Short Story

The Cubs Go To The World Series

I remember my grandfather, Edward Guffey, as a Cubs man. He taught me about baseball; hell, he forced my father to play catch with me in his backyard in Lynwood, Illinois, when my Dad didn’t want to play with me…to make my father interact with me when he wasn’t sure how to do so because the father-son bond was somewhat awkward…I used to sit in my grandfather’s kitchen, with his candy corn and VIP pipe tobacco mixed together in the middle of the kitchen table, while we watched summer Cubs games during the Fergie Jenkins/Jody Davis/Ryne Sandberg years…I listened to Harry Carey and Steve Stone broadcast games with my Grandpa and Grandma and loved every moment of it…I learned how to cut grass on a ride-on lawn-mower while he watched from the back window, and listened to both of them about the history of Chicago baseball,  literature, and culture.

My grandfather was a carpenter on many of Chicago’s sky-scrapers, specifically the very dangerous construction of the elevator shafts. He saw some of his co-workers plummet to their deaths while building on the Hancock building and others. He had to un-screw a rivet from his hand one day, and he didn’t go to the emergency room like most sane other men would have done. He went back to work as soon as he could, because he was from Chicago…

…and he was a Cubs fan.

I love tonight’s victory, and it’s made me think about my grandfather in a most loving way. Have a great World Series, Chicago!

Scott C. Guffey, M.A.

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My Maniacal Rant, Chapter Two, Part Nine

When we step out of the white noise and take a look from outside the media fish bowl, we can see that this election is not that hard to figure out.

This is not about being loyal to a party, or conservative versus liberal; blue-collar versus white-collar; or city versus country discussions lost to the rhetorical void of infuriating, frustrating American deadlock.

This is a vote for a moderate or radical President.

Trump’s going to throw a temper-tantrum from now until November 8th, which is guaranteed to continue after the election. He’s going to throw all kinds of shade and drum up anti-Hillary sentiment to the point of violence. The only thing moderate about Donald Trump—if you consider human fallibility to be a trait that needs moderation—is his tendency to snort on camera when he’s thinking, “Holy Shit! I’m really doing this!”

Clinton’s going to step aside, act cool, and hope nothing radical happens…like if she decided to scream at Trump on stage at this last debate, as I wanted her to do…because then Trump would inevitably shout, “See!! She IS a screaming harpy! Let’s not put her in jail! Let’s scream, ‘BURN HER!’ like they did in that Monty Python movie!!!” Laughter, applause, and a lynching follow…

Look. I get it. Hillary Clinton doesn’t inspire confidence, but Donald Trump is obviously the radical choice, and those choices almost always have consequences.

I’m not going to ask you to go out and vote, like most people seem to be broadcasting, most specifically at the youth, for whom I can testify are terrified at the “adult” government. I perfectly understand how much stamina it’s going to take to stay politically aware and go out and vote on November 8th.

Stay home if you want to. I’m willing to bet the ones who go out to vote are the Americans with the strongest feelings, understanding, and conscience for American values…

…and the one thing I retain from my religious upbringing: You gotta have faith!

Scott C. Guffey, M.A.

My Maniacal Rant, Chapter Two, Part Eight

White noise: According to dictionary.com, it is also called white sound, a steady, unvarying sound, used to mask or obliterate unwanted sounds…

White noise: This was the sound of Donald Trump’s voice for me after he deflected his advocacy of sexual assault by going full-Fox-News and dismissing it as just locker-room banter. I swear I saw a little Sean Hannity, whispering in his ear about how to make the so-very deplorable become so-very digestible for the Republican Base. Apparently, the American People should continue to let men tell them not to worry about guy-talk, or how it may lead to sexual assault…or just how it’s plain indecent and SHOULD NOT be dismissed as “locker-room talk.” Boys will be boys, so let’s move on… Trump told Anderson Cooper that the Clinton News Network anchor hadn’t heard properly what Trump said, and by extension, Trump told the American People that we didn’t hear him right either. His voice started sounding like the adults in the Peanuts world right off the bat, when Trump successfully deflected the most horrific recording released to the public of a Presidential candidate ever…The drone in my ears, I think, is my brain defending my soul from Trump’s corruptible white sound.

White noise: The barely audible cheer heard across the country as White America regained their champion after Hilary Clinton dropped the ball last night…

Scott C. Guffey, M.A.

My Maniacal Rant, Chapter Two, Part Six

I’d been reviewing all of the commentary on Trump this morning, and I had to step out onto my porch for a moment of reflection. I pondered how we have come to this point in our national discussion.

A loud pick-up truck did a partial stop at the intersection. In the back window, the owner had a slogan surrounding the American Flag. Across the top, it read, “God, Guns, Guys,” and across the bottom, “Made the USA.”

I appreciated the clarity of the moment.

My mother had called me, so I stepped outside so as to avoid the necessity of fulfilling my familial obligation to talk to my mother, knowing that picking up that phone, at this moment when Trump has finally proven he’s a sexually-deviant creature unworthy of our national respect, knowing that it’s just not a good idea to answer the damn phone and have to explain my political and religious ideologies to my mother…I just ran out of the room, and entered the sun-shiny outdoors for a quick breath…

…I was talking to God out loud on the back porch, and He showed me an American truck.

It was just not a good idea to answer the phone. My mother knows this, but she needs to hear my voice. I get it because I need to hear hers too, but I just have fallen into that awful trap where we’re screaming at each other…just too many times in the past…I can’t do it…

I can’t hear a defense of Donald Trump and the Fox News talking points right now.

After the truck passed from the intersection, I bartered with myself about listening to the voice-mail my mother left. I did this for a good half-hour, trembling like a pansy about talking to my mother.

The first thing that came to my mind the night before, after fully hearing the full audio and video of Trump’s conversation with Billy Bush, was that this will not matter to Trump voters. Then, I wondered if this would matter to the women in my family. Finally, I affirmed how it would matter to a world in which my daughters mature…

I decided to wait for my wife to come home and listen to the message from my Mom for me. I turned off the politics on the TV and watched some college football, but I realized I couldn’t focus on the game because I started irrationally creating scenarios where my mother was leaving a message, telling me she was so very sorry for actually suggesting Trump was a better choice than Hillary…or there was an emergency that occurred, and I was stubbornly not fulfilling my familial obligation of maintaining contact…or my mother was disowning me from afar.

I shouted aloud to no one in particular, “God damn it,” and I listened to the message.

She hadn’t heard from me since August, and she hopes that the reason I haven’t reached out to her is because of this election thing.

I had teared-up when I looked down at my cell-phone and saw my Mom was calling me, because I knew I couldn’t answer that bleeping phone, and she teared-up as she ended the message telling me that she loves me…

…I love you too, Mom, but I can’t answer the phone right now.

I hope you understand.

Scott C. Guffey, M.A.

My Maniacal Rant, Chapter Two, Part Five

Please feel free to read the following essay using the internal literary-reading voice of Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards character, Francis Underwood, yet make no mistake that it is the voice of the Maniacal Professor:

I came into the Vice-Presidential Debate hoping Tim Kaine would tear Mike Pence a new one…

…I came out of the Vice-Presidential Debate’s aftermath so very sullen, because Pence had actually gained my respect, despite his transparently-false denials…and I carry a grudge against my governor, for which I still feel justified because of his shilling for Trump and his abuse of Indiana’s educational system, but I just cannot deny that I share his rhetorical persona…

…I begrudgingly admit I find Mike Pence to be likable…

…because he’s so very good at deflecting with the good-natured Hoosier personality of being neighborly…respectfully disagreeing…sharing your experience…attempting to relate…using a NASCAR or hunting analogy every now and then…just trying to be friendly while trying to explain white Christian ethics to all the brown and black people that have shown up so suddenly in the metropolitan areas of Republican Red-and-White-Yet-Not-Necessarily-Accepting-Of-Blue Indiana…

…but Mike Pence is still shilling to Donald Trump, simply so he can run for President in 2020 after Hillary Clinton is elected to the office on November 8th of this year…fingers crossed…still not sure because I check my Facebook feed WAY too eff-ing often during these last thirty days of this election cycle.

My thesis: I try to be a good-natured Hoosier, but it’s damn hard to do so when more than half of Indiana is voting for Trump. The way I carry out this ideology is easy enough, because I do enjoy and practice the following Hoosier ethics:

  1. Pay your fair share
  2. Live within your means
  3. Be kind to your neighbor

Trump does not follow these three components. Mike Pence does; therefore, I think Mike Pence is a better candidate for President.

I do not enjoy showing up to the polling booth to vote for Hillary Clinton, ESPECIALLY after Bill Clinton has gone bat-shit crazy and seriously, openly criticized Barack Obama’s legacy. He is not helping his wife’s cause, unless he figures he is driving every woman voter her way by matching Trump’s misogyny…

…at any rate, I will be voting for Hillary Clinton, and I hope fellow Hoosiers and Americans realize that Clinton shares the aforementioned three values more than Donald Trump. She is not exactly the embodiment of the three values, but it is undeniable that Donald Trump is the complete antithesis of these three moralistic values;

I admit publicly that I am voting against Donald Trump.

This is a difficult admission because I enjoy voting for a candidate; I do not enjoy voting against a candidate…

…but that is our reality in 2016.

I also admit that I will probably consider voting for Mike Pence if Hillary Clinton does not work out after four years.

I invite those Americans who understand that I am, in fact, a shill because of this invitation, just like I have accused Mike Pence of being for Trump.

I admit I am a shill…

…because Trump is not worthy of a vote for those of us who share a new set of conservative Christian values, a set of American values that involve fairness, frugality, and love, not discrimination, avarice, and fear.

Trump just isn’t the guy. Listen to what he says. Why do so many people have to work so very hard to figure out what he’s saying and defend what he’s saying?

Just listen to what he says. It’s a simple enough lesson from teaching rhetorical analysis: What you say betrays your character.

I am shilling to my friends and family and fellow Americans, from within the Northwest Region of Indiana, as a former Bears fan who wears an Aaron Rodgers jersey during NFL Sundays in 2016…

…Please don’t vote for Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton is not that bad.

Please and amen.

Scott C. Guffey, M. A.

The Scattered Rhetoric of an Aging English Major

A lesson learned from studying English in college concerns linguistic importance within American life. The objective and subjective natures of a shared language system are most indicative of the human condition. By finding the intermediary concept between these natures of diction, we can reach comprehension of all things related to the human being (subjective nature) and the human animal (objective nature).

We need to apply moderation instead of absolutism to understand how language is best used in both spoken and written discourse. Instead of promoting absolute objectivism and logical, mathematical application to every rhetorical use—instead of allowing subjective ignorance, of how much human emotion affects our laws, policies, and social norms—we need to comprehensively understand both the affective objective and effective subjective applications of rhetoric to truly understand how humans act and operate within the shared language system. We need to qualify our words with both objective proof and subjective understanding. We need to do this every day in order to successfully engage in human society.

We cannot be students. We cannot be fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and brothers and sisters. We cannot be doctors and lawyers and nurses and teachers and journalists. We cannot be laborers and carpenters and steelworkers and construction engineers and architects. We cannot be politicians and advertisers and entrepreneurs and financial engineers and judiciary officials. We cannot be friends and companions and lovers. We cannot be Republicans and Democrats and conservatives and liberals. We cannot be mathematicians and scientists and farmers and grocers. We cannot be black and white and Hispanic and gay and straight. We cannot be Christian or Catholic or Protestant or Baptist or Orthodox or Muslim or Mormon or Scientologist or secular or agnostic or atheist. We cannot be male and female, young and old, or urban and rural.

We cannot be characters.

We cannot be any of these words, objectively and subjectively.

We cannot live as humans (animals and spiritual beings), without a shared language system.

We must acknowledge what a language system is, and how humans collaboratively endorse this system. At its base, any language system must be visually represented or aurally construed. These sensory components are necessary. It is true of all languages, but it might be easiest for American readers to understand this through modern English representation, as this is what most of us have been required to utilize successfully to function within the national community. In the English language, most every word or phrase has objective and subjective connotations. I assume other language systems share this duality, only because I am not fluent in any other language.

Concrete physicality is easy enough to describe with terms like ball, heat, and water, while subjective concept gives us spherical, hot, and wet. Easy in the previous sentence is entirely subjective because it depends on the individual interpretation to define ease, and there is no way one could define easy for every person. Objectively, defining easy requires agreement, and in this collectively competitive society, acknowledgment of ease ultimately calls for measurement against another’s efforts. To put it simply, everybody’s got difficulty. Whether difficult is a better antonym than hard is entirely debatable since hard also refers to physical rigidity, which makes perfect sense to those of us with thick heads.

If we want to focus on mentally laborious activity, a concept with little need to show physicality, there is excellent applicable value for metaphorical usage with every chosen word. Perhaps, because we always wander towards subjectivity whenever we use a shared language system, it is simply impossible to attain true objectivity, as so many logicians advocate.

The point is that we use language to create dichotomies, to create a range of understanding between universal dualities, objects or subjects that are denoted by words and phrases within the English language, placed together with emphatic method and empathic outreach in the form of sentences and clauses. Absolutism focuses our attention on the polarities of this range, while moderation allows us to create degrees, usually by applying logical rationale and emotional empathy, between rhetorical polar opposites, represented on a shared metaphorical scale.

This is a good lesson to learn from examining the Golden Mean of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. A call for moderation of language and action is an appropriate point for the Christian community, with a strong Biblical derivation guiding Aristotle’s philosophy.

Our current American political system is broken because of the dichotomy of the dual-party system. Too much absolutism has created a divisive ideology, which does not allow for the changing of one’s mind, adapting one’s thought process, or examining the degrees of rhetoric within these public arguments.

Although the idea of a third political party has been attempted (and spurned) multiple times in this country, perhaps, a wonderful idea might be to consider the formation of a Nicomachean political party in America. This party’s members would promote a consensual approach to breach the widening gap between the Republican and Democratic parties. Hopefully, the existing parties’ members would not automatically get into “fight mode” every time they engage in debate with this third party member, who might examine intermediary concepts about which the two parties battle vehemently. They might not instantly turn to insults, conjecture, and fallacy to shoot down the other members’ rhetoric. They might understand the objective success of written policy and law and address the subjective emotional gap that widens between such age-old social dichotomies as religion vs. science, rich vs. poor, youth vs. elderly, black vs. white, and man vs. woman.

It might be a step in the right direction. Certainly, we could use that in this country right now. If Nicomachean is too hard to spell, then maybe we can call it the Rogerian party in honor of Carl Rogers’ comparable theories.

We can further utilize applicable, practical English study to our society with Stephen Toulmin’s essays from The Uses of Argument. His examination of how rhetoric is actually used, mostly in legal argumentation, has been especially fruitful for designating the degrees of language utilized specifically within the dichotomy created between objective and subjective uses of the English language.

Toulmin called for the necessity of qualifiers in authentic, valid language use (138). Absolutes are easily proven as invalid statements; some medium degree must be utilized for valid, logical construction. If someone uses the “all or nothing” approach, then sometimes, it indicates a speaker attempts to emphasize illegitimately. To put it subjectively, persuasion is about 50 percent crossing one’s fingers and hoping the recipient doesn’t call bullshit. If I am not to be believed, then please flip the television onto CSPAN, MSNBC, or FoxNews. Please measure the amount of times statements include words such as only, never, always, nobody, all, need, and must.

I admit having an obsession for watching Sunday morning news programs, especially NBC’s Meet the Press. I think John Boehner is currently the reigning champion of overusing absolutes and lacking qualification, specifically for his appearance on Meet the Press on March 3rd, 2013.

Rhetorical qualification might be the saving grace of America’s political system, if only American politicians consider how best to cure it.

Admittedly, I’ve noticed quite a few leans towards absolutism in this very essay. I’m attempting to mediate appropriately, but there’s probably and possibly going to be quite a few rhetorical statements that are inserted for emphatic persuasion.

It’s a difficult endeavor to speak or write without using absolutes, but it is possible to use qualifiers appropriately. I attempt to qualify most things I say and write, but usually a few invalid, absolute-laden claims become interspersed within my own rhetoric.

In fact, it happens more than a few times; I usually reexamine my conversations of the day and find a statement or five I would like to correct, as most people do. Especially with speaking, it is difficult to generate language and meaning frequently that is well-managed for qualification. I attempt to be cognizant of it, and I will retract most absolutes I have used if one of my students, listeners, or readers does catch me. I hate to admit I’m ever wrong, like most people.

So, I endorse criticism of my own rhetoric.

I can be wrong.

It’s possible, and at times, probable.

If only our country’s political rhetoricians would occasionally utter such words every now and then.

Toulmin also gives us the oft-challenged concept of inferential warrant, which might also be synonymous with the phrase common sense, as it is used in our American lexicon (4-5). Toulmin’s introduction of warrant as a necessary component of rhetoric is sometimes considered a threat to objective logic by academics. Aristotle’s logic promotes inductive/deductive rationale, needing a clear claim and valid support to interpret linguistic process. Toulmin persuades us to understand warrant as practical application of how language is used by individuals within a collective. Toulmin acknowledges that objective, scientific, and logical warrant are most easily accepted by a community, but subjective rhetoric often relies on communal belief, social mores, and legal consensus. It is possible for a community to commonly agree upon what is right, subjectively.

Language-users need to warrant a statement with common understanding and inferential, subjective comprehension. We sense each other’s commonality by hearing the words out of each other’s mouths and reading published words. We infer what is appropriate and right; this is sometimes how we falsely endorse concepts together that are actually inappropriate and wrong. Reviewing recent American history, inferential warrant has allowed for the segregation of minorities in schools, women’s inability to participate in a national vote, and laws that disallow two individuals of the same gender from participating in a national institution (or classifying them as “mentally diseased” as recently as the 1970s).

In other words, we justify discrimination. Common sense does not always qualify as good, right, valid, or even sensorial, yet it is referred to consistently when we communicate with one another. We insist on inferential warrant when we engage in a shared language system, yet common sense, or “sensing the norms of commonality,” is not always for the best. We often use the term common sense to imply a valuable line of thinking, when the warrant has not been fully plumbed for validity.

I know I’m guilty most days of using the term common sense to help persuade others that I what I say should be acceptable, if not accepted. Even a superb rhetorician as Barack Obama uses the term common sense for emphasis and emotional appeal often. Perhaps that is why he is much maligned.

Communication is most important in day-to-day life. This is understood, through commonality and inferential warrant, by how we raise our children together, with a social understanding that education is the best communal institution for them. We insist on good grades in reading and mathematics, and we place value together on the communal environment in which children grow and mature. These American children communicate in the shared language system of English at the earliest possible age, with students of the same age within the direct community and teachers whose implied, ethical goal is to foster those communications.

But, we have to regard that many human beings have engaged in other shared language systems, especially outside the boundaries of the United States of America.

We’ve become so damn full of ourselves in this country.

The American culture, steeped in the shared language system of English, seems to have a problem acknowledging and respecting the world’s different languages and cultures. The factor that is perhaps most to blame for discrimination and condescension of others might be rooted in the inability to understand other language systems. Indeed, it might also be rooted in Americans’ lack of skill and understanding within our own adopted language system!

We could also acknowledge that language systems do evolve. As human civilizations evolve, the use of language practically changes for the needs of the human animal and human being within these systems. It’s easy enough to identify with today’s hypertext dialects and technological textual constructions (e.g., Twitter, blogs, emoticons, etc.).

Consider that Charles Darwin, in his Origin of Species, was mostly successful explaining the concept of evolution using a subjective metaphor based on sensory image: the sustainable structure of a tree, growing outward across branches and producing variant strains and possibilities depending on the biological culmination of an organism within a physical environment. Darwin was well aware of the literary tradition of tree as symbol in literature, religion, and philosophy. Good writers have read and understood enough text to claim authority, and Darwin was an exceptional writer. Consider how Darwin admitted frustration on how those who claimed spiritual understanding could not endorse the theory of evolution, which seems to be a continuing trend even in 2015.

Subjective understanding is necessary to comprehend both the concepts of evolution and God. Perhaps, a shared language system is simultaneously humanity’s greatest evolutionary trait and God’s most wonderful gift. Evolution, as a word that emotes and denotes, can best be understood by humans within the constraints of objectivity and subjectivity, as Darwin most eloquently succeeded through rhetorical means, integrating objectivity and subjectivity of language to prove the concept of evolution scientifically and religiously.

The concept of a shared language system is simple enough to comprehend. Every language system has a visual and auditory component. We construe symbols, letters, and numbers to understand; these are represented through visual process. We read published text (print and virtual), and we write using the system of language that will most effectively reach an audience. We make audible representation of consonants and vowels using our tongues, throats, jaws, and vocal chords to correspond with the written word, and we attempt to hear these utterances from others to comprehend. With written language, it requires more patience and consumption. With the spoken language, it requires more immediacy and improvisation. Language is a human construction, joining humans together in society through reading, writing, speaking, and listening, necessitating the state of being human to participate. It is a sensory process, reliant on our sight and hearing, that takes place primarily within the marvelous human computer we objectively dub the brain.

The human brain is a language processor. In addition to signaling sensory information, it is within this brain that language is comprehended, using any shared language system. The brain acquires this language system from the environment via sensory information, but the phenomenon of communication is objectively specified to occur within the natural design of the human brain. With all of our medical understanding of the human body, it remains the brain that is most difficult to objectively map and calculate. We have been able to map small areas of the brain—mostly by studying the language of those who have suffered aphasia of the brain—but the comprehensive structure of the human brain is still lacking to most scholars, mostly because it is comprehensively a language generator.

Perhaps, the function of the human brain as a language processor is best understood through analogous means: the human heart, as a muscle, rhythmically pumps blood through the human body, causing movement and physical function, while the human brain, as an electrical generator, rhythmically pumps chemical signals across the areas of the human brain, causing words, sentences, thoughts, and ideas.

Yet, we attribute what we have dubbed the soul to reside within the heart. The subjective understanding of the human spirit can be summed up rhetorically as “one who has a good heart.” Objective scientists, doctors, and mathematicians have very little success finding evidence of a soul or spirit within the physiology of a human animal, but we, as human beings, understand that we have a subjective spirit or soul somewhere in our corporeal bodies. Whether or not we care to admit it, we can objectively state that our subjective understanding of goodness, happiness, and spirituality are best comprehended within the physicality of the human brain.

I might better present the dichotomy of subjectivity and objectivity of human beings using the term character, rather than attempting to separate the concepts of soul and brain, especially as the Aristotelian concept of human character is dependent on subject as much as object.

It is within Aristotle’s Rhetoric—specifically the age-old, traditionally-tested Aristotelian appeals of logos, ethos, and pathos—where we find what I deem exciting applications of objective and subjective comprehension of rhetoric.

Ethics, identified as a necessary nuance of a shared language system, apply intermediary linguistic function of objective logic and subjective emotion. This necessary union of objectivity and subjectivity within a language system allows greater understanding of the human animal, human being, and human culture: the ABC’s of humanities study.

The use of logic is the most objective appeal we can make using a shared language system. We attempt to break things down mathematically, proving validity, structure, and synchronicity. We use science to identify the physicality of our environment, designate functions of biological organisms, and analyze human behavior. The scientific process, theorizing and proving through experimentation for all possibilities, must still rely on a communicative system of symbols and numbers to operate successfully. Theory, formula, and syntax require objective language application, pragmatically.

Linguists attempt to validate claims of language in multiple language systems. Hearing morphemes and phonemes uttered together in coordinated sequence and unique appliqué creates rationality in the human world. Logicians will inductively and deductively reason.

Logic has proven to be most utilitarian. We can easily observe its necessary application within human interaction because it is primarily based on the objective, physical world. Einstein’s translated, theoretical take on the structure of the hydrogen atom, best shared by the brief, infamous formula of E=MC², gives us an excellent symbolic lesson on how matter, energy, and physicality operate at the atomic level, particles of an atom that are excited beyond our ability to comprehend (the numeric squaring of the speed of light, which perhaps requires subjective understanding along with objective rationality). However, greater understanding of Einstein requires careful attention of his spoken and written rhetoric, designating quantum physics and relativity with careful inductive and deductive process of symbol and meaning.

In order to communicate best using objective means, we must use logical appeal. We might define a universally-understood shared language system that emphasizes objectivity as mathematics. Using Arabic numeral systems and symbolic representation (+, -, %,$….), we can communicate within most any word/utterance /syntactical language system, currently or historically. Mathematic representation is best utilized to prove physical energy and scientific rationality.

Emoting, the human condition of emotion, is our most subjective appeal, using a shared language system. Literary writers specialize in emotive writing: story, poetry, memoir, expression, belief, and existence. Emotions remain the mystery of the human condition. Love, family, death, war, poverty…there is little that objective reasoning or rational application can do to properly define the emotional roles of men and women. Anger, frustration, happiness, fright, depression, joy, grief, elation, companionship, security, panic, passion, trust, authority, intimidation, lazy, prideful, confidence, and hatred are all extremely subjective concepts, yet all human beings understand these words wholly. Most people cannot help but immerse themselves in many of these subjective concepts a few times every day.

The best adjective to convey feelings I have difficulty expressing, or hold to the highest degree of sacred, communal understanding, is ineffable.

A shared language system is inadequate to globally define humanity.

We cannot create a comprehensive system of effective language because every word has some subjective connotation. We cannot escape subjectivity when creating syntax. Many lean towards abandoning emotion in argument because it is inefficient. Perhaps the most efficient use of language, the ability to communicate with other human beings, is to acknowledge the effectiveness of subjective empathizing.

Politicians utilize subjectivity in most speeches and publications, on both sides of the American political aisle. Objective-minded doctors fail where a doctor’s bed-side manner might better assess the subjective concept of pain. Lawyers and judges operate within the objective letter of the law and the subjective spirit of the law. Colleges continue to award degrees in the objective sciences or subjective arts.

Parents tell stories, and teachers use literature to better educate. Each progressive generation learns about the immediate culture from the massive amount of radio, television, film, and internet we consume; all of this mass media necessitates, and propagates, a shared language system. Storytellers will analogize, utilize metaphor, create fictional characters, or even create subjective worlds. We might acknowledge how we fashion our own character and culture because of these crafted stories.

As human beings, we inherently know that the most persuasive arguments come from the subjective heart rather than the objective head. As rhetoricians, we find that the best representation for emotion is as aesthetic proof. We appreciate beauty, art, nature, God, love for each other, life, liberty, and happiness subjectively; in fact, it is most difficult to analyze these concepts objectively. We might acknowledge that emoting is just as necessary as rationalization. We emote with each other to convey significance in our individual experiences using a shared language system.

I identify music as the best expressive, universally-understood linguistic auditory/written system. If math can be used across nations as a universal system of logic, then music is easily identified as a communicative method to understand emotion. I can hear a Spanish aria or Latin opera, without understanding the lyrics, and I will understand the sadness, happiness, regret, or delight that is expressed aurally. The most influential instrumentalists in history have been those who have successfully emoted without words. We sing hymns in church, rise together for the national anthem at social events, and listen to the radio frequently…hell, the subjective cliché of “everyone loves music” doesn’t really need qualification.

Most every person enjoys a list of musical favorites. Some of my favorite conversations involve trading favorite bands, or why the electric guitar changed popular music for the better. It’s so very easy to identify music as the perfect universally-understood communal medium.

The intermediary concept of ethics attempts to identify a universally-understood language system. We reach a dilemma as a human race because there is no universal system, by auditory or written means, that we can use to communicate human character. A shared language system is necessary to identify ethical proof.

Just as we recognize that mathematics can generate subjective understanding, we also recognize that musical composition requires objective construction. With language systems, every utterance or written word conveys objectivity and subjectivity. We comprehend, within context, the degree of objectivity or subjectivity necessary to promote personal understanding.

There is no universal method of communication to identify ethical character; we need to share a language with others in order to endorse Aristotle’s most difficult proof. Ethics are best placed between logos and pathos. We can better represent ethos as an intermediary function of language, utterances equating polar opposites—shared understanding of degrees of absolutism creating intermediary interpretation—using objectivity and subjectivity, or logical rationalization and emotional expression. Understanding ethics requires an intermediary approach within the shared language system. Character and characteristics require a union of objectivity and subjectivity that logic or emotion, singly, cannot represent.

Ethical proof becomes a most practical product of a shared language system. We should emphasize it in our teachings, no matter what discipline we might ascribe to as professors and administrators.

The study of English has fruitful lessons to share with modern America. Please stop dismissing my degree as useless towards the purpose of education, or earning an honest living, if we’re going to be subjective about it.

It gets so very old, when you’re beating it on down the line.

-The Maniacal Professor
Works Cited
Aristotle. “Nicomachean Ethics.” Literature of the Western World. Ed. Brian Wilkie and James Hurt. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. 1220-1225. Print.

Cooper, Lane. The Rhetoric of Aristotle. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1960. Print.

Meet the Press. NBC. WNDU, South Bend, IN. 3 Mar. 2013. Television.

Toulmin, Stephen. The Uses of Argument. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

The Sphinx

(An Allegory of the 2004 Presidential Election)

On November 1, 2004, the Second Coming occurred. As foretold by Yeats, it was not the arrival of a savior, but a vengeful beast. In the deserts of Iraq, a sphinx arose from the sands. It stood twelve feet high with a beautiful human countenance to match its majestic lion body.

It arrived in Baghdad and conversed with its people. It talked with the men who planted bombs in hotels and cars.

“Why do you destroy and kill?” it asked.

“To oppose the tyranny of Bush’s evil plans and prevent the Americans from controlling our lives and culture,” they replied.

“Yet you kill your own countrymen in the process.”

“Sacrifices must be made.”

“Have you been successful in your endeavor?”

Unable to answer, the men answered they must continue trying anything. Dissatisfied with the answer, the sphinx ate all of the terrorists and flew to America to address George W. Bush. An election was imminent, and Bush’s concerns were more with obtaining votes than preventing the death of innocents. Bush did not want to see the sphinx, but the sphinx was most insistent. After trampling several Secret Service guards beneath his mighty paws, the sphinx found Bush cowering in a corner bedroom of the White House.

“Why did you attack Iraq?” the sphinx asked.

“Because they were going to use weapons of mass destruction to destroy my country,” Bush replied.

“What weapons? Where are they?”

“We’ll find them.”

“You’re very confident and passionate. Is that the only reason you invaded a country?”

“Yes.”

“You lie. You crave the resources there, don’t you?”

Under the sphinx’s commanding gaze, the president was unable to deceive the creature. “Yes, we need more oil. This country’s economic stability relies on obtaining all of the planet’s oil.”

“You are deluded and, therefore, dangerous,” the sphinx said.

The sphinx picked up the president between his teeth and bit him in two. Next, the sphinx visited John Kerry.

“Will you continue to attack Iraq?” the sphinx asked.

“I will do what is necessary to end the war with Iraq,” Kerry replied.

“Then there will be more deaths?”

“It’s essential to victory and the end of this conflict.”

“Will you ever withdraw your armies from the desert?”

“Probably not.”

After the sphinx ate John Kerry, it addressed the American people.

“What do you want from life?” the sphinx asked.

“We crave products and the money to buy those products. We want glamour and sex and immediate gratification. We want all this without having to work or toil or exert ourselves physically. We want someone else to think for us, and we want them to make the decisions for us. We are unconcerned with everyone else in the world, mostly because we don’t know about it.”

“Do you want to take over the world?”

“Sure, why not?” the Americans replied.

The sphinx shook his head like a parent who cannot communicate properly with his children. Discipline was necessary in such cases. The sphinx rumbled through America and devoured most of its citizens. Then it took over the office of President. It withdrew the troops from Iraq apologetically and assisted Iraq’s people with rebuilding its country and creating a government of its choosing. The American people became less selfish and vain under its new peaceful despot. The sphinx ruled America for centuries. It prospered as a monarchy and became a Utopian society.

Addendum

The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Works Cited

Yeats, William Butler. “The Second Coming.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 2014. Web. 19 July 2014. http://www.poetryfoundation.org

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

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P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

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Tending the Money Tree

John was a college instructor living on a modest property with a quaint cottage in Michigan, where the trees are the right height. His parents had passed on without leaving him any inheritance of which to speak, and he had accumulated significant debt by attending graduate school and relying on student loans and credit cards to live. He could not properly afford the property, as his meager teaching salary could not make a dent in his monthly budget. The bank went ahead and gave him the loan, content in allowing John to flounder with his head barely above water until the day when they could evict him from the property.

John appealed to the community college he worked for a living wage, but his appeals were soundly rebuked. Adjunct teachers do not deserve equal pay as professors, since apparently they do not serve the same function as tenured professors. When asked how their function was different, most administrators conveniently had something else to do, and John was ushered to the door.

When a third past due notice came in the mail, John went to his backyard to pray. In his backyard was a grand, old oak tree that John loved. He wanted the property for the tree, not the house, as John preferred the grand outdoors to staying inside a stuffy house. The tree stood triumphantly in the center of the five-acre plot, the centerpiece of a natural sanctuary in which John identified with a greater power. He loved this tree with all of his hippie, tree-hugging heart. It was the only reason he wanted to stay on the property. He prayed to the tree, as it was the last connection with any concept of self-worth, love, or God he retained.

He buried his face in the dirt before the tree and prayed, “Please help me.” The tree, which loved John back, promptly answered by dropping all the money that John needed for solvency. Bills of American cash shook out of the grand oak, accumulating about John, who was jubilant. Denominations of all number of dollar bills floated lazily in the air until enough cash had settled to relieve John of his debt problems. John spent the better part of an afternoon raking, until he had a substantial pile to count. He gently stroked the oak tree and whispered his thanks.

He spent the night stacking and counting his money, until the amount of $177, 348 was tallied. $124,350 would pay off the mortgage, $28, 672 would pay off his school loans, and $12, 347 would pay off his three credit cards. This left him $11, 979 to put into a savings account and allowed John to let go of a lifetime’s worth of stress, accumulated due to a daily regimen of wondering how he was going to make it to the next day. He was not, in fact, a rich man, but John felt like a rich man for the first time in his life. This feeling cured John of much of his physical, mental, and spiritual woes.

The next day, he went to the bank where he was treated like a champion for the first time in his life. Bank tellers scrambled to accommodate his every need, asking if he would like to consider investment options. He politely thanked them and flatly stated that he would like to pay off his debts primarily. A slightly-overweight bank manager scrambled to speak and shake sweaty hands with John. John inquired about purchasing a certificate of deposit, but the disgusted look of the bank manager indicated that CDs were antiquated and idiotic. John decided to place the remainder of his balance into a savings account, stating that he would consider further investment options later with the manager. The manager looked even more disgusted and asked, “Where did you get all this money?” John replied, “I guess I am loved.”

John went about his life happily, teaching with a meager salary, but free of the worry of crushing debt. As he continued to teach, he developed a strong rapport with his students, as he usually did. He often counseled his students about their own financial problems, struggling to answer questions about the validity of placing one’s self into such overwhelming debt for a college degree. His empathy got the best of John, and one day, he decided to appeal to his money tree to provide enough money for the students in his classes. The tree happily complied and dropped enough money for John to give to his students. On the final day of the semester, he distributed the money evenly to every student who attended his classes.

Several students posted news of this act of philanthropy on Facebook. The national media caught wind of this, and John soon found lines of people amassing at his front door, asking politely for assistance. John, with his good heart and rose-colored glasses, happily handed out bushels of cash to all comers. The money tree happily cooperated, never shunning John for a request to help the needy. Some of the recipients promised to pay the gift back to John, but he always refused such an offer. There was plenty for everybody, and he never considered that those who took money had to return the favor with labor, exorbitant interest, or heightened mental stress.

The United States government soon caught wind of John and his money tree. The U.S. National Guard advanced and chased away the long line of needy Americans from John’s door. The U.S. Corps of Army Engineers quickly erected a thirty-foot tall wall about John’s property, with barbed wire, spotlights, and motion-detecting sensors. A security detail was assigned to guard John, his property, and the valuable money tree.

The President visited John and informed him that his property had been designated a national park, and John was now the Secretary of the Department of Money Tending and Lending. He was assigned two advisors who would be attending John for the rest of his days. Their names were Republican Rob and Democratic Dave.

Rob and Dave never left John’s side. Rob was constantly chattering in his ear, while Dave interjected here and there, mostly deferring to Rob’s judgment.

Rob insisted that John could not simply hand out money freely to those who needed it. It would unfairly devalue the U.S. dollar, and it was better given to entrepreneurs who were willing to allow the money to trickle down into the hands of needy citizens. If citizens were given free money, then they would become lazy and complacent.

Dave agreed in that the money needed to be regulated, lest the money not find its way through government programs, where administrators could fairly receive their due compensation for such regulation. Dave also frequently mentioned for John to listen to Rob, since he knew more about finances than Dave did.

John often countered by asking why the money could not be fairly distributed to all Americans, especially those who needed a place to live or eat or receive an education. Rob angrily shook his head. Citizens have to earn their way. John wanted to know why Rob insisted that Americans needed to be unhappy when it was possible to make everybody feel the happiness that John had experienced. Rob stated that America’s economy depended on consumer debt and corporate satisfaction. Dave simply shrugged and agreed that this is the way it has to be. When John replied about how stimulating the economy by providing citizens with more money to spend might be better for America, both Rob and Dave simply whistled and ignored John’s economic theories, since they both assumed John never knew best about such lofty concepts.

Rob and Dave relentlessly hounded John to the point where he could no longer sleep, work, or eat. John lost all of the happiness of his life, and he refused to ask the money tree for gifts. Rob and Dave demanded he pray to his tree. Rob commanded the armed guard to level their weapons at John and pray to the damned tree. John wrapped his arms around his beloved tree and wept. A single one-dollar bill lazily floated from the tree, which Rob hastily snatched from the air. Rob angrily screamed at John to stop sobbing and demanded to know where the rest of the money was. Dave simply stared downward and nervously shuffled his feet. John repeated a single phrase as he cried for his tree, “I’m so sorry.” Rob grew frustrated with John and commanded everybody to leave the sissy hippie alone with his God-damned tree, in the hope that maybe some alone-time would bear some sweet, financial fruit.

John kissed his tree and stated, “I love what I thought you were, but I don’t love what politicians think you are.” The grand, old oak tree shuddered, expressing such requited love for John. It rapidly dropped all of its leaves to the ground, withered, and died. John grieved for the death of his tree, thanking it for its good intentions, patriotic experimentation, symbolic gestures, natural grandeur, and neighborly companionship. Then, John stormed to his garage and returned to his arboreal companion with an axe. He swung and landed one solid blow into the dead money tree. As John attempted a second blow, an assassin’s bullet rang through the air, the axe thudded to the ground, and the Department of Money Tending and Lending ceased to exist.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

Trying to Get the Girl

I’m sitting here staring at the old Zip corner store thinking about going in. My ’85 Chevy Cavalier is parked in the store’s parking lot with the engine still running, just in case I change my mind. I sit in the passenger seat playing with the keys dangling from the ignition and contemplate what I want to do. I’ve only had this car about a week, and the courage it gave me is starting to fade away fast. I’d better make my move today or this opportunity may pass altogether.

I turn the key to the off position, and the engine rattles to a halt. My father didn’t think it was a wise purchase. It only cost me 700 dollars, but it runs and there isn’t a lot of rust on the body. I know I’m going to need wheels if I’m going to start dating. Every high school student knows that. So, I spent the cash I had saved up from delivering papers and got the car. All my Dad had to say was you get what you pay for. As if I could afford anything better.

I turn the overhead lights on. I run my hand over the molded plastic dashboard to check for dust and touch the blackened Chevrolet emblem above the glove compartment. I tried to buff the emblem, but the silver just rubbed off more, so I had to leave that alone. I check the passenger seat next to me to make sure there isn’t any offending crumbs or dirt I missed. It’s still clean, and so is the floor mat on that side. I notice some pebbles that must have fallen from my shoes on the driver floor mat. I pick them up and fling them out the open window. I let the smell of a newly detailed car enter into my nose, turn off the overhead light, and allow my gaze to fall back to the front door of the store.

The bright orange “Hi, we are open” sign is displayed in the front door, but she’ll probably close up the shop in a couple of minutes. I check the clock on the dashboard and it reads 9:47. Closing time in about 13 minutes, but what if her clock is late? It could be less than that. I grope around the door for a couple of seconds looking for the handle, and push the door open when I find it.

I stand outside my car leaning on the open door for a moment and let the brisk autumn air numb my fingers and nose. I wonder what she’ll say. She always seems nice enough when I talk to her in class. She isn’t overly attractive or stuck up, and I don’t necessarily run with the nerd crowd at school. She should make an adequate choice for a first date. If she’ll allow me, that is.

I’m kidding myself. I’ve had my eye on her since middle school. I’ve never had the courage to talk to her for more than two minutes at a stretch. For that matter, I’ve never had the nerve to talk to any girl for longer than that. These butterflies are churning up a storm in my belly. I think the easiest thing to do would be to slide back into the driver’s seat, turn on the car, and head back home to do the homework I’m supposed to be taking care of at this very moment.

I need to get a grip here. I went to great lengths to ensure this moment takes place. I overheard her talk about her job many times in Spanish class. I’ve been here before when she’s working. I know she works here on Tuesday nights. I want to ask her out here at the store, so I don’t need to humiliate myself at school in front of the hundreds of other girls who spurn my advances. I bought a car to ensure that we could enjoy a proper date by ourselves without obnoxious chaperones to nose in on our activity. I’m cool, I’m hip, and I’m not too harsh on the eyes, if I do say so myself. If only I could convince my feet to start walking, this would be a cinch.

I take a deep breath and slam the car door shut. I push my way to the front door of the store. The metal handle feels slick in my hand. I swallow a particularly large lump that’s sitting in my throat. I need to open the door slowly, calmly. I can’t appear overeager. And don’t try to make eye contact right away. I’ve got to make this seem like a coincidental meeting. I open the door, perhaps a little too quickly.

I enter the store and focus my eyes on the white, marble tiles on the floor. I take a few more steps into the store and allow my eyes to fixate on a tabloid magazine rack next to the front counter, which she’s probably sitting behind. I stand still and try to comprehend some of the covers on the magazines, but my head feels thick, like my thoughts are straining out like pea soup through a sieve. I walk to the back of the store to clear my thoughts.

I open the glass door to the refrigerated section and grab a Diet Coke. I hold it open and pretend to survey my choices, thankful of any extra time I can garner. The chill from inside reminds me of being back outside in my new car. All I have to do is put the Coke bottle back and make a beeline back out the way I came. I begin to feel the red-hot gaze of questioning eyes pierce my back. Slowly, I turn my head to see if she’s watching, but no one is behind the counter.

I turn all the way around to confirm my glance. She’s not there. As a matter of fact, there’s nobody else in the store. With my soda still in hand, I walk across the back to check all of the aisles for her. Maybe I missed her pricing some items in my rush to get to the back. But nobody’s there. Maybe she’s in the washroom.

I walk to the front of the store through the aisle closest to the front door. I glance at the door and wonder if maybe I should just go to my car and wait a couple of minutes. I look down at the plastic bottle in my hand. I’d have to put it back first. That would just be silly. I could just sit at the counter and wait for her to come out. I slink up to the counter and place the Diet Coke on the counter.

I survey the gum and candy racks across the counter. I place my sweating hands in my pockets and turn to watch the hot dogs rotating on the heat racks. I remove one of my hands and try to casually place it next to the soda on the counter. I check the two doors on the wall behind the counter and wonder which one she’ll come out of. I remove both my hands from my pockets and run them through my hair. I glance at the front door to see if anyone else is coming in. Nobody’s coming. I stroll away from the counter back into one of the aisles and pretend to be interested in their selection of Campbell’s soups.

“Excuse me. Can I help you?” a gruff voice speaks from behind the counter.

I turn, surprised, to see a large man exit from one of the doors back behind the counter. I have never seen this man before. His t-shirt is ripped and has a Led Zeppelin logo. His long beard and bandana tell me he must think he’s a biker. Whatever he thinks he is, he’s bad news.

“Isn’t there supposed to be a girl here tonight?” I reply to his question. A wave of courage overtakes me. I reach for a large can of New England clam chowder soup and survey the nutritional information.

“Not tonight,” the biker replies. He gestures toward the Coke on the counter. “Is this yours?”

“Yeah,” I say coolly.

“Well, come on and buy it then.” The biker seems a little hostile. “I haven’t got all night.”

“I’ll be there when I get there.” I figure I’ll egg him on a little.

“Look, punk, either buy your stinking pop or get the hell out of the store!”

I turn from the soup display and face this villainous biker. I square my shoulders and look the man dead in the eyes. I narrow my eyes and pull my lips up to a snare to let him know I mean business. With my soup can hanging at my side, I take one full step towards this man who outweighs me by at least a hundred pounds. I don’t let his size intimidate me and take another bold step toward the counter.

“Sir, I believe there was supposed to be a young girl here tonight. And I do believe that you may know where she is.” I’m tough as nails and twice as mean. “So you better tell me what’s going on. Right now.”

The biker appears somewhat rattled. I spot a drop of sweat run down his nose. A man’s voice reports from the room the biker just exited, “Did you get rid of him?”

I let fly with the soup can just as the biker foolishly turns his head to the sound of his partner’s voice. The can flies straight and true, and just as the biker turns back to me, it catches him right above his left eye. The loud clang echoes through the store like church bells. I leap over the counter, snatching the bottle of soda as I clear it. Quickly, I spin around to see the biker staggering, clutching his bleeding eye. I latch on to a fistful of his t-shirt with my left hand, and with all of my might bring the full weight of twenty ounces of soda crashing down onto the top of the man’s skull. Liquid sprays everywhere as the bottle explodes. The biker collapses into a pile, face down into a sticky puddle of pop.

The voice of the biker’s partner erupts from the back room, “What the hell is going on out there, Bubba?” I spin around to confront the new foe. He emerges from the back room. This guy could be the other one’s twin brother. He’s obviously surprised to find me standing over his partner’s unconscious form. “You just made a big mistake, punk,” he says as he approaches me with balled fists.

I hunch into a fighting stance and prepare for biker number two’s advance. He swings at me with his right, and I deftly dodge the punch. He follows with his left, and it glances sharply against my cheekbone. I wince in pain, but I refuse to back down. I retaliate with a quick jab to his chin. Biker number two reels back, stunned at my strength and quickness. I seize the advantage and lunge at his midsection like the best of the Dallas Cowboys’ linebackers. His feet slip out from underneath him on the slick floor, and the back of his head bounces off the hard, marble floor. The hollow sound resonates through the store as this man loses consciousness as well.

I remove myself from the villain’s body, and I stand and brush the dust off myself. I place my hand to the cheek where the second biker connected. A warm bump has already started to grow there. A small price to pay, for sure. I locate the store telephone underneath the cash register and dial 911.

“911. What is your emergency?” the female voice answers.

“Ma’am, I am at the old Zip store at the corner of South Street and 23rd. I have apprehended two suspicious persons who have attempted to rob this store. Please send help immediately,” I manage in my best Superman impersonation. I place the receiver down on the counter as the operator attempts to keep me on the line. I have a victory to savor and a champion to present.

I enter the back room where my damsel in distress sits on a crate of vegetables, staring at me with wide, tear-soaked eyes. Her hands are bound, and her mouth is gagged. I search around the storeroom and find a razor-blade sitting on a shelf in the back. I return to my damsel and cut the rope that binds her. Her hands free, she pulls the handkerchief out of her mouth. “Thank you,” she cries as she wraps her arms tightly around my neck. She grips me tight enough to cut off my breath, but I allow her the embrace. Shortly, she releases me and looks me in the eye. “You saved me?” she asks, breathless.

“Of course, I did.” I smile at the sight of her big, brown eyes. Now, I decide, is the time. “Say, I was wondering if you wouldn’t want to go out with me sometime?”

I slap myself soundly on the cheek and jolt myself out of my fantasy. I’m still sitting in my Cavalier trying to muster up the courage to go into the store and ask her out. If I think about it too much longer I may lapse back into one of my delusions. I look at the clock on the dashboard. It says 9:54. Seven minutes wasted on a scenario that will never happen. I need to be more constructive.

I exit the car and repeat the anxious scene where I lean on my car door. Again, I walk to the front door trepidatiously. This time, I open the door with a much better, more confident pull. I enter the store, and, this time, boldly look toward the counter to find her. She’s there, but she’s talking to someone. One of the jocks from school is leaning on the counter chewing her ear off, probably about some nonsense about how studly he is. This guy’s trying to horn in on my territory.

I stand in the doorway calmly, like I belong there. I survey the scene. Neither of them has bothered to notice me yet. Brett or Bob…I think one of those might be the jock’s name. Whatever it is, she doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in what he has to say. Naturally, I need to intervene.

I don’t stop to pick up any products as an excuse. I walk right up to the pair and look directly at her. She seems pleased to see me.

“Hi,” she says warmly.

I greet her back and let my eyes narrow on the offending party.

“What do you want?” He starts right in with the hostility.

“I was going to have a talk with someone tonight,” I reply. I lean closer in towards him to display my complete lack of fear. I throw a quick grin at the damsel before returning to my rival. “And it isn’t going to be with you, Bubba.”

He lunges at me, but I sidestep him like a bullfighter. He crashes headlong into a display of dog biscuits. I saunter over to where he landed clumsily, face down. I reach down and flip him over. I latch on to the lapels of his letterman’s jacket. I pull him up to within an inch of my face, and catch a whiff of his foul-smelling breath.

“I’m your worst nightmare, punk,” I whisper in my best Dirty Harry impersonation.

I don’t slap myself this time, as I come back down to earth. I bang my head on the steering wheel. I instantly regret doing it as the pain causes me to wince. I rub my head where I struck the wheel in a vain attempt to make the pain go away. I turn the overhead light back on and check my forehead. Sure enough, there’s a long, red mark on it. I turn the light off and look down at the clock again. 10:00 on the dot. I curse at myself, both for mangling my forehead and lacking the courage to do something that should not be this difficult. This time, I go for real.

It’s now or never. I open my door for the third time tonight, and I exit the car and stand in my customary spot where my legs refuse to work. I look to the door to confirm that she hasn’t closed the store yet. The open sign is still in the window. I need to go now. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have to say anything earth-shattering. Just ask her if she’s busy this weekend. If I get shot down, so what? There’s plenty of fish in the sea, right? I’m sixteen years old. I’ll have plenty of opportunities with other girls if this doesn’t work out. Besides, the first time you ask a girl out has gotta be the hardest, right? This will be valuable experience for my college years. Besides, how could she resist me? I’m good looking, and I have a car.

But, I bought the car for her. I bought it for tonight. I want this to work so bad, but I know that there is no way that it’s going to. I keep trying to think up the perfect scenario, but there is no perfect scenario. I just go in, make a fool of myself, and then leave like a dog and whimper my way back to the car that doesn’t impress. I don’t think I can leave here, leave her, knowing I got dissed, rejected, discarded like five-week old milk. I won’t be able to sleep. I won’t be able to eat. I won’t be able to show my face to her at school.

For the third time tonight, I chicken out. I get back into the driver’s seat of my new ’85 Chevy Cavalier and slam the car door shut. I turn the car on, and the engine shakes the entire chassis as the engine struggles to get warm. I place both my hands on the wheel and lean my sore forehead on the backs of my hands. A new sensation has replaced the butterflies in my stomach. A slimy, oily feeling that doesn’t sit well. A harsh reality creeps into my mind. I’m not going to be able to come back here and do this again. I’m a coward, and all of the imagined antics of heroism in the world won’t change that.

I take a deep breath and look ahead. I put the car in gear, and the engine reluctantly responds. I stare at the clock which reads 10:09, and let one last foolish idea about changing my mind fade from my thoughts. I let my foot off the brake and ease the car out of the parking space. I coast towards the front of the store, and there she is.

She stands there in front of the door which now has the “Sorry, we’re closed” sign hanging from inside. She looks at me, and I find myself returning her stare. My car seems to slow down on its own and stop in front of where she is standing. Slowly, I roll down my window. Several long seconds of silence tick by.

“Hello,” I manage.

“Hi,” she greets me with a smile. “Funny seeing you here tonight.”

“Yeah, I was just driving around and thought about getting a soda. But you’re closed now, huh?”

“Sorry. So you’ve got a car, huh?”

“Yeah, it’s nothing special, but it gets me where I want to go.”

“That’s really cool,” she says sincerely. “I don’t have a car yet, but I’m trying to save up some money to get one. Having a car would be so cool.”

“Yeah, I know the feeling.”

“Say, I live a couple of blocks down off South Street. Do you think you can give me a ride?”

“Sure. No problem. Hop in.”

I lean over and unlock the passenger door as she passes around the front of my car. I grip the steering wheel tighter as the anxiety returns to my belly. This time, though, it’s a more excited variety. She hops in and smiles at me. As I pull out of the store parking lot, I wonder to myself if, this time, it’s for real.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

Squirrels and Rats

The damn squirrel won’t come to me.

The squirrels always came to my Grandfather. He used to hold out a fistful of popcorn or sunflower seeds or bread crumbs, and they would hop right up on his lap and eat from his hand. They were so comfortable around him. They would mount themselves on his knees, and then run back and forth across his outstretched arms like he was a tightrope. The squirrels would wiggle their furry noses right in his ear, never biting, and effect the largest, most genuine smile out of that big, bear-like man as they communicated ticklish sentiments to him for the gracious meal.

My Grandfather raised me after my mother died of a broken heart. I never knew my grandmother as she had left him many years before I first breathed the harsh air of this world. He was a kind and loving man who worked diligently for his money and never raised a hostile hand to me. He was the large, burly type that liked to work with his hands. He never said much, but when he spoke, it was worth listening to. It seemed Nature loved him as much, if not more, than I did.

Some of my fondest memories as a child were of going to the playground to play and watch my Grandfather feed the squirrels. The squirrels were so graceful, lithely jumping from tree branch to telephone wire to park bench to my Grandfather’s patient person. Their manner towards him was amiable; they seemed very keen to make his acquaintance. I remember several of the creatures would notice him as we entered the park, sprinting eagerly from the treetops to the bench where he always sat. I would rock to and fro on one of the weathered plastic horses mounted on giant steel coils and watch the squirrels congregate around this large hulking man like he was the head of a religious community. Those bright summer days spent in the park with my Grandfather and his numerous rodent followers were some of the most pleasant memories of my miserable life.

I always loved the squirrels, but they never shared the same passion for me as they did for my Grandfather. Like any curious child, I wanted to pet their soft, cushiony fur and touch the tip of my nose to their nutational snouts. I would start towards them and they would pause from their activities as a group. After they realized my intention to kidnap one of their members for the purpose of cuddling, they would scamper away from the bench in mass. My Grandfather would lightly caution me. I was too eager. Don’t chase them. Just let them come to me if I want to pet one. I would shuffle away dejectedly, then repeat the same scenario minutes later when the squirrels would return to my Grandfather’s welcoming lap.

So here I sit today on a park bench waiting for my father to meet me, holding a half-eaten chicken salad sandwich out to a squirrel. It had been bounding through the grass, looking for grub, and had come dangerously close to entering the personal space around the bench where it might want to come to me. Once it noticed me, it froze. The sandwich was dry and bland, so I hazarded a thought of attracting the squirrel and held out the morsel as an offering.

The squirrel coolly regards me, but makes no move to take the sandwich or get anywhere close to me. It stands upright, its tail quivering with indecision. The tail of the squirrel always fascinated me. It seems to me that the squirrel’s plush appendage would probably be the most comfortable surface to human touch this side of a feather, silk pajamas, or a ceramic bowl filled with rose petals.

My father sneaks in from out of my view and sits next to me on the park bench where we predetermined that we would meet. The squirrel bounds away from the new intruder, leaving the secrecy of the texture of a squirrel’s tail a mystery to me. I toss the sandwich after the fleeing squirrel in an effort to communicate to it that it was not my intention to invite the offending party. I hope it still considers me a possible candidate for companionship.

“How are you doing, son?” my father offers pathetically.

“How do you think I’m doing,” I shoot back. “And don’t call me, ‘son.’”

I’m reminded of the antithesis of the squirrel: the rat. I’m quite familiar with rats. I encounter them frequently at the manufacturing plant I run. The plant has a rat problem, and we’re forced to set up box-traps all around the perimeter of the warehouse. One of the less enviable tasks I have as supervisor is to make my weekly rounds to empty those traps. There is nothing more loathsome to the senses than a dead, smelly rat that has been partially severed by a steely length of metal. Some of the traps I run across haven’t always completed the job either. I’ll find a writhing creature with a portion of its torso pinched to the point of bursting, staring revenge at me with its dark, disturbing eyes. In those cases, I have to finish the job with a large rock or the heel of my steel-tipped boots, grinding my teeth to the point of cracking with each strike. I’ve disposed of many a disgusting corpse, and I’m quite familiar with the make-up of the vile rodents.

I had a disturbing notion one day when I was examining one of the rats’ cadavers: rats are actually quite similar to squirrels. They’re both around the same size, though the rats do tend to be a little larger. They’re both long and covered in matted fur. The most noticeable difference is their tails. The rats have those long, skinny tails reminiscent of a snake’s oily body while the squirrel’s bushy length is evocative of a plush toy you would lay in your baby’s crib. Bottom line is that they are both rodents; we just think of one as endearing and agreeable and the other as malevolent and abominable. They’re both part of a large community living quietly among us human beings. We welcome one to bound out in the open among our trees and backyards, close to our children. The other is banished to the dark, nocturnal confines of our graveyards and sewers. The squirrel is cute and accepted; the rat is ugly and shunned.

After a moment of awkward silence, my father begins anew his plea.

“I realize there are a lot of hard feelings between us…”

“You know, I don’t want to hear any speech you might have prepared,” I interrupt. “What do you want?”

I haven’t seen or spoken to my father. He abandoned my mother and me before I reached any degree of awareness as a babe. My mother died shortly after he left. The doctors said cancer, but I have maintained throughout my life that it was my father’s fault. He chose to stay out of my life, so I haven’t ever considered having a father. My Grandfather was a wonderful substitute, but I never acknowledged it until recently.

My Grandfather did his best to make me a good man like he was, but he left me because of a heart attack shortly after I moved out at eighteen. As a teen, I gave him such a hard time—sneaking out at night, stealing, vandalism, juvenile arrests—but my Grandfather never gave up on me. I would openly defy him; on numerous occasions, I would express my deep hatred for him. He never did anything to warrant such a reaction, but I would tell him how much I detested living with him. He was such a good man trying to raise an ungrateful creature. He tried his damnedest to make me a superior person—an acceptable, beautiful man like he was. I often realize as I live day-to-day, offending people with my biting candor and ruinous attitude, that he did not succeed.

My father has tried to contact me three times over the past month by phone. On the fourth attempt, I begrudgingly agreed to give him a moment of my time. I’m not sure why I exactly agreed to it. Call it morbid curiosity.

“I want to make amends…meet my son…” my father says.

“Well, now you’ve met me. The ‘amends’ thing isn’t going to happen.”

One time at the warehouse, I was making the rounds of the rat traps with one of the old-timers that we employ to run the machines. I made the mistake of sharing my observations about rats and squirrels to this antiquated employee. His face glowered and he shared his knowledge of the ‘scrat.’ A scrat was a squirrel/rat hybrid that was produced, in his crude words, when a rat caught sight of the inviting, attractive tail of a squirrel and decided to have his depraved way with it. He was droning on and on about the scrats he used to shoot in his hometown mountains of West Virginia, but I quickly dismissed him, thinking this senior citizen was trying to pull my leg with tales of some urban legend he picked up from his rural upbringing. When he detected my contempt, he insisted I look it up. On a lark, I Googled it on a lunch break and discovered numerous web-sites dedicated to the existence of the scrat. I wondered about the qualities and characteristics of a product that would result from such an unlikely union. I discovered some disturbingly familiar traits upon close scrutiny.

“You see, son, I’m sick. My doctor says I need an operation and it might not be successful…”

I feel my heart slow to a sickening pace at the prospect of my last existing tie with humanity passing from this existence. I maintain some perverse fascination with meeting this detestable patron that counterbalances the sheer hatred I feel for him. I admittedly have many questions I want to know the answer to that only this man can provide. I’ve run imaginary scenarios through my mind about how our first meeting would commence. My masochistic urges always get the better of me. I let my father continue without interruption.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t have insurance and they want to send me to this fancy hospital. There is absolutely no way I can afford it. I just have nowhere else to turn. So I called you up and…”

“Wait a minute,” I explode. “You came to ask me for MONEY?”

My father is not as distraught from my retort as he should be. “Well, I tried to be civil with you but you didn’t give me a chance…”

“Shut up,” I tell him flatly. “Just shut up.” I rise from the park bench and look fiercely down at this pitiful man with the most contemptible glare I can manage. The squirrel that I had previously tried to befriend had returned to gnaw on my discarded sandwich. When I stand, it detects my gargantuan revulsion and scurries for the sanctuary of a nearby tree trunk.

I want to unload all the years of anger and ruthlessness that I have generated for my father in this one moment, but all I can manage is a whimper.

“I hate you so much…” I say.

“Look, I don’t want it to be this way.” My father tries to salvage his appeal. “I really want us to be friends, to get to know one another before I die.”

“I hope you DO die. I hope you wither away slowly. I hope you die with as much pain as humanly possible.”

I leave him with that, marching away from that park bench with heavy footfalls and hot tears streaming down my cheeks. I do my best to drown out what he shouts to me as I leave.

“You’re my blood, son. You need to do this for me. What else am I going to do? You owe me, son.”

I try to calm my body as it seizes from now uncontrollable sobbing. I continue on my course away from my father, desperate to be away from this distressing scene, but he feels it necessary to throw one last especially painful dagger my way.

“You’re a much better person than I am.”

I break into a run, fleeing my kin, knowing that I belong neither to his despised world nor to the beauteous kingdom of excellence that my Grandfather belonged to. I reside firmly somewhere between a squirrel and a rat.