Pondering the Pavement

July 1, 2019

Self-Expression Mirrors Self-Reflection

Beautiful woman businesswoman in front of a mirror with a reflec

“Often we’re recreating what we think we’re supposed to be as human beings. What we’ve been told we’re supposed to be, instead of who we authentically are. The key about the creation of full self-expression is to be authentically who you are, to project that.”

– James Cromwell

 

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I’ve never been a fan of astrology. It’s not that I don’t believe in the significance of it. I’m just not interested. It fries on the same back burner as UFOs, the Akashic Records, and salads. But I do have a legitimate interest in numerology. (Can a bastard can have a legitimate anything? Point to ponder…)

It’s weird that I would take a shining to numerology because I have always had a valid hate/hate relationship with math. If someone suggests I balance my checkbook, I get an uncontrollable urge to see how long I can perch it on the end of my nose. I’m convinced that algebra, like disco, is just a cruel, sick hoax that spiraled way outta control.

In the delightful world of numerology, I am a “six.” And being a “six” is all about self-expression. Nail meet head, right? I’ve never had a problem with expressing myself, much to the chagrin of some (that’s what makes it fun, don’cha know?). I’ve spewed my philosophies around all willy-nilly for the vast majority of my buy-in-bulk life. Since I speak fluent sarcasm, I’ve had no problem expressing myself verbally.

One of the top three compliments I’ve ever received (yes, I keep a running list of favorite things said about me…don’t you?), was when a longtime friend said, “Charles is completely capable of disemboweling you with his tongue and you’ll walk away laughing without even realizing you’re bleeding.” That quote is going on my headstone.

I also find a natural outlet on paper, both in drawing and writing. Sometimes, for the Woodsy Owl hoot, I’ll combine all three. I believe the phrase “the perfect storm” has been used a few times to accurately describe that delightful experience (anyone pick up on the sarcasm there?).

When my mother cashed in her chips a couple years ago, I was reminded of just how far back my flair for self-expression goes. She saved everything, from every grade school paper to receipts for furniture she purchased in the late 1940s (you never know when you’ll want to return a cedar chest).

When I flipped through the memories, I was reminded that I had a “habit” of drawing cartoons on all my mimeographed worksheets in elementary school. I’d rush through the test, turn the paper over, and start doodling. It was all pretty much the same theme: two jagged cliffs on either side of the paper. A bridge, now collapsed, had at one time connected the two precipices. There were jagged rocks and/or stalagmites jutting upward at the bottom of the great abyss. Once I had set the stage, I added countless hurling bodies falling to the rocks below. Then I’d cover the piece in multiple word balloons all screaming one word and one word only: HELP!

Self-expression that was, I assure you, totally ignored by the powers that be in the 1960s West-By-Gawd-Virginia Educational System. I enjoyed creating the scribbles (poor man’s therapy, I suppose). My teacher was annoyed with my perseverance of such a useless activity. Admittedly, her irritation was just a juicy cherry atop the whipped cream covered graphite sundae. I just drew what I felt needed to be drawn. And, in my mediumship, I say what needs to be said. I didn’t self-edit when I was a kid, and I certainly don’t do it now.

Show of hands… who’s shocked? Anyone?

One of my biggest belly-flops in the community pool of self-expression took place in 1976. I was a nerd who was fully immersed in Bicentennial Fever. (Woo Hoo! A timely Fourth of July theme!) I even managed to convince my family that we should travel to Philadelphia for our annual family vacation that summer. That’s the equivalent of starting your Christmas shopping around 9:30 p.m. on December 24th and expecting no one else to be at the mall.

CAF_BicentenialShirtI read any and all bicentennial themed literature I could get my hands on. I had t-shirts covered in images of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. I memorized the Presidents in order because I thought it would be “cool” (obviously, it wasn’t). If it had a 1776 theme then, by-gum-by-golly, I was interested in it. I was so unrelatable, the other nerds wouldn’t hang with me.

I thought I struck euphoric gold when Kellogg’s announced a bicentennial contest. They asked for drawings of any historic figure from the American Revolution eating a well-balanced breakfast. The meal, of course, had to include any of the sugary nuggets Kellogg’s offered at the time. If your drawing was selected, you would win a prize of — are you ready for this? — a $5 weekly allowance for a whole year! That’s right, I would get a whopping $260 over a 52-week period. I was stoked. How could I miss? This aspiring cartoonist was a friggin’ shoe-in!

I knew I had to think outside the box in order to get noticed. Everyone would be drawing the same historical figures: Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, et al. I had come up with someone more obscure. I needed a subject that would really show I had thought long and hard on the project. I racked my brain, stewing on it for days. Finally, as if clubbed over the head by the mallet of inspiration, I had it! A sure-fire attention grabber. Someone who would truly express my unique brand of creativity.

I chose Nathan Hale. Yup. You read that right. That Nathan Hale. The guy the Brits hanged for spying.

I drew Hale standing on the gallows, noose secured around his neck. Naturally, he was eating a bowl of cereal. The hooded executioner was standing off to the side holding a tray of bacon, eggs, and a big ol’ glass of OJ. As Hale held a spoonful of cereal to his open mouth, he said, “I only regret that I can eat but one breakfast for my country.”

Yuh-huh. I really did. And I was convinced that I would win. I was sure no one even came close to what I had created (and I’m sure I was right on that assumption). This may come as a shock to you—because it certainly was to me at the time—my cartoon was not selected. I guess I was just too far ahead of my own time. Ahem.

Looking back, I can honestly say I was never upset or angry that my entry wasn’t chosen as a winner. I was perfectly comfortable knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that I did my very best (keep in mind that “my best” is usually wedged somewhere between someone else’s “deranged” and “twisted”). I was true to myself. I trusted my instinct. The judges just weren’t ready for me. Yet.

I must admit, though, that I’ve found myself often wondering about all those unsuspecting souls sorting through the contest submissions all those years ago. Did they find my cartoon funny in a Not Suitable For Work kind of way? Or did they join in a communal prayer circle, thanking God Almighty that they were a (realistically) safe distance from a very fucked up kid over 400 miles away in West Virginia.

My instincts, for lack of a better term, tend to work in my favor. Sure, they usually take me around Gobbler’s Knob as the crow flies to get me where I need to be, but still, they work. It’s said that the journey is as important as the destination. And my journey is a vast array of odd souvenir stands populated with items stamped with the standard WISH YOU WERE HERE sentiment. Mine, however, usually end with a question mark.

WishYouWereHere_SQ_NewsletterThe toughest uphill battles in remaining true to myself are always the ones I’m the most comfortable with completing. If it’s a pain in my tuckus, then By-God, it’s the right choice. At the forefront of this list of self-making choices is my choice of the style of my mediumship. If you’ve seen me work, you know I am anything but cut from the cloth of the norm. I am not soft-spoken and gentle in my delivery. I am blunt, direct and I shoot from the hip (often grazing an innocent bystander or two in the process). And, more than anything, it’s all interwoven tightly with long strands of humor that ties it all together.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been chastised more than once for my style over the years. The judgments have come from both audiences and fellow mediums alike. Hell, I even had a spirit coming through in a reading complain about me! But, according to the sitter, her grandmother’s dislike for me was very fitting with the late woman’s personality. I didn’t take offense to it (I can’t be offended—it’s scientifically impossible), but it took me a couple years and several readings to accept how it all works for / through me.

Then, within the cozy confines of a relatively innocent conversation, my POV was changed out for a much stronger, brighter bulb.

See, there was a fellow reader I had personally dubbed, “The Chameleon Medium.” He had a knack of taking on the mannerisms, catchphrases, and overall working style of others in the field. He would even start dressing like other mediums! Like Disney and all their “live action” remakes, it would have killed him to do something original.

One evening, I found myself at a large social brouhaha jam packed with a slew of those New Age sorts. I was blessed to spend some time with Peter Close, a charming medium from the UK. I was working the refreshment stand (what kind of unreliable psychics put the fat guy in charge of the food?). Peter commented that I must have been a tavern’s barkeep in a past life since it came so naturally to me. I shrugged it off, explaining it was my love of carbohydrates that drove me to do my best. As we chatted, the Chameleon walked by, attempting to impress anyone who was willing to listen and watch. Peter looked at me, grinning, his eyes twinkled, and said, “That’s just not you, is it?”

I shook my head, chuckling. “No, it’s not.”

“Charles,” Peter emphasized in a capitalization and italicized sort of way, “You know what I mean?”

Well, I certainly did. And there’s been no turning back. In the early days, I’d hold readings where I’d just do them the way I thought I was supposed to give them. Lots of reserved commentary, quiet nodding, the usual lack-luster shebang. But I just couldn’t find my stride. Then I finally tossed the reins aside like an unwanted side dish of kale and let myself shine through in my natural, garish light. Ya know what? I find more and more embrace my delivery service with great enthusiasm. Time and time again I will hear how my off-the-wall style actually puts them at ease—especially with those who have never, until then, experienced mediumship.

One even said, “I personally think your style is unique and a refreshing… I’m so tired of watching mediums that all sound alike and seem to be following a formula. We need more mediums like YOU out there working.” Far be it from me to argue with that logic! The way I see it, those who come to me are led here for a reason. Either all parties involved will benefit greatly from the experience, or they must learn living a life as an easily offended wuss is just not an option (I may be lightly paraphrasing, but you get the idea).

What’s the moral of this story? Is there a moral? If I had to say so, it’s just a reminder that no matter how outlandish or seemingly ridiculous your self-expression may seem to others, you owe it to yourself to be true to it and to yourself.

Self-expression, like points of view or beliefs, change over time. Sometimes subtly, other times radically so. It’s all a part of living, growing, experiencing all that comes before you. One of the frequent messages I get from those on the other side are regrets that they didn’t allow themselves more flexibility in their own lives. Sorry that they remained so steadfast in beliefs that were nothing more than excuses to not trust their own heart, values, and instincts.

I was stoked about my Kellogg’s submission. However, now, I find it just bizarrely hysterical. Anyone who knows me would hear that story and immediately think, “Yup. That’s Charles.” And, despite the adoptee moniker, that’s who I’ve ever really tried to be: Charles.

My art and my writing are just like my mediumship: completely and totally mine. Just as your life should be built around being you. Be kind to yourself, and others. And be flexible. It’s OK to change and rearrange. Only make a point to be the one who instigates the change as well as the one who carries it out.

 

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“OK, fine. But remember, “bee” yourself.”
– Genie (“Aladdin” 1992)

October 5, 2016

Signs of the Father

“Oh, I believe in coincidences. I’ve just never seen one.”
Dannion Brinkley

I AM NOT, NOR WILL I EVER BE, A SOCIAL CREATURE. I’ve never been comfortable with any form of mingling. I’m more than just the brooding form huddled safely in the corner of a room. I prefer to just not show up at all. I’m that oddly placed dish of pickles on a dinner table. You don’t know why it’s there. Yet you pass it around to other equally disinterested guests, all the while knowing no one would miss it if it just wasn’t set out in the first place. I dodge most social functions with a Gold Medal Winning Flair. I can get out of just about any social situation with nearly zero effort. It comes naturally. For example, I once had three separate invitations to Thanksgiving dinner. I got out of all of them scot-free by explaining, “Oh, how thoughtful! But I’ve already been invited to dinner! Thank you so much for thinking of me.” Of course, I didn’t attend anyone’s dinner. I didn’t have to go through the motions of idle banter AND I didn’t have to share leftovers. Win / Win all the way around.

Even someone as expertly gifted at dodging social interaction as me gets painted into a redbaroncorner from time to time. The most recent of these losses came in the form of a wedding aboard The Queen Mary last June. Of course, when I initially received the invitation, my reaction was “Oh, HELL no!” But when I realized the wedding was taking place literally within walking distance of my home I figured I was pretty much screwed. Since the best man was traveling all the way from the east coast, I couldn’t really play the “It’s too far for me to travel” card. Curse you, Airline Travel! Curse you and your commercial conveeeeeeeenience!

Admittedly, my lack of interest in socializing was even lower than usual. My birth father, Everett, had passed away unexpectedly less than three months earlier. I was still dealing with the fallout from that, both emotionally and physically. As the executor of his estate, I had to juggle a wide array of things during that time including, but not limited to, his home & personal effects, fragile overblown egos, high-strung banshee-like emotional outbursts and why he had a plastic container filled with keys that fit absolutely NOTHING in his house. I had to push my own feelings aside (who knew I partook of such things?) and dive head-first into business mode. Which is, of course, a most clever way to not face the music (which, in my dad’s case, would be performed by a trio playing a mouth harp, a set of spoons and comb kazoo).

fullsizerender_1As is my custom in social situations, I rallied a friend to join me for the festivities. The key to surviving this sort of circumstance is to find an extrovert to ever-so-slightly mask your own preferred wallflower existence. However, I could not locate such a individual. Instead, I turned to my dear friend, Mona, who may never speak to me again after reading this. Mona is not just an extrovert. Oh, no. Mona is an extrovert on crack. To the tenth power. With a dash of caffeine. Twice. She gets super excited by anything and finds everyone just gosh darn fascinating:

“Oh, my God! Tell me MORE about your masking tape collection!”

Thanks to Mona and her Perky Persona, I have met people I would have never encountered, seen things that would have stayed hidden from my farsighted baby blues, and experienced situations that would have been passed on to someone else like the aforementioned dish of pickles. I personally prefer to watch such things unfold on TV but, hey, live a little, right?

We donned our gay apparel and made our way to The RMS Queen Mary, permanently dry-docked here in lovely Long Beach, California. Mona was fluttering around like an ADHD kid cut loose in a candy store while I was mostly uncomfortable and bewildered. You see, I was in a situation where I had to wear long pants. LONG PANTS! And, to add insult to injury, I was informed by some misinformed fashionista that Hawaiian shirts do NOT seem to be acceptable attire with a tuxedo. I was in a foreign land where no one spoke my language.

I should mention that Mona is also a medium (we travel in gaggles, you know?). So it shouldn’t come as a shock when I tell you things are bound to happen when you toss two mediums onto a haunted ship. I must admit that the vessel really is a playground for we sensitive sorts. It’s where energy & ectoplasm go on vacation. Mona and I have spent a lot of time aboard the Queen Mary over the years. Mona’s time on board has included taking several ghost tours, mediumship classes, and even photography field trips. In my case, however, I just get lost a lot and have a bitch of a time finding my way to an exit.

dscn0118Mona was dragging me all over the ship like a six-year-old on the search for Santa at Macy’s. She was excitedly pointing out different items of interest while I kept kicking myself for not leaving a trail of breadcrumbs through the corridors. Who’s to say if they would have been a device to find my way out again or just a convenient snack for later in the evening…

At one point during our meandering, we encountered a tall gentleman who is the acting Commodore on the ship. He was smartly dressed in white from head to toe. (FYI: When a medium encounters someone all in white our first inclination is to poke them with a finger to ensure that they’re real. That little stunt has helped me keep my Christmas card list at a VERY manageable level, let me tell ya…) Mona, as is her custom, squealed and hugged the Commodore. They exchanged pleasantries while I mentally marked all the EXIT signs within sight.

He was kind enough to chat a bit and even give us a tidbit of history of the ship—Lord knows I’m a sucker for sugar packet trivia—even though he was wrapping up his shift for the day. While he was talking I happened to glance at his name tag on his smartly pressed lapel: EVERETT. I chuckled to myself as I thought, “What a funny coincidence!”

Oh, Charles, you silly monkey. When will you learn?

The wedding was held outside on the stern of the ship. Despite no one wanting to do The Wave with me as the bride walked down the aisle, the ceremony went off without a hitch—acknowledge pun at your own discretion. All seemed right with the world as we thankfully moved inside for the reception. The groom, who is a writer among other trades, devised a deliciously unique literary theme for the reception. Each party had to search for their place card in a library Dewey Decimal card file. The names of the guests would be at the top, last name first, of course. Below the name one finds the title of a book. This tells you at what table you will be seated. Our table happened to be the Dracula Table (and it did not suck!). We made our way to our table to see the book Dracula by Bram Stoker prominently displayed as part of the centerpiece. Behind the main event was a stack of other seemingly random books. There was a Frankenstein table, a Wizard of Oz table, etc. From my point of view, the setup was nothing short of Nerdy Nirvana.  Of course, the risk of possible paper cuts looming over our fingertips added a flair of exhilaration to the festivities.

dscn0121The best man and his wife sat at our table. Bob and I have been close friends for nearly 40 years. That makes his wife, Shannon, my friend by default, like a step-sibling. Both of them are writers, and more, just like the groom. At one point, she sat down next to me and started talking to me like some kind of normal person. Very weird if you ask me. She said, “Remember those old photos you sent to me?”

I blanked for a moment as I searched my memory banks. All I came up with was some loose change and a green Lego. I shook my head. “Noooo…” was all I could muster.

“You sent me some old black and white snapshots,” she continued, her hand delicately cradling a wine glass. “You found them and thought I’d find them interesting.”

Then it dawned on me. There were several shots of some unknown small town and they were stapled together in one corner. The cars captured in the images clearly eluded to the 1950’s, the era of The Fonz. I had unearthed them while cleaning out one of my mother’s closets. She had no idea why she had them or even where they were taken. Shannon is very interested in West Virginia history so I figured she’d get a kick out of them. Passing the buck for the cost of a couple postage stamps. What will I think of next?

She said, “Well, I’m using one of them in a book I’m writing so you get a photo credit.”

“And I thought I’d never amount to anything!” I replied. She laughed, having no idea I was not even remotely kidding. “Do you have any idea where those pictures were taken? Or are you just using them as generic filler?”

She looked up at me as she sipped her wine. “Yea,” she said. “They were taken in Everettville, West Virginia.”

If I had been the one drinking I would have done a spit take that Danny Thomas would envy. EVERETTVILLE? SERIOUSLY?

Jpeg

A little while later, as Mona was running around befriending everyone on Facebook, I decided to look through the other stray books piled on our table. The ultimate wallflower looking for a book to read at a wedding reception. Jeez… how sad is THAT? I picked the first one up and opened it. I found the name of the previous owner along with a date: Carol Lundly, April 22, 1972. Everett’s youngest sister goes by her middle name, Maxine, but her first name is actually Carol. And April 22nd?  That just happens to be the month and day that I met my birthfather face-to-face for the very first time. I hurried and picked up the next book. The name scrawled inside of it was ‘Helen’, which is the first name of Everett’s oldest sister.

I just sat back in my chair and began to laugh. FYI: No one thinks twice about it if you’re sitting alone and laughing at a table scattered with empty wine glasses. By this time Mona had rejoined Dracula’s Lair. I explained all of the connections to my dad that had popped up throughout the day. She just sat there, smugly grinning. Then I committed the ultimate sin. I asked another medium, “Do you really think it means anything?”

Mona may be tiny but she moves quickly. Her hand slapped the back of my head in a rapid cadence that gave passersby the impression they were hearing The Gettysburg Address in Morse Code. Then, in that angelic little voice of hers, she shrieked, “Do ya THINK?”

Mona’s known for her sensitivity.

Or so I’m told. Ahem.

Leave it to my dad, who collected wives like some people collect stamps, to make his presence known at a wedding. What else should I expect from a man who dared pass away on April Fool’s Day?

If someone had come to me with this exact same story, I would be alongside Mona screaming, “DO YA THINK?” No questions asked. But when it comes to my own signs, my own connections, I end up doubting every single time. Why? I’m always leery that I’m reading too much into something. I don’t want my vivid imagination to run away with me. I don’t want my experiences to be simply ‘wishful thinking.’ That’s one of the reasons my Crew tends to go over the top and slap me around. They want to make sure they have my full attention. The other reason is that they just enjoy abusing me. I think I’m their cardio workout.

The lesson? Simple: acknowledge the signs, the feelings, that you get. Even a simple “coincidence” can be your loved one’s way of reaching out. Give your peeps a shout-out, a thumbs-up, for a job very well done. And know that your loved ones NEVER forget. They NEVER stop loving you. And, most importantly, they NEVER die.

Thanks, Dad, for the reminder… and so much more.

171

With my brother, Markis, and our dad in Las Vegas, 2011. The timing of my writing this entry is most fitting as today, October 5, is his 78th birthday. Well, how about that?

Copyright © 2016, Charles A. Filius

December 1, 2014

Forgive Me Santa for I Have Sinned

Filed under: Uncategorized — cfilius @ 7:50 am
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For a little holiday fun, I am offering up an excerpt from a short story I am writing and illustrating for publication next year. Enjoy!

Santa Claus scared the crap out of me as a kid. Seriously. While the other kids saw him as a jolly old elf, provider of toys and merriment, I feared him. Why wouldn’t I? His all-seeing eye was a threat that hung over me all year long. Time and time again my parents threatened me with lines like, “You’d better behave! Santa’s watching you!” Even that infernal song warns kids that Santa not only knows who’s been bad and who’s been good, but also that he knows when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake. How creepy is that?

Within that holiday window snuggled between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day my life was no longer my own. No matter where I went, I knew on some level that the chubby chap in red was keeping tabs on my every move. I could just picture him, standing back in the shadows of some dark alleyway, watching me swap lunches with another kid at the bus stop. He’d whip out his handy memo pad and feverishly take notes for his daily report back to my parents.

“Charlie is disrespecting his mother by not eating the egg salad sandwich she made for him,” he ho-ho’d to himself as his felt tip skated across the paper. “Well, he can kiss that G. I. Joe goodbye!”

Like every other kid, I tried to be on my best behavior to ensure the best possible Christmas. But unlike the other kids, I was constantly tested around the holidays. So it seemed to me anyway. My parents must have talked to Santa about throwing as much at me as possible to see if I’d crack, to see if I’d end up on that naughty list.

And that test usually came in the form of one very annoying great aunt.

See, each and every Christmas, for more years than I care to count, I had to deal with what I called “The Return of the Creature.” In slightly more polite terms, I had to put up with the annoying annual appearance of Great Aunt Belva, who really didn’t deserve that title because she wasn’t related to me in any way and she wasn’t all that great, either. But even as a kid I knew that referring to someone as Mediocre Pseudo-Aunt Belva would be perceived as a tad rude.

Belva was actually the great aunt of the wife of my mother’s first cousin, Calvin. (To climb your way though my family tree you really need one of those “you are here” maps.) She was sort of a relative by default. Second string kin if you will. Belva was often the butt of my jokes, which, of course, brought on the wrath of my mother: “Don’t talk about her like that, young man! Santa Claus is watching you!”

Well, that sucks.

Belva was a myopic little troll with the disposition of rusty barbed wire. A crotchety curmudgeon who had turned complaining into an art form, she was never happy with anything. Ever. I’m not exaggerating. The woman was never happy. Give Belva any situation and she’d suck the light right out of it, guaranteed.

“Hey, Belva! I just ended world hunger!” you might shout joyfully.

“Do you have any idea how much that’s going to cost?” she’d gurgle. “Now hush and turn up the TV. Mike Douglas is coming on!”

She had one eye that never opened, as if it forgot what it was doing mid-blink. A pirate minus the patch. Of course both eyes, open and shut, were clearly visible behind her magnifying Coke-bottle lenses she must have confiscated from a NASA telescope. I swear I could see the pores on her eyelids through those things.

Every year I had to sit across from her at the dinner table, her one enlarged eye drilling a hole in my head like an asymmetrical Cyclops. Her lipstick smeared teeth—whether real or false is known but to God—protruded out to a nearly perfect point, providing generous shade to the hairy mole on her chin. Her head, which was really too large for her 4’11” body to balance, was offset by the osteoporosis hump on her back (at least that’s the reason I began to assume once I overcame the unborn twin theory).

You might be thinking to yourself that her appearance sounds comical, but how exactly does that put me under the Christmas spotlight or risk getting my name on the naughty list? Well, it’s as simple as this: my parents didn’t share my sense of humor. So for example, when Aunt Belva’s physical appearance inspired my popular Christmas carol, “Belva the Buck-Toothed One-Eyed Humpback,” they didn’t see it in the same light as I did and instead of singing along with me, they sent me to my room. Sadly, after years of effort, my favorite holiday song never made the charts thanks to that seasonal stout scandalmonger in scarlet and his secret pact with my parents.

It was a vicious cycle, really. I would come up with another funny joke about Belva and then have to atone by finding a way to repent for it. As each holiday visit from Belva the Pirate approached, I was faced with the unsettling question: would I be waking up Christmas morning to a bundle of toys or a consignment of coal? It’s no wonder that by the age of eight I had already developed stomach ulcers.

Each year I would line up with the other kids to spew my list at the department store Santa Clone. Some would scream, “Give me a football!” while others begged, “I want a bicycle!” I, on the other hand, would approach with my head hanging low and softly whisper, “Forgive me Santa, for I have sinned…”

Copyright © 2014, Charles A. Filius

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