A Reunion at Christmas Time?

He looked familiar in some way when he tapped on the microphone on the band stage, “Testing, testing…” the general buzz of conversations dissolved to hear the guy, “If you are wondering why you are in a room full of old people, you’re in the right place. Welcome to the 1965 class reunion of John Marshall High School… Christmas edition”

“Wouldn’t you know it,” an old lady chuckled in the crowd, “He’s still the class clown.”

Bill, the guy that looked like the cover of Mad Magazine back in the sixties was now a skinny old man. What was a goofy kind of face now just blended in the herd of unrecognizable faces distinguished by Magic Marker name tags. He stepped off the stage and a three piece light jazz group with a bass guitar, drummer, and lead piano started tinkling some white wine and brie music.

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One of the few men with a full head of hair, let’s call him Joe, escorted an attractive fit lady a full six inched shorter through the crowd, “Damn, I don’t see anyone I remember. I remember the kids the way they were fifty years ago clear as day.”

A bald man with thick black eyeglass frames nearly runs up, “Joe! Can’t believe you made it.”

“Of course I made it. I ain’t that damn old.”

“I mean you made it here. Never have seen you at any other reunions.”

“It’s hard to leave Florida for all this cold weather,” Joe answered. “Why on earth plan a reunion so close to Christmas?”

“They figured old people refuse to travel without a good reason, and visiting family around holiday time would be a draw. And, damn, look here, it worked. You’re here.”

The cinderblock cavernous gymnasium had been so large back in the sixties when the architectural style was modern. Just as with so many places in our memory, they aren’t so large anymore as buildings and dreams shrink with time. Now the experts call this style of building mid-century on one of those tear down a house and build it over shows on cable TV. The shiny maple hardwood floor still had the thick polished glaze of the basketball court turned dance floor for feet in socks at the high school senior prom. Along the walls the retractable bleachers were tucked away in long rows of polished pine coffins.

Joe moved through the crowd narrating events and people to his wife, “That fat guy over there you see laughing, he hasn’t changed. He was such a wannabe ass kisser to the popular kids.”

“Was he a friend?”

“No. I wasn’t a cool kid that drew followers.”

As they browsed through couples who chatted as if they were once again teens trying to solve world problems like protesting Vietnam and deciding which acne cream works best, Joe and his bride amused themselves eavesdropping conversation to conversation.

“You went to VCU right?”
“It was RPI, Richmond Professional Institute back then.”

“That guy you dated, I hear he became a lawyer up in DC.”

“Damn, you look almost the same,” as one lie led to another.

“So, Joe’s wife asked, “Which one of these girls did you date?”

“I asked a lot of them out, and they all turned me down, so I dated a few from other schools. However, there were maybe two girls I took out maybe once.”

“No crushes?”

“Oh, plenty of those.”

She poked his side and teased, “Any familiar faces?”

“Who can tell? They’re so damn old.”

“There was one in particular favorite crush I knew since elementary school. Prettiest and most popular girl in school. She was my first rejection.”

“What happened?”

“We were in something like the fifth or sixth grade and I got up the nerve to go to her door. They lived around the corner.”

“Did she break your heart?”

“No her mother did when she refused to let her go to a movie with me. Too young to date.”

“Is she here now?”

“That would be something, go back in time.”

Just saying that line snapped some time warp as if he had uttered a secret word to call the Gods to attention and grant do-overs. The Jazz trio morphed into the high school Beatles sound like band. Kids with hair too long to be football players strained their adolescent voices to hit notes only the nasal tweaking Brits could pull off. The old became new and young again. Gus, the school superintendant stood guard at the door checking pocketbooks for alcohol. The laughing fat kid with fat feet stuffed into shinny Weejuns penny loafers could not wipe the smile or his sweat from his face as he brought two cups of punch for the quarterback and the prom queen to sip in front of him. The class clown made faces and did some stupid dance move. Future lawyers, bankers, hopeful politicians, and young hopefuls that would more than likely end up in sales jobs played important as if the prom was their proving ground. Joe stood on the sidelines off court on the other side of the lines drawn in the wood floor for basketball players to obey the rules. The gym had been transformed at the hands of the art department that hung long streamers of crepe paper from the rafters back and forth across the ceiling. Hundreds of feet of the crinkled ribbons had been strung over untold hours of giggling girls coaxing boys up tall step ladders to dare the heights. Suspended above the bodies swaying to the music, the web mimicked a large net hanging above a swarm of teenagers whose main mission was not to dance but to get a first kiss, feel up someone, or get felt up. The lights dimed for the slow songs, the girls teased during the fast ones, movers to look up to, and hangers on to hope for the best. All the while our young Joe stared and listened. He could hear their comments culled from the band and noise and laugher and clatter from across the room, “What’s he doing?”

“Just sitting there,” but Joe thought that strange since he was clearly standing.

“Maybe he’ll get to his Christmas presents.”

“All he does is stare.”

“Joe,” someone addressed. “Joe.”

He thought maybe it was the girl with brown hair and dark eyes; the one from elementary school. The one who stared at him in her compact mirror from her desk in the front row as he day dreamed from his desk in the back row. She had not aged.

“Joe,” he heard again.

He smiled. Then, felt someone tug at something he held in his lap. “It’s okay, Joe. I’m just taking your book so you can open a present.”

Joe opened his eyes and the scene was no longer a gymnasium decorated for dancers. A bald man in a buttoned down Ivy League pink shirt came into view as he pushed an aluminum walker toward him, “Hey, Joe. You awake?”

The nurse helping him smiled with dark brown eyes as her brown hair caught some reflection of late afternoon sun from the tall windows that stood as a backdrop to a circle of wingback chairs stuffed with old people wearing outlandish Christmas sweaters.

“The group is all here, Joe.”

He took in the view like a tired old man waking from a long nap.

“Let me take that,” he heard and the nurse tugged his book.

“What’s that?” The man with the walker asked.

“That,” the nurse answered, “is his high school year book. He looks at it everyday.”

“That must get old.”

“That’s where his memory is. He can’t remember breakfast or that this is our Christmas party. But, he seems to remember 1965 just fine.”

As the nurse closed the yearbook, Joe held on to the last page he was looking at, the last page in the book with the headline, And Thus, All Good Things Must Come to an End And a photo of Gus, the school super, pulling down the metal gate to close off the hall that led to the gym.

SHORT STORY – Jump Off Rock

The Secret of Jump Off Rock

His skin was burnt umber, but his features were not African. Jose Ramos had the right words for ladies and big callused hands for picking apples. An angry eagle tattooed on his right bicep seemed to spread its wings as he lifted one more heavy crate up on the flatbed truck. The box of red and yellow orbs plentiful in Hendersonville, North Carolina held the promise of a crisp treat to satisfy the crisp fall morning in October 1979. To see Jose on a corner in a seedier part of town, he may be mistaken for a gang member. Here in the sun drenched orchard, he would be labeled a migrant worker here for the season. In truth, Jose liked the nickname J.R. as he was the master of this field. He fancied himself the head of his own land empire the way Larry Hagman strutted about the Dallas soap opera about to premiere its second season. His apple orchard farm was much smaller than the trashy empire on one of the only three TV networks. The size didn’t matter to Jose as his twelve acres produced sixteen varieties of the fruit that gave acclaim to Hendersonville as the most productive stretch of dirt in North Carolina.

How Jose Ramos became a land owner is a story that began back in the sixties.

***

It was a nice warm June day in 1965 in Hendersonville as Hector Hernandez cruised Main Street in his 1955 Chevy. Hector’s ride was black with hand painted flames and illegal mufflers to give the car a roar. He’d lay rubber half a block and his friends thought he was the man. When he wasn’t driving and cruising for beer, he and his buddies would stand on the street corner and torment the whores. They’d grab their crotch and tease, “La monada, want some of this?”

Young painted prostitutes paraded to look old enough to know better responded by giving the kids the finger. If Hector was in his car he’d pump the gas to make the exhaust pipes sing, and he’d laugh at the response, “When you grow a real pipe or roll of cash, we can talk.”

Hector could have been an earlier version of Jose. He had the dark good looks and shared a very similar background.  Mexican. Shitty neighborhood. His family lived in a small worn out frame house perched on a mound of a lot at a corner in one of the worst neighborhoods. Hector and his buddies claimed territory along Seventh Avenue around Robinson where drugs and whores were sold. In his day, mid sixties, the drug sold to the rich white kids was marijuana. Those kids, once called ‘preppies’, cluttered the place during summer vacations. Hector’s group was happy to taker their money from that whole baby boom generation of assholes. Hector could care less about the way these foreigners from Miami or Long Island acted out on pot for the first time. The drugs would change over the next decade in young Hector’s life, what the whores did would stay the same, just as the vacationers seeking cheap thrills never change from generation to generation.

That summer of ’65, Hector lost interest in teasing whores and began seeing a girl from school and a nicer part of town. Maria Alvarez had become special. He had just picked her up after school at the West Henderson High and headed south on Haywood Road, “Where are we going?” asked Maria.

“Nice surprise,” he said, “You like sunsets?”

“Of course.”

He noticed the book she held in her lap, “What’s that book?”

“My senior yearbook. I want you to sign it.”

“I like that name. The Falcon.”

“Yeah, well we do appreciate our football team.”

“I like the bird. Fast animal. Knows how to kill.”

A warm breeze blew in the open window as Haywood merged into Asheville Highway, “Why are we headed downtown?”

“Pick up my cousin Juan and his girlfriend Barbara. You’ll like them. Good kids.”

Once they made the turn west on fifth, Maria guessed the surprise, “You’re headed up to jump off rock.”

“Busted,” said Hector as he wheeled into a dirt parking space next to a small wood frame house; one of those post war shacks not big enough to be a bungalow. Juan and Barbara perched in folding lawn chairs behind the railing on the porch.

“Amigos!” announced Juan as he and his girl hoped in the back carrying a brown bag.

“What you got in that bag?” asked Hector.

“Libations for the ladies,” and he produced a cold six pack.

“How you get that?”

“Friend at the convenience store owed me.”

They headed on fifth up through Laurel Park when the D.J. on the local AM station said, “This new song from the Stones is going to be a hit.”

Hector cranked the volume as the fuzz tone guitar hit the first licks and Mick’s shouting, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”

“Story of my life,” Juan said and Barbara slapped his shoulder.

Twists and turns of two lane pavement took over as Fifth Avenue turned into Laurel Park Highway. The road would turn back and forth on itself, “Go slow said Maria. This is one dangerous road.”

“That’s why they got that rock wall on the left.”

“Not a big wall.”

“Big enough to be hard work.”

“Hard for who, Amigo?” said Juan. “The probably used a bunch of Mexicans.”

“Nah. Most likely a bunch of Indians.”

Juan popped another brew and sipped the fizz, “Damn sure no redneck white guys broke a sweat.”

After another turn the pavement ended. Gravel cracked under the tires and the dirt path looked like it would take them to an infinity drop-off from a group of large granite boulders. Hector turned off the car, “Here we are. Let’s check out that sunset everybody talks about.”

Once the car doors thumped shut, Hector let Juan and Barbara walk ahead. His heartbeat was almost in his throat as he reached for Maria’s hand. She accepted and squeezed his palm with a sweet smile and her eye’s sparkled, “Maria Sparkle,” he said.

“Giving me a nickname?”

He thought he’d like to say how he would give her the world; do anything. Maria had a stronger power.  Being with her had taken on a new dimension. The test to win her over became the entire world in front if them; much bigger than all the space out there across the rise and fall of the afternoon horizon. Each step toward the edge felt like the last important step in his life.

“Hey, check that out,” he heard Juan say.

“Barbara, let’s take that path down around the base of the rock.”

Juan’s coaxing Barbara came as a relief to Hector as he wanted Maria all to himself. The dirt path ended and the granite edge of jump off rock became a natural step.

Maria stepped out of her Bakers flats so her bare feet could feel the stone warmed by a full day of new summer sun, “Nice,” she said. “It’s like the center of the earth is holding me from flying off into the universe.”

“And that is some universe,” added Hector looking out over the folds of the valley and the soft rounded mountains on the horizon, “Just in time,” said Maria as the sun dipped closer to the edge.

When sunset came, Hector felt some pride that he himself had orchestrated a great moment. A falcon soared above headed for a tree for the night. All was quiet. No breeze, no exhaust pipes, no blaring music. Just silence for a moment.

“Beautiful,” Maria broke the spell.

To Hector, Maria was far more beautiful and said to her, “Maria Alvarez,” he smiled her name. “You have the prettiest eyes. And, your hair …”

She stopped him, “What about my hair?”

“It flows like it is some kind of black cool liquid over your shoulders.”

“Oh, quite the poet.”

Hector wanted to say more, but the fear of telling her how he loved her stopped him.

“Some place up here, huh? She said to break his spell.

“Yeah,” he said. “You believe it?”

“Believe what?”

“Why they call this jump off rock. The Indian princess.”

She waited staring at Hector for an explanation, and he continued, “She jumped off the rock up here and killed herself.”

“Why would she do that?”

“Her brave had been killed. Couldn’t go on without him. That’s love.”

“If that’s love,” she said. “I want no part of it. At least for now. Right now all I want is to have some fun and leave all the love stuff for old people.”

“But, you say just for now?”

“Maybe some day after college. Could be.”

Hector felt safe since he had kept his feelings to himself.

“You going to college?” she asked.

Hector took a deep breath, “Not much chance a Mexican fruit picker going to college.”

“You may be surprised what you can do Hector Hernandez. You just wait.”

“Hey, we’re out of beer,” said Juan coming up the path where he had taken Barbara off to himself.”

Hector watched the last of the day’s sun illuminate Maria’s face, “We could wait for the moon.”

Juan buts in, “Ain’t no moon this time of month, man. Let’s head down for another six-pack.”

“Your friend still owe you one?”

“Nah, he’s off work now.”

“Ain’t none of us old enough, Juan. You know that.”

“Come on, let’s hit it. I’ll think of something.”

The ride down the mountain seemed quicker than the long crawl up.

“Turn right up ahead,” said Juan.

When Hector turned right on Hebron, it felt more like a u-turn, “Where you taking me?”

“Down on Greenville Highway, there’s a service station that sells beer and no one knows us or how old we are.”

“That’s a hike.”

“So, all we ever do is cruise, cruise, cruise. Ain’t never getting no where.”

“Where is it you so hell fire bent on going anyway, Juan?”

“Take my guitar to Nashville. Become a big star like Elvis.”

“Ain’t no Mexicans make it big at anything,” Hector laughed and glanced in the rear view mirror at the skinny runt of a kid in the back seat. His nose was too big and those squinty eyes said everything Hector knew about Juan. He was the scrappy little big mouth that would start a fight and watch Hector finish it.

“Why you be so down on other people’s dreams for?”

“Just real, man.”

“Hector, if you can not imagine picking yourself up, picking fruit is all you ever do.”

“You too Juan, all I see is apples in your future.”

“You watch smart ass. I am going to be somebody some day,” Juan said it with determination.

His comment got Maria’s attention. She glanced back to see that Juan turned his attention to Barbara. The privacy of the moment let her reach across the front seat to touch Hector. She slid closer to whisper, “Hector, I really do see something big in your future. If I see it, you should too.”

As they drove, the group grew quiet. A few miles of peace and they passed an opening in the forest and off to the right down the hill a wide vista of green stretched out.

“Bet there’s plenty of booze in there,” said Juan.

“You mean the Hendersonville Country Club?”

“Yeah, fat chance us ever getting in there.”

A new sixty five Ford squealed out of Bent Tree Road right in front of Hector causing him to hit the breaks.

“Totalmente mierda!” Hector yelled.

“What?” asked Maria.

Juan answered, “Wholly shit.”

“Hector Hernandez I am shocked at such language,” teased Maria.

Juan said, “Catch that guy.”

Hector sped up and followed the big square tail lights on that new Ford. They raced after the car around corners speeding by the intersections Chariton Avenue and Belmont Drive. Expensive homes flew buy and more intersections until they nearly missed some old woman driving an Oldsmobile at Forest Street. She blew her horn and yelled some kind of old fart obscenity as Hector pushed on after the Ford. This kept up until they turned right on White Street and came to a stoplight at the corner where Main Street changes name to Greenville Highway.  The Ford was stopped in the right turn lane at the light and Hector stopped his Chevy to the driver’s left.

Maria said, “Oh no wonder, that’s Bobby. The quarterback at school.”

Bobby saw her look at him and winked when she said, “Hey Bobby.”

“What you doing in that heap?” he laughed.

“Heap, my ass,” said Hector. “At least it’s mine, and I don’t have to ask daddy for the keys.”

Juan from the back seat leans up, “Oh, you that big football Falcon quarterback, huh? Look more like chicken to me.”

“You say what?” from a now smile less Bobby.

“Oh, sorry Amigo,” said Juan. “I meant to say chicken shit.”

Bobby raced his engine, “Put your money where your mouth is wetback”, and hooks a right on red to Greenville Highway. Hector floors it from the wrong lane but is close on Bobby’s rear. They pick up speed down the two lane highway now getting darker with the night coming down. The race goes on past Flat Rock and somewhere around Erkwood Drive, the guy riding shotgun in Bobby’s Ford tosses a beer can out the window to hit Hector’s Chevy in the front grill.

“That’s it!” yelled Hector catching some of Juan’s anger and picking up more speed.

The car sways in each turn, Maria becoming more and more frightened. She did not bargain for this and closed her eyes, “Hector, please give this up.”

“That stuck up white kid needs a beating.”

“Please, Hector, I don’t want anyone to get hurt. Please, slow down.”

Hector took his eyes off the road to see what he was doing to the one person he cared for most. He started to ease off the gas, the Ford’s tail lights faded into the dark just as the car passed Robert E. Lee Drive. Hector locked on Maria did not see old man Timmons pull his tractor out on Greenville Highway after the Ford cleared the intersection.  Bobby did not see Timmons tractor in his rear view mirror. He just sped away around the next bend in the road to the right and zoomed by Boxwood Loop. His buddy laughed, as they left the old Chevy in their dust.

Timmons tractor was slow. The plow with large discs for carving rows in fields was in tow behind the tractor and had no trailer lights.

This big steel discs reflected light from Hector’s beams.

The sharp edges zoomed toward the car just as Hector dropped his gaze at Maria and returned to the road. Then he felt his chest crush against the steering wheel and heard glass shattering. Hector saw something fly by through the windshield. Juan and Barbara crushed against the back of the front seat.

Everything went black for Hector.

He thought, just for a moment he heard old man Timmons pull on the door and yell something to him.

 

The next morning when Hector woke up at the hospital, he learned about his broken nose and three fractured ribs from crushing the steering wheel on his 1955 Chevrolet. The pain in his collapsed ribs could not come close to the new deeper ache when he heard the doctor explain that Maria Alvarez had been killed. No one would add to the pain with details how she was thrown through the windshield and landed on old man Timmons plow.

It was six weeks to the day that Hector Hernandez stood in court looking up at a white haired judge. The man looked through his glasses down his nose at a file that told the story of that night, “Mr. Hernandez,” he addressed the teen as an adult. “This is a very serious situation you have.”

The judge made eye contact with Hector as he folded his hands over the file he closed on his desk, “You aware of the pain you have inflicted?”

Hector nodded and sniffled out a ‘yes your honor’ and spoke, “I can not bear what my life will be like without Maria.”

“Well, young man, the great state of North Carolina considers reckless driving a class two misdemeanor. The more pressing issue is the death by vehicle law. My understanding is the young man in the back seat had been drinking, is that correct?”

“Yes sir, some beer.”

“And, you?”

“I had one earlier that evening.”

“Well, I appreciate your forthcoming as your blood alcohol test did not show intoxication. That would make this a homicide case.”

That word cut deep into Hector releasing a level of fear he had not experienced. The judge continued, “Our state defines felony death by vehicle as unintentionally causing a death while under the influence. Does the seriousness of your situation ring true, young man?”

“Yes, your honor,” the words choked with a quiver. “I know and I deserve to suffer. Maria did not deserve what happened.”

The judge took in the boy’s words, “Life, Hector,” he said, “is not something deserved one way or another. We all make our own lives and have to live with the consequences of our own decisions. You made a bad decision.”

The man sat back to take a breath, “Now, I have to make a decision.”
He let the quiet sink in. Time to give thought some deep roots to grow.

“Hector, you are a young man and not a bad person. You made choices that ended badly. What should I do? Send you away and let a bad mistake make a bad old man with nothing more than regret to live with. Does that sound right?”

Anyone witnessing the judge would feel a certain fear that the man was about to let the death of a young girl go unpunished. A justice system void of any justice could not be a good thing. Then, the judge made an attempt at leveling the field, “Hector Hernandez, you will be sent to our juvenile justice system facility in Asheville where you must complete a course of corrective study. You will also be confined there until you have successfully completed your high school education. Once released, your fines will be paid in community service.  Also, you will no longer have the privilege of a driver’s license until you are of adult age.”

***

The sixties passed and the seventies opened up a new world for Hector. That sentence of community service set the course for Hector’s life, as he worked for a youth center in Hendersonville with the mission to train and inspire young people. This was the place for Hector to meet a young smart ass kid, Jose Ramos.

Jose was trying to be the man on the street in the eyes of his friends. He had that in common with a younger Hector. He was too young to push drugs to the vacationing yuppies, and small enough to be the butt of teasing by the whores. Jose was a skinny kid and kind of short, but with a wide smile that split his cheeks into long dimples that girls thought was cute. He compensated his size with more bullshit than seemed possible. But, the charisma gave him some capital with the guys and a few of the school girls. One of these girls was a pretty freshman at the school where the Falcons ruled. She was sweet and volunteered at Hector’s youth center.

“Jose,” she’d say, “why do you hang with those kids? You know they’re up to no good.”

“You mean my posse?”

“Bunch of posers maybe, posse, that’s a stretch.”

“Come on girl, you talking about my team,” and Jose would laugh and push at her shoulder. “Why don’t you and me take in a movie?”

“You know my Daddy doesn’t think I’m old enough to date.”

“What? You’re a freshman in high school.”

“And, you are just fresh,” she’d say and turn away.

Jose liked the girl and thought of her in a serious manner, not at all the way he’d think about the whores in cut offs and no bra tank tops. Teenage boys have to deal with these conflicts, so Jose took it out in big talk with the boys.

Then, the afternoon came that opened a door for Jose. He stopped in the drug store on Main with the lunch counter and soda fountain. The place could be a time machine from the fifties. There in front of him sat the pretty girl with a milk shake that looked as tall as she was on the counter. He took the stool next to her, “You still think your Daddy won’t let me drop by?”

“Jose, no use trying.”

“You got something against Mexicans like we can’t ever do anything?”

“That has nothing to do with it. You should know better.”

“Just experience is all.”

“Don’t put yourself down. You can do anything you set your mind to.”

“Except get you out on a date.”

She smiled and took a sip from the straw in the shake.

Jose watched and smiled, “What brings you downtown anyway?”

“I help out at the youth center and this weekend we are having a bake sale to raise money for our programs.”

“That center raise a lot of money?”

“Cash keeps it afloat. Like anything else.”

“How’s that work, people donate money same as going to church?”

“Kind of,” she said. “Hector keeps it in a safe and takes it to the bank every Monday.”

“Good for him.”

 

That tidbit of information played well with Jose and his buddies, “We should break in one guy offered to Jose.”

“You crazy? I ain’t planning on getting shot or jail.”

“Who would shoot you late Sunday night?”

“Sunday?”

“The man goes to the bank Monday morning. Think of all that cash from the week before just sitting there with our names on it.”

Jose pondered, “How would you do it?”

“Easy, lift your skinny ass up through the back window. You’re the only one small enough.”

“What about the safe?”

“Ain’t no safe. I’ve been in there. Only thing in the office is a file cabinet. Maybe the man has a box for cash, but no safe.”

“Why would she say safe?’

“Girls don’t know shit. She probably thinks a file cabinet is a safe.”

“Why were you in there?”

“Girl I like said to volunteer.”

Jose laughed, “Got you wrapped?”

“No way. Don’t matter. I can go back in Saturday, sweep the floor take out the trash, some shit. Then I’ll unlock the window in the back so we can get you in.”

 

Sunday afternoon dragged by and the sun just hung there refusing to go down. Then finally gave up. Soon it was dark and really quiet since no one hustled about on Sunday nights. Silence was broken when Jose slid the metal trash can across the cobblestones of the alley to get a boost up to the back window. He grunted himself up feeling the bricks of the old building scrape his knees through his jeans. The white paint on the window sill had aged into a powder that stuck to Jose’s palms as he pushed the unlocked window up. One leg in and he pulled himself inside, “I’m in,” he whispered to the other boy outside. “Hand me the flashlight.”

Jose inched through the center back to Hector’s office.

Just past the door he aimed the flashlight around the room. Behind the metal desk was one lone brown file cabinet with four drawers, “Damn, unreal,” he said.

The top drawer was locked with a combination lock. The thing was a safe after all.

Jose started to back up when the ceiling light hummed its fluorescent glow, and he heard, “Stop right there.”

Jose turned around.  He stood face to face with Hector,
“What are you doing here?”

“It’s my office,” said Hector. “How old are you?”

“Old enough.”

“Don’t be such a smart ass. Sit down. Now, how old are you?”

“Fifteen.”

“A real man at fifteen. That’s a bunch of years ahead of you to spend in jail.”

“I ain’t done nothing wrong.”

“You broke in.”

“Ain’t stole nothing,” said Jose.

“Bet that combination lock slowed you down some.”

Jose sat quiet and Hector pulled up a chair, “What you think? Should I call the police?”

“Do what you got to do.”

“What I have to do is make a decision. Now on one hand, you have done a bad thing. I can call the cops. Put you away until you become a real bad person. Or, you can have a say in the matter.”

“How’s that?”

“You ever hear of Timmons Orchard? Big apple orchard over east of town?”

“Lot of farms over there.”

“Well, old man Timmons is what you call a benefactor. He helps the center.”

“Gives you money. Pay off the Mexican, huh?”

“Better than that. He let’s me decide about some kids here that can go to work on his farm. Learn something.”

Jose said, “I get it. You get kids and he gets slave labor.”

“No, he pays young men that I recommend. The really bad kids that sling dope around and cut each other. They get sent away. Good riddance. Kids like you too stupid to be bad, but can be saved and go to work. The ones that do good end up being somebody. Does that sound like something you can relate to?”

Jose sat quiet, “You think I’m stupid?”

“I think you are young enough to make stupid mistakes. But, doing something stupid does not make you stupid for the long run. If you try, you might be something.”

“I can be something?”

“Not that many years ago I was the same. Then a man gave me a choice when I did something bad, he said he did not want to make me a bad person by going to jail. I think you deserve the same chance.”

***

Jose took him up on the offer. Old man Timmons taught Jose the pride that comes from hard work. Taught him to show up on time. Do a full day. Get paid. Along the way, he taught Jose about apple varieties, the magic of pruning and grafting. Then, he did one better. He schooled Jose on saving and always learning something new. Helped him get through school. After some years, Jose became a favorite of old man Timmons. Up to the day he died. The man had no family so he willed twelve acres to Jose, along with other parcels to various young people he had helped from the youth center. So, Jose Ramos became the owner of J.R. Farms and his sixteen varieties of Hendersonville apples are some of the best.

The unofficial end of the summer of 1979 was coming up Labor Day weekend. There’s a much bigger event on the calendar for Jose. The North Carolina Apple Festival right at home in Hendersonville. A big weekend for sure for apple growers to show off their crops and have locals and tourist pig out of all kinds of fried and apple treats to sample.  Jose drove a fully loaded flatbed truck toward downtown to the apple festival on Main. He turned the radio on to listen to the local radio station live remote broadcasting the event to hear the warm up for the opening of the festival. The D.J. on the scene talked about the tents going up, tons of apples being unloaded, and a run down of some of the tasty treats promised, “Don’t forget those apple beignets. Get ready to crank up the volume for the latest number one hit, can you stutter, My My My My Sharona? Here’s the Knack.”

Jose turned the volume down and pressed on southwest on Asheville Highway. He passed the mix of old houses and crappy looking small commercial buildings. The Knack kept yelling until he approached and passed the triangular intersection at Haywood Road. The stoplight stopped him. The light changed. The DJ changed, “From number one we’re going way back for an oldie but goodie. Fifteen years ago seems like yesterday when you hear the Stones …”

The fuzz tone guitar pounded and Mick shouted, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”

Jose drove on. Church Street and the merge with Main came up. Jose took Church to wind around to the lot for vendors at the festival. He made it through the stoplight at Fifth but Fourth caught him. The big red brick building with antique arched windows reminded him of who he was; and who he has become. He watched as Hector Hernandez came out to change the letters on the sign. Jose beeped the truck horn and Hector waved back. He stood there a moment’ then gave Jose a thumbs up. Hector picked up the tackle box of letters used to announce some weekly event at the center. He eyed the sign checking it and looked up at the permanent marquee on top of the sign with the name, Maria Alvarez Youth Center.


Jump Off Rock Comments and Reviews

Patsy, You’re great with dialogue. I liked the description of the car – black with the fire painted on the fender. You are good at describing people and places. Thanks for the good read.

Melissa, My first impression when your story came on my screen was that it was very long and I may have to come back and finish it later. Obviously, I didn’t do this because it caught my interest and held me to the very end. I enjoyed your story very much. You have a lot of good description, and it almost made me cry.

Greg, There is a great depth of tragic feeling in this story.

Alease, You have done an excellent job of capturing in a cognizant way a long span of time in a relative few pages. The metaphysical truth that life reflects back to us what we think is seen in every scene, especially the conversation about going to Nashville. The setting in the car was evocative. The short sentences describing the car wreck have a hearty and believable punch. I applaud you for not going with traditional stereotypes, especially where the judge is concerned. This is an inspiring read.

Jose, This has the qualities of a future novel. The characters breathe and are realistic, with the plot original. Great work.

James, I REALLY hope Nuckols continues to write. I think he can grow into something special.

Are Your Commercials Working?

There is a proven formula to get more from your commercials.

Some say the quote “Practice what you preach” may be a negative statement. Other statements such as, ‘Put up or shut up’ may fall into the same genre. A more positive spin such as, ‘Lead by example’ says the same thing.

However you say it, the thought came to mind as we rolled out some new commercials for our books to be sure we too are following the example expressed in another video we posted.

Here’s a test for you to decide if we are correctly using the PAPPA advertising formula we teach to improve results from  for commercials and advertisements.

First, we launched the following two ads for It Is No Secret. One is driving more clicks.

Headline:      Have You Been Seduced

Action:           Break the Rules

Headline:     The Divide Between the Rich and Poor Widens.

Action:          Get answers, not secrets.

Viewers are directed here.


Our next campaign for the book The Secret Advantage features two videos that attempt to follow the PAPPA formula for results.

Headline:      Can you change if you have more advantages?

Action:           Discover what winners know that leave the losers behind.

Headline:     Tired of seeing others get everything you want?

Action:          Get the advantage those at the top have used.

The call to action leads here.


 The next campaign features the video series The DARE Matrix.

Headline:     Most People Fail

Action:         Dare to be a winner and leave failure to others.

Leads go here.

Compare these commercials with the PAPPA formula explained in another video.

Medicare or Who Cares for All?

“What if I die?” My question landed on her face.

The USF Diploma on the wall behind her backed up her authority on the topic, so I anticipated a clinical answer, “We all die,” she said and smiled.

Doctors should not tease, but she and I had exchanged joking comments from time to time and her answer did not shock so much as what was to follow. She explained that the day for me was not that day, but she did want to run some tests to be sure we were on the right track. When she had suggested some tests, she explained, “Sonogram of your carotid arteries to be sure that brain of yours is getting enough blood.”

She gave some comfort explaining how the tests are done, and then added, “First step is to be sure your insurance will pay for it.”

“How long may that take?”

“Most times in a couple of weeks, could be a month at the most.”

“A month,” led to that question, “What if I die before the insurance approves my reason to continue to live?”

This story goes on all the time for those ripe enough to be on Medicare. Several problems with the fanciful idea of ‘Medicare for All’ comes to mind.

First, Medicare is not free. We pay every payday all our working lives into that fund that is rightfully our money.

Medicare payroll tax on earned income

The Medicare payroll tax is 2.9%. It applies only to earned income, which is wages you are paid by an employer, plus tips. You’re responsible for 1.45% of the tax, and it’s deducted automatically from your paycheck. Your employer pays the other 1.45%. If you are self-employed, you pay the full 2.9%.

The Additional Medicare Tax

The Additional Medicare Tax was added by the Affordable Care Act in November 2013. The ACA increased Medicare by an additional 0.9 percent, but only for individuals whose incomes are over a certain threshold. Those affected pay a total of 3.8 percent in Medicare tax.

Once we get to the age when we qualify for Medicare Insurance and can begin to use all that money taken from our payday, we continue to pay. The cost for the insurance is deducted from the monthly Social Security check. If you do not have supplemental insurance you are on the hook for twenty percent of the cost of actual care. A recent operation for a shoulder injury requiring a hospital stay racked up over $150,000. That twenty percent means $30,000 out of pocket. Therefore, Medicare is not free.

Next, the doctor you get may not be the one you want. Several years ago we enjoyed a family practitioner that really knew her stuff. We were not alone. She gained the trust of many and decided she no longer needed to work for someone else, a practice that did accept Medicare. She opened her own office and discovered she would have to hire someone to fill out all the paperwork and take on the liability of getting insurance companies to pay. That education so nicely framed in her office had left her with over a half million in college debt, so forget hiring someone to fill out government forms. Instead, like so many doctors, she instituted the DIY system of file your own insurance in the hope to get back some of the $200 appointment fee. With too much out of pocket, we had to find another doctor with a practice that accepts Medicare.

The problems associated with ‘Medicare for All’ includes:

Approval or denial of life saving tests delaying potential treatment.

Doctors in debt that refuse to accept Medicare. With a single payer system this could create a number of doctors that choose not to run their business on discounted prices and high overhead.

In 2018 there were about sixty million people on Medicare. Nearly twenty million were on Medicare Advantage that covers some of the gap or out of pocket costs. What happens if we expand that pool of those insured by ‘Medicare for All’ to include all three hundred twenty some million Americans?

The answer is you will not get health care, but instead you will get an insurance policy. An insurance policy is not health care. This would be as if the government gives everyone in America a car, but no gas.

When you hear anyone who says, ‘Medicare for All,’ the truth is, ‘Who Cares for All’.

Your government will not care if you lose your doctor. The politicians do not care if your life saving tests are delayed or outright denied. No one in Washington, D.C. cares about the trillions in national debt that you will pay for every April 15th for the rest of your life.


Sources:

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/medicare-tax-3193121

https://www.fidelity.com/viewpoints/personal-finance/new-medicare-taxes

https://www.kff.org/medicare/state-indicator/total-medicare-beneficiaries/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D

It Is No Secret

Have you been seduced to think there is a secret to success?

Authors and experts have been giving the rest of us rules and steps to follow for thousands of years. How many of those rules have you broken? The seduction of hidden secrets is over. Acting on one or two principles from a list of rules and then quitting will never get you what you want.

The truth is; there is no secret.

Here’s the video preview of It Is No Secret.

Listen to the audio book instantly from Audible

Cattle Baron Strikes It Rich

Old McDonald’s farm had grown over two centuries to become a formidable cattle enterprise.

Truth be told, he wasn’t that old, just enough years to remember the Beatles being called the British Invasion long before the word invasion offended half the country. W. Robert McDonald, or affectionately referred to as Billy Bob; short for William Robert McDonald was in charge of the five thousand acre ranch tucked between two large breasts of mountains somewhere in the Midwest.

Billy Bob ran the place successfully enough to make his grandfather’s grandfather proud. A big operation like this is huge with multiple buildings and large equipment to harvest hay to feed thousands of cows. Each of these animals takes nearly three years of feed to fatten them up for tasty hamburgers at the other McDonalds under the golden arches.

Life was good. Then, he received a letter from a new government agency serving an eminent domain notice. This gave him concern, so he called and discovered the government did not want some of his vast acreage for a new highway, the notice was for his cattle. They offered what the government called a fair price which was no where near the two thousand dollar going rate for a beef cow.

When Billy Bob asked for an explanation, the young official stated, “All scientists have agreed the emissions of methane from cows are destroying the atmosphere leading us all to extinction in just twelve years.”

“Is that so?” Billy Bob inquired.

“Absolutely. The ozone is disappearing as we speak.”

“What do you plan to do with my stock?”

“They will be set free to live out a peaceful life on the plains. It would be inhuman to just kill them for no reason.”

Billy Bob thought and offered, “Well that is thoughtful of you to consider a better life for our bovine friends. However,” he said and paused.

He whipped out his trusty Excel Spreadsheet.

“Hello, Mr. McDonald?”

“Just a minute,” then he offered “There may be something to consider.”

“Such as?”

“You do know a fair number of our stock is slaughtered currently to feed the masses. Out of the ninety four million cows currently grazing just over thirty two million end up slaughtered every year. That keeps the net population just about the same as it has been for years; right around that ninety million mark.”

The young clerk  intimidates, “So?”

“You may not know this but a good healthy cow rarely dies of natural causes. Most make it between eighteen and twenty two years of age on their own. Barring any mad cow disease or pack of wolves, they will do just fine. However,” he pauses.

“However what?”

“Left without our consumption, and the fact that the birth rate for cows is around forty three percent, in twelve years just over six point nine billion cows will be grazing the plains right here in the good ole U S A and farting away the ozone you are so concerned about. Again let me be clear, that is billion with a ‘b’ and that’s a lot of cows.”

“Look,” says the clerk, “Do you want the government to pay a fair price or just take them?”

“You make that sound like I have no choice in the matter.”

“That’s one way you can take it.”

“What am I supposed to do?” says W. Robert. “This ranch is all my family has done for several centuries.”

“You are missing the silver lining.”

“What silver lining could that be?”

“Now, with all your free time you can do art, invent something, go to a museum, learn something, take a vegan cooking class, move to Florida, whatever you want. Isn’t that great?”


Enjoy the continuing series:

Fiction

Environmentalists Have Been Busy

Back To the Future

Common Sense

Fiction.

The words on the page lost the magnetic power they once held over him.

Those seeds planted in sentences from some far away or long gone authors once grew full and wide enough to carry him into the future where anything would be possible. Some sentences sprouted weeds of discontent and fear pulling the past forward. Polarity that attracted or repelled had lost its energy. The time had arrived for him that imagination’s lure passed out of sight no matter how cleverly those words had been united to create a thought.

Younger people see a decade of time through different lenses.  A measure of ten years may as well be a place in another solar system. Then, the day comes when words lose power. The day on the calendar preceded by three thousand six hundred fifty days is blank and all the pages before just flash by as a memory of something that may have happened just yesterday. That’s why the young put off things and set five and ten year goals that would take a normal traveler a lifetime to achieve.

Words once again appear to the man. The reader whose page upon page of sentences became white noise found a new and loud noise that made no sense. One lone voice spoke the words but the sentence grew wide from the seed planted.  Soon the contamination spread as the audience grew and applauded enabling the addiction to grow.

What were these words?

Should the idea be repeated and become a movement?

Vast kingdoms have been founded on lesser sentences. A slogan rallied people to follow leaders to great revolutionary acts. Countries were formed. Civilizations blossomed and spent its life cycle herding followers of words. Can words do that? Witness what Jesus inspired twelve guys to do. It was just words. But, now thirty seven million buildings are meeting places for billions to repeat the words on Sundays. A church on every corner is no exaggeration.

What was the linkage of words that may have a similar impact?

They must be powerful magnetic words.

“We will replace all fossil fuels within twelve years.”

That’s the quote that shook people old enough to realize ten or twelve years is just yesterday.

Suspend reality for a moment and imagine what would have to be accomplished each day of the new calendar. One hundred and twenty five thousand gas stations would be closed. What will we do without our big gulp and Twinkies? The nine hundred thirty one thousand people that work there will be retrained, or just depend on welfare handouts.

Dismiss any idea of reselling one of the two hundred seventy million cars currently on the road. They won’t run. Consider the carbon footprint of recycling our vehicles. The smelting factories will be busy melting down over a trillion pounds of useless vehicles. That’s over five hundred tons turned to molten liquid shooting untold billions of carbon into the air.

Each year homes across America have been routinely purchasing over a million brand new gas stoves over the course of twenty decades past. The industry of gas stoves launched in 1828 has become a villainous band of thieves stealing away atmosphere faster than grilling a thick tenderloin. Those cook tops and ovens preferred by gourmet foodies will be confiscated by a new government that repurposed ICE to vast collection agencies of useless appliances.

They will be busy. Once the gas stove is removed, they back up the truck to pull gas heaters from eighty-five percent of American homes that rely on gas heaters to keep the kids from freezing during the winter months of this global warming sword of Damocles.

A knock at the door jarred the man.

In the fog of waking the words that had pulled him into an Orwellian future just a mere twelve years ahead, he realized he was not dreaming caught up in the fiction of his favorite novelists. This was a wakeup call; the delivery person at the door.

She smiled, “Here’s your delicious hot meal for today.”

As she turned to walk away, the man heard the soft hum and saw the electric government truck idling waiting for her. The package shared fresh warmth from the government owned microwave that heated his soy concoction for the day.


Enjoy the continuing series:

Environmentalists Have Been Busy

Back To the Future

Common Sense

Environmentalists Have Been Busy

There’s a war and it threatens all life on our planet based on Weapons of Mass Defecation.

The enemy ranks are filled with cows conspiring to wipe out humans with their farts and burps. Actually more burps than farts as a matter of fact. So, as our bovine friends stroll amongst shafts of fresh grass burping and farting with each step, much the same as I wandering from room to room in our house, they really are on a death march. At least that’s the way the alarmists see the way the world is.

What can we do?

The first step is to bring some analytical reality into play. There are roughly one point five billion cows roaming the planet plotting our destruction as they graze away the hours making sure their digestive systems are busy cranking out deadly methane.

Where are these evil doers? The biggest population is in India where some religions consider cows sacred.  Maybe that will insure safety and salvation from their wrath of gasses.

The census of cows shows this:

  • India is home to over 330 million cows.
  • Brazil is the home to the second largest number of cows, with more than 210 million living in the country.
  • It’s followed by China, which has just over 100 million cows.
  • And, in the United States we feed on the milk and slaughter from our heard of 94 million.

If it is true that these Weapons of Mass Defecation are doing us in, we need to work on the other billion or so plus cows around the globe. We may stand a better chance of getting Kim Jing Un to trash his nukes.

To drill this down to science, just what are these animals doing to us.

The plant diet of cows is high in cellulose where microorganisms break down the cellulose into carbohydrates. Methane is produced as a by-product of this process.

Just how bad is this gas?

Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas. One pound of methane traps twenty-five times more heat in the atmosphere than a pound of carbon dioxide. Methane is also the main ingredient in natural gas. Because methane can be captured, it can be burned to produce electricity, heat buildings, or power garbage trucks. Capturing methane before it gets into the atmosphere also helps reduce the effects of climate change. Since America is the world’s largest producer of natural gas, maybe we can sell those cow farts to other countries.

Has methane from animals in the past had a negative impact on our planet?

Go way back in time to the dinosaurs. They managed to walk around eating plants, farting, and burping for two hundred and fifty million years. Just cutting one Brontosaurus fart could fill a hot air balloon. That didn’t end their time here. A giant asteroid ninety three miles wide crashed into earth sixty-six million years ago. That big rock cooked up two thousand three hundred seventy degrees; some really hot global warming.

The methane didn’t get them, bad luck in the solar system did.

Before we run out of luck trying to outrace an asteroid, pile the kids in the minivan and head to McDonalds for a happy meal. Let’s get the environmentalists back to doing what they do best. Stop cutting down trees to erect giant steel and glass solar panels. Check out our other article on Common Sense. 



Sources:

https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange//kids/solutions/technologies/methane.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_event

https://animals.howstuffworks.com/mammals/methane-cow.htm

https://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/09/21/youll-never-guess-which-country-has-the-most-cows.aspx

https://www.quora.com/How-many-cows-are-there-in-the-US

https://www.quora.com/How-many-cows-are-there-in-the-world