The Feeling You Get

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It’s like that feeling you get when you wake up and realize you’ve made a lot of mistakes in life. Your kids, they don’t talk to you much anymore. Your wife left you a long time ago. You know you’ve only got a few years remaining, if all goes well, and probably it won’t. You should have done things better. You should have been more ambitious a long time ago, when you had the time to do things better. It’s that feeling you get when you realize it might be too late.

You start by trying to make it up to your oldest son. You buy him a sports car. You offer to go on expensive vacations together. You throw money at him left and right, but he knows it’s all just a frail attempt to win him over. The last argument you had with the kid was over a dozen years ago and he’s never forgiven you. He’s nearly 50 by now, so what does he need with a hot looking car? He’s got a wife and kids of his own to look after. He’s got his own money. He doesn’t need yours.

You call up the ex-wife and ask if she’s OK. But of course she’s OK. Her new husband has made sure of that, just like you should have. She hangs up on you without much of a goodbye. You know you should have done better with her. You never cheated on her. You never beat her. In the end, she’d left you only because she’d felt like you never really loved her that much. You never showed it. You never said it. You acted like love was irrelevant…even though you did love her. You fooled yourself on the outside, saying she wasn’t the kind of broad who was into all that romantic stuff. But deep down, you knew she was. You were just too bullheaded to do anything about it.

One of the hardest parts about it all is the retirement. Your boss hadn’t cared that much that you were leaving. He’d had enough of your complaining all the time, even though you were right. He would never admit you were right, but you knew that he knew that you were. You were good at what you did and so in your eyes it was OK to take an occasional piss on the way he ran the business. You brought in the new accounts for the newspaper. You got those high dollar clients to cough up the big bucks for full page ads. And what was wrong with stepping on the younger guys once in awhile? It was good for them. It made them stronger. They had to pay their dues, just like you had, and you made damn sure they paid.

It wasn’t so hard leaving the job as it was finding something to do after you’d left. How were you supposed to fill the time? You were alone, with nobody to talk to, nobody to listen while you complained about how hard it was to sit at home all day and do nothing. You listened to the radio. You flipped through the newspaper. The hours just crawled by. You’d never noticed before how long a day really was. It’s the finding something to do when you’ve got too much time on your hands that made the pain of retirement almost unbearable.

You think about those days when you were younger, hanging out with the guys from town. The late night card games were great, the drinking, fishing out on the lake, and what was wrong with a cigar once in awhile? By now, those guys had all disappeared, but to where? After you’d retired, it was like they’d vanished into thin air. What had happened to Robbie Yang, that guy with the great laugh? Flipping through the phone book, a yellowish thing that just calls out for attention, you find his phone number, only to be told by some automated chick that the number you’ve called is no longer in service. He’d never even given you a forwarding address. He’d never even said goodbye.

The real feeling you ponder as you look out the blinds into the empty street in front of your house is the idea that there might still be time. You’ve already lived longer than the average male. Your heart is strong, so says the doctor, and he’s casually mentioned more than once that you haven’t got anything really serious to worry about, other than cutting back on the cigars. Smoking alone is pretty depressing stuff, anyway. It only made you think back to the days when you’d last seen the guys around a card table, and that memory brings you so low you can hardly bear to light up another one anymore.

Outside on the street you see some kids walking past, younger teens, one dragging a baseball bat. Your first instinct is to run outside and yell at him for destroying the fat end of a perfectly good stick. But you don’t. One of the kids drops a ball on the sidewalk and leans over to pick it up with his glove. You see he’s got a good grip on it this time. The next thing you know, you’re out on the front lawn, offering them some lemonade. They don’t want it. What do kids these days know about lemonade, anyway? It’s all colas for them, with artificial sugar. They probably think you’re weird. You’ve left the front door open, like you just wanted to invite them inside and do strange things to them. It doesn’t help that you’re in your pajamas.

You realize they’re smart kids, though, because there are plenty of pervs in this world today. They are better off avoiding someone like you. So you try to cover for your odd behavior by asking where they play ball. They tell you it’s down past the high school, on the right, in the old field. You remembered the bleachers there and the way they felt under your hands as you sat and watched the game every Friday night. You imagine the paint has peeled off them by now. You ask the boys if someone has cut the grass there recently, and they say no…but it sure could use it. You turn and point to the old push mower sticking half out your garage door. They smile and nod.

Over at the old field, the mower runs out of gas. The taller boy had been doing all the work, sweating it out, but making progress, right before the engine died. You tell them you’ll make a quick trip to the station on the other side of the high school to fill ‘er up. They look at you like they don’t understand a word you’re saying, until you wave some dollars in their faces. On the way over, gas container in hand, you try to remember when you changed clothes. You aren’t in your pajamas anymore — which is a good thing — but you can’t exactly remember changing out of them and into and your shorts and t-shirt. You notice your beer belly hangs out like a sore thumb.

There are a lot of things you can’t remember, but who cares? You can’t remember changing your clothes a week ago, so why should today matter? You can’t remember how much torque to put on spark plugs in the mower when they need to be replaced. You can’t remember the type-size for quarter page ads you used to sell in the newspaper. Sometimes you can’t even remember the names of your own grand-kids.

You don’t mind growing old so much. It’s just the cost of everything that bothers you. The way prices keep going up, taxes keep going up — and it’s all the same stuff you’ve been buying all your life, so why should it cost more? In fact, it might be cheaper stuff than what you bought years ago. Things sure broke fast. That time your ex-wife knocked over the TV set right in the middle of the World Series and you had to run down the street to Ernie’s Bar to catch the end of the game — that was something you couldn’t forget.

Looking back, you realize accidents just happen. As you stumble on the sidewalk and almost plant your face in the cement, you stop and catch your breath. You decide to take it a little slower on your way over to the gas station. Today is looking like a good day. The past is the past. These kids playing ball at the park, they might actually be pretty good. That tall one, Joe, he might have a pitcher’s arm. You decide to test him out when you get back.

You reach the gas station and fill up the container. Then you trudge your way around the high school and arrive out of breath back at the old field. The kids are warming up, getting ready to play. Half the field is mowed and the other half still needs a good trimming. The sun is hot. You wipe the sweat off your forehead and throw the kids a bag of candy bars — a surprise, something you picked up at the station. These suckers are the real deal, no artificial ingredients, and twice the sugar. They smile at you like you’ve just broken the law.

Let’s go, you say. I wanna see someone swing that bat. Don’t squint at the ball. He’s got the pitch. He’s winding up. Crack. The ball flies out of the park. Give me one of those candy bars, kid. Never mind what my doctor says. It’s never too late to be a winner, kid. You tell the kid he’s got the arm of a pro. He smiles back at you and nods. I knew just like you did that day that he’d make the national news. He’d go on to play in the World Series and throw a perfect game. We all had the feeling that day that something magical had happened out on the field.

You stand up and cheer as the whole team rounds the bases and heads for home. You nod. You smile. You realize nothing can stop the power of the wind. It’s like that feeling you get when you’re ready to get back in the game of life again.

Soul Planet

soul planets

I saved a whole planet one time. I got fired for it, of course. Usually I’m either supposed to enslave them or destroy them. I really don’t know what possessed me.

I’d never seen such primitives before. I shouldn’t have hesitated from wiping the whole world clean. If only I’d acted sooner, I wouldn’t have ended up in the unemployment line. That’s the downside to being a planet reaper. You can’t delay. I don’t mean to complain, but they never give you time to stop and think.

And so there I was on this decaying world, finding it hard to get focused. I needed to start my next run soon or I wouldn’t make my quota. The first problem I needed to tackle was their unwavering optimism. It was obvious by looking in on their broadcasts that they were certain they were all part of a bigger plan. I scanned thousands of frequencies and shook my head. Without me, they might end up destroying themselves — and taking out half the known universe with them.

“Hey, Porter, you there?” I said, picking up my space-link communicator. “You ain’t gonna believe the place I landed on this time. I think I found another name for Pandora.”

“Hard. Man, you are hard. Give ’em a chance. Remember what I was able to do with Huriopa? That place was a lost cause until I straightened it out. Just tell them the truth: submit or die. If they’re smart, they’ll realize loyalty is the only option.”

“Oh, the signal must be breaking up. I thought I heard you say you’d like to swing by here and do this planet a favor. Is that correct?”

“You know I can’t do that. The rules are the rules. Just keep your head up. Hey, I gotta run. Things are getting a bit rushed here. All these new reapers coming straight from the academy, they just don’t get it. They aren’t motivated to turn out the kind of quality work a seasoned planet master like you can deliver. Catch you on the return path, bud.”

I looked out over the horizon of my new world and watched the sun rise. It was beautiful the way the light broke into hues across my goggles. Maybe there was a chance for this place yet. I just needed to convince them to follow me into submission. But still, I hesitated. Perhaps happiness was an important part of the equation. We’d been enslaving and destroying planets for thousands of years and it hadn’t gotten us anywhere.

I could feel the spirit growing in me. Porter had been right. I was good at what I did. I had a knack for knowing just the right way to tweak a world. For this place, I was going to let free will decide. I was going to walk away and not do a single thing.

And guess what? It turned out that I was right. They eventually figured it out and transcended their primitive ways. And their happiness spread across the universe. It blew my mind the way they advanced and made peace with other civilizations. But my boss didn’t see it that way. I failed to deliver free souls and was let go. Deep down inside, though, I know I did the right thing.

If you ever get the chance, check out a little planet called Earth. You won’t regret it. And remember, when you’re standing on the street corner fishing some coins out of your pocket to put in my cup, I did that. I made that planet come alive. That was me. I’m not really such a devil after all.


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