Category Archives: Short Writings

A Very Special Christmas Gift

William was a little nervous about Christmas this year. He did not have enough money to spend on gifts so he did what he thought was best. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, but now that it was Christmas morning he was not so sure. Books, after all are something people usually only read once, then they just sit in the shelf. Two weeks ought to be enough time to read a book!

He was very happy with the selection. He thought carefully what everyone in his family would like and hand picked a book from the enormous selection that was available … so many to choose from. He waited until Christmas eve day to pick them out to maximize the time.

The gifts were all passed out with everyone sitting in a circle around the living room with their pile of gifts. The usual tradition of everyone in the family taking turns opening gifts in a clockwise direction was underway. Two whole rounds passed before anyone picked up one of his gifts to open. His father was the first.

His heart started pounding as adrenaline began to course through his body. He started to doubt it was a good idea at all … and why did it have to be his father to open the first one … the man whose approval meant the most to him.

As an avid golfer his father loved the history book of golf in the USA. His smile was big as he flipped through the pages. Obviously it was a used book, but that did not matter too much to him. He knew his son had been struggling in the latest economic down turn. But then he noticed the number on the binding and then the bar code. His smile quickly turned to a concerned frown as he opened the front cover, “Property of the South City Public Library.”

“What?” his father questioned, “what is this?” he turned to William. “It’s a book from the library,” William replied as his voice started to quiver. “I didn’t have enough money for gifts so …,” He stopped explaining when his sister was the first to chuckle. Everyone dug through their pile of gifts, breaking the sequence of turn taking and opened theirs immediately. Every single one, while carefully thought out for each recipient, a library book. The laughter filled the room, Cousin Billy was laughing so hard he was on the floor holding his belly.

William was thoroughly embarrassed, but also felt a little joy knowing he brought this laughter to the family for Christmas. This will be one to remember. As the laughter died down to a point his voice could be heard, albeit with a yell, he shouted, “There is a due date in the back, please make sure you read it and return it by then.”

Then he began to wonder if they would return them so he wouldn’t get stuck with a lofty fine. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all. Except Cousin Elise … he knew he could count on her. She always returns everyone’s gifts.

Anatomy of a Cold Water Swim

The alarm clock goes off at 5 AM.  “Crap, what am I doing?” I question myself.  The bed is warm.  Just pulling the covers off a bit I can feel the colder air hit my skin and I pull them, and the warmth, back over my head and hit the snooze one more time.

The temperature in the Bay has dropped to 53 degrees, down from 57 just a few weeks ago.  It is cold!  I have no desire to feel that cold and I have no idea at this time why I’m planning to swim in it.  This is the tipping point.  I could easily just go back to sleep and stay warm.  However I have friends that I promised to meet.  They could vary well be laying in bed at this vary moment with the same struggle, but I don’t know that.  I just know I told them that I’d meet them … and I do enjoy seeing them.  Besides I know I need to keep an exercise routine going, especially this time of year with the holidays.  For some insane reason that is escaping me at the moment, I made open water swimming my exercise of choice.

I give into it and get out of bed to start my routine, packing my swim bag, making a smoothie for breakfast, getting dressed in the warmest clothes I can find and heading out the door for the 15 minute drive to the club.

I arrive at the club.  It is like a death march as I move forward towards something that I have no enthusiasm for, plunging my body into the cold water.  I hear the mumblings from the other swimmers in the locker room as they get ready for their swims, “Why am I doing this again” or “Someone needs to lock me up,” or something like that.  We are all in this together as we move forward changing into our swim gear, leaving the warmth of our bundles of clothing behind.  Somehow I doubt any of us would be doing this if we weren’t all there.

The anticipation is the hardest part … I think.  It can be akin to many things that I do not like to do, but am fine with once I get started.  Public speaking comes to mind.  Heading up to the podium is like a death march, the first few sentences I can hear my voice tremble, but once I’m started is usually goes smooth and I enjoy interacting with the audience.

Jumping into the bay off a boat or dock is much easier than walking in from a beach.  Like pulling a band-aid off in on quick pull, jumping gets it over with compared to letting the cold creep up my body inches at a time when I walk in from the beach.  Once submerged and swimming my first strokes the cold water bites at every inch of my skin.  My head aches like I’ve eaten ice cream too fast and my whole body tries to pull away from the cold that surrounds it.  There is no place for it to go, but forward as I swim and let my body go through its changes with the new environment.

Then after a couple minutes, something happens.  My blood pulls away from my skin into the core to keep it warm.  My skin goes numb and a kind of euphoria sets in.  Now I remember why I do it.  To those of you reading this that have never done it before, these are just words.  Words cannot explain the feeling of joy and refreshment of being in the cold water after getting past that first few minutes.  That is what keeps me coming back.  I want to stay in the water forever and live in it.  My body, however, has other plans.  Eventually I will start to feel too cold.  I do not want to stay in very long past that point, as hypothermia WILL set in.  I look for clues in my body like the inability to keep my fingers together.  That is usually the first sign.  Then I can start to feel the cold digging in a little deeper.  I last about an hour before it is time to get out.

Back on dry land mobility is a bit limited.  I shiver a little and it is difficult to speak.  Putting on clothing can be a challenge as fingers do not move well and limbs tremble with the cold.  After about five or ten minutes the shivering will increase as my body tries to warm up.  This shivering is very unpleasant and will last about twenty minutes unless I have access to a warm shower and/or sauna.  This is usually the case swimming at the club, but not if I’m on a boat.

The warm water of the shower heats up the skin and keeps the shivering to a minimum as it starts to thaw out.  My skin is pink an itches a little as the heat comes back into it.  As my mobility increases I can wash my hair and shave.  After I start to feel warmer I transfer to the sauna where I hear the laughter from the other swimmers.  Everyone is happy.  All those apprehensive faces before the swim are now smiling ear-to-ear refreshed and awake ready to start the day.

I stay in the sauna until I start to sweat.  I put on my clothes in the warm sauna to avoid the cold air hitting my skin when I exit.  Now I’m ready for a cup of hot tea.  I say goodbye to my friends and make promises to see them again … the very same promises I will be cursing myself for the next time the alarm clock goes off and I have to pull myself from my warm bed.

Abandon Hope!!

When I died and got to the gate of Heaven I was bewildered by the sign above the Pearly Gates, “Abandon Hope all Ye Who Enter Here!!”  It’s the type of sign I expect to see leading to a dungeon or something.  I got a chill up the back of my spine and for a minute I panicked and thought I must be in the other place.  Perhaps did not lead such a life of virtue after all.  But there was Saint Peter standing there.  He saw the puzzlement on my face, “Is there a problem?” He asked.  “Isn’t this Heaven?” I replied a little sheepishly. “I’m just a little confused by the sign.  “Aw, yes,” said Saint Peter, “We do not want anyone to have any hope here in Heaven.”   “But I thought Heaven was good?” I said.  “Oh, it is,” affirmed Saint Peter.”  “But then why do you not want people to have any hope, isn’t hope good?”  I asked.  “I can understand you puzzlement,” Saint Peter said, “You see a person that has hope is looking to the future for something rather than being in the moment.  When a person is not being in the moment, how may not enjoy all the benefits of Heaven, here and now?”  Now I understood.  He must have seen the light bulb go off over me head.  “So, are you ready to abandon all hope?” He asked.  I nodded my head, “Then that my son, is Heaven.  Welcome!”

Caught Speeding 80 MPH

The cruise control was set at 80. This is works well for most of Highway 5. On occasions I have to slow down on the two lane highway if a car passing another is not going my speed. Otherwise the slower cars are courteous enough to stay to the right to allow me to pass. Most of highway 5 is barren with the occasional small town. Now, however I had entered into the more densely populated area of Redding. I was traveling from San Francisco to near Yreka when my Aunt lived. Not only had the speed limit reduced from 70 to 65, but there were a lot more vehicles on the road. Two lanes became three. My 80 MPH speed seemed a little faster, but I kept it up anyway.
Then I saw it in my rear view mirror. Still about a quarter of a mile away, the familiar look of a vehicle with a rack of lights on top. Busted? I don’t know. The lights were not flashing but he was gaining on me. I reduce my speed and pulled into the next lane. He follow, but behind another car in back of me. He was still quite a ways away. I pulled into the far right lane and reduced to the speed limit. My strategy was to make it to the next exit and hope he does not follow. No such luck. On came the lights as he approach quickly and over to the shoulder I went.

I get speeding tickets once ever four or five years. There is usually enough time in between tickets that I can always go to traffic school and keep them off my record. While traffic school does take up a whole day of my time, I have rather enjoyed it the past three times that I’ve attended. I enjoy hearing the stories from the instructor and I usually walk away having learned some interesting and valuable information. Here is what I learned one time:

In this case the traffic school was taught by a retired police officer. For some reason he seemed intent in helping us to learn how to avoid future speeding tickets, not by driving more carefully, but by having the officer issue a warning rather than a ticket. He told us that it is nerve racking for an officer to approach a car with unknown people inside. If we do certain things to reduce his/her anxiety, that will increase the chance that we are just issued a warning. These things include keeping our hands in clear sight (he recommended on the steering wheel) and having our license and registration out so we will not need to reach into a concealed space to get it. Let’s see if it worked …

There I was on the side of the road I pulled over as far to the right as I could to give him plenty of space on the shoulder. As soon as I reached a complete stop I opened the glove compartment, took out the registration and put it on the dashboard. The officer was already approaching the car on the passenger side so pulling out the registration was all I could do. My license was still in my pocket and the window was still up. I reached to my left for the window control and with my left hand pushed the button to roll down the passenger side window. My right hand remained on the wheel.

“How are you doing?” The officer asked. He was a friendly younger man, about 25. “Good, you?” I replied. “I’m doing good, look, I pulled you over for speeding. I clocked you around 80.” He was very direct. Another thing I learned was to not argue or make up excuses. I knew I was speeding. “Yep,” I said. “May I see your license, registration and stuff?” I took the registration off my dashboard and handed it to him. I had to reach in my pocket for the license. It was loose in my pocket with some cash and a few other cards. I have not been using a wallet. I shuffled through the stack of cards and cash in my hand until I found the correct card and handed it to him. I went to place the stack of cards on the passenger seat, but there was a $50 bill in the stack. I though it might be construed as a bride so I thought twice and put it in the pocket in the door on the drivers side. “What do you have for insurance?” He asked. Oops, I’d left the insurance in the glove compartment. I wasn’t even sure it was there. I paused for a second and then slowly reached for and opened the glove compartment door. There under the vehicle instruction manual was a piece of paper. I lifted the manual. That was it. I picked it up and handed it to him. I get rather nervous easily so my hands were shaking a little. I’m sure he could see. He asked me a few questions, where was I going, why, where was I coming from … nothing too intrusive. Then he said, “Well,” in the millisecond pause before his next word I realized that he could have followed that with anything. Will I get a ticket? I was not sure, “do you think you can slow down?” he continued. He was going to let me go. Enthusiastically I said, yes. He handed me back my papers, wished me a good day and departed. The whole incident took about 3 minutes of my time and I was off on the road again.

I continued my journey with the cruise control set at the speed limit. It is actually rather easy to keep the speed limit with cruise control. There were times when I wanted to go faster, but I was more interested in honoring my commitment with the police officer that was kind enough to issue me a warning rather than a ticket. I kept the speed limit for the rest of my journey and for the entire drive home a few days later.

I do not know if my actions to keep him more comfortable were the reason he let me go. It couldn’t have hurt.


He’d been falling behind with his taxes for three years now, ever since his main client ran out of money.  It was a nice ride for a while, but the client hardly made a cent off of all the work he had done for him over the years.  He questioned some of the client’s business decisions from time to time, but that was not really his department.  He would offer some suggestions and then focused on the work that he was hired to do.  They were close to making a successful business out of one of the projects, but then the client abandoned it for a more risky project.  That risk was what eventually did the client in and bankrupted him.

It seemed sudden at the time, but in retrospect he could see the signs, like late payments and cutting back the work load.  Still it was a shock to him that day he turned on his computer and fired up his email program that downloaded the email that read that his client was out of money and was closing all operations.  His income not only dropped to close to zero but the money that was still owed to him would not be seen.  He had to take the money he’d set aside for taxes to pay his day-to-day bills.  That was how it started.

He had all his eggs in one basket that was bound to break.  Now he began picking up the pieces to redeposit them in as many varied containers as he could.  If one of them fell through he would have the others to rely on.  It was not easy.  With many clients he had to spend more time keeping track of details, creating invoices and collecting bills, not to mention finding the new clients.  They would haggled over price and demanded more of his time.  Still, many baskets … better than one, right?

That year, since he had spent all his tax money, he put off filing taxes as long as he could.  He had only a quarter of the amount he owed from a previous estimated payment.  Finally when he reached the last deadline of the last extension he filed, but made no payment.  Later the bill came.  He stalled a little longer before calling the IRS office to set up monthly payments.  $150 a month!  Wow, that was not bad.  He could definitely commit to that and a huge weight was lifted off his shoulders.  He wished he’d filed and called earlier.

The next year the same cycle repeated.  He did not owe nearly as much because his income was reduced in half from the year before.  Still, he put it off as long as he could before making a call to the IRS.  They were happy to add another $100 to his monthly bill, but they made it perfectly clear that he would not have that privilege the next year

The third year rolled around.  It was becoming clear to him that his business was not working out the way it was structured.  He had some ideas for restructuring, but was not sure how to implement them.  He was feeling the limits of the way he went about his professional life.  He longed to have a partner or a mentor … anything that would make him feel more like a “we” than an “I.”  He knew he needed help.

Again he did not have the money and put off filing taxes as long as he could.  The bill came a week before Christmas, giving him only one month to pay in full.  He set it aside until after the holidays and then picked it up on the first of the year.  Where would he get the money?  He cashed in his Roth IRA for one half of the tax bill.  The IRA was not doing him any good anyway.  It was years since he had contributed anything to it.  The value was lower than what he had contributed after the market crashed a few years ago.  But now the balance was at zero and there was a check in his hands.

Still it was not enough.  Taking the advice of some friends he went to the IRS office to have a face-to-face conversation and give them what he had.  The woman he talked to was very compassionate, yet stern.  She made sure he knew that he was not in integrity and he was on the verge of disaster.  Yet she did so in a kind way.  They even laughed together a few times.  She extended the deadline but made it clear he needed to be 100% on time after that…   No more late filing and no more late payments.

He went home, a little bit relieved, but a lot nervous.  He had four months to the next deadline.  How was he going to get that money!

The next day was surprised when he got on a knock on the door by a suit and a tie.  “Hi, are you Geoff?”  The man asked.  “Yes,” he replied.  “Hi, I’m Jimmy from the IRS, I’ve been assigned to your case.”  “Huh,” Geoff thought.  “I still have more time and now there is a man here to shake me down.”  “May I come it?” Jimmy asked.  Geoff was a little reluctant, but realized that there was nothing in his apartment to hide.  He did not live lavishly.  There was no excess in his home that he should worry that an IRS agent would see and accuse him of squandering money that was owed to the government.  There was nothing there that they could take, maybe his bike, but there was not much more.  Geoff looked up the street to see if the agent had arrived in a moving van ready to take everything he owned.  There was not so he invited him in.

The agent made a little small talk about the apartment and the view …the million dollar view.  Geoff thought if he could pack up a small part of the view to pay his bill he would.  Then Jimmy said, “Let’s get down to business.”  With a gulp Geoff invited him to sit opposite him at his desk.

“First we need to take a look at your business and your talents to make sure you are applying your full potential to your work.  We don’t want you short changing the world of what you have to offer, do we?  Most people fail in small business because they either do not apply 100% of their talents, thus losing interest in their work, or because they are so focused on their talent that they do not run their business right.  A small business needs balance.  I’m here to help you find that balance, and make a ton of money.

Geoff was shocked at what he was hearing.  He sat there in silence.  “I can tell you are in disbelief,” the agent commented and decided to offer further explanation.  “You see it is in our best interest to help you succeed.  The more money you make, the more money we make.  In a sense we are business partners so I’ve been sent to help you achieve your goals.  You do want to make a lot of money while sharing your talents with the world don’t you?”  Geoff nodded his head yes.  “Well the let’s get started.  I’ve spent the last ten years of my life helping small business owners like you.  For the most part I have always been able to turn their businesses around and help them succeed.  Other times … well let’s just say that some people are not suited to be in business for themselves and we help them to find a career using their talents as an employee for someone else.  Most of the time they find they are much happier.  I don’t get that sense about you.  You are meant to have your own business, I can tell.  I’m going to help you.”  With that Geoff did become a “we.”  He was no longer doing it alone.

Together they went over his ideas and business plans.  Jimmy made some suggestions and set up target goals.  They set up weekly phone appointments and monthly group sessions with other small business owners.  Within less than a month more money started rolling in.  Geoff set everything extra aside to save up for that payment due in April.  As the months drew nearer the amount set aside continued to grow.  Come April he had every cent that he needed for the IRS.  He paid off last year’s taxes, his current year’s taxes and the estimated payments for the following year.  He was never so happy to spend so much money and write out that check to such a kind, compassionate and caring organization like the IRS that helped him achieve his dreams.

Shark Attack

It was about three in the morning.  I knew I would not be able to sleep.  I had all my stuff ready for the morning and went to bed around ten, a couple of hours before I usually do.  Here it was five hours later and I was still awake.  I would describe my state as excited.  Not the kind of excited that one feels before Christmas as a child, no this was the excitement of going into something new and not knowing what to expect … whether one would succeed or fail.  This excitement can take the form of anxiety or enthusiasm depending on the state of mind, and my mind was fluctuating between the two.  In about three hours my alarm clock would go off and I would be off to my first Olympic distance triathlon.  I’ve done a few smaller ones throughout the year, but I was not certain I had what would take to finish one at this distance.

You know what the mind can do, I guess to entertain one when the excitement is keeping one awake?  Mine makes up stories.  This following story was one such story my mind made up that night.  No, this did not really happen, only in the imagination of an excited mind:

It was my first time swimming in the Bay in a wet suit.  I had every intention to get out and practice a little before today, but as fate would have it, I did not.  I just picked up the rented wetsuit the day before, took it out to the bay and jumped in for a little practice.  I only stayed long enough to know that I would be able to move in it, but I did not swim, for I had left my swim goggles at home.

Here it was now on race day.  It was ten minutes before my wave and we were allowed to get into the water.  There I was bobbing up and down with 100 other swimmers in my age group waiting for the starting gun.  Wetsuits do make one more buoyant and I did not have to tread water to stay afloat.  Perhaps the next time I’ll wait other five minutes before I get in the water to avoid all this bobbing.

Finally, the gun went off and we were off.  I keep towards the back because I know I’m not fast.  There were six legs to this 1 mile swim.  As usual, the first few hundred yards were tough as I get used to my new environment.  I like to joke with myself that for the first few hundred yards that I feel like a fish out of water.  Anyway, I made the first two legs and was well into the third when it happened …

I was just kicking into gear when I felt a disturbance in the water forcing me to the left shortly before an intense pain of several knives in my abdomen.  I was completely out of control with pain and this force that has pushed me far out of my path.

I remember from a Biology class that I took one year in college about the phenomena of flocking.  When animals flock it increases their individual chances of surviving a predator’s attack.  I don’t remember the exact figures, but it goes something like this: if an animal is alone and a predator attacks there is a 75% chance it will be caught.  If the animal is in a flock the chances go down to about 1 or 2%, I guess depending on the size of the flock.  The remarkable other side to this statistic is that flocking also increases the chances that the predator will catch something.  Their 75% will go up to about 95%.  What an incredible phenomena then, flocking is to the world of nature.  It increases the chance of survival on both ends.

So, I figured, out there in the bay that day, in a flock of triathletes, the probability of that shark catching one was rather high … especially considering there are not any man eating sharks in the bay and until just now there has never been a shark attack on a human in the bay.  So what was the probability it would be me?  Perhaps I should have played the lottery today instead.  So the shark quickly let me go once it realized that I was not the tasty morsel of a seal that it thought I was, but that did not change the fact that I was not going to be able to finish the race.  The life guard was quickly by my side pulling me up on their handy surf board, and paddled me back to shore and off to the hospital I went.

And that was how I DNFed on my first ever Olympic distance triathlon.