Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

The Angry Librarian: A Short Story Set in South Portland, Maine

June 22, 2018

 

The last few days have been wet here in southern Maine. So Monday afternoon I skipped my usual puttering in the garden after work. Instead I walked over to the town library between showers for a little reading before going on to our church in the shoe store. I needed to check some references for next Sunday’s sermon on the transformation of Saul into Paul the Apostle.

On the way I joined up with Bernie Bastardo. We both work at the supermarket. I clerk for center store and he humps trash to the back and cleans for maintenance. I’ve been full time there for ten years now, since I came east from Kansas. Bernie works part time, off and on, pretty much when they need someone in a hurry.

When I met him, Bernie was dripping wet.

“What happened, Bernie?”

“Hi, Bro. I had some wine to warm up and fell asleep on my bench by the duck pond. That last squall caught me napping. I’m heading to the library to dry out.”

“You know, Bernie, drying out might be a good idea. I’ve been meaning to tell you, the store needs help and they will take you back on maintenance for the summer.”

“I’m good for now, Mike.”

Our town has a newish library they built when the economy was good. That’s been a while. The library’s nice. It has a lot of windows to let in the sun. The inside is all one open space like the main hall of a church.

Once we got inside we saw Rufus and Chip at the computers. They also work at the store.

Chip clerks natural foods. He’s skinny and smooth talking, so the health-conscious ladies think he is healthy in mind and body. Actually he loves over-priced gourmet cheeseburgers and the women who serve them.

Rufus is a big good-natured guy. He stocks several stores for the beer distributor. Ours is usually his last stop. If a guy lends Rufus $100, he’ll get it back. If a gal makes a date with Rufus, he might go off drinking after work and forget to pick her up. The young ladies at the store don’t want their divorced moms dating Rufus, but when they are out for fun, they like to party with him.

They both show up sometimes at our ministry in the old shoe store downtown. We call it The Shoestring Chapel. It’s interdenominational, of course, and no one gets paid, but it has helped some of us change our lives. We put together a pretty spirited band with an old drum kit, two or three electric guitars and a whole lot of plastic recorders.

“Chip. Rufus. I knew you guys got off work, but I didn’t expect to see you at the library!”

“Brother Mike. We lost our smartphones. So we’re here to check FB before happy hour.”

“You both lost your phones?”

“Yeah, we were doing the bars Saturday night with two girls we met in the Old Port. Sunday morning we realized our phones were gone.”

A red-haired librarian in her thirties was hovering nearby watching us. I’ve talked to her a few times. Her name’s Katie. She’s Episcopalian.

The guys checked their messages and posts.

“Nothing from those girls,” said Chip, “and nothing about our phones.”

“Well, happy hour starts in thirty minutes,” said Rufus. “So at least we can relax and have some fun.”

“Yes,” I said, “or maybe, in view of what happened Saturday night, you might want to make a change and stop by the chapel for a while.”

Rufus put up his hands. “Whoa, Mike! It’s not like we passed out and the girls took our phones. We just lost them. And we did have a lot of fun!”

That was when the librarian came over. Katie is a well-built lady, but packaged not to show it.

“We are discussing the wisdom of drinking,” I told her.

“I think you gentlemen might be more comfortable in the group study area in back. This way, please.”

There is just one long table in that area and a dweeby guy was working on his laptop at one end.

“You can talk to each other in here, but, please, use your inside voices. This area has only a partial wall and we have other patrons.”

“Thank you,” I told her. “We appreciate your suggestion.”

Chip caught the librarian’s attention with a sweet smile. “I can’t help but notice,” he confided, “that sweater really goes well with your blue eyes.”

Katie squinted hard at Chip and left.

“Well, Brother Mike,” Rufus observed, “if we hadn’t gone drinking, I guess we’d still have our cells.”

“The Bible doesn’t say don’t drink, Rufus, but Proverbs does say, ‘Look not on the wine when it is red.’”

Rufus reflected. “Probably means drink white wine. You get less of a headache.”

“It could mean drink a white Zinfandel or a rosé,” suggested Chip. “If you remove the skins from red grapes, the wine doesn’t become red.”

I cleared my throat. “I think the wine they were supposed to drink wasn’t red because they added water. They needed some alcohol in their water to kill germs and stay healthy, but they didn’t need full-strength wine. They didn’t need to get drunk.”

Bernie had looked puzzled listening to Rufus and Chip. “Most of the wines I drink have grain alcohol added, which is clear, but they are still red.”

Chip smirked. “That red must be coloring, Bernie. I don’t think your wines ever saw a grape. Probably raw ethanol and water.”

“Maybe a little diesel for flavor” added Rufus.

The guys had a big laugh.

“Hey!” Bernie protested, “Wild Irish Rose is not that bad.”

The librarian’s face reappeared in the doorway, scowling. “I’m not sure this conversation about drinking is appropriate around young people. And a PUBLIC library is not an appropriate place to discuss religious morality. Or lack of it.  Please keep it down!”

“Sorry, Katie,” I said. She left abruptly.

Chip’s gaze followed her. “Not a bad looking woman. Love those flashing eyes. Wonder what her sign is.”

“Skull ‘n crossbones,” offered Rufus.

The guys all laughed.

“Hey, bros,” I said, “Katie’s just doing her job.

“Oh-oh,” said Rufus, “she’s back.”

“I told you to keep it down!  I’m sure you are bothering this gentleman on his laptop.”

“But,” said Rufus, “he’s only looking up Casual Encounters on Craig’s List.”

The dweeb looked up and smiled, “w4w.”

“We are considering how much Christians should drink,” I explained. “It’s a delicate question and people need to joke to relieve their tension.”

Katie was not appeased. “I’m afraid this study room is not an appropriate place for an AA meeting.”

“But, Sunshine,” Chip objected, “we’re not alcoholics!”

“At least not reformed alcoholics,” laughed Rufus.

Katie looked at me. “I guess you haven’t gotten them to take the first step, Brother Mike.”

“They aren’t actually alcoholics, Katie. And AA meets in the old church on the ridge. You know, the one that lost its bell tower and has the bell sitting on the grass.”

“Now wouldn’t that church be a lovely place for THIS meeting.”

“Oh,” I said.

NOW, please!” commanded the librarian.

Rufus laughed. “We’ll go quietly.”

“That would be the first quiet thing you have done.”

As Katie escorted us down the poorly lit stairs and out the door, we noticed that the last showers had stopped. The sky had lightened and there were blue patches among the clouds. Rufus and Chip took off for happy hour. 

Chip smiled back at me. “See you at the market, Brother Mike, but let’s not talk any more this week about whether Christians should drink.”

“Right men!” said Rufus. “Time for action.”

Bernie and I looked back and saw that Katie had withdrawn into the dark stairway.  You could still see her shadow watching. She looked delicate. Like a deer hiding.

Bernie smiled. “I bet Katie would like to go for a walk with us.”

“She can’t do that, Bernie. She has to stay at her job.”

“No, she doesn’t have to stay. And she doesn’t want to.”

“But she will stay, Bernie.”

“Yes, I guess you are right. But I’d hate to see her stay here for her whole life.”

“A librarian could be exactly what Katie wants to be. She could be happy among her books, and she may not want to change.”

Bernie shook his head. “She wants more from her life.”

We walked past Holy Cross, the tank farm, and the marina, all the way to the harbor lighthouses. We watched a tanker leave and an island ferry come in and dock across the river.

Bernie became reflective. “People need to feel free to live the life they want.”

I thought about my life. “When I lived out in Kansas, I had a different life. I was a night clerk at a Best Western and sat around all night alone.”

“So you quit!”

“Well, it wasn’t that abrupt. But you are right, Bernie. I had to find something I wanted to do. I had to find a way of life I wanted to live. My loneliness led me to change my life.”

I glanced over at Bernie. “Are you comfortable living the life you live?”

“Yes, for now.”

“And so, I think, are Chip and Rufus. But we can all create a new life for ourselves. Live and act like someone we’ve never been. Someone we didn’t know we could become.”

“I don’t want to lose who I am, Brother Mike. People think I’m just a bum, but I don’t want to lose the way I think and feel. I am who I am.”

“I think I am still who I was back in Kansas. If I had to become a night clerk again, I would be lonely again. But I’ve changed the habits of my life and how I interact with people, and now I am happier. My life feels different but I still feel like me inside.”

Several fishing boats were coming in for the day. Watching them took me back to the cattle I would watch moving leisurely along the fence lines in Kansas. There was something quiet and purposeful, something eternal about the boats and the cattle as they followed their familiar course into evening.

And I realized how the waves of water that had grown into swells reminded me of the waves of the land across the plains. I missed looking up at night into the bright, starry heavens from those dark, thinly populated plains. I loved the expansiveness of the hills in Kansas and of the ocean, and I loved that huge sky above them both.

“Hey, Mike! Look over by the lighthouse.” Bernie pointed toward the jetty going out to Spring Point Light. “That librarian must have gotten off work.”

I saw a slender, red-haired figure walking serenely across the granite slabs out among the waves.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Michael B. Smetzer

 

Maine Coast. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Maine Coast. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Bill Acres Explains His Life

July 14, 2017

 

It’s better to be drunk and happy.
When I’m down I miss those early summer leaves.
I don’t feel that off-white warmth of concrete
in the sun.

I don’t see nothing sober.
I just smell my own dirty toes.
I don’t see that rich Kansas soil.
I don’t see those concrete slabs lined out
     fallen dominoes
          all the way to the park.

Hey!  Those black and white bird droppings are
a clue to life.
They say, “Bill,  look up!  You’ll see what’s
coming down.”
But it can’t kill me.
I wipe it off and laugh.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer
An earlier version of this poem was first published in Cottonwood (formerly Cottonwood Review ).

 

Discussion

Most of us know mean drunks, sad drunks, and happy drunks. Moralists tell us getting drunk at all is bad. We should face our life soberly and responsibly no matter how it makes us feel.

I don’t advocate getting drunk. But the man I’m calling Bill was not strong enough to face his memories and feelings sober. Drinking gave him some time to be happy. Buddhists believe it can take many lives for a soul to reach enlightenment. Few of us are going to make it this time around.

 

Detail from "Sunset" - Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

Detail from “Sunset” – Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

A Love Poem

July 12, 2017

 

As serious as a colony of bees
to do the Queen’s bidding,
we gather berries wild and fresh.
You won’t let the dog out
of the car for fear she will pee
where we might pick, you want
nothing to spoil your dreams
of dessert tonight.
It is tonight I think of,
under this inhospitable sun
offering myself as a feast
for Maine black flies.
After supper, you’ll add
Alizarin Crimson to your
watercolor painting.
I’ll write a strawberry poem.
We’ll walk the dog and race her
home to the front door.
Later as moonlight shares
our bed, I’ll know you
enjoyed your strawberries,
know this day has made you happy.
I’ll touch you gently as you sleep,
close my eyes and sigh.

 

First published in Echoes Magazine.

Vera Lisa Smetzer on Steps

Vera Lisa Smetzer on Steps

Joe Bought a Truck

May 24, 2017

 

Joe’s new truck was one tall ride!
Ram 1500 Sport.
V-8, 8-speed transmission.
Blue-streak-pearlcoat exterior.
Brand new!
With the biggest mud tires the dealer could fit.

We could never afford a wonder like that.
But my brother Joe went down to Foxwoods
and he won. He won big!
So, being a man, and being single,
he bought this truck.

I said, “You could have bought
a lot of ho’s with that money.”
“Think harder, Bro,” he said.
“I bought the Ram.
Now the sluts will jump in for free.
I can drive the girls and the truck!”

To begin with Joe couldn’t really handle
the girls or the truck.
His ego was just this pale little thing
about the size of a baby mouse.
It slept quietly inside a Big Mac wrapper
stuffed between our seats.

What with all the near collisions,
I can’t say I even noticed it the first two days.
But Joe was right about the sluts.
His best play was to park the Ram near
where some muffins in tights would pass.

Then chat them up from inside the cab.
He looked like a cowboy, as long as he
didn’t try to move the truck.
Soon he was helping girls into the cab
and taking them for rides.

He got better at driving and chatting,
and sometimes,
if the girl didn’t know him,
he scored!
Joe’s ego was growing up now
and growing some thick hair
along with a visible pair of balls.

Joe had to take it out of the wrapper
and put it in the toolbox behind his seat.
Not like he had any tools.
By this time, I was no longer welcome,
except when we drove to work.

Still, when he needed recovery time
or when I was the one with gas money,
I got to ride along on his outings.
Sitting in that Ram was as near ecstasy
as you can get without a dealer.

The guys had to look up to us
‘cause we were cruising way above
their silly little rides.
When the sluts saw our stuff,
they couldn’t help giving
their booty a twerk or two.
Sweet ride! Sweet life!

Soon Joe really got to be the man.
He’d drive up next to one of our buds
lining up a slut in a Ranger or something.
The girl would look up
at Joe in his powerful Ram,
and that guy’s junk was toast!

Joe loved it!
But every time he pulled that stunt
his ego swelled inside the toolbox
and it wanted more.
I could hear it behind the seats, mumbling
and pounding on the inside of the box.

Then it started to talk,
and it talked loud!
Joe had to quiet it down with Captain Morgan
before he could pick up a slut.
Still, Joe was the man.

A lot of girlfriends took a ride in Joe’s Ram,
while their guys were at work.
Joe turned a bucket full of promise rings green.
Pretty soon none of our old buds would talk to us,
and Joe had to park next to the guard house at work.

One night Joe forgot to latch the toolbox.
His ego got loose in the cab.
By morning it had shed hair all over
and grown too big to get back in the box.
We had to let it ride between us
and try to pass it off as a lab.
Smelled like a badger!

With his ego out, Joe had to give up
poaching tights, except for Goths,
but he still loved to drive his Ram up beside
some guy with a slut.

Soon Joe’s ego needed more room in the cab.
Joe could hardly shift.
I was hanging out the passenger window.
People looked at us funny.
No one thought it was a lab.
More like a gorilla!

Even our family stopped talking to us.
And Joe’s ego just kept growing.
We moved it into the truck bed.
But we still couldn’t relax.
Joe’s ego growled and snapped
at us through the sliding window.
Couldn’t even pass it off as a bear!

Now when we pulled up next to a couple,
the girl would look up with big-eyed horror
at the three of us looking down.
Then she’d roll her window up.

Good thing we had heavy duty springs.
Joe liked this new power he had over people
and his ego kept growing.
The truck started banging at every dip in the road.

In the end, Joe’s ego took to leaning
against the tailgate,
which threw off the truck’s balance.
Joe could hardly steer.
The weight of all that ego was too much,
and Joe lost control.

It was early December and raining ice water.
The Ram flipped on a curve.
We found ourselves upside down in a ditch
with six feet of mud-flavored slushy over our heads.
We straight out lost the Ram
‘cause Joe could only afford liability.

Both of us ended up in the hospital
with cuts, bruises and serious hypothermia.
And we collected buckets full of towing bills,
ambulance bills, medical bills.
We couldn’t pay any of it!

Even worse, since we had lost our friends,
we had no way to get to work to make money,
except to walk!

On the other hand, we also lost Joe’s ego.
It shriveled up in that ice water like our testicles,
and it drowned right there under that Ram!
So, yeah, I guess we look like two losers
walking to work every day in the snow.
But at least we got back some peace of mind.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer