Wednesday, May 3, 2017

16 - Mental Exercises

     “Hey, see you later,” said Ned. “Happy New Year!”

     Ned drifted out of the building and into an unusually warm January morning. He thought it was odd but was glad the weather was not bone chilling, since he had to walk home. He lived in a small apartment building near the river on what was considered the edge of downtown. It wasn't a fancy apartment, but he was proud to have his own place. His job didn't pay very well, but he had managed to scrimp and save enough money to be comfortable and do the things he liked to do. Mind you, what is “comfortable” to a twenty-three year old male is not necessarily comfortable for anyone else.

      As he walked, he thought about the evening. He wondered why Claire, a young woman he had danced with earlier at the party, seemed to become angry when they talked about the environment. He thought she even called him names, or at least he thought they were names – the music was loud and he hadn't heard her very well. But she left the party in a huff and it seemed to be directed at him.

      “So what?” Ned said to himself. He hadn't had a girlfriend in the last year. He wasn't going to get bent out of shape by a girl getting weird at a party. Maybe it was best that they didn't hook up.

      It was warm enough that the few piles of snow here and there were melting and running across the sidewalk. The evening reminded him of a warm January night he had spent with his father a few years ago. He was home visiting his parents during his senior year of college. Ned was studying for a business degree and the course load was becoming very difficult as he neared the end. Statistics was never anyone's favorite subject, but for some reason, Ned enjoyed it and was very good at it. But as the course become more advanced and started to deal with stochastic calculus Ned became very challenged. In fact, he was thinking that his grade might come in too low to get a good job. What had bothered Ned the most was that he would disappoint his father. His father had been very supportive and he’d made it to every basketball and baseball game Ned played in high school. He made sure Ned could go to a college with a good reputation, paid for his tuition, and was always encouraging him to learn a practical business skill – which would increase Ned's chances at landing a decent introductory level job. He knew once Ned had achieved these goals, it was then up to Ned how far he would go. But what if he couldn't even get out of school with a decent grade? All the work his father had done to position Ned would be wasted. That night, a couple of years ago, while on a walk, Ned felt that he should share his school problems with his father...  

     “Uh, Dad,” Ned began as they walked the dog down a snowy road.

       His dad did not respond, but kept his eye on the dog.

      “Dad, I thought I should tell you that, well, things are pretty crazy at school...”

      “JINGLES!” his father yelled as the dog spent too much time sniffing around a garbage can. The dog left the smell of chicken, moldy pizza and table scraps and moved on down the road. Ned watched the spaniel for a while and then spoke again.

      “My statistics class is really stress-...”

      “STAY OUTTA THERE!” his father yelled as the dog bounded into a swampy area off the road.

     Again, Ned watched Jingles who came up to him with her tongue hanging out of her big grin. As Ned bent over to pet her, the dog took off down the road again. Ned walked on, following his father and the dog. They walked up a small rise, and as they were nearing the house, Ned felt that he had one more chance to talk to his dad before they were home, before his mom would interrupt and try to feed them.

      “Dad, I...”

      “Don't make me pick up your crap!” his father yelled at Jingles as she squatted in a neighbor’s yard. Jingles, looking sheepishly, deposited her package on the neighbor’s lawn. “For cripes sake, can't you get anything right? Stupid dog,” Ned's father muttered.

      Other than the weather, Ned wasn't sure why he was remembering that night with his father. He never did share his school problems with him, but he ended the semester with good grades and now had that introductory level job. Everything was fine as far as his father was concerned. But Ned wasn't happy with his job. He felt it was demeaning, simple and boring. Ned often dreamed about starting his own business, but was pretty sure there were enough stores and online sources that had role-playing games and World War II models. He had no idea what his niche would be, nor how to attract an audience. It never passed through Ned's mind that he had no money to start a business and the mental exercise of creating a business plan was so far just that: a mental exercise.

      His mind wandered to Claire. “Did she call me a Nazi?” Ned muttered bewildered. “It couldn't have been Nazi. Maybe Yahtzee – no that's stupid. Why would she ask me to play Yahtzee?” Ned kicked at an icicle on the sidewalk and sent it skidding off the curb and into the street. What was her problem? It seemed like the party was going so good: they danced, they talked and they even flirted. Maybe she drank too much. Ned did notice that she always had a gin and tonic in her hand. He didn't realize that Claire noticed he always had food in his hand – or in his mouth.      Ned's mind wandered back to his father. He realized, for the first time, that his father, although supportive of him, never really shared himself with Ned. Ned's father's idea of support was to provide opportunities for Ned, not to interact in a personal way. This seemed like an idea that should make Ned uncomfortable, but it didn’t. He’d grown up with that. His mind simply wandered off the subject.

     What was that comment Claire made? Something about the world warming up and how the environment is dying – maybe. Thinking back Ned wasn't sure what their conversation was before Claire left. Maybe he had said something wrong. Other than complaining about his job, he couldn't remember anything else he had said. Other than Claire talking about the world coming to an end, he wasn't sure what else she had said. Ned was starting to feel tired, and he looked up to see how much farther he had to walk. He was more than halfway home.

      Maybe he could get a better job, one that would make his father proud. He wasn't too concerned about what the business was or who he worked for, Ned just wanted a job that would impress his father and give him a chance to advance. As long as he could keep advancing his career he would have a standard to measure himself against. Is that too much to ask for? He determined to send out a couple of resumes each week until he got a job he wanted.

      Ned thought Claire was cute, but he could do better there, too. He should try to find someone who would be considered more of a “catch,” or at least someone who wouldn’t call him names. Maybe he could find someone who would think the world of him-- someone who would compliment and balance out his skills and interests. Someone who is fun. Ned felt he should start asking more women out. Being an introvert, Ned was not accustomed to approaching women, but what the heck, this is a new year – a new beginning. Ned determined to ask out two young women each week until he found one he wanted. In fact, he thought that he should ask out the very next young woman he met – as long as she wasn't wearing an engagement or wedding ring.

      He looked up to see that he was only a block from his apartment. He also noticed the night had blackened considerably and he was alone on the street - he was glad he did not have much farther to walk. He heard footsteps coming from across the dark street. A young woman appeared out of the night and came directly toward him. From what he could see through the dark night, her winter coat, scarf and hat, she looked cute. “Now this is more like it,” Ned encouraged himself. _____________________________________________________________ 

Written and Illustrated by Mark Granlund

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