Nicholas


I like the name Nicholas so much that I gave it my son. It didn’t have any family connections but it does have a connection to a man who was born in Greece in the year 270 who I think of as a friend of the family.

The story goes that he was the only son of loving parents who died while he was young, leaving him with their fortune. His beliefs included an adherence to the teaching, “sell what you own and give the money to the poor.”

A poor man with three young daughters lived in the same town as Nicholas. By accounts he was not a bad man, just poor. And he did what many other poor men in his position have done – he sold his oldest daughter into slavery when she came of age so that he could provide dowries for his other daughters. Or, at least, he intended to.

Nicholas heard of the man’s plan and came up with his own plan to stop him. He knew the man would be too proud to accept money so Nicholas waited long into the night, until the family were asleep, and tossed a bag of gold through their window. Then he disappeared into the night.

The man was overjoyed and humbled by the act. He gave the money to his daughter who used it to start a new life with the man she loved. The man vowed never to do such a terrible thing.

But when the second daughter came of age and he had no dowry for her he decided again to sell her into slavery so that his last daughter could be saved. And again Nicholas waited outside his house until all were asleep and tossed another bag of gold through the window.

Although the man was humbled and overjoyed again, although he swore he would never consider doing such a thing again, although he was ashamed and guilty, he did the same thing with the third daughter. But this time he stayed awake and when the bag of gold came through his window he chased his benefactor through the streets. They were both out of breath when the poor man caught up to his golden goose and was amazed to see it was the bishop, Nicholas.

Saints are everywhere. The joint’s lousy with them. And if you think about it you might be a saint yourself, at least to someone.

Merry Music Monday – Greensleeves/What Child is This?

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the way that it encourages reflecting on the past, both personal and historical. Memories of my dad and my childhood are very happy ones. Another of my favorite things about Christmastime is the music. It’s just about the only time of year to hear Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole. One of the carols of the season goes back quite a bit before my personal history. In fact, 17 or more generations of Power men have passed since the song Greensleeves was first registered at the London Stationer’s Company, in 1580. It wasn’t a Christmas song until almost three centuries later when William Chatterton Dix, bed-ridden and near death at only 29 years old wrote the lyrics:
            What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping,
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
He set his lyrics to this melody and it became a Christmas carol. With or without lyrics, any melody that can last for 400 years must have something going for it.

Flash Fiction Friday – Mistletoe


 
A mutation of evolution had left Alexis without a heart. At least that’s what she told herself. Brandon had turned his off after one too many instances of abuse, both to and from his wayward organ. It was going to take a miracle to get either of them functioning again.

She didn’t like him. There was just something about him that rubbed her the wrong way. And Brandon was the absolute last thing on her mind when she hung the mistletoe over her office door.
They sparred from the start, each in their own awkward way. Hers was passive-aggressive but his had nothing passive about it. She’d ask him to help her move some furniture and he’d ask her to keep quiet while he did it.
It was the thoughtless joy of the holiday season that put the candy in his hand and his feet in her doorway. It was an office tradition. Alexis had to know it was not Brandon’s but the old man’s idea to hand out sweets to his employees. Still, she felt obliged by the mistletoe to jump up from her seat, scamper to the doorway, and plant a peck on his cheek. The sensation of her lips on his skin did what such things always do: it broke the magic spell. Boxes of candy fell clattering to the floor. He stared directly into the pit of her soul for a long moment before he grabbed her shoulders. She wanted to scream but didn’t get the chance before he kissed her back, fully and forcefully, on the mouth.
After an eternity of milliseconds their physical embrace broke but it was too late to undo the deed. He had tasted her, and like a wild animal that has tasted blood, there was only one thing that could be done: he had to be put down. Or, if she dared to spare his life, he would have to be loved.

Momentum


I got sad today for about 30 seconds. Sometimes it can take me an hour or more to get over it but I can’t sustain it much longer than that without some specific unhappy event. Some people are the same way with happiness: unable to build momentum.

Some religious people can see God in all creation and that helps maintain their faith. I can see beauty everywhere. Right now, lying on a beach in Cancun, that’s easy enough but I can also see the poetry of the paper cup rolling on the subway floor.

Something terrible can change the whole momentum of your life. Something wonderful, too. More often than not it isn’t a single instance but the steady accumulation of events that makes us happy or sad, an optimist or a pessimist. Like a lot of things sadness begins in childhood and the only way to fix it is to go back there, find that little kid inside you and take some weight off of his or her little shoulders. Buy her a drink. Forgive him. Absolve her of all sins, real and imagined. Tell him a joke. The joke doesn’t even have to be a good joke. Sometimes a bad joke is even better: it’s funny because of how unfunny it is.
It feels like I would be insulting people with real problems if I didn’t enjoy my life. If I can’t be happy with love and health and the satisfaction of all my material needs I need to change the direction of my thoughts. So I try to find something to build that momentum. The holy trinity (sex and drugs and rock’n’roll) usually work for me. Laurel and Hardy can also do the trick.

Flash Fiction Friday – The Story of Bob


His full name was Wendell Robert Forsythe the fourteenth. XIV. Legend had it that each generation of Forsythes produced exactly one child, a boy, and each had the same temperament, laugh, and sunken eyes. They all started off left-handed; some stayed that way. They all spoke in the same soft, low, slow way and they all spoke from the same slightly elevated altitude. But none of this mattered to XIV’s friends, who all knew him simply as Bob.
When Bob was six years old he attended a party thrown by his great-grandfather (XI) on the occasion of the old man’s 100thbirthday. Longevity was a Forsythe tradition and far be it from Old XI to give up the ghost without a fight. At the party Bob met a woman who spoke more clearly than he’d ever heard anyone speak before. He fell in love. “Life is too short for,” she said. It was obvious that she had more to say but before she had the chance to say it she stopped, got a queer look on her face, and dropped dead. She’d proven her point to Bob in the most eloquent way. “Life is too short for,” became his motto.
There’s a joke about the guy who lives every day like it’s his last: he wakes up, calls the funeral parlor, the florist… but Bob lived every last day a different way. If life was too short, and it obviously was, he would need to prioritize to get the most out of it.
Bob learned how to play trumpet. He never took a lesson or read a book on it. He picked up the instrument and put on a Miles Davis album. And he played it over and over and over and over and over and every time he tried to get a sound using only his lips, his breath, and a piece of metal. It took him three years to be able to play without the record but when he did it sounded right to his ear. He had found success.
The key to his success was indulgence. There was nothing indulgence couldn’t do for him. He indulged all equally – his mother, his cats, his son (XV), and his wife – but none more than himself. It was a Forsythe tradition for fifteen generations now. Bob had no intention or desire to break the chain.
When the end came, on a beach in Mexico, he was sifting sand into the bucket of Wendell Robert Forsythe the sixteenth. XVI. He was noticing the way the sun was glinting on a particle of sand. He reached for it and saw the same shining light reflecting from first one then all of his fingernails. Little Bobby (XVI) caught his grandfather’s head the way you’d catch a football. He was proud of himself, and rightly so, for his excellent catch. He buried his face on his grandfather’s neck and took a nice, long nap.