Life is a Movie

Movie

Life is a movie.

I know what you’re thinking- it isn’t at all like that. We dream up scenarios where the prince always rides up on a white horse, or if you’re the prince you save the stunning damsel, and there’s a bad guy, of course, but he’s simple even if he’s smart. He’ll tell you his plans and there’s always a way out. Every line is witty and clever, every moment perfection. Cue the credits, ride into the sunset. People think life is this kind of movie sometimes, and they inevitably end up hurt, confused, desperate, and despondent.

So we say life isn’t like a movie.

But it is.

Life is a well-written movie, and the distinction is crucial.

My journey has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but I didn’t get to look at the box before we started this thing, so I don’t know how long it is. Maybe today is still the beginning. Maybe it’s halfway over. Maybe it’s the final scene. Whenever it happens: beginning, middle, and end.

There’s a love interest- but like any properly written story, it isn’t always so clear. A heart can be pulled in a hundred directions, even if it only has one true bearing. And here’s a twist- sometimes people don’t marry the best one for them, their one. They’re out there, but people get impatient sometimes, going forward with something they know isn’t the best. Just when you suspect you know what’s going to happen, it shifts. A hope becomes a let-down.

But sometimes the opposite happens. Sometimes a let-down blossoms in hope. The nerdy girl in the glasses really does look beautiful at prom sometimes, but never in the way you’d expect. The kid who got cut from every team he tried out for becomes an incredible athlete, and maybe he even takes a squad to the championship game!

But this is a well-written movie, so you never know if they’re going to win it or let the opportunity slip and be forced to find redemption elsewhere. You never know what to expect. But there is always redemption. This is a movie, after all.

There is a moment where we can say “all is lost,” or the “dark hour of the soul.” In a well-written movie, sometimes there’s more than one. Recovery can be swift and instant, or it can be slow and painful. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. Twists and turns, and just when you think you’ve got it figured out, something new hits you. Your expectations, for better or worse, fall through. The writer of this grand script never takes the easy way out. He takes the interesting path, the best path, the path that makes this thing a story worth telling.

There’s a whole host of characters, but none of them are flat. Everyone is a round character, only I just haven’t found that out yet. Maybe the mailman actually is a spy, but maybe he’s a train collector- or a sportsman, or a skier, or a terrible husband, or a wonderful friend. Back stories abound, and in fact they’re never ending. See, because in a well-written movie (not just any movie) the writer knows that all of his characters have lives. Even the extras are full of worlds and stories. There just isn’t enough time to tell you all of them, so you only see a few.

In fact, they’re all movies too. I just can’t watch all of them. I can’t even really watch another whole one in its entirety.

There will be triumph, when it looks like there’s no way out, there will be- but will I take it? There’s character development for some, and some are stuck in a rut, but it all serves to advance the plot. What is the plot? In truth, I don’t entirely know. I could tell you bits and pieces, and I could tell you my guess, but at this point I think you know how much my guesses are worth. Things shift again. The writer is way ahead of me. I just sat down to watch this, while he spent months planning it out.

There will be tragedy, I guarantee it. What use is a film where nothing bad happens? It’s boring, is what it is. Struggle, for whatever reason, seems to be a requirement for growth and change. Heck, even a painting needs conflict, or else the eye grows tired of it quickly, and then is it even really art? Art is passion, and passion is pain, but not forever.

Because there is a sunset. And I’m riding towards it. I don’t know how many offshoots and subplots and various adventures I’ll have before I get there, but there’s one thing I’m sure of:

Life is a movie.

A well-written movie.

Discomfort

wrong way

Do you love me enough to hurt me?
I don’t mean in a sick way
And I don’t mean for no reason
I want to know if you’ll rip the band-aid off my skin
or let it fester, pretend it hasn’t been on too long
And smile so you’re not the bad guy.

Do you love me enough to disagree with me?
If I ask your advice, and I’m treading on ice
Will you tell me to move? Or better yet-
Throw a rope and get me somewhere safe?
Or will you tighten your brow and say nothing?
Tacitly approving while pleading in your silent heart

Do you love me enough to make me uncomfortable?
If there’s some flaw that I have in me
Spinach in my teeth, snot on my sleeve-
Would you tell me? Or will you hold your tongue
So that maybe someone else can say it?
And you’re saved the embarrassment

I’m not talking about public shaming, and I don’t
Mean simply being contrary. I said it before,
And I say it again: discomfort. Am I worth that to you?
Is anyone worth that to you?
See, it’s sad, because there’s a lot of people, I think,
Who don’t consider a soul in this world worth that cost.

It isn’t a very big cost.

Heat Wave

fireball

It’s September in Southern California, and that inevitably means a heat wave. The air conditioner blasts here in my upper room essentially all day while the fan struggles to keep up. It makes things bearable. They say that the secret to enduring the heat is not fighting it- to just let your body sweat and adjust to a new standard. I’ve gone for that idea from time to time, but today is not one of those days. Today, the rumble of the AC is my constant companion.

What I find remarkable about this heat wave that has brought us temperatures in the 90’s and 100’s is not its location on the calendar or its severity, it’s the comments I hear about it. I don’t mean simple griping. That’s a given. I even find myself uttering the inane, obligatory, “it is HOT.” The comments I find surprising are the ones in which surprise is articulated. “What is happening?” “How weird is this for SEPTEMBER?” “Why is this happening?”

Here’s the thing. We get a heat wave every September. We usually get one in January too, and people get a lot more excited about that one. But then it goes away and gets cold again (as cold as it ever does around here) and February goes back to being especially chilly, and life goes on. It reminds me of an unfortunate reality of man, myself most certainly included. (I suppose that was redundant to reinclude myself, but I want to emphasize that I am by no means immune to this malady.)

Our memories are both selective and short. It isn’t that they are defective, necessarily. Indeed, one of the foremost pediatric neurosurgeons in the country once claimed that the human mind has enough room in it for all of the knowledge discovered in all of the history of mankind. (Accessing that information in a timely manner, as well as inputting it in a timely manner is another matter entirely.) We choose to use our minds this way. We forget, we are surprised, and we gripe in our stunned condition. Yet the heat wave came last year too, and at the same time.

Every winter the news freaks out about how cold it is. Then in the summer they freak out about how hot it is. The populace is right there with them, for the most part. Why are we surprised about things that happen almost exactly the same every year?

We return to the gym and we’ve forgotten that it’s hard. We drive through Los Angeles at one am on a Tuesday and we’re shocked that there’s traffic. And every September and January, we’re surprised at the heat wave.

I don’t know why this is. I only know that I want to remember things. Life is a little less scary that way. The heat wave will come next year too, and I’ll turn on a ceiling fan and get on with my life. Life is full of the unexpected, but it also isn’t.

I suppose it depends on what we remember, and on what we expect.

I’ve read a fair number of accounts of prisoners of war during the various conflicts of the modern age, and those that managed to live through their experiences and return to some sort of normalcy typically agree on a certain principle for looking at the world. It is perhaps articulated best by a P.O.W. in the infamous Hanoi Hotel during the Vietnam War. When asked who were the first kind of people to break in prison- to give up and die- he naturally responded that it was the pessimists. This makes sense, as they never had any hope. However, he was quick to add that the optimists were quick to follow in their footsteps and fall next, succumbing to the horror of their circumstances. This is counter-intuitive. We’re always told to stay positive, and in truth, there is much good to be found in that advice. Yet what he calls optimism others might call denial. Those he referred to as the optimists in prison were always going on about how they would all be rescued by Christmas, and then they would smile and caress their hope as it brought them through agony. But then Christmas would come and the rescue wouldn’t. They would be shattered until they lighted upon another idea. By the spring we’ll be rescued. They would then shift to this being their mantra, remembering that despite all of the bad, they would be out by spring. Then spring would come, and with it no rescue. It required a varying number of crushing disappointments for these optimists to lose it and give up, but they all did. They had hope, but it was imaginary. Their timelines were arbitrary. True, the glass is half full, but if it’s full of antifreeze, you still shouldn’t drink it.

The ones who made it through the war without cracking up or dying were what this officer called the hopeful pragmatists. They were the ones who realized that they had received a beating yesterday, a beating today, and in all likelihood, they’d get another one tomorrow. Their hope was not that every man of them would be rescued- that was impossible. Their hope was not that they would be rescued at a certain point. Their hope was that the day would eventually come when old glory stormed the castle. They had no idea when this would be or which ones of them would make it, but this hope, this true hope, kept them going. They did not succumb to the bitterness of their circumstance by denying hope, nor did they fabricate it. They hoped in what was real, and they remembered what had happened already so they were not surprised when it came again. Eventually, their hope was proved substantial. Rescue did come, but it came long after the optimists and the pessimists had died alike.

Circumstances are hard. It’s hot. We’re unhappy with X, Y, or Z. Putting a smile on your face won’t solve all of your problems in an instant, but neither will carrying  a wounded sense of defeatism. Life is what it is. There’s a lot of beauty around if you know where to look for it. Even in the darkest of situations, there is some good to be found. Even if we don’t know when things are going to get better, they will at some point- either for us or for some of our brothers in arms. I’m not saying don’t hope for big things- great change never comes without that sort of audacity. Only let us remember that it gets hot every September, and then we can deal with it accordingly, without the burden of shock slowing us down.

I want to remember things. I want to be a hopeful pragmatist. Do you?

An Odd Encounter

landscape

“One at a time, one at a time.”

Gabriel beat his drum as he spoke, thumping a musical pace for those who passed by. There was a lively chatter of excitement as everyone shuffled forward, feeling the mounting tension of a deep breath before a plunge.

“One at a time, please. Thank you.”

The line seemed endless. Faces of every size and shape and color dotted the line, emerging from the white robes that covered them. It was a beautiful scene. There were clouds, certainly, but so much more than clouds. It was a funny thing that when people imagine heaven’s gates they think of nothing more than white, fluffy clouds and pleasant boredom. The truth couldn’t be more remote.

There was grass, for one thing, peppered with wildflowers and dotted with boulders. Two stags leaped and redounded, chasing one another and suddenly switching roles in what appeared to be a game of tag. They cut sharply through the line, causing a dashing young man to hop backwards with a startled laugh. Gabriel rolled his eyes.

“Sorry about that,” he called to the man. “Nori and Fifflebum get excited when a new group comes in.”

The man smiled, his thin mustache moving with his lip.

“Oh, they have names! How wonderful!”

Gabriel continued tapping and popping at his drum as one by one, new arrivals reached the base of the mountain, stepped upon a nimbus, and were whisked up the rolling slope toward the pearly gates. Gabriel raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, he has a name; of course he has one. Both of them. Is that strange to you?”

The young man stepped forward another place in line and laughed. He had an excited nervousness about him. Who could blame him? They all did.

“I guess it shouldn’t. People name pets and things back where we came from. Those deer- and those owls, and those lions- well, they just seem more human, if that makes any sense. More lifelike, at any rate.”

The stags crashed through a thicket of berry bushes, twisting and turning as Fifflebum pushed to catch up with Nori. They ran past a sleeping tiger- who was apparently not sleeping, for he leaped up and wrapped the animal in his great paws, bringing both of them to the ground. The handsome young man watching with Gabriel was taken aback for a moment, until he saw that the other stag was not worried. He ran up to his counterpart, tapped him with his hoof, and then he was off again. The tiger released his grip, rolling on the ground and making sounds that sounded not unlike laughter, mixed with more felinity.

“Is that tiger laughing?”

“Oh, yes,” Gabriel answered. Humans always asked the most adorable questions when they arrived. “The animals are a bit more alive here than they are on earth. It’s only fitting, because the same is true of you. How did so many of you come to arrive today, anyway?”

The young man rolled his eyes.

“Iceberg. We were all aboard a ship that was supposed to be indestructible.”

Gabriel chuckled.

“Well, the best laid plans.”

The young man laughed with him, almost up to the front of the line now.

“Will you answer a question for me, angel, sir?”

“It’s Gabriel. And I’ll do my best.”

The handsome young man held out his hands and looked at them.

“Gabriel, then, thank you. I can’t see my face, but I can see the rest of me. I don’t look a day over thirty-five; maybe even less!”

Gabriel began to nod knowingly as the beat went on, popping and ringing like a djimbe. He had heard this one countless times.

“Yes?” Gabriel encouraged him. He was only three people from the front now.

“This morning I was an old man. Eighty-one, if you can believe it. And furthermore, there were lots of us old folks aboard that ship, but there aren’t any old ones here.”

“‘Lay down your burdens and welcome in, Sorrow, sickness, pain and eld, Are not permitted, and won’t begin.’

“What was that?” the young man asked.

“Just a line from a poem. No one is old here. Time itself, actually, isn’t really much of a concept here. Its purpose has been fulfilled.”

Two people from the front now, where a nimbus would come and usher him into the shining gates of the heavenly city, the young man looked as though he was about to ask another question, when Gabriel’s attention was stolen elsewhere.

It was an angry one, that was for certain. Of course, this sort was always angry. Rage seemed to be their defining characteristic. Perhaps hopelessness defined them better, but this one was nearly steaming from the top of his bald, liver-spotted head. Gabriel continued playing his drum, but his attention caught the handsome young man’s attention, and together they both watched as the old one approached.

“I though no one was old here,” the young man started.

“You’ll see,” Gabriel answered him with a sigh.

The stalking, shaking, angry old man twitched as he made his way toward Gabriel and the new arrivals. He avoided proximity to the line with unabashed disgust, attempting to spit on those who waited, but never seeming to hit his mark. Most seemed not to notice him.

As he caught sight of Gabriel, with his eyes afire in rage and enmity, he continued his cursing and muttering, but his course was set for the angel. Gabriel sighed and lifted his eyes briefly heavenward- which was only a few thousand yards away.

“God, give me patience.”

“You!” the old man screamed, physically shaking his fist at Gabriel. He spit to the side and then, somehow, he managed to scrunch up his face even more than it had been previously. “You…”

“Excuse me,” a polite voice spoke up from behind the handsome young man. “It’s your turn.”

“Oh,” the young man exclaimed. He looked to the nimbus, then to Gabriel and the confrontational old man. “I’ll just be a minute, thank you. You can go on ahead.”

She smiled, and did just that, stepping on a nimbus with her arms outstretched. The wind played through her long, curling hair, and her squealing laughter echoed across the plane.

“Can I help you with something?” Gabriel said, clearly trying to be patient. It was not the easiest thing for him, apparently. The old man spit again.

“No, I don’t think you can. And if you could, I wouldn’t want you to, you piece of garbage!”

He swore colorfully for several seconds. The handsome young man leaned into Gabriel’s ear.

“He was with me on the boat. He was much younger, I think- if it’s even him. We became a sort of friends.”

“A lot of people who were on the boat aren’t in this line, I’m afraid.”

“You call that a paradise?” the old man shouted, pointing up to heaven with his broken, splintered cane. His hand bled from gripping it so. “You think I don’t know what it is up there? What you do to people?”

Gabriel sighed, shaking his head.

“Did you have a question, a request, or would you just like to yell?”

“I don’t have to take this!” the old man wheezed, shouting for all he was worth, though it clearly pained his old throat. “It isn’t justice, you know. Taking some and sending the others to Hell? Well there’s no paradise in exclusion, you know? I would know! I’ve studied philosophy for years and years and friggin’ years!”

“Oh have you?” Gabriel said, trying to avoid the conversation as much as possible.

The old man swore some more.

“You think you’re all so righteous, hogging all of the good stuff and leaving crap for the rest of us! You’re the evil ones, not us! Not us, but you…” He narrowed his eyes and leveled a pointing, shaking finger. “There is no paradise in exclusion.”

“Excuse me, sir?” another friendly voice piped up behind the handsome young man. “It’s your turn, I think.”

“You can go ahead of me,” he replied. Then, turning to Gabriel, he whispered. “What is this?”

Gabriel shook his head.

“Someone from Hell. Destined for it, anyway.”

“Oh, so I was destined for Hell?” the shaking old man railed. “Where is the justice in that? The game was stacked against me from the start; but I’ve got a surprise for you! What’s waiting for you up there is not beautiful or good- it’s all a lie! Hahaha, it’s all a lie, you fools. There is no paradise in exclusion. How could He send me to Hell? Is that love? No!”

Interrupting what was a rather emphatic, poisonous string of cursing, Gabriel spoke to the impassioned curmudgeon.

“Well, would you like to come in then?”

The old man spit.

“What, into heaven?”

Gabriel nodded soberly.

This quieted the railing octogenarian for a moment. He eyed the angel with suspicion.

“You lie to me for your own twisted amusement.” He spat the words with disdain.

“I do not,” Gabriel returned in a soft voice. “Take off your filthy rags, wash in the stream, and we will clothe you in a fine robe, like these. Your age will fall away, and you will be welcomed into the presence of God, to rejoice and live in fullness forevermore.”

“It’s going to be great!” the handsome young man assured him. “We’ll get to see Jesus!”

The old man scoffed, and then he coughed furiously, his eyes trying their best to murder the angel and the young man. Somehow, his hands were restrained, else they would have found themselves closed around the necks of those with whom he spoke.

“I don’t want to see God,” he growled. “And I certainly don’t want to see Jesus. You make me sick, you dirty thieves. Liars! Perverted distortioners! There is no heaven in exclusion, don’t you see, you fools?”

The handsome young man looked puzzled. Gabriel only blinked slowly.

“Would you like to come in, or wouldn’t you?”

“Come in!” the young man urged him.

The old man gestured rudely and shouted once more.

“I would rather rot in the hot darkness of Hell before I would set one foot in that abomination called heaven.” He began to curse, then, his voice occasionally rising as he turned and walked away, joining the masses of huddled souls pushing and shoving in the opposite direction as the line of heaven-goers. He eventually faded away, meshing into the wide road filled with men and women who screamed and looked more like fiends then people.

“Excuse me, sir?” another patient voice spoke up behind the handsome young man. “Your nimbus is here.”

“You can take it,” he replied. “I’ll get the next one.”

The handsome young man stood in silence a while, staring off as Gabriel continued playing his drum.

“Would you really have let him in?”

The angel nodded.

The handsome young man pondered some more.

“What happens when people like that take you up on the offer?”

“They never do.”

The young man raised his eyebrow.

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“And yet it’s true,” Gabriel sighed. “Anyone who wishes can enter into paradise, but the decision made on earth never deviates from the decision a person makes here. That man was heading for Hell his entire life, and he knew it. He wanted it. He won’t be happy there, of course. No one will. But it’s what he chose, anyway. That’s part of the reason he’s so angry.”

“But no one is that angry… I’ve never seen it.”

“They’re all like that, I’m afraid.”

“I’ve known many a pleasant man who didn’t have any faith.”

“I’m certain that you have, but ‘pleasant’ can’t withstand the strain of death. In this place, you humans become fully like yourselves- either a new creation, full of life, joy, vigor, worship, and goodness and youth- or a dead, old shell of a person. Angry, bitter, and full of sorrow and pain. More like a demon than a man.”

“So… was he right? Is there a paradise in exclusion?”

Gabriel shrugged.

“We may never know. You can ask God when you get up there. I think whether there is or not doesn’t really matter. There doesn’t need to be exclusion for people to sort themselves out.”

“He could come in, and he doesn’t?”

“That’s right.”

The handsome young man shook his head, letting go of the burden.

“That’s stupid. Can you argue with him? Get him to change his mind?”

“Oh, I’ve tried,” Gabriel replied. “Doesn’t do any good. Same decision on earth, same decision here.”

The handsome young man watched as the stags weaved through an outcropping of boulders, then collided, trumpeting in exultation. The birds sang as they swooped by, and the wind brought with it the scent of primroses. The lively, excited chatter, continued. Gabriel sighed, then gathered a smile for the handsome young man.

“Excuse me, sir,” a voice behind him began. “Your nimbus is here.”

The handsome young man glanced back, and sure enough, a personal little cloud sat at his feet, docked and ready to carry him into bliss.

“Yes,” he replied. “Yes, I suppose it is.”

“I’ll see you up there,” Gabriel offered as the young man stepped onto the nimbus. He nodded at the angel.

And then, as the cloud began to move and the wind caressed the smooth contours of his youthful face, a wide smile, greater than any he had grinned before, began to spread across his face.

How could it not? He was about to see God.

To Swim

The Sea by Night

I took a walk along the sea by night

Waves invited me as they crashed and roared

Inviting me into the cool waters

I felt and sensed the spray upon my face

 

But I did not swim. It isn’t time yet

Instead I sat at its edge pondering,

Remembering. I think with clarity

Here, when I can see with my eyes what waits.

 

Waters reach my feet but it isn’t time

It isn’t my time, but it’s another’s

I’ll get to swim one day. I long for it.

 

Until then, I will walk the earth on foot

It is forbidden to wade in early

But hope for the day breathes inside my heart

Memorization is Overrated

Memory

A hallmark of education in this country, in our time, seems to be this: memorization is overrated.

Many of you probably agree. We’ve all partaken in the groaning and moaning about history classes that are reduced to “a bunch of names and dates.” “Why does it matter if I know what year Columbus sailed the ocean blue?” (1492 is the knee-jerk response, of course, but also in 1493 and 1498 for those of you at home keeping score.) “Who cares if I know the periodic table? I can just look it up.”

Yes. Yes you can. But here’s the problem with that.

It lets you be stupid.

“Dang it, Wes! You’ve insulted me for the last time. I’m going to stop reading your blog and spend more time on r/cats.”

Wait a minute and hear me out.

For centuries and centuries- possibly from the beginning of time- man has relied on memorization as the primary means of learning. Why is that? We are often quick to assume that those who have gone before us were brainless nitwits and Neanderthals, so it isn’t hard to disregard their opinion. (of course, those who actually read things written more than ten years ago will see how silly the idea of past inferiority is) Yet they must have had a reason. It is said that Saladin, the great hero of the Second Crusades (Well, hero if you’re a Muslim, I suppose, but he was even respected by his enemies in Christendom at the time) had ten books of poetry committed to memory. TEN. I know people who don’t have their own phone number committed to memory.

We give lip service to critical thinking- an excellent concept, to be sure, and quite valuable. And yet what good is analysis by a fool? By someone who knows nothing. I have zero knowledge about diesel mechanics. If a diesel mechanic called me up and said, “Wes, come look at this aircraft carrier I have in the bay. I want your analysis.” Well, I suppose I could wander down to the water and give it a look. Then, using my powers of critical thinking, I could tell him…

Well, probably nothing of use.

Why was Sherlock Holmes so successful, albeit in his fictional world, at solving crimes? His powers of observation and deduction, of course. Yes, good. Why was this of use to him? Other people were capable of noticing the six flecks of mud that were on the riding boot of the man at the door, but that did no one any good except for Sherlock Holmes. Why? Because, like the freak of nature that he is, he had memorized the color of every mud in England, so he was able to deduce where the man had just come from. Without his great wealth of facts, Sherlock Holmes is reduced to being a moderately clever average joe with a cocaine problem and a penchant for the violin.

The most intelligent people I know also seem to have the most committed to memory. I do not think this is a coincidence. Training our memory trains our mind. Proper reflection and critical analysis can only take place after there are facts to work with. Insight comes from saturation, not from a void. It is said that the Druids of ancient Celtic lore were able to reproduce anything they had read one time. Think about that. Once they had completed the training of years and years, they were supposed to have been able to read a book one time, then pick up a pen and reproduce it for you.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty handy skill to me. If you’re thinking to yourself, “I don’t need to reproduce books that often,” then you’re not thinking broadly enough. Remembering precisely what happened, knowing the facts and figures relevant to my work, preserving new words when trying to learn a language- all of these things make for a life of higher achievement and learning.

Furthermore, I can say based on my own experience and more importantly on the testimony of others that there is a deeper sort of understanding that often comes with memorization. I often don’t fully grasp a piece of poetry until I’ve committed it to memory. Once done, its meaning opens up like a blossoming flower. Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps, but it is true nonetheless.

Why is it that people go through four years of a language during high school and don’t speak a word of a second language? Why is it that so few people remember how to do the calculus they learned in college? Why is it that so many people read a book or listen to a speech and instantly forget what it was about? Why do we so often repeat the same mistakes over and over again?

Memory is a precious and an underappreciated thing, friends. Thankfully, it is a muscle that can be improved with practice.

Now let’s go memorize something, yeah?

Not If, But When

whiskey

 

“Jeremy!”

“Hello, Mr. Wallace.”

Jeremy swallowed hard, glancing up at the tall, gray-haired man in front of him. Mr. Wallace wore a tweed suit and an Armani smile, but what was it that Jenny had said? He starts out nice, then he turns vicious. That was what she said.
Great.

Mr. Wallace turned and shouted up the stairs.

“Jenifer! Your suitor is here.”

Jenny’s voice came back muffled.

“Daddy, I told you not to call him that.”

Mr. Wallace turned back at Jeremy with a warm grin and he gave a slight shrug of his shoulders.

“Kids, huh?”

Jeremy raised his eyebrows and nodded. Forget the fact that he was the same age as Jenny. Actually, she was a month older.

“Come on in, son.”

Mr. Wallace led the way, and Jeremy thanked him as he walked inside.

The entryway was beautiful. A tasteful weave lay beneath their feet, and an artful chandelier hung above, drawing the eyes up the spiral stairway, where Jenny’s head appeared for a moment. Her hair was pulled back and she frowned.

“Daddy, be nice to him!”

She smiled then- a real, genuine smile. A smile you could believe in.

“I’ll be down in a minute, Jer.”

Jeremy couldn’t help his heart fluttering a beat as they locked eyes before she vanished. She was way out of his league. She always said the same thing about him. That was what he called an ideal situation.

The fact that he had never seen the inside of his girlfriend’s house in the year and a half they had dated, for the simple reason that she didn’t want him to meet her father, was not.

The things we do for love.

Jeremy was still looking around at the décor when a large, Scottish hand landed on his shoulder, almost making him stumble forward a step.

“Come on, Jeremy! I’ll give you the walking tour.”

The way he said it made it sound like “Walken,” like Christopher Walken, and the thought of the old actor leading him around the house, pointing things out in a New York accent like, “Hey, and over there are some ferns. I do not like the ferns, but the, uh… the manangement. See, they say, “hey, you’ve got to keep the ferns.” Stupid-’ and then a New York blue streak. Jeremy had a vivid imagination, and the mental image made him chuckle.

“Something funny, son?”

Jeremy snapped his head up, suddenly mortified.

“No! No sir, not at all. I don’t think it even makes sense for Christopher Walken to be in here.”

What?

Mr. Wallace raised an eyebrow. Jeremy panicked inwardly. He laughed nervously.

“No, that came out funny. I mean, why would he live here? It’s your house, not some random movie star’s.”

Mr. Wallace frowned.

“You don’t like my house, Jeremy?”

“No! No, I do. It’s very nice.”

Mr. Wallace gave Jeremy a funny look, then continued walking. Jeremy had a vivid imagination. He could see entire scenes as soon as he thought of an idea. He had a vivid imagination, and a bad way of expressing himself. Not a great combination for dinner with the parents.

“Margery! Come meet our daughter’s suitor.”

They headed toward the kitchen, where an older, duller version of Jenny stood, wiping her hands on her apron. She had the same twinkle in her eye as her daughter, and she greeted Jeremy warmly, making him relax a bit.

“Such a pleasure to finally meet you Jeremy. Jenny says such good things.”

“When you can wrangle them out of her!”

Mrs. Wallace gave her husband a look. He seemed immune.

“Margery, according to Jeremy here we need to get a new house. Ours isn’t good enough. He seems to think it’s some sort of a dump.”

“No! No, I never- I don’t think that at all. I wish that I could-”

“That’s enough out of the chatterbox. Come on, Jeremy, I’ll show you the den.”

They left Mrs. Wallace in the kitchen with a confused expression on her face, Jeremy with a horrified one. What else had Jenny said? Jeremy could see her in front of him, right outside of the Monday/Wednesday lecture they had together. The image was crystal clear in his mind as she said, “He has this way of bringing out the worst in people. Don’t let him get to you. Not if it goes badly, but when,” she sighed. “I’ll still love you, okay? Even if the house burns down. Then we never have to go over for anything other than Christmas.”

A warning like that sure puts a guy at ease.

“Have a seat, Jeremy.”

The den was very nice- and if there was one thing Jeremy appreciated it was a good piece of furniture. The couch was plush, covered in real leather, and the cushions had fine impressions of artful designs on the surface. It was cool in the room, and it made him feel a little better. He could hang out with dad for a few minutes, and then he’d have Jenny around to help him out if he stuck his foot in his mouth. The couch received him like a body of water, enveloping him in comfort. All discomfort was banished in such a fine sofa.

“Mind if I call you Steve?”

The discomfort was back.

“What?”

“Steve.” Mr. Wallace repeated the word like it was a natural thing to ask. “I don’t like the name Jeremy so much; mind if I call you Steve instead?”

Jeremy fidgeted in his seat a bit. Suddenly the beautiful, perfect piece of upholstery was a medieval torture device.

“Well, that’s not my name, and I was named Jeremy for a pretty specific and neat reason, so yes. I do mind. I could tell you the back story if you-”

Mr. Wallace sank down heavily into the couch disconcertingly close to Jeremy, and he let his arm flop across Jeremy’s shoulders.

“Whew, that’s a relief, Steve, thank you. It’s a much more sensible name, Steve. I’ll tell Jenifer that you prefer it.”

“No, please don’t.”

It was like he wasn’t even there.

“Say, you a drinking man, Steve?”

Jeremy glanced at the Scotsman’s ruddy face, only an inch or so to his left.

“Well, actually, no. I prefer to avoid it for a lot of reasons. When I was a kid, my neighbor’s-”

Mr. Wallace leaped up from the couch and crossed the room, opening a cabinet covered with etched glass in the likeness of a brown bear.

“That’s what I like to hear, son! A man does a few things, and drinking good, strong liquor is one of them. You take your whiskey neat, Steve?”

“I still would prefer not to. I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of-”

“Quit jerking me around, Steve. Ice or no ice?”

Jeremy put his hands out diplomatically.

“Okay, if I had to drink, which I’d really rather not do, I suppose with ice, because it would dilute it some, but I’m very firm on-”

“Neat! That’s a man’s choice, Steve, I’m proud to know you. No ice it is. Straight up.”

Mr. Wallace returned to the couch and crashed into it heavily again, now holding two tumblers and a fifth of highland malt whiskey. He set the tumblers on the coffee table before them and opened the bottle.

“Say when.”

Right away, Jeremy said when. Mr. Wallace kept on pouring.

“When. When. When! That’s good. When. When!”

Mr. Wallace chuckled.

“Well, you can’t accuse me of being heavy handed, Jeremy. It’s your own dang fault if your eyes end up being bigger than your stomach. Of course, you know it’s a fighting offense to accept whiskey from a man, then disdain to finish it.”

The glass was full. Not mostly full, not halfway full. It was up to the brim. Jeremy stole a glance at the bottle. 90 proof.

Mr. Wallace handed the glass to Jeremy, and poured himself a more reasonable dose. He clinked the glasses together and forced the tumbler into his hand.

“Bottoms up, son.”

Jeremy did the calculations in his head. He was not a large man. He was six feet tall, a hundred and forty pounds, and since he didn’t drink he had about a zero tolerance for the liquor. A full glass would either kill him or put him under the table. Or he’d die under the table. He could see exactly how his corpse would look in his mind.

“I’d really rather not, sir. I have a…”

Mr. Wallace’s expression turned sour as he removed his glass from his lips.

“Are you refusing a man’s gracious hospitality, son?”

This was the most frightening sentence Jeremy had ever heard. He looked away from Jenny’s father for a moment, then glanced at the overflowing glass of brown death in his hand. How could such an angel like Jenny come from this man?

He sighed and brought the liquid to his lips. Mr. Wallace tipped the glass as he did, and instead of an easy sip, he ended up downing a mouthful.

“Spit one drop of that stuff on my floor, my couch, or on yourself, and I’ll have your head. This whiskey’s gold.”

Somehow, Jeremy managed to swallow. He felt like he had been struck in the face with a baseball bat, then like someone was pushing in on his ears from both sides. He coughed, and some whiskey went up into his nose.

“There you are, Steve.  Now tell me about your plans for my daughter.”

Jeremy wasn’t sure if the big man was actually crazy or just pretending, but it was an impressive display of bullying, coercion, selective hearing, and outright dominance either way. In the five minutes it took for Jenny and dinner to get ready, he had managed to get him to drink the entire glass of whiskey. He was chewing on an after dinner mint and drilling him with questions that made his head spin when Jenny and her mother mercifully came in to fetch them for dinner. The whiskey and the glasses were mercifully already gone. Mr. Wallace had stowed them a minute before.

Jeremy wasn’t sure how he got to his feet, but he managed somehow. His head was swimming already, and he knew the stuff had barely begun its effect. Already he had only just stopped himself from trying to describe the bizarre scenes that went on in his head. He would have sounded ridiculous doing so sober, and sober he was not.

Jenny smiled at him, and her father put a big arm around his shoulders as they walked into the dining room.

“Jeremy.” So he was back to calling him Jeremy now. “Jeremy, son, you remind me a lot of myself.”

Mrs. Wallace turned around and grinned.

“What a nice thing to say.”

Jeremy’s heart warmed a bit at this- though that may have just been the whiskey. Maybe Mr. Wallace was just a bit of an odd character, but with a heart of gold that would accept anyone who partook with him in the things he loved. Mr. Wallace leaned into his ear and whispered, however, making Jeremy forsake this thought.

“All of the things I hate about myself, that is.”

The color drained from Jeremy’s blushing face. He was glad for Mr. Wallace’s arm around him now, because he was afraid he couldn’t keep his feet alone.

Jenny had said that no matter how much of a disaster tonight was, she would still love him. Not if it went wrong, but when.

Mr. Wallace sniffed at the air as they reached the table and adopted a quizzical expression.

“Jeremy,” he said loudly, incredulously. “Have you been drinking?”

He really hoped Jenny was telling the truth.