About Don Royster

Don Royster has spent many lifetimes accumulating adventures from a multitude of galaxies. Some of his magic carpet rides have taken him to Japan, the Phillippines, and Texas. Gifted with an insatiable curiosity, a love for creativity and a strange sense of humor, he has been a student, and still is, of everything from A to Zen and back again. Along the way he has written poems, stories and novels about his many adventures and travels. His latest adventure is the blog, Uncle Bardie's Stories & Such.

Missionary Positions

It was a day like all others. Only the spring was still springing. The doorbell rang. I answered it. Before me stood a man and a woman in their early twenties. They were dressed in dark blue suits and had big smiles on their faces.

“We have good news for you, brother,” the young man said.

“Yes, good news,” the young woman repeated.

“Good news?” I asked. Then said, “You mean that the world isn’t going to hell in a hand basket?”

“‘Tis true,” the young man said. “It is that. But Sister Naomi Musette and I have good news.”

“Yes,” Sister Naomi Musette said, “Brother Obadiah and I are here to show you a better path.” Her smile looked all shiny and new.

“A righteous way to not fall into darkness,” Brother Obadiah said. “A way to light a candle and see your way forward amidst all the world’s troubles.”

“Did he say amidst?” I asked myself.

“He did,” the little devil sitting on my right shoulder whispered in my ear. “Tell them to go to hell before you get caught up in the foolishness they’re offering you.”

The angel on my left shoulder said, “Now, hold on. Don’t do that. It won’t hurt to invite them in and feed them some of your homemade chocolate chip cookies and give them a glass of milk.

“Don’t listen to her,” Devil said.

But I did listen to her. I hadn’t had a chance to test my new cookie recipe out on some victims. I mean, guests. They tasted wonderful to me but what did I know. I could neither taste nor smell the darn things. That’s what happens when my allergies take over and I am sneezing my way from here to Loch Lomond and back again. After downing several pills of medication, I finally got the allergies under control. But I still couldn’t smell and taste worth a darn.

“Would you care to come in?” I offered. “I have a new batch of chocolate chip cookies and some milk if you would like.”

“Of course,” Brother Obadiah said. “We’d love to come in.”

“Chocolate chips are my favorite cookies,” the good sister said.

“I did not know that, Sister Naomi Musette,” the good brother said.

“‘Tis true, Brother Obadiah,” Sister Naomi Musette said. “I haven’t found a chocolate chip cookie I could resist. And I am sure that this brother’s are wonderful.” I had never seen such enthusiasm for chocolate chip cookies. And her enthusiasm was the bubbling over kind.

They came into my house and I introduced them to the sofa. It fit the two of them perfectly. I then retreated into my kitchen and soon returned with a plate of chocolate chips and two glasses of milk.

“Help yourself,” I said as I set the cookies and milk on the coffee table before them. Then I eased into my big chair and relaxed. I was ready to give these good people a bit of my time.

While his companion ate a cookie, Brother Obadiah said, “Brother, we are two missionaries on a mission from on-high. The angels have sent us forth into the world to deliver a message of good news. To all willing to clean the wax out of their ears and listen. Are you willing?” The good brother was not susceptible to the charm of a cookie. He did not take a cookie.

“I am. I haven’t had a good wax cleaning in a month of Sundays,” I said, leaning forward to hear their message. Anything to get out of the way of the avalanche of bad news that had lately come our way. There were earthquakes and tornadoes, plagues and contagious viruses, wars and rumors of wars. And if that wasn’t enough, just the day before, two polar bears had walked down Main Street, trying to hide from the global warming that had been stalking them for days. Any good news was welcome.

Sister Naomi Musette had eaten two cookies by the time I had gotten through with the last paragraph. She finished off her milk, then wiped cookie dust off her mouth. “Mmmm good,” she gave my cookies her imprimatur. Then she asked, “Do you know Jesus?”

“I haven’t met Him personally,” I said, “but I do know who He is in a general sort of way.”

“Well, all you’ve heard,” Brother Obadiah said, “is incorrect. We are here to give you the Real Deal.”

Sister Naomi Musette continued, “Jesus didn’t walk on water.”

“I did not know that,” I said, amazed.

“‘Tis true,” the good sister said. “He waded through the water.”

“You don’t say,” I said, amazed some more.

“Yes,” the good brother said. “We do say. What’s more He did this because He wore platform boots. When He saw Simon Peter throwing his net out into the water to catch some fish, the Master said to Peter, ‘Follow me, and I will give you platform boots.’ Well, Peter being Peter, he couldn’t resist. Anything to get out of the flip flops his wife insisted he wear.”

That was my cue to check out their feet. Both missionaries wore platform boots. When I first saw them at the door, I thought they were a bit tall for their ages. But they being so friendly and smiling and all, it had slipped my mind.

He pulled a large book out of his shoulder bag and opened it to the first page and read:

“In the beginning was God. And God went around naked until one Tuesday in May He realized He had not a stitch of clothes on. Then He reached down to the fig tree and pulled a fig leaf off that tree to cover His nakedness. At least the genital part of His nakedness. Then He made Hisself a business suit to wear over His fig leaf. It was blue to match the Lord God’s blue eyes. Navy blue.

“Then He made Hisself a pair of blue jeans and a pearly white t-shirt for the one day a week He is off for some well-deserved R and R from all the work. That t-shirt, being a holy t-shirt, had writ in bright blue letters on it the words,, ‘Go Cowboys.’ After all, despite what ESPN says, the Cowboys are God’s team.

“Then He made Hisself a pair of platform boots. Two He made. One for the right foot, one for the left foot. And He saw that it was good. They fit His size 16 feet oh-so comfortably. And everything and every being around the Lord God was happy because He now had a pair of platform boots to let him step over all the manure His creatures shat. God was pleased. Very pleased and He pronounced it all, ‘Good.'”

“That is unbelievable,” I said, not believing a word of what the missionary was reading.

He closed the book. “Have a look for yourself,” B.O. said. S. N. M. passed the black book over to me. Embossed in gold letters on its cover were the words, “Catalogue of Ye Platform Boots.” I opened it up and truly there were the words the good brother had read.

“How come I never heard of this before?” I asked.

“The One True Prophet Barnum of the Circus only revealed it to his people some fifteen minutes ago.” the good sister said. “It’s only been fourteen minutes since he incorporated the Church of Jesus In Platform Boots in the State of Florida. And a little over twelve since the Church was given its 501c tax status by the IRS. So you can see how legitimate we are. We are no fly-by-night scam religion. We are truly a true religion.”

“I can see that,” I said. “What must I do?”

“Our Congregation,” Brother Obadiah said, big smile on his face, “the First Church of the Church of Jesus In Platform Boots, meets at the corner of Nowhere Street and None-of-your-business Avenue for services every Sunday at ten in the morning. Come and ye too will be given your own pair of platform boots.”

“And,” the good sister followed up with, “they are very fashionable. I just love mine so much I am getting a second pair. All I have to do is convert ten people to the faith and that second pair is mine. It’s called the Second Pair Quota and all the members of the Congregation are vying for it. But I will be the first. I already have fitted nine Suckers for their boots.”*

Suckers?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” Brother Obadiah said. “That is what the Holy Book calleth newbies who join The Church. As the One True Prophet Barnum stated in his Sermon in the Big Tent, ‘There’s a Sucker born every minute. All we have to do is go out and reel them in.’ Such wisdom from the One True Prophet.”

“Hallelujah, Brother,” Sister Naomi Musette shouted out right there in my living room. At first, I thought she was speaking in them tongues, but then she continued in good ol’ American chicken-fried English, “You would be amazed at what it means to be a Sucker. It changed my life. Before Suckerdom, I was a down-in-the-mouth complainer, always saying f— this and s— that. Now that I have had my feet fitted and slipped on my pair of boots I am hallelujahing all the time. It’s enough to give a horny person an orgasm.” Her enthusiasm made me think she was about to have an orgasm right there in my living room. Now, I am not opposed to orgasms as long as I am a participant. Since I wasn’t participating, she was getting downright embarrassing.

“Preach on, Sister,” Brother Obadiah shouted. “Preach on.” The shouting was getting so loud that I was wondering if the neighbors would call the cops.

To calm the two down, I asked, “So you want me to come to church with you?”

The two nodded their heads yes. Then Brother Obadiah said, “Will you commit to just one service? You will not regret it.”

The good sister looked at my feet and sized them up. “I can see you are a size twelve. Brother Obadiah, we have never had a size twelve.” Then to me again, “The angels shall shod your boots, then you too can sing ‘These boots are made for walking.'” She was giddy with her enthusiasm.

“Now, Sister,” he said. “Let’s not get carried away. The brother has not even agreed to attend.”

She pressed hard. “You will attend?” She held her breath, afraid that I was about to say no.

Devil and Angel were back. It was feeling kind of heavy what with three heads on my shoulders. Ms. Angel said, “Please don’t do what you’re thinking. It’s not nice.”

And I’m thinking, “Since when was I nice.”

Mr. Devil had the biggest smile on his face. “Go ahead. Do it. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

So I said, “Yes, I will come to your church. On one condition.”

“Of course,” the good sister agreed without taking a moment to consider the proposition. “As the Holy Book of the ‘Catalogue of Ye Platform Boots’ says, ‘Ask and it shall be given unto you.'”

“If I come to your church,” I said, “you have to attend one service of my church. Will you agree to that?”

“Absolutely,” the two said in unison, assured in their faith that one of their services would be all it took to make a Sucker out of me. After all, wasn’t it a very holy woman who once said, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”

“We would be more than happy to attend your service after you attend ours. Like the Book says, ‘A deal is a deal.'” The good brother put out his hand to shake mine to cement the agreement.

Then Sister Naomi Musetter asked the sixty-four thousand dollar question. “When, and where, is your service?”

“You know where the KMA Park is?” I asked, smiling and thinking about the gotcha that was fixing to come to pass.

“Sure do,” Brother Obadiah said. “Before I converted and repented, I spent many an hour there, giving the passers-by the old moon pie.”

“My church meets there on the night of the full moon at midnight,” I said.” You promise to be there? Oh, and one other thing.”

The good sister was turning from her nice tan to a pale white. It looked like she didn’t want to know but the good brother plunged ahead, enthusiastically asking, “What’s that?”

“You’ll need to bring a live chicken for the sacrifice. And, bring something to throw over your clothes. The chickens always shoot blood all over our clothes when we do a beheading.”

The two missionaries jumped up and ran out the front door. And they didn’t even say goodbye.

That was right down rude of them.

Baseball

I was delighted with jumping up and down delight when one Saturday my aunt Leah offered, “Let’s go watch some baseball.” I was seven, and she knew how much I loved baseball. Then came the best part when she said, “Your sister won’t be coming. Allison went with your father this morning.”

Allison always tagged along and spoiled any fun Aunt Leah and I might have had with her whining and her crying. What’s more I hated all those nights when my sister kept us awake with her squalling, her pounding on the walls, her never letting us get a night, or a day, off from her attention-getting. So you can imagine how glad I was that my father had taken her with him that morning. ‘Cause I hated Allison as only a brother can hate a sister.

It was a fine Florida April day in 1952, a day not too hot and not too cloudy but just about right. There was even a breeze to keep us cooled off from what might have been a warm spring day. Around about lunchtime, may aunt and I left the two-story house where my aunt lived with my father, my ten-year-old sister and me. We strolled over to the neighborhood ballpark several blocks away.

The field was empty. But we knew it would fill up with players soon. Kids always showed for at least one game of nine-inning on a Saturday afternoon, sometimes more. I ran up the bleachers two at a time till I reached the top, then plopped myself down onto the wood. Aunt Leah followed. She sat down beside me and reached into her big handbag.

“Guess what?” she asked, looking down at me with her warm, green eyes.

I shook my head. I didn’t know.

She pulled out a brown paper sack. “Peanut butter sandwiches,” she said, opening the sack. “Your favorite.”

Aunt Leah unwrapped a sandwich and passed it over to me. I bit into the sandwich. It filled my mouth with the creamy stuff. She took a thermos out of her handbag and twisted it open and poured water into its cap and handed it over to me. I drank the cold, delicious water, then had another bite from my sandwich. I looked up at her and smiled. She smiled back at me, then began one of the sandwiches herself.

What a day, I thought, looking down on that diamond. I felt like I was on top of the world, though I was just on top of some bleachers at a ballpark. Gobbling down a second sandwich. Drinking water out of a thermos. Ready to watch the neighborhood kids play some baseball. And best of all. I had my aunt all to myself. There was no sister there with us to spoil the fun.

Aunt Leah finished her sandwich, then poured some more water into my cup and filled a cup for herself. Then she said, “It comes from the world of Amador, this water. Taste how sweet it is.” We both drank, I gulping the liquid down, she taking a sip. “It’s the water the unicorns drink.”

Really? I said with my eyes. I finished off my second sandwich, took a final drink and waited for her to go on.

“Oh, yes. You know about Amador, don’t you?”

I knew about Amador. But I loved my Aunt Leah telling me the stories with her soft, musical voice. I shook my head no, then passed my empty cup, the thermos cap, back to her. She twisted the cap back on, put the thermos and the empty paper sack back into her handbag.

“Amador is a special place,” she began, “a parallel world to this one. In it, most places are green and there are flowers like you’ve never seen.”

As she told her story, two teams hurried onto the baseball diamond. They were teenagers, these boys, and they looked like they were ready for some baseball with their gloves and bats and caps. Man, I loved baseball. Just the sound of the names of Ted Williams and Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio on the radio gave me goose bumps.

A tall slim boy walked over to the pitcher’s mound, ready to slay any kid who came to bat with his fastball.

“There’s green everywhere, except in the Northlands. There is no green there–”

A chubby, red-headed kid with a bat in his hand stepped up to home plate and raised the bat to his right shoulder.

“–only cold and ice and snow in that forbidden place.”

The pitcher, taller than the others on the field, wound up his arm, then he released the ball.

“You know about the Snow Queen, queen of the Northlands.”

The ball rushed toward the red-headed boy.

I knew about the Snow Queen. I hated the Snow Queen and the icy Northlands she ruled.

Red swung at the fastball.

“She gave an order this morning.”

Strike one.

An order?

The catcher threw the ball back to the pitcher.

“She sent her evil minions south.”

The pitcher stuck his glove out and caught the ball and smiled.

I didn’t know what evil minions were but I knew I wouldn’t like them if I met them. Maybe they looked like my sister Allison. The thought made me giggle.

Strike two. The catcher sent the ball back to the pitcher.

“The evil minions were commanded to find the unicorns and murder them.”

Strike three.

The batter dropped his bat and left home plate.

“Way to go, Jack,” the third baseman called over to the pitcher.

Jack turned to his third baseman and grinned. But I wasn’t grinning. Tears filled my eyes.

“It’s okay,” Aunt Leah said. “There’s no reason to cry. The unicorns were saved.”

I wasn’t crying because of the evil minions. I was crying because I could never be a Jack or one of a gang of kids who got to play baseball. Instead I was just a sickly, pale shrimp of a kid, wearing his thick glasses, sitting with his aunt in the bleachers and not on the playing field. I slipped my glasses off and wiped the tears away, then they went back on.

“The Great Warrior,” she continued, “Smythicus stopped the minions at the border of the South. In fact, he said to those darn minions, “No evil minions will ever harm the unicorns of this land.”

Another boy, this one wearing a red shirt, walked over to the batter’s plate. He had a smile on his face like he knew something nobody else did. He reminded me of Bobby Thomson. I had the Scotsman’s Bowman card, and I’m telling you, this kid looked just like him. And I knew all about “The Flying Scotsman” and his “shot heard ’round the world.” I had listened to the game that won the Giants the National League pennant on my father’s Philco radio.

“Smythicus,” Aunt Leah said, “had a large broadsword. It was named Silver. Like the Lone Ranger’s horse. And it was a killer of evil minions.”

Bobby Thomson stepped to the batter’s plate on October 3, 1951. It was the ninth inning. He squinted at Dodgers pitcher, Ralph Branca. The radio announcer said he liked to squint. It made the pitchers nervous. But Branca wasn’t buying any of Bobby’s squinting that day. Branca wasn’t nervous at all. At least, that’s what the guy on the radio said.

Branca threw the ball a first time, then a second time. Bobby whacked that ball out of the reach of the left fielder and into the stands. That hit gave the New York Giants a miracle and a trip to the World Series. Boy, that Number 23, that Bobby Thomson sure could hit.

“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” the announcer Russ Hodges screamed out from the radio. “The Giants win the pennant and they’re going crazy! New York is going crazy!” If I could’ve done cartwheels, I would’ve. If the Giants could win the pennant, anything was possible. A scrawny, sickly kid like me might even get to play baseball one day. Man, I loved those New York Giants that day, and I was glad they had beat “dem bums” from Brooklyn.

Though, if I had given them a chance, I would’ve come to love the Dodgers the next year just like I loved the Giants. I would’ve been a fan from then on till they picked up and betrayed everything that was holy by sneaking out of Brooklyn and moving off to California. You could not play decent baseball off in sunny California. Too sunny. That’s why Florida didn’t have a baseball team and never would, I reasoned. To play real baseball like the majors did, you had to be from Boston or New York or Philadelphia or Chicago. Not a sunny city among them.

The kid at the batter’s plate tipped his cap the way Bobby Thomson must’ve done before he hit that ball out of the park. But he sure couldn’t hit like Bobby. The ball flew by him a third time and he swung. He swung hard. The kid struck out.

“But Smythicus,” Aunt Leah went on, “he didn’t kill the evil minions. He wasn’t that sort of a Smythicus. He didn’t like to kill. He hit them with the side of his sword and they hated that. So these evil minions of the Snow Queen left the unicorns alone once upon a time. And everybody lived happily ever after.”

I had lost interest in Amador. There was no baseball in Amador and no Bobby Thomsons. I looked up at my aunt and grinned. She hugged me and ran her fingers through my hair and said, “Isn’t that Smythicus something. How he saved the unicorns?”

Another kid stepped up to the plate to bat.

She loosened her hug, then looked away for a second. When she looked back, tears were in her eyes. Could she be wishing that she could play baseball the way I wished it? “Nathaniel,” she said. My Aunt Leah never called me Nathaniel and there was a seriousness in her voice. Something must be wrong, but what? “Nathaniel,” her voice choked. “Allison is going away. She won’t be back…for some time.”

Did I hear right? My sister Allison was going away? I would have Aunt Leah and my father all to myself. No more Allison nightmares. No more screams in the middle of the night. No more pampering. Allison was always getting all the attention. She was going away.

I wanted to shout a big yes. But I didn’t. There was a sadness on my aunt’s face I had never seen.

“Your sister,” Aunt Leah said as the left-handed batter hit a home run. “She’s been ill for a very long time. Since the night you were born and your mother left us. Your father and I thought we could make her better. But we can’t.” She was almost crying, tears welling up in her eyes. “We can’t make her better. She is very sick.”

Sick? Why was she sick? She wasn’t sick. She was just trying to get her way with my father and my Aunt Leah. The showoff.

“Your father has taken her to a hospital.”

A hospital? My eyes grew bigger as I choked on the thought. Why a hospital?

“There are doctors there who can help her.”

Doctors? A hospital?

“Allison has awful nightmares and very bad headaches.”

But she was faking. I looked down at the bleachers. She was just faking.

“She goes for days with one of those headaches.”

Allison gone? No. No.

“We’re going to have to get along without her? At least for a while.”

I won’t see Allison? But why? She’s my sister. She may be a creep but she’s my sister.

“We think the doctors can give her some relief, maybe make her well. We just have to be patient. One day she’ll come back home. Okay?”

Aunt Leah took my hand and squeezed. Then I started crying. She took me into her arms and held me close. I pushed her away, then grabbed her. I bawled my eyes out, and she cried too. Allison was not going to be at home. Allison, screaming Allison, pampered Allison, sick Allison, my sister Allison. I just knew that I would never see her again.

Recovering from her crying, Aunt Leah said, “We’ll visit her at the hospital, you’ll see. And they might just let her come home for visits.”

I knew I would never see my sister, my only sister, ever again.

That was the day I went home and ripped up all my baseball cards.

Open Your Eyes

 Open your eyes, wipe the night away.
Open your eyes. It is morning,
the eastern sky awash with the sun and its many colors of light.
Slowly the world arises to do its daily dance.
The lonely and the loved gather themselves up for the new day.
Some waltz easily through the early hours;
for some, it is a difficult march
to be walked only after several cups of coffee.
Early runners dash onto city streets
where they run their morning runs.
Their sneakers pound a steady beat.
From the houses, from the homes that the runners pass,
breakfast aromas seep out to them,
voices rise and fall in a chorus of conversations.
“Up and at ‘em,” they chant,
some with a slight tone of the resignation that is Monday,
many accompanied by the sound of running water
as they shower, they shave, they brush their teeth and comb their hair.
In a suburban backyard,
butterflies flitter from roses to wisteria to crape myrtle.
A squirrel scampers from tree to ground and goes foraging for breakfast.
Two robins touch down on the birdbath, scoop the water into their beaks and drink.
Blue jays chatter while the bluebirds come singing,
their best songs sung for they who give an ear.
With its air cooling the skin, a breeze
eases through the oak, the mimosa, the loquat tree,
all standing near the tall metal fence at the property’s edge.
Leaves rustle. Wind chimes tinkle. Occasionally a dog barks.
A clarinet and piano jazz duet drifts in from two neighbors away.
Three cats appear at the kitchen door, a gray, a tabby, a black-and-white
meowing, scratching the wood, hungry from a night of out-and-about.
The door opens. The cats rush inside,
each heading for a bowl of Purina,
each chomping the dry brown pebbles of chow.
The black-and-white looks up. His big round eyes whisper,
“The day is such a joy, such a wonder,
if you open your eyes. Just open your eyes.
See and taste this day. Chew it well
and let its season pass in God’s good time. Soon
the butterflies will be gone.”

Scenes from An American Life

Are you a doctor?

I am sitting in the examining room, waiting on the doctor to come in and tell me what I have. He walks in just like he’s God, or a reasonable facsimile. Takes a good look at my paperwork on the clipboard, then looks up at me. “I see you have gallstones,” he says.

“Are you sure?” I asked, really worried.

“That’s what it says here,” the doc shows me the clipboard.

“Well, that’s the information I gave the nurse,” I say. “That I thought I have gallstones.”

“But it’s here on your chart. It must be true,” he says to me. “These charts never lie.”

I am getting frustrated. “I told your nurse that I have all the symptoms. But I never claimed that I had gallstones.”

“Look,” he says, then asks, “are you a doctor?”

“No.”

“Then why are you putting stuff on your chart. That’s my job.”

“I’m not putting stuff on my chart,” me, even more frustrated. “Your nurse did.”

Then he hits me with, “I don’t have a nurse.”

“But the woman who took down my information.”

“You mean my receptionist? She’s not a nurse. I keep her here for entertainment purposes.” He winks.

“All I know is that I have the symptoms for gallstones.”

“Of course you do,” he says. “It says so right here on your chart.”

“Well, that’s what the internet says.”

“Is the internet a doctor?” he asks.

Before you can say two shakes, I’m getting the hell out of there. This guy is crazy. But I’m not saying so. He might ask me if I am a psychiatrist.

Wrong address

Two suits show up at my front door. They show me their badges. They are from a government agency. I am not free to say which agency ’cause I don’t want them coming back again.

Tall suit says, “Mr. So-So, we have some questions for you.”

I say, “I’m not Mr. So-So. My name is Dudley W.”

“Then we need to see Mr. So-So.” short suit says.

“He’s not here. He hasn’t lived here for ten years. He’s my wife’s brother and he only stayed here for two weeks ten years ago. Then he moved out. Moved all the way across country for all I know.”

“His mail comes to this address, does it not?”

“Yes. He put in address change with the post office when he left. But we still get some of his mail. We’ve got a closet full of it just waiting for him to pick it up.”

Tall suit reveals, “We googled his name. Google says he lives here with a Ms. Charlene W. No Dudley is mentioned at this address. So where is Mr. So-So. If we need to, we’ll get a search warrant.”

Now I own the house. My name is on the deed with Charlene. Google doesn’t show that I live in the same house as Charlene. I say, knowing it’s no use to refuse these guys, “Well, come right in. If Google says it, it must be true.”

Weather Report

I am watching the national news.

Anchor Man says, “Our next report is from Perky Weather Girl.”

A woman appears, wearing a yellow rain suit. Rain is pouring hard wherever she is. “Hey, Bob, we’re getting bad storms here.” It’s coming down so hard it looks like it’s raining cats and dogs. There are even growls and meows in the background.

Bob says, “That bad, huh?”

“Yes,” Perky says, “I just had my hair done, and would you believe?” She pulls the hood off her head. Her hair is a mess.

“It looks real bad,” Bob comments. “An umbrella won’t help?”

“No. Can you believe it? This was a $300 do.”

“I’m sure the viewers really sympathize.” Bob turns to look at the audience out in television land. “You do sympathize, Audience, don’t you? Of course you do.” Then he’s back to Perky.

She is crying. “I had to wait three months to get an appointment with Mr. Dazzle.”

“I feel your pain. But we’ve got to leave you now.”

She wipes the water and the tears from her face. “Okay.”

“Our next story,” Bob says to his audience, “the almonds are striking at the Nutso Candy Factory in Nutso, Florida. They’re wanting a pay raise. Say they can’t support a family on the peanuts that Nutso is paying them.”

A few words about Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms and the short stories of Ernest Hemingway are old friends. So when I recently saw Ken Burns’ three-night documentary on Ernest Hemingway, I was reminded that maybe this would be a good time to visit with them again.

When it comes to Ernest Hemingway, I don’t love him because he loved bullfighting. I don’t love him because he loved fishing and hunting. I don’t love him because he wanted to out-macho every man, and many of the women, he met. And he was always drinking, drinking, drinking.

Many of us have seen or heard the quote mis-attributed to Hemingway, “Write drunk, edit sober.” Who could write drunk the way Hemingway wrote? Nobody, not even Papa Hemingway. Whoever came up with that that quote did not know Hemingway very well.

That was the lifestyle, the celebrity, the legend. That’s why so many readers and so many critics find fault with him. They’re criticizing his lifestyle and the subjects he chose to write about.

For me, it’s the writing. It is the writing that makes Hemingway Hemingway. From the first time I read The Old Man and the Sea, I loved how he could word a sentence.

When Gabriel Garcia Marquez saw Hemingway in Paris in the late 1950s, he could think of only one word to honor Hemingway with. “Maestro.” That was how much Hemingway and his sentences meant to Garcia Marquez. He was saying what the many writers would want to say to their Papa. Of Hemingway, Joan Didion once wrote in the New Yorker, “This was a man to whom words mattered.”

He preferred the basic Anglo-Saxon words of the English language over the Latinized words the English stole from the French. He wrote simple declarative sentences with strong nouns and even stronger verbs.

When he began writing with that style, it was a new way for writers to speak to American readers. Studying Cezanne and sitting at the feet of Gertrude Stein, the young Hemingway took on a literature that was loaded with fancy-dancy words and overly descriptive adjectives and gave writers a new way to speak to an audience.

Because words mattered to Hemingway, he was constantly in search of the “one true sentence.” Ask any writer who cares about their craft. They will tell you what a young writer told his agent, according to Francine Prose in her wonderful Reading Like a Writer. “What he really cared about, what he wanted most of all was to write…really great sentences.”

Later Prose writes, “I’ll hear writers say that there are other writers they would read if for no other reason than to marvel at the skill with which they can put together the sort of sentences that move us…”

Those are the kind of sentences Hemingway wrote. Again and again and again. And it’s why writers pay attention.

Just read the opening paragraph of A Farewell to Arms. “In the late summer of that year we lived in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.” Wonderful.

In the opening of Hills Like White Elephants, ” It’s the same poetic rhythm: “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads hung across the open door to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building.” So specific, so descriptive.

He can summarize a story in the opening sentence such as the one that opens the short story, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. “It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.” Again and again there is a magic to his writing that few others can give me.

Or the opening sentence of The Old Man and the Sea: “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”

God, I love those sentences.