Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gulliver (or, what is: Who Travels Better Than Me)

Two stories. The second one is a sequel:

November 8:
What a night. I'm driving now. I'm one of only two teachers who has a license, and the other is on vacation for 2 weeks. I had very little training before he left. There is a little store a few minutes down the road. It's a straight shot. I did that a few times trying to get used to being on the opposite side of the road and car. I got the hang of it after a few times. But I only drove into the city twice before Jerrad left. It's so strange. The roads here are not lined up well; traffic signs and signals are difficult to understand (partly because they are in a foreign language, partly because they are just different); more than half of the streets don't have names. The ones that do have names - well, they're in Japanese. After I showered this evening, Lanifer and I hit the road. We picked up Bobby and hit a department store. Then we went to Basken Robin's 31 Flavors/Mos Burger for big scoops of Chocolate Mint ice cream for me, hamburgers and Coke for them. After that we dropped off Bobby and got back on the highway to go home. We were going to make it back just a few after 9 - giving me plenty of time to shave and sleep early so I could wake up to walk in the wee hours of the next morning.
I can handle the driving. I've gotten used to it - at least, enough to get around. The problem is I don't know my way around the place. It all looks the same. Flashing lights. Little cars. Crazy signs in crazy languages. I'm becoming more familiar with the place, but I still need help. Lanifer rides shotgun (on the left side of the car) and I assigned her my navigator. She's the one who is supposed to say, "Turn left at this next light". That type of thing. There are only two problems with this setup. One, English isn't her first language, so sometimes gets her left and right confused. And the big problem is that she doesn't say turn left up ahead, but, rather, says, "Oh no! You were supposed to turn left back there!" That type of thing. It's never a big deal. We just go forward a block or two and then turn around. Something happened tonight that turned out to be a big deal.
We are on our way home, and I'm eager to go to bed. We get on the highway heading back, and are approaching an exit up ahead. I said, "Lanifer, do we take this one?" Nothing. I ask again if I need to take this exit. For a moment she still looks ahead. Finally speaks up and says "Keep going." Once we pass it she said, "Oh no! We were supposed to take that one!" I was just an ounce frustrated. It's more my fault than hers, but it's really no one's fault. I knew it was going to make a funny story. I would hop on the next exit, turn around, no problem....But then we kept driving. No exits. Then we kept driving some more. No exits. I had no idea where we were going. I kept this realization in my mind, as to not freak out Lanifer, but I sensed we were going to be on this stretch of road for an unspecified amount of time; we were in it for the long haul. Then Lanifer sees something. She speaks with a sense of something that sounded like a mix of defeat and fear - and full of urgency: "Oh no! We're on a toll road; and we are heading to [some city with a Japanese name]!" She didn't have any tears, and there wasn't a whimper in her voice, just a tremble noticeable enough to call it as such. That's when I dropped my guard and let some of my true state show. After she said her line, I took a breath, opened my mouth, and all I could say was a quiet "Oh shit." I didn't realize I had said it. She didn't tell me I had said it until maybe 20 or so minutes later after I had paid 400 yen at the tolls, did a big loop in the next town, and we were on our way back to familiar roads. She fisrt became nervous at the missed exit. I knew she was. But she was doing the familiar "Really, I'm fine" girl thing. But she told me that once I said my two-sentence line, that was the moment her heart really started beating. She went from nervous to scared.
She was silent most of the way home. We got back around 10:30. As we were within a few minutes of our place, she would say, "It's really ok; don't worry about it." She'd pause for maybe a minute, and then say the line again - I'm not sure who she was trying to reassure. Once we got back to our place I had to do some touch-up work on the next day's schedule. She helped, and I could still tell my her breathing that she was still a little shaken. I told her that I might not always be able to guarantee that I knew exactly where I was, but I would be able to guarantee that she would be safe, wherever it was that we were. It was true, and it is true (I would just be better to know where I was).
Her room is next to mine. We passed one another as we were going to bed. For the first time since our little journey I could tell she was calm again. She said not to worry again. This time I knew she meant it, and was at peace with it. She then said, "That really is funny what happened." We laughed about it and went on our ways. I knew it was going to be a funny story by tomorrow. I'm happy it's a funny story tonight.
I'm tired. I'm ready to go to bed. It feels good to be in bed, and it feels great to be at home!

November 27:
Another driving adventure. I really have no idea no idea how this happened. I could have sworn I knew exactly where I was, and where I was going.
This afternoon was the beginning of our 3-day holiday (we call weekends holidays here; no, I don't know why) and most of the teachers had other weekend-get-a-way plans. Lanifer and I were the only two left. We decided to go to an "American steakhouse" called Bronco Billy's. It's the closest thing I've found to the real deal. No buffalo heads stuck on the wall; but we did eat our steaks while listening to "Johnny B Good" and "The Leader of the Pack". We finished and went to Aeon (a shopping center) from; and then Starbucks for a while after that. I'm familiar with all these places. Driven to each of them many times now. As we were leaving Starbucks and on our way back home, I, for some reason, decided to take another route - to save us time. We ended up in another city. At some point, while a feeling of confusion overcame both Lanifer and I, Lanifer said the familiar line: "Oh Jacob, we're on a toll road again; we are in [the name of some other random Japanese city]!" I didn't say any bad words this time. I almost said the "F" word, but I stopped myself. I pulled into a gas station that we happened to be approaching. [By the way, gas stations here are great. They run up to the car and take care of it for you. Put in however much you want, maybe check tire pressure, clean your windows - and they don't accept tips. The pay they receive is what they work for, and, if they were to accept a tip, it would be like telling their boss they are not paid enough; an insult.] Some broken English, and some broken Japanese was exchanged, and we were soon back on our way, in the opposite - and correct - direction. I, once again, had a pretty good idea of where we were. I had the van in the far right lane as we were pulling up to an intersection. As we were coming close, Lanifer said, "Oh, you are supposed to turn left here!" "No, Lanifer. I know exactly where we are. I know what we need to do. Trust me." "No, Jacob, we need to turn left." "No, Lanifer, you need to trust me, I got turned around a moment ago, but now we are on track. Trust me." "No, Jacob. Really. I mean it. This is our turn. Turn left here. I promise. I really mean it." My thought at this point was, Fine, I'll turn left here. Soon she'll realize she was wrong, and we can turn around again and go the correct way. Turns out she was correct. We were back on a familiar road....And then, some how (I still don't know how) we got turned around again. (Still no bad language, though!)
We finally did make it back. And we made it back in one piece. And we were both smiling.
Getting lost this time was a lot less stressful than the last time. I was more comfortable with driving, and Lanifer was more comfortable with riding with me! She knew I was telling the truth when I would say, "I can't promise you I will know exactly where I am at all times; but I can guarantee you that you will be safe with me every moment." This was another example showing I am telling the truth when I say that.
We are back right now. I wouldn't be able to go to sleep right now. I was a bit worked up. I was focused, by my heart was working fast. I might watch a movie. Then go to bed.
It is 11:08, Thursday night. I didn't die, I made it home safely; those are 2 things to be thankful for!
(Oh yeah, and did I mention that it was very dark, and raining the entire time?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Date (or, what is: Everything But)

Judging by her name, I assume the title character of a current television show has the reputation of being one who seals the deal. They call her The Closer. I could be called The Everything But. I consistently play the game wonderfully - up until the very last moment. I’ll tell two stories.

It was the middle of July, 2007, and I had some time to kill before visiting a couple friends at a home they had recently bought. I had a book to read, a hankerin’ for a mocha, and a perfect solution. I parked my car outside of a Tulsa Starbuck’s across from the mall and took the comfy seat in the corner next to a small table. I could have sat anywhere. Besides the one other guy frozen to his chair up against the far wall, the place was empty. I had my heart set on the pillow-soft, checkered-brown seat; and the location couldn’t be beat, how it allowed me to see all the inactivity of the place. It was just after 5 that evening when I sat down. I knew I didn’t have much time. My friend would be getting off work soon, and would be calling any moment. I figured I wouldn’t be able to get much more than a chapter read of Donald Miller’s advice when it comes to dragon-management. 5:30 rolls around - still no call. I could have drunk my drink more slowly; I didn’t have to read as quickly as I had read. Once 5:45 hit, the frustration kicked in. If my friend wasn’t able to meet up, he could have at least called to let me know. I decided I’d enjoy the few pages left of the present chapter before I gave up on him and got moving home.
And then it happened.
My line of irritated thought came to a screeching halt when the door opened to my right and the warm breeze met my mumbling lips. The angels begun to sing the moment my eyes caught the sight of her. She was wearing scrubs and carrying a book. It screamed she was as intelligent as she was lovely. Captivating. You should have seen her smile. Oh, and her eyes just above it! She had no notice of me. And why would she? Angels think of higher things. But I noticed her, to say the least. Because of my perfect location, I had no problem watching her walk up to the counter and order whatever it was for which she came. I instantly stopped reading. I moved my eyes as to give the appearance of it, but could give my attention to nothing but her. I peered over the top of the book, peeked around the side, whatever I had to do to keep my eyes on her - without appearing catatonic as I stared. Then she turned. Then she started walking in my direction! She passed chair - closer and closer with each step. I held my breath.
Mind you, the place was all but empty. She could have sat anywhere. Even if the place was full, kings would have given up their seats for such a beauty.
I gave up my game of secrecy. I made eye contact and shot her the best smile I could muster. Frank Sanatra begun singing Strangers in the Night as she returned my gaze, directed that smile right at me. That was when I noticed something. By this time she had stopped, just a few feet away from me! Not showing that I jumped to the euphoria section of Cloud Nine, I worked to keep the smile from reaching both ears, as to not blow my cover of cool, calm and collected. I stayed locked on to those eyes as I cleared off the table for her so she could sit in the identical chair just on the other side of it. I said some perfect and simple words before returning back to my book. Still no call from my friend. (I had quickly forgotten all about my friend.) I had plenty of time to play it cool. I started reading again, but, at the end of each line, my eyes continued right just a little further. I didn’t want to lose site of her. I couldn’t not look at her. And, get this, one time I caught her looking right at me! We shared one of those great moments - the one where I knew that she knew that I knew that she was looking at me. Her head quickly snapped back to looking straight ahead, as did mine. The time had come. I’m in! I had made the decision and was about to move into phase 2.
That was when, God bless his soul, my friend killed the moment.
My phone rang and I nearly lost all concentration. I answered, said I’d be at his house soon, and had to think fast. I had to think on my feet as I stood to my feet. Turning to her as I held out my hand, I asked if I could throw away her trash. There is nothing spectacular about this gesture. You ask a stranger if you can do a small act of kindness for them and they either give you a programed, ‘Thank you,’ as they hand off their rubbish; or they say ‘No thanks,’ proving that they can take care of themselves, thank you very much. In response to my offer, she caught me with those eyes once again - this time, if no other time, I was hooked - and said, “Oh, thank you so much. That is so kind of you to do such a thing for me!” Yeah, I was in. With a cool, calm grin on my lips, as I grabbed her cup, I replied, “Hey, no problem; that’s what I do.” And, believe it, with my free right hand I shot her the gun. Get this: and she bought it! Eye of the Tiger began to play as I walked to the trash can. Thinking over and over, ‘Please don’t trip; please don’t trip,” I half didn’t realize what I did next. I wasn’t any closer than 5 feet from the can when, without realizing what I was about to do, I pulled my arm back and tossed the first cup into it’s final resting place. Nothing but net! I repeated this motion with the other cup. Again, nothing but net! That’s when the internal dialog started playing in my mind: “Well done! Jake, you have never played so well. This can be the result of nothing less than divine intervention because your actions are far beyond even your greatest of natural abilities. You have captivated the angel that has captivated you. Well done!” By the time the trash had settled I had turned around and caught her eyes as I started for the door. Yes, she was looking at me. Staying Alive blared in my mind as I walked smoothly towards her, past her, then out the door. I kept my eyes focused on hers. I slowed as I walked past and said something to the effect of, ‘I had a wonderful few moments with you. My day is much better now having the privilege of having met you. I hope your day is great.’ I say this as I walk out the door, noticing she is stuck by every word. My peripheral vision shows me that she is repositioning herself, in order that her eyes can follow me out of the door and into the parking lot as far as she can before I leave her last possible line of sight. My inner voice is now screaming: “WAY TO GO! YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN AS GOOD AS YOU HAVE BEEN THIS PAST HOUR! A MOVIE COULD BE MADE ABOUT YOU! YOU COULD ASK FOR HER HAND IN MARRIAGE AND SHE WOULD BEG THAT THE DATE BE TODAY! Unable to stay collected any longer, I grinned like a moron as I got in my car and got on to Memorial Dr.
Then it happened.
The moment I crossed 71st St., the inner voice changed it’s tune. Still screaming, but, this time for a different reason. It said, “Do you realize what you’ve done!? You didn’t even get a number! She would have paid you to take her number! And you didn’t even bother to get a name! You don’t even know her name! How could you be so dumb to not at least get her name!? She doesn’t even know your name!” The screaming went on like that as I continued to drive north. But not for long.
I reached a point where I couldn’t stand it any longer and did an illegal U-turn at 61st and Memorial - almost hitting a car. I started driving back. I could not let my heart go on unfulfilled, I could not go on and let her dream go on unfulfilled. Driving back I came up with what I was going to do. I was going to walk in, catch those eyes again as I handed her my card. I’d say something about how I could not allow myself the punishment of not speaking with her again, and I would be honored if she would call and joined me for dinner. I smiled. Yeah, that’s smooth. The inner voice disrupted my moment by saying, “Why in the world do you think you have a card?” Point well taken. I quickly switched my plan to walking in and giving the same lines, only, this time, giving her a piece of paper on which I jotted my number down once in the parking lot. Much better. Less pompous.
I pulled into the parking lot and glanced to see that she was still present. Looked like she was right where I left her - a bit broken-hearted due to my absence, of course. I parked and only then did I realize I didn’t have a pen in the car. NO! Surely there is one in here somewhere, I thought. I frantically looked...and finally gave up. I knew there was not a pen anywhere. I came to my senses and realized that the best I could do was simply go in and give her all the lines, and hope for the best. No matter what happens, I’m going to look foolish. So it can’t hurt anything. I get out, shut the door, lock the door, and head back for the door.
And I see that she is now gone, nowhere to be found.
I stay frozen, standing out in the Starbuck’s parking lot on the corner of 71st St and Memorial on a hot July day until my heart comes back out of shock. It took everything I had to get back in my car and drive to my friends’ house. Goodbye, my love.
That’s not the end of the story. Not by a long shot. Just a few days later I happened to be in Tulsa again. At 5:15 that day I drove back to the same store, got the same drink, and sat in the same spot where the magic had happened just days before. I waited for her to return. But she didn’t. I happened to be in town 4 days after that. Same store, same drink, same chair, no angel. But that’s ok. I was going to be in town the next week. I ended up finding the time to spend another hour going through the same routine. No angel.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve gone through the motions. But I can say this: after several months have passed of the returning and waiting routine, I have now been able to go to Tulsa and resist the urge to make this stop. Mind you, this is not saying that I no longer go through the motions from time to time. On occasion, when I’m in town, there’s still a chance that I make the same familiar detour. I’ve studied statistics. I know that with each time I am there and she is not, my chances of her being there the next time are that much greater...

I never cave. I pride myself in that. I get a hint of pleasure out of going round and round with salespeople, making them think their tactics are working. I’ll wear an interested look on my face as they give me their lines, while taking internal notes and rating their performance. Some impress me more than others; some impress me with the use of creative techniques when attempting to sell me their products. But nothing works. My empty hands signify my victory, notify their defeat.
As is the beginning of some of my note-worthy encounters, I had some time to kill on a Monday. My plan was to go to the Apple store to check into something before I had to make it to Muskogee for a meeting that afternoon. As I came down the escalators, I didn’t make a B-line to the big white room. Various things caught my eye as I moved forward in the general direction - one thing, specifically, being a lady with curly hair, a brown shirt, and eyes aimed right at me. She must have noticed nothing but me, because she was locked on and motioning me towards her little hut in the middle of the walkway. Before I noticed it, I was but feet away from her, and my hands softly in hers.
Turns out she sold lotion for a living. (I assume for a living, because, for the price of the stuff, I don’t think she’d have to do much more in order to survive!) She grabbed hold of my hand, placed some gunk in them, and said, simply, “Rub.” And so I rubbed. I was able to keep my eyes on hers as I gave my hands an efficient rubbing. She began to give me lines about all the beneficial aspects of this lotion from the Dead Sea, how the salt from this area is rich with what-have-you’s. The game was on. I realized I was going to be there for a couple minutes either way, and reasoned that I might as well play along. After she mentioned the Dead Sea, she asked me if I knew where that was. I told her I did. (I don’t have a minor in Humanities for nothing!) Thinking she might call my bluff, she said, “Oh, well, where is it?” With no hesitation, and much confidence, I said, it’s a body of water near Jordan and Israel. Obviously impressed, she replied with nostalgia that Israel is her home country, a wonderful land. She stated that that was the reason for her accent, for which she apologized. I countered her apology by telling her that there is nothing for which she needs to apologize, that her accent is lovely. In response, she said that I was very kind, and that she is having a wonderful time talking with me. Obviously.
At this point she begins rubbing something-or-other on my arm, talking about all the great benefits of this action. And then she puts stuff on my face. She couldn’t keep herself from it. She couldn’t keep her hands off me. My kindness broke her out of her ordinary routine and she couldn’t stick to her usual game plan of just hands and forearms. I assumed because she was thrown off, she moved in for the kill more abruptly than they normally do: “So what will you buy?” I kindly responded that I couldn’t buy anything that day, and that I had to get going. For a moment the gloves came off. “Well, where do you have to go in such a hurry?” I was momentarily thrown off by her question, and told her about the meeting, which was just an hour away by this time. Like she didn’t hear a word, she moved on and reiterated that the benefits of my purchasing the lotion would be worth the delay. I let out an internal sigh. I’ll go at it another route. After I asked the question, she said that the two things of lotion would only cost me as little as $49 each. I was taken aback by her thinking she could make such a price seem like a steal to a 20-something man who obviously doesn’t have much care about fancy lotion. I apologized for taking her time, that she was very kind, but that I simply could not afford to make that kind of purchase. She grabbed my hand again. They were still smooth due to the lotion, but her grip was tight enough that I couldn’t pull away without a small struggle. She pulled me close. I mean, she pulled me very close.
She and I were standing nearly nose to nose in the middle of the mall with crowds shooting us confused looks as they passed. Forgive me for not having a measuring stick at hand which would have enabled me to measure out an accurate distance between us. A 12-inch ruler would have been in excess. I felt her words on my face as much as I heard them in my ears. I could have kissed her. I might as well have kissed her. I should have kissed her. That way at least the two of us would have walked away with something to show for this exchange. With our eyes as close as ever, she told me that, because I have been so kind, she would cut me a great deal - a deal that she really should not be giving to anyone. She said she would give me one of the things of lotion for $35. “What do you say, mister?”
I started laughing. I knew exactly what she was doing all along. I knew at that moment what she was doing; I still do not know what I was doing, what I was thinking. I’m still not sure why I told her I would buy her stupid, magical lotion. But I did. I knew as I gave her my card and took the tub in my hands that this thing would surely find it’s place in the back of the cabinet as fast as any inanimate object can. But I forked over the money anyway. As I was leaving, she told me that she had a great time, and that, if I came back on Wednesday, she would give me another great deal on the other thing she was trying to con me in to buying, whatever it was.
I came up with another plan.
I did go back on Wednesday. I made a trip back to the mall, because it really wasn’t too far out of my way - the few extra miles were a small price to pay for the story that was going to come of it. As I would walk back to her little hut between the escalators and the dude selling glasses, our eyes would meet again across the distance. As I moved closer, her smile would grow bigger. She’d ask if I had come back to get the second thing of lotion. This is the response I was going to give: “I’m sorry Michelle, but I just simply can’t afford to pay for something like that at this time; but what I can afford is this: I would like to take you out to dinner tonight. I can pick you up here when you get off, or we can meet at whatever restaurant you choose. I don’t mind either way. I’m only in town for a week longer, and I would hate to pass up the opportunity to spend at least one evening with you while I still have the chance. What do you say?” That right there is golden.
So, I take the long way around so I can have a quick go-over of the script in my mind. I turn the corner and feel the magic warming up. I clear my throat as my eyes watch the stretch of mall walkway that stands between she and I grow smaller. And then I see it. My foreign love, talking, just like she did with me two days prior, with another man. Same distance. Same smile. Same grip of hands. Everything. I walked by with my eyes straight ahead, circled the nearby escalators, and passed by her again without the slightest sign of recognition.
I lost. The undefeated was defeated. This was no victory lap. I decided to finish my walk of shame quietly and go about my day with an ending to the saga which was much less fulfilling...
...But there was one last trick up my sleeve. Go for broke...
On my way to fulfill the encounter I had played out in my mind, I passed a lady selling some what-have-you’s for hair styling. Either as a product demonstration or a last minute personal fix, I noticed this tan lady looking into a mirror and giving much attention to her long, curly hair. It caught my attention, but it didn’t stop me. I had something to do. As I made my way back around, however, this tan beauty popped back into mind - as well as popped back into my line of sight. She was still at the mirror, still playing with her hair. I don’t know what she was trying to do, but the look on her face made it appear as if she felt unsuccessful. I had lost once that day, but I still had some fire in me.
I redirected my path so that I would pass close behind her. Her back to me, I was able to catch her eye in the mirror. I’m now close enough to her that I can speak just above a whisper, close enough so that she can feel my words. She lost attention in herself and quickly turned to catch my gaze more clearly. As she was still making the turn towards me, I stay turned towards her. As I walked away slowly backwards, I kept my eyes to hers, shot her the smile, as I said: “I want to let you know that I’ve past you both ways, and you still seem fixated on your hair. You should know that you have no need to be concerned. It looks great today; and you look great. You can put the stuff down and relax. Trust me.” With that she nearly melted. She didn’t know what to say. Or, if she did, she wasn’t able to say it. The breath had been knocked out of her. All she could do was let a mix of a sigh and a giggle pass through her lips as I smiled and raised my brows one last time before turning back and continuing on my way.
I limped away with a victor’s grin on my face and my head held high.
It was more of a strut than a limp.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Part 3 (or, what is: Flying to Tomorrow)

First, I’ll tell you about the first time I was a rock star.

After some not so subtle hints, I got an electric guitar when I was 12. I was quickly playing three notes to a Nirvana song over and over in my room; and I just as quickly became the envy of my friends. Soon after, Lane got himself a guitar and the snowball picked up great speed. Their dad played various types of percussion, so it’s understandable that Tyler was the one assigned to the drums. John, being last, was stuck with the bass. Thus, the birth of the supergroup: Misfit. (Yes, yes, I know. Not Them. We didn’t know about all that.)
It made perfect sense back then, but, looking back now, I don’t have the slightest clue as to how we were able to do all we were able to do. I remember the first time we played together, and played through our first song in its entirety. I think it was Lane who found the chords to some praise song laying around the church. Lane and Ty’s parents happened to have friends over at the time; lucky for them, the visitors, as well, were called up to the small bedroom for our first performance. I know it comes with the territory of parenthood, but it is still some kind of gift, an action not easily performed by anyone below the rank of parent: as the praise song came to completion, their praises for us began to ring through the room. With big and honest smiles on all the ‘elderly’ (anything above 18) faces, they spoke about how great it was to see our energy, our drive, and that we all played every note as one without any mistakes (just a little white lie..). We were so good, in fact, that we soon became the regular act each and every Wednesday night, playing praise songs at the beginning of junior high youth group - no more than three, but no less than two songs each time. We were popular with the crowd; or, at least, known by the crowd. This popularity had to be the reason why the four of us were invited to join a small group of adults on a trip to Costa Rica, where Misfit would play each day for a group of kids attending a VBS we were putting on. It was nothing short of a world-tour.
...Forgive me for remembering the glory of our fame; and now, back to the point.
Besides the church fame and international stardom, we also picked up speed, making our name known in Muskogee county. There was a group of people who had their different bands. A name was made up for this blossoming organization, compiled of about 5 or so bands - and a number of fans who wanted to be close to the starlight. This group organized shows in the surrounding areas, and it wasn’t uncommon for Misfit to be invited as the opening act. We all liked thinking that Misfit was just the right fit. Another band who played the circuit was Just The Right Touch. This was how I met Jerrad, one of the band members.
Misfit finally got around to realizing that we didn’t have much more than three chords to offer, and we disbanded. It wasn’t until years later when I was reminded of the glory days.
I had a small crush on a friend (needless to say, I was too chicken to do anything about it) with whom I spent a fair amount of time a few years ago. The thing is, two of her close friends were in some form of relationship with two other rock stars from the past; one was dating the Jerrad I mentioned up above. It was good meeting up with these guys again. The group would get together from time to time for dinner and board games. One detail is, Jerrad’s girlfriend (who turned out to be fiancĂ©e, who will soon be wife) is Japanese. Because of this, we’d have Japanese dishes from time to time. That was a nice touch.
A couple years ago Jerrad and is one-day bride moved to Japan once she finished school here. I lost contact with them.
Phew! That took some time, but we’re now caught back up to the present. (I tried to throw in a reference to Marty and some gigawatts; really, it just turned out stupid, so I dropped it.) But before we go into the meat of Part 3, a recap of the previous 2: the first occurred as a result of a whisper in my ear telling me to think about a move to Joplin, MO. Once my mind was made up, this came to a halt “under a bridge downtown” with a screeching, “Wait.” The second started with a phone call and offer, and ended with Mark Moore’s voice vibrating against my leg and ringing in my ear. Again, “Wait.” Part 3 begins this last Monday as I was driving back to Tulsa and enjoying the company of a friend by way of a phone conversation.

It was over a month of hit and miss, but finally Whitney and I were able to find time to have an extended conversation, playing catch-up, since it’d been so long since we last talked. The conversation turned out to be mostly centered around my current situation and state of mind: not having a job, not satisfied with school, not pleased with my living arrangements. I told her about the times I’d been told Wait before, and how I’ve grown to expect that word, grown to be content with staying put for who knows how long. Speaking figuratively as I’m passing through Broken Arrow, I tell Whitney I’m to a point where I can stay put in Tulsa for 10 more years if that’s the way it works out. I’m fine with that idea. But I’m also to a point where, if something drops out of the sky, I can be packed and ready to leave five minutes after I arrive home.
We talk a bit longer. We start setting up a time and place to meet for dinner before we say goodbye. Ten minutes after I get home I check my email.
I had noticed earlier that day that my sister-in-law had made a comment on my web page, asking if I had found a job yet. That was random. I saw from the subject line that this new email is from my friend Jerrad, the ex-rock star, current Japanese settler. I open it and read on. He says he is still working at a language institute, and is now the guy in charge of hiring new English-speaking teachers. He writes that he just happened upon my site, just happened to notice that I’m between jobs, there just so happens to be an open position, and, as it turns out, it just so happens that he had been thinking about me. He said if I wanted to find out more to give him my number and he’d call. I entered it and hit send. My phone rang 15 minutes later.
There are some more details, but I’ll cut them out and get to the essential. I officially dropped out of all my classes yesterday. I’m working on selling my car. I’ve already sold some big pieces of furniture. Everyone, EVERYONE, I’ve talked with are 100% for it. My mom is totally for it. My dad didn’t have a moment of hesitation. My brother called me at the command of our mom and I told him of the offer. He said, “I’ll tell you this: act on the things you know you would regret not doing if you passed them up. Alright, I gotta go. Bye.” (We’re good at cutting to the point while on the phone.)
Everything fell into place in a day. Within 24 hours, the decision was made to drop out of school, sell next to everything I own, and fly to the other side of the world where I’ll be living for at least 1 year.
Really, no one I spoke with who’s known me for even a short while wasn’t that shocked. I’ve been talking for years about how I planned on living in another country for some time sometime in the future. I’ve been saying for years that I plan on learning another language, not knowing exactly which one to learn. Looks like we have a winner. Japanese it is. A departure date will be set in a couple days and a ticket will be bought. There’s a slight chance I’ll be here until October.
Looks like I’ll be putting my money where my mouth is.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

This Desert Life (or, what is: Not Exactly Ironic, But Enough To Write A Song About)

One morning during my first semester of graduate school I was not happy with my location, placement, or situation. I didn't want to be in Tahlequah, didn't like my job, and I was thinking Abba might have been on the same page. I was in my big closet that morning, irritated and willing. It was one of those, "I'm willing to go wherever you want me. All you have to do is tell me and I will go," type of prayers. A 'Here am I" sort of thing. And I was as genuine and honest as I could have been. I offered myself, that was that.

Maybe an hour later I was opening up my office and preparing for another day of boring work, which I was dreading. Then my phone rang.

I met a HR woman whom was representing a mental health organization in Bartlesville, OK, a few days before. She said she was still thinking about our meeting, has looked over my resume more closely, and was pleased to invite me to an interview for an open position.

A message straight from heaven.

This must have taken place in November. Christmas was more than a month away, but my step-mom couldn't wait. The day before the drive for the interview I had driven to Muskogee. I don't know the first thing about fashion, what looks good together, what matches, what's in style. Nothing. Tish picked some clothes out, and topped it off with the sports coat they were going to give me for Christmas. More than a month early, but this was a special occasion. I wanted to look good for the supernaturally ordained interview. Making a reference to Jake and Elwood, I was on a mission from God, and this called for only the best threads.

That Monday, I put another copy of my resume' on fancy paper, brought along a nice, crisp copy of my transcript (It took every ounce of self-control to not highlight and draw big arrows to the section which proved I graduated Summa Cum Laude when I finished my BA.). I knew I didn't have to go all that way; again, this interview was put together by the hand of YHWH. I didn't need anything but a willing heart, and all else would be taken care of.

To remind you, I was genuine about it all. I truly meant what I said in the closet a few mornings before. "I am willing to do whatever, go wherever, say whatever, act however You want. I'm ready. Send me." The phone call an hour afterwards was too close to be assumed coincidence. Almost too close to be assumed coincidence.

It's early Monday morning and I'm on the road towards Bartlesville. I like music just as much as anyone - maybe more than your average Joe - but I like the sound of a person's voice speaking more than most others. I choose NPR or AM talk radio over rock or blues more often than not. I brought along a sermon of Mark Moore that I had downloaded from his website and burnt to CD. God of the Desert. More than just Moore, others in the past have talked about times of seemingly separating silence, times when God-searchers, although they have tasted and seen that the Lord is good times before, are now coming up dry. Brennan Manning talks in his book, The Signature of Jesus, about how these periods of God's silence, how they don't mean that God has gone away. This time isn't necessarily punishment, but a time of great growth through a pushing on and persevering despite of the dryness. Job says 'Thou He slay me, yet I will hope in Him...' (13:15). During the Desert Time, YHWH shows us where we stand up against the statement, 'Thou He is silent, still I will serve the Lord.' I understand This Desert Life. Maybe more than those bird counters.

I was eager to hear what Mark had to say about it. I was looking for some solace as I was on my way to fulfill my calling (a little exaggerated, I know). I love the human voice, but, when I am driving, I more listen to it subconsciously than attentively. Moore was talking as I was driving, but I was more feeling the vibrations of the speaker next to my leg than I was interpreting the words spoken. For some random reason, however, as I was on a stretch of unexciting highway, my ears so randomly perked up and I payed attention to a sentence.

The first sentence I really heard for miles: "Some of you are coming to God and telling Him, 'I'm ready. Send me wherever you want me to go and I will go there to serve You with everything. I'm ready.' You say these words, and wait..and wait...and wait. I tell you, maybe God is not saying anything because you are exactly where He wants you to be."

I was confused, because I thought the phone call I had received just three days prior was a clear message. But this moment in my car, maybe an hour away from the interview of my life, this now was the message: Wait. (I've heard the Lord say Wait before. It's not as exciting as a "Go to Zimbabwe" type of message, but it's a message. I'm familiar with that word..) I knew I would wait.

Still did the interview. And still made the same trip two days later, because, even though I told them a polite no, they were persistent and I was a polite pushover. A total of 4 hours of interviewing is a lot less stressful when you know that you are not going to accept an offer, no matter what they offer, how much they offer, or whatever else they offer. (Even offered to take me out to lunch, show me around the town, find an apartment, and what have you. Isn't it ironic? At least as much as a traffic jam when you're already late.). Those were the two best interviews I have ever been a part of.

Oh well.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Will to Crawl

I read what an old philosopher wrote about Sisyphus. Sisyphus was the one who was condemned by the gods to roll a stone to the top of a mountain, only to have the rock fall back down the warn path when it was within but inches of the peak. Down it goes. And so back up he goes to meet the inches-away point again...before the sound of rumbling of the tumbling boulder drowns out the defeated and repeated sigh as Sisyphus treads back down his beaten path to shoulder up the rock again. This philosopher explained the reasons he thought Sisyphus wasn't as bad off as people generally assume, how there actually must have been some pleasure in his work. I could not stop disagreeing with this man. The thought of Sisyphus's curse is one I cannot dream of enduring. Futile labor, energy spent for nothing, seems to me one of the worst curses.

I had coffee with a friend the other afternoon. Besides the occasional glance over my shoulder and out the window to confirm the thought that the patrol officer's round hadn't yet brought him to my car, this was a time of focus. We were exchanging concerns and confessing temporary feelings of futility and pain. An analogy came forth.
Imagine a man walking up a steep hill with the hot desert sun beating down on his back and a bulky sack loaded full of heavy, jagged rocks slung over his shoulder. No matter the distance that has been climbed thus far, the summit is still but a theory - unseen. All this man can do is hope that the apex is just beyond this next ridge; sometimes the bravest thing is hope.
For a section of time my fellow traveler and I focused our conversation on this mountain, on these rocks, and on the emptiness beyond sadness futility brings.

It was not the top of the mountain, but a point was reached. Sisyphus is different than us. There is an end to our climbing. Though it feels as if we have been in this place for ages, and that this place has gotten the better of us, we will not be forever in this place. This is sometimes the only reason we keep going, if but for the simple fact that there is a summit, and once this summit is reached, we can rest. Though the last thing we want to do is move one more seemingly futile foot up this mountainside, we know this movement brings us closer for things longed for.

So up we go. The climb continues.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Tribute to the Greatest Song in the World

I don't care about The Beatles. I probably couldn't place five songs to their name. I am just not interested.
But what is more interesting than this is that one of their songs, however, has a solid spot in my list of top five favorite songs ever played. Therefore, the list should be made known.
These are my top five favorite songs ever played:

Eleanor Rigby -- The Beatles
Giants -- Five Iron Frenzy
Faithful to Me -- Jennifer Knapp
Talk Show Host -- Radiohead
Worlds Apart -- Jars of Clay
[And The Piano Man by Billy Joel deserves an Honorable Mention. How did I forget that one?]

This is all good Exit Music (For a Film)
You have a list for me?

Thursday, January 31, 2008


It's easier to steer a moving car. So I move.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Shaking Monsters, Chasing Lions

Sometimes the pursuit is enough.
I can be pretty lazy if the setting is right. Seeing as how the definition of 'lazy' is the unwillingness to work or use energy, one would think that the amount of force and willpower that is called for to overcome this dead-weight monster dormant inside of me would be minimal. I wish this was so. But this is a strong beast who has been known to have its way with my day no matter my plans otherwise stated and mapped out. An example will explain this clash of wills nicely.
Yesterday was a long day and at a quarter past eleven the pancake fairy whispered in my ear and quickly convinced me that pancakes would be a great way to end the day. As I stood to begin my short voyage to the local 24-hour spot to get a short stack - for a cost greater than I realistically have to spend on such a thing at such a time - a hint of reason popped in mind to save the day: I can wait, go to bed early, wake up early and take whatever I'd like from the campus buffet. I pictured stacking my plate with pancakes, hash browns, fruit, and drinking as much of the wonderful white 2% milk as I want without having to pay a single cent. Reason won the first battle! I was in bed with the lights out before ten past midnight with my alarm set for 7:00 even.
I ended up hugging my alarm until 7:20 so I could be in quick reach of the snooze button, but I was up and dressed with teeth brushed and out the door by 7:30. Breakfast was good. No pancakes, but I did have a refreshing walk in the 17 degree air and the milk I dreamed about the night before was like honey on my lips. As I walked back to my apartment at 8:15 this morning I planned what I would be doing for the hours to come, the hours that, except for this morning, are rarely more than mythical things spoken about, hardly experienced. With all this extra time I could watch the Shawshank Redemption
and take care of a meeting or two that I have been putting off for over a week now. I reached my office with the morning ahead of me and I was ready for the adventure that was to follow. I sat down on the couch and noticed how remarkably comfortable it was this morning. Don't get me wrong, it's a good couch, but this morning the comfort it brought was beyond what I had ever imagined what a couch's capability could ever be. Right then I heard the Sirens calling from my bedroom; and it was a sweet, sweet song. I figured I would be even more productive if I had a 30 minute nap, waking up full of energy to take on what the hours left in the morning had to bring.
And then I woke up at noon.
Despite my desires and plans, I sometimes find myself choosing the path with least effort, picking comfort over victory. Thank goodness I have come to see the value in delayed gratification verses the diminished sum of pleasure and reward that comes with giving in to actions (aka 'inactivity' a majority of the time) which bring gratification instantly. I know this long winded story is a prime example of a less rewarding act of giving in for the immediate, but I have found myself over the years, and especially over the last year, developing 1) a patience which gives me the strength to wait on the things for which I strive but which have not yet arrived, and 2) the energy and drive to get off my rump and search for/go after the things worth attaining - Mark Batterson calls this 'Chasing the Lion' (an idea he developed from a story recorded in II Samuel 23).
A beautiful day was born when I decided I had waited long enough, that "Today is going to be the day when I finally do what I have been talking about doing for eons." I am not saying it was nearly as intense, but I am going to compare this moment to those familiar moments in movies when all seems lost for the protagonist. The world is against him, it's now or never, the flames are rising and all hope seems lost...[In these moments Reese Roper said Hope is the bravest of things]. I chose to strip away the old habits and kill the sloth of a swine that has been on my back and weighing me down for too long and begin the Pursuit.
This Pursuit of which I speak is a collection of a multitude of pursuits. More of a lifestyle than specific actions. This isn't a pendulum swing from passivity to aggressively hunting my prey, but rather, being assertive and not letting my goals and wishes wander by calmly without my lifting of a finger.
Some of these pursuits have yet to be completed. I still have that out-of-tune and broken-down mandolin sitting against the wall which is gathering more dust than is giving out notes; there is that book which is just a chapter long. There are other particular things which have gone in directions undesired. But sometimes the pursuit is enough. Sometimes it is the pursuit, not the achievement, that means the most, that means anything. Maybe the Pursuit is never completed until all things are completed. Not attaining a goal doesn't mean failure, just change - that is, as long as I do my part and do it earnestly. Sometimes the fervent pursuit shows that the things pursued are worth the energy spent.
Sometimes the pursuit is enough.