Gunny

He’s there every day.

Heck, I even see him in the afternoons and evenings; always with a different group of people; always with a few recent creations tucked under his arm.

I won’t tell you his name, because I know he treasures anonymity.

He was a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps; so, I’ll just call him, “Gunny.”

Gunny’s an artist by trade, although he didn’t start until he retired from the Corps at the age of fifty.

He’s good.

Very good.

Although to look at him you’d never expect it.

Creeping up on seventy, his longish white hair mostly hidden under a New York Yankees cap; always wearing a Harley-Davidson leather vest, jeans and motorcycle boots.

I was just noticing this morning that his face sort of matches the leather vest in that both have seen more than a few miles; hard miles; miles that leave their mark.

But his smile, ah, now that’s something to talk about.

It’s a smile that says of all the hardscrabble landscape over which life’s journey has taken him, “You will never beat me, so you might as well stop trying!”

It’s a smile that is so very evident in his art—art that depicts a world in which there is a settled peace won through battles dark and bloody.

Colorful, bursting with passion and realism, I’ve seen Gunny sell quite a few pieces to interested customers over the years.

I even saw him do a presentation to a gallery owner once.

She loved his work, and while I didn’t get to hear the end of the conversation, I’d be shocked if she didn’t agree to an exhibit.

He’s that good.

And, unlike many in his age group, he’s very tech savvy.

He will quite typically have his iPhone and iPad on the table in front of him and be busily engaged in the utilization of both devices.

Today he convinced a man far older than himself to purchase an iPad.

Apple should be paying this guy a commission!

People of his generation should be paying attention, because as George Burns so poignantly observed once, “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”

Gunny is mostly alone these days.

His wife left him for another man when he was still on active duty, and it just never made sense to him to remarry.

His two children, and six grandchildren are all on the east coast, and even though they exchange visits regularly, it doesn’t really help to fill the holes loneliness has gouged into his day-to-day life.

I asked him once what fueled his art, and he said, “Hope.”

When asked to elaborate, he simply replied, “I fought in two wars and trained Marines to fight in two more. As a result, I’ve seen enough despair to last me the rest of my life. If my art can give people hope, then I will have served my purpose.”

I feel the same way about my writing.

I’m sure there are those who wish these stories that fill the pages of Snapshots At St. Arbuck’s had more of an edge; that there would be a “realistic ending” every once in a while.

But life is filled with bad endings; life is filled with “edgy” realism…why add to it?

I just choose to focus on the indefatigable hope that seems grafted into our DNA.

And even if it seems life has kicked the hope right out of you, it’s still there; and in response to the right resonance…it will rise up.

I feel that’s my role in life…to release a “sound” into the universe; a sound that will penetrate to the core of the most tragically broken heart and see it resonate with hope once again.

I’m pretty sure that Gunny feels the same way.

© 2014 R.G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Shrieks

(Originally published in Snapshots At St. Arbuck’s Vol 3)

Honesty compels me to confess that rowdy children in a small, enclosed space like St. Arbuck’s is not one of my favorite things.

Actually, now that I think about it, unruly kids are off-putting regardless of the environment.

And don’t get me started on the topic of inattentive, permissive parental units!

So, there I sat in my favorite coffee bar, doing battle with the bloated monstrosity also known as my current novel when the erstwhile calm was shattered by the arrival of a single dad and three—count ‘em—three young daughters.

Redheads.

Not that hair color has any particular bearing on the propensity of a child toward disruptive behavior, just stating an observational fact.

No, seriously.

How did I know he was a single dad? I think it was his eyes, the way they cast about the room as if seeking rescue, or, perhaps, at the very least understanding and compassion.

The three little darlings—approximate ages 5, 7 and 9—stormed immediately toward the pastry counter shoving and elbowing each other while at the same time shrieking in that frequency of voice that, seemingly, only young girls are capable of emitting.

“I get to order first!”

(Shriek!) “Noooo! You ordered first last time!”

“Me first! MeeeeeeeeFiiiiiiirrrrrrrsssssstttttt!!!” (Shriek! Shriek! Shriek!)

You get the picture.

The littlest one, and obvious, at least to my ringing ears, vocal champ, planted herself squarely in front of the register and refused to be budged by either of her sisters although they had at least a foot in height and twenty pounds body weight on her.

“Daaaaaaaaaddddd!” wailed the eldest. “Mary won’t move out of the way! Daaaaaaaaaddddd!”

The beleaguered father staggered forward as if in a daze, his mouth working wordlessly, arms flapping helplessly at his sides, head pinioning atop his shoulders as he scanned the menu board.

“Mary,” he said softly. “Why don’t you let Siobhan order first this morning?”

“Nooooooooooooo!” Mary shrieked. “Nooooooo! Noooooo! Noooooooooooooooooo!”

This bombast was accompanied by much gesticulation and stomping of her tiny feet.

It became quickly and indisputably clear that wee Mary was the boss in this family.

The middle child chimed in. “Why does she always get what she wants? I never get anything!” Arms crossed; chin tucked against her thin chest; the corners of her cute little mouth turned down in an epic pout.

“Now Bonnie,” reasoned dad, who by now had recovered somewhat from his previous stupor. “You know that Mary doesn’t always get her way.”

“Whatever!” this from Siobhan, with a roll of her piercing blue eyes tossed in for emphasis.

As for what happened next, I couldn’t rightly say for at that moment I had a pressing matter that required my attention, to whit heeding the insistent call of a middle-aged bladder.

I had no sooner turned on the light in the men’s room than I heard a significant ruckus filtering through the wall of the adjoining women’s room.

It seemed that the tiny trio of sisters had all simultaneously sensed the selfsame need as I.

With dad temporarily out of earshot (although I’m convinced anyone within a hundred feet could’ve heard every word clearly) Bonnie and Siobhan seized the opportunity to let Mary have it!

Rather than provide blow-by-blow color commentary, suffice it to say that the tag team diatribe involved derogatory descriptions of their younger sibling shocking to hear spoken from such young and innocent lips.

All of which eventually provoked Mary to explore aural frequencies that I am quite sure were previously unknown to humankind.

Sheer morbid fascination caused me to linger over the sink, washing and rewashing my hands as I listened in rapt attention to the unfolding drama unfolding one wall away.

Suddenly I heard a pounding coming from the hallway: Dad had arrived on the scene, yanked finally and violently from his torpor.

“What. Is. Going. On. In. There?” Followed by more pounding and, “Open this door! Right! Now!”

Now I was stuck. I mean there was no way I was going to walk out and right into the middle of a, well, domestic dispute of some proportions.

So I did what any self-respecting person would’ve done in my spot. I pressed my ear to the wall and listened.

Sadly, the concurrent decibel-intensive and cacophonous mash-up of sound that followed the father’s entrance made it impossible to distinguish much beyond the occasional,

“But Daaaaaaaadddddd!”

“She said…”

“I did not!”

“SHE DID TOO!!!”

And so on, and so on.

Eventually the dad said—in his outside voice, I might add—“That’s it! We’re outta here!” to the apparent chagrin and collective displeasure of the sisterhood of the traveling shrieks.

“Out to the car! All of you! I can’t take you anywhere!” mumble, mumble; wail, wail; shriek, shriek.

And off they went.

When I felt it safe to emerge from my place of refuge, I did so just in time to spy the dad herding them all into the family minivan, wee Mary’s mouth seemingly locked open in perpetual, wailing complaint.

I didn’t envy him the ride home.

Glancing at the barista as I retook my seat she nodded her head slowly toward the parking lot while saying, “Birth control!”

“As in, he should’ve practiced it, or that scene was effective birth control for you?”

“Yeah,” she said with a grin. “That’s it.”

©2014 R.G. Ryan

One Morning In Santa Cruz

(Originally published in Snapshots At St. Arbuck’s Vol 2)

We sat there on the patio of St. Arbuck’s at the Pacific Garden Mall in downtown Santa Cruz, California, enjoying a blissful fall morning that was low on stress and high on relaxation.

We typically find our way to Santa Cruz sometime in early October.

It’s a homing instinct thing as much as anything else.

We—that is my beloved and myself—had our beginnings in Santa Cruz.

It was a two-bedroom apartment on Washington street just a couple of blocks from the Nickelodeon Theater (now called “The Nick”) that we outfitted sparsely with bits and pieces of mismatched, used furniture and an overabundance of love.

Come December eighteenth we will have been “us” for most of our adult lives.

I glanced up from reading a local newspaper and allowed my gaze to fall upon my wife whose beauty can still stop my heart in its tracks, even after all these years.

She was drinking a small mocha.

It is a drink she learned to enjoy at that selfsame St. Arbuck’s two years previously.

“What?” she said lightly.

“Oh, nothing. I was just remembering the two of us sitting at that little deli that used to be by the Del Mar Theater, what was it called…“

“The Del Mar’ette?” she provided.

“Yes! We sat there after opening our first bank account.”

She smiled at the memory. “We thought we were so grown-up.”

“Well, we were. Married; our own apartment; bank account; dreams to dream; lives to live.”

Our eyes locked in a memory transference that encompassed all that we’ve experienced throughout our marriage…good times, bad times, tragic times, all streamed together in a few seconds.

“And here we are,” I said.

She reached for my hand. “Here we are.”

Our focus was broken by a woman’s voice saying quite loudly, “You’re a good boy, yes you are. Oh, you’re just my big, beautiful boy.”

Turning toward the sidewalk, which was about twenty feet from where we sat, we saw a young woman—nicely dressed with stylish brown hair—bending down and hugging a black Lab service dog while he returned her affection in typical doggie style by slathering her face with doggie kisses.

She rose up, her sightless eyes fixed, listening, as if awaiting a particular sound.

It was then that a young man of similar age approached her from the front, his white cane extended, tap-tap-tapping the sidewalk in a delicate pattern.

He seemed to purposely run into her exclaiming in faux protest, “What’s the matter? You blind or something?”

She threw back her head and laughed loudly, as did most of us gathered on the patio that fine morning.

“Oh, very funny,” she replied. “But you’re still buying the coffee.”

Together they carefully made their way up the ramp leading to the entrance, their love brilliantly on display for all to see.

I dabbed at a tear that had managed to escape an ever-ready reservoir as my wife said lightly, “Let me guess, that brought a tear to your one good eye.”

I nodded, laughing…she knows me so well.

“So, what was there about that scene that touched you?”

“I think it was the way he loves her.”

“How do you know how he loves her, we saw them for all of two minutes,” she replied.

I smiled. “It was long enough.”

Growing thoughtful she said, “I wonder if they’ll be sitting here some future morning musing about their beginnings?”

“Laughing about his silly joke,” I filled in. “And how it made everyone laugh.”

She grinned broadly, “Wanna go look at the old apartment?”

“Let’s.”

And so we did.

We looked at all of our old haunts; drove all of our old routes; had lunch on the pier…just remembering like we do every single time we go home.

You see, sometimes you cannot know where you are or where you’re going until you remember where you’ve been.

© 2014 by R.G. Ryan

Snapshots At St. Arbuck’s Volume 2

Available from Dream Chasers Media Group

AND

Amazon.com

Sample Chapter

Life Goes On

They stood there in the middle of St. Arbuck’s—a woman of sixty-plus years and a young boy of ten or eleven—holding their drinks and scanning the area for available seating.

Sad eyes in broken-down faces…a reflection of stone cold heartache if I’ve ever seen it.

Their movements were tentative and uncertain as if unfamiliar with the St. Arbuck’s experience.

As it turned out the only available seating was right by me and it seemed that the effort required to slide into their respective chairs was almost too much.

“Talk to me,” pleaded the woman, who I had pegged as the boy’s grandmother.

With his gaze riveted on the cup of hot chocolate in front of him he replied without looking up, “About what?”

The grandmother sighed deeply. “We have to talk about this sometime, Bucko, and I’d rather do it now and just get it over with.”

The boy started shaking his head slowly from side to side as a single tear escaped from the corner of one eye, running down his smooth cheek leaving a glistening trail in its wake.

“How could she do it?” he asked softly. “How could she just leave me?”

The grandmother started to answer, but seemed to think better of it and just shook her head in unison with his.

“I thought mothers are supposed to love their kids,” he continued. “Why didn’t she love me?”

“She loved you.”

His head snapped up, hurt and anger struggling for dominance on his face.

The anger won.

“No she didn’t! No…she…didn’t! The only thing she ever loved was herself and those stupid drugs! It was always the stupid drugs.”

Grandma turned to stare out the window as if searching for an appropriate response. “I wish I had an answer for you, but I don’t. I mean I’m sure I could make something up that might make you feel better, but I promised you I’d always tell you the truth, even if it hurt you to hear it. Remember that?”

The boy nodded his head slowly, almost reluctantly in answer.

He was a compellingly pathetic figure, this brave child, fighting to hold a flood of tears in check…and losing.

He whispered, “I wish my dad was still alive.”

“I wish he was too, honey, but for now anyway, it’s just you and me.”

Wiping his eyes with the backs of his sleeves the boy said, “I used to think it was cool to be the only kid…but now…”

“We’ll be all right, kiddo. Grandma won’t ever leave you,” she promised, giving his hand a tight squeeze. “Oh, we may have some tough times, but you and me, we’ll get through it.”

“I love you, grandma.” His voice was barely audible above the in-store sound system.

“Oh, I love you too, sweetie,” she replied, choking back tears of her own.

They both sat in silence for a few moments, drinking their beverages and gazing absently around the room.

Suddenly the grandma said, “Where did you get that shirt?”

“What shirt?”

“That one that’s hanging off those skinny shoulders of yours.”

He pulled a bit of the shirt away from his body, “This one?”

“Yes, that one.”

He smiled sheepishly. “Well, I kind of got it out of the dirty clothes.”

The grandmother rolled her eyes dramatically. “How many times do I have to tell you…you can’t take things out of the dirty clothes.”

“But, I love this shirt.”

They argued about the shirt for a while longer; about what video games were appropriate and the ones that were not; discussed what to have for dinner as well as having a friend stay overnight.

And suddenly…right there before my eyes, life went on as it almost always does.


The Beach House

The inescapable fact of the mater is that the deeper I get into my current conundrum the more I love the taste of alcohol. Clear liquor, brown liquor, it don’t matter much to me. I love it all.

Time was when I believed it loved me back.

I know better now.

Oh, yes, I most surely do know better now.

Although I must admit that out here alone in the beach house I formerly shared with my beauty—my one and only true love—there are nights when it makes a quite suitable companion.

The crane was back this morning…out there on the edge of the estuary behind the spit of land some fool chose as the location for his dream house.

That fool would be me.

A gust of salt-scented air momentarily lifts the hair out of my eyes only to redeposit it in an even more comical arrangement. I haven’t washed my hair for days. Haven’t washed much of anything for that matter. I just can’t seem to find the will to do much else but sit, stare and drink.

A man chases a small boy along the water line, pretending, much to the boy’s delight, that he can’t catch him. Cute, but it’d be better if the kid learns early on that sooner or later you will get caught.

Life will catch up to you.

Your past will catch up to you.

It’s just a matter of time.

You sweep things under the rug, thinking that it’s all over and done with, but eventually someone comes along, lifts up a corner and peers underneath.

And that’s a bad day.

A really, really bad day.

I suppose if I’d had the sense God gave a squirrel I would’ve told her about it. Now? Well, she found out on her own, and now she’s gone. Gone as gone can be.

Raising the glass toward my lips I sense that it is curiously light. A cursory examination reveals a tragic lack of liquid contents, which I seek to remedy forthwith.

The bottle falls from my grasp, splattering its potent contents all over the weathered deck.

There on the sand walking slowly, yet purposefully toward me…I’d know that shape anywhere.

I am suddenly and alarmingly aware of my wretched appearance, that and the fact that her return doesn’t necessarily portend good news. She could just as easily kick me out as take me back.

I am counting on the latter.

Window On The World

I am frequently asked about the process of coming up with the stories filling the pages of my Snapshots At St. Arbuck’s book series.

And since I have not the barest scrap of creativity at present I figured this might be a good time to address the question.

I will attempt with all due diligence to be brief, but be it known to one and all that I am a bloviator of the highest order, so I cannot promise brevity.

Nor can I promise brilliance.

But I will endeavor to be inspirational.

It all started quite by chance on one balmy San Diego afternoon when I found myself ensconced in the corner of a beachside St. Arbuck’s slaving unproductively over a chapter in my first novel (A novel that has since been consigned to the bone yard, if anyone is interested…vile beast that it was).

A young couple sat down at the table next to me and began to talk about plans for their upcoming wedding.

And I sort of listened in.

It wasn’t eavesdropping in the classic sense for such was the proximity I couldn’t have ignored their conversation if I had wanted to.

The more I listened the more engrossed I became.

Her parents hated the groom and vowed not only to withhold financial support but to boycott the wedding as well.

His parents were quite impoverished and couldn’t help, but loved them both fiercely.

They tossed around several options for dealing with the problem and finally settled on getting married on Mission Beach and having the reception at McDonald’s with a dance to follow in the park vis-à-vis a boombox.

It seemed that the groom’s brother was a minister so even that expense was covered.

Their positive optimism was absolutely compelling.

There were no long faces or carping about what should’ve or could’ve been.

They just grabbed the problem and pummeled it into submission.

So impressive was this display that after they left I opened a new Word Document and jotted down a few impressions and saved it in a file I labeled “Story Ideas.”

And there it sat in a form of literary solitary confinement until one day I opened it up and got the idea for Snapshots at St. Arbuck’s.

So what’s the point?

Just this…

Wherever you are, you have a window on the world: in your car; at the office; in school; at the mall; (stay away from St. Arbuck’s…it’s mine!!!); even at home with your kids.

There are stories all around you in a never-ending human drama.

All kinds of stories, IF you’ll just open your eyes and think like a writer.

In fact, think about this…

Take your laptop to a public place and linger until you spot a compelling individual (or group, couple, whatever).

Then begin to describe what you see in your best writer’s voice.

Think creatively and dramatically.

Yeah, I said “dramatically.”

I mean are we writers or not???

My bet is that you will be amazed at what you can produce.

It’s no big secret, folks.

My St. Arbuck’s is no more interesting than yours.

The secret is that YOU have to be interested in the people.

But I’ll warn you…once you start, there’s no turning back.

You’ll be hooked.

Things A Mother Never Wants To Hear At 7:30 AM

Our intentions were pure.

No, really.

They were.

We left the house at 7:00 AM having mutually agreed that a trip to our gym would be appropriate.

At least I think it’s still “our” gym, as we haven’t been there for, oh, three months or so.

Why?

I don’t know.

Anyway…

Roughly halfway there, I realized that we had neglected to bring workout towels.

Not sure how your gym operates, but at ours towel-less members are denied access.

More’s the pity.

We didn’t really feel like driving the four miles back to our house to retrieve the missing towels, so my wife suggested we go to St. Arbuck’s instead.

A capitol idea if ever there was one.

So, fighting our way through more people than I’d previously seen at St. Arbuck’s, we somehow managed to find an empty table, sat down and had our attention immediately captured by a young father and his two year-old son.

That the fellow was a Brit was unmistakable by his thick Liverpool accent.

That the little boy was a handful was unmistakable by the father’s constant wrangling.

“Oy, matey…put the mug down…down…no, no, no…don’t take the man’s newspa…stop…put the trash back in the…oy…come sit over here by you’re da…come back inside…inside…don’t hold the door open…put that back…put it…put the creamer back on the…”

The guy was fighting a losing battle with the energetic little tyke, who wore a gleeful expression the entire time as one adventure turned into the next, and into the next…

Something had to happen.

And quickly.

The father did what any man would have done in that situation.

The child was bribed!

Blatantly, unquestionably bribed.

“If I gave you some cake, would you sit down?”

The child’s eyes lit up instantaneously as he nodded an energetic affirmation.

Like a magician revealing a quite baffling trick, the dad produced a paper bag seemingly out of thin air.

Then, with dramatic flair he slowly opened said bag and withdrew a tantalizingly moist slice of frosted lemon cake.

The child could barely contain himself so great was his joy.

Planting his tiny bottom on a chair next to his dad, he consumed the cake piece by delectable piece.

“You like that, Sport?”

The father’s cell phone vibrated and he looked at the caller ID.

“It’s your ma.”

He said hello, made a bit of small talk and then asked if she wanted to speak to the boy.

She apparently did for he handed the Blackberry to the child who immediately announced, “Mommy, I’m eating cake!”

While I couldn’t hear her end of the conversation, my imagination is pretty good.

MOM: Cake? Really? At 7:30 AM?

CHILD: Yeah. Daddy gave it to me.

I suddenly felt like we were in the middle of an old Bill Cosby routine!

MOM: He did, huh? Well, honey, can you give the phone back to your dad? He and I have something important to discuss.

The father had a rather smug and satisfied smile on his face as the boy handed the phone to him…a smile that ran away faster than a politician from a campaign promise!

His pathetic attempts at justification failed epically as witnessed by his wife’s verbal flogging, snatches of which could be heard from where we sat six feet away.

For his part, he took it like a man–meaning that he blamed everyone but George W. Bush for the offense.

After suggesting he bring home a Grande Cinnamon Dolce as a peace offering, she seemed to calm down.

I assume that was the case, as we could no longer hear her.

He said something on the order of, “Alright, then, luv. See you in a bit.”

Returning the phone to his pocket, he smiled conspiratorially at the boy.

“Want some more?”

This is the website of author R.G. Ryan

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