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Mount Creative Writers

"I’m not a very smart man…"

Kelly Conroy
MSM Class of 2012

(1/2012) "… In fact, I’m pretty simple. Just like every other person in the world, I sometimes listen when other people talk. The only difference between me and everyone else is that sometimes I remember what other people have said. Yes, it’s true. I’ll admit it. Other people can have smart—maybe even brilliant—ideas for a split second in their lifetime. I figure that if I can catch all of those seconds I can catch something worthwhile. I can be smart for a couple seconds consecutively."

"Mhmm," the little boy’s lollipop stick waved from his mouth.

"You didn’t really get that, did you?" the old man leaned closer, "Maybe some stories will help." The little boy’s bright blue eyes lit up—he loved story time!

"The county festival was an event that I eagerly awaited every year as a boy. It was a weekend free from chores and it put a pause on my boredom. There were many rides, even a Ferris Wheels and a Carousel. I played the bean toss game and went down the slide on a potato sacks millions of times. I snuck bites from the pies in the pie-baking contest and my parents always gave me a couple cents to buy cotton candy. I wasn’t a lone ranger at these festivals. I ran from game to game and ride to ride with my friends Tommy, Jim, and Paul. One year, we came up with the best idea."

"Did you eat two cotton candies?" the little boy took the lollipop out of his mouth and looked serious.

"No, although that would have been a good idea," the old man kept the boy’s serious tone and continued, "We tried coning. Have you ever heard of that?"

The little boy glanced up and the old man explained: "Tommy, Jim, Paul and I pulled a little stunt in the ice-cream cone line."

"Get ready!" my friend Paul whispered to all of us under his breath. He showed his white teeth in a smile and took large steps towards the ice-cream cone line.

"I’ll have a vanilla and chocolate twist cone," I told the lady at the counter.

"I will too," Paul stated.

"Just chocolate for us," Jim said for himself and Tommy.

"Sure," the lady smiled, "Four cones coming right up!" The four of us turned towards each other. Paul’s hands were shaking, but he kept smiling.

"Are we really going to do this?" Tommy whispered. I glared at him. We had already decided to do it.

The lady turned towards us with two ice-cream cones in each hand. At the exact same time, my three friends and I grabbed the ice-cream—not the ice-cream cone—and pushed the smushed ice-cream into our mouths.

"Thank you," we said in unison. The lady gasped and stood there amazed with the ice-cream cones still in her hands. She didn’t know what to say. We looked very pleased with the little bit of ice-cream that we had eaten. We ran away as she stood there with the half eaten cones.

Maya Angelou once said, "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away." "I think my friends and I definitely took the ice-cream lady’s breath away that day. The little boy laughed as he thought about coning.

But seriously, the man thought to himself. Angelou was right. I remember when my breath was really taken away—the night I narrowly escaped the construction equipment from landing on my body and the day I watched as a father snatched his little girl out of the tracks as a train approached. These events shaped my life, but the little boy will have to learn about these matters as he grows older.

"What else did you do when you were small like me?" the boy patted the old man’s knee.

"When I was a little boy, I played baseball almost everyday. Did you ever see the Sandlot movie—my friends and I had one of those fields."

"Catch this!" Paul yelled as he launched the ball from home base to right field. I ran and dove, but I closed my eyes at the last second. The ball fell to the ground.

Then, Jim came up to bat. "Show me what you got," he bantered as I jogged to the pitcher’s mound. We constantly switched positions, but the game never seemed to stop. I threw a low curve ball and Jim swung and missed. Yes, that’s it, I thought to myself. The next pitch was a nice fastball—at least I thought it was nice, until Jim made perfect contact. He batted it into left field and no one was there to catch it. I guess it’s not my day, I bowed my head.

"Your turn at bat," Paul directed me.

I swung the bat a couple times as I walked up to home plate: Here goes nothing. I swung and missed on the first pitch. I swung and missed on the second pitch. Watch the ball, I yelled at myself. Paul threw the next pitch and there was a loud sound. My ball went sailing into unknown territory over the back fence.

"Woohooo!" Paul shouted, "We’ve never done that before!"

My heart pounded in my chest and I couldn’t feel my legs as I began my lap around the bases. I laughed and shouted. But then my friends, the dirt, the grass, the back fence all began to blur. I suddenly began to feel the hard pounding of my feet against the dirt. As soon as I finish my lap around the bases, it will all be over, I thought to myself. I slowed my step and the smile slipped off of my face.

"Did you finish running fast or slow to home?" the boy interjected.

"I ran fast," I replied, "It was as if I knew Dr. Seuss’ words of wisdom, "Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened."

The old man leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. But seriously, I was not as upset on the baseball field that day as I was other times. There was my grandmother on her bed in the nursing home. I only got to talk with her for five minutes. I whispered into her ear and felt her soft, wrinkled skin on my cheek. She told me to smile because I had made it there in time to talk with her.

"Hey," the little boy brought me back to reality, "Tell me more."

I watched as he bit into the tootsie roll in the middle of his lollipop. "One more story," I agreed.

"After one of those baseball games, my pals and I ran over to the neighborhood buffet. I felt like I was starving. Inside the restaurant, I filled my plate with a hamburger, mashed potatoes, fries, corn, jello… and who knows what else."

"Can’t wait for this food," I said to Paul.

"Make sure you fill your plate up as much as you can before you leave the buffet line. Once you’re at your table, you can’t come back in to get more." Paul knew he was giving sound advice.

"Thanks." I grabbed the ketchup bottle, dumped it on my burger, and pushed the bun on top. I looked around for the salt. I didn’t like wasting the time with these condiments, but I still needed one more. I spotted the whip cream on the other side of the food room. I plopped the whip cream onto my jello with one hand and filled up my soda cup in the other.

"All set?" the check-out lady asked me.

"Yup," I ate a fry as she rung up my bill.

I sat down in my seat and took my first bite. I tasted the juicy burger, but then a terrible taste entered my mouth. I looked down. I hadn’t put ketchup on my burger—I had covered it with barbeque sauce. And I hated barbeque sauce. I rinsed my mouth out with soda and looked for something else tasty on my mouth to get rid of the flavor. Jello—perfect!

"Gross," I spit out the jello and my friends stared at me.

"You’re gross, man, for spitting like that," Tom told me.

"I put sour cream instead of whipped cream on my jello!" I related.

"Yikes!" Tom said and my friends laughed.

"Robert Frost once claimed, "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on." And my life did go on after that meal. I was hungry for a little while, but the next meal came around soon enough."

But seriously, life does go on. I thought my career was over when I messed up a project at work. My boss had told me to make reservations for a company trip to Jupiter. I thought he was joking. Little did I know that a town named Jupiter does exist—in Florida! He was not too happy when he found out I never made a reservation. But my life didn’t end then.

"Those are funny stories," the little boy told me.

"Did you learn any lessons? I asked him. The little boy just yawned and closed his eyes. He had finished his lollipop a while ago. I kept talking: "I think the old claim that "97% of advice is worthless" is wrong. Only 96% of it is worthless." I looked up at the clock. It was 11:58 and just two minutes before the New Year.

"The stories might just seem silly to you but they point to deeper lessons," I whispered to the sleeping boy, "I learned them by listening to the words of others. I hope you can do that too. You are the future generation."

The clock struck midnight. "People only remember me at the beginning of every year," the old man kept whispering, "I hope that you remember me and my advice to you everyday. I represent all people from the past and I have great hope for future generations. My name is Old Man Time."

Read other articles by Kelly Conroy