My view Samuel Watkins
About the cover
The photograph on the cover was the last picture that I took as a gainfully employed adult when I worked for Yahoo around the Bay area of San Francisco. This was on a Friday afternoon in March, the sun was just starting to go down and the fog was about to roll into the city. This snapshot marked a lot of things in my life, but most importantly it was the point that I decided I didnâ€™t like what I was doing and I was about to start a whole new direction.
Introduction Ever since I’ve been writing I find it much easier to write about what it is that I know. Each and every thing that I write has ties into my world in some way. I’ve tried to be more imaginative or creative or just plain ole’ “more” but it doesn’t ever come off as realistic. So I use the familiar. Be it a family member, or close friend I tend to pattern my stories about things that are familiar to me. Mixed into that is that I’m incredibly nosy. I carry a little notebook with me almost everywhere I can go and I take notes about the people and the things that go on around me. There’s a diamond mine of material out in the world that I try and incorporate in my fiction writing by giving my characters some of the things I’ve noticed “out in the wild.” The first story is called “Best Friends,” and it’s the mostly true story about two good friends of mine who have maintained a very odd friendship over the years. One of them is incredibly dominant. So much so that his attitude and personality has overtaken his friends to the point he has a history of dating his friends dates. This story is a reflection on one of those moments—but blown up with the narrator finally accepting that enough is truly enough. I can’t say the same about the characters the story is based on, as nothing has changed between the two. The second story is called “Misgivings” and it’s about a father and son relationship that was distant when the son was a child and now that his father is alone and is faced with Alzheimer’s that his son has a suspicion of; he wants to make things right. This story is rooted in the passing of my grandfather and his relationship with my dad. If ever the term “old school” could be used to describe someone it would fit perfectly with my grandfather. Slow to speak and careful with his words he was just as cool with his emotions to his son. As he aged his demeanor changed because of his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. His once cool, but loving nature towards not only us, but to my dad became more and more punctuated with emotion to the point that simple conversations with him see-sawed between tears and disconnect. The third story I wrote is called “Bacon Grease” and is an over-exaggeration of my Mom and Dad’s marriage. I interviewed her for this piece but took many liberties to adjust the situation and characters that portrayed a sense of isolation for my mom and judgment displayed by my grandmother. The true story is that it was frankly too boring to write about, and this coming August my parents will be married for 42 years; so I had to ratchet things up to get something interesting to write about. So that’s the process. I write what I know, about people I know and I try and incorporate quirks and foibles of people that I observe every day.
Table of Contents
Best Friends I cherished every day that we spent together this summer, until today. Today was the day I unintentionally introduced her to Shade. Sitting there, watching them in the cramped corner of the earth friendly, world-wise coffeehouse where the scents of all-natural cleaning products freely existed with Kona blend—I might as well have been on the moon. It was happening again, and in the most remote, out of the way coffee shop in town. Most people I knew called Shade a bastard; I called him my best friend. Nuzzling my foot further into hers couldn’t break her trance from Shade’s gaze. The more I nudged, the further she withdrew and the deeper she looked at him. Moving her arm slightly when his did, tilting her head just so; his mirror. I saw her eyes trace every strand of Shade’s hair each time it fell into his eyes. The tiny pit in my stomach that began at seeing their first eye contact evolved and began to roil and flip. I felt nauseous. Cindy and I began what I call our relationship based on what I thought was sheer luck; I was floored by her looks when I first saw her and couldn’t believe what was happening with her ease and willingness to go out on a date with me. Looking back, I should have noticed. Each time we went out Cindy’s eyes were everywhere but on me; she flirted with waiters, carried on conversations with men that interrupted ours, and paid more attention to her cell phone buzzes and beeps than whatever I had to say. “Tom, did you know that Shade got accepted into Yale but delayed his admission so he could join the Peace Corps and help the poor in Liberia?” Cindy asked me. “Yeah, Shade is an amazing guy,” I said, knowing full well that the only admission Shade had delayed was to community college, and his degree of caring for others directly depended on selling overpriced and under-stuffed mattresses to the parents of unsuspecting college kids. The minute Cindy turned back towards Shade; I slid back my reclaimed bamboo chair and headed for the restroom. The path there was dotted by angry-somethings, their grimaced faces lit harshly by the flickering images on their open laptops and punctuated with radioactive hair colors. They spoke to each between clenched jaws, mixing words like Republican and capitalism with shit and sons-of-bitches; their corner of the coffee-shop generated rhythmic sounds of keyboards tapping, creating a crescendo of sorts; rising quickly and then falling like the sound of a wave settling ashore. Both the men and women had a deep rooted love for eye-liner and the color black. These weren’t my kind of people, but neither was Cindy. Leaving the tranquility of the restroom that had patchouli scented urinal cakes, I took a long glance back at Shade and Cindy’s table; they didn’t even realize I was gone. Prideful enough to leave the coffee shop, but dumb enough to stay close by, I walked around the mini-strip mall that housed not only the coffee shop, but a used bookstore named Twice Read, and a pastel yellow 1
stucco storefront with blacked out windows. The only sign I saw was a simple black letters on white affair spelling out the word “ADULT.” The bookstore was closed, the coffee shop held nothing for me now; so why not. When I walked into ADULT I was greeted by a grunt from the cashier, and nothing more. This Eastercolored building contained Caligula’s playground. From floor to ceiling, sexual devices and ornate gadgetry that seemed to be remnants of the Cold War buzzed and writhed inside hazy, scratched display shelves. Racks of DVDs with scandalous titles displaying women and men in varying states of undress and poses dominated the floor space. In a fit of embarrassment and panic I whipped around when a hand grabbed at my shoulder. It was Shade. “What the hell are you doing in here? Perv. I’ve been looking for you.” He said. Laughing with a big, overly white toothy grin that reminded me of a brand new fluorescent light turned on. Stammering for a reply that didn’t sound ridiculous the best I could manage was, “Um, I don’t know.” “Hey man, whatever floats your boat.” He said. “I’ve got a question for you, what’s the deal between you and Cindy?” My heart beginning to ache knowing what was coming I said, “We’re kind of dating.” “Kind of dating huh? So that’s not really dating, so would you mind if I took her out on a date?” He asked. And for the first time that I could remember, I did something else entirely. “Yes, I would mind,” I said. “Huh?” Shade said. “You know Shade through all the, “what an asshole, selfish-bastard, and prick” comments directed at you through the years I was always defending you. I guess I was too stupid to see that you are an asshole, you are a selfish-bastard and you are a prick. You’ve coasted through life taking things, from borrowing money that would never be paid back to picking up my dates, it’s never once changed. Well today it is going to change. And I don’t care if Cindy despises me, I don’t care if she hates my guts. The thing that you need to understand is that she and I— let me say that again—she and I are here on a date. You’ve weaseled your way into that date and began your act. Talking directly from your ass about yourself; lying and insulting me along the way I’m sure. But no more, since you can’t appreciate what friends do for each other, which includes common courtesy and respect and especially not trying to date their dates; I want you to look at my face, and then look at my mouth as I carefully form the next sentence. I am tired of it; get out of my life.” 2
“Damn bro, I mean you know I’d never do anything to screw with you…” Shade said. “All the years we’ve been friends all that you’ve done is find new and interesting ways to dick around with my life. I am sick of it,” I said. “What is your deal? Why are you acting like a little bitch?” Shade said. “It’s not being a bitch, you asshole, it’s about being a friend. Friends don’t pull the kind of shit you do, and if they did they’d say they were sorry and try and make things better. Not doing over and over again.” “Look, do you want me to say I’m sorry, is that it? Alright, I’m sorry bro. I never once imagined that I was doing anything wrong, besides you never said anything about it.” “I shouldn’t have to say anything about it, dick,” I said. “Delayed admission to Yale to go into the Peace Corps,” was all that I could think about. This was the moment that I realized that if anyone in life could actually be full of shit, Shade managed to inhabit that role nicely. “Get out of here, get out my life and get out of Cindy’s life, even if she doesn’t want you to be out of her life. Enough of this shit. Leave!” I said. With a dumbfounded look on his face, he slowly turned towards the door before glancing back at me, “are you fucking around with me?” “No you dumbass, get out of my damn life.” And with that, he was out the door. As the door closed I somehow managed to feel better and worse at the same time. I knew that I was really alone now, and I was finally fine with that.
Misgivings A sixty-eight year old, two-hundred and ninety pound man that looked like Santa Claus, but wearing nothing more than a yellow Speedo and Scuba gear greeted me when I entered the front door of my childhood home. Only after Mom died did Dad begin acting and talking in a way that I can best describe as quirky. The older that I’d become the more I realized that my Mom was a kind of bridge of sorts between me and my Dad; her passing crumbled that connection. Don’t get me wrong, I love the man it’s just that we never got along all too well. He wasn’t mean or anything—but his presence wore on me like a mosquito bite you just couldn’t quite scratch. Until I left home for college I spent the better part of my life trying to avoid him. When I was growing up Dad worked as an accountant and my memories of him reminded me that he used to live his life like one: calculated, predictable and largely by the numbers. “Dad, what in the hell are you wearing?” I said. “All these years in this house we’ve been surrounded by gold! Absolute gold I tell you!” he said. “Do you know what happens to golf balls when golfers lose them in the water hazards!?” “Um, no” I said. “They’re replaced by another ball and not another thought goes into it! Forgotten like yesterday’s newspaper, like when they got rid of me at work even after all the years I gave to them! Treated like trash, wherever they land left to rot!” he said. “Well, alright I guess,” I said. It had been almost a decade since Dad was unceremoniously let-go from his job; and through all the years since no one knew exactly what happened, and I didn’t particularly care to know as long as he had a roof over his head and he was healthy. “Do you know how much golf balls cost!? Do you!?” Dad said. “I don’t play golf, so I wouldn’t know.” “I’ll tell you then, about twenty-dollars for a dozen!” he said. “After a quick dunk in some Clorox they look brand new and I can sell them for much less than that, and still turn a profit! This is going to be a multimillion dollar industry!” “Multi-million, that’s great Dad. So you’ve had some luck selling them?” I said. “I’m in the middle of building inventory. But the golf club doesn’t appreciate my business. Every time I went to the course I was only able to grab a few before they ran me off. Greedy bastards! So I’ve had to make my operation go dark—so to speak. I only do this late at night which takes a little more time, and seeing everything can be a pain in the ass but at least I’m not bothered by anyone!”
The phone rang. Hello?!” Dad said. That was something else I’ve noticed. Dad was always sure of himself but always let his work do the talking. Not so much because he was timid, but more because of wanting to avoid confrontation. Loud and brash were not part of his demeanor, at least that’s what I thought. Now he had slowly become a man whose every sentence seemed to end in an exclamation point; unlike before, where his speech existed somewhere between a faint period and an apologetic question mark. “Of course it’s supposed to be opaque; specifically almost black, with a large head!” he said. Pacing in our cramped living room, his white beard matted with mud and dripping water all over the rug, the indentations from the Scuba equipment leaving bruises and red welts on his back, he was a sight to see; and to complete the ensemble, the yellow Speedo, as if a Speedo on an old fat man wasn’t enough, it had to be yellow. “What do you mean it’s not creamy enough and too astringent?!” Dad said. “You know Charlie, you and that group of idiots wouldn’t know a stout if one came up to you wearing a,
I’m a stout shirt, and slapped you!” Dad said. At that exchange I thought to myself, no really, don’t say that out loud. With Dad continuing on, “There is not a thing that is puckering, or lingers in harshness that could taint the finish. The finish is dead-on, there’s no way I made a mistake!” I decided this was a perfect time to head up the stairs to my old room. Along the way I passed by the snippets of time that showcased the family pictures. Me and Dad in polyester suits with forced smiles and awkward embraces framed with bad lighting and even worse haircuts; and Mom, with her warm full smile and caring eyes between us overpowering everything else that was wrong in the pictures. But by the time I made it up to the stairs I had decided that the pictures would look absolutely amazing if they were inside a box somewhere. But Dad had a thing about changing things around the house; telling me a couple of years ago not to touch anything because it, “threw him off.” But the house, while exactly the same, was different now. Rooms that once smelled of fabric softener and Pledge now smelled earthy and musty like the well-worn carpet throughout the house. “Vegetal, are you kidding me!” I heard Dad yell from downstairs. I lingered at the door to my parents’ bedroom. Taking in the plain white walls and heavy, scuffed oak country style furniture reminded me of a different time, a time that was simpler, easier; a time when my Dad wore pants and didn’t have a beard like Santa. And Mom was still around finding ways to make everything alright. Mom’s crucifix was still draped on her rosary on the wall.
Her make-up table was still tidy and organized and her chair was tilted out like it was waiting for another visit; and her side of the bed, unlike Dad’s wasn’t rumpled. He adored her; he used to tell me that regularly after she died. But with each passing year and each visit I’d heard it less and less. “Charlie, how in the hell are you a judge?! Who did you pay off to become one?! By the looks of your wife I’d say you have a real problem judging anything! And no Charlie, I’m the same damn man you’ve known for over forty years now; the only person that’s changed is you!” Dad said. On top of the chest of drawers in their room I first noticed the bottles. Their labels read Lexapro and Aricept. I knew Lexapro was for depression but had no clue what Aricept was for. I became concerned but I didn’t want to ask Dad for fear of getting into yet another argument that accomplished nothing and frequently ended with him weeping. I walked back downstairs and saw that Dad was now off the phone. He was struggling with trying to take the scuba tank off his back and was wobbling and swaying around the room dipping his shoulders and pinching his arms together to try and shrug it off. “Dad, stop. Let me help you.” “I’m fine, I don’t need any help!” Dad said. “Please Dad, let me help you.” “I normally don’t cinch the straps so tight; otherwise this wouldn’t be an issue.” His voice lilting, “If you could undo the buckle under the back of the tank, I’ll get the rest,” Dad said. After I released the buckle, Dad was able to slip out from his Scuba tank. And he plopped himself into his well-worn leather recliner that leaned just a bit to the left because that’s where he liked to sit, rutting in it until just the right spot. Then he became quiet and still, looking out the front windows intently watching the mailman pass by. “So, who were you talking to on the phone?” I asked him. “Why do you need to know? Does it affect you or something?!” Dad said. “I was just curious is all,” softening my voice. Dad said, “Well I guess it won’t hurt anything to tell you, but I’ve also been brewing beer here at home, and the guys at the Brewers Club seem to like it. So I entered a competition with a type of beer called Oatmeal Stout. Since my old college roommate Charlie is the head tasting judge he wanted to call and tell me that I brewed something else entirely, an India Pale Ale, which is horse shit because that beer uses a completely different ingredients list.”
“Are you sure that you maybe didn’t get the ingredients mixed up? I said. “Dammit, I know exactly what I put in my beer!” Immediately after he said that, silence again overtook the room. I had enough, “Dad, what’s going on with you, is everything alright? I saw the pill bottles in your bedroom. What aren’t you telling me?” “What gives you the right to be in my bedroom?! This is my damn house, my doors, my bedroom, my conversations, my life, not yours! If you want to sneak around spying on me, get the hell out of here!” “Dad, it’s just…things, you’re not like you used to be.” How in the hell would you know how things, or how I used to be?! You were never around, always hiding in your room, or over at your friends’ houses! I hardly saw you, and then you moved out! How in the hell would you know that I’m not exactly the same…” His eyes strained red and began to slowly fill, he became quiet again. “Dad, I’m just concerned…” That’s when I caught it. Looking into his teary eyes I saw that something was wrong. Like a flashing red neon sign I couldn’t ignore it.
Bacon Grease White Formica countertops flecked with specks of green and heavy, well-used oak cabinets defined the kitchen. The smell of Comet and something long ago fried filled the air. Two days earlier Cora was in her home country of the Philippines; today she was sitting in her new husband’s mother’s kitchen in Selma, Alabama. Cora and Frank had come to Selma, Alabama to get properly married in the eyes of the Lord in a Southern Baptist Church. Frank shared with Cora the mail that he was sent while he was in the Philippines; she read, “Frank, the Lord won’t recognize your marriage in that heathen country. Those people don’t know the Lord. You need to come home and have Reverend Lightfoot marry you. Love, Momma.” As steadfast and strongwilled as Frank was, whatever Momma said, he did. And with that, he put in for a two-week leave from the Military so he and his new wife could go to his home town to get married, again. “Honey, do you know what grits are?” Momma asked, her brilliant emerald green eyes looking right into Cora, measuring her up. “Frank has talked about them before, but I’ve never made them,” Cora said, a large smile painted across her face. “Well, first things first, let’s get you up to speed on real southern grits,” Momma said, smiling. Cora didn’t have a clue what grits were, let alone what southern grits were or how Frank liked them. Frank seemed to be content with anything she made him back home; here things were much different. “Pay close attention to this, Frank is real particular about his grits. There’s a balance you have to strike between the amounts of milk and salt you add. I tend to put in a couple pinches of salt, but you can experiment and see how Frank likes it.” Cora thought back to a time when her mom made meals for her dad; how things had to be just so, not because he would refuse it, but because she wanted him to enjoy it, because she said that’s what made her happy. Thinking that this is what love is, maybe, doing things a certain way, being held to a standard that’s only set by yourself, well now a standard that’s set by Frank’s mother. “And mind your milk, if you put in too much, it’ll make it chunky, and nobody likes chunky grits, especially Frank.” Looking at the creamy grits as they simmered into the pan she still wasn’t sure what to make of them. Her cooking lesson was a one-way conversation about her husband’s likes by someone that she’d just met yesterday. Cora felt that if she interrupted Momma something really loud might happen. So she sat quietly and smiled at everything that Momma had to say.
“But here’s the real secret,” Momma said as she reached for a smudged white plastic container, slowly pouring the murky contents into the grits, “Old bacon grease makes everything taste better, especially grits. And just before you’re ready to serve, don’t forget to add in the butter, and always leave a pat on the top for him to mix in too.” Cora wondered who would tell Frank about how she liked her meals; how her chicken adobo had to simmer at a temperature that was higher that was just about boiling so everything would become just a little bit mushy. She couldn’t think of anyone back home that would tell Frank about how she liked things. Cora didn’t know what to make of Momma. Smiling and speaking very loudly around her; moving her lips and hands in unison as to make sure that she could understand the words that she was telling her. It didn’t matter that the majority of the Philippines spoke fluent English, Momma called her Japanese, because to her, everybody over there was Japanese. Momma was petite just like Cora; but her face had a mixture of blue and green colors painted around her eyes. Momma’s pale skin in vivid contrast to her fire red hair which appeared to float in the air like a cloud because of something she called, “Aqua Net.” In stark difference was Cora, who wore no makeup and never once had the desire to try it. Frank called her beautiful the way she was, that she didn’t need any makeup to try and make her feel better; Cora thought that the women in Selma weren’t happy with themselves as all that she had been introduced to looked like Momma to her. Cora didn’t think they could be any more apart than they were now, but the divide was growing with each new dish Momma showed her. Cora asked Momma for a piece of paper so she could write things down; Momma laughed and said, “Honey you don’t need to write anything down, this is simple.” If only Momma knew where Cora came from; where electricity and running water wasn’t always available, where milk came from a cow and not a grocery store; Cora weakly smiled back at Momma’s response. She began to feel hot, feeling sweat gather on her brow and start to slowly trickle down her back. Cora kept thinking to herself about all that she had to remember—all so she could make her husband happy. A tablespoon of this, a smidge of that, a pinch of this, a teaspoon of that, on and on it went. Cora began to bite deeply into her cheek. Watching Momma move about the kitchen between the refrigerator and the stove, arranging, scooping, and pouring she tried to pay attention to her talking, talking about things she would never understand and talking about people she would never meet. She missed her mom, her dad, her family back home. She missed her kitchen; a simple place filled with laughter, and most importantly people she understood. Cora thought about all that she gave up to be with this man; the peace and tranquility of her childhood home, the love of her family, all gone now because of her marriage. She made herself alone in her old family and now her husband made alone in her new family. 11
Standing there in the midst of all the cooking she began to cry. Momma heard her and turned around from the stove. Walking over to Cora and taking her hands into hers with Mommaâ€™s green eyes staring right through her again. Cora began to think about tomorrow.
This is Sam’s second go-round at college. He was once at FSU in body but not much in mind. He went on to work at many very large, very boring multinational corporations over the years until one day while working at Yahoo in California he decided he had enough and wanted to change course. Leading him back to FSU where he is a senior graduating this fall that double-majors in Sociology and Creative Writing with aspirations to become a lawyer; so he can be his own boss in probably a wildly boring field and hopefully establish a writing career of some sort—while the lawyering pays the bills (unless he manages to hit the Lottery).
Sam, moments before hurling at the vicious Spinning Teacup ride in Disneyland.
Sam’s incredibly wonderful Saint-like parents that are apparently blind to his many shortcomings allowed him to “find himself” (Code for being lazy and shiftless) after high school. Sending him to visit his cousin in Chicago for a two-week trip that lasted for four years of accomplishing absolutely nothing that normal society can call productive or beneficial; during that time Sam can make the claim that he’s visited all fifty-states, parts of Europe, and the Far East. All of those experiences lend to Sam’s stories and observations about people and situations.
Group Four, and Elizabeth: Ricky Di, Val, Mark and Phil. Without your suggestions I’d be nowhere. Mom and Dad: your genes allowed me to be me, and your understanding allowed me to be a moron for a significant portion of my life that’s provided valuable insights into why I am the way I am, thank you. Ana: you’re about the only one who can understand what I’m trying to convey and can guide me so that others can make sense of it all. God love you for that.
A collection of short-shorts rooted in non-fiction, but given a twist of fiction.