Content Creators: Emotions, Expectations, Responsibilities, and Reality Dues (Essay)

What do we as content creators owe our public… and ourselves?

I read a blog post this morning, a post that has been running through my head all day. You see, one of my favorite authors and podcasters, Jake Bible, has decided…

…wait, do you know Jake Bible?

… I guess I’d better explain a bit before I go on, in case you don’t know who Jake is.

Jake Bible (http://jakebible.com/) is a prolific writer of fiction who blends cross-genre elements and twists them into great stories. He’s a fantastic author whose stories really speak to me on a primal, human level… even when there are zombie messiahs and assassins involved. He’s one of those authors who can capture a persona and really drive it home. He’s written many many stories and novels: DEAD MECH; THE AMERICANS; METAL AND ASH; BETHANY AND THE ZOMBIE JESUS; STARK; THE MAN WITH NO FACE; and LITTLE DEAD MAN.

Like many before him in the New Media movement (aka emerging writers who use alternate marketing techniques and delivery methods such as the internet to get their works known), he has been steadily going down the road of providing his stories free in podcast format as well as through digital text mediums.

…At least he has until now…

According to his blog post released yesterday (March 7th 2013: http://jakebible.com/2013/03/07/with-a-heavy-heart-i-leave-podcasting/), Jake is leaving podcasting behind. From how it sounds, it wasn’t an easy decision by any stretch. Like others before—Scott Sigler, Mur Lafferty, Paul Cooley, Phil Rossi, and many many more—Jake took the free podcast approach as a way to generate interest and market his product… his stories.

As many authors will tell you, this used to be a great way to get content out there and generate sales for their written in print or electronic print forms.

Unfortunately, with the rapid proliferation of eBooks, podcasting, and the establishment of New Media as mainstream, this is no longer as easy as it used to be.

According to Jake:

I know at one point I said I’d podcast all of my fiction for free FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE! Guess what? Life has a way of making one eat their words. Life is currently shoving my words down my throat. And laughing while doing said shoving.

While I’m not an author, per se, I am a content creator. For me, a content creator is any individual–be it an author, podcastor, artist, musician, or craftsman– who develops creative materials for consumption by the general or specialized populations.

For creative types, there are mainly two motivations that stoke our fires to create.

First, are those who do it strictly for the emotional reward. These are the folks who are no looking to make any money at what they do. Instead they are either Pure Creators (those who do art and create expressive materials strictly for the sake of the art) or they are the Emotive Creators (those who do art and create expressive materials for either the joy or responses it brings other people or the joy or satisfaction it brings to themselves). One the extreme of this side of the creative house are the Narcissistic Creators (those who achieve an almost orgasmic or spiritual satisfaction from inducing emotions in others through the creation and viewing of their works).

To be honest, almost all creatives have aspects from all three of the emotional side of the content creation spectrum.

On the other side of the pendulum are the Realistic Creators. These are the folks who have the skills and passion of the Emotional Creators, but who are looking to become serious about what has been before only a hobby and who want to make it a viable way to earn a living while doing something they love. in reality… no pun intended… most of us who end up taking our creative process seriously and who begin to move away from creating just as a way to pass the time end up migrating toward the Realistic side of the creative spectrum.

Let’s be honest with each other, here in this intimate setting. Life is very, very short. By the time we end up finding ourselves and truly come to understand that we need a purpose in this life and that every single second counts–those of us who actually attain that level of self-awareness that is–we have already lost a huge chunk of our lives. For some of us, it may be twenty years gone, or thirty, or even forty. For others… God forbid… it could be sixty, seventy, or eighty years lost to the past. No matter how much we may delude ourselves to believe that we are the next Lazarus Long, destined to live forever, or hang on to faith and hope that there is an afterlife, the only guarantee is that we will all eventually die and that the time we have left is precious.

The bottom line is, folks, that in the end it all comes down to making the most use of our time to squeeze every single bit of usefulness and life our of the time we have remaining.

I know from Jakes post that he has been struggling with his decision for a while now, struggling with what could be considered a broken promise with his honor on the line. Personally, I think he made the only decision he could have made in the circumstance, the only realistic choice possible. Life has a way of giving us what we need on average, but occasionally life can be a real bitch.

This is echoed in what Jake has revealed in his post:

Now I find myself in a place that Karma doesn’t want to touch. I think I played all my Get Out Of Jail Free cards. I am left to do the dirty work all by my lonesome. And there be dirty work that needs doing.

What is that dirty work? I need to walk away from podcasting. And, since I just launched my latest podcast novel, it’s a pretty shitty time to walk away. I know there will be many people upset by this and I know that some negative mojo will be flung my way. But such is the life of a struggling writer. I do apologize for leaving Metal and Ash unfinished (the podcast at least. Novel is available!), but the reality is that I don’t know when it could get finished. Time and life have not been kind lately and I need to take a few hundred steps back and reinvent my writing career.

It is a very thin tightrope that content creators walk, especially those who work and interact very closely and intimately with their audience, such as podcasters and face to face entertainers. There is an inherent emotional connection between the podcaster and his or her audience, very similar to what is developed between actors and actresses and their audience. An emotional connection is developed between the viewer or listener, and almost false sense of familiarity, of friendship, and of a form of intimacy between the entertained and the entertainer. This relationship is formed on the part of the fan (and to an extent on the part of the content provider) to the point where any violation of the expectations can be met with sadness, anger, and outright hostility.

So when a creator violates their perceived (and in some cases even promised) commitment to the fan-base, the natural reaction of the masses is to treat the creator as a cheating lover when they don’t continue to feed their need.

So let’s look at Jake’s situation.

He had three basic parts to his writing approach. First, was to write stories. Second, was to release free audio podcasts of said stories as a means of promotion and marketing. Third and last was to release the stories as print and/or eBook releases for purchase to the masses. In the course of growing his approach, he promised his fans that he would continue to podcast all of his fiction “for free FOR THE REST OF <HIS> LIFE.”

As a creative model goes, at its core it’s a very sound approach: first create the material goods, then market it to general populous to increase demand, and then finally reap the rewards.

But here is the key concept that we as content creators really need to focus on.

We need to be constantly asking ourselves “what is my creative model?”

For the Emotional Creatives, it’s an emotional satisfaction model. The basic model is to create the material, share it with our fans, and reap the emotional rewards. This is the purest mode of content creation, which, while it has great emotional satisfaction, is very limited on the financial reimbursement. In fact, most of the time Emotional Creatives are spending their own time and money to deliver content to their fan-base. Very altruistic if you look at it that way.

For the Realistic Creatives, it’s a true business model. The overall process, if you boil it down, is to create the material and earn money from that material. THAT is the bottom line for Realistic Creatives. For these folks, they are still getting the emotional satisfaction, and are many times still spending their own time and money to deliver it to the masses, but their end desire is to reap some net profit from the transaction in order to hopefully, one day, be able to turn their passionate hobby into a truly viable career that they can live off.

As Realistic Creatives, we need to be able to treat our products and production process as a true business. So what does that mean? That means that we need to apply the same improvement practices that successful manufacturing businesses use in order to successfully grow our creative business.

This means that many times we will need to be the creative guru but also fill the role of the marketer and the finance guy and the IT girl and the project manager and a slew of other roles to keep the business rolling. But at the core, if we are not dedicating the majority of our time to being the creative, then our business of suppling creative content will come to a screeching halt. Without the creative piece, we don’t have a business.

Conversely, if we are successfully balancing the roles and still are able to provide creative content, then we need to be constantly measuring and analyzing the different processes that make up our creative business and make constant adjustments to the non-value-added processes to ensure we are producing the most and most efficiently with the highest quality. If there is a piece of the process that is reducing the time available to create our product AND is showing no net benefit to our end goals, then it needs to be eliminated or modified.

So what does this mean?

For an Emotional Creative who is looking to gain emotional satisfaction from people liking your products, the goal is to get some sort of reaction or response from your works. If no one likes your creations or no one seems to care, are you going to continue to make your products the same way?

Of course not.

You will either modify your creations to fit your target audience, or you will seek an alternative target audience. In some extreme cases you may actually stop creating due to the lack of return on your investment.

It’s no different for the Realistic Creative.

If he or she is doing a process step that is showing no net return or impact on the net return on their investment, they need to evaluate that step to see if it is truly necessary or if it should be modified or outright removed from the overall business process. We as Realistic Creatives need to be able to evaluate all of the processes as being necessary or unnecessary from a financial, emotional, and networking standpoint and make changes to best suit the overall impact on the end goal.

This is exactly what Jake has done.

Despite having made a commitment–perhaps in haste and most likely originally driven by his passion as a creator–he is making the best business choice for where he wants to take his creative process and achieve his end goal. When faced with the hard choices of diminished time, as a Realistic Creative we need to be able and willing to weed out the processes that do not directly contribute to achieving the end business goal. In the case of Jake’s situation, he had the choice of continuing to podcasting his fiction for free and at a slower pace (and thereby having no time to create anything new that would be viable and sellable products) or he could focus on the core of what he really wants to be doing, which is writing and turning his passion into a career.

I for one salute Jake’s decision, as it is one I too have been struggling with for the last year and a half since my father died. Life doesn’t give us too much time to do what we love. If we waste that time and don’t actually dedicate that time to doing things that give our life meaning and what we love and what will give us the most satisfaction toward our life’s goals, then we are shorting ourselves in our foot.

We have choice: we can continue to be the Emotional Creative and try to squeeze in our art when we aren’t too busy doing our day-jobs and struggling with the burdens that life straps us with. We can limit our reimbursement to those small emotional rewards. We can let it remain nothing more than a hobby.

Or we can be the Realistic Creative who drives toward making our passion for creation our primary means of enjoyment and potential income, ensuring that we eventually achieve the perfect balance. To get from the former to the latter requires change and constant evaluation… along with some hard decisions.

It’s good to see that Jake is willing to make those hard decisions.

Given the choice, as a fan of Jake’s, I’d rather buy his stories and directly invest in his future products than to mooch off a nice situation and reap a more limited reward (for free).

For me, it just makes good business sense.

 

What do you think? How do you strike the balance between the Emotional Creative and the Realistic Creative in you?

Please leave a comment; I’d love to hear what you think.

The Lives and Times of Andrew D. Codstopt, Savior and Scourge of the Universe – Part 1 (Revision 2)

Introduction (Revision 3)

If you’ve never heard of me, the first thing you’d probably want to know would be the details of my ignominious death, or whether I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, or did I feel any pain, or could it have been prevented, and all that other existential trash that everyone seems to want to know from the dead.

Frankly, I hate thinking about it. It makes me sad.

In the end, everyone dies. It’s rarely a fun experience, is almost always sad, is occasionally very smelly, and can be extremely messy depending on the circumstance. If you take away all the Darwinian ways that we stupid humans can die—electrocution, sports, vehicular accidents, drugs, weapons of all varieties, poison, crimes of passion, and the like—not to mention deaths from common things like old age, disease, and organ failure, what you’re left with is a very simple experience. One moment you’re breathing, thinking, screwing, eating, walking, sleeping, or whatever, and the next moment you’re not.

But our lives?

My life?

Now that’s a different story altogether.

But where do I begin?

What would help you understand my life, almost 900-years after my official demise?

What really defined the man known as Andrew D. Codstopt—pronounced “Koh-stohf” not “Kop-stopt”—beyond the sensationalized, and often fictionalized, accounts that the Journalist Consortium and the galactic government have spoon-fed to the masses?watch The Bye Bye Man 2017 movie online now

What would help you understand the man who became known over the centuries by such monikers and noms de guerre as: Founder of the Interplanetary Commonwealth; Corsair of the Outer Expanse; Bringer of Hope and Light; Inmate 09871991A; Auntie Emil, the Scarlet Hand of the New London Thieves Guild; Elder Carmichael; Enrique Esteban Gutierrez (aka the Czar of Fashion); Padre José del Paño Eterno; The Shadow in the Darkness; Admiral Crispin Ramirez III of the Sixth Procyon Armada; La Voix de la Raison; and the Deathless One (as I’ve become known to a select few in certain secret shadow organizations within and without the Commonwealth), to name a few.

In the end, I guess it really comes down to the beginning.movie Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 streaming

To understand the man I would eventually become, and the personas I would adopt over the centuries, we need to go back to where it all began.

Back to rural Pennsylvania at the end of the 20th century, not too long before the world we knew died and was reborn anew.

End of the Path

My car sits in a roadside pull-off three miles behind me, just west of North Conway, New Hampshire.

Cultivated fields and the outskirts of private properties lay at my back, normalcy and civilization crouching naively in the gaping maul of Mother Nature. Ahead of me, the forest awaits, the late morning sun lighting the entrance like a stage. The unpaved, overgrown road beneath my feet winds between the darkened boles, disappearing into the thick vegetation. Shifting my gear absently and taking a deep breath, I plunge into its waiting green embrace.

The promise of cleansing communion and my vivid recollections tug at me like boney, grasping fingers, pulling me along the path past the trailhead, and yet miring me in trepidation. I make my way along the trail, my mind torn between the physical here-and-now and the images of long ago, a juxtaposition of sights and sounds, layered and intermingling. Though I walk in alone, in silence, burdened only by my load, both physical and mental, I am accompanied by the shades of my dear friends. Their laughter and excited chatter echo faintly in my head, their pale forms darting at the periphery of my sight.

Though it has been over twenty years, the path is as I remember it.

Along each side of the forgotten lane, trees recede into the distance, silent sentinels standing witness to the measured passage of the decades. The thick canopy arcs overhead, allowing only the occasional shaft of radiance to slice into the gloom, like the searchlight of an inquisitive god. In the verdant patchwork sea high overhead, I can see scattered glimpses of blue through jagged windows. The eroded and weed-strewn ruts of the road sweep me along the path, a forgotten testament to logging wagons and trucks from decades gone by.

The air, thick with moist earth and redolent with a pervasive green, is noticeably cooler under the shelter of the unmoving guards. Gooseflesh erupts along my arms, forcing me to zip up my jacket. Chirps, squeaks, buzzing, and the rustling of tiny feet escort me along, the denizens of the earth weaving an orchestral symphony of activity and life that washes over me like a fine mist.

Time has become meaningless—unimportant, insignificant—in the court of the ancient Earth Mother. I shuffle along on autopilot, my feet pulling me forward and time slipping by unnoticed. Memories vie for my attention even as my eyes sweep the lush scenery along my path, the past and present overlaying my vision like a reflected image in a window. I pause at a thick birch, putting down my burden and stretching, rubbing my aching arms. My eyes fall upon the overgrown and faded names carved into its trunk at chest height. My fingers trace the ghostly impression of letters even as I recall those same fingers clutching a knife, carving the leathery bark, tracing out the explorers names.

I move on.

My feet trudge along the trail, keeping step with the march of time, both slipping behind me unnoticed. Some indeterminable time later, a faint gurgling brings me out of my reverie. It grows, first accompanying and eventually drowning out the hum of life. The thinning road rounds a curve, running parallel for a time with a creek groaning and engorged with spring runoff.

At the closest approach, the bank drops off abruptly to the angry water below, detritus jumbled at the edge from centuries of seasons. A large outcropping of rock reaches over the brimming turbulence.

I can see a boy in my mind’s eye—it was Johnny! Say his name… he deserves that much—standing there, tossing rocks into the torrent. I can hear his laughter echoing down through the decades; his light taunts goad me to come out on the rock despite my fear of heights. A small smile creases my mouth, unbidden and bittersweet. After a moment I turn my blurring eyes from the rocky projection and continue on my way.

One foot in front of the other as more sand flows through the hourglass.

I come to the end of the trail proper, the way beyond guarded by a fallen workhorse of a forgotten age. There is broken glass and faded, crushed cans scattered about it, no doubt from countless teenage celebrations over the decades. It is a crumpled and rusted hulk of a truck—a Ford or Chevy—most likely from latter part of the 1940’s or early 1950’s if the hint of body style could be used to judge what this dead beast was in life.

I pause, setting aside my burden once again. My heart pounds in my chest, as if keeping tandem with some unheard song, a twinge building in the pit of my stomach. Memory surges forward again, overlaying the present, insistent and immediate. My eyes alight on the front of the truck.

The hood ornament is gone, pried off by eager fingers almost twenty years ago. I can see him still, his young hands at work. Damn it, say his name! His name was Eric! He was your best friend! His damp blond hair stuck to his forehead as he worked the edges, back and forth, until it was finally freed. I see him shove the trophy into his pocket with his other treasures, a smile of triumph on his dimpled face. My face moist, I shake my head roughly and the images dissipate like smoke on the wind.

Where tires had been there are only crumbled chunks of rubber with wild flowers sprouting from the hubs.  The windows are gone, small pieces of the shattered remains glittering dully on the ground and across the floor of the cab. A bed of naked rusted wire occupies the space where there had once been seats.  The front hood of the truck stands open, the engine compartment empty except for a few sickly weeds, its heart and power stolen long ago. My fingers trace a patch of paint here, a line of chrome there, the dimpled and smashed body raising more questions now than it had when I was thirteen.

I suppress a shiver and force down my rising anxiety. Steeling myself, I pick up my gear and circle around the forgotten hulk to the trail beyond.

I move along, picking my way along the overgrown, narrow trail. Leaves caress my skin like a long lost lover. The logging road and the young forest give way to a more ancient section of growth. The path dwindles to a barely perceptible game trail the further along I go. As I walk, the smell of fresh earth and foliage becomes tinged with the stench of rotting vegetation, the pungent scent of decay moving to overwhelm the fragrance of life.

As the afternoon ticks by, the sounds of life fade as a blanket of oppressive silence is pulled over the forest. The still air, thick with moisture, makes breathing difficult. I pant, trying to move the cloying air in and out of my lungs. A thin sheen of sweat covers my body. My clothes, damp with the humid air and my perspiration, cling to my skin, running off my body like wet paint.

One foot in front of the other, I move through the false twilight afforded by the forest, brushing aside the branches and brush that threaten to stop me. For a long time, I only know the feel of the passing leaves and the rhythmic clomp of my hiking boots.

Time stretches, leaving me lost and adrift in the eddy of its passing.

Abruptly, the trail opens up into a clearing. It snaps me out of my hypnotic trance as if I’d been doused with a cold bucket of water. My heart drops into the pit of my stomach. A cold sweat breaks out on my skin, raising gooseflesh in its wake. I skid suddenly to a halt at the edge, my boot sliding slightly on the damp ground. I slowly look around the clearing, knowing I have arrived and yet somehow surprised to see it.

“… the clearing at the end of the path…”

The phrase leaps unbidden to my mind, a small snippet of doggerel from Stephen King’s fantasy epic, The Dark Tower. In it, the main characters describe heaven and the afterlife as the “clearing at the end of the path,” marking it as the final destination of a long journey. The place where you can rest and meet your friend long lost. A place of hope after long turmoil. A place so unlike what lay before me.

In the center of the clearing stands an ancient tree. The trunk, a full twenty feet in diameter, is covered in a scarred, thick, black bark and iridescent purple moss. It rises menacingly into the air. Its branches extend out high overhead, the green-black leaves completely blocking out the sky. Though the air is still, the branches sway slightly as if caught by an unfelt breeze. The ground for sixty feet around is free of any other growth. The uneven dirt, crisscrossed and punctured with the mighty tree’s roots, is eroded and bare. The ground is clear of any dead leaves as though the hand of God has swept it bare, though I doubt God wants anything to do with this.

At the base of the tree is a lone shelf of rock, its surface worn smooth by time’s tender touch. The top of the man-sized rock is unnaturally flat. Its surface is stained a deep rust color that seems to run off over the sides in streaks and rivulet’s. Designs, faded and worn smooth by the elements, decorate the visible surfaces, their meaning and origin unclear. The roots of the tree push through the compacted dirt at the base of the stone, entwining it with a jumble of writhing tendrils frozen in time.

Near the stone on the left side I can make out a weather stained sneaker.

Nearer to me, I can see a glint of metal from a truck hood ornament, half-buried and forgotten in the loose dirt.

Memories slam my senses, drowning me in their passing. I sway on my feet, grasping for and catching glimpses as they rush by:

Entering the clearing, our shouts and laughter reverberated with our excited astonishment.

Johnny standing on the rock, laughing, while Eric relieves himself on the ancient tree, which sways in the still air.

Movement behind the tree, fear on Johnny’s face, Eric backing away from the tree, toward me.

A blur of green, brown, purple, and black rushing to the rock.

The blur strikes and Johnny is gone, almost too quick to see.

Eric running toward me, his pants still unbuckled, a wet spot in the front.

A man-sized clump of leaves… moving… impossibly moving.

Screams and cries from the blur, cut off abruptly, wetly.

Eric’s look of shock, a blur behind him.

A spray of crimson misting the air and wetting my face.

Turning away and running.

Running, my lungs burning with effort.

Running.

Running away.

Running.

Running…

I slowly shake my head to clear it, the images fading and receding into the past. The sound of the forest life is hushed here in the clearing, as though it waits with baited breath. The only sounds I can hear are the swaying branches up above and a faint rustling of movement on the far side.

I take a deep breath.

Slowly, I lower the plastic can in my left hand to the ground, never taking my eyes off the clearing. I can hear the liquid sloshing inside, promising release, promising an end. I reach my now-free hand into my pocket and pull out a silver lighter. I trace the engraving on the side with my thumb, the two names in flowing script somehow giving me the strength, somehow connecting me to my past. I can feel them with me, silent spectators. They are with me, supporting me in my time of need, forgiving me for leaving them.

For abandoning them.

For running.

I gently place the lighter on the gas can, still never taking my eyes off the clearing. The sounds of movement is getting louder now, the rustling getting closer. On the far side I can make out indistinct movement, as though the leaves are moving. Multiple groups of leaves.

My heart is pounding in my chest like a jackhammer, but I now know it is out of excitement and anticipation, not fear. I roll my shoulders and my head, working out the kinks and muscle aches. Moving my free hand to join the other, I raise the fireman’s axe and grasp it two-handed, twisting and flexing my grip reflexively, like a ball player getting ready for the final pitch. It feels good in my hands, the composite plastic handle and the weight of the blade a physical representation of my resolve.

My guilt is no more. I smile and I can feel them smiling with me.

My friends, lost so long ago, are here with me.

“For you, Johnny. For you, Eric,” I say out loud as I step fully into the clearing.

* * *

Author’s Note: This piece is based on two hikes that I have taken a few dozen times in central New Hampshire over the last few years; I have had the chance to go on each of these since we started class and have been taking observational notes on them based on the instructor’s recommendation. All of the sights and imagery is a composite of what you would see on the hikes—the younger portion of the trail, the creek, the old logging road, and the older section of the forest—as is the large old oak and a stone that could almost look like an alter… from the right angle, with the right light. The broken down truck, which acts as a transitional piece both physically and emotionally, is from a cow pasture from my childhood; my childhood friends (Johnny and Eric) and I played around this for years… and Eric did indeed take the hood ornament for a trophy one summer. As I thought about all of this and the notes I had, a short story popped into my mind, tying it all neatly together (though I had to kill my buddies to make it make sense). I have several thoughts and intentions woven throughout this piece: commentary on immaturity/maturity, superstition/technology, childhood/adulthood, and the clash between innocence, frivolity, and responsibility. I’m curious if any of you see this…

Same Old Stories

The bus pulled into the sleepy hamlet just as the sun peeked over the horizon.

A young woman sat shivering on the bench in the dusty light. Her thin jacket had done little to keep her warm through the last few hours of the morning. Rubbing her hands together, she glanced around, her eyes wide and her mouth set in a firm line. The bus turned the corner and rolled to a stop in front of her. With one final look over her shoulder, she snatched up her bulging backpack and climbed onboard.

The heated air washed over her, enveloping her in its warmth. She glanced out the windows, searching, even as the doors closed behind her. She handed the crinkled ticket to the driver without a word.

“Morning, Miss,” he said. “Welcome aboard.”

Shouldering her pack, she mumbled, “Thank you, sir,” and glanced up the aisle.

The choice for seating was sparse. There were three open seats: one next to a large, wildly gesturing man in heated conversation with a razor-thin woman across the aisle; another next to a man buried in a book; the last next to a woman patting a crying baby.

Sighing, she made her way up the aisle, stepping gingerly over feet and weaving around the gesturing man toward the middle of the bus. As she approached, the reader looked up as he closed the book on his finger.

“Could I sit there?” she whispered, with a slight head nod toward the open window seat.

“Of course,” he said, climbing to his feet.

As she put her bag in the overhead, she raised her head and the hair fell back from her face, giving him a better view of her face. She’s kind of pretty, he thought. At a glance he guessed she was in her early thirties. She had delicate cheekbones, a small button of a nose, full lips, and an angular upturn to her chin, giving her face an almost elfin look. Then he caught a glimpse of the deep purple and yellow splotch under her right eye just as she closed the compartment. She dropped her gaze, her hair once again covering the right side of her face.

She slid into her seat, shrunk into the corner and gazed out the window at the small town. He then sat down just as the bus rolled away from the curb and closed his eyes, the book on his lap unread.

They rode along in silence for a while. After the town was twenty minutes behind them, she settled in, visibly relaxing. She looked around with wary eyes. Eventually they came to rest on the man at her side. She regarded him, tracing the curve of his face. He was average looking, aside from his deepening hairline and a largish nose that gave him an almost classical look. Her gaze drifted down, past his casual but expensive looking clothes. Definitely not a Walmart shopper, then, she thought. Her eyes fell to the book on his lap. Though his hand obscured the author and title, the cover art looked somehow familiar. A moment later she recognized it with a start.

“Are you reading Scott Sigler?” she exclaimed without realizing it. At the sudden sound of her voice, he jumped and almost dropped the book. He turned to face her, blinking, as she colored slightly and dropped her gaze. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“You’re not intruding,” he said, his voice soft. “Are you a fan?”

“Oh yes, I’ve listened to all his podcasts.”

“How long have you been a fan?”

“I’ve been a Junkie,” she said, using Sigler’s term for his rabid fans, “since about 2006… a year after he released Earthcore. How about you?”

“I’ve been one since around the original podcast of Nocturnal,” he said, holding up the book for her to see. “It’s one of my favorites…”

“… that’s my favorite one!” she said at the same time. They laughed at the awkward moment.

“What a small world,” she chuckled, her face lighting up and instantly chasing away the years.

This girl is barely into her twenties, he thought, reassessing. She is really quite beautiful when she smiles.

They spent the next forty-five minutes talking about the relative merits of Scott Sigler’s stories, his more over-the-top concepts, and other authors they both liked. As the topic drew to a comfortable lull, the man reached out his hand.

“Well, my fellow Junkie, it’s great to meet you,” he said, noting that she cringed a little at his sudden movement. “Um… my name’s Mark, but you may know me better as ‘PappaBearsItch’ on the Sigler forums.”

“I recognize that name,” she said, extending her own hand tentatively. They shook, her hand small and clammy in his larger warm grip. “I’m Melissa. ‘Drab_Duchess19’, though I haven’t been… well, very active lately.”

Her hand came up to absently rub her cheek under her flowing hair. A small shiver ran through her and her eyes and mouth drew more pinched.

“I think I may have seen you in some of the older threads,” he said quietly.

She’s so sad, he thought, someone’s seriously messed her up… big time.

The talk lapsed into silence as the bus pulled into the next stop. Several people debarked and a few more got on. As the new passengers settled in, the bus eased away from the curb. The moments rolled by like the wheels on the bus, turning round and round, eating up the miles.

Finally, she turned back to him.

“So, Mark, where are you headed?” she asked.

As the last word left her mouth, his face instantly lost some of the warmth. It was as though a black veil suddenly was drawn over his features so abrupt was the transformation.

“Oh… I’m sorry, I…,” she began, embarrassed though she didn’t know why.

“It’s ok,” he said, looking down at his clenched fists. He forced his hands to relax with a visible effort. “I’m heading back home to the city. I… I was visiting… my wife’s grave.”

As he said the last, his voice cracked a little, the final words coming out as a whisper. His eyes welled up and he turned away, looking toward the front of the bus. The awkward silence hung in the air for several minutes, punctuated only by the thrum of the bus on the highway.

Just as she was about to apologize, to say something, anything, to fill the uncomfortable chasm gaping between them, he wiped away a lone escaped tear and spoke.

“Yesterday was the third anniversary of her death,” he said, his voice barely audible.

“Oh Mark,” she said, raising her hand to her mouth, “I’m so sorry.”

The quiet wrapped around them like a mist. They were lost in their thoughts, unsure what could and could not, should not, be said. He stared off into the middle distance, pain riding on his features like a familiar companion. She sat quietly beside him, her eyes darting from her own writhing fingers to his wounded mask every few minutes.

“Do you… do you want to talk about it?” she asked at last, breaking the silence.

“No,” he said, “I don’t…”

Her eyes widened at the sudden gruff response.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to…” she interjected.

“… but I probably should,” he said as if he didn’t hear her. “It’s just that I… I haven’t had anyone to talk to about this.”

“I’ll listen if you want to talk about her.”

“I’m not even sure where to begin…” he said with a bitter laugh.

“Well, why not start by telling me what she was like or how you met?” she offered.

Tentative at first, he began talking about his wife, Susan, his eyes lost in the pathways of the past. He talked about how they met in their last year of college, how he was instantly drawn to her fiery attitude and green eyes and how she turned him down the first three times he asked her out. After they graduated from college, they had moved in together. He had fallen head over heals for her; with no surviving family of his own—his parents had died just after he finished high school—she quickly became his world, the focus of his existence. She was always the practical one, the steadfast one, balancing out his emotional tendencies and his more spontaneous approach to life. But despite her more sensible aspects, she was a gentle, kind soul.

“You see,” he said, a glimmer of moisture in his eyes, “she always wanted to help people. Even though she knew better, knew that she should be careful in the city, she always did what she could to help.”

“Not many people are like that anymore.”

“I know… and I tell myself that everyday. But I still wish that she hadn’t been so goddamn intent on helping people,” he said, his voice rising and breaking. After a moment, he said, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, it’s ok. Go on.”

“One night after a long shift, she stopped to help someone. From what the police said, several witnesses had seen a man moaning on the ground, though they hadn’t stopped to help. Not my Susan, though. She stopped. She tried to help. And what did she get for her big heart? The man… the man he… well… he stabbed her, grabbed her purse, and ran off.”

His voice trailed off even as tears cut furrows in his cheeks. That night ran unbidden in his mind again: the phone call from the police, the numb unreality, the frantic drive to the hospital, and the kind but distant doctor and officer.

“She… died in the ambulance. She died alone and they never even found the man. I know she died doing the ‘right thing,’ but I… God, I still miss her.”

He wiped his face with his free hand, smearing the tears. They rode in silence, each lost in thought and not knowing what to say.

“I’m sorry,” he said, wiping away a last tear. “You’re the first person I’ve really talked to about this.”

“Don’t apologize, Mark. You need to get it out, face it. No matter how tough.”

“I know. Life must go on, right?”

“Yes, it must.”

“It feels good to get it out, but I have no right to burden you with my problems,” he said, glancing at the side of her face before looking away. “Especially when you have your own troubles.”

The moment lay in the air before them, awkward.

After a moment, he added, “I’m sorry. I noticed the bruise when you sat down. I… I shouldn’t have said anything. Please forgive me.”

She dropped her gaze as she raised her hand and then stopped when she realized what she was doing. After a moment, she sighed deeply and raised her gaze to his.

“I… don’t mind, Mark. Truly I don’t.”

“You don’t have to talk about it, Melissa. I know it must be hard for you.”

“It is,” she said, her mind in a race with her beating heart.

She turned and faced the window, watching the landscape roll by. They were closer to the city now, perhaps only two hours away. Tears formed in her eyes, threatening to escape.

“I’m not sure if I can talk about this, not sure if it makes any sense… not even sure you’d understand.”

“You don’t have to do it if you can’t. There’s no pressure…”

“I know…”

“We do have some time left if you want to get it out, to talk about it. Plus, I am a pretty good listener.”

She rubbed her face hard with her hands, wincing with the pain.

“Do you know what it is like to live in constant fear?” she asked.

His eyes widened. He was silent for a moment and then murmured, “No, I don’t.”

“I do, Mark. I know it only too well.”

Her hands closed into small fists, the veins standing out in stark relief on her frail hands.

“My father… was a piece of shit. He was an abusive, violent alcoholic. He used to beat my mother, severely, at least once or twice a week. Even though he was bigger and stronger than her, she did what she could to protect me from him. Until she “fell down the stairs” and broke her neck when I was only eleven. After she died, he got worse.”

“Oh, Melissa, that’s horrible.”

“Horrible? You don’t know horrible,” she said with an edge. “The beatings were only the beginning and were not even the worst of it. I could have handled it if it was just the beatings. He… he began molesting me when I was 13. Our little secret, he said, mustn’t tell anyone, he said.”

Mark shifted in his seat, silent.

“I didn’t even realize it was wrong until I hit high school, when I actually started making friends and talking about their lives. Up until then, I just thought it was part of family, part of being a kid. Part of being ‘loved’.” A bitter laugh of disgust.

“When I was sixteen, he died from cancer. I think I cried more from relief than from grief. But then I had to face reality alone, had to take care of myself. For the first time in my life I was free… and I was messed up. I… I was lost. Did things I shouldn’t have done. Drugs and sex mainly. Tried to end things a couple times. Typical depressed teen crap.”

“How did you make it through?” Mark asked, his eyes wide.

“I honestly don’t know. I had some friends who were doing worst things than I was. I started to see what they did, things much worse than I was doing. One was even prostituting herself on the weekends. But even though I wasn’t doing as much as they were, I started to see myself in each of them. It disgusted me. I started to ask myself what would my mother say. One day I just woke up and decided that I didn’t want to live that way anymore. By the time I was a senior, I had my life pretty much under control and as close to normal as any kid is. I finally came to terms with my horrible childhood and started looking to the future by the time I graduated.”

She paused, turning to look out the window. “And then I met Jesse.”

Several minutes passed before she turned back to Mark.

“When we first started dating, he was so nice, always a gentleman. I was his ‘princess’,” she said.

They met a few months after she graduated, when she was working at the diner. He was a few years older than her, a weekday trucker as they call them, and he just seemed so mature. They jumped very quickly into a heated relationship and were married within six months. She had never been so happy and it was bliss for a couple years. Then they started trying to get pregnant, “to start the next phase,” as she said, but they didn’t have much luck. She got pregnant a couple times but miscarried each time. They started seeing specialists to try and find the problem, which cost a lot of money. Jesse had to work longer hours, which started to put a strain on their lives.

“The abuse started a year ago, right around the time he got laid off and started staying out late. It was just little stuff: name-calling, getting angry. Small stuff. Stupid stuff. He would apologize the next morning and things would be good for a little while. Until the next time.”

“They say that’s how it normally starts,” Mark said.

“It is. Believe me, I know. I… I thought it was my fault, that I was doing something wrong. I started working harder to make things better, to make him happy. It seemed to work for a while. But then about two months ago, he slapped me for the first time. I don’t even really remember why, just that it was out of nowhere. Since then, he’s been more… physical, hitting me or pinching me when I say something he doesn’t like… or when I don’t give him what he wants. Especially in bed.”

She paused, the last statement hanging between them, untouched.

“I tried to make it better, tried to make it work. I tried to pretend I wasn’t being abused. Again. I tried to pretend that he wasn’t becoming just like my father. Tried to fool myself that he wasn’t sleeping around. It worked for a while.”

She reached again and touched her face, her eyes distant. Mark slowly shook his head, disgusted.

“But then he came home last night, drunk again and reeking of sex. And he punched me.”

She sat waiting in the kitchen, his plate of food long grown cold. Dishes were piled on the counter but she was too tired and fed up to even bother. Her head was in her hands, her eyes puffy from the long night. At last she heard the car pull up and the door slam shut. She looked over he shoulder at the clock on the stove.

11:34 PM

She was on him as soon as he walked in the door.

“Where the hell have you been?” she demanded, their noses almost toughing. His eyes were hooded, trying to focus on her face. The stench rolled off him, the smell of alcohol and something else. Something musky. Something… hormonal.

“Who were you with, Jesse? Who were you screwing?” she demanded, her voice icy.

“Leave me alone, Missy. I’m tired and gonna go bed,” he slurred, trying to push past her.

“No you asshole, you will tell me now, tell me why you are throwing us away!” With that she put her small hands on his chest to stop him.

Her touch seemed to sober him a little. He stopped trying to move past and instead looked down at her hands, than back to her face. The slur all but dropped from his voice as he quietly said, “Don’t. You don’t want to do this.”

“Yes I do, Jesse,” she snarled, “I’m tired of being pushed around by you.” She had thought about this confrontation all night, thought about and rehearsed her words very carefully. She was tired of being pushed around and used. She was even willing to deal with the slaps that he was likely to give her for standing up for herself. She had anticipated his temper getting the best of him.

What she hadn’t anticipated was that he would actually go so far as to punch her. As his balled fist connected with her face, rocking her head back, she flailed backward, knocked into the counter.

Mark just watched her, his mouth slightly open.

“He actually punched me. Just because I asked where he’d been. And that’s when I knew it was finally time.”

The force of the punch knocked her against the counter, twisting her. Then he was on her, slapping and hitting, all the while swearing at her dazed form. She put up her hands to block his blows, but they were knocked aside. She reached, groping, and her hand wrapped around a slim handle. She then swung the handle with all her might at his head.

The iron skillet connected with his skull with a resounding BONG.

He fell away from her, falling hard on his rear, his head lolling to the left. She pushed herself off the counter and without a thought brought the skillet around again, knocking him flat on his back, unconscious. Panting heavily, she dropped the skillet next to him, and put her hands on her knees, out of breath. She looked down at him, disgusted. With deliberate movements, she spit on him and, rearing back her foot, kicked him between his splayed legs. He only moaned, barely moving.

“No more, asshole. I’m done with this shit.” With that, she walked out of the kitchen to the bedroom.

She looked off into the middle distance. Tears flowed down her cheeks to pool in droplets on her chin.

“Things have… recently changed, giving me a new perspective. There’s more than myself to consider, now.”

Her hand moved to her stomach, rubbing it as she turned to stare out the window, wondering if this time would be the time, if she could keep it. A small, sad smile dragged at her face.

“I just can’t do it anymore. Not now.”

She wiped away the tears and turned to finally look Mark directly in the eyes for the first time. A small smile turned up the corners of her mouth.

“After he… passed out, I called my friend who lives in the city. She’s willing to put me up until I can get on my feet, long enough to get my life started over again.”

“What will you do?” he asked in a quiet voice.

“What I have to do… what I should have done years ago. I’m done being scared. No more. Not ever again.”

“Will you be safe?” he asked, concern etched on his face.

“I think so. He’s a coward when it really comes down to it. I think he’ll be grateful, if the truth be told.”

“I’m so sorry, Melissa,” he said after a moment. “It sucks but it sounds like the right choice.”

“I think so too. It’s time. We’ve both known it for a long time.”

They sat in silence for a while, the miles passing underfoot, both lost in thought. Outside, the edge of the city slowly moved past the window as they neared the end of their journey. After a few minutes, the silence was replaced with small talk and period of quiet. For another hour, there was no past, no future. Though strangers, they took comfort in each other’s company, happenstance, pain, and common interest filling the void for the moment.

When the bus rolled to its last stop, they disembarked in silence, the moment heavy. Awkwardness descended like a stage curtain as they stood in silence, unsure what to say. Finally, they exchanged a few mumbled “goodbyes” and “good luck,” before they turned and walked their separate ways.

Melissa walked through the terminal, toward where she knew her friend waited. She walked with her head held high. As the station doors swung shut behind her, she saw her friend across the way waving to her. Even as she raised her own hand in greeting, she heard a voice behind her.

“Melissa, wait up for a minute.”

She stopped, her heart instantly thumping in her chest as she turned.

“Yes, what is it, Mark?”

He came to a stop a few feet from her, his face flushed and slightly out of breath. For a moment he just stood there, as if unsure what to say.

“I… I just wanted to say thank you. It’s not too often that I… well, that I meet a fellow Junkie. I’d like you to take this… from one fan to another.”

With that he handed her the book. She tried to protest, tried to give it back to him, but he was firm, telling her that he had another copy at home. After a few moments, she finally relented, accepting it with a smile. He returned the smile, said, goodbye, and then walked away.

She watched him go. Only after he was out of sight did she look at the book in her hands. She opened the book to the first page, the hastily scribbled words drawing her eyes instantly.

~ When you get settled, if you ever want to talk,
give me a call (548-695-2376). Your friend, Mark ~

She closed the book, turned, and walked to her waiting friend.

Watch Movie Online Trolls (2016) subtitle english

Poster Movie Trolls 2016

Trolls (2016) HD

Director : Mike Mitchell, Walt Dohrn.
Producer : Gina Shay.
Release : October 13, 2016
Country : United States of America.
Production Company : Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, DreamWorks Animation.
Language : English.
Runtime : 90 min.
Genre : Adventure, Animation, Family.

Movie ‘Trolls’ was released in October 13, 2016 in genre Adventure. Mike Mitchell was directed this movie and starring by Anna Kendrick. This movie tell story about Lovable and friendly, the trolls love to play around. But one day, a mysterious giant shows up to end the party. Poppy, the optimistic leader of the Trolls, and her polar opposite, Branch, must embark on an adventure that takes them far beyond the only world they’ve ever known.

Do not miss to Watch movie Trolls (2016) Online for free with your family. only 2 step you can Watch or download this movie with high quality video. Come and join us! because very much movie can you watch free streaming.

Watch movie online Trolls (2016)

Incoming search term :

Watch Trolls 2016 Online Free putlocker
film Trolls
Trolls 2016 English Full Episodes Download
Trolls 2016 For Free online
Watch Trolls 2016 Online Free Viooz
download Trolls 2016 movie now
streaming film Trolls 2016
Trolls 2016 Watch Online
Trolls 2016 Full Episodes Online
Trolls 2016 English Full Episodes Free Download
movie Trolls download
Trolls 2016 Episodes Watch Online
Trolls 2016 Full Episodes Watch Online
Watch Trolls 2016 Online Free megashare
Trolls 2016 English Full Episodes Online Free Download
Trolls 2016 English Episodes
Trolls 2016 For Free Online
Trolls 2016 HD English Full Episodes Download
streaming Trolls film
Trolls 2016 English Episode
Watch Trolls 2016 Online Putlocker
film Trolls 2016 trailer
Watch Trolls 2016 Online Free
watch full movie Trolls 2016 online
Watch Trolls 2016 Online Viooz
Watch Trolls 2016 Online Free Putlocker
Trolls 2016 Online Free Megashare
Trolls 2016 English Full Episodes Watch Online
Trolls 2016 Full Episode
watch full Trolls 2016 movie
Trolls 2016 HD Full Episodes Online
Trolls 2016 Episodes Online
watch full Trolls film online
download film Trolls now
streaming Trolls 2016
Trolls film
Trolls 2016 movie streaming
Watch Trolls 2016 Online Megashare
watch movie Trolls 2016 now
watch Trolls movie now
Trolls movie download
Trolls 2016 English Episodes Free Watch Online

…In My Life, There’s Been Hearthache and Pain…

…In My Life, There’s Been Hearthache and Pain…

The dream envelops me in its otherworldly embrace again, slipping my subconscious smoothly into its soft folds like a familiar lover, just as it has countless times over the decades.  Like the numerous instances before, the hazy curtain of night in my mind’s eye—with twinkling pinpricks of ancient radiance scattered over the satin expanse of the heavens—slowly fades and shifts upward, out of view, as the vision below slowly comes into focus.

I float several hundred feet in the air, above a geometrically designed brick building consisting of several wings and long corridors; there is a baseball field behind the building, a large parking lot with several yellow buses off to the left, and a large traffic circle out front of the building, with cars slowly discharging diminutive figures onto the concrete landing.  My eyes are inexorably drawn to one particular car as it swings around the rotary, a car as familiar to me as a half-remembered bedtime story from my youth, its beams of light playing across the faded, raised letters on the side of the building that proclaims it to be Harlan Rowe Middle School.

Suddenly, with no sense of movement, I’m standing at the front of the building at the curb, near the circling, trudging vehicles cycling through and discharging their passengers, just as that one specific car slows to a halt, the backdoor flinging wide before it even comes to rest.

“Thanks Dad,” says a familiar chubby boy of no more than twelve years, who is jumping out of the faded and patched red Chevy Charger, followed by three other adolescents.  “We’ll see you at ten o’clock.”

The four of them stand there, uncertain and full of awkward youthful vigor, like foals just on the cusp of adulthood, three boys and one girl, dressed in their finest clothes—consisting of oversized shirts (one with a “Choose Life” logo in big, bold letters across the front), frayed and ripped jeans and a skirt, high top sneakers with fluorescent laces, and bright suspenders on two of the boys—watching their peers and friends file slowly into the school, where an indistinct beat can be heard through the glass doors.

“Thanks for the ride, Scott,” says one of the boys, smiling, his youthfully handsome Hispanic features both offset and emphasized by the slight divot on the end of his nose.  “We gonna stand here all day or are we gonna go in?”

The chubby boy looks at the young girl at his side—her freckles crinkling as she shrugs and smiles timidly—before stammering, “Of c-c-c-course.  We’ll be right in… you t-t-t-two go on ahead and we’ll … b-b-b-b-be … right in behind you, Johnny.”

Grinning broadly, John claps the third boy on the back, saying, “All right, Scott, we’ll see you in there. Come on Eric, let’s go!”  And with that, they were off, weaving through the crowd, leaving Scott and the young girl staring after their retreating forms.

They stood there for a few moments, watching the tide of adolescents being dropped off on the curb, all wearing their best, awkward in the unfolding social situation, in this key milestone in their social development.  Clearing his throat with a sigh, he begins to speak just as his friend opens her mouth to say something, and they both stop at the same time, laughing as the awkward moment is shattered. After a few moments, their laughter subsides.

“Well, Crissy, I guess we’d better go inside.  W-W-W-Wouldn’t do to keep our fans waiting, eh?” Scott says, with more bravado than he feels at the moment.  His heart is already yammering in his chest like a wide animal thrashing against the bars of its cage, his palms already sweaty in his nervousness.

“I guess,” she says shyly, flashing her dazzling green eyes in his direction, “let’s get in there before all the prime spots on the wall are taken.”  With that, she turns and begins to walk toward the large glass doors, Scott a half a step behind and to her side.

Christina “Crissy” Cohan had been Scott’s friend since before he could even remember.  A cousin of his own cousin, unrelated by blood, they had practically grown up together, having spent countless hours at his Aunt Beverly’s house over the years, scraping their knees and getting in trouble by turn as they grew out of their youth and into adolescence.  Out of all his friends, he was most comfortable—able to forgo his stuttering for the most part—when he was with her… and her timidity and natural proclivity for shyness in turn seemed almost to retreat when she was with him.  As such, it was only natural that they helped each other make it through the social bane of all growing youngsters: the school dance.

Although they had already successfully made it through two others in the early fall, this one was particularly stressful for him since SHE was supposed to be here at this dance… and he was supposed to do something about it.

“So,” she says, glancing in his direction with her trademark half-smile as she walked, “are you finally going to do it?”

“What do you mean,” he says, feigning ignorance, blood rushing to his face, coloring it and turning it slightly pink.

“You know… ask Gabby to dance, you half-wit!” she says in mock exasperation, her own face coloring a bit as she raised her voice.

“Shhhhhh!!! Not so loud!” he says, glancing around in horror in case anyone heard, his heart skipping a beat in embarrassment.

Walking further in silence, they reach the door and hand their tickets to the older kid, and finally enter, the music washing over them with its deep base and guitar, with Glenn Frey belting out the tune in his trademark voice:

…Oh-wo-ho, oh-wo-ho
Caught up in the action I’ve been looking out for you
Oh-wo-ho, oh-wo-ho
(Tell me can you feel it)
(Tell me can you feel it)
(Tell me can you feel it)
The heat is on, the heat is on, the heat is on,
the heat is on Oh it’s on the street , the heat is – on…

Shuffling into the school, the crowd of students break off onto two paths, one group heading directly down the short hall for the far side of the building where the darkened dance floor is, and the other group (including Scott and Crissy) veer off to the left toward the game room, where the less socially-inclined sit and play cards and board games as they work up the nerve to venture onto the dance floor… or not.  Moving off to the side of the game room, they sit at one of the cafeteria tables.

“Well, are you gonna ask her or not?  Or are you gonna renege and admit that you were beaten by a girl?”

A moment passes as Scott struggles with his emotions, staring down the corridor toward the dark dance floor, indistinct shapes moving to the rhythm of the song.

…The shadows are on the darker side
Behind those doors, it’s a wilder ride
You can make a break, you can win or lose
That’s a chance you take, when the heat’s on you
When the heat is on…

He had wanted to ask Gabby to slow dance with him for the last two dances, but had always managed to avoid doing it for one reason or another, as his innate fear and lack of self-confidence overrode his youthful infatuation with the “prettiest girl in the class,” as his friend Crissy was frequently heard saying.  Gabrielle “Gabby” Marshal was just about the prettiest girl Scott knew in sixth grade, with her golden hair, her ready smile, and her musical laugh doing more to charm him than any hypnotist could ever do.  He had first noticed her this year and, when she helped him pick up some of his books that had fallen on his way from class, he became instantly smitten with her, thinking about her night and day as he struggled with his infatuation and natural insecurities.  Over the intervening weeks, they had exchanged hellos and smiles—always her smile was on his mind—and he slowly built up the courage to explore the thoughts and desires that were new to him.

Gathering his feelings and emotions tightly into a single, controllable mental sphere, he shuffles his feet a little as he turns back to his friend.

“Yes,” he whispers, as though afraid that raising his voice would shatter his willpower, his only chance at seeing if Gabby liked him as much as he liked her.  “We had a bet and I lost.  Had you lost, you’d be the one asking John to dance tonight…”

“SHUT UP!” she says through clenched teeth, her timid eyes glancing all around us at the other kids oblivious in their games and discussions.

“… but I lost so I have to f-f-f-follow through,” he stammered, sighing deeply.  “I just d-d-d-don’t know if I have the… courage… to do this.”

“Well, it looks like you’ll have your chance to test that courage of yours.  I just saw her walk toward the dance floor… come on, let’s get you a dance!”Life movie streaming

Reluctantly, they get up from the table and make their way to the dance floor, where the students are split into two main groups: the dancers and the wallflowers.  Finding a place along the wall, Scott and Crissy setting in and lean their backs against the cool, painted cinderblocks, his eyes scanning the standing and moving crowds, looking for the telltale mop of blond hair, just as Van Halen’s Jump ends and Duran Duran’s The Reflex begins.  At first, his eyes adjust slowly to the dark, but after several seconds he can make out familiar faces: his closest male friends, John Herrera and Eric Jones, lean against the wall on the opposite side of the room, both deep in conversation with several seventh graders; Carrie Bortle, Wendy Hartford, and Tina Myers, his friends since kindergarten, dance awkwardly in one corner; and Lance Carlson—his personal bully and bane to his existence for the last five years—sticks his foot out and trips little Robert Johansen as he walks past.  These people and more fill his field of vision, a melting pot of inert and moving bodies, and yet he cannot find Gabby anywhere.

Then, suddenly, like sunlight through suddenly parted clouds, he sees her, dancing in the middle of the floor with her small group of friend, and suddenly he cannot see anyone but her.  She’s luminous, almost glowing, with a thin sheen of perspiration covering her face and arms as she dances, her skin slightly flushed in her aerobic movements.  She’s wearing a light yellow sundress and matching pumps, with bracelets galore decorating the ends of her hands and large hoop earrings protruding from her teased and styled hair.  His breath catches in his throat as he sees the object of his affections, his heart almost stopping as he drinks in her radiance.  In a daze, he watches her, entranced by her grace and beauty as several songs come and go, all of them fast.

Suddenly, Scott is brought out of his trance and the DJ is talking, saying that he’s going to slow it down.  The majority of the students are moving off to the edge of the dance floor with the obvious couples moving in to take their place, just as the slow song starts.

And it’s not just any slow song… it’s THE slow song, the one that Scott has listened to and relates to on such a primal level that it would be years before he had enough insight into his psyche to recognize it for what it was.  The synthesizer and slow drum beat begins, pulling at his emotions like a master fisherman, as he watches her standing off to the side, a look of longing expectation on her eyes as she watches the dancing crowd just as the first stanza of the song begins.

I gotta take a little time
A little time to think things over
I better read between the lines
In case I need it when I’m older
Aaaah woah-ah-aah…

Crissy leans in, bringing her mouth close to Scott’s ear and speaks, just loud enough to be heard over the song, “It’s time, Scott, this is it.  Get over there and ask her to dance… now!”

…Now this mountain I must climb
Feels like a world upon my shoulders
And through the clouds I see love shine
It keeps me warm as life grows colder…

Looking her in the eye, realization slowly dawns on his face as he swallows hard, his heart suddenly beating very fast, so fast that he feels a momentary rush of light-headedness.  Yes, he thinks, yes, now is the time.  It’s gotta be now or never. Taking a deep breath, he slowly nods, turns, and begins to slowly walk around the outer edge of the dance floor toward his destiny, while the song continues on.

Before he has even made it half way to where she stands, he stops walking, shock and disbelief crossing his face, as another boy saunters up to her.  He sees her nod her head and then she and the other boy—John… NO! What are you doing???—slowly walk out to the dance floor.  As she slowly wraps her arms around his friend’s neck, her eyes briefly meet Scott’s… and then her gaze shifts past, as though she didn’t even see him, his heart sinking into his chest as they begin to dance.

…In my life there’s been heartache and pain
I don’t know if I can face it again
Can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far
To change this lonely life…

He stands there like a statue, tears beginning to well in his eyes and the beginnings of a sob forming in his chest.  Confused, he cannot comprehend what has just happened, cannot understand the pain and hurt he feels coursing through his body, cannot identify with the irrational sense of betrayal that he feels as he sees his friend dancing with his love, his life, his object of affection.

…I wanna know what love is
I want you to show me
I wanna feel what love is
I know you can show me
Aaaah woah-oh-ooh…

Just as the emotional dam is about to break, just as he is about to turn and hurry out of the dance floor, he feels a small, warm hand slide into his.  Shocked and emotionally wreaked, he doesn’t at first even realize someone is there, until he slowly turns to see the face of his friend—his one true friend it seemed at that moment—with the rim of tears forming in her eyes.

Taking his hand, she leads him down the corridor toward the game room, tears falling unbidden down his cheeks, his heart breaking into a million pieces as the song and the dream fade away.

…I’m gonna take a little time
A little time to look around me, oooh ooh-ooh ooh-ooh oooh
I’ve got nowhere left to hide
It looks like love has finally found me

In my life there’s been heartache and pain
I don’t know if I can face it again
I can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far

To change this lonely life…

 

 Glenn Frey.  “The Heat Is On.”  Beverly Hills Cop Soundtrack.  MCA Records.  (1984)
 Foreigner.  “I Want To Know what Love Is.”  Agent Provacateur.  Atlantic Records.  (1986)

 

As Simple As Black And White

As Simple as Black and White

The summer of 1984 marked a turning point for me, a period of transition that highlights the last real summer of my childhood, my thoughts and feelings held precariously balanced between my adolescent and my teenage years.  It exemplifies everything that was wonderful and boring about childhood, combining pulse-pounding moments of excitement, delight and near-terror with vast stretches of mind-numbing monotony.  Out of all my childhood years, that summer stands out as the prime example of the perfect blend of the mundane and the extraordinary—topped off with a large helping of fear.  Even now, when I recall the events that unfolded that day in July, I can only shake my head in disbelief and laugh.

On that fateful day I was sitting at the picnic table on the back porch, drawing in my sketchbook, taking advantage of the quiet of the backyard and early afternoon light that filtered through the leaves of the young oaks.  My young brother and sister were inside with my mother, eating lunch, watching cartoons, or playing with their toys, leaving me to my own devices for the first time all day.  Engrossed in my art—a drawing of a blue police box from my current favorite television show—I barely noticed the sound of last year’s leaves crunching underfoot as someone came around the side of the house, walking toward the back porch.

“Hey Stutter-Man, watcha doin’?  Workin’ on another of yer masterpieces?” the lanky, mocha-skinned boy offered as he mounted the steps, the tree-filtered light dancing across his dark, curly hair.  He had on his normal summer-adventuring ensemble: well-worn Adidas sneakers; a pair of paint-splattered, cut-off jeans; a dirt-stained t-shirt sporting the faded and cracked image of Mickey Mouse; and his ever-present backpack.

“Not much, String B-b-bean,” I replied, smiling and stammering over the last word. “It’s about t-t-t-time you showed up.”  A few years ago I would have instantly been on the defensive about my speech impediment, but now that I was getting it under control, I didn’t mind the minor name-calling that my friend sometimes fell into.

Chris Jones (a.k.a. “String Bean”) had been my best friend since I moved into the area seven years before.  We had met and become fast friends in short order, despite the obvious differences between us: I was tall and chubby where he was short and lanky; my lighter skin and blue-green eyes clashed with his dark, earthy looks; I still had trouble completing a single sentence without stammering whereas he spoke rapidly, confidently, and without flaw; I was shy, timid, and meek while he was brash, cocksure, and full of himself.  We were an adolescent Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, right down to my finicky cleanliness and his slovenly approach to just about everything.  In spite of it all, we were great friends with one major thing in common: we loved the summertime and all it had to offer.

“So what are we gonna do today” he posed, twirling a twig in his dirt-stained hands as he sat heavily in the chair beside me, glancing at my picture with disinterest.

I looked up from my drawing, somewhat baffled by his question.  Chris always took the lead in our summer adventures, whether it was skate-boarding three miles to the old swimming hole that bordered the Kennedy Farm, mixing potions from all the bottles in his mother’s medicine cabinet, making the ultimate fort (complete with windows and a secret escape route), or madly peddling our bikes down the road after throwing mud balls at the older kids.  Wow, I thought as I slowly set aside my drawing pad, if we’re already out of things to do after only four weeks of summer, boy are we in trouble.

“I d-d-don’t have a… clue,” I replied slowly, pausing on the last word so as not to stammer all over it.  “I thought you… had an idea.”

“Naw, I’m plum out of ideas.  I think we’ve done just about everything there is to do in this crappy town.”

“Well,” I began, thinking quickly, “we c-c-c-could take a bike ride up to K-K-Kennedy’s… and go swimming?”

“Can’t.  My tires are flat… I think Travis popped them again,” he said, with disgust.  Travis was Chris’ older brother and one of the key banes of our young existence.  He was a notorious bully who never seemed to get caught—and we were often on the butt end of his jokes, victims of his mean-spirited nature.

“What a j-j-jerk,” I murmured, echoing Chris’ unspoken sentiment.

We tossed a few ideas back and forth for a few minutes, each of us finding fault in the offered suggestions, until at last we were silent, lost in thought about the possible options.  The silence dragged on for several moments until suddenly I had somewhat of an epiphany, a smile spreading across my face.

“I’ve g-g-got it!” I exclaimed, somewhat louder than I had intended.  “Why d-don’t we follow the cr-cr-creek upstream and see where it c-comes from?”

Chris got a far-away look on his face as he processed my suggestion, his face lighting up with hope and the possibility of excitement as he came to realize that this was something new.  In all the years we had played and explored the woods behind our homes, we had never followed the creek that meandered its way through the trees to its source.  Instead, we had either played in the section directly behind our houses or had followed it downstream two miles to the Susquehanna River, tracking bits and pieces of wood, sticks, and makeshift boats.  Strangely, we’d never followed it further than where it crossed under a road about a mile upstream.

Excited that we finally had something to push back the encroaching boredom that accompanied our inactivity, I ran inside to change into my own adventure clothes.  I threw on a pair of lightweight khaki shorts, a white t-shirt about a size too big, my favorite threadbare flannel shirt, and an old pair of hiking boots, along with my backpack stocked with a few snacks for the trip.  Running out the door, I yelled out our intent and destination to my mother, who gave an indifferent, “OK,” her attention on the Days of Our Lives, the screen door slamming shut before her voice had even faded away.

Chris and I ran across the overgrown field directly behind our trailer park, nettles and wild wheat slapping our legs unnoticed.  Entering the woods, the air noticeably cooler under the shade of the trees, we quickly made our way to the softly gurgling brook.  We slowed as we crisscrossed the creek, tossing the occasional rock and stick into the gently flowing water along the way as we hopped and leapt from stone to stone, bank to bank.

Upon reaching the culvert that marked the limits of our previous expeditions, we climbed up the bank to the road, crossing to determine the best way to continue on our journey.  Our way above was blocked by new and gleaming barbed wire strung between the posts.  Five strands of wire were strung from post to post, stretching off along the road as far as we could see either way, effectively thwarting our progress.  Dropping back down to the creek, we regarded the culvert with renewed consideration.

On this side of the road, the culvert entrance was only about chest high, made of crudely cut stone blocks fitted together with crumbling mortar, allowing access only if we crouched low.  Bending down, we peered into the darkness.  On the far side of the shadowed tunnel, we could just make out the thin black line of a single piece of barbed wire, about three feet above the surface of the running water.  Emboldened by the sight, we entered the opening and were quickly swallowed by the gloom.  We made our way through the low, dark tunnel to the opposite side, stepping from stone to stone, our eyes adjusting somewhat to the dimness.  On the opposite side, we waddled our way under the humming wire to stand just inside McCullough’s Field, blinking in the sudden glare.

The field stretched off in three directions for hundreds of yards, topping a rise far off on the left and straight ahead; the brook and the field meandered off to the right, disappearing around the bend of the hill.  The shaggy meadow was littered with rocks and weeds, giving it the feel exotic locations or unexplored country—which for us it was.  There was a small copse of trees by the creek about a hundred yards away, with something bulky and brown situated near the edge—something very out of place in these natural surroundings.

“Hey, what is that?” Chris asked with a combination of curiosity and confusion in his eyes.  “Should we go and check that out or continue upstream?”

Considering, I took a moment to answer.  “Hmmm.  Well, I think we should ch-ch-check it out.  P-p-plus, it’s on the way.  I… w-wonder w-what it is?”

We began picking our way across the rock-strewn field toward dozens of trees, covering the distance in only a couple of minutes.  Nearing the small grove, we could finally make out the large object on the left side of the trees although we could scarcely believe it until we were standing in front of it.

It was a crumpled and rusted hulk of a truck—a Ford according to the hood ornament—most likely from latter part of the 1940’s or early 1950’s if the hint of body style could be used to judge what this dead beast was in life.  Where tires had been were only crumbled chunks of rubber with wild flowers sprouting from the hubs.  The windows were gone, small pieces of the shattered remains glittering in the bright sunlight on the ground and across the floor of the cab where there had once been seats.  The front hood of the truck stood open, the engine compartment empty except for a few sickly weeds, its heart and power stolen long ago.

We spent an indeterminate amount time climbing over it, mesmerized by this fallen workhorse of a forgotten age, our eager fingers tracing a patch of paint here, a line of chrome there, with the dimpled and smashed body raising more questions in our little minds than were readily answered.  So engrossed with our discovery, it was a few minutes before we noticed a soft pounding behind us—pounding and stomping which had been increasing in pitch, frequency, and volume over the short period of time that we were engrossed in our discovery.

Almost comically, we stopped our investigation of the ruins almost in unison, swinging our eyes toward each other, dumbfounded, before finally looking over our shoulders toward the source of the noise.

The horde of creatures, only a couple dozen yards away now, strode purposely toward us in a pack, hunger evident in their large glassy eyes and in the strands of drool that flew from their mouths with each swing of their heads.  They stomped toward us with muscles rippling, the ground seeming to shake with each step.  We stared at each other in disbelief, immobilized, knowing the trees we crouched under did little to hide or protect us.  We were caught flatfooted and surprised, their sudden appearance, size, and proximity alarming us.  Instinctively, we knew we were cornered; we were sure to be surrounded by these monstrosities within moments, defenseless against their hurried advances.

Before I could turn my head, utter a single word, or even begin to run, Chris was off like a shot toward the culvert, screaming as though the hounds of hell were chasing him.  He flapped and flopped like a headless chicken as he swerved the clumps of rocks and thick weeds that littered the field, all while I stood there in semi-shock, caught off guard as much by this sudden turn of events as by his terror-stricken response.

I just stood there, immobilized by my surprise… and by my mounting amusement.

Luckily, I had quickly recognized these black and white creatures to be dairy cows after my initial jolt of fright, thereby halting my own mad dash.  Having spent time on my uncle’s farm over the last few years, I almost instinctively recognized that the animals were headed for either the shade of the trees behind us or toward the cool, refreshing water of the creek.  To my eyes, with recognition bringing sanity and logic, they were just trotting along at a slow pace, working their way across the rocky field toward their goal—and ignoring us in the process.live streaming film Day In The Life of Death

However, with his lack of farm experience, Chris was completely caught by surprise and shocked to the core, the animalistic fight-or-flight portion of his subconscious instantly awakening and taking charge, driving him in his mad dash.  He hadn’t recognized these gentle beasts for what they were; instead he saw huge, savage monsters bearing down on us from literally nowhere with unknown and evil intent.  Shocked into action, he ran as though his life depended on it.

Chuckling softly to myself, I glanced at a couple of the cows that had stopped at the sound of Chris’ wild, retreating howl, looking around in confusion as though they were asking “What did we do?” before they continued on past.  Laughing, I began to jog after him, somewhat slowed by the hilarity of the situation, giggles starting to reverberate through my core.  Loping along for a couple seconds, I saw with amazement that he had already scampered at full tilt almost to eddy pool near the culvert.  I had to give it to him—I had never seen him run so fast before.  Following along after at a more sedate pace, I watched him dash toward the culvert—never once looking behind him as his considerable fear drove him blindly onward.

Suddenly, at the ragged bank around the culvert, he leapt out and promptly disappeared below sight, a spray of water abruptly appearing in the air.

Stunned, I started running, laughter and amusement forgotten and replaced with concern, worried that he had hurt himself when he had launched himself over the bank.  Covering the distance to the culvert in about a tenth of the time it had taken earlier, I was relieved to see that he wasn’t lying in a broken heap in the rocky cheek bed.  In fact, he was nowhere to be seen on this side of the road.  Slowing, I carefully made my way under the single strand of wire at the entrance and picked my way through the tunnel.

Emerging on the other side, I came across Chris at the water’s edge, dripping from head to toe, doubled over in tearful sobs, but physically no worse for the wear.  Coming to stand next to him, I gently guided him to sit on the bank and patted his shoulder awkwardly.  After several minutes, his convulsive crying subsided to sporadic whimpering, then finally ceased all together.

Not speaking, he slowly got up, wiped his eyes and nose with his shaking hands, and helped me to my feet, not looking at me the entire time.  Picking our way up the bank, we emerged on the asphalt and began walking down the road toward home, about a mile and a half away, shuffling along in silence.

After several minutes without speaking, Chris slowed his pace and eventually stopped, facing me with his eyes red and puffy.  Breaking the silence by clearing his throat, he looked at me in all seriousness, albeit with a little embarrassment.  “So… that was a little exciting,” he said with only a little tremor in his voice.  “What do you want to do now, catch rattlesnakes?”

Suddenly we started laughing hard at the day’s events until we were hooting uncontrollably, both of us shaking our heads with tears of delight rolling down our cheeks.  This continued for several moments until our laughter eventually died away and we caught our breath, finally able to resume our long walk back home.

After a few more moments of walking along in silence, our sneakers kicking up loose asphalt on the edge of the cracked road, a slight chuckle began in the deep recesses of my chest.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him tense slightly at the sound, his tender feelings still rubbed raw, putting him on the defense.

“What?” he demanded, his scrawny chest puffing out slightly.  “What’s so funny, now?”A Dog’s Purpose 2017 movie download

Taking a deep breath, a huge smile spreading across my face, I started to run, just as I let go with the most convincing “MOOOOOO!” that I could, followed by a very convincing “Run for your life!!!”

Huffing, puffing, and panting—with a screaming, laughing Chris hot on my heels—I don’t think I had ever run so fast in my life.

Threshold of the Mortal Coil (Revision 1)

Threshold of the Mortal Coil (Revision 1)

His hand, it drags me,
kicking and weeping,

sand running, flowing,
back into my fist.

The past is rent, merging, raw,
images superimposed;

Cold hand in mine, stilled;
a smile, warm, now slack;

Life the giver, cruel jester;
Death the taker, bitter savior;

vibrancy interrupted, stolen.
Energy dissipating. Despair.

Eternity’s gate, I cannot bear it;
vivid memory: still I cling, stubborn.

School Days – Northern Appalachian Writers Guild Contest

This one goes WAY back.  Back in 1991, when I was a wee lad in 12th grade, I entered an Essay Contest through the Northern Appalachian Writers Guild with the unlikely topic of “Animal Antics”. The theme was pretty simple: tell a story, in 500 words or more, about a day in the life of an animal/creature, as told from their perspective and through their eyes.  All said, I think I spent about an hour knocking it out (on an old manual typewriter) and submitted it, figuring that there would be no way I could even place in the contest. Imagine my surprise when we got the results: not only had I placed in the contest, I had actually won the Grand Prize against 30 other Juniors and Seniors from the surrounding schools. So what did I win? I received a $100 savings bond (that’s worth approximately $40,000 in today’s economy) and was published in the spring edition of  Reflections, the Spring Anthology.  While I won’t actually reveal what animal I portrayed, I am including it here for your reading pleasure.


Escape

by Scott E. Pond (December 1990)

I awake to the receding rumble of distant thunder. The dank soil chills me to the core, forcing me to start moving lest I fall back asleep. Contracting my lower body, then elongating my upper, I force my way through the already crumbling tunnel. Eating a morsel of moist earth here and there, I begin the laborious task of reconstructing my ever shifting abode. Stretching my segments down a branch tunnel on my way to the lower levels, I hear the grumble of thunder, closer this time.

Upon reaching the lowest tunnel in my domain, I sense, up above, the first tentative caress of the oncoming storm. Chewing quickly in hopes of strengthening the tunnels before the approaching downpour, I start on my way to the surface. Already, the walls are beginning to become slick with moisture; the tandem above increases to match my racing hearts. Contracting and elongating through the labyrinth, I consume more and more to clean the way. Beside me, I feel more water seeping into my home.

The muscles along my body burn as if with an unholy fire. Mud as slick as grease runs down the tunnel obstructing my way and hindering my progress even further. Almost halfway to safety and freedom, I begin to feel the results of my efforts: fatigue. The water and sludge hinder my breathing; it feels as though they are choking the very life from my frail body. rounding a bend in the tunnel, I continue on toward my liberation.

BOOM. Tendrils of energy course through the shifting soil, momentarily forcing my consciousness into blackness.

I awake to the feeling of rain beating its constant tattoo above my head. I timidly grope ahead, feeling nothing but a thick wall of muck blocking my way. I feel the oppressive mound of earth encompassing my body, threatening to conquer any hopes of escape I might have. Pushing my way upward with all the force in in my body, I resume my struggles.

Time flows by, like the water running down the tunnel behind me. It seems as though an eternity has passed since I had left the warming rays of sun upon my body. My muscles burn with the effort of my continuing battle. My skin tingles from the lack of proper oxygen. Each stretch is becoming a battle unto itself; I do not even remember how long it has been since I was last able to rest. feebly pushing my head forward with the minute amount of energy I have left, the ooze above parts, admitting a gust of fresh, rain drenched air.

Pulling myself out of the already closing cleft, I lay upon the slick ground to let the falling rain and the winnowing air cool my burning body. Aching with the effort of my struggle, I feel around in hopes of finding nourishment. Finding my meal, I begin to search for higher ground on the viewless plain.

The Greatest Man I’ve Ever Known (Eulogy for my Father)

On July 15th, 2011 my father passed away after a long and difficult battle with cancer. One of his last requests (and one of my mother’s requests) was for me to write and deliver the eulogy for his funeral services, which were held on July 20th, 2011. This was, perhaps, the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. Though he was my best friend and the greatest influence on my life, I had a tough time writing something that would honor his memory properly.

I started writing this over half a dozen times, got anywhere from 300 to 900 words into the piece, and had to start over because it just wasn’t going where I wanted it to. Finally, on July 19th, after several days of banging my head against my iPad, it finally flowed forth the way I wanted it to be, it finally said what I wanted it to say (though the spoken length was somewhere between 16 and 17 minutes, a little long for a traditional eulogy).

This piece, of course, is very personal to me and my family, but it honors the single greatest man I have ever known: my father, Stanley Edward Pond.

The Greatest Man I’ve Ever Known

Stan Pond, the man I have had the privilege of calling my father for the last 39 years, died on July 15th. He was only 58 years old. I have heard that the loss of a parent is one of life’s most traumatic events. I now know all too well the devastating truth of that statement. While I’ve also been told that, in time, the hurt will fade, to be replaced by memories that soothe the soul and fill the heart with peace, for now the pain is too immediate, tinging my favorite recollections with a sadness that brings tears to my eyes even as I smile.

Stan was a patient, kind hearted man, with a steel resolve that guided him through the most difficult times in life. He was a good man, a man of unbridled integrity and trust, a man who would make solid decisions for all the right reasons and stand by them; and yet he was also the first to admit he was wrong if those decisions turned out to be erroneous or misguided.

My father was a man unafraid of a hard day’s work; he never hesitated to get his hands dirty, to break a sweat, or to dig right in and bust his butt. In fact, it seems that much of his life was spent doing a hard day’s work, whether it was on the farms as a youth, as a technician, laborer, or manager at the IR, Valley Cities Gas, Twin Tiers Casting, or Iroquois Foundry, or over the last 20 years as he ran his own very successful plumbing, heating, and electrical business.

And yet, despite the long hours spent working, he always managed to find time for a kiss, a playful touch, or a gentle word with mom, whether they were in the house or on the porch watching the wildlife, be they birds, cats, squirrels, or grandchildren. He made time to go fishing with the boys, his sons and grandchildren, which they all enjoyed, no matter how poor the catches may have been for Eddie and Mike. If his beloved Dallas Cowboys were on, or a NASCAR race was being broadcast, you’d often find him glued to his chair, his eyes on the action, no matter how often you may have fruitlessly tried to get his attention. And of course, he spent a good portion of his free time with his beloved hot rod, washing and waxing her with the familiarity of an old lover, though mom never got jealous over these automotove affections… or at least she claims she never did.

Stan is and was many things to many people. To my mother, Jan, he is her husband, filling the role of her savior, her best friend, her lover, and her confidante, while at the same time she was the same to him. To my brothers–Scott, Mike, Christopher, and Eddie–and my sisters–Cindy and Crystal–he was a father, a friend, a positive role model, and a huge influence on our lives. To my aunt Sandy, aunt Reva, and aunt Connie, he was their little brother, the one they tried to protect. To his 20 grandchildren and his handful of great grandchildren, he was grandpa, papa, poppy, and pop-pop, the one who always had time for a smile, a hug, a tickle, a laugh, and the occasional vacuum cleaner ride. To his many friends, he was the one they trusted, the friend who always had their back. To his customers, he was the one who went above and beyond the minimum required for the job at hand, the one they could rely upon at all hours of the day and night (unless of course it conflicted with a Cowboys game or a NASCAR race).

To all of us gathered here today to honor and pay tribute to his life and impressive legacy, Stan Pond was all of these things; to some of us, he was much, much more. I’d like to take a few moments share a couple different perspectives on the special place Stan holds in some of our lives.

To me, he was more than my father, more than my best friend. To me, he represents everything I’ve always wanted to be. He is my greatest hero, my true inspiration, and he is the single person in my life who has molded, guided, and shaped me into the person I am today. Though I wasn’t consciously aware of it until recently, he is the template that I modeled myself after. Without even being aware of it, his stories, words, and lead-by-example actions have been my personal how-to guide, my own “how to live life for dummies.”

I remember one particular story of his. As a youth, my father worked long, hard hours on the farm with his father, Leland Pond. In this particular story, he and grandpa were bailing hay. As is common with farm equipment, the bailer got jammed, stopping their work. In the course of trying to clear chute, my grandpa reached into the guts of the machine to try and dislodge the blockage… without turning off the equipment. Just like Murphey’s Law dictates, the equipment chose this moment to clear itself, ejecting the bail… and removing four of grandpa’s fingers on one hand. My father, only 12 or 13 at the time, took charge of the situation, gathered up my grandpa and his fingers, and drove him 20 miles to the nearest hospital. Though my grandpa’s fingers were not able to be saved, my father’s actions probably saved his father’s life.

At the time he told me this story, my father meant it as an example of why equipment should be safely locked and tagged when working on it. Despite his intent, I gained so much more from his story. From it, I learned that in life, when you least expect it, you will be faced with unfair, difficult, and challenging situations. In these situations, you can either stand in shock, doing nothing, or you can take charge and actually do something, potentially making a difference in the process.

My father had dozens, possibly hundreds, of these stories from his life that he told me over the years, stories which, though seemingly simple on the surface, held vast pools of wisdom. These stories, combined with his quiet words of advice and my many personal observations of his tireless work ethics and personal interactions, provided me with step by step instructions on how to conduct myself professionally and personally, shaping me into the man I am today.

But I’m not the only one he influenced in this manner. To my brother, Scott, he was also a man to look up to, an inspiration to emulate. When Scott first started working at the Foundry, he finally realized just how intelligent and intuitive our Dad was. Though it often seemed that the weight of the plant rested on Dad’s shoulders, no matter how tough things were, no matter how impossible the situation seemed, Dad always managed to keep the machines operational and running to their rated capacity. Watching his actions and cool demeanor in these situations inspired Scott, so much that for the first time he thought, “I want to be just like Dad.” On a more personal level, when Scott’s biological father passed away, Scott says that Stan, “was there for us kids, giving us a shoulder to cry on, along with words of sympathy and comfort. That is what truly showed me just how much he cared for all of his kids, that we were truly his kids.”

On the night after Stan’s death, Mike, one of my other brothers, posted the following on FaceBook. He said, “A man that I am proud to call Dad has left us for a better place today. He showed me and my brothers and my sisters the true meaning of family.” Yesterday, when I asked him to explain further, he went on to say that Stan was the father that anyone could ever wish they had. It didn’t matter that some of us were Jan’s and some were his own, he treated all of us equally and considered us all to be his. He was always there for us to the full extent and when he knew you were in trouble, he was there to bail you out, to help you, no questions asked. And if you thanked him, Dad would just shake his head and say, “I’m just here to keep you guys going. If I know you are safe, then I’m happy.” That, combined with the fact that Dad took an interest in the things that we were interested in, such as football, fishing, and NASCAR racing, things that he eventually became nuts about as well, just to give us more to talk about, a way for us to bond more, made him a true father.

Finally, for my mother, Stan was her everything. When they met back in 1984, they we both adrift, floating from one moment to the next, moving through life with no clear focus, no clear goal. Their chance meeting set their feet back on the path of hope, of love, providing each with the anchor and stability that ultimately pulled them from a path of darkness, of despair. He added hope, love, and humor back into her life, taking the burden from her shoulders, and providing her with a reason to live and laugh again. She confided in me that he was everything that anyone could ask for in a spouse, a friend, a companion. He showed her a side of love and friendship that she had only dreamed about before. This love was not a one way street, either. I remember Dad saying a few years ago that mom was his reason for getting up in the morning, the reason why he worked so hard to provide for their lives. “She is my life, my entire reason for being, for doing what I do,” he had said. Most people spend their entire lives looking for their soul mates; mom and Dad were the lucky ones in that they knew, almost from the beginning, that they were each other’s perfect match.

The loss of my father has been difficult for us all. It is the single most difficult experience I have ever been through, though I am comforted by the thought that because of the last few months I have never been closer to him and that I have regained the family that I hadn’t realized that I had lost. Though right now my pain and sorrow is almost unbearable, I do know that in time, the pain will fade, leaving me with the cherished memories of the greatest man I have ever known. Even though I don’t want to, I know that eventually we all must say goodbye, we all must go to a better place, just as he has.

We all have our fond memories of Stan, memories that we can cherish for the rest of our lives, even though he is no longer with us. I’m sure many of us can recall our times with Stan as vividly as our favorite songs that we’ve all heard countless times. You know the songs I’m talking about, the ones where you know every word, every note, every solo taken by every member of the band. In fact, that should be our goal in this time of morning, in this time of remembrance. We should take our memories and breathe life into them, make them fresh, until our memories are just like these classic tunes, until they become part of us, until they become us, never to leave, never to diminish, never to fade, living on even as we say goodbye to this great man.

Out of all of my father’s oldtime country favorites that we listened to over the last few weeks, one tune struck with me as being appropriate to this moment, one that I’d like to read a few of it’s lines to you now. The song is “The Cowboy Rides Away” by George Strait, one of his favorite artists.

And now we play the final show-down scene

And as the credits roll a sad song starts to play

And this is where the cowboy rides away

And my heart is sinking like the setting sun

Setting on the things I wish I’d done

Oh the last goodbye’s the hardest one to say

And this is where the cowboy rides away

Oh the last goodbye’s the hardest one to say

And this is where the cowboy rides away

Goodbye, Dad. I love you.