The Man In The Chair

He sat slumped in a cushioned chair in the library. One arm extended on the arm rest with the hand relaxed over the edge. The other hand, holding a tissue, was on his lap.  Neck arched back—his head rested on top of the back cushion. His watery eyes, which stared directly at the ceiling, were looking beyond the ceiling.  His physical being was in the library, but he was far removed.

I had come to work on a humorous story—to find a quiet, secluded spot to let my imagination run free.  Funny how within the confines of your head, just how far a thought can travel.  Most of the time you have complete control of its whereabouts, while other times a thought can wander off, but then reappear more inspiring than when it had left.  I guess what intrigues me most about imagination is the never knowing of how a thought ever arrived, and what creative path it will eventually take.  But on this particular day, my imagination hit a road block.  Humorous creativity wasn’t flowing.  Instead, I had found something else—a curiosity about the man in the chair.

At times he took deep breaths, followed by slow exhalations as he simultaneously closed his eyes.  These were the moments he would lightly rock his head side to side.  But for the majority of the time that I watched him, his eyes were open, fixated on something—something that only he could see.  Perhaps something that he wished wasn’t there—a regret, a mistake, or possibly a loss.

I wanted to lean towards him and say, “Whatever it is, it’ll get better.” I wanted to assure him that happier days lie ahead. I didn’t know this man, but I wanted to guide him in a better direction.

I also didn’t want to say a word.  I didn’t want to engage.  I didn’t want to make any eye contact.  I wanted him to save himself.  Don’t initiate. You know nothing about this man.  He carries baggage you have no knowledge of.  Write your humorous story, and stay distant.

But the tears—the moist tissue in his hand—I could not ignore them.  He was struggling.  Back and forth, I weighed the pros and cons of whether or not to talk with him.  There’s a story here. There’s emotion. And there’s a man in need.

I’ve always said that anyone’s deepest struggle is just one conversation away from being rescued.  All I needed to do was reach out and give him a listening ear or some helpful words of advice.  And if my advice might fall short of its intention, then at least I’d have given him some conversation, which, on its own, would be therapeutic.

For nearly an hour my mind traveled, running the gamut of just what possibly could be wrong.  Oddly, it was almost as if I was getting to know him—that I was beginning to understand whatever it was I didn’t know.  Look at someone long enough, and sometimes you begin to wonder if, in fact, you’ve met that person before.

My time was up.  I had to leave the library. I collected my belongings and made my way for the door.  I had come to write a humorous story, but had written nothing.  Instead, I walked away, only to be inspired by a thought a week later…

I wrote a story about a man I never talked to.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

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Funeral Of The Seas

Thanks to the movie The Big Lebowski, I never want to be cremated. I am convinced I would have equal or worse luck…

Steve Buscemi plays “Donny”, whose ashes are put in a coffee can. John Goodman (Walter) and Jeff Bridges (The Dude) take Donny to a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean where they plan to scatter his remains. After Walter delivers as bad of a eulogy as you could ask for, he removes the coffee can lid. It’s poor timing as a gust of wind blows Donny’s ashes away from the ocean and straight into The Dude’s bearded face.

I could only hope that I might end up in a coffee can.  But, no, fate would steer the two warped minds of those handling me in another direction…

“I got an empty container of motor oil we could put him in.”

“Naw. Too difficult. How ’bout a jar of spaghetti sauce I finished last night?”

“Hell, if we wanna make things really easy, then let’s go with a paper sack.”

“Genius! That’s it! A paper sack!”

And off I’d go, stuffed in a paper sack in the back seat of a car—lodged between a bag of dog food and a package of toilet paper.

“Where d’you wanna dump him?”

“I dunno. Where d’you wanna dump him?”

“Well, he did mention the Gulf of Mexico.  He always talked ’bout the ocean.”

“Uh, that’s like three hours away. Ain’t driving no paper sack for three hours.”

“But ya would dog food an’ toilet paper?”

“Absolutely. They’re necessities.”

Of course, any chance of my making it even remotely close to the ocean would be slim due to the presence of a third occupant in the car: a black Labrador Retriever named Sniff.  While my buddies are in the front, continuing their intellectual conversation fit for an audience of morons, Sniff is in back and getting mighty curious about my body bag.  He’s not hungry, so the dog food doesn’t interest him, and neither does the pine-scented toilet paper.  But the paper sack…now that’s something to investigate! In no time, he burrows his wet muzzle so deep inside that his nostrils get annoyingly clogged with ashes.  Igniting into a psychotic growling fit, he makes the mistake of raising his head to shake the sack free. All of my remains—all that I ever was—come pouring out like an open bag of flour. As the car comes to a screeching halt, Sniff cannons three sneezes. Sneeze #1 propels the sack off of his head. Sneeze #2 fires tiny, moist, snotty ash clods into the rear window that stick like spit wads. And sneeze #3 launches additional clods directly behind the neck of the driver.

“Dammit, Sniff!!” he hollers, looking into the rear view mirror. “Good Lord! All over the toilet paper!  Look at you—all covered with death!”

And that’s as close as I’d get to the ocean. The majority of me sharing space with fleas in Sniff’s fur.

“Throw it out!”

“The dog?”

“No, you idiot. The sack…throw it out!”

“Seriously? Isn’t that kinda disrespectful?”

“What’s there to respect? There’s ashes all over Sniff and my car!”

“But what about the ocean? He wanted to end up in the deep blue sea.”

“SCREW THE OCEAN!!  THROW THE DAMN SACK OUT!! HE CAN ENJOY THE DEEP BLACK ASPHALT!!”

I’m telling you…if I’m ever to be cremated, I guarantee that’s as good as it’ll ever get. But if I do want to end up in the ocean, then how will I ever get there?

I have an idea. Write a letter.

*.          *.         *

Dear Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines:

Imagine firing multitudes of the dearly departed from a cannon off the rear deck of one of your ships, and making bookoos of money doing so.  Enticing, isn’t it!? You may not realize this, but if Royal Caribbean runs with my idea, then it will be at the helm of innovation. It’s time for a better way to pass into the afterlife than we are currently accustomed to. It’s time for a cruise ship named…Funeral of the Seas. 

 Let me explain…

Funerals aren’t cheap. We dish out thousands of dollars in order to make the dead comfortable (or so we’re led to believe). A fully velvet-lined, solid mahogany or stainless steel casket complete with a cozy, over-sized pillow is sold under the guise that without luxurious bedding, our loved ones will experience nothing but eternal bed sores. The casket has only a few hours of viewing time before it’s forever lowered into the earth to share the dirt with grubs, beetles, worms, ants, and centipedes. Such a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, but never to be seen again (unless a careless city utility worker accidentally digs up a sewer pipe while texting his girlfriend). Whatever happened to burying bodies and nothing more? It was a custom that worked fine for thousands of years. Bury Uncle Joe, then let the good earth decompose and recycle him. And best of all, Uncle Joe’s death didn’t cost but a few nickels.

If we’re going to spend thousands of dollars on our loved one’s funerals, then let’s make it a few thousand, not several thousand.  And let’s send them away in a style yet to be experienced in the funeral industry. I’m talking about a massive potato gun. Confused? Oh, not to worry!  Let me continue…

I shall use myself as an example. One day I die. Then what?

All to be explained in another conversation, but because I’m convinced that a black lab named Sniff will completely blow any chance of my being cremated with a peaceful and beautiful exit from this life, my only option is a burial, which, as you’ve gathered, I’m not much in favor of either.

Instead of being buried, I want to be released. I want to take a lifeless swan dive off the rear deck of Funeral of the Seas. It may not be the most graceful swan dive, as I’m sure my entry into the water might be a disastrous belly flop, a harrowing back slap, or even a sloppy face plant — all complete with flailing limbs.  And just how would I dive from a cruise ship?  I would do it not with the parting push from a couple of friends or loved ones, but rather with the soon-to-be patented Corpse Cannon.  Basically, as previously mentioned, it’s a larger scale potato gun that generates pneumatic pressure created by compressed gas, and can fire a human body over 500 feet. I mean, seriously, what better way to go!? Sailing into the ocean air with no inhibitions, no errand lists, no car payments, and no more commercials—Heaven.

Of course, once I hit the water, understand there’ll be no need for friends and loved ones to have to witness any type of cruel carnivorous feeding, as I’ll have been thoroughly coated with the soon-to-be patented 3M SharkAway Repellant, and sporting my 40-pound weighted strength training vest.  As Funeral of the Seas cruises off into the sunset, how fitting all of this would be as I submerge in the ship’s wake.

Total cost for a cruise ship funeral: $3,000.  It’d be an out-and-back one-day trip. Details of large walk-in freezers to store the dearly departed can all be worked out. All Royal Caribbean has to do is schmooze with the rules and regulations departments that oversee the operations of funeral businesses, play a few rounds of golf with the higher-ups, and there won’t be any difficulty getting approval for the soon-to-be and highly sought after Corpse Cannon funerals.

That’s all I have for now.  Please feel free to contact me anytime. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to have a little alone time to deal with the aforementioned dog named Sniff who’s living rent-free in my head.

Bon voyage,

Ros Hill

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

A Nugget Of Wisdom

I was exhibiting my art at the Pecan Street Art Festival in Austin, Texas, when a boy about seven years old and his parents walked up to my booth. I always do a signing for my children’s books which I set on a table at the entrance.  The boy was enthralled with the books—his eyes grew larger each time he turned a page.  “Mom! Dad! Come see these!”

What could be more beautiful than the excited voice of a child calling his parents to join him in a moment of discovery? What could possibly deter the parents from giving him their attention? Perhaps a round of bickering between the mother and father…

“We should go,” he said. “It’s too hot anyway.”

“But we just got here.” she replied.

“I don’t like the heat.”

“It’s not too hot.”

“There’re too many people anyway.”

She looked him straight in the eyes. “This is ridiculous. Why’d we even come?”

He shot a stare directly back at her and said, “That’s what I’m sayin’.”

As they stood a few feet behind their son, the father ordered, “Put down the book.  We need to keep moving.”

Continuing to flip through the pages, the child was captivated by the book. “Look at this whale!”

The dad elevated his voice. “Let’s go!”

Shaking her head, the mother said, “Just great. So glad we came today.”

The father grabbed his son’s arm, and led him away.  That was the last time I would ever see them.

Just a parental dispute? Not quite.  There was more to it that caught my eye.

It was the father.  I could not stop looking at him.  And in doing so, I could not stop thinking about the boy.  What were his chances of growing up without being bombarded by negative influences?  In fact, I had wondered about that before the three had arrived at my booth.  In the distance I had spotted the father wearing a tank top.  On the front of it, and in large bold letters, it read:

SHUT

THE

F**K

UP!

I get it. Blatant.  In-your-face shock value.  A rebellious streak has been riding on your shoulders for quite some time, years in fact.  Say what you want and express it as you wish.  But, dude, you’re about 35 years of age, and you have a young, impressionable boy. I don’t care if you’re walking the streets at a crowded art fair or grilling burgers in the backyard…trash the shirt before it trashes your kid…if it’s not too late.  Lord knows what your language is like at home—walls thickly painted with profanity.

Seven years old.

The father was under my skin, quickly becoming rancid and septic.  And there they stood at my booth: the child lost in the imagery of my books, while the parents argued behind him with classy dad sporting the bold statement of the day.

I could not let this moment pass by without capturing it.  While I would certainly relay to my friends what I had seen, it would take more than words to convey the full impact. So I took out my phone and discretely took a photo of the three. The father’s shirt was clear as day.

*                 *               *

The art festival was on the weekend.  By noon the following Monday, I had shown the picture to nearly twenty people. “Want to see a photo of a kid who doesn’t have a chance? Oh, and that’s his dad behind him…”

Everyone’s reaction was no different than mine: appalled and sad.  For three days I continued to share the image and voice my opinion about the father.  I lost sleep over the photo. I could not erase the four bold words printed on his shirt.  I could not unsee it.

Then along came a conversation with a friend named Dianne…

“Ros, you know that photo you showed me earlier? It bothers you, doesn’t it?”

I don’t often admit to things that bother me, as I usually do a pretty good job of ignoring them.  “Well,” I said. “I wouldn’t say I’m bothered so much as I’m just intrigued by the scene I captured.”

“I understand that, “she said.  “But you’re showing it to everyone because it bothers you. Right?”

I hadn’t shown it to Dianne with the hopes that she’d turn therapist on me. But it sure felt that way.  “Okay, yes, it bothers me.” What was next? Hypnosis? Delve into my childhood? Interpret my dreams?

“I’m going to give you some advice,” she said. “Some Jim Pape wisdom.”

Jim Pape was her late husband. He had passed away five years prior. A defense lawyer, Jim was well known for not only delivering great story jokes, but had a gift for putting things in perspective that often contained a valuable nugget of enduring wisdom.

“Obviously,” she continued. “The child in that photo doesn’t have much of a role model as a father.  No doubt, the father’s shirt is disgraceful.  But think about this:

There is nothing you can do about the father.  You’ll never be able to change him.”

“And that’s the great wisdom you’re passing on to me?”

Dianne let out a slight chuckle. “No, Ros. The wisdom is this: Chances are you’ll never see him again. But as long as you keep showing that photo, and as long as you keep talking about it, well, that father will continue to live rent-free in your head.”

“But, it’s such a great photo. It captures everything.”

“I get it, Ros. I get the dynamics of the photo. But my suggestion is to delete it. Let it go.”

I couldn’t argue with her. Living rent-free in my head was exactly what was going on. It was as if I’d granted the dad total access to every virtual square inch of my brain. He had become a fixation that I could not turn away from: in the grocery store, at a gas station, on a group run, or throughout my work day. It got to the point that if I wasn’t showing the photo, then I was at least describing it.

Living rent-free, and the worst tenant possible. Dianne was right: there was nothing I could do to change a person who I’d never see again. I must admit though, he sure made for great conversation. Not one person sided with the dad. Nobody shared his choice for freedom of expression. It was unanimous: he was a jerk.

Still, how long did I want to continue parading the photo around town? How long would I lug this fixation around with me? By the end of the week, I made a decision to evict the tenant.

Heeding the wisdom of Jim Pape, I selected the photo from my phone one last time.  I gazed into the innocent child’s face mesmerized by my books. Such a pure and beautiful moment for him. I can only hope my books would be everlasting memories.

And right there, before I pressed DELETE, I wished the child farewell.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

The Zipper

Some people are indifferent about bugs. They don’t love them. They don’t hate them. Bugs are bugs. Oh, look…it’s a cricket on my shoulder! What an amazing little creature!

Not me.

A cricket lands on my shoulder, and I don’t even give it a chance to be identified. As I slap whatever it is far into the yard, I shudder and squirm while making a pitiful, crybaby-like face as if I just witnessed someone slowly chewing a mouthful of live worms.

I go through the same physical gyrations whenever I see a spider larger than a dime.  Especially if it’s within six inches of my face and closing fast, such as the time I was cursed with rotten luck while riding my lawn mower. I had been cutting the grass for about an hour—eyes down, focused on the pathway—when, by chance, I happened to look up, and spotted a zipper spider, known for the zipper-like design spun in the center of their webs. They are black and yellow, and make Death look more approachable. Websites will tell you zipper spiders can get up to 1.5 inches long. This is a lie. Their bodies alone are the size and volatility of a hand grenade, and legs like knitting needles.  Other unreliable sources will tell you the spiders are basically harmless, that they only deliver a bee-like sting. Another lie. Zipper spiders can devour goats, flocks of birds, and human heads in an hour. It is my personal belief that they can also hurl large stones over fifty feet.  It’s not a matter of whether or not you can escape their super glue-like webs, but rather how fast you can run.

I was all white knuckles on the mower as panic coursed through my brain. I took my foot off the accelerator, then began madly stomping the metal floor board where a small brake pedal was located…somewhere.  How many thousands of times had I stepped on that brake pedal without looking? And now, as I coasted closer to the spider, my size 13 shoe was failing me.

Six inches from nose-planting into arachnida vampirea, my foot finally found the brake pedal. I hit it hard, but that might not have been the best decision as the sudden change in direction lurched me forward…

*           *           *

Maybe this isn’t a story about my fear of spiders. Maybe it was never intended to be all about me. Maybe it’s about understanding and acceptance. Maybe that’s a stretch?

I don’t think so.

One more inch, and I would’ve touched the web. It would’ve been my end. The zipper spider would’ve consumed my head within the hour. But there was no chance as the miracle of the mower’s reverse pedal backed me safely away.

Twenty feet out, I stopped and shut off the engine. My heart pounding, I needed to cut the grass beneath the web and beyond. I had only one option…destroy the spider.

I went into the house and snatched a broom from the pantry. It’s always been my go-to weapon of destruction when dealing with domestic critters. I’ve shot many scorpions across the kitchen floor like they were hockey pucks. And spiders…oh, I’ve cleared countless pathways blocked by their annoying webs.

The spider hadn’t budged. It was positioned directly over its zipper webbing. Even standing six feet away, I felt extremely vulnerable. Ok, I might have exaggerated a little. So it didn’t eat goats or flocks of birds. So it really was about 1.5 inches in length. So what. It still had the ability to mess with my mind.

I turned with my left side facing the spider, then took a batter’s stance, holding the broom like a bat. Eye on the target. One mighty swing and I’d smash it out of the yard.  But then came the memory of my Little League baseball coach from decades ago. He was always reminding me of the basic fundamental tenets of the game. “Don’t just swing at any pitch,” he’d say. “Make sure it’s the right pitch.” How many times had I swung at pitches too high or too low and, in the process, struck out? How many times had I walked back to the dugout feeling dejected because I knew I had made a poor decision? Too many.

The zipper spider’s web—what an incredible architectural construction of innate ability. Despite how much I detest spiders, I could not deny its impressive geometrical design. The spider’s survival was dependent upon the strength and placement of its web, which had been spun between a vegetable garden’s fence post and a bush. Outside of violent weather and brush fires, the web’s integrity was vulnerable to one major threat: man.

Knees bent and feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, I settled into an athletic position. To generate the most power, I shifted my weight to the back leg. Like golf, the most effective swing comes from a relaxed grip, but the mere presence of the spider forced my hands to choke the broom.

Make sure it’s the right pitch. 

What could possibly be wrong with this pitch? I hated spiders, and this particular one was right in the strike zone. But in the moment of giving myself the green light to swing, I was interrupted by a moth that had carelessly flown into the web, and with no hope of escaping. There it would perish, destined to be a meal for one.

Sure enough, I watched the spider quickly react to the vibrations of its web, before spreading its legs over the moth and silencing it.

I found myself not favoring the spider’s predatory mastery, nor seeking to interfere and save the moth (how I would have accomplished that, I have no idea). I relaxed my grip on the broom and brought it down to my side.  Watching and accepting the scene as a whole, I let the spider be. Even though my annihilation of the spider could have been defined as “natural” since I am part of nature, I chose to isolate myself from such destruction, and admire the mechanical engineering required to stabilize the web. I was embarking on an understanding of just how mathematical spiders are. Their innate knowledge of trigonometry in relation to angular tensions is unmatched within the animal kingdom.  As much as I hated this spider, I decided not to swat it to smithereens, but basically gave it freedom to move about my yard. For a moment—well, several moments—I wondered if I had simply lost my mind.

*        *        *

Some people are indifferent about bugs. They don’t love them. They don’t hate them. Bugs are bugs. Oh, look…it’s a cricket on my shoulder!  What an amazing little creature!

 Yep, that’s me.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

A Matter Of Taste

I need to say a few words to the breakfast cereal companies of this country…

Part of me wants to take a baseball bat to your knees, drag you helplessly into a bowl of spoiled milk, and then watch you drown in soggy misery—all for insulting my intelligence.

But since that might come across as a bit harsh, perhaps I’ll just settle for asking you one question: Really?

I mean, really…must your cereal boxes inform me that the cereal in the photograph has been “Enlarged to show texture”?  Do you think I’m going to file some sort of class-action lawsuit for false representation of the true-to-life smaller size cereal inside the box? And why print the disclaimer with a font whose letters are no bigger than dust mites? If you want to say it, then say it…”ATTENTION CONSUMERS!!! THE CEREAL FLAKES IN THIS PHOTOGRAPH ARE FIFTY TIMES THEIR ORIGINAL SIZE.  OUR ONLY INTENTION IS TO SHOW TEXTURE.  WE DEBATED MAKING IT LARGER, BUT THAT WOULD’VE MADE THE FLAKES LOOK LIKE COW PATTIES…AND ANYTHING RESEMBLING DRIED POOP WOULD CERTAINLY GET US IN DEEP DOO-DOO.”

If they’re not showing texture, then it’s “detail.”  And if neither of those suits their liking, then companies like organic-conscious Kashi have taken their disclaimer not just a step further, but in an obscure direction. In fact, it’s hard to discern whether they’re serious about their word choice or are just flat out playing with us…

Extremely hungry, I was shoveling in spoonfuls of Kashi’s Cinnamon Harvest.  I repeatedly plunged my spoon into my bowl at such a voracious pace, I nearly bypassed the chewing phase and went straight to swallowing.  Slurping the milk. Smacking my lips. I can eat with the best of toddlers. And then, staring at the cereal box, I saw it: Kashi’s disclaimer…”Enlarged to show taste.”

Taste?

Since when can you see taste? That’s like biting into an apple and saying, “Boy, this sounds red.”  Just doesn’t make sense. I truly appreciate Kashi’s attempt to wrap my brain around the unthinkable, but entering any kind of fourth dimensional thinking goes way beyond the simplicity I prefer when looking at a cereal box.  When I try to comprehend a picture showing taste, all I can manage is a monstrous migraine headache.  Multiply my pain and suffering times…let’s say…one million people who eat Kashi cereals, and you’re not only looking at pharmacies that can’t keep up with the demand for headache drugs, but a class-action lawsuit demanding justice served through compensation.  Personally, I don’t think Kashi’s disclaimer has a prayer in a court of law.

But Kashi is not the company I’d have my crosshairs on.  It’d be Kellogg’s.  That’s right, the mother of all breakfast cereal companies. I, of course, would elect to represent myself.  After all, I know cereal.  It’s been the staple food for my entire life. At any time of the day, I can engulf a bowl of cereal like taking in a nice breath of fresh air.  Move aside you unqualified attorneys…I got this!…

 

Supreme Court of the United States

Ros Hill v. Kellogg’s

(Official transcript)

Elena Kagan, Associate Justice, presiding

 

Justice Kagan: “Mr. Hill, you are representing yourself in the case, is this not true?”

Me: “Trick question, your Honor?”

JK: “Mr. Hill do you know where you are?”

Me: “Thirty feet from you? Thirty-five? Your Honor, I’m not trying to be funny, but just answering the question.  I could’ve said third rock from the sun and that, too, would’ve been a correct answer.”

JK: “Mr. Hill, it’s now going on thirty seconds into this hearing, and you already have two strikes against you.  One more strike and I shall have you escorted out for contempt of court.  Am I being clear, Mr. Hill?”

Me: “Yes, ma’am—I mean, your Honor! Sorry, sorry, sorry! Please don’t strike me on that one.  An honest mistake, your Honor.”

JK: “Let us begin…Mr. Hill, I see that you are suing the Kellogg’s Corporation for the amount of $329 million for ‘bafflingly fraudulent advertising’ showing taste.  Bafflingly? Is that even a word?   Mr. Hill, I must ask you…Is this a typo in what I’m reading? Just how can you show taste? And how did you ever come up with that highly exorbitant amount?”

Me: “Good questions, your Honor.  $329 million is derived from my birthday…March 29. I figure if you’re gonna get a gift, then make it a birthday gift!  Moving on…Kellogg’s has a subsidiary company called Kashi, and on the front of the box of Cinnamon Harvest it states: ‘Enlarged to show taste.’ And I’m like, enlarged to show taste? Like what the F? I mean, like really?  Your Honor, I sense we’re on the same page here.  Quite a bafflingly mess, isn’t it?”

JK: “Mr. Hill, I need to say something.  And I’ll be blunt. Just how the hell did this case make it to the Supreme Court?”

Me: “Your Honor, I’ll be happy to answer that, but first I must ask one thing:  are you allowed to say ‘hell’ in court?  Cuz I almost dropped the F bomb a minute ago. And I’m thinkin’, if you can say hell, then I can maybe get away with f—.”

The last thing I remember was Justice Kagan putting three fingers in the air, just before some burly Marine-like dude put me in a choke hold and dragged me out of the room.   I wasn’t sure if the applause was for my great oratory or my strike-out at home plate.  I can only presume the former.

Miraculously, justice did prevail.  Well, sort of.

Though Justice Kagan denied my request of monetary compensation, she did acknowledge and reward my pain and suffering in her Opinion:

“It is with a strange unfolding of my Opinion regarding Ros Hill v. Kellogg’s that I have found an unfortunate understanding for a need to compensate Mr. Hill.  I say unfortunate, because I plain just don’t like the guy.  However, Justice never favors on the merits of likes or dislikes of personality.  Mr. Hill not-so-eloquently stated that ‘a million other poor souls whose minds are bent and harmed from trying to figure out Kashi’s fourth dimensional brain-fart, taste-enigma” should receive equal distribution for the amount of $329 million. I have denied that request.  However, as difficult as this is for me to say, I must agree that Kashi’s taste disclaimer is…god forgive me here…bafflingly bizarre.  It is with sound mind that I do hereby order Kellogg’s to compensate Mr. Hill’s mental anguish with 329 boxes of Cinnamon Harvest, all to have the exclusive disclaimer that will say: ‘Enlarged because it is.’  Happy Birthday, Mr. Hill. This case is over!”

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

Expect The Unexpected

Whenever we ran by Jupiter, we had no choice but to pick up our pace.  After all, Jupiter’s gravity was never to be taken lightly.  And when your running partner was Moe Johnson, well…all you really cared about was self-preservation.  In fact, if the forces of Jupiter’s gravity were to somehow sneak up on Moe and annihilate him, then so be it.  Sure, an unfortunate ending for Moe, but at least you got your ten-mile run in.

Let’s rewind the scene if I may…

Fulton Ranch Road, just on the outskirts of San Marcos.  Moe and I had decided to do a long out-and-back run on a road that was entirely caliche. There were no fences, just rugged countryside where longhorn cattle roamed.  Jupiter was the largest steer on the ranch. He was massive with a horn span that could easily skewer Moe from head to toe.  One quick, swift flick of the head, and Jupiter could send Moe sailing into the air like a rag doll.

It reminds me of the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey when early man discovers tools, and with tools he discovers power.  The scene transitions into the future of the space odyssey as early man, in his discovery of using a bone as a weapon, throws the bone high up into the air.  In slow-motion, we watch the bone flip end-over-end up into space.  That trajectory—that endless flight of bone—is how I perceived Moe would have travelled, had Jupiter had his way with him.  And there I would stand, looking upwards, thinking, Wow, look at you Moe!  Not only are you in the movies, but you’re headed into the future! Farewell, my friend!

Of course, Moe never did make it into the movies nor did he ever travel into the future.  But he did take flight, thanks to all sixteen-hundred pounds of Jupiter who had decided to charge him. The memory of Moe is still quite clear as I watched him evade Jupiter’s attempted manslaughter, and sail over a large cactus. In his moment of airborne grace, he flew with the look of confidence, as if exclaiming to the world, “I GOT THIS!!!”

If you’re curious where I was this entire time…well, I was a few strides ahead of Moe, having foreseen this inevitable moment, and sped off the caliche road to hide like a coward behind a large stone water trough.  I would have fought off Jupiter, but elected not to as I was quite familiar with Moe’s powerlifting records.  Besides, he was older and wiser than I, and it would have been premature of me to suggest any plan of escape other than whatever Moe already had in mind.

And then he hit dirt—hands and knees first, like four twenty-pound kettle bells simultaneously thudding to the earth.  You would have thought from the sound of his fall that Moe was just going to park his body right there and surrender his fate to Jupiter. But giving up was not an option. Moe had grown up on hockey rinks and had basically lived out of weight rooms. If he wasn’t living in a state of pushing his limits, then by his standards, he wasn’t living at all. One hard crash to the earth was nothing more than a paper cut to Moe. Adrenalized, he was up and running towards my cowardly hiding place in no time. “Can you believe Jupiter!?” he shouted, short of breath. “He tried to kill me!”

And there Jupiter stood on the far side of the cactus, staring at us as he swung his head back and forth in disgust. And there we stood, looking at each other, our heads swinging back and forth as well, and wondering, Now what?

*                    *                    *

We plan our runs. We know where we’re going. We know our pace. We know if the route will be hilly or flat, long or short. We know that if our hamstrings are sore, we’d better monitor them a little more closely than usual. We know if our legs feel heavy or fresh. We know a lot going into a run.

But what we don’t know are the unexpected moments that lie ahead. The unforeseen encounters. No different than everyday life, that’s true. But running has a way of heightening our awareness. A way of seeing the world with a bit more clarity. Whether it’s contemplating a thought or seeing something out of the ordinary, when we run our focus becomes sharper. We are, without a doubt, in tune with our surroundings.

I once ran alongside a butterfly that stayed even with me for nearly 200 meters.  In its bouncy, erratic flight, it held my pace three feet apart from me. Everything—I mean everything became secondary. Even the fact that I was running seemed to blur.  I once had a similar experience with a deer that ran parallel with me for over a quarter of a mile before disappearing into the woods.  It was truly as if it knew we were moving together—as if some sort of communication was transpiring.  I could not ignore the magic of that moment.  Unable to write it off as mere coincidence, I soaked up every second we shared between us, and acknowledged the deer as a momentary gift of the uncommon. But an insect?  Was it even possible that the butterfly was acting upon some form of a thought, or a recognition that I wasn’t a threat? Was it possible that amongst all of its natural innate instincts, that something as miraculous as a chemistry between us was at hand?  Or was it just pure luck that I got to run, undisturbed, with a butterfly for an eighth of a mile?  Either way I looked at it, one thing was for certain: running had amplified an experience that gave a whole new meaning to the term, “the butterfly effect.”

*                    *                    *

But not all unexpected moments while running are uplifting. Some stop you in your tracks and wrench the emotions straight out of you. These are the moments when you wished you had taken a different route. When it would have been better to have woken up with a slight fever to keep you in bed for the day. But run you did, and the events leading up to that unexpected moment could never be reversed…

Everything was fine as I ran on the sidewalk along 15th Street in Austin. It was a typical busy Friday afternoon with traffic having arrived in full force. The term “rush hour” seemed a slight understatement.  Perhaps “mad rush hour” was more apropos.  I had just crested a hill when I heard the screech of tires, and a sharp, loud cry of a dog.  No…no, no, no. Don’t look. Don’t get involved in this. Just keep running. This is someone else’s business. There is nothing here for you. But I did look, and that was the moment I immersed myself in the unexpected and unfortunate scene.

The driver who had hit the dog failed to stop, and continued on, leaving behind a line of cars that crept by with curiosity.  I ran out into the street and knelt before the dog. It was a mutt—a male, maybe 15 pounds with brown shaggy hair. His eyes were closed as his head lay in a small puddle of blood. I picked him up, and set him on a patch of grass where I checked for signs of life, but his life was gone. He had a collar with a license tag.  I didn’t know his name. I didn’t know where he lived.  I didn’t know what to do, except let the sadness overcome me and honor his presence with my sudden grief.  He was somebody’s companion.  He had gotten loose, and this was his last day.  A car pulled up next to me and stopped by the curb.  It was a couple in their twenties.  The girl was in the passenger seat, her window rolled down, and her eyes red from crying.

“Oh my god,” she sobbed, “Is that your dog?”

“No,” I said, “I was on a run just now when he got hit.”

“This is so sad. Is there anything we can do?”

“Could you take him to the nearest vet clinic? Maybe they could find out who the owner is.”

“Certainly,” she said, “We can do that.”

Her boyfriend got out of the car and opened up the trunk, where there were some old blankets.  Before we wrapped the dog up and gently set him inside, I petted him several times before telling him goodbye. It was the first and last time I would ever see the dog.

Life is fragile.  It can snap in an instant.  It can be taken from you when you least expect it.  I ran in mourning for three miles back to my apartment. I couldn’t shake the thought of the owners who would eventually receive the phone call.  To this day, over thirty years later, whenever I run in Austin, the memory of that dog always finds me. I didn’t want to get involved with its death.  I wanted to stay clear and move forward.  But once the couple drove away, I remember feeling like I had done the right thing—that instead of ignoring or abandoning him, I had taken care of the dog right after his final parting moment.  It was the least that I could do. After all, he was somebody’s best friend.

*                    *                    *

Unexpected surprises while running can not only awaken you to your surroundings, but can stir a sense of discovery within yourself.

Years ago I once finished a run at Sewell Park on a quiet Sunday morning. I was going to take a post-run dip in the river when I noticed a teenage boy shooting a basketball at the outdoor court. It had been years since I had touched a basketball, let alone shoot one.  Though I played the game for most of my life up to age 20, there came a point where distance running became my fitness addiction.  But on that Sunday morning, something in me said, “Shoot the ball.”

I walked over to the boy and asked if he wouldn’t mind if I shot a few.  He passed me the ball and pointed to the rim.

Running had consumed me.  I was training for the Houston Marathon, logging up to 80 miles a week.  Weight lifting, swimming, biking—any form of cross-training was non-existent.  I was 6’4” and weighed 165 pounds.  Friends said I was too thin, that I looked weak.  I dismissed their comments as ridiculous.

Standing just inside the 3-point line, I spun the ball backwards in the air and let it ricochet off the court, before bouncing back to me.  As I held it loosely, I could tell that the rhythm of the game hadn’t left me.  But as I looked at the basket and prepared to shoot, an unexpected thought occurred:  Damn, that basket looks far away.

The instant the ball left my hands, was the instant I changed my life.  There was no denying what I had just felt—the shocking discovery of the absence of strength.  All my friends were right…my shoulders were bony, my arms were rails, and I was unable to shoot a basketball three-quarters of the way to the rim.  It was more than an awareness of my weakened condition.  It was an outright disaster.

One shot was all it took.  I turned my back to the boy, and walked away.  I must have done 200 push-ups later that day.  From that point on, my entire outlook changed regarding overall fitness. And I must say, I owe it all to that basketball.  Funny how things play out.

 *                    *                   *

Here’s my advice to anyone who runs:

Take it beyond running, and take in your surroundings.  You might surprise yourself as to what you’ll discover. If something piques your interest, stop and look at it.  Oh, don’t worry, your guilty conscience will get over the cardinal sin of stopping during a run. Become familiar with running in unfamiliar places, and, in doing so, expect the unexpected.

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

I’ll Be Giving Birth To A Book Soon

If you’ve been wondering why my stories have not been appearing as frequently as usual over the past few months, it’s for a good reason:  I’m working on a book that will be published this year, titled, Taking Out the Trash: Everyday Stories of Life, Loss, and Laughter. It’s a collection of 50-55 of my stories.  My artwork will also be included, as I am creating small illustrations to hint as to what each story is about. (Below, see low-quality photo examples done by clueless author himself. But good enough to get the ideas across…or at least he thinks so.)

Gathering everything that is needed to be sent off to the publisher is nearing completion.  It won’t be long before I’m posting more stories about such critical topics as cereal boxes, dental appointment freebies, and bug people.

Until then, it’s—literally—back to the drawing board.  And, not to forget, it’s Wednesday night…time to take out the trash.

 

Ros

“Super Tiny Little Bags of Peanuts”

“The Bathtub”

“Fixing Monday”