Faces Unknown: My Short Story Of the Week

FACES UNKNOWN

 

Lois sat in her room, surrounded by such delightful company!  

It was a small space, so most of them stood. With the ease of a skilled debutante, Lois moved in and out of conversations with her visitors, careful to never end a discussion until her conversationalist had sparked a new dialogue with someone else. The space buzzed with adults’ hearty, jocular banter. The lone child among them sat in one of the two available chairs—the other chair still empty—remaining silent and appearing quite agitated.  

Between idle chit-chat with her company, Lois looked at the pouting little girl and said, “I promise, just as soon as they leave, we’ll go out and have fun. I love to play just as much as you do, remember? But we mustn’t be rude to our friends.” 

Just then, a set of knuckles gently rapped upon Lois’ door.

“Come in,” Lois sang over the drone of her gathering.

A woman far older than any of Lois’ other visitors and who looked to be well past seventy entered the room, saying, “Hello, Lois. How are you today?”

“I’m marvelous, thank you for asking! Please, don’t mind the crowd; come in and take a seat.”

With a slight look of discomfort upon her face, the new guest made her way to the nearest chair and began to sit.

“Oh, no! Not there!” Lois called out, losing her composure. “You don’t want to sit on my little friend, do you? Please, use the other chair, the empty one.”

The woman, seemingly mortified, quickly planted herself in the other chair. Lois realized the room had gone silent. She looked to everyone and said, “Now, it was an honest mistake! No harm, no foul!” Lois smiled when the din of chatter promptly resumed.

“So,” Lois initiated, “do you know everyone here? I’d be happy to introduce you to whomever you wish.”

The visitor’s eyes darted away from Lois before she said, “I’m afraid I don’t know who’s with you at the moment.”

“Not to worry, dear. I’m happy to help with faces unknown. For instance, if you look over your shoulder, you’ll see Max Beasley. Can you believe he asks me to marry him nearly every time he visits? I’m not sure how much longer I can keep him at bay.  Though he wouldn’t be such a bad catch, you know. His father owns the corner gas station. Gasoline seems to be a lucrative industry.”

Looking over her shoulder, the most recent guest again returned her gaze to Lois and said, “I knew a man by the name of Max Beasley once, but he was much older than the person you’re describing.”

“Oh?” Lois mused. “Perhaps the person you know is a relative or something. Maybe that’s where Max got his name. I’ll have to ask him later.” Lois then said, “What about Captain Marlow over there? I’m sure you’d love his tales of navigating the Congo River. He keeps promising to ferry me one day himself, but I have such motion sickness, I don’t believe I could stand it! I’ve never been one for nautical travel.”

“Actually,” the woman said, “I came to see you, Lois.”

“Me?”

“Yes.”

Lois, in a display of uncommon anxiety, wrung her hands. She studied the woman as politely as possible, then, after a defeated sigh, said, “My dear, I’m afraid I simply can’t place your face. Have we met?”

“Several times. But, please, don’t worry about it. My name is Angelica Black.”

Angelica reached out her hand and Lois shook it with a bright smile.  

“Do you hear that, Angie?” Lois asked as she addressed the little girl, lower lip still protruding. “This nice woman has the same name as you! What an interesting coincidence.”

Angelica mustered all her strength and offered a soft, amiable laugh.

“Angie and I were just getting ready, once our guests leave, to go play at Shallow Creek. Do you know it?”

“I know it like an old friend,” Angelica replied.

Lois and Angelica discussed Shallow Creek, as well as many other local areas of adventurous interests, at great length. Lois had to frequently remind Angie to remain patient, they would be on their way to play soon, but Angie, judging by Lois’ reactions, grew more and more impetuous.

Finally, feeling that she had asked more from a little girl than anyone should, Lois genially requested her guests return at a later time, that she had neglected Angie for far too long, and, in truth, Lois was just as itchy to splash in Shallow Creek’s waters as was her young friend.

Lois stood to escort her callers from out her room, and Angelica lingered so as to be the last to leave—discounting Angie, of course.

Finally, once satisfied everyone else had gone, Lois warmly waved her arm in a gesture for Angelica to also exit.  

Angelica said, “You must love your time at Shallow Creek.”

“Oh, I do,” Lois said. “But it’s really Angie’s company I value so. She’s the best friend I’ve ever had, to be quite honest. The age discrepancy is really no matter. I can always be myself around her, and she never belittles my extravagances. I thank God I have her in my life.”

“I’m sure she’s just as thankful for you, Lois,” Angelica said with her eyes threatening to overflow.

Lois furrowed her brow as though slightly confused, cordially smiled, and then Angelica watched as her lifelong friend closed the door to an empty room.

“Hello, Mrs. Black,” Nurse Nash greeted as Angelica walked by. “My shift just started, and I haven’t yet seen Mrs. Beasley. How is she today?”

Angelica, her cheeks wet, returned, “Lois is with her best friend. She couldn’t be happier.”

A Note From the Author: This story is of particular significance to me as it was inspired by the struggles with dementia my maternal grandmother experienced for the better part of ten years. I often find myself thinking about those intangible visitors she received as well as the obvious happiness they brought her.


Copyright © 2008/2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. . This story first appeared in the September 2008 issue of News and Views For the Young at Heart.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Are You an Average American? You Should Read Andrew Yang’s The War On Normal People – A Book Review

waronnormalpeople

If you’re anything like me, when you first heard Andrew Yang’s idea to give every American citizen $1,000 a month, you probably scoffed. In fact, I’m so cynical that I bypassed any kind of reactionary positive response at all. My immediate thought was, “Where’s this money going to come from?”

However, after hearing Yang on the radio, I grew interested. He sounded intelligent, informed, involved, and interconnected with the general American society. I wanted to know more, so I picked up his 2018 book The War On Normal People.

To say this book altered my outlook regarding American’s future is an understatement. It served as a wake-up call, to be sure. The next five to ten years are not going to be kind to the average American. Automation and AI are going to severely transform the labor industry. Those without college educations are likely to suffer the most. The average American does not have a college education–this is, statistically speaking, normal.

Yang spends two-thirds of the book detailing the struggles of the current normal American. He uses legitimate statistics to make his point about how little money the average American actually has, how volatile the average American’s job is (such as retail, customer service, transportation, administrative support, and food service), and how much financial aid our country already provides. The truth is, the first part of this book literally kept me up at night. It’s horrifying.

The last third of the book is, as you would expect, a pitch for the presidency. However, he’s not wrong about anything he says in the first part of the book. Whether we like it or not, AI and automation are going to change everything. If you’re in the factory industry, it already has.

During his bid for office, though, he actually does make a compelling argument in regards to what he calls a Universal Basic Income. (That’s the $1,000 a month idea.) He makes a point to mention that Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Nixon, Stephen Hawking, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bernie Sanders have all entertained a variation of the idea. He breaks down how it could work, how it could help the average American, and how it could stimulate local economies.

The fact is, to me, Andrew Yang seems the most invested in society of any of the current presidential runners. He understands the real America. He’s been to our decaying cities. He’s talked with the hopeless, the forlorn, and the disenfranchised. He understands our need to work, our need to provide, and our need to feel useful.

Furthermore, he has two young children himself. (One of those children happens to be autistic.) He’s married. He’s a first generation American. He’s only 45 years old. This is a man who cares deeply about America, his family, your family, and the economical conditions in which those families will live.

I’m not saying you have to vote for Andrew Yang, but I think you should at least read his book. It will probably hit closer to home than you ever expected. It did for me.

 

 

Healthy Balls: My Short Story Of the Week

Healthy Balls

 

“Peas is a silly name,” said eight-year-old Elise. “It sounds kind of yucky, you know, like …”

“Pee-pee!” exclaimed Elise’s four-year-old sister, Loretta.

“Come on, now, enough of that,” Steve said as he sat down at the table.

“Sorry,” Loretta mumbled.

“No you’re not,” Elise chided.

“I’m not!” Loretta bellowed before laughing maniacally.

“All right,” Caroline interrupted, “your father made your favorite. Let’s eat while it’s hot.”

Loretta roared, “Bow tie pasta! Yum!”

“Glad somebody’s excited for it,” Steve chuckled.

Steve did indeed make the girls’ favorite dinner. The night previous, he’d made meatloaf, never a popular choice among his children, but a favorite of his wife’s. He thought tonight he’d make something they’d all enjoy. Of course, Elise and Loretta eat the mini farfalle with only Alfredo sauce, whereas he and his wife add peas, red pepper, green pepper, onion, and Parmesan. Steve takes it even a step further with small Italian sausage slices. Not to worry, the girls must still eat their peas, albeit in a separate dish with too much butter.

Obviously, the peas were a topic of great concern to Elise.

“Don’t you think ‘peas’ is kind of a weird name?” Elise asked anyone willing to answer.

“I guess,” Caroline replied.

Elise grinned, then said, “Yeah, like when I drop a pea on the floor, I have to say, ‘Oops, I pead on the floor.’”

Loretta erupted.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard it phrased quite like that,” Steve added.

“No, Steve, she’s right,” Caroline said. “It does sound a little funny to warn people, ‘Oh, no! Don’t step in my pea!’”

Steve groaned, “Seriously? You’re doing it, too?”

The girls burst out laughing, so hard, in fact, that Loretta very nearly fell out of her seat. Steve caught her by the shoulder and hefted her back up into place.

“What would be a better alternative?” Carolina asked Elise.

“Huh?”

Caroline clarified, “What would be a better name for peas?”

Elise took a bite of her garlic bread and thought for several moments. After great contemplation, she finally revealed, “I’ve got it! Green balls!”

Caroline took a drink of soda the moment Elise said this, and within an instant she had to cover her mouth to keep from spitting it out.

Loretta noticed her mother, started pointing, and shouted, “Look at Mommy! Look at Mommy!”

“Green balls, huh?” Steve repeated. “I’ve got to be honest, kiddo … that doesn’t sound appetizing.”

Finally under control, Caroline giggled, “I mean, it’s already hard enough to get most kids to eat their peas, you know? I’m not sure calling them ‘green balls’ will get children excited for a big spoonful.”

“Not me, that’s for sure,” Steve said.

“But you don’t eat peas, Daddy,” Loretta enlightened.

“True enough, sweetheart,” he answered.

Elise, a thoughtful young girl, took the matter to heart. “So we need a name that will make kids want to eat peas but not sound like, you know …”

“Pee-pee!” Loretta hollered. “Pee-pee! Pee-pee!”

“We got it, Loretta,” Caroline said with a smile.

“And ‘green balls’ isn’t any good?” she tested again.

Steve finished chewing before saying, “I won’t lie – it’s not great.”

“Okay. Well then … how about … healthy balls!”

Caroline’s eyes closed so tightly that they began to water as she hunched over and tried her hardest not to laugh. Instead, a sequence of rasps escaped accompanied by a strange series of heaving and jostling.

“I think that’s perfect, Elise,” Steve said. “The doctors will love it. I mean, ‘healthy balls.’ It sounds very nutritious.”

“You think so?” Elise asked. “It’s good?”

Caroline, still unable to talk as she fought to contain her laughter, offered her husband a silent warning with a quick shake of her head.

“It’s very good,” Steve agreed. “I think everyone should have healthy balls.”

“It doesn’t sound gross?” Elise questioned.

“Only if there’s a hair on them,” her father added.

“Steve!” Caroline chastised.

“No, Daddy’s right,” Elise confirmed. “If I find a hair on my food, I can’t eat anymore. It totally grosses me out.”

“Okay,” Caroline began after finally having composed herself, “let’s change topics.”

“Why?” Loretta asked.

“Yeah, why?” Steve repeated with an ornery grin.

“I think kids would love healthy balls,” Elise informed.

“I think we all would,” Steve added. “People will grab big handfuls.”

Caroline again lost control. She pressed her eyes shut, pursed her lips, and tried with all her might to keep it together.

“Maybe Daddy will like to eat them now!” Loretta said.

“Hmm. I don’t know, Lo,” Steve said. “I mean, it is just a name change. I’m guessing they would still taste the same. I’d have to ask someone to try them out for me. Maybe your mom would do me a favor and taste my healthy balls?”

At this Caroline screeched, “Excuse me!” before racing to the bathroom. They heard her slam the door, turn on the fan, run the water, and then emit a sound so jarring that the girls’ eyes grew quite concerned.

“Is Mommy crying?” Loretta asked.

It’d been a while since Steve heard such a ruckus from his wife. He informed the girls, “Ladies, what you’re hearing is your mother’s genuine laughter. It is not for the faint of heart.”

Elise looked at Steve very seriously and said, “I don’t think you guys are talking about peas.”

Loretta added, “I think they’re talking about real balls!”

Steve then had to excuse himself from the table as well.

Some time passed before the parents rejoined their children, at which point they agreed they should probably stick with the name “peas” and have no more talk of healthy balls.

Loretta, however, noticed Steve and Caroline’s conspiratorial glance to one another. She offered one of her own to Elise, which prompted a mischievous smirk in return.

This was not over.


Copyright © 2017 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

The Ride Of a Lifetime by Robert Iger – A Book Review

rideofalifetime

No one is more surprised that I’ve become a Disney acolyte than, well, me. The serious devotion began after visiting Walt Disney World. Since then, I’ve paid close attention to Disney’s dealings–both past and present. The acquisition of Pixar, securing Marvel, getting hold of the Star Wars intellectual properties, taking Fox, introducing Disney+ … these are impressive feats!

And the man leading the way in all of these endeavors? Robert Iger.

The Ride Of a Lifetime is a brief, simple read, but it is filled with captivating information. Iger spends a little bit of time discussing his rise to prominence from rather humble beginnings, his careful navigation of the Disney hierarchy, as well as his core tenets regarding business.

However, for this reader, the primary joy of the book derived from learning about how Iger and Disney managed all of their most recent, and momentous, accomplishments. Iger is careful to talk about each acquisition respectfully and he is incredibly thoughtful in regards to Steve Jobs and George Lucas in particular, yet he also surprised me by some of his rather candid remarks pertaining to certain Disney executives as well as some of the competition.

If you are interested in Disney, business, or the entertainment industry, I highly recommend The Ride Of a Lifetime. It is well-written, informative, and–best of all–fun to read.

George Winthrop Jr. Park: My Short Story Of the Week

WinthropCoverI

“Look, there he is,” Krystal groaned.

Ben said, “Every Tuesday! What’s the creep doing at a children’s park?”

Andrea said, “It’d be different if he brought a grandchild or something, but he just sits there watching the kids play in their bathing suits. It’s weird!”

“We’ve done nothing about it this whole summer,” Lisa said. “We should confront him. We need to let him know we’re on to him. We can’t tolerate it.”

“Totally,” Ben replied. “Doesn’t he realize we see him gawking at our kids? He’s lucky we haven’t turned him over to the cops!”

“So go tell him, Ben,” Krystal said. “We shouldn’t put this off any longer, and it’ll sound more impressive coming from you.”

“Why?” Ben asked. “Because I’m a man?”

“No,” Krystal answered. “It’s because you’re super tall and probably three hundred pounds.”

“Two-fifty,” Ben huffed while getting to his feet. “Keep an eye on my Lacy, would you?”

Lisa smiled and said, “You bet, Ben. Good luck. We’ll be here if things get out of hand.”

Ben followed the water area’s perimeter. Toddlers ran from spout to bucket to spray gun, laughing all the while. Ben had joined Lisa, Krystal, and Andrea’s Tuesday play group after meeting them at church. Throughout the summer, they’d convened weekly at George Winthrop Jr. Park, and without fail, they’d seen the old man haunting a bench, speaking to no one, and ogling the children.

As Ben approached, he saw that the old man wore a battered fireman’s cap and black-rimmed glasses, as well as a white shirt and blue jeans. He also had a thermos. Ben could only imagine its contents.

The man in question didn’t notice Ben’s advancement.

“Hey,” Ben called out.

The man’s head snapped away from the children and he studied Ben a moment, careful to avoid eye-contact. With a face devoid of friendliness, he mumbled, “Howdy.”

No stranger to confrontation, Ben got right to the point by saying, “My friends and I notice that you come here a lot.”

“Yep,” the old man replied.

“Every Tuesday, in fact,” Ben said.

“Just like you and yours,” the man pointed out.

Ben chuckled a little before replying, “Yeah, but we bring our kids with us.”

The old man went back to watching the children as he spat, “That right?”

Folding his arms across his wide chest, Ben answered, “Yeah, man. That’s right.”

Without looking at Ben, the man said, “I used to bring my kid to this park—every Tuesday. This was back before it had all the fancy water guns and such, back when it was still called Evergreen Park. It was a long time ago, probably before you were born.”

“I don’t really care,” Ben replied.  “I do care about my kid’s safety, though, and I want to know what you’re doi—”

“People are funny nowadays,” the man interrupted.  “They don’t think. They don’t think about the past or the future; they only think about the present. They get a notion, and they act on it, lickety-split.”

“Look,” Ben said, “I don’t have time to listen to you rant, okay? I just wanted to give you fair warning: we don’t like you watching our k—”

“You probably don’t even know who George Winthrop Jr. is, do you?”

Furrowing his brow, Ben got caught off guard. He stammered, “W-What? No. Who cares about George Winthrop Jr.? He doesn’t matter. It’s just a park.”

The old man laughed before grumbling, “He doesn’t matter, huh? He sure mattered to Travis and Becky Swan. They had a little girl, about three years old, and she got trapped in her bedroom during a house fire. George Winthrop Jr. was a fireman, and he saved that little girl’s life. He died doing it, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t get it done. The Swan girl got a little burned on her legs, but she went on to grow up and have a few kids of her own. Last I heard, she’s teaching elementary school up north.”

“Cool,” Ben muttered, “so they changed the name of the park in honor of the fireman, I get it. What’s your point?”

“Ha!” the old man cackled. “They changed it all right, but only after I hounded them for three solid years. A man gives his life saving a baby, and the city makes you jump through a thousand hoops just to give that man a little recognition. Then, a few more years go by, and before you know it, nobody even remembers who the park is named after.”

Ben’s cheeks grew hot as he began to understand.

The man continued, “Well, I’ll always remember who this park is named after, I can tell you that much. My boy loved this park, and I know he’d love seeing all these kids enjoying it, too. Like I said, I brought him here every Tuesday, my only day off, and I don’t aim to quit coming any time soon. Sometimes I can feel him sitting right on this bench next to me, and we watch the kids together, and we understand that he did right that night—saving that Swan girl. I miss him terrible, but he did the right thing, and I’m proud as hell of him.”

Swallowing hard, Ben extended his hand and said, “I’m Ben Silvestri. Would you care to join my friends and me? You could meet our kids and maybe tell us a little bit more about your son.”

The old man looked Ben in the eyes for the first time, and then, with his face brightening, said, “I’d like that.”

He then shook Ben’s hand while saying, “I’m George Winthrop.”


Copyright © 2009/2019 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. . This story first appeared in the September 2009 issue of News and Views For the Young at Heart.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

 

Little Women (2019) – A Movie Review

little women 2019

My wife, eleven and seven year old daughters, and I wanted to make special plans for New Year’s Eve. We decided on a movie and dinner, which, while not especially original, sounded delightful to us. My oldest daughter and wife wanted to see Little Women. The youngest daughter didn’t much care either way, nor did I.

I feel that it may be important at this point to mention that I’ve never read the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott. (Yes, I’ve read a lot of novels. Yes, I know it’s a travesty I haven’t read this particular novel. Yes, I understand I’m obligated to read every book ever written.) I also have never seen a theatrical adaptation of Little Women. In other words, I came into this film knowing almost nothing about the plot or characters.

Without a doubt, Little Women is one of my favorite films of 2019. Trust me, no one is more surprised by that statement than the person who wrote it.

In the beginning, I thought I’d made a huge mistake. The first ten minutes were, well … boring.

However, as you begin to meet the sisters and experience their interactions, the charm of the film comes into full effect. The chemistry between the four actors playing sisters Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth render Little Women irresistible.

Saoirse Ronan plays Jo, the lead character. I’ve seen Ronan before in Lady Bird. There’s no denying she’s among the best at her craft. Ronan delivers a fully developed Jo March, a young woman capable of earning our love and also of instigating our frustration. Like any real person, Jo has moments of wonderful triumph and horrible judgement. However, Ronan’s performance is so charismatic that we can’t take our eyes off of Jo, and we can’t stop hoping for her happy ending.

I won’t break down everyone, but Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen also offer fully realized characters. When they are laughing, we are laughing. When they are crying, we are crying. They make us part of their family, which is why this movie won me over so thoroughly. In fact, though I hesitate to admit it, the death in this movie brought a tear or two to my eye that escaped and trickled down my cheek. I could count the number of times this has happened to me in a theater on one hand.

By the way, Laura Dern, who plays the mother, fits perfectly with these actors. First of all, I think they all actually look like they could be family, and you see aspects of her in all of their performances. It really is quite amazing. I don’t know if this is simply the result of the novel’s characterizations, if it’s natural chemistry among the troop, or if it happened due to careful direction. Whatever the case may be, the multifaceted Dern also captured my heart.

Speaking of direction, I’d like to address Greta Gerwig, the director. I liked Lady Bird, but I’ve also heard that it’s essentially her life story. I have conflicted feelings when I hear that a director is basically just replicating actual events. That may be small-minded of me, but it’s the way I feel. With Little Women, though, I think Gerwig made some brilliant decisions. Again, I have not read the book, so perhaps this is done in the novel, but Gerwig depicts these people as actual human beings. They are not prim and proper, they are not saints (though they certainly have more charity in their hearts than most), and they are not above petty retribution. Best of all? They fight. Not just verbally, but physically. There’s a moment in the film where a brawl breaks out between two of them and I started laughing. Not because it was meant to be funny, but because it was so fresh. I’ve never seen a movie taking place in the 1800s, based off of a classic work of literature, willing to show young women having a knock-down, drag-out fight. Do sisters fight? Yes! Did sisters fight in the 1800s? Of course! Yet such realism, and bluntness, is rarely shown on film. There are many themes in this film, but chief among them is that women are people, too. I think Gerwig was very smart to show us women actually being people–not cherished artifacts, dainty assets, or beautiful trophies, but real people.

Gerwig chose to also unveil the plot in a broken timeline. In other words, the film does not start at the beginning and run through to the end. Instead, it starts in the middle and then jumps back in time at relevant moments only to return back to the present. It can be a little confusing at times, but, overall, it proved very compelling.

If you follow my reviews, you know that most of the movies that I see in theaters involve laser swords, muscular men in mo-cap suits, and robots with varying degrees of sentience. Bearing that in mind, I highly recommend Little Women to fans of any genre. Like Shakespeare did in his plays, this film captures the essence of that for which we can all relate: love, family, hope, death, anger, and living life.