'Warmer Than A Free Pair Of Socks'

12 December, 2018rodster385Comments (0)

The Best of Strange Thinking

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I picked the leather coat from the rack, lifting it head high, studying the price tag. Forty dollars was a fair price, I thought. I tried it on and it was a tailored fit. 'Hmm,' I thought, 'did I really want to spend forty bucks on a coat?' I carried the coat to the counter, where an attractive young Hispanic woman smiled and greeted me.
"Can you tell me what kind of leather this coat is made of?" I asked.
She shot me a puzzled look with her big, brown eyes, "Um, cow leather?"
"Well, I don't know. The tag says it was made in China. It could be dog leather."
She wrinkled her nose in the most adorable way, "Oh no! See, it's a Polo! I'm sure it's cow leather. It's been reduced to half price!"
"Yeah," I replied doubtfully, "I really wasn't looking to spend that much on a coat."
"It's a LEATHER coat...Polo!" Her brown eyes sparkled and the grin on her face grew wider. It had now turned into an entertaining game.
I balked. Did I really like the coat?
"I'll tell you what. If you apply for our store credit card, you get an additional twenty percent off." She stared into my eyes, trying to read my mind.
"And if you are instantly approved, you get a coupon for another ten dollars off." She grabbed a hand-held calculator, "That get's this coat down to twenty-one dollars...for a leather Polo coat!"
"Could you maybe throw in a free pair of socks?"
As I pulled my wallet from the back pocket of my wranglers, the clerk laughed, commenting, "If more customers were like you, I would truly love my job!"
Now that goes both ways. Had the clerk been a stuffy stick in the mud, I probably would have talked myself out of that coat, and I really needed one seeing as how I had busted the zipper out of my old leather jacket. Granted, this girl is getting paid minimum wage to be friendly and helpful, and probably ninety percent of the customers don't appreciate that. Hopefully, every now and then someone like me comes along and makes it worthwhile for her.
I thrive on one on one social interaction. Some days, like today, for example, I spend hours slumped over a computer writing fictional stories about imaginary people, and usually, after my eyes begin to cross and my brain turns to soured mush, I decide I desperately need to see a real bona fide living, breathing human being. If I'm lucky, I'll happen upon a wonderful person like that little clerk. More often than not...I don't.
There are two things I know...well, I know more than that, but for the purpose of this story, I know this:
1.) I enjoy NOTHING more than having a one on one conversation with family, friends, or total strangers. Long before I was an author, I realized that there is a story behind every face. As an author, I am constantly on the lookout for my next imaginary character, and as imaginative as I am, I need something to go on. It is those people who take time to connect with me on a personal basis, be it five minutes or a lifetime, that always seem to stand out in my mind.
2.) I know all too well that the vast majority of people who cross my path have absolutely no desire to waste a single moment on such meaningless and trite formalities such as sharing eye contact, a smile or a 'hello', heck not even an obscene gesture. Everybody they need in their life is right there on their smartphone. There is no room for anyone else. They're busy! Leave me be, they scream silently!
Well, I know three things...
3.) I'll leave them be. Got no problem with that. Let me just shoot straight from the hip, honest as Saint Pete, you folks serve no purpose. You contribute zip, zilch, nada, to the world around you. Go ahead and put that phone back in your face and pretend those tiny words on that little screen are all the people you need in your life. You know what...you're BORING! Fear not, I'll waste not a second of my life trying to make your day a tad bit better with a smile or a friendly 'hello.' There's someone out there just wishing for a smile to come their way. Okay, perhaps I was a little harsh. I'll be roadkill after that statement!
I do think the Good Lord puts people in our paths for a reason. Sometimes it is just to make a few seconds of our day better. Sometimes...sometimes...those people who cross your path...stay. Some stay for a dance or two, some stay for a month or two...some stay for a lifetime. I for one don't want to miss out on a single opportunity. Do you know what's warmer than a free pair of socks and a twenty dollar jacket? A smile. And they're free! Try giving one away...bet you'll get one back!


'Under The Radar'

03 December, 2018rodster385Comments (0)

 

 

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It has always been my intent throughout life to maintain a low profile. I've never been one of those needy people who crave constant attention, planting themselves firmly before any and all and proclaiming, "Look what I did! Look what I did!" Perhaps it has been due to a subconscious knowledge that those who stand out in the crowd always become a bullseye for well, the rest of the crowd. And maybe my desire to fly under the radar has simply been a result of my introvertedness. Really, take it from an introvert, introverted people are not seekers of fame. So, as little fame as I've garnered over the years as an author, I like to refer to myself as 'anonymously famous,' even taking the alias of 'The Rusty Goat' to ensure my flight from fame would be a success.
I have achieved my goal to become a non-famous writer. However, I've not been so lucky in my role of...wait for it...a pecan farmer. I wholeheartedly agree with you, pecan farmers should not be amongst the famous and to make it clear, I am only famous among folks who dicker with pecan trees. Over the years, twenty-five to be exact, I have become the 'go-to guy' when someone has a question about growing pecan trees. This is how it came to be; with the purchase of a spot of west Texas dirt on which over a hundred young pecan trees stood, I set out to learn everything I could about growing pecan trees. Now, stay with me...there's a story here and it's not about trees.
My venture in the pecan business became successful with me shipping pecans to customers all over the world. It was quite common for folks to stop by as I worked in my orchard and ask questions about their own pecan trees. I'd even receive phone calls and e-mails from people asking about how to care for their trees. So, realizing the opportunity to share my knowledge about these trees, I created a website called Texas Pecan Trees. It became an instant success and even more folks began contacting me about how to take care of their pecan trees. I wrote a book on the subject and it became a best seller on Amazon. Lucky me, right?
An email notification came on my phone while I was watching Gunsmoke on MeTV the other day. I glanced down, figuring it was nothing more than useless spam. But alas, the message was from a reporter for the Texas Monitor, a popular news organization for folks in Texas. Curious, I decided to read his message.
'I am curious about your opinion on HB32, a proposed bill scheduled for the Texas legislative session in January...'
Well, he obviously had the wrong person. I don't do politics. I grow pecans. I sent a reply asking what this bill was about. He responded that it concerned pecan weevils. I thought how odd that our state government would take up valuable time and resources pondering an insect. I found the bill proposal online and read through it and sure enough, a state representative from El Paso has proposed that the great state of Texas declare war on the pesky bug by...wait for it...imposing a licensing fee upon pecan buyers to the tune of four hundred bucks a year. Well, I thought, there are several ways to get rid of a pecan weevil, but I'd never heard of this method. The reporter said he was told I was the 'Nut Guru' of the pecan industry and I thanked him for the compliment but no, I was really just some old goat who picks nuts up off the ground. But, in spite of the fact that I was missing Gunsmoke, I sent a lengthy and detailed response about everything I know about pecan weevils. And as is typical with me, I threw in a few personal opinions as well. Little did I realize at the time that his article was not about bugs, but rather a focus on how stupid government officials can be if left unattended. I played right into his scheme.
It was not the reporter who alerted me of the published article a few days later, but an assistant to my Texas representative. My phone rang right in the midst of yet another episode of Gunsmoke, and assuming it was likely a scam call, sighed in disgust as I muted the TV. I'll get back to that phone call in a bit, but first let me tell you about the article, which I had not seen when I got caught up in this conversation.
I don't follow the Texas Monitor and was unaware that its primary function is to be a watchdog publication, shining light on 'all things stupid' within the Texas legislature. I admit I smirked as I read the article, which you can see here. It contained little information about pecan weevils, but how irrelevant and irresponsible this piece of legislature is. And yes, it quoted me.
'Rodney Strange, a West Texas pecan grower and curator of all things pecan on his website, Texas Pecan Trees, was not aware of the bill until told about it by The Texas Monitor. After reading it, he called it irrational.'
“As is typical with the Texas Legislature, yet another attempt to tackle an issue by initiating a revenue-producing fee of $400,” Strange said.
And then there was this quote:
“I’m not one who believes the government can solve all my problems, especially by imposing a $400 license fee on me..."
I obviously came off as a dissident, right? I suppose I am much of the time, but a dissident under the radar...until now. Back to the phone call from the state representative.
"Mr. Strange, our office came across an article published in the Texas Monitor, and the representative asked me to contact you concerning this proposed bill. If the bill comes before the legislative session in January, would you be willing to travel to Austin to appear before the Texas Legislature?"
I paused for an uncomfortable length of time, "Well...sure. I would be happy to drive to Austin (not a short drive in the dead middle of winter) and give the legislature my expertise (on bugs, of all things!)
Throughout all my adult life, there have been so many things I would have liked to have the opportunity to confront my state legislature with. Bugs were never one of them. Standing before the people who govern my great state and discussing insects...that's way off my radar!


'RENT-A-MOM'

27 November, 2018rodster385Comments (0)

The Best of Strange Thinking

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It's pecan Harvesting time around here and I have about a million nuts to pick up off the ground so I decided to share one of my favorites!   

Those of you who've followed my stories all these years already know this, but for some of the folks who have recently begun following along, you may not know who I used to be. Well no, I figure you really don't care and no, I never was somebody famous. But up until a couple of years ago, I was the one your husband always wished he could be...secretly, of course. I was a legend around these parts, a Saturday night cowboy who lit up the faces of thousands of single women over the course of several years worth of Saturday nights. I'm not embellishing one bit when I tell you I've held thousands of women in my arms out there on the dance floor. Quite a number of them fell in love with me and I fell in love with them all. That was my problem...I never could bring myself to let go of all those women to love just one. Looking back, I figure it was mainly because out of all those women, I hadn't met the right one. I suppose I'd still be out there searching for the perfect woman at this moment if things hadn't turned out the way they did.
It was the prophet princess who warned me of a change in my life. She was by far prettier than all the women I'd met along the way, and in the course of a conversation one night, I mentioned that I couldn't understand how, out of all the women I'd met, I'd not found one who was a keeper. That's when she took my hand and stared at me with her sky blue eyes and said,
"God has something He needs you to do first."
I spent a full two years wondering and waiting for God to tell me what I needed to do, and in the process I found myself letting go of the life I had been living. I started venturing into the church building on Sunday morning, something I'd not done in all my adult life. I gave up the bar on Saturday night, didn't even have a single beer in the fridge, and I quit smoking. I curtailed my cussing and read my Bible. As time passed, I began to realize I was not the man I used to be...and still, I waited.
And one day the wait was over. The Good Lord gave me my biggest assignment. There never has nor ever will be another of this magnitude...the biggest blessing of my lifetime. It was that day the winds of fate changed me from an ex-Saturday night woman chasing cowboy into a full-time single parent. That same fate brought a fifteen-year-old girl, who had only known her daddy on a part-time basis, into his home to live. And life has not been the same since that day!
I hear these comments all the time, "She's a single mother...I just don't know how she does it!" Well, I have the answer...A) She's a mother and B) She's a woman! I would never make light of any single mother's challenges, but dammit...try doing all this when you're a man! I'll be the first to confess we aren't built for this! No longer can I just nuke a chunk of smoked sausage in the microwave and call it supper. I have to cook! Laundry is no longer two small loads on a Saturday morning...it's two hefty loads every night! Things constantly disappear, like nail clippers and tweezers...and my money. I have to be social, no not at the bar...at volleyball games with all the other moms, married I must add. I fold clothes that I can't identify, scrub mascara out of the sink, and dump unknown items from the bathroom trash. I receive phone calls and texts from teachers and school nurses. I bake brownies and host sleepovers. I wash pots and pans then wash them again because they don't look clean enough...I never used to do that.
But the hardest part of this full-time dad thing is...I do it all alone. There is no one to turn to for advice, to discuss my child's best interests. I find myself afraid sometimes, afraid I will fail her. And this I know...what's hard for me is even harder for her. A girl needs a mom and as hard as I try to be, I can't be a mom.
So I have this great idea and I just may make millions on it. Rent-A-Mom! Without even stressing my brain I can think of at least four other men who are raising their kids alone. I'm sure there are thousands more. I think I will pop an ad on Craigslist and see what turns up. Just fold the laundry, cook some supper, wash the dishes, and braid my little girl's hair...then go home! Unless she's really cute. No, scratch that. But if the Rent-A Mom works out, I'm going to franchise!


'At the Bottom of the Food Chain'

23 November, 2018rodster385Comments (0)

The Best of Strange Thinking

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You know how it plays out. That bountiful Thanksgiving meal comes to an end when everyone at the table finally allows their fork to rest on the plate before them, rubbing their bellies and handing out compliments to the cook. Pumpkin pie will come later, half-time most likely. As the two-minute warning sounds, guests begin grouping together with their respective immediate families and express their need to head home before that promised blue norther hits.
Just as all coats are buttoned and zipped, the hostess throws up her hands.
"Now, Y'all have to take some of these leftovers home with you. We'd never eat all this!"
And that's why I never put my coat on until I'm out the door.
Tupperware bowls appear and food is ladled into them in heaping portions, doled out to the family favorites, of course. Recycled butter bowls filled with leftover feast then go to those next in the line of family royalty...and then there's me.
I get food in plastic bags. Do you have any idea what deviled eggs look like after riding fifty miles in a plastic bag in the trunk of your car? Trust me, those deviled eggs are never coming out of that bag. And cranberry sauce! I consume less than one ounce of cranberry sauce in a whole year and that's only because it's some sort of law that you have to eat it on Thanksgiving. I got a gallon bag full of it! Giblet gravy in a ziplock bag...is not a pretty sight. And, pray tell, what is in this bag?
Oh, I know why I come in at the bottom of the Thanksgiving food chain. I'm the single person in the family! And because I may have forgotten to return that corning ware bowl in 2001, as the hostess reminded me as she spooned sweet potatoes into a baggie. I ignored her vicious stare as she made the statement, but went on the defensive as she continued babbling about some crockpot of hers I supposedly had.
"I don't have your damn crockpot! I don't even know what to do with one!"
I bit my tongue and quickly fell silent. After all, I hadn't had to cook Thanksgiving dinner, and just between me and you...I really don't want to cook it next year, either. I suppose I can deal with my designated bottom of the totem pole ranking as long as I don't have to host the Thanksgiving meal next year. It would just be my luck that my only prized corning ware bowl would find its way back to its rightful owner after all these years!
Upon arriving home with my Walmart bag full of baggies of Thanksgiving leftovers, I rearranged the fridge to accommodate it all. I stuffed baggie after baggie onto the top shelf, until not another baggie would fit. Lastly, I hefted the scrambled deviled eggs to eye level and shook my head. Glancing down at the dog standing beneath my feet, I paused in thought.
"Hungry?"

 


'The Little Things'

19 November, 2018rodster385Comments (0)

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With author Rodney Strange    
Thanksgiving. Quick, name what first comes to mind when you hear the word. Food...lots of it. Football, Black Friday, a day off from work, kinfolk that you may or may not be particularly fond of, all are fairly common events that most of us associate with Thanksgiving. I'm not overly fond of turkey but the bird was a freebie this year so I suppose I'll choke it down. I'm as fond of football as I am of turkey but I will turn on the game after the feast. A Dallas Cowboy game is always good for a group nap in the living room after gorging ourselves on more food than most people in third world countries eat all year long. Black Friday, which officially kicks off the Christmas season, threatening to preempt Thanksgiving every year, is an event I choose not to participate in. And that revered holiday time your employer is so gracious to extend out of the goodness of their hearts...well, I'm retired so every day is a holiday for me. So, what's the point of Thanksgiving? I'm here to inform you that it's none of the above.
Today's America tends to see Thanksgiving as well...what I said in the last paragraph. We have become an ungrateful society that takes things for granted and are generally unwilling to be thankful. There is an alarming trend throughout our country to be discontent and in a loud way. There are those who have become grumblers, whiners, and complainers. These folks voice their displeasures on social media constantly, making the rest of us weary. Is there nothing in these peoples' lives to be thankful for? Thankfulness is the attitude that replaces our tendency to complain. Some of us need a lot of thankfulness.
Thanksgiving is a day for giving thanks, though truthfully shouldn't every day be? Leave it to us to designate one sole day out of the year to pause and give thanks. And now we don't even give thanks on the day we set aside to do so.
I'm thankful for the little things. Thankful for dunking sticks and Folgers Columbian coffee. I'm thankful for chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes and gravy. I'm thankful that I am able to have these things any time I wish. I'm thankful for my own tiny piece of planet earth, rightfully mine lock, stock, and barrel bought outright with years of blood, sweat, and tears...and pecans. I'm thankful for pecans. I like pecan pie and that pecan orchard that sits on my tiny piece of planet earth makes pecan pie possible any time I desire it. Those pecans also paid for this piece of dirt I call home.
I'm thankful for the medications that allow me to live a normal life. Afflicted with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Glaucoma, without these medications, my life would be meaningless. Instead, I run with the best of them and am blessed to be able to watch a west Texas sunset anytime I wish. I am thankful for life. Some don't make it this far alive. I'm thankful I have my right mind although sometimes in this world I live in I wonder if I'd e better off crazy. And I'm thankful for Netflix.
There are three levels of thankfulness. One is surface gratitude. If someone holds a door open for you and you respond with a 'thank you,' likely you really didn't mean that. It was just lip service, like the cashier at the supermarket who hands you a receipt and says, 'Thank you' for the five hundredth time during her shift. The second level of thankfulness is sincere gratitude. Some particular occurrence spawns a genuine feeling of thankfulness, whether it be a raise at work or you received that leather jacket you've been wanting at Christmas. Sincere gratitude is a spontaneous feeling of thankfulness that likely comes unexpectedly and catches us off guard. The third level of thankfulness is the one we tend to overlook, that is steadfast thankfulness, an ongoing gratitude for our daily life. I'm thankful for my modest little home and my three vehicles, all bought and paid for. I'm thankful I could pay off what little debt I have today if I choose to. I'm thankful I was able to retire from a thankless job at the age of fifty-nine, allowing me to pursue my dreams. I'm thankful for my daughter, my biggest blessing and my pride and joy. And I'm thankful I have Someone to be thankful to.
There are people who think they have nothing in their life to be thankful for. But ponder this...if you can't be grateful for what you have, you can be thankful for what you've escaped. If you're reading this, you're probably not homeless. You are still alive which means you have something to eat. Yes, you should be thankful that you managed to escape what could have been. Think about it, you could have been a turkey.
There are people who are thankful to no one in particular. Me, I'm thankful to God. He sends me blessings both big and small. Thankfulness is humility and that is something many of us are not good at. Thanksgiving is a time to humble ourselves and become aware of all the blessings the Good Lord has bestowed on us both individually and collectively. With humanity what it is today, it's no wonder that our creator doesn't just hit the reset button and start all over on the universe. But He doesn't because He loves us and has faith in those He created in HIs own image. And that, folks, is something in itself to be thankful for. And that's no little thing.


'That Trip To Paris'

12 November, 2018rodster385Comments (0)

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I spent last weekend in Paris. Would you ever believe an old country boy like myself would ever venture that far from home? I had a wonderful time. The food was great, the people were even greater, and yes, I did see the Eiffel tower, since you asked. I really enjoyed my visit, but it sure was a long drive to get there!
Paris...Texas. Rest assured this old goat will never see the Eiffel tower in Paris, France. No need to now, I've seen it in Texas. I also was wowed at the sight of the Campbell's soup factory, but time constraints prevented me from actually taking the tour. I don't know if they offer tours, anyway. But I must tell you, the most impressive sight of my entire visit was the Red River Valley Veteran's Memorial, which sat next to the Eiffel tower. When my daughter and I left our motel that Sunday morning, which happened to be Veteran's Day, we were on one sole mission, to see Paris, Texas' very own Eiffel tower, adorned by what may be the world's biggest cowboy hat perched atop it. We were caught completely off guard to discover the most inspiring veteran's memorial that either of us has ever seen. The community of Paris has honored each and every one of its veterans from every war since the Texas Revolution. What are the odds, I asked myself, that we would stumble on such a touching tribute to America's veterans on, and I checked the time imprinted on the photos, precisely 11:00 on November 11. As I wandered through the massive display, I fought back tears as a lump formed in my throat. From this Veteran's Day forward, I will always remember this place on every Veteran's Day to come.
We didn't pick Paris, Texas out of a hat on some spontaneous urge to take a road trip. My daughter, a young college student with no fear and a quest for adventure, had received a wedding invitation from some acquaintance who had briefly passed through her life at some point or another. Well sure, she announced at the supper table one evening, she would just set out on a seven-hour drive across Texas to attend this thirty-minute affair. I rolled my eyes and uttered a deep sigh. Here we sat, at the western edge of west Texas, a mere thirty-minute drive from New Mexico, and Paris Texas according to Siri, was located just shy of the Arkansas border and within spitting distance of Oklahoma. No, I protested, that was simply too far for a young woman to drive alone. And that's how I ended up on this adventure.
Those of you familiar with Texas understand it's vastness. For those who don't, allow me to give you some examples. The ski slopes of Colorado are closer to my house than Paris, Texas. I could probably fly to Paris, France in less time that it takes to drive to Paris, Texas. So, you get the picture. I must confess, as an individual who balks at the thought of a twenty-minute drive to the nearest Walmart, the notion of such a trip across the entire state of Texas was daunting. But it had been quite a while since I had ventured any further from home than Walmart, so I reluctantly forced myself to pack for a whirlwind adventure.
Paris, Texas is located in regular Texas which is comprised of cities such as Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. We live in west Texas, made up of bustling cities like Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland-Odessa, and San Angelo. Between west Texas and regular Texas lays...nothing. A no man's land separates the two and anyone who dares venture into this vast void is taking their lives into their own hands. When I asked Siri to plot a course from here to Paris, she hesitated and then replied, "Are you sure you want to chance that?"
According to Siri, the fastest way to regular Texas was by route of a trail used by the wagon trains of the old west. Little had been done to improve the roads since those days. Between here and regular Texas, many dangers were lurking behind the millions of mesquite trees. Coyotes and wild hogs blocked the primitive roadways while buzzards hovered overhead. If God forbid, your vehicle broke down on this foreboding trail, you were nothing more than buzzard meat, for no sane man would travel this path. You'd never be discovered, your bones glistening in the sun as a warning to future foolish travelers.
I questioned Siri about a route via Interstate-20 which lay two hours to the south of us. No, she told me, we were heading north. The old west trail was our only way. So, early Saturday morning, I took the reins of my daughter's Ford Focus and we headed into the wilderness. Gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles, I dodged tumbleweeds the size of John Deere tractors and road kill that would fill a man's freezer. I held my breath and prayed constantly for three hours, seeing not another living soul along the way. Finally, we arrived in Wichita Falls an hour behind schedule. I relinquished the wheel to my daughter and took my place in the passenger seat, assuming the fetal position, whimpering and fighting to regain my sanity.
Well, I'm home now and all that is just a foggy, surreal memory. I had a blast and now ponder the idea of perhaps another road trip in the nearby future. Maybe I should go west to the mountains of Ruidoso, New Mexico. Wait a minute...that hundred and fifty miles of desert between here and Ruidoso makes the road to regular Texas look like an interstate. Obviously, I need to work on my courage. After all, I yearn to become a man of adventure! Perhaps I shall fly to the moon, which is probably closer than Paris, Texas. To infinity and beyond! Siri says she doesn't know where Infinity, Texas is...

 


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