The bad day…a Mike Valentine tale

“What can I get you?” the bartender asked. She had startled Mark Valentine. Despite the fact that a drink was all that he had wanted for the last 2 hours, he had been distracted by the Sox game on the corner TV.

“Good evening, Liz. What are the beer specials this evening?” God, how he hated to ask that question. The Crown Royal bottle on the top shelf was waving and calling his name but he was on a copper budget. His gold tastes would have to deal with it.

“Coors Light and Bud Light draft are $2.50 each.” She seemed to be on edge tonight, not as friendly as usual. He would know, he was as regular as Norm from Cheers.

“Bud Light, please.”

“You got it.”

Within seconds, a tall mug of cold, GMO infused, foamy piss water was in front of him accompanied by a basket of tortilla chips with Salsa. For anyone else, that’s another $2.50 but Liz always took care of him. He took a long sip of his beer and scanned the bar. He wasn’t looking for anything in particular. Maybe a new face or something to indulge in his favorite past-time. People watching. His scan was nearly complete as he turned his gaze back to the Sox game.

As he did so he inadvertently caught the gaze of the guy sitting beneath the TV. He was careful to not stare back but instead focused on the TV. He occasionally found himself darting his glance at the man and each time his gaze was met. This annoyed him. Why does every dickwad sitting under the TV think I’m looking at them? Where the fuck else am I supposed to look?  He glanced over again and the fellow looked particularly hostile. Mike was not in the mood for a confrontation, it was the very last thing he wanted after today. So, he chose to look straight ahead at the mirror behind the bottle rack. As cranky and depressed as he was when he came in, it was now worse. He was disgusted by the round face and bloodshot eyes that stared back at him. Relax, Mike. The mirror adds 15 pounds.
Yeah, but how many mirrors am I in right now?

He decided that he had to do what he hated most, play with his phone like “one of those” people. Mike Valentine was opinionated and old-fashioned and the phone thing conflicted him. He needed it and hated it at the same time. He saw the cell phone as an Orwellian nightmare, herefused to be glued to it and he an had open disdain for those who were. But in this case, drinking alone at 3:45 on a Tuesday afternoon it really was no time to stand on principle. As he pulled the phone from his pocket he saw that he had missed 3 calls. 1 from his boss and 2 from home. He made a mental note to call his boss back. He chugged the remainder of his beer and motioned to Liz for another. She was there with a fresh one immediately.

“Nice hat.” Mike had forgotten that he was wearing his Red Sox Scally cap. He loved the hat and got a lot of feedback whenever he wore it.

“Thanks Liz. I like it a lot.”

“Get it at Fenway?” she asked.

“Yup, thieving bastards got me good on it.” He had, on a whim gone into the gift shop at Fenway Park, home of his beloved Red Sox while on business in Boston looking for that very hat and paid stupid money for it.

“It looks good on you. It’s a keeper.” She smiled at Mike, there was a sadness behind it. As she walked away she said “My brother would love it.”

The comment seemed odd to Mike, almost as if forced. Less conversational and with intention. Whatever. Remembering that he had to return his boss’s call he pushed his stool back and stepped outside. He walked to the end of the concrete walkway to escape any noise from the patrons entering and leaving. Mike knew from experience that this was the best spot to call his boss and lie to him. The nature of the call would dictate how big the lie will be. Mike hated this part, and it was of no comfort that he had done it a lot lately.

Mike Valentine was in a rut at work. His customers weren’t busy, so consequently his portfolio was suffering. His competition was killing him and Mike was worn down by the constant “No’s” from his customers by about noon each day. Deep down he knew that he was a great salesman. But he had lost faith in his product, his managers and most important, in himself. He hated going to work lately. He hated going home also. Especially when the money wasn’t coming in. Every day that he could knock off early he did. Without permission, of course, which is why he was dreading making the call. If asked where he was, what would he say?  He wasn’t where he was supposed to be so whatever he said it will be a  lie, a lousy fucking lie that he thought he was above. He took a deep breath and dialed his boss.

to be continued…

Hot summer days

Those hot summer days
Basking in the sun’s rays
Outside, even when skies were grey
The knock on the door
Can Billy come out to play?
Cops and robbers in the yard
Shins and elbows always scarred
Streetlamp curfews
Wasted days were few
Wax bottles and candy cigarettes
Eight-track tapes and cassettes
Hot afternoons in the pool
Mirror shades, try to look cool
Leaf piles to dive in
Saturday night drive in
Sleepovers at camp
Motocross bikes, jumping that ramp
Swimming and fishing
shooting stars and wishing
Talking to my first cutie
Worried about cooties
Bad music and One hit wonders
School dances and social blunders
First day of school sneakers
Hi-Fi and Big speakers
The crack of the bat
My first baseball hat
First day of tryouts
Don’t make a flyout
Ground ball heading to first
Damn, I missed it. I’m the worst

Those days were the best
I just didn’t know it
Let me go back
This time I won’t blow it
I don’t want to play adult
Tell Zoltar to stop winking
I wanted to be Big
What was I thinking?
I miss my old house
I miss my first dog
I miss not worrying
About every damn thing
I miss feeling good
rugged and strong
I’ve lost my joy
My days seem so long
My longevity is fleeting
I’ve taken a beating
I’m tired of this, my downward phase
I want to go back to those hot summer days

The kindness of strangers

I wrote a post many, many months ago challenging those who say the lovely, always productive phrase “people suck.” You can find it Here.

I’ve always hated that expression. I believe, I want to and have to, that most people strive to be the best person they can be. I also believe that the best way to reveal character is not in the year of your car, the size of your watch, how much you have in the bank or how many Instagram followers you have but instead by your deeds towards others.

I’m less interested in whether you have stood with the great. I want to know if you’ve sat with the broken.

I received a call from a Masonic Brother last week. He was checking in to see how I was feeling. I told him the truth. Virtually sofa-ridden, fatigued and in need of dialysis. He appreciated the update. We talked for a while and he then excused himself because he had something to do. I put down the phone, put my head back and settled in for the ninth nap of the day (I may be exaggerating a bit). Several minutes later my phone starting blowing up with FB notifications. I took a look.

He had excused himself to compose FB posts on every MA FB page related to Masonry regarding my condition and my need for another donor. It was overwhelming.

The messages began to pour in. Due to my brother’s gesture I have six, yes six people who have asked to be tested in order to donate a kidney to me. 4 of them I have never met or even heard their name before.
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I am humbled, excited, honored and blessed by this outpouring of support. It has given me something that I have not experienced, nor expected to, for over a year. What is that you ask?

Hope, I now have hope.

If I ever have the privilege of speaking to any of you, please don’t ever tell me that people suck. I’m not the guy who will buy into that mentality. The good ones are out there, maybe you have to look a little harder. Just remember…

If you can’t find one, become one.

Trust

I trust that each day the sun will rise
that the sparkle will always be in the child’s eyes
I trust that the Spring will bring the rain
that my daily meds will ease my pain

I trust that the people in my life are good
that my intentions are always understood
I trust in my instincts, no matter what
in the unconditional love of a mutt

I trust in the tides
and their consistent ebb and flow
I trust in the beauty of flowers
in Mother Nature and her infinite powers

I trust in so many things
enormous and small
That Hummingbirds be tiny
That the Oak tree be tall

Trust is not given, it must be earned
when violated one always feel burned
My loyalty to you was the best I could do
So why, after all these years…

can I not trust you?

 

 

 

the Lake Walk…conclusion A Mike Valentine tale

this is the third and final installment in a series. I hope you enjoyed it. To catch up, you can here and here.

As he got closer he could see that it was a boy, maybe 8 years old standing near his car. He must have seen Mike approaching yet he made no move to retreat or even acknowledge his approach for that matter. He could feel the hair on the back of his neck standing up, something seemed off about this kid.

“Hey kid”, he called out when he was less than 20 feet away, “can I help you?”
The boy was gazing intently at the sky. Without looking down or away he replied, “no Mike, I’m just fine thank you.”

Shocked, Mike Valentine could only respond,” how do you know my name?”

“It’s not important”, the little boy replied, still not moving his gaze from the sky. Mike looked in the direction of the boy’s gaze and all he could see was the setting sun.

“What are you looking at like that, kid. You’re kinda creeping me out.”

The boy, without shifting his gaze, said, “I’m looking at the sky. Do you ever just look up at the sky? It’s quite beautiful actually. The clouds, the birds. The sun, the moon. Did you ever look at the top a tall tree and just wonder what it’s like to be a bird looking down?”

“That’s a lot of questions kid. And yes, I suppose I have. Well, I know that I used to.” Mike was reminded that he was talking to a stranger, an unaccompanied minor at that. “Are you lost? It is getting dark.”

“No, I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”

Stunned and at a loss for his next move, Mike leaned against his car to stretch his legs and assess the situation. It was more than just a little odd. He studied the boy. His clothes looked like they were from another generation. His hair looked like the “bowl cuts” his mom used to give him. It then occurred that the boy must have parents looking for him. But he sure didn’t seem scared or lost, he looked oddly comfortable.

He decided to play the quiet game and see who made the next move. He continued to stretch his tired body. Minutes passed and the boy said nothing. Mike was tempted to leave but his curiosity instincts were piqued and instead walked over and stood next to the boy. ‘Ok”, he said, “I give, what are you looking at?”

“Í told you, I’m looking at the sky. It’s quite beautiful isn’t it?”

“Yes”, Mike replied. “We’ve established that. But you haven’t looked away once. Aren’t you bored looking at the same thing?”

Without hesitation, the boy shot back. “Bored? That’s what kids today are. Always need to be occupied and entertained. Not me.”

Kids today! The statement resonated with Mike. Did he just say that!

“Aren’t you part of ‘kid’s today’?” There was something really strange about this kid. He was tempted to end this and take off. His phone had rung two more times since he got to his car and he knew that every ignored call was throwing logs on the shit bonfire that awaited him at home. In spite of this, he remained glued to his spot.

“Let’s just say that I’m here, but I don’t belong here” the boy deftly replied.

“Then where do you belong?” Mike replied, despite feeling that he was better off not asking.

“A different time”, the boy exclaimed as he lowered his fixed gaze for the first time, turned his head and stared directly at Mike. Mike felt as if he was staring directly through him. Spooked but insanely curious, Mike pressed further.

“OK, what time do you mean?”

“I asked you if you ever looked up at the sky a few minutes ago. I asked because I wonder if you looked up once during your walk. Did you even  notice what a beautiful evening it is?.” He studied Mike’s face.

He then continued, “I asked you if you ever wondered what it was like to look down from a high tree. You had no answer. Why is that?”

“Because I don’t know who you are, where you’re from and how you know my damn name!” Mike Valentine was getting angry. He almost felt bad about raising his voice to the young, albeit creepy kid.

Unfazed, the boy continued. “I asked you about the trees because from the height of the tall tree you must look small. We all do. Minor. Insignificant. Yet all you are focusing on right now is how big your problems are.” He paused.

“See, the world is bigger than the size of the screen of your phone or laptop. If you looked around you would see that. But you need the phone and the computer to make money. To buy stuff, stuff that you will put in your house. The one you don’t want to go home to. That stuff will further take your attention away from a beautiful day. It’s just stuff, but it’s ruining you.”

Mike was beside himself. What the hell is this kid talking about? “How do you know this?!”

The boy sat down in the grass Indian style. “Did you ever sit just like this?  Playing with Matchbox cars in the dirt until your mother called you? You hated to go home, right? Just like now. But then it was because you were having fun. That’s not why you don’t want to go home now, is it Mike?” His tone was less inquisitive and slightly sarcastic.

The matter-of-fact look on this kids friggin’ face was killing Mike. He was looking right through him again. Yet he had no reply.

The boy continued. He was on his back now. “Did you ever lie on your back like this for hours looking at the sky? Wondering about the clouds, the stars at night. The possibility of a Heaven. About God. Do you think about God Mike?”

“Not as much as I should.” Mike was powerless to question the utterly bizarre nature of this conversation.

The boy was standing now. “You used to be a happy kid, right? Lots of friends. You knew where they were without Facebook. You would look for the yard with all the bikes in the yard. Your mom knew where you were because you called from a phone in that house, a phone mounted to a wall, right? A phone that you didn’t feel the need to have in your hand all the time. The streetlight was your curfew, or maybe you were close enough to home to hear your mother call you.” He paused and looked at his feet.

“It’s not too late, Mike”, He continued. “There’s still time to be that happy kid again. Look up, look around. Chase butterflies, smell the flowers. Find happiness like you used to. Remember the view of the bird, to him you are small. Look down on your problems as the bird looks down at you. Small, insignificant. It will work out.” With that the boy turned and began to walk away.

Mike Valentine, who had been at a complete loss for words for what seemed like forever, finally blurted out what he had wanted to ask all along.

“Kid, How do you know this? I mean me. I mean, this is impossible! How can you possibly know all of these things about my childhood? Is this mere speculation or a theory of yours? Do you think or do you know all of this!”

The boy, turning as he walked, said, “I know it. Think about where we’ve met before”. He then winked at Mike and continued walking. For the first time, Mike Valentine noticed that the boy had an old-fashioned Slingshot in his back pocket.

He used to have one just like it!

He looked down at the ground, he then gazed to the night sky. It really was a beautiful evening. I’m going to get into a brawl when I get home. I may be out of a job tomorrow. I’d have to get two promotions just to be a broke asshole. But I do have this beautiful evening.

The kid was right about that much.

He got in his car and turned the engine on. He bathed in the AC and observed that he felt a little better. Despite the Episode of the Twilight Zone he just starred in. The conversation played out over and over in his head. The kid was weird, but in a non-threatening way. And he looked vaguely familiar. Shaking his head in disbelief, or to make sure he was indeed awake and conscious, he put the car in gear.

It suddenly occurred to him that he had some old school pictures to go home and look at.

He pulled out of the parking lot and headed home.

The Lake Walk, cont’d…a Mike Valentine tale

this is a continuation of yesterday’s post. You can catch the first installment here.
He stood, put his hands on his aching sides, looked around and realized he was almost halfway around the lake. His legs were starting to cramp. Losing motivation, but aware that it’s the same distance back as it is to continue, he started to walk again. His mind was still racing but he furiously tried to control it.

He thought of his late father and his trademark line, Everything will work out, it always does. The mantra rang through his head.

I wish you were here to talk to right now, Dad. I could use some of that cheerful optimism of yours that I once scoffed at, he mused as he trudged forward. His Dad always seemed to have it together. Sure, he sometimes fought with his mother. But he loved her unconditionally. He had money problems, but got through it. He hated his job, but he never acted like I am right now. I’m a hot mess. I can’t stand my wife, I’m on the brink of foreclosure and my boss is a fucking psycho that I love one minute and hate the next. How would Dad handle all of this?

Mike Valentine was well-known to friends, family, and business associates for his resilience and cheerful demeanor. It was a source of pride to him that this applied to more than just his public, outside persona. He was also committed to maintaining a positive frame of mind even when alone and talking to himself, which today he was doing quite a bit of. What people didn’t realize is that it required a lot of his energy to maintain that reputation. There are limits to what any man can take, as he was fond of thinking. Sometimes, when the walls felt like they were closing in, he had to remind himself to be positive and at this moment he did just that. Snap out of it! he reprimanded himself, you’re not going to fix anything in this state of mind. With the equivalent of a snap of a finger, he let his day wash off of him and he just walked. To keep his mind empty and focused he walked while looking down at the ground and concentrated on playing “don’t step on a crack”, a game from his childhood, not stepping on a crack in the sidewalk. This amused him for a while and it wasn’t long before noticing that he was approaching the final stretch where his car sat waiting for him.

When Mike reached the clearing to the parking lot he saw that his car was the only one in the lot. He found it oddly comforting, it went great with his whole I want the world to leave me alone mood he was in. Then, as he got closer, he saw a lone figure in the parking lot very close to his car.  It was either a kid or a small adult. Great, I’m probably getting robbed or vandalized. He began to walk faster. This day is somehow getting worse. His legs protested but he pushed on.

He felt the phone in his back pocket vibrating. He continued focusing on walking as fast as he could. He was tempted not to even look to see who was calling. It was most likely his wife doing the nightly “where are you” call. God, he hated that call. Often, he contemplated answering and saying “as far away from you as possible!” and hanging up but he knew that wouldn’t end well. Then again, it could be one of his kids calling and he grabbed for the phone. Too late, he had missed the call, but it was indeed the wife. Here comes the text, he thought. 2 seconds later it came through.
Where are U?

Mike chuckled to himself despite his annoyance. He called that one. He didn’t respond. He had a walk to finish and possibly a kid to beat up.

As he got closer to his car he could see that it was a boy, maybe 8 years old standing near his car. He must have seen Mike approaching yet he made no move to retreat or even acknowledge his approach for that matter. He could feel the hair on the back of his neck standing up, something seemed off about this kid.

“Hey kid”, he called out when he was less than 20 feet away, “can I help you?”
The boy was gazing intently at the sky. Without looking down or away he replied, “no Mike, I’m just fine thank you.”

to be continued…

The Lake walk…A Mike Valentine tale

Mike Valentine looked at the time display on his car radio. 7:15. Realizing that it will be dark soon, he did some quick math in his head and figured he had an hour before the mosquitoes starting eating him alive and his phone blows up from the wife wondering where he was. Despite the beautiful evening he was observing through his windshield, he didn’t want to get out of the car. He also didn’t want to go home. He wasn’t ready for that shit yet.

You took the time to change at the office, dickhead, go for the walk already, he scolded himself.

He opened the door and stepped into an onslaught of late afternoon humidity. Before closing the car door he made sure he had all of the essentials for his walk. Car key removed from ring and tied into shoelace. Check. Bottle of water. Check. He weighed the pros and cons of leaving his iPhone in the car or carry it for the entire walk. If he left it and she called he’d never hear the end of it. If she calls during the walk he may not answer it. He arrived at the conclusion that he was screwed either way so he tossed it on his seat and covered it with his jacket. He was about to lock the door when he opened it again and grabbed the phone. He cursed his addiction to the stupid thing as he slipped it into his back pocket.

Mike walked over to the big oak that currently shaded his 2008 Honda Accord with 200k on it from the late afternoon sun. He leaned against the mighty tree and attempted to stretch. His legs, stiff from sitting at a desk all day, were having none of it. Sadly, compared to his neck, the legs were nothing. Just an hour ago, in the course of a huge blowout with his boss, his head almost flew off of that very neck so the tension was of no surprise. Mike looked at his watch and chose to skip his usual stretching routine and just walk the lake.

“The lake” was a local treasure. Smack dab in the middle of an upper-middle class town full of old money and new construction, the lake was a favorite walking spot for people from surrounding towns. With its paved sidewalks, generous walking and bike lanes and magnificent view it was a bustling attraction for walkers, runners and bikers. Mike frequently walked the lake for all of those reasons, for a bit of after work exercise/stress relief, and of course for the added bonus of a plethora of young hotties and soccer moms coming and going in tight shorts and God’s greatest gift to mankind, the yoga pants. Tonight, Mike didn’t care about any of the scenery, he was in a foul mood and was walking because it was a healthier alternative to going to the local Chili’s and drinking cheap beer and eating tortilla chips all night.

As Mike walked the long parking lot and merged his tired body into the flow of traffic, as it were, he fought the initial tightness in his calves. Regretting not stretching more, he was comfortable that it would go away soon. As he reached the first long straight section, he realized that the tightness in his legs had subsided, his breathing was heavy and he welcomed the light breeze cooling his sweaty brow. He was getting into a rhythm. The lake is 3.5 miles around, it should take a total of 45 minutes and he felt on schedule.

As he settled into his rhythm he finally allowed the day’s events to freely bang around in his head. As soon as he did, the anger consumed him again. Being a self-aware man, Mike knew to keep his facial expressions in check lest he make oncoming walkers think he is a crazy fuck who is off of his meds. It was a difficult task, he was as mad as he could ever remember. He took several deep breaths and tried to sort his thoughts. Lets see, he recalled, I woke up to hear about how I’m not making enough money. When I told her to leave me alone, that she’s not helping, she called me a useless piece of shit. I told her to fuck off in front of the kids and felt like an ass all morning. I went to work mad, always a recipe for success, and my boss called me on my attitude. I ignored him and he let it go until 5 minutes before quitting time and then started the worse argument I’ve ever had with him or anyone else.

That’s not the worse part, a little voice in his head spoke up, you’re probably out of a job. You told him to go fuck himself on the way out the door, remember?

Mike Valentine remembered. He replayed the minutes of the argument in his head for what seemed like forever, trying to make sense, entertaining things he should have said and regretting some of the ones he did. After what seemed like an eternity of thinking and overthinking, he stopped walking, bent over and stared at the ground and physically shook his head as would a dog after coming in out of the rain.

“Enough” he said aloud to the inattentive ground. “I can’t live like this anymore. This is not the life I thought I would live. Something’s gotta give.”

The ground, as could be expected, had no response to his desperate plea.

To be continued…