The Miracle

Grilla walked into the Crack ‘O’ Midnight Bar, better known to its patrons as The Crack. He gooned his way through a group near the door.The rest of the crowd parted as if they were the Red Sea and he was Moses. He wore his looking-for-a-fight face. As usual, he wasn’t taking no for an answer.

He had just lost his latest argument with Lucille, his wife. He needed something, someone to take his frustration out on. And it was about to be one of us. He sure wasn’t about to take it out on her. When asked why he never fought back, he said, “A gentleman doesn’t fight with a lady.” Then he hit the fellow that asked. “And don’t you think I would,” he said, walking away from the body who lay on the floor.

Since it was Saturday night, The Crack was packed with men and women quenching a weeklong thirst. There were plenty of us fellows for Grilla to choose from. As he moved through the bar, we held our breath and crossed our fingers. Who would be the one to emerge from this night with a broken nose and more damage than you can shake a stick at?

He walked over to me and stared into my eyes with those great big grizzly eyes of his, eyes that said mean better than words could. They studied me for a minute or two, then he moved on. I breathed one of them sighs of relief. You know the kind you have when a twister passes over your house and chooses somebody else to raise hell with. I had escaped. This time.

There was a kid ‘bout five-three standing at the end of the bar. He was with a young woman with freckles. Grilla wasn’t about to choose him. One thing everybody said about that six-foot-five hulk of a man was that he didn’t take unfair advantage.

There are times when a man should leave well enough alone. This was one of those times. But that kid…he wasn’t about to leave well enough alone. He couldn’t stand it that Grilla didn’t even consider him. He spoke up louder than you’d think of someone his size, “How ‘bout me, Grilla?”

The face of the woman beside him went white. She gave him one of them what-the-hell-are-you-doing looks. Grilla chose to ignore the kid.

The Kid called out, “You big mountain, how ‘bout me?” Drink can do that to a fellow. Make him do things that he would never do if he was in his right mind. Give him courage to do things that wasn’t in his best interest. This was one of those times. It wasn’t the kid talking. It was the whiskey.

Grilla knew that, and he ignored the kid some more. Grilla never let his emotions take control of his common sense. He wanted a fair fight and this kid was not a fair fight.

The man next to the Kid leaned over and told him to shut his face. Freckles tried to pull him out of the bar and his self-destruction. But the Kid wanted that fight the way Christians wanted to join Jesus for the Rapture. Mighty bad. He had something to prove. Maybe it was that he wanted to show folks he was a man. When a kid is like that, there is bound to be hell to pay. The Kid pulled his arm loose from the woman’s grasp, then he called out, “Didn’t you hear me?”

The silence swept through The Crack faster than a dust storm sweeps through a ghost town. It had gotten very quiet in that bar. Grilla looked that Kid up and down. That look was enough to send a chill down the spine and make a better man than the Kid shrink in a corner. The Kid did not shrink. He had gumption, that was for sure.

Grilla whispered, “You want it, you got it.” Then he said those words that a man on death’s row feared most of all. “Come with me.”

The Kid pushed Freckles away and followed Grilla outside through the front door. “Please don’t,” she yelled after him. The Crack unpacked with its patronage. We all knew there was going to be hell to pay. Grilla had a lot of frustration in him to get out. Lucille did that to him.

We walked into the starry night. The moon filled the sky with its pie-face. Then it was over to the field next to the bar. Jack Abbel’s field that he was getting ready to fence in for some cows he’d set his mind on buying. We made a ring around the two fighters. Freckles struggled through the crowd. She tried charge into that ring and slap some sense into the Kid. But another woman grabbed her by the arm and wouldn’t let loose.

Grilla stripped off his shirt. He handed it to John Bartholomew. “Hold this. I don’t want to get his blood on it. Lucille wouldn’t like that.”

The Kid snapped his suspenders several times, waiting. There was a big smile on his face. Guess he was happy he was about to meet his Maker. ‘Cause that was what happened when a fellow meets up with a pickup truck. And Grilla’s fists were a pickup truck hitting a fellow at fifty mile an hour.

The Kid yelled at Grilla’s back, “Well.” That “well” sounded like Gabriel’s trumpet on Judgement Day. Who did the Kid think he was?

Grilla did not take kindly to that “well”. No, sirree.

He turned toward the Kid, red in his eyes like a bull facing a matador. There was a g-r-r-r-r coming from his throat.

“Well,” the Kid did it again.

Grilla moved in for the kill.

“Well,” the Kid couldn’t leave well enough alone. He stood in the middle of that ring of people, waiting on those fists like my dad used to wait on Thanksgiving turkey dinner. With a smile on his face. Some said it was a smirk, but I’m here to tell you it was a smile.

Grilla threw the first punch. It missed. The Kid’s fist hit Grilla in the chest. “Ouch,” the Kid yelled out. Grilla tried again. Another miss. The Kid smashed his fist into Grilla. “Ouch,” the Kid called out.

Grilla went for a try a third time but he couldn’t do it. He stood before that Kid like Goliath must’ve stood before David. ”What do you mean ouch?” he asked, not sure what next to do.

“I mean ouch,” the Kid said. “That hurt.”

The look on Grilla’s face was incredulous. He couldn’t believe what his ears were hearing. No one had ever said “ouch” to him when they threw their fist into his chest. Oh, sure. They said “ouch” and a whole lot more when Grilla’s fist slammed into them.

Grilla and the Kid stood before each other, not knowing what to do. The Kid was the first to make a move. He dropped to the ground, laughing.

There was a big what on all the bystanders’ faces. And what came next nobody in that crowd could have predicted. Grilla dropped his big lug of a body down beside the Kid, laughing.

“Well,” the Kid got in between the chortles.

Grilla was doing a side-splitting laugh. Then he let out a “well” too.

Grilla punched the Kid in the arm. The Kid punched Grilla in his arm too. Both punches light as a feather. Then they fell over on their sides, rolling in the grass with laughter.

That was the last night Grilla came into the Crack for a fight. From that night on, Grilla and the Kid were often seen in one another’s company, laughing, joshing each other. No one knew just what happened. But it must have been a miracle.

For Paris We Sing

We live in a sad, sad world. If the recent events in Paris prove anything, it proves that. Eight angry young men took 129 lives and injured 352 more. There are now over one hundred souls that will no longer be with us. Families and friends last Friday night lost their smiles, their laughter, their tears, their joys. Parents lost children. Brothers lost sisters. Husbands lost wives. Wives lost husbands. Sisters lost brothers. Children lost parents. Lovers lost their beloveds. And we all lost a little bit of ourselves.

Perhaps one of those lost might have created a cure for cancer, wrote the next great novel, created a new source of energy, offered a Syrian refugee family their home. We lost the children who would be born to those victims and make a better world.

We lost that future all because a bunch of mad bullies in the Middle East have grudges and want to use religion to defend the inexcusable. They are indeed false prophets and betray the very religion they say they advocate. They are those who offer no hope, no love, only hate and fear. And that is not Islam. They are to be pitied, not feared. They won’t win.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen a man land on the moon. I’ve seen the personal computer, the internet and gps technologies develop and be available for billions. I’ve seen the Berlin Wall fall and an Evil Empire dissolve. I’ve admired the fierceness of Sally Ride and Amelia Earhart. I’ve seen the compassion of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. I’ve seen Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy wrestle with the enemies of peace and justice. I’ve seen Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela stand against hate and make peace with those who were their enemies. I’ve seen those true prophets, the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis, show us the best of what religion can be.

I’ve watched Twyla Tharp and Mikhail Baryshnikov dance, seen the paintings of Cezanne, Monet and Georgia O’Keefe and the sculpture of Henry Moore and Rodin, read Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert and Albert Camus, been in awe of the work of Jane Goodall, watched William Shakespeare and Samuel Becket performed on stage, listened to Mozart and Frank Sinatra, Edith Piaf and the Beatles and Yusuf Islam, read the poetry of Rumi and Omar Khayyam, seen the films of Claude Berri and Louis Malle.

I’ve seen hope and love so great that they rolled over the forces of hate and fear like a steamroller, giving us a better world and showing us possibility. I’m here to tell you that these achievements were not made out of the clay of hate and fear. These s.o.b.s have nothing, I repeat nothing, that even comes close to this. And hate and fear never shall.

As long as there is one of us who laugh and shed tears, love and know joy, have compassion for the least, and create wonder, these demons, who would destroy us, will not win.

So in honor of all those who died last Friday, and all who have died from the hands of those who would tear down and destroy, I offer this



Hamlet: My crown, my own ambition, and my queen

Why, let the stricken deer go weep,
The hart ungallèd play.
For some must watch while some must sleep.
So runs the world away.
Hamlet Act 3 Scene 2.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 3 Scene 3. Two men. Mortal enemies. They have scouted each other out. They now know what each plans and plots. First Hamlet. He set a trap for the king. The king fell into it.

Then Claudius. A-prayin’. There Claudius is down on his knees. There Claudius is praying. But the Lord ain’t list’nin’ to no Claudius. No sirree, Jesus done turned His face away from Claudius. ‘Cause Claudius, he is a sinner. Yes sirree. He a sinning man. The $64,000 question is why does Claudius stop to pray. He ain’t a repentin’ man, that is for sure.

Claudius is not a religious man. Never has been.

Maybe Claudius just needs a folk to talk to. It’s like the serial killer. He calls up the cops and dares them to catch him. It’s that ego talking. He just wants somebody to know how smart he is. Maybe that’s Claudius. He just wants somebody to know. Since God already knows, why not have a heart-to-heart with Him.

No theologian this Claudius. He only sees prayer as having two benefits. Prayer’s there to forestall us from sinning and to pardon us once we have. Well, he has already committed the crime. And he’s not asking pardon. That would mean he has to turn himself in. He likes his job too well.

Hamlet stops. He sees Claudius praying. He draws his sword, a sword that is itching for revenge. It’s an eye for an eye kind of thing. In other words, you kill Daddy, I kill you. But there are rules to this sort of thing. I don’t kill you while you’re praying. That would get you off the hook and send you straight to heaven. Hamlet cannot have that. Hamlet cannot have that.

So it’s on to Mom’s.

Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: A Family Thanksgiving, Etc.

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. Uncle Bardie might even throw in a reflection on the movie. If so, it will make an appearance below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is “Home for the Holidays” (1995).

Remember the opening words in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I took that line and turned it on its head and created my own saying. “All families are dysfunctional, but some families are more dysfunctional than others.”

Jodie Foster has put the fun, and the funk too, in dysfunctional in her homage to the American Thanksgiving family get-together. Without the fun, and the funk, of course, you only have dystional. Who the heck knows what that is? “Home for the Holidays” is a movie about one of those “more dysfunctional than others” families. And, yes, there’s turkey and all the trimmings. ‘Cause, without them, it would be like Christmas without Jesus or Santa or Rudolph. That would be a very un-Christmas Christmas movie, wouldn’t it?

Holly Hunter is having a bad hair day. It could be worse. She could be having a no-hair day. That would mean she is bald. One thing is for sure. Holly Hunter is not bald. So it’s obvious that it’s only a bad hair day. Her boss just fired her, then tried to make out with her, claiming how that he hates Thanksgiving as he does. Dropping her off at the airport, her sixteen-year-old daughter tells her that she is about to have sex with her boyfriend. “We love each other,” she says. On the airplane home, she sits beside a woman who drives her nuts.

So she arrives home and we begin to see that her family is not just another dysfunctional family. It’s a family with Charles Durning and Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey Jr. and Cynthia Stevenson, and brother-in-law Steve Guttenberg. If that’s not enough dysfunction for you, it has Geraldine Chaplin as Aunt Glady. Yes, you heard that right. Aunt Glady.

As they used to say at the Colosseum, “Let the games begin.” Mom Anne Bancroft is a first-class worrier of a mother. Dad Charles Durning is a fun guy, but a little too much fun for Mom. He keeps getting underfoot. Then there’s brother Robert Downey Jr., showing up with his gay partner, Dylan McDermott, who has replaced “Jack I thought he was the one” Jack. At least, everybody believes Dylan is his gay partner. (Turns out he isn’t. Downey is still with Jack. Dylan McDermott is there to meet Holly Hunter.) Brother pulls into the old homestead’s driveway with Isaac Hayes and “Shaft” on the radio. It’s the kind of entrance you’d like to see more characters in comedies make.

Of course, being the wild and crazy guy he is, he makes a wild and crazy entrance with his Polaroid camera. (I know, this was back in the olden days of the nineties when Polaroid was the smartphone camera before there was such a thing as a smartphone.) He doesn’t knock at the front door. He sneaks in the back way, bringing his brand of over-the-fun and chaos to his parent’s house. It’s enough to drive his sister crazy, in a good way. Just when she thinks she’s had enough, he goes and redeems himself with a line like, “People are starting to look at your wardrobe.”

Mom being Mom, she can’t leave well enough alone. She’s got to set the single Holly Hunter up. Who does she set her daughter up with? The guy who comes in and fixes the furnace, that’s who. Played by David Straithairn. He’s a real fun guy. He immediately starts off, “I’m all alone this year. My brother and sister got canned and left town. My parents went and died on me.” On top of all that tragedy, his old girlfriend married his best buddy. Not the kind of guy Holly’d want to be fixed up with. But what can you expect from Mom and her match-making?

Just as things are going so well, Sister Cynthia Stevenson arrives with her husband Steve Guttenberg and their son and daughter and lots of sweet potato. Well, the family sits down for a Thanksgiving feast. First Aunt Glady has to sing. Needless to say she’s not who you’d want to sing at your Thanksgiving dinner. Then comes the prayer to end all Thanksgiving prayers. Kind of made me nostalgic for Festivus (for the rest of us).

Aunt Glady has more. A lot more to say. Then there’s the turkey carving. And the feast and oh, the family discussion. Or should I say the family argument. Brother and sister throwing slings and arrows at each other. Soon the rest of the family is throwing their two cents in. It is time for some truth-telling in the family. It is time for some truth-telling. “You’re a pain in my ass,” Robert Downey Jr. says to Mom. “You have bad hair. But I like you a lot.”

The family Thanksgiving ends with Charles Durning watching his daughter and her husband fleeing in a soaped-up car, and he says, “Deck the halls. I can’t wait for God damned Christmas.” And later “Here’s to us Americans.” Still later Holly Hunter ends up with Dylan McDermott taking Aunt Glady home. And he’s telling her how impressed he was with her picture. Can you believe it? But this is Holly Hunter. She’s got that special Holly Hunter magic we saw in ”Broadcast News”, “Miss Firecracker” and “Raising Arizona”.

You never know what will happen when you go home for the holidays. You just never know.

The great thing about writing stories…

…is that I get to be all the characters. The hero who does such nice things and saves the world. (I’ve always wanted to save the world and get credit for it.) The villain. (I can be as nasty as I damned-well please. It is such a great emotional release. Helps me get rid of the garbage in my life.) The sexy femme fatale. (Gives me a chance to explore the feminine side of my personality.) The gracious sidekick. (I get to be a little bit gracious and that always makes me feel good.)

No matter the story, I am in there taking punches, giving punches and having a grand old time. When someone walks up to me and says that they have a story I should write, I try to tell them that they should come on in, the water’s fine. But they insist they have no gift. Well, I am not interested in exploring anybody else’s dirty laundry. I have plenty of my own and all filled with wonderful characters that I can be.

All I have to do is sit down at a table in an imaginary restaurant and say, “Hey.”

“Hey,” says the dark-haired lady across from me, sipping red wine.

“So you need me to find your husband?”

“Yes, but don’t make it too fast. I’m having too much fun with his money for now. Sometime in a month or so will be just fine with me.”

“You didn’t murder your husband, did you? I’d hate to go off on a wild goose chase.” Of course, if I know this kind of story, I will be on a wild goose chase before you can toss a coin and call it heads or tails.

“No, I didn’t. I would have liked to. But he’s worth more to me alive than dead.”

And there you have it. I have quickly become two characters in a poorly lit restaurant, discussing murder. Where would I have that opportunity otherwise?