine was a rude awakening, a tumultuous transition into what existed here with you and me in the beach chairs, to what lay before me.

I was deeply regretting the terrifying amounts of refined sugar and Red Dye #40 with a long holiday weekend in a storm, more than you can ever know, dear friend. The cutesy design drawn in the dust mocked me each time I whizzed by on my way between the front door and the linen closet to secure the assistance of yet another towel. Every Key to the Unknown buried in the no-longer-a-tool-drawer drawer, chuckled at me as I searched for the next necessary piece of hardware required to put out yet another home un-improvement fire. I believe ninety percent of the debris from the storm managed to find its way into our home, brought, blown or tracked in by sixteen busy little hands and feet, not counting the help from all the neighbor-kids.

And the collective sugar rush electrified the home better than any of the lightning bolts overhead.

Within moments of the last post, the doorbell rang. It was our smiling UPS man holding a package with the Amazon arrow emblazoned across the big, brown box. The children’s excitement mounted with suspense…it most certainly had to be for the birthday boy! They “helped” him rip into it, and within seconds of strewing the bubble cushions and wrap everywhere, their suspenseful chirping went silent. “What’s this?” puzzled the eldest.  “I don’t think that’s for him,” number three analyzed. “A present for mama!” number two surmised, as the birthday boy was blissfully busy off in the corner, amusing himself with the box and packing materials, completely satisfied with the delivery.

No, it had to arrive at the start of the weekend, eh? All the exam study materials I’d ordered and forgotten about a week ago. Kinda like how annoying things you can’t deal with until the next business day, always seem to darken the doorstep on a Saturday. Curses anyway, I took the dang test precisely twenty years ago…and now they want this old dog to learn new tricks. No mercy for the mommy-track. Okay, so be it. But did it have to come now? I’d had such great plans this weekend which did not include anything academic. You cannot hold your head high and walk past an opened box of interesting books which beg to be opened and thumbed through. That’s the lure of literature, n’est-ce pas?

The bands of rain intermittently pelted our world, and I managed to get a little studying accomplished in between tornado warnings, which is when we sent the young charges out to play in the deluge. This was joyful to behold, children dancing and playing and laughing as children ought, gleefully experiencing the wet wonder of nature. Splashing, cavorting, whirling outdoors.

Then muddy, dripping, shivering indoors.

After a round of warm baths and dryer-heated towels, it was time for a tour to see how the rest of the neighborhood was faring. Out at the point where tributary meets estuary, they just had to jump out of the van and experience the weather again. Here, the rain blew sideways, and just a few moments in this sent them scurrying back in with shrieks of pain, as the sand and water had slapped and stung them with the full fury of the storm. With wincing children cupping hands to cheeks, we hydroplaned home again to coop back up and ride it out some more.

A young person who shall remain Nameless, in his mad dash for the front door upon return, neglected to close the door on the vehicle in the driveway. This remained yawned open until it was discovered approximately twelve hours later, with a pool of water suitable for marine life in the pocket compartment of the door, drowned McToys begging for CPR and bloated Cheerios notwithstanding. So the shop-vac was enlisted to assist with this crisis. While Nameless One was asking how much longer he’d have to vacuum, another one led us to a room with a leaky window, where a lovely body of water had materialized, damaging all manner of wood, wall, wallpaper and everything else in the path of its pooling.

While this was being attended to, another Nameless one proudly announced he was in the process of mastering the art of cooking pasta. “Make sure you stir it,” I called after him. Five minutes later: “Mommy, something smells like it’s burning, and it doesn’t smell like pasta.”  Shortly thereafter, we were wondering whether the missing plastic tooth of the pasta-stirrer had become one with the pasta or with the stove. I was certain the EPA would come knocking any moment. We pondered this over the vigorous squirting of scouring gel on the bottom of the smoking, blackened pot. However, I was impressed with the beautiful design the pasta made on the bottom. Almost hated to scrub it away, the gracefully curved ebony imprints of the swirled mess. I just may leave it be and nail it to the wall in the kitchen as an impromptu work of art. You can get away with something like that in our town. It would be a memento of a child’s learning process on a stormy weekend. At least until he is of the age of dating and prone to visual reminders which might embarrass.

With the madhouse at home (prophetic indeed!), it might have been a godsend to be called in to work, except the trip was fraught with hazard. Entire lanes were covered in sheets of water, road and ramp closures abounded, stranded vehicles here and there. Somehow I made it, and set about helping to restore calm and order in a world of people unavoidably affected by the plummeting barometric pressure. Monitoring the radar on computer, the charge nurse graciously sent me packing early, before the next band was to hit. You just can’t get there fast enough when the National Weather Service robo-dude is mentioning streets in your neighborhood in the same sentences with phrases like “rotational movement” and “take cover in interior hallways or, if no shelter, lie down in a ditch.” Back down the road of good intentions…

Fire ants are a necessary part of life in the South, and, returning home, I made the mistake of pausing too long in the driveway to rearrange some of the debris in the yard. During storms, fire ants like to rearrange themselves as well, and our yard was no exception. Mountains of ant hills where they had not previously existed, now dotted the landscape like miniature towers of Babel. I happened to be standing atop a hill-in-the-making, which evidently had just begun to be claimed by the fierce insects. My presence on their claimed territory was most unwelcome. These little six-legged Donald Trumps were going to ensure that they cornered the market on their esteemed piece of real estate.

Having minored in dance in college, I was suddenly reminded of some long-forgotten dance steps, as the enemies swarmed my thong-sandaled feet. A one-woman Cirque-Du-Soleil, I acrobatically leaped and spun my way toward the front porch, throwing in a few curious upper body movements as I swiped at the stronger-jawed holdouts dining on my ankles. No worries about what the Mrs. Kravatzes of the neighborhood would think were they to peer out from behind their living room curtains and see my animated display; the Dance of the Fire Ant-Afflicted is a universal language south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Meanwhile, even feeding the outdoor pets became a contest of timing and judgment, and had to be coordinated with the latest weather reports and radars. This morning, the poor dog’s untouched bowl of food had become pathetically waterlogged, so after a thorough washing and drying and refilling between bands of storm, his bowl was restored. An hour later as the skies again darkened with great gusts of wind, I noticed he had again not touched it. I saw fit to bring in the bowl before the rain hit, placing it on the floor of the laundry room. Another round of towels was then due to the rain-romping youngsters on their way in for breakfast. While performing my now-regulation towel-dispensing routine at the front door, the baby shrieked and cried, “Ants, mama, ants!!!” His now-red, swollen feet had walked into the laundry room, exposing the reason the dog had not eaten – fire ants had overtaken his bowl within minutes outside, and my goodwill effort to protect his food had resulted in unwittingly inviting the creatures into our home. Way to go!

(Nineteen hours until school resumes)

Thus, the homey aroma of birthday cake for this long, stormy weekend has yielded to the likes of burnt plastic and Raid. The road is now littered with leaves and limbs. The mud-splattered walls testify to hasty and frequent changes of storm-soaked clothing and hardcore play. The fire ants are trying to take over the universe. The portable heater is about to set the car interior on fire. We’ll need a Bobcat instead of a broom to clear the back deck. All the things I was going to make a point not to do this weekend are not only still not done, but now we have myriad more on the list. And we’re down to the last piece of birthday cake that no one wants to be the last one to claim, because we have taught our children as such.

(I will wait till they are in bed…yes, baby, the bad ol’ ants probably got to it…No, wait, I will sneak it in to the psychotic man tomorrow, yes!)

On second thought, these good intentions did not pave the road to Hell, this was a storm of love. Our little tornadoes made the most of the circumstances and lived:  lived fully and lived well.

Thank you, God, for children and storms and ants and burnt pasta. Thank you for mud and mayhem and the unexpected. For it is the storms of life which bond us together, teach us love and endurance, give us meaning and purpose, and help us appreciate life’s journey. Best of all, they draw us nearer to You.

I think I see the Sun trying to come out. I am squinting with joy! Oh, blue sky at last! And thank you, dear friend, for sharing this storm with me, here by the sea.

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The towering man came tripping through the door of the club car, his commanding appearance combined with his unsure footing demanding everyone’s undivided attention.  We all assumed his awkward entrance was due to the speed of the train on the unkempt rails on which the steel wheels rotated and rattled us northward, as sightings of alligators in the sleepy bayous gave way to fields of blooming cotton and peanuts. But Arlo Guthrie’s song about this train didn’t quite capture what happened next.

The man, with scraggly, long hair clear down below the belt line, made his way through the club car, stopping at every table and lounge chair to shake hands with the good people trapped in the car with him. He lurched over the booth where I sat trying to go unnoticed, thrusting his leathery hand in front of my chest. One piece of really bad rail would have rendered his paw in the wrong place altogether, so I defensively met his uncontrolled arm with my hand, less to shake it and more to seize control of it. “H’lo, good to have you on board,” he bellowed, assuming an authoritative Love Boat captain’s role. Before I could return the greeting through the vodka-tainted fog enveloping us both, a strip of rocky rail caused him to lose his balance backwards, abruptly removing him and his breath from my personal bubble, and forcibly encouraging him to move on to the next victim across the aisle.

As he gyrated his way through the car, the pattern of voice levels were like a stadium-wide wave at a football game…anticipatory silence prior to his proximity, obligatory but awkward social greetings and gestures in his midst, followed by murmuring upon his immediate passing, giving way to outright gossip in shameless normal tones. It was clear that he would not have absorbed what was being said, anyway.

The man jammed his fist into the automatic door button, clumsily exiting the car and proceeding through the coach cars, doing the same thing, row by row of reluctantly captive passengers. The conversation in the club car varied between a mix of amusement and concern, with one man very audibly confirming that he had witnessed the man taking double shots of vodka in the dining car earlier. His BYOB turned into our SOS.

Not long into the afterglow of the experience, a new player strutted through the club car with great speed: it was the sleeping car attendant seeking the conductor, who came barreling through the opposite door about the same time. They met in the aisle of the club car, where we politely pretended not to be present for this impromptu crew meeting that could not wait for privacy. The attendant unhappily informed the conductor that a very unmistakably inebriated man had violated the privacy of every sleeping car passenger in the car, stumbling into every room to also welcome them aboard, gassing their enclosed rooms with double shots of his toxic fumes.  Attendant and conductor proceeded to go find the man elsewhere on the train, where the man was told in no uncertain terms to remain in his assigned seat and to especially stay out of the sleeping car. This was followed by another wave of conversation in the club car centered upon the drama unfolding within the confined community of our silver bullet. Questions arose over law enforcement on a mobile jurisdiction; theories were made as to how the story would end. Having worked on board before, I knew where this novel-train was headed and what the next chapter-station would be, but it was fun to quietly listen to everyone else’s ideas of achieving civil obedience in this situation.

The doors again yawned open, and in faltered the drunken man, starting to make his rounds again, completely unaware that this was not a car he had not already visited. His stupor led him to believe that there were several more cars in the makeup than actually existed – a miraculously long train to him, and he approached us all afresh, quite happy to remake our acquaintances and infuse our environment with more of his fog. He managed to pump hands with the occupants of the first two tables, before something in the next car caught his attention, and he suddenly wheeled around with double visioned-purpose, and quickly exited the club car from the door from which he had stumbled. When the door clapped shut behind him, the opposite door opened and the conductor came hustling through at full speed, in hot pursuit of the man, with the brakeman hurrying behind, trying to keep up with the conductor. The man must have hallucinated that there were four men instead of two coming to apprehend him, and he likely ducked down the stairwell of the next coach car. The conductor returned shortly afterwards, empty-handed and clearly annoyed. They muttered something about “only so many places he can hide” and they retreated back into their “office” in the dining car, where they had their briefcases and radios occupying one of the tables.

In what seemed like the inevitable colliding of space junk on misaligned orbits, the spectacle suddenly climaxed in unrivaled live entertainment. No in-flight movie could have topped this railroad ruckus.

The man, now clearly out of control of himself, again came staggering into the club car, focusing more on maintaining his balance than on pressing the flesh. In his heightened state of stupor, he was utterly unaware of the force flying through the opposite doors, the angry conductor. The two met clear in the middle of the club car, with the audience stunned into silence to behold the main event. “Oh, hi, Misthrr Condukkor,” the man slurred, as he tried to right himself, brushing his long hair out of his worn face. ” The conductor, unable to contain his emotion, raised his voice in a tone just short of reportable, in order to establish the way it was going to be. “You were told,” he fearlessly blustered, “to stay out of the sleeping car, to leave all the passengers on the train alone, and to remain in your seat. I warned you that we would not tolerate your behavior; you are not staying in your assigned seat, and you are interfering with the safety and comfort of everyone else.” (Here, a couple of brave souls in the back of the club car emitted muted applause under their table.)

The man was incited to anger, but only insofar as his dwindling senses would allow. “I wanna schpeak to th’ pershon in sharge,” the man spluttered. The conductor countered, “I AM IN CHARGE. There is no one over me, and I am putting you out at the next stop.” “Yoouu cand doo  dad, I’ll go siddown now…” the man offered. “Too late,” the conductor informed him, “we’ve arranged for a ride for you at the next station.” The man pleaded with the conductor to allow him to ride on, but the conductor stood firm. Eventually the man expressed gratitude and appreciation for the nice train people who were helping him “make his connection” at the next town by providing him with transportation.

Within minutes, the cotton and peanuts gave way to houses springing up, turning into a small Mississippi town with a commanding courthouse on the square. We rolled into the station as the conductor and brakeman escorted the man downstairs and off the train. From our vantage point, we could see police car parked behind a boxcar-turned-decorative feature near the station, but this would not be visible to the man as he fell out of the train and into the arms of the law awaiting him on the platform. Forgetting all social decency and manners, we crowded at the windows on the west side of the train, like children watching a schoolyard scuffle before the teachers come to shoo everyone back to where they belong in the initial efforts to restore order.

We gawked at the sight of two burly Bubba-officers on either side, roughly locking arms with the now-handcuffed man, his gait on solid ground still rocking and rolling as though he were still riding the rails. The unseemly trio disappeared around the side of the bedecked boxcar, where he was manhandled into the back of the hidden squad car. Once secure inside, they pulled out into the intersection to take him to his next destination, blue lights broadcasting to everyone that sumpin’ was goin’ down, y’all. In a painful pause before the train pulled out of the station, the man was forced to watch his train leave and to wait for the railroad crossing arms to go up, as he sat locked in the back seat, seeing us rolling away. He saw us watching him; we couldn’t pull ourselves away from the window, and then the entire car erupted in applause as the train faded out of the man’s sight and back into the sunset.

Over blackened catfish in the diner, the discussion followed, ranging from the politics and religion of the event, to the personal emotions evoked as passengers processed their perceptions. All were in consensus that everyone looked forward to a peaceful ride, as well as mass sympathy for the man as he faced the brand of justice most often exercised in small, Southern towns when it comes to long-haired strangers with short-lived attitudes. “At least the vodka will numb him a little from it,” one observant lady drawled.

And so the culture of our rocket on rails was restored to status quo and we went back to the business of enjoying our trip, which from thereon was indeed peaceful, but not nearly as entertaining as the first hundred and fifty miles.

Hey, God…thanks for that experience. I suppose we all are not unlike that man in many ways. I hope that man gets the help he needs, and that he winds up in Your station for his last stop.

What a trip.

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