Snow Days (Chapter 2)

 

The flash of rare winter lightning and subsequent rumble of thunder, as well as a sudden onrush of cold air had briefly snapped Carl back to the present-day snowstorm. A fierce wind gust had also blown his down jacket’s hood backward. Hurriedly refastening the Velcro, he resumed his seemingly endless, snow shoveling routine. As he battled the winter elements, his reverie returned and zeroed in on a long ago snow day of his youth… and, regrettably, that included a childish battle with his dear sister Cathy.

On that particular day, their bickering had gone way beyond the typical sibling rivalry. Adding to the tensions were Carl’s unscrupulous business practices. His devious MO was to sell to her his transistor radio’s used (nearly dead) 9V batteries.

It had been quite by accident that he’d discovered how, after these dry cells had failed, they oftentimes (albeit briefly) came back to life. Ergo, whenever his sibling’s radio went dead, like a circling vulture, he’d swoop down and set up shop. Of course, that day’s snowstorm… one that had rendered the roads into town nearly impassible… made it far easier for him to close the sale. For Cathy, it all boiled down to either buying his shoddy wares or missing out on listening to her fave new Beatles songs.

In feeble defense of his compromised, faltering ethics, he did warn her she was buying used merchandise and, if lucky, she might get up to an hour’s worth of music out of her radio.

However, once her luck ran out… her battery conked out… her justifiable indignation boiled over, which powered her high decibel demands for a full refund… only to be met by her brother’s smug reminder, “Sorry, all sales are final!”

While present day Carl took a breather from his shoveling, he tempered his memories with a grown-up perspective. He realized that a well-timed parental intervention had made him the principled man he had become. He fully credited Mom and Dad’s stern lectures for successfully curing him of his crooked, conman conduct. Had they not?

Well… he could’ve easily morphed into a predatory lender or, perhaps, even some rank, high-ranking, power-tripping, eccentric, egocentric archconservative. Hell… he might’ve even metastasized into a “too big to fail”, global economy plundering, Wall Street bankster and/or tyrannical, egomaniacal, whining, crybaby, capricious, Constitution gutting, corrupt, corporately owned, unpresidential president.

Carl’s thoughts once again bridged the decades… back to that particular snow day of his youth… how he had looked over his left shoulder just in time to catch a glimpse of his own Mom rolling her eyes and slowly, glumly shaking her head side to side.

With his now grown-up perspective, he could totally dig her reaction… even caught himself mimicking her same gestures.

He realized that there are still far too many spoiled rotten boys who never received that much needed, inter-generationally imparted wisdom… and, as such, too many of them were doomed, forever, to remaining little boys, hopelessly, helplessly trapped in adult bodies… that such infantile misbehavior / arrested development represents much of what is wrong in his homeland… indeed… the entire world.

Once again Carl resumed shoveling and remembering… picking up where he had left off…

By that time, young Cathy and Carl’s poor, sleep deprived Dad had realized that there could be no extra ZZZ’s for him. And adding to this already considerable racket, Mom would be revving up her vacuum cleaner; employing this “white noise” as a means to drown everyone out.

So desperate for some peace and quiet, both parents teamed up and used their best con job to convince their kids to go outside and play in the snow. Their logic… what better way to get them to “chill out”? Dad could barely contain his chuckling as he handed them both snow shovels and said, “Have fun kids.”

And once they were out-of-doors, it was only out of parental love that he had resisted the strong temptation to haul out some nails and oak 2 X 4s to hammer barricades across both front and back doors. Of course, the fact that his kids were now unknowingly and obediently clearing the sidewalks and five car length driveway for him could only help get them back into his good graces.

Their labors had also netted them a fringe benefit. The resultant snow piles were the stuff snow forts were made of. Once their opposing “military bases” had been completed, the snowball fights erupted; approaching levels of viciousness that only could’ve been an extension of their earlier indoor skirmish.

It probably would not have even shocked Carl had Cathy gotten one final usage out of all of those used batteries he had sold to her… by hiding them inside her snowball WMD… the sis vs. bro battle “powered” by dead batteries.

Well, eventually, the hostilities subsided. Not unlike Carl’s used batteries, yet another dwindling energy issue had occurred… as the morning had worn on, their sugar buzzes bad worn off.

Just about the time the siblings had gotten the rage out of their systems and declared peace, that’s when aggression of a different nature kicked in… courtesy of their nearby, madman neighbor, Phil Anders.

 

Chapter 3 to be posted tomorrow.

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Snow Days (Chapter 1)

 

Once upon a time…

…lifelong Michigander Carl Schuster woke up to the telltale sounds of roaring, sustained, window rattling winds. Reluctantly leaving his cozy bed he could already feel the chill in the air as he traipsed over to the window to peer through the curtains. The predawn dimly lit sights of his frozen and drifted over neighborhood were certainly consistent to the howling gales he’d been hearing.

Once again, Ma Nature was unleashing one of her early winter blizzards and she had already dumped tons of the white stuff in his neck of the woods. Awakening his Mac from its slumbers, a quick check of his favorite weather website confirmed what he had already suspected… most of the northern tiered states were under siege and the worst of this massive weather system was far from over. Waiting in the wings was the potential for winter thunder and lightning followed by a brief warm-up that could bring a wintery mix of snow, freezing rain and sleet. Last but not least, there was a massive polar vortex looming… one which would eventually send the mercury plummeting to subzero double digits.

Resetting his furnace thermostat upward, he could hear his ancient, Grayline gas fired furnace coming back to life. Switching on the kitchen radio, pre-tuned to the all news station, the talk jock was already in mid-delivery of one of his hi-octane, apocalyptic weather-on-the-eights reports and, in the process, doing his damnedest to stoke up the adrenaline levels of every susceptible listener in his captive audience.

True, this was a sizable storm, but to Carl, the somewhat jaded, veteran winter warrior, he couldn’t help but wonder what made that newsreader so hyper? Was his on-air demeanor a contractual obligation? Might a fast food drive-thru window screw-up have netted him regular coffee instead of decaf? Or maybe he had simply forgotten to refill his Xanax Rx?

Well, it didn’t take long for Carl to prepare and chow down his basic breakfast fare… a heapin’ helpin’ of stick to your ribs oatmeal, a couple of cups of energizing espresso and two slices of crispy toast layered thick with strawberry jam.

With his body now fueled up and the morning dishes cleaned up, he gazed out the window at the blustery near whiteout conditions and let out a long sigh. He realized there was little point in procrastinating further. Buckling up his boots and bundling up in a down parka he grabbed his snow shovel and left the comfort of his humble home to bravely trudge into the winter wonderland… to go head to head with what was sure to only be round one in this days long meteorological event.

It rapidly dawned on Carl that he was barely keeping up with the snowfall. Indeed, clearing this mess from his sidewalks and five-car length long driveway made him feel like he was fighting a losing battle. Undertaking such a repetitive, mindless task amidst a bone chilling, monotonous, white tableau, he suddenly started to feel his mind zoning out.

No… not quite to the point where he was channeling Stephen King’s flipped out character… the snowbound, Overlook Hotel sitter, Jack Torrance, who, in the film, “The Shining”, had repeatedly swung a hatchet to chop through a bathroom door, stick his head through the splinters and insanely, gleefully proclaim, “Heeeeres Johnny!”

Nope… nothing quite so surreal and melodramatic.

Instead, Carl was now flashing back to some vivid, real life recollections… fond bittersweet memories dating back to his elementary school days. Indeed, it had been on a similar, snowbound morn, when he and his young sister, Cathy, had been stationed in their respective bedrooms… each still snug in their beds, tuned into their pocket-sized, transistor radios… both listening, intently, to their pre-agreed upon different radio stations as two broadcasters were running down, county by county, the miles long list of school-closing notifications.

But, eventually, their patience had paid off. They’d no sooner heard their school’s name mentioned when their squeals of glee echoed throughout their home. Dad being a teacher in the same district, this meant he’d be home for the day, too.

By now, both the aroma of frying bacon and fresh brewed coffee were wafting through the air so there was little need for homemaker Mom to invite everyone to her pancake breakfast.

Once their morning meal was history, everyone quickly made their plans. Dad, who, just the night before, had been burning the midnight oil correcting and grading his student’s turned in papers, opted to roll back into bed to catch up on his sleep. Since there was no need to pack her children’s lunchboxes, Mom decided to pop some made-from-scratch sweet rolls into the oven.

Even though they could hardly wait for them to be baked, Cathy and Carl each wandered off into their own little worlds… initially, quietly, indulging themselves in their gender typical hobbies… Sis sticking to her sewing / knitting projects… Bro “engineering” his toy Lionel electric trains / constructing cool stuff with his Building Blocks and Erector Set. Since these kids were both quite capable of multitasking, this meant their nostrils would be flaring to detect the first telltale scent of cinnamon and ears would be geared towards hearing the oven’s timer going off.

Mom barely had time to ice these still warm, delectable confections with thick, gooey, vanilla flavored frosting before her drooling young’uns began scarfing them down… and the accompanying sugar buzz was sure to fuel the fire of their juvenile squabbles.

Initially, they fought over who would get to eat the last cinnamon roll. Mom, ever the shrewd diplomat, quickly cut it half and then showed them she had already prepared a second batch, which was still rising and nearly ready to pop into the oven.

She shook her head side to side as she realized she had only negotiated an uneasy truce. On this particular morn… under these cooped up circumstances, she knew some of the childish battles to come would have the potential of going thermonuclear.

Carl certainly had seen that flash of light… but it was not from that long ago “atomic” blast. No… this had been the winter lightning and rumbling thunder, which had jolted him back to present-day reality…

 

Chapter 2 to be posted tomorrow.

Don’t Fear The Reaper

Preface

Although this fictional story can stand on it’s own two feet, to set the optimal mood, (time permitting) view the above video prior to reading onward.

Chapter One

Gavin yanks the 9-volt battery from his klaxon-like smoke detector, chuckling a bit while stepping down from his wooden, three-wrung, kitchen ladder. It’d been the lit 60+ candles atop his very own two layer, thickly chocolate frosted, devils-food birthday cake, which had set off that, at times, overly sensitive, perhaps malfunctioning device. His slight smile now crossfades into a deep frown as his sudden realization kicks in… namely… he feels his life is going up in smoke.

True, so far… as far as he knows… only the normal aging process is slowly but surely, unraveling his life. Yet, that’s but a small consolation considering there’s no escaping the inescapable truth… from the moment we’re born, the lifeless gray, grainy sands of time start relentlessly running downward… passing from the upper to lower chambers of the hourglass possessed by the ghoulish Grim Reaper.

Gavin can almost feel the swooshing draft of ice cold death as Mr. Reaper brandishes his scythe and “playfully” threatens to tap the top of his eventual victim’s noggin… can practically hear that ghoul’s unnerving, otherworldly guffaws accompanying his gruffly intoned, menacing, parting words, “Good-bye for now… but… I’ll see you soon!”

Chapter Two

Seven torn off calendar pages later… mere days following All Hallows’ Eve… several hours past dusk on this blustery night… we find Gavin arming his clock radio in order to wake up to music. Switching off the pale glowing lamp, standing tall before the curtain parted, raindrop beaded windowpanes, he beholds the fluttering maple and oak leaves scattering across the ground… hears the soft pine and cedar branches brushing against the window screens… witnesses the occasional breaks in the clouds permitting the sparkling starlight to shine through.

He shivers as he lets the curtains fall back into place. The sound of nine chimes emanate from the downstairs foyer’s grandfather clock. Slipping between the bed sheets, his body heat starts to ease the chill he feels all the way down to his bone marrow. Dozing off, his last conscious thoughts of the day still excessively obsess about his own mortality.

Gavin is heading off into the land of dreams but, considering his troubled state of mind, sweet dreams would be far from an apt description.

So… will this ONLY be a nightmare… or something more?

Chapter Three

Gavin soon winds up at the REM stage… tossing and turning while turning the tables on the horrifying Mr. Reaper. He’s actually relentlessly stalking his enemy. Perhaps recklessly so, he’s also gleefully firing up his alter-ego’s snarky, I refuse to be intimidated, devil-may-care attitude. His primary mission, on behalf of humanity, is to order the Grim Reaper to stand down… or die trying.

Even Gavin’s inside his head pep talk instructs and prods him onward…

What the Hell… why the F not? On the odd chance I might buy each of my fellow humans a few more years, would that not make my dangerous undertaking all the more worthwhile? Hey, at the very least, I might wind up making death far less scary for everyone.

A snap of the twig, which Gavin has just stepped on, almost seems to trigger a flash of lightning and immediate crash of thunder. The near blinding afterimage and high decibel rumbling reverberations have hardly begun to die down when the Grim Reaper stops DEAD in his tracks… crouching a mere ten feet away. Gavin, taking that as his cue, knows it’s now or never. He hails his foe, thusly…

Pssst… hey Reaper! Yeah… I’m talkin’ to you! C’mon over… this’ll only take five minutes, tops. What do I want? Uh… well… since there’s no way to put this delicately, I’ll just blurt it out.

FOR GOD’S SAKE WILL YOU PLEASE BURY THAT GROTESQUE, SPOOKY PERSONA OF YOURS? YOU’RE CREEPING EVERYBODY OUT!

Seriously… an image makeover is long overdue, pal. Think earth tones! Deep-Six that depressing, dreary, black hooded robe and replace it with… oh… say… a hunter green hoodie and a pair of stain and wrinkle resistant, khaki hued, cotton slacks. In your bloody line of work, easy to launder would be a plus and, lest we forget, cotton is “the fabric of our lives™!” Oh… so sorry… I guess that’d be in poor taste since you don’t dig life.

Let’s move on now to that anachronistic hourglass. Seriously, who the hell, in the 21st Century would ever choose to lug around such a bulky low-tech timepiece? Can’t your cell tell you what time it is? Do you mean to tell me you’ve not developed and installed the necessary software on your devices to keep tabs on the timelines of the 7 billion plus Earthly souls?

As for that nasty ol’ scythe of yours… do you really need to brandish such a formidable blade? If you really must resort to intimidation by threatening physical violence, how about studying martial arts? With Karate chops, the bloodshed would be next to none. In time, you might even earn your black belt. After all, basic black IS your favorite color, right? Am I right?

Think about it, Mr. Reaper… you could pass yourself off as a hip, professional, tech savvy, debonair, far less overbearing dude. Look, if you don’t clean up your act soon, U.S. Homeland Security is bound to flag you… move you to the top of their Terrorist Watch list! And once you’re on it… you’re on it for life. Hey, don’t roll your eyes… life isn’t a four letter word… well… OK… on a technically it is… but not in the sense of life being profane.

Let’s now move on to the inner you. Long story short, you’re worrying me sick. Schedule an appointment with your primary care physician, STAT! You’re nothing but dry, moldering bones; one has to wonder just what in tarnation is holding you together, anyway? Tar? Duct Tape? Superglue™? ‘The cadaverous look is dead, big guy! Even some catwalk models are starting to see the light… are going off their starvation diets! Key here is hydration and nutrition. At the very least, you’ll need to get in your daily eight, eight ounce glasses of H2O and triple your caloric intake.

Hey, ix-nay on those four-letter words, pal, I’m trying to maintain a family friendly nightmare!

Say what? You’re delighted that I’m worried sick? Rather than passing on my know-nothing knowhow I should just see the light and pass on? Screw the earth tones? You’re current image is exactly what you’re going for? You’re completely happy with THAT? OK, have it your way… as if that’s anything new, huh?

And away he goes… muttering obscenities… storming off into a dense billowing bank of dark, dank fog. Geesh, that guy sure has anger management issues! Hey! Did you see that? He just turned to whip me the finger! Look, he flipped me off again!

Well… there go five minutes of my life I can never get back! Of course… considering how PO’d I got him, I may be as good as dead already! Well, looks like I’ll just deep-six any of my future dealings with Mr. Reaper… well, at least until we meet again… in the end… in the end… in the end… in the end…

Epilogue

At daybreak, Gavin’s fitful sleep comes to an abrupt end as his clock radio awakens him to the sounds of a subdued cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s, Don’t Fear The Reaper… performed by the Harp Twins Camille and Kennerly.

As his mind momentarily zones out to the mesmerizing, melodic tones of their angelic harp playing, Gavin cannot help but wonder if he’s just awoken from a nightmarish dream… or was it something more?

 

Cleo, Theo & Cosmo (Bus Stop Chat #002): Unwelcome Wagon

For those who’ve missed Chat #001 to this fictional series, the one paragraph synopsis, below, will adequately get you up to speed. If you’d prefer to first read the full, introductory post, it’s archived in my “Cleo Theo Cosmo Chats” category.

The twenty-something carpenter / homebuilder Cleo, fiftyish Catholic theologian Theo and thirtyish cosmologist Cosmo all call the bustling metropolis of Upland their home. Their similar Friday a.m. work schedules and dependence on public transportation first caused their paths to cross in mid-August ‘16. The punctually late buses usually afford them plenty of time to engage in caffeine buzzed, political and social commentary. From day one, these three newfound friends have established an immediate rapport, respect and resolve to chat on a weekly basis.

The blue/grey overcast dominates the sky as Cleo and Theo near the bus stop bench from opposite directions… both spotting the already seated Cosmo. Once the cordial greetings are exchanged, Cleo, true to her previous week’s word, treats her new friends to an on-the-fly bagel and strawberry jam breakfast. Their cups of java, each has already purchased from various fast food eateries, complete the menu.

But, this Friday, Cleo’s smiling face is only short-lived.

“I got a distressing email this morning… from my brother Alberto.” Barely able to choke back her tears, she continues, “He, his wife, Olivia, and their three young children live in a small Midwest community where the mayor and city council, yuppies all, suffer from a massively snooty ‘tude. They’ve recently passed an anti-blight ordinance designed to ensure homeowners keep their neighborhoods’ appearance presentable. Of course, at face value, this doesn’t sound like a bad idea but… damn it… these arrogant bastards are brutally insensitive towards some of the very people they’re supposed to serve. They’ve failed to realize that not everyone is drawing six and seven figure incomes the way they do.”

“No doubt their new ordinance boasts plenty of sharp teeth, too,” Cosmo chimes in.

“Damn right! They have a fleet of code enforcement cars. The clowns behind the wheels go out on patrol through each and every neighborhood… ferret out and issue tickets to anyone in violation of the mayor’s new, stringent community standards.”

“I’m already beginning to catch a whiff of the political stench, Cleo,” says Theo.

“You got that right! They’ve singled out my brother and sister-in-law, who’ve each been juggling multiple, low paying, part time jobs. Their combined incomes barely cover their regular bills… and now… they’re facing down the mayor’s ultimatum… either fix up their humble house or face down a stiff fine.”

“My dear God,” Theo exhales, “This is so typical of draconian laws… I mean, to kick someone who’s already down… that’s sinful.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.” Cleo says trying, barely succeeding at containing her anger and frustration, “They already cannot afford to make these major repairs and now the city is threatening them with an additional financial burden!”

“I presume a home equity loan is out of the question?” Cosmo asks… Cleo’s frown already answering.

“They haven’t tried that yet,” she elaborates, “But Al and Liv are already in thousands of dollars of credit card debt. It’d be a miracle if the banks were to ever approve their application… I mean… not with their tanked out credit scores.”

“So what’ll happen if they fail to fix things up?” asks Theo.

“The mayor will gleefully condemn their home and heartlessly toss them out into the street.”

“That makes these code enforcers out to be the drivers of the mayor’s unwelcome wagons.”

“Well put Father Theo,” Cleo says.

Silence descends upon the three as Cleo wipes away a tear. With a sniffle she continues, “I’d offer my financial support to Al and Liv but… I’m not faring much better than they are. Besides… they’re both aware I’m struggling, too, and would never want to drag me down with them. What’s so damned frustrating is that, with my carpentry skills, I could fix up their place free of charge… were it not for the fact we live thousands of miles apart.”

“So what are they going to do?” Cosmo queries.

“It would appear their only option is to sell their home and use the proceeds to rent an apartment. And going that route will not be easy, either… this house has plenty of sentimental value… it’s been in Liv’s family for three generations.”

“Wait a sec, Cleo,” interjects Theo, “I’m sensing a diabolically evil plot. Doncha see… the mayor is cozying up to real estate agents, house flippers…”

“And I’ll bet home construction firms and home improvement retailers prominently factor in there, too,” interjects Cosmo, “Corruption, collusion… you know… all that under the table dirty wheeling and dealing.”

Cleo nods her agreement, “Don’t think I haven’t already considered all that crap. To be sure, each of those evil, big biz entities would then show the mayor and city council their undying gratitude via hefty campaign contributions.

“Cleo, your story saddens me down to every cell of my being,” says Cosmo.

“It’s heartbreaking,” adds Theo.

At that moment a gentle rainstorm moves in… not unlike tears from above. Up pops their three umbrellas as they wait in somber, contemplative silence. One by one, as their busses pull up, they bid their so-long-till-we-meet-again next Friday farewells… and head off to work.

 

A note to my readers: My game plan is to post these Cleo, Theo & Cosmo Bus Stop Chats on most, but not all, Fridays. These three fictitious characters will engage in political / social commentary… sometimes in agreement… other times not. But either way, the important thing, here, is that no matter how heated a discussion may get, they’ll remain civil towards each other… which, btw, is the way it should be… but usually is not… in our real world.

Cleo, Theo & Cosmo (Bus Stop Chat #001) The 3 Meet!

An orange hued, hazy sunrise presides over another summery, muggy day in the bustling metropolis of Upland… bakes the pavement and skyscrapers… slow simmers the pungent blend of vehicular exhaust and fast food fumes.

There’s the general hubbub of humanity… the multitudes milling about… the engines, horns, sirens and jackhammers are all in play. Each component acts as an individual instrument in the soundtrack of city life.

The rat race begins, anew, as two men, in walking run mode, approach from opposite directions… a near photo finish as they bookend themselves onto the weatherworn bus stop bench and set down their Styrofoam coffee cups.

Paper napkins serve as makeshift mops to sop up perspiration from their brows. Upon catching their breath, they exchange perfunctory, good morning pleasantries. Their rush had been needless for, once more, the poorly funded, public transit system is punctually running late.

“Looks like another scorcher brewing… almost too hot to be drinking coffee. But I’m not about to give up my caffeine buzz,” sighs the disheveled looking man seated on the left. Dressed in white polo shirt and faded blue jeans, his thirtyish, in need of a shave face is topped off with the bedhead look.

“By the way… the name is Cosmo.”

“Pleased to meet you, Cosmo. I’m Theodoros… but just call me Theo”, says the fiftyish looking, greying, bearded man, off to the right. He then adds, “And, I wouldn’t give up my daily java jolt, either… no matter how hot the day, or, for that matter, the coffee may be.”

They first lean in sideways to shake hands and next drink their espresso.

“Couldn’t help but notice the Roman collar, Theo. Where’s your parish?”

“Resurrection Church… over on the east side.”

“So what brings you over to this side of our fair city?”

“I’m to be a guidance counselor and instructor… temporarily assigned to Andrew’s Youth Center… every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In essence, I’ll be a surrogate parent to latchkey kids… keep ‘em intellectually engaged and out of mindless mischief. It’s really tough when moms and dads each work two or more jobs to pay their bills. The resultant dwindling quality time is doing immeasurable harm to the family unit. But there I go again… rambling on and on. I’ll bet you’re sorry you asked.”

“No, not at all. What you’re doing is admirable. By intervening and interacting you’re working towards the betterment of society.”

“Thanks for saying so. Since I’m mostly paid in compliments, your kind words have made me a wealthy man.” Taking another sip from his cup he thinks aloud, “I do hope I’ve figured out the correct bus routes and schedule… wouldn’t want to be late on my first day.”

“Hmm… Andrew’s Youth Center, you say… that’s affiliated with the church over on Monroe Blvd… is it not?”

“One in the same… the Center is right in the church basement. You know so much about us, my son, are you by any chance Catholic?”

“Once upon a time… as a young boy. The word that now best describes me is ‘lapsed’.”

“If you don’t mind my asking… why did you leave the church?”

“Well, it’s a long story, Father, but not to worry… if memory serves… all you need know now is the Route 33 bus will take you to your destination.”

All too familiar with how folks handily dodge the ‘why did you stray’ question, Theo stifles his knowing smile…

“Good to know I’m heading in the right direction. So… where, pray tell, are you heading this a.m.?”

“Well… it looks like we’re both in the biz of educating young minds. The community organizers who run Kids’ Corner have me on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday schedule, too.

“I’m familiar with that fine organization. So, what’ll you be teaching?”

“I’m on sabbatical from U of C Berkeley, where I teach astrophysics. Since I’ve now got plenty of free time, by day, I’ll be a volunteer teaching astronomy for beginners, by nights I’ll be scoping out the heavens at the San Gorgonio Mountain observatory. Regrettably, with light pollution and smog problems, heavenly matters aren’t what they used to be.”

“So true. I’m facing down problems with my own brand of heavenly matters, too. These days, people seem to deem God as unimportant.”

“Well, I don’t believe folks have actually stopped believing, Father. While I cannot speak for everyone, I think regular folks are finding the church’s overall image off-putting and irrelevant to their needs. You know… stained glass, palatial churches that could rival St. Peter’s Basilica… past popes who’d look right at home lodged in Trump Towers.

“But our new pontiff, Francis, is trying to change all that…” Theo starts to remind…

“Well, I did say past popes…” Cosmo interjects. A police cruiser whizzing by with flashing reds and blues and wailing siren nearly drowning him out.

At that moment, a twentyish looking woman, wearing blue denim jeans, unbuttoned work shirt, tee and heavy steel toed boots approaches the bus stop… clutching a Styrofoam coffee cup in one hand… a cell phone in the other. She immediately goes into a circular pacing mode… impatiently… holding her cell phone skyward… frantically waving it about while muttering, almost inaudibly, her “c’mon, c’mon, c’mon” pep talk directed at that unresponsive, barely functional device.

“Looks like we’re not the only ones with upward connection problems,” Cosmo quips. Quickly checking his own cell, he speaks up, “Excuse me… I’m getting a strong signal… four out of four bars. You may borrow my phone.”

“You’re a life saver,” she says while approaching the bench. As she sits down and keys in the number she mutters, “That damned bus is going to make me late for work again… and it’s only my second week on the job. By now, Manuel… that’s my boss… is probably thinking that I’ve flaked on him again. He’ll likely fire my ass.”

Now speaking fluent Spanish into the phone, only Theo can understand her side of the conversation. Of course it’s easy to fill the gist of the rest. That’s in the form of her crisis averted, call’s end sigh of relief. Handing the phone back to Cosmo… she’s once again profuse with her thanks.

“Well… since it looks like we’re stuck here for awhile… I’m Cleo.” The round of handshakes ensue as she continues, “I’m a carpenter working over at the Devonshire construction site.”

Theo and Cosmo’s facial expressions “out” their lingering provincialism.

“Hey guys, welcome to the 21st century… don’t look so shocked. These days, women carpenters can and actually do cut it.”

“And I’ll bet you have plenty of power saws to back up your statement, too, “ jokes Cosmo. As the chuckles subside he adds, “I’m Cosmo… I teach astrophysics over at Berkley. As for my newfound friend…”

While conspicuously adjusting his collar and, clearing his throat, the other man interrupts, “I’m Theo…”

“Well ain’t that a hoot!” Cleo chimes in, “You’re Theo the theologian and he’s Cosmo the cosmologist.”

The group laughter gets drowned out as three 18-wheelers rumble by.

“Devonshire… wow… that’s really upscale,” Cosmo says while competing with the street noise.

“Yeah, tell me about it… the site’s billboard out front boasts, ‘Outstanding new homes starting in the five millions’… blah, blah, blah. Hell, I couldn’t eke out the mortgage payments on a birdhouse in that soon to be snooty, gated community.”

“Affordable housing? Does that even exist anymore?” laments Cosmo.

Theo frowns his silent, horizontally nodded answer to those Qs as Cleo asks, “Just where are everyday, average folks supposed to live, any way?”

“For sure, that’s a problem that that insensitive unholy, Trump, could never begin to fathom… let alone fix,” adds Theo.

“Amen to that!” she sighs and then looks down at her cell’s chronometer. “Guys, we’ve only known each other for ten minutes and… if you’ll excuse the construction worker parlance… I’d say we’re already building some great rapport.”

“In this one instance, I don’t even mind the buses running late,” Theo agrees.

“I’ll ditto that… but better late than never,” Cosmo says while gesturing leftward.

A three-bus convoy is now barreling down upon them.

“Any chance we’ll see one another again?” Cleo queries.

“Well, as for us guys, we’ll both be here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning,” says Theo.

“Thru late September, if not longer,” adds Cosmo, “How about you, Cleo?

“Well, since the only day my carpool can’t get me to work is on Fridays, it looks like we’ll all be meeting back at this bench a week from now.”

“Here’s to next Friday,” says Theo as all three raise and carefully tap their coffee cups… make a toast to their newfound friendship.

“You two like bagels?” she asks. Since both men nod vertically, she adds, “OK, that’ll be my treat for next week.”

Just then the busses all come to a squeaky, air-braked halt. The doors fling open to admit Cleo, Theo and Cosmo. Waving their till we meet again farewells, each climbs aboard to complete the final leg of their Friday morning commute.

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A note to my readers: My game plan is to post these Cleo, Theo & Cosmo Bus Stop Chats on most, but not all, Fridays. These three fictitious characters will engage in political / social commentary… sometimes in agreement… other times not. But either way, the important thing, here, is that no matter how heated a discussion may get, they’ll remain civil towards each other… which, btw, is the way it should be… but usually is not… in our real world.

My apologies for this first installment running a bit long… that was mainly due to character development requirements. Future chats will focus more on (what else?) the actual chats… and consequently, be of shorter duration.