Mistakes We Make: Social. Spiritual. Professional. Style.

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Music. Don’t you wonder who the first person to ever start singing was? What came over him? And how long did it take before his caveman buddies impaled him with spears, then cooked him over an open flame? Nevertheless, creating music is inspired work, something I always wished I could do. The beginning, middle, and end of my music career was the night I pulled up a barstool next to a couple of singer/songwriters, picked up a guitar, and pretended to strum along to an Allman Brothers song. The gig was up when they turned to me to play them out, and I promptly dropped the 6 string and headed for the door.

I’ve learned that creative outlets can cohabitate. Some of my most meaningful musings have been the byproduct of a John Denver  refrain or the background score from an obscure film.

Songs can be our true sixth sense. They move us to act, and transcend our instincts. I hope you enjoy some of the work that has influenced me, for better or worse, and the stories behind them.

Song that stemmed a screenplay- Down In A Hole by Alice in Chains: One day, this story will play itself out on film. David Allen’s uncertain and self-conscience walk to his car will be scored to Layne Stayley’s 90′s admission of pain and deterioration. I can’t wait. Ryan Adams performs a hell of a cover to this one as well.

Song that makes me want to quit writing- Leave Me For Dead by Austin Collins: Musical purists will say that no one writes anything worth it’s weight in song paper anymore, but for every Imagine, there is a I Love You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. Collins’ stuff has always haunted me. This one, though, is wrought with poetry, and breeds common ground in an otherwise classified club. He seems to get us. “Poured into a pool of pain and pushed into the cries, again”.  Christ. Why do I even try?

Song I wish I could sing as if no one had ever heard it before- Black by Pearl Jam: I’ll never forget watching Letterman one night in high school, and in the middle of his monologue, Eddie Vedder came down the isle unannounced, and joined up with Paul and the band for the “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life” part. There is a lot of crap from the nineties, I’ll be the first one to admit. But a few gems did emerge, and Black is one for sure.

Song to get the girl- La Cienega Just Smiled by Ryan Adams: Although an asshole, Adams is gifted. His albums are as unpredictable as my checking account balance, yet there are few like him, if any. I first heard this one while a closeted Felicity fan. Hey, it worked for Ben Covington, it might work for you too.

Best song about divorce- Changing My Mind by Bob Schneider featuring Patty Griffin: Nothing good comes from divorce, except this heartbreaker. As soon as I heard the flawless harmonics from Griffin, I was in. Schneider is at his vocal best starting at 2:42, and Patty does the rest. Awesome stuff, although I still haven’t figured out why he added the part at the end about the werewolf??

Song that brings me out of writer’s block- Reprise by Marcelo Zarvos from The Door In The Floor soundtrack: I’m a sucker for a good overture, and this one is stellar. The film is amazing, one of Jeff Bridges best. Watching him run from a crazed mistress throughout the Hamptons as the violins awaken will arrest you with irony. It’s sad, and that’s good, because there’s opportunity for redemption. Mine is best expressed while writing.

Song best suited for drawing attention to yourself- Goodbye To Love by The Carpenters: Next time you find yourself in the inevitable “greatest guitar solo of all-time” debate, throw in Steven Rubio’s wicked fuzz guitar riffs from this 70′s beauty. I won’t lie, you’ll be all alone, but there will be interest, so arm yourself with some history. The Carpenters had a lot of fans, and they didn’t appreciate it when the sibling duo added this feature to their antiseptic persona, which is why it’s so good. There’s one in the middle and the end, so give it the full run.

I look forward to some healthy debate, and hopefully some inspiring suggestions. It all comes down to what moves you, I guess. It took me over thirty years to find a passion, and it never would have happened without the creativity of strangers. You never know how the expressions of another could change you forever.

“Drop the act of getting by, and pray for shiny things” – Austin Collins

30 Thread #11: Dig through your dad’s closet. There’s good stuff in there.

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Honk if you love “David Allen”!

Posted by: NJ@30 | Comments (2)

For those  who haven’t heard, David Allen could potentially be headed for the big screen! A panel of judges will vote on the best original screenplay for the Shreveport/Bossier  Short Film competition. The winner will have their script made into a short film by local production company, Fairfield Studios. There will also be a “People’s Choice” award given to the screenplay receiving the most online votes. Follow this link, and scroll down to David Allen. Click the big red check mark to vote. Remember, you can submit 1 vote every 24 hours!

Four finalists will be chosen later this month, and the winner will be announced October 6 at the Red River Revel in Shreveport. There could potentially be dozens of people there!

I encourage you to read some of the entries. I could use some honest feedback in the interim to remain calm .

Feel free to pass along to others you might think interested, or share the voting link on your Facebook page.

Thanks so much for your support. I’ll keep you posted…

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The Company You Keep

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Take a second and think of your best friend.  No, not your husband or wife. I get it, I said the same vows.  I’m talking crying, laughing, fighting, “You better not tell a bleeping soul!” best friend. Got ‘em?. Now think of a close friend you have never introduced to your best friend. Wait, what? If you’re like me, it feels a little like standing in an ant bed. Each ant is a separate friend, and their burning little bites are symbolic of how uncomfortable you feel. If you’re still trying to think of someone, then congratulations on being perfect, and  enjoy judging me for the rest of this piece.

A while back, a considerably more creative buddy of mine brought up the dichotomy of  the company we keep, and our respective persona’s based on who we are spending time with. It sounds convoluted, but frighteningly enough, it makes total sense to me.  Many of us have our work friends, weekend friends, married friends, and drinking buddies neatly filed in a drawer, complete with dividers to prevent them from ever combining, i.e., associating. Then, depending on what the situation calls for, we can quickly reference the appropriate friend file, and the world just keeps on a spinnin’.  Unfortunately, like the Seinfeld episode when George’s fiance starts hanging out with Elaine, worlds can collide.

Sure, Facebook and Twitter are partly responsible ( you can follow me on Twitter at @NJ30). They’ve shrunk the world to half it’s size. Brief moments of clarity and maturity sometimes force accountability, and it’s become self-evident who is responsible for this complicated card catalog of company. I can recall specific instances where I have intentionally lied to someone close to me for the purpose of soothing my anxiety towards what might happen if they were to see me amongst a certain group. Suddenly, I’m a freaked out air traffic controller for a bunch of planes who are just fine on their own.  There is something seriously wrong with this type of behavior.

The supreme selfishness goes without saying. Not everyone hits it off, we all know that, but it’s unnecessary to play the puppeteer to these scenarios. I’ve been guilty of giving people the benefit of the doubt to an extreme fault for a long time. Usually it results in someone taking money from me (car salesman, A/C repairman, Fantasy league commissioner). But as I continue to learn from so many horrible mistakes, I think this can be a fundamental attitude towards those we are close to.

I strive for a sentiment of acceptance these days. To be honest, it’s super hard, but I feel it’s right. Your friends will surprise you. Believe it or not, you are just as much a part of their environment as they are yours. Often, keeping my hands on the controls during instances where friends who are strangers meet, leaves me with more stress than what I fear might happen. Where is the relief in that?

Keep in mind that your friends have friends you don’t know!  Your acceptance of them will be an influential chain reaction.

The crux of this conundrum is being the same person to all of the companions God has blessed you with. At the visitation the night before my father’s funeral, I was struck by the mosaic of people who cared about him. Lawyers, cashiers, doctors, teachers. Hundreds of people you would rarely see in the same room, all with the same message about a man who was a friend to each of them.

So lets go back to those friends we thought about earlier. They already have one thing in common. They like you. The ball is in their court to be themselves and help generate an affable environment.

Our friends are there to help us put our best foot forward. They are our teams. Accepting each team members role achieves a rich life of authentic friendships. What a profound testament to elementary principle.

30 Thread #10: Football season is near, and it’s no secret where I stand on the boundries of  fandom. This 30 Thread is a warning: leave the jersey wearers alone. They are often hostile, due to alcohol, and a perpetual grudge towards their high school coach who hated them and ruined their chances of going pro.

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30 Thread #9: The Power of the Belt

Posted by: NJ@30 | Comments (2)

Never mind what the thermometer in your car tells you, Fall is near. Even if it’s 95 in October, you must adhere to some autumn rules, and the belt serves as a nice barometer.

Check out this Esquire article featuring 10 legit belts for the Fall. I like all of the even numbered choices. Remember, these styles are guides, not absolutes, so save your profanity-laced tirades for another topic (I’m referring to #10 on the list. It might as well cost $4.25 million, but I would strongly consider killing a man to own that thing), and refer to The Style Issue.  There is no shame in ebay, friends.

For those of you who follow, I apologize for the lack of material of late. I recently completed my first screenplay for a short film (not kidding). Now my attention is back where it belongs; an ill-fated, direction-less blog with fewer readers than a kindergarten class. Check back for more No Jerseys goodness very soon!

Until then, be the anti-Preppy! Remain fearless in your decisions! And blow up that denim on denim combo with a contrasting woven.

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I’m Alright, You’re OK

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James "Mac" McCallister- April 1, 1937 - July 28, 2011

Below is the transcript from a tribute I gave at my dad’s funeral on August 2, 2011. I never considered  putting it on my site for fear it might desensitize or exploit what was behind it. However, several family members and close friends that attended the service have since encouraged me to post it. My dad supported me in everything I ever succeeded or failed at, especially my love of creative writing.

Imagine, if you can, a boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old. He’s lying in bed in a small house in rural Arkansas. His mom has worked tirelessly, ironing clothes for a few of the wealthy families in town, bringing home a small wage for her young son, his older sister, and older brother, who will soon die in a war on the other side of the world. Memories of his father have all but faded due to a tragic death years earlier.

In countless conversations, myself, Lori, Scotty, and Mitch have tried to imagine how hopeless it must have seemed for our dad all those years ago.  Many of us have heard stories about successful businessmen, or famous actors, who were raised under similar circumstances. They claim to have been motivated by their poor upbringing to become wealthy, or destined to travel the world to escape their humble beginnings. Often, these type stories can leave us moved, impressed, even inspired. This morning, my intentions are to tell a story much less grand. This story is of a man, whose family says goodbye knowing he gave us everything.

Make no mistake, his background left him a little rough around the edges. Just ask my mom, who once sat at home in the dark, anxiously waiting for her new husband to get home from work. She was concerned because the electricity had been cut off at their small house on Fairview Ave. Her angst would soon turn to annoyance, when she noticed the stack of unsent bills in the glove box of their only car. In the words of a former neighbor, “That was one, mad white woman!”

Lori remembers a party when she was 13, where my dad, of all people, organized a game of spin the bottle. He manipulated each spin to land on whichever boy the respective girl was most disgusted by.

Once, when Scotty was in college, he could hardly contain himself when dad called him with the news that he had traded in the truck they had worked years to restore, straight up for a Jeep. My brother had visions of driving through campus with the top down and the tape deck blaring, until a friend from home called to tell him there was something that resembled an ambulance parked at his parents house. It seems dad was less than forthcoming with the make and model of the Jeep. The anticipated 2-door Wrangler would in fact be a ’74 Wagoneer that darkened our driveway on Pomeroy for months to come.

This same Wagoneer was later used to pick up a self-conscious middle school-er-turned fighter pilot from the old Eastgate movie theater, where he waited nervously among several of his classmates, both guys and girls. Mitch describes watching in horror as his shirtless father pulled up to the cinema, laid on the horn, then backfired the exhaust with an intensity similar to the bombs he now drops from his jet.

I can remember several family trips, my dad driving through McDonald’s to get food for his 4 kids, each of us safely unbuckled in our seats. When we would finish our meals, he would calmly bag up all of the trash, roll down his window, and hurl it to the side of the road, never so much as tapping the breaks.

It wasn’t that he didn’t care. He was just Mac. Dad. Pappa.

The 52 year partnership between he and my mom has served as the most influential model in all 4 of our lives.  They are devoted followers of Christ, who leave no doubt among anyone they meet about their love for Jesus. Last night, we marveled at the hundreds of people who stood outside in 100 degree heat to simply tell all of us, “I loved your Dad”.

Now I want you to imagine a 74 year old man. He’s sick, very sick, lying in a hospital bed with only a few moments left. He thinks of his little girl, adopted at only 6 weeks old, and the proud smile on her face each time one of her friends begged him to dance at their pool parties. He is still overwhelmed by the gift of her. A head cheerleader, Homecoming court member, honor student in both high school and college.  A devoted wife and mother.

His oldest son, who gave everything he had on the football field in high school and college, for his dad who never once left his side. His eyes begin to close, with the assurance that he raised a man who would now lead two families.

He is close to the end now, but his heart comes to life for a moment. He knows that his soldier will be home soon to say goodbye. He was never able to contain his pride for his second son. Not because of what he was, but because of what he became. He saw in him the discipline, focus, and bravery that can not be instilled with just parenting alone, but with faithful prayer, and a constant reminder of “stick with it. I believe in you.”

He manages a final smirk as his thoughts travel to his youngest, a confident, yet careless enigma, who reminds him so much of himself. This will be difficult for his last son, he knows, but he is confident of his promise to him. That one day he will find what he has wanted for so long. Something that brings him purpose. It might not be found in the prestige of his job or the amount of money in his bank account, but in the lives he knows he will change someday.

He will miss his wife. Each day of the past 52 years was more humbling than the one before. What gift could ever be enough to show how much he loved her, how much he owed to her? How would she ever know the extent of his amazement towards her?

Suddenly it all becomes very clear. She is outside, surrounded by a lifetime of friends they made together that will never leave her side. She is held by their 4 children. He knows they were not brought together by tragedy on this day, they have always been together, and will never be divided. He knows she will be lonely, but his last breathe is one of comfort, as the pictures of his 8 grandchildren, his most precious gifts, dance in his thoughts. He sends them now to her, so she can finally rest, and know they created a love personified, that will grow beyond the Earth and continue together in Heaven.

This is my favorite story. Thank you.

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An Inconvenient Truth

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Usually when I write, it starts with the title, and everything sort of evolves from there. My  instinct was to name this article something like, ‘Things That Hate Me’, or ‘Things That Make Me Want to Fist Fight’, but ‘hate’ and ‘fight’ evoke pity and haste, and the goal for this piece is to leave you with sense of ‘oh well’.

Can you predict annoyances? I can. I don’t consider this a talent or skill, because it doesn’t seem to offer any type of value to anyone or anything. Confusing? Here’s an example of what I mean:

A few months ago, I traveled to Atlanta to get curb stomped for 2 days by managerial mustaches from my job.  Arriving at a hotel, for me, is incomplete without the sucker punch most of you refer to as ‘checking in’. It begins with the standard script; Reservation? Check. Non-smoking room? Often lied to, but check. Room key? Here’s where the water boarding begins.

The desk clerk slides me the key card, directs me to the elevators, and wishes me a pleasant stay.

I ask her to please stay nearby, because the room key is going to fail and I will be back in about three minutes. She politely assures me that she programmed it with the correct number, and their system is very accurate.

“This has nothing to do with your ability as an employee, or the hotels’ sophisticated room-entry system,” I tell her. “I’m just letting you know that the door to my room will not be opened with this card.”

There’s little suspense about who would be right. Like always, I left my luggage at the desk, headed to my room, and watched the small red light from the handle mock me, like a carnival employee at the dunking booth.

There is no satisfaction in these exchanges. Most folks think I’m exaggerating about these routine nuances, until they witness them in person. Go with me to Subway for lunch, and watch in horror as the nurse in front of me produces the blue prints to a sandwich order to feed an entire hospital staff.

‘Pay at the pump’? Not me. Please see the cashier for your receipt, as soon as she’s done with the gentlemen redeeming 6 months worth of scratch-offs.

Public restrooms? If I had a dollar for each time I walked in on Satan eliminating last nights chili and keg beer, I could afford to rent my own hotel room  just for urinating. (insert your own ‘wetting your pants because the key won’t work’ joke here)

For years I felt cursed, or that my life was being manipulated by total strangers, like Michael Douglas in The Game. My thirties have taught me to accept these towel whips as tutorials for the masters course in patience. Yes, they can cause me to be unhappy, but the eternal quest for happiness can be the most nauseating roller coaster ride imaginable. I think the more we focus our personal microscopes, the easier we can define happiness as an emotion, not a way of life. Much like sadness, depression, or anger, happiness can be quite fleeting. So is it really something to spend a lifetime chasing?

The Psalmist tells us from the very beginning, ‘Blessed is the man’, not ‘Happy’. I find that a huge part of developing patience in my life, is the reminder of how blessed I am. Much like the tree planted near a stream, I am alive and yielded with fruit. Nourishing others with patience has no ebb or flow, just a smooth ride of understanding and community.

So the next time you drive through Taco Bell for your usual three soft tacos, and are given two packages of fire sauce, sigh, and know you are not alone. Then calmly walk inside and take enough to last the rest of your life.

30 Thread #8: My opinion on wedding attire is as follows: unless the invitation states “formal” or “black tie”, I will not dress formal or wear a tie, especially during summer. Invest in a tailored sport coat for the ceremony, then toss it in the car and proceed in doing your part to put the father of the bride in the poorhouse.

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Let’s get metaphysical

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So we’ve been at this for about 6 months now, and to be honest, if No Jerseys ended today, I would be the same inconvenienced, debt-ridden, professionally lost soul I’ve always destined to be. However, I’ve never been happier, felt more blessed and spiritually enriched  as I have since I began this venture. Like I told a friend the other day, good or bad, no one can take these writings away from me. The comments and feedback I’ve received from the faithful following has inspired me more than you know. I’ve actually been complimented by paid, successful writers! Not bad for a guy who failed English in high school and college.

What I’d like to do now is bring my readers into the mix. Are there topics that you would like to see covered? I know it’s not in everyone’s nature to bare all on page, which has been a large part of my intentions, to do that for you.

So over the next few days, think about a pressing issue(s) I’ve missed. If you have a minute, write me. Feel free to use the contact link if you want to be anonymous.

Also, if I’ve managed to strike a nerve with any of my past entries, I want to hear about that too.

No subject is too serious or immature. I aim to impact, but also entertain. Once I’ve gotten a series of responses, I’ll get to work.

Looking forward to your thoughts. Please don’t hurt my feelings.

30 Thread #7: Summer style tip for the dudes. I discovered recently that Nike makes the best dress shorts I’ve ever had. They sit perfectly just above the knees, slim through the thighs, offer attractive styles, and best of all, the FITDRY material rejects the uninvited “sweat smile” in the posterior upper thigh area, which never fails to embarrass..and disgust.

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A Blessing Foretold

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You’re awake. You don’t know why you are awake, but something isn’t right. Someone is missing. Suddenly, your life cuts to a scene of you in a car, screaming at the driver. He refuses to answer. Your cries are silent to even your own ears.

Soon, you turn into a hospital parking lot. The reality of what you feared true washes over you. She’s dead. And it’s your fault.

You notice a crowd of friends waiting in the emergency room. “Why are so many of them here?” you ask. “They barely knew her.” Each step, each breath, each face, slowly reveals the coming twist of emotions.

She’s alive. He is gone.

Weeks, months, years go by, and you continue to battle the guilt. The same mistake, repeated again and again. Why do you continue to survive? No one is considered. Ever. Friends. Family. Strangers.

Can you recover from your own selfishness? A knot develops each day, all these years later, when you think about that split second. The instant you knew it wasn’t her, and the unintentional relief that entered you, then hid somewhere you never found, and changed you forever.

I remember a conversation I had with my older sister when I was eighteen. She said I would probably know someone that dies during college. Strange how comments like that can come and go, only to return years later in the exact form they arrived. I think one of the problems with never getting in any real trouble as a teenager, was thinking I would never get in any real trouble as an adult. One of the many flaws with that logic, is that the decisions I began making in college were as far away from home as my dorm room. The choice to drive drunk would compound itself, no matter the consequences that surrounded me.

An absolute, unequivocal observation I have made in life, is that people do not want to be lectured. It’s why we avoided our parents as kids. Why some folks skip out on church. It’s why I bring my buddy Dr. David  inside my home to run interference after we’ve played tennis much longer than the expectation set for my wife.

So I’ve decided that the best way to talk about drunk driving is not to remind you of all the dangers that have been shoved down our throats since drivers ed, but to raise my hand to say, “I’ve done it. It’s affected my life. I’ve escaped the consequences. And I never hate myself more than when I think about what I’ve done.”

Everyday, I think about the friend I lost on that cold January night in 2000. Whenever I talk to George, who was in the car and barely survived, I wonder where my lost friendship would be now, all these years later, if I would have been disciplined enough to step in and say, “Stop.” The hazy image remains of the fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances, as I detoured past Austin St., driving my ex-girlfriend back to my apartment, not knowing the connection I had to the mayhem we avoided. We had all been together just minutes before. The pictures of young adulthood that most of us reflect on with private laughs and blushing disbelief, forever with an asterisk.

Eleven years later the magnitude of something so horrible is enough to make me stay home forever. What freezes me is no longer the thought of jail, losing my job, or public embarrassment. It’s a friend making a crying phone call to anyone who will listen, much the way I did that painful night. A mother and father living out their final years in sadness. A grieving wife, who misses her love, yet forever questions him. A son and a daughter, whose memories of their dad slowly fade to nothing as they grow older.

Never mistake your own importance. Our God has a plan that was written so long ago, our minds cannot comprehend it. He gives us choices, though, within his plan. The direction we choose can lead to a promised life, or one gripped by what might have been. Know that you are loved, and awaken to a morning sun full of warmth and welcome.

For Shea.

30 Thread #6: You’re not in the NBA boys, keep the shorts above the knees.

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Review of Life

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In the spirit of summer movies, or should I say the crushing of spirits via summer movies (thanks Hangover 2, you sucked), I’ve found myself even more introspective than usual. My latest ruminations have revealed themselves in the form of a personal film review.  Not unusual for me.  I love movies. Most of the ones I enjoy strangely involve suffering of some sort.  Not so much Saw VI suffering, more like Ordinary People. I’m not a masochist. I just find that watching true life experience, much of which can be painful, opens my mind to sympathies not yet realized. This is where I’m impacted, which results in positive reviews.

So now I think about how certain events in my life would be viewed by an objective audience. Is this arrogant or self-serving? Oddly, no. Some decent decision making has manifested itself from this behavior. More important, I’ve paused in parts where I usually play.

I don’t go out much anymore, comparatively speaking.  By going out, I mean myself and other dudes, sans the wives and girlfriends. Not long ago, the opportunity presented itself, and Mrs. No Jerseys begrudgingly allowed. She watched me leave much like a mother watching her son board a bus to Vietnam. I immediately started to question the point of what I was doing. There were no nerves or insecurities, and I looked forward to seeing a couple of old friends. Was the decision for me to go out an integral part of the movie?  I had plenty of laughs, and caught up with some guys I hadn’t seen in a while. Some of them seemed genuinely excited to see me. But as the night wore on, and the story unwound, my character seemed destined for the editing room floor. I began to view things from an audience’s perspective. Am I necessary to the scene? How would the plot be affected without me? The answer was clear. I was not detrimental, only dispensable. I was an extra, and it was fine.

I still managed to get home late enough to upset Mrs. No Jerseys, and the argument of how many of the other husbands were still at it, once again, fell on deaf ears. I was where I needed to be, though. Like DeNiro in The Godfather II, essential to the film. Making my wife laugh, seeing my daughter smile, and watching how much it means to my son each time I give him affirmation, these are the roles that advance my acting career.

A mistake I repeated in the past was considering how others would review my life, in all aspects. Now I look for the parts that suit my style, and perform to an audience that matters. Regrettably, my adaptations are not always of Daniel Day Lewis proportions. I continue to perfect my craft, and search for leading man roles where I can reflect and know that I nailed the part.

Where are you irrelevant? More important, where can your performance be brilliant? I encourage you to seek out these parts and report back.

Until then, break a leg!

30 Thread #5: Wife beaters- absurd and destructive when worn independently; slimming and cool when properly used as an under. Forget the stereotype and accept it for what it is. T-shirts worn as an under cause you to sweat more, look bigger from the waist up, and run the risk of “bacon neck” over time. Want to lose someones respect the instant you meet them? Have your old frat letters showing through your white dress shirt.

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David Allen: A Short Story

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“You’re driving tonight, Allen.  It’ll be hilarious,” said a mumbled voice that sneaked out from the smokers crowded around Seth Raines’ Explorer.

David Allen knew nothing about speakers or ‘systems’, nor would it have mattered if he did.  Seth had recently had a new stereo installed, and Alice in Chains “Down in a Hole” blared from the open tailgate.

“I’ve been guilty of kicking myself in the teeth,”

David honed in on Layne Staley’s admission, until Becca, a classmate of his since elementary school, shouldered him as she chased Seth around the school parking lot.  Becca was getting a head start on her perpetual weekend dramatics.

“That’s my CD and you know it, asshole!”

A pack of Merits fell from the front pocket of Becca’s uniform blouse.  Most of the seniors in David’s class were eighteen by this time of year, including Becca.  Judging by the brand, it appeared she still chose to steal the cigarettes from her housekeepers purse instead of buying them herself.

“Sounds good,” said David.  “Let me know.”

He recognized most of these relationships as temporary, and knew that, for him, they would end the day after graduation.

David drove a 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass.  Over the past three years, it had become a virtual mascot at Episcopal.   Upon arrival each morning, a smoke cloud would escape from under the hood with a desperate force, like someone gasping for air after being held underwater.  The smoke would rise so high, David often thought it could serve as a signal to his first period teacher that he would soon be in attendance.  Occasionally when he would get ready to head home, a handful of onlookers would applaud if the ignition turned over on the first try.

It was Friday, and Episcopal was in the second round of the high school football playoffs.  There was plenty of excitement among his friends, and David felt it as well.

The cool November air agreed with David’s car.  The air conditioner had bailed long ago, and there wasn’t much interest from he or his parents in getting it repaired.  The once mighty Olds must have been a pioneer in power windows and locks technology, a feature that was surprisingly reliable. It was humbled, though, by a factory-installed eight track, three blown speakers, and a torn out headliner that David had hastily removed before picking up a date junior year.  The once sagging felt was now replaced with profanity written in the underlying foam by his jackass friends.

David lived several miles across town. Most of his prep school friends lived in an upscale neighborhood near Episcopal that David passed to and from school each day.  When he was in eighth grade, David’s parents applied for and received a scholarship that provided him the opportunity to attend Episcopal.

Town South was the local public high school David would have attended under normal circumstances. TSH had ten times the enrollment of Episcopal, which lead to a daily traffic jam in front of the school. David looked forward to being held up at the signal just beyond the campus. He would see some of his old friends from his public school days, which always gave him a comfortable feeling.  There was no way to predict, unfortunately, how uncomfortable things were soon to become.

The sound produced by the horn of a ’79 Cutlass is like nothing else ever manufactured.  David always hesitated to honk because anything within a two mile radius might feel it the recipient. So when the wretched Cutlass inexplicably wailed like a World War II air strike warning, David instantly regretted his decision to chance the after school gridlock, and soon felt suffocated himself.

The incident may not have been so embarrassing had he not waved in the Honda Civic carrying five cheerleaders attempting to exit the lot. David recognized a couple of them from a party at the Russell’s lake house over the summer.  They politely waived as David scrambled to find confidence.  All was lost as soon as the horn awoke.  They must have briefly thought he was just trying to get their attention, but after thirty-seconds of solid blowing, it became uncomfortable for everyone involved.

He watched in agony as the traffic light at the south end of the campus changed for a third time before he was able to break free. David considered shutting down the engine, but that could have potentially lead to a situation far more humiliating.  For now, staying mobile was all that mattered.

David Allen took pride in his self-control, but as he approached the light at Highland Avenue, he brought with him language that would make a frat guy blush.

He made a sudden decision to cut through Park Heights, a quiet area usually immune to such a commotion. As the Cutlass serenaded the historic district, David’s anxiety went elsewhere.  The red brick homes with stately white columns reminded him of the sacrifices his parents made.  He remembered life before high school to be less complicated. He could not remember ever doubting himself then.  Maybe it was because he never sensed the slightest bit of shame from his parents.  So where had this sudden shame in himself come from?

Southern Drive was the main street that lead to David’s modest subdivision.  His house was about a mile and a half from the intersection of Southern and Porter.  As he continued on, he sensed empathy from some of the familiar strangers he passed along the way.  He noticed a Caprice Classic in his rear view mirror transporting a plastic swimming pool. Instead of tying it down, each of the four passengers had one arm out of their respective windows holding the pool to the roof.  David felt immediate community with them.  Several cars joined in on the honking as the Cutlass neared the turn at Pilot, David’s street.  He noticed Edmond, his next door neighbor, laughing uncontrollably while getting gas at the station on the corner of Pilot and Southern.  David was laughing, because he knew Edmond had never surrendered more than five dollars into that gas tank.

The honking finally stopped when he put the car in park.  His mom was already home, and David drug himself inside, exhausted and numb from what had just happened.

“Was that you honking?” his mom asked when he opened the door from the garage. He knew she wasn’t worried, only curious.

“It did that the whole way home.”

“Were you embarrassed?”

“It was pretty embarrassing.”

David could not have been more at ease at this point.

“Did it start in the parking lot?” she laughed.

“No, it spared me until the log jam in front of Town South.”

The lessons from these adolescent wounds were what kept David’s mom from feeling sad.  Of course she wished they could offer him more, but she recognized that even as a high school senior, he responded to her reactions.  As long as she maintained the humility that was missing from so many, so could he.

She paused, then said, “Oh well, these things are temporary.  You have to find ways to celebrate them.”

“At least it’s Friday,” David yawned.  He dropped his backpack on a kitchen chair and started for his room.

“Are you going to the game?”

“I told some of the guys I would go.”

“Seth and them?”

“Yes, ma’am.  We’ll probably take my car.”

Her eyes closed and her hand went to her mouth as she kept a laugh from escaping.

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