The Road to San Quentin is Paved in Broken Glass: A Short Story

The life of crime did not look favorable from where Kevin was standing.

He stood in the produce section and looked longingly towards the parking lot for some teleportation device or get-away car to escape his current dilemma.  He could, he considered, make a run for it. He might be able to make it a safe ways away from the Safeway, before his conscience would catch up to him.

He didn't even want the box of STD protection packed so close to its intended target in his pocket.  He didn't even have any friends that were girls, let alone girlfriends in this town.  He didn't have any  friends in this stupid town, for that matter. Mom wanted a new start. So she screwed up his life by moving a state away from their old life.

If he buggered it up any further, who cares. Maybe a night in juvie would get her attention.
"Happy 15th Birthday, Kevin, you're a felon now!" he daydreamed.  Maybe dad would drive up and show his bastard face. Probably not. Kevin pretended he didn't care. This was not about "them," he told himself.

The group of kids huddled around the bus stop did not eagerly await Kevin's return. Most were hardened by stray fists, foster-care, nomadism, neglect, second hand smoke, and blood alcohol in their systems since birth.  Because loyalty and protection were not practiced by their own creators, they made it a priority in their group.  It was the one character defect or vice they would not inherit from their birthers. Kevin had not proved himself, yet, so he was not a part of the family.

Kevin had seen the undercover store security agent long before he made it over to the produce section. The overzealous employee was no ninja, and yet he wasn't obvious either.  The employee, probably only 4 years older than Kevin, was eager for a bust.  And a condom bust is always a good story.  (Most of the group outside were products of accidents, but that's a different story completely).

Kevin decided to play it straight. He grabbed an apple...walked over to the checker with no line, and opened the small refrigerator and pulled out a Pepsi. The cashier rang both up quickly.

"Will that be it?" she asked.  She was probably in her early 30s. She probably had kids. This was going to be awkward. But not as awkward as being handcuffed or interrogated by a moralizing college kid.

"Uh, no..." He put his finger up to his lips to shush her, and dug out the 3 pack box of Trojan Enz.

The cashier tried not to shrug her shoulders. The poor, she thought, were always buying contraband with government money.  All they know is ignorance and sin,  better that they don't reproduce, she concluded.

"That'll be $6.25, son." she said, with emphasis on his youth.

Kevin pulled out his wallet and faked what he already knew.  "What? I had a ten dollar bill in here earlier.  I don't understand what happened...I'm sorry...I guess I don't have any money."

"Sure you don't, kid. Why don't you see that you never step foot in this Safeway again!" said the over-adrenalized security guard who had just made it behind him in line.

Kevin thought about some kind of retort about customer service...but didn't want to bring any more attention to his unpurchased prophylactics, and quickly exited the store.

He half walked/ran with his hands in his hoodie pocket towards the bus stop, looking over his shoulder once to see if the security guard had followed him. He hadn't, technically, broken any laws, right? He thought.

He saw the group nudge each other..."Hey there he is!" He heard one of them say...

Returning empty handed wasn't going to do him any favors. These weren't his type of friends...or his old type friends. Those old friends with perfect houses, and good grades, and parents who showed up to their baseball games. These kids, while obviously rougher, were more...he searched his head...real?

"You get the rubbers, McCallister?" said one of the older boys.

"Huh? My name's Kevin...Kevin Allen..."

"We know, dipshit, he was referring to Home Alone...So...did you get 'em?"

"I had them...I was nearly out the door, but then the security guy saw me, and I had to ditch..."

"What?  'Cause of a mall cop? Shit. This kid ain't nuthin'."

"Yeah, you're about ready to be ditched in a ditch, bitch," said one of the other boys with a wry grin, obviously proud of his poetic understanding of the language.

"Nice rhyming Tupac...com'on, isn't there something else I can do?"

"Yeah, you can get lost," said a kid two years his younger.

"Nah...don't do that. We should make you do something stupid. We should go back to the school and have you throw a rock through Mr. Hershey's window."

"Haha...yeah...we totally should!"

"What?  Who's Mr. Hershey?" Kevin asked nervously.

"Only the vice-principal at our school. A total d-bag. He suspended me for wearing a marijuana leaf t-shirt. He's a total jerk," said the oldest boy, Ramon, who acted like the leader.

"I don't even know him. It seems weird."

"It seems perfect. You don't know him, yet."

--------------------------

Kevin sat in the back of the bus filled with his new outlaw friends and looked at the scattered outcasts filling the other rows.  The rhyming kid continued his absurd rap, while another attempted to beat-box.  It was like a bad John Singleton film with various light toned actors.  Mall Junkyz.

Kevin nervously laughed. He did not want these as his friends.  He did not want the bus to be his life.  He wanted to wake up from this bad dream.

In a few minutes he was expected to throw a brick through his high school principal's window.  How stupidly bad ass.  How ironically rebellious.  He wondered if his "friends" would lead up to this event with some finger snapping and a well-choreographed, but never practiced, angry dance on the front steps of school's entrance.

Finger snapping or spontaneous song
outbursts equal hardcore gang members.
Run. Fast. Away.  
"Hey guys, maybe we should get some leather jackets and sew on T-Birds or Ponyboy or something?"  Kevin ventured.  Maybe he could be the funny one who didn't have to do stupid things.

"Shut up McCallister! We aren't some stupid street thugs, or Greasers from your mom's dvd collection."  "You like movies?  Ask Rickie what happened to his Disney movies?"

Kevin didn't have time to ask who Rickie was.  The boy who was beat-boxing immediately stopped and deadpanned, "Mom kicked Dad out.  Dad came by a few weeks later for his dvds and clothes, about the only stupid shit he owned, and Mom started shouting at him, tried to push him out of the house...he got real angry and beat her with my baseball bat. Not once. But like she was..."

"Okay, okay...I'm sorry...I realize I don't know..."

"No, SHUT IT KEVIN...  after he was done with her, he looked me right in the eye and said, '"you want some too, bitch."'  He started hitting shit all over the house. Then the cops rolled up, and he just went nuts. Ran out swinging.  They shot him like 25 times."  "Them's my family.  That's my story.  That's my DNA. So don't ever compare me to your John Travolta pop crap. Okay?"

"Sure. Yeah, sorry."
--------------------------------

The school was only a few hundred feet from where they exited the bus.  Kevin tried not to look up as they departed.  He didn't want to be on any cameras.  He wasn't sure where felony vandalism stacked on the local police departments investigation budgets.

"See that second window there...the one with the Tiger logo on it? That's Hershey's window. Do it man."

Kevin picked up an acorn sized rock. He had a decent arm.  Played middle school outfielder.  They were across the street and he figured the school's cameras wouldn't detect them this far.

He threw the rock.

Instantly he regretted his actions.  It was a great throw, it would've gunned down somebody at home plate.  The rock slammed into its intended target with all the force of gum drop.  It bounced off the window and fell harmlessly to the ground.  The sound, however, was impressive.

The boys looked around nervously, before breaking out in hilarious laughter.

"What a dud."

"Yeah, that failed worse than when my brother tried to make Long Island ice teas with Arizona tea and Coors."  The group laughed again.

"Come on guys," Kevin pleaded, "I threw that pretty hard."

"Yeah, but the window was too strong. You need a bigger rock.  Or a brick."

"Nah.  I did my part."

"Look, Kevin, we came here to break a window, and we aren't leaving until you break that window," Rickie said.

Kevin looked at them in disbelief.  They couldn't be serious. "You guys are assholes...I hate this stupid town."

He was hunched over before he realized that Ramon had knocked the wind out of him.

"Nobody calls us assholes, except us. And you ain't one of us, yet." Now do I need to...

"Punch me again?," Kevin said in-between gasps, "Nah, I get the point."

"Good.  Then how about you choose something..."

"...More substantial?  Yeah, it'll break this time."

Without hesitating, Kevin sprinted across the street, a small hitch in his gait from his throbbing abdomen, slowing only slightly to pull a decorative pavestone from the flowered plaza near the entrance to the school.  The large square of cement was garnished with ornate stones representing the graduating class of 2012.  Kevin didn't notice.

Vandalism brings out the Sasquatch in all of us.  
He hauled the stone over his head, continued in stride, and hurled the rock over the school fence like a soccer player inbounding a pass.

The window immediately surrendered.

The monument continued unimpeded into Mr. Hershey's desktop computer, and swiped it as well as the rest of the contents of the desk onto the floor like  one of those stupid Hollywood passion scenes where two excited lovers throw their expensive contents onto the floor for 8 minutes of tabletop love making, Kevin imagined.

Kevin hated his immature, sexually frustrated mind, as he stood in awe of his wreckage.  The sounds of cascading glass and debris had not even subsided when the piercing howl of the school's alarm system sounded.  He had heard an "AWESOME!" somewhere behind him.

Like all stupid criminals, Kevin finally thought, "Now what?"  He turned to take pride in his victory to see that his comrades-in-arms had all started scattering in every direction.  Even Rickie seemingly had a quarter mile and almost two city blocks on him at this point.

He wasn't even sure what direction his home was from the school.  The school bus took such an illogical route, that he was only slightly sure he lived to the West.

It was in that direction he darted when he heard the sirens.

Thus begun a long hour of cloak-and-dagger.  Thank God he always wore drab clothing.  And even more important was the GPS app on his phone.

He sat outside his home and corrected his breathing.  He told mom a long story about taking the wrong city bus, and having to walk home from the wrong stop.  He was sorry...next time he'd call her...he didn't think it was that big a deal.

Mom relented the interrogation when she saw no signs of alcohol or drugs in his demeanor.  He probably wasn't telling the truth...but he's a new kid in a new town. Misdemeanors are misdemeanors.

--------------------------------

Mom left a "Happy Birthday" note on the bathroom mirror, her days started around 6 am. She made him pancakes as well, his favorite when he was 10.  He was more of a donut person, now; but of course, she wouldn't know this.  

No message from Dad on his cell phone, and only a few messages on FB from his old friends. 

"Happy Birthday Kevin," he said to himself.  The night of bad sleep and anxiety left him with bags under his eyes.  He envied how girls could just cover up stuff like that with makeup.  

He considered staying home, but that might seem suspicious.  Plus mom couldn't afford cable, and his data plan was pathetic.  His 14th birthday was a bore-fest, but at least more people acknowledged it. No matter what, this birthday was going to suck, again. 

He dressed as opposite as he could from the previous night.  Combed his hair instead of the ball cap.  He took one last look in the mirror and scoffed.  It wasn't him.  He had changed since the night before.  

--------------------------------

He casually walked into his first period art class just as the bell rang.  The window, obviously, was the source of great excitement at Garry Hoy High School.  Some kids yelled out praises as genius as, "Oh HELL YA," and, "How do you like deez nutz now, GH!" The administration, had cordoned off the office area with yellow caution tape.  The resource officer was communicating with other official looking guys that looked like cops.  Even a news van was in the area.  Kevin did his best to act like the rest of the kids, while also keeping a low profile.

Twenty minutes into art class, Kevin was almost beginning to feel inspired to actually do his figure drawing assignment.  The teacher, Mr. Monet (seriously), when asked by a student who he thought had done this, said, "probably some moron kid with daddy issues who's failing Geometry."  Kevin was still taking Algebra, so nice try, Monet. 

Then the classroom door opened and the dean of students passed a note to Mr. Monet.  Kevin squirmed in his seat.  Mr. Monet looked at the note oddly, looked around the room, but didn't make eye contact with Kevin, and shook his head.  Kevin remembered to breathe.

"Anybody seen Kevin Allen?" Monet finally announced. Great, even his teacher didn't know who he was.

A few kids looked Kevin's way.  "Kevin, they's looking for ya," said Robbie, a well intentioned but slow kid who had no business being in any art class.

Kevin stood up, and did the walk of shame in front of a silent class.  Someone whispered, "no way he did the Hershey job."

The Dean of Students was an imposing man of about 30.  He must've worked out at some point.  He wasn't genial or mean.  He just was.  They didn't talk the entire walk across campus, and then pointed to a seat in the office.

Kevin sat.  His new friends had ratted him out in twenty minutes.  His hands were sweating.  He wiped them on his un-Kevin-like clothing. He had no alibi. He was nervous as hell. Could he ask for a lawyer? He didn't know.  

"Hi Kevin," Mr. Hershey said, as he appeared uncomfortably close to Kevin's chair.  "I'm Mr. Hershey, Dr. Hershey, actually, but you don't need to call me that."  He held out his hand to shake Kevin's.  Kevin wiped his once more.  "I don't think we've formally met."

"Yeah, no. I don't get into trouble. So no, we haven't met."  Kevin replied in his first act of offense.

"Haha. I do a lot on this campus, Mr. Allen, discipline is only a small aspect of what my job entails."  "Anyway, why don't you follow us down the hall."

Hershey opened the door to an office and Kevin almost walked in...it was Hershey's office.  Nobody had touched a thing.  It was as if a bomb had exploded under his desk. Valkyrie.  The stone had settled near the entrance,  all the decorative marbles were scattered around the room like pieces of shrapnel.

"Oh, whoops, force of habit, we can't do this here," Hershey laughed, it was genuine, he got a sick pleasure out of this torture.

They moved to a large conference hall.  The Dean of Students was on the far side flipping through papers.  Hershey sat near the door, forcing Kevin towards the back wall with two chairs.  He sat.  Almost immediately the school's resource officer, decked in official police uniform, sat next to him.

Kevin thought about making a joke, something about the school being really serious about freshman kids getting a D in algebra class.  Instead he swallowed nervously. These guys didn't appear to appreciate humor.

"So, Mr. Allen, or Kevin, we can call you Kevin, right?" Kevin nodded. "Why do you think you're here today?"

"Well, I'm guessing it's not my math grade?"

"No, no, but you probably want to pick that grade up, too."  "You got a nice look at my office, didn't you?"

"Yeah, somebody did a number on it...I'm guessing you think I know something about it."

The room chuckled.  Not a good sign.

"Kevin, you know, I didn't know you before today.  Transfer student.  From a different state.  But your transfer records are pretty clean.  This window job doesn't look like something you'd normally do."

"Obviously.  'Cause I didn't do it."

"Hmmm.  Well, we seem to have two students who've already pointed to you, and we've got this..."

The resource officer hit a few buttons on a remote control and the projector turned on.  After what seemed like forever for it to warm up, and the officer to hit the right input, a video appeared.  It was clear as day (for a night shot).  Kevin's textbook soccer inbounds throw was there from almost the exact reverse direction.  His face was easily recognized.

"Honestly, we didn't know who this boy was. We were looking through our photo database, but we noticed Ramon there in the back.  And with Ramon, is the usual suspects.  It wasn't too hard after that..."

"I didn't. I know what this looks like..."

"Look Kevin, save yourself some embarrassment. I called your father down in California, he seems to like the idea of juvenile hall..."

"Of course he does;"  Kevin couldn't hold it in, the floodgates of tears and emotion emptied out, "He doesn't give a shit about me. Why not just kill me, so his life would be better...he wouldn't even have to pay mom any child support."

"Look Kevin, this isn't about your dad.  This is about this felony act of vandalism committed on our school grounds," The officer interjected.

"Oh, is it?" "I don't give a shit about this school, or this state, or Mr. Hershey's office, or Ramon, or my dad..."

"Guys, Travis (who must've been the resource officer) and Glen (the Dean),  could you give me a few moments with Kevin."

Reluctantly Travis got up, he didn't get to escort many kids out of the school in handcuffs.  "Just push the button and I'll be right back here," pointing to the school's walkie-talkies."

Hershey nodded.

After they had left the only sound was Kevin's loud sobbing.  A teenage boy under duress and dealing with daddy issues was not a pretty sight.  Kevin rubbed his face and nose on his shirt.

Hershey shoved across the conference table a box of Kleenex.

"I don't know if you saw the photo in my office.  The frame is all broken now, because of your remodeling job...(Kevin almost chuckled), anyways.  it was a picture of me, my ex-wife Cassandra, and my son James."

"I'm sorry about that.  I'm sure they'll make me pay for all the damage." Kevin was beyond fighting the obvious. He was caught.

"I'm not concerned with the money. I'm sure it will come in over $10,000 depending on what overpriced contractor the district hires.  Plus there are files on the computer they will try to save...I'm sure that will cost time and money.  But like I said, money isn't the issue."  "You see, that boy in that photo, James, was my son.  He was about your age, a little older, when he died.  That was our last family photo."

"I'm sorry, I didn't know. Did he get cancer or something?  My aunt died of cancer a few years ago."

"No, it wasn't cancer.  James, was, was a lot like me."  Mr. Hershey was no longer looking straight at Kevin, but somewhere in the past.  "James didn't listen well to his mother.  He was afraid of me, but I wasn't there a lot at that time.  I was finishing my doctorate while continuing to teach classes. I let, I let work priorities get in the way. That was a decade ago, but it feels like yesterday to me."  

Kevin was trying to understand what manipulative tool the principal was using to get him to confess to everything.  Hadn't he already confessed?  Why was this guy opening up?

"Kevin started hanging out with  the wrong kids. Kids a lot like Ramon. Kids who..." Hershey wiped away a tear.  "They said it was suicide. But James was never depressed. Angry, yes. Rebellious, yes. But he wouldn't take his own life. He died on the railroad tracks. I'm not sure to this day why he was down there, but I think it was a dare, or a stunt, or something along those lines. His friends...those kids, they never came to the funeral. Never sent a card. No memorial near the tracks. Those kids were losers...ARE losers. My son James, wasn't a loser. But he died because he choose a life of losers temporarily."

"You know how long it took for Ramon and the others to rat you out?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Less than a minute."  "And I saw the punch.  I saw the coerced you to do it.  Forced you to do it."

"I couldn't still said no," Kevin said between sobs, not sure if guilt or empathy caused this second wave of emotion, "I could've ran away..."

"Yeah...we all get choices. We don't get to do-overs in life. We can't change the past. I wish to God, I could go back and redo things with my James. I"m sure you wouldn't have gone out with these boys last night."

"I hate those guys. I just want my old friends, my old family..." Kevin confessed to this strange adult. This man who opened up about things that nobody talks about.

"I know Kevin. I don't know if your dad was always an asshole, but he sure was on the phone. I'm not sure if he'll realize in time, how precious you are...I hope he does."

Kevin buried his head in his arms.  "Did you call my mom yet?"

"Yeah. She's in the other room. She's watching this whole thing on a monitor."

"Really?" Kevin wanted to be mad...but guilt overrode his anger, "I'm such a failure, I'm sorry Mom," He looked around the room for the camera.  

"No, Kevin. You are not a failure. You are not a loser. You are a kid, a kid who's angry at life and his dad, and you did a stupid thing to impress some stupid kids. Kids, unlike adults, get reprieves sometimes. I'm offering you a reprieve. I'm offering you a chance to make this up. No juvie. No expulsion. No blackmark on your record."  "I think you should transfer to the other school in town.  Get away from Ramon and his crowd." "And you will work with me over Christmas Break to get my office back into working order.  You'll help the school recoup some of the cost."

"You can do that?  I mean, doesn't the school need to make a big deal about this, and the money...and stuff..."

"Look, Kevin. Am I principal, or am I principal? And the district wastes money on stupid stuff every year. It's about time we invested in saving a student's life instead of dumping more money into a new basketball scoreboard."

"So what happens now?"

"Well, I think your mother walks in here, you give her a big hug, do a month of chores without complaint, and later today, go enroll over to Rob Downey Sr. High School and start over as the real Kevin Allen. I'll call you in a week or so with a schedule of when and how we become business partners."

"Business partners...haha," Kevin laughed. It felt good to laugh. It had been a long time. "Why me, Mr. Hershey, I mean, of all the kids who get straight A's and...?"

"A good shepherd will leave a flock of a hundred to go after one wayward sheep." "Besides, it's your 15th birthday, and well, call it a strange kind of gift."

Kevin stood up and walked over to Mr. Hershey who had his hand out to shake.  Kevin hugged him instead. His tears soaked into his grey sports jacket. It was awkwardly too long, in the professional sense, but Mr. Hershey did not fight it off.

"Thank you Mr. Hershey.  I'll make this up to you."

"Call me Milton, we work together now, Kevin."

At that moment Kevin's mother abruptly opened the door and ran to her son.  She hugged him like a parent that had been away for years overseas. They shared an intimacy that Milton looked at with a little envy.

She stood, mascara running down her face and thanked Mr. Hershey with a kiss to the cheek.  He tried not to blush; she was not unattractive.

"It's been so long since I've experience mercy, I don't know how to thank you..."

Milton Hershey thought of a few ways, none of which were professional or appropriate, and kept them all to himself.  He smiled, and said "Maybe in a few years, you could invite me to his graduation, and we can celebrate his turnaround."

"Yeah, we can do that, " she looked at him the way he not seen in a long time.

As the Allen family walked out the side door, and out of Hershey's jurisdiction, he went back to what was left of his office. As he began straightening up the disaster of his last ten years, he wondered if he could wait another three years to start over himself.  He tossed his tear stained jacket to the side and thought, to hell with professionalism.

He walked outside, just before the Allen's reached their car...

"Hey, it might go a whole lot faster if I help you guys enroll over at RDS, we can take my car."  "Kevin will have to sit in the middle of the back seat, though, I don't want him near my windows." 

Hooters or Bust

"I'm sorry that this is what I've become! I'm sorry that it's not good enough for you now, or ever."

"That's not true. Not true. But you did used to, you used to be different. You hadn't given up yet. Now, now, you're just a..."

"What...a bum? A piece of shit? What am I? I'm no different. This is the same man you married ten years ago. I was nothing then...just younger, not as fat, maybe...but just as talentless."

"You're not talentless. You're depressed. And it's been for some time. That's the only thing that's changed. You're not happy anymore."

"Yeah, I'm not happy!" And with that pronouncement, Jim Zimmerman grabbed his car keys and slammed the door.

She was right, of course. Women are almost always right, which is why men like Jim have to slam doors and drive away.

He didn't have a destination. He considered driving to the seedy part of town filled with strip clubs and disillusionment. He wondered if one of those establishments was dark enough that nobody would notice him. He wanted someplace dark and delusional so that he could continue feeling sorry for himself.

It wouldn't have mattered if somebody did notice him. He was no longer an Elder at FaithSprings Evangelical Church; and he was no longer Head of Sales at Price First Honda.  Gas prices had dropped, and the market for hybrid vehicles, the division that Jim headed, had fallen 24% in two years. Corporate didn't care how similar this drop was to the national average, they needed fall-guys instead of pragmatic answers, and cutting Jim's $55,000 salary made some fiscal sense.  Jim was offered to go back to the sales floor, a job he hadn't done in seven years, and one with more daily stress and a variable income based on sales numbers.  In a fit of childishness, because the executive vice president of sales of the company was always throwing thematic parties, he chalked the windows of all his gas-freindly inventory with Harry Potter insults: Mudblood, Half-blood Prince, and Muggle-Born, before tagging the VP’s Land Rover with Voldemort.  

It was very un-Potterish.  

He resigned as an Elder (and the almost volunteer position of youth pastor) because he refused to terminate the contract of their senior pastor.  The senior pastor's wife recently left him, and his sermons had taken a sour note. The attendance dropped from a high of 650 in each Sunday service to just under that number total for both services. The tithes obviously fell substantially, and the church was worried if it could pay for renovations they had just refinanced.

Jim felt it wasn't Christian, to kick a guy, especially when he's down. Pastor Steve hadn't broke any codes of morality, or preached anything sacrilegious.  Still, the other Elders pointed to his contract. The minister was responsible for keeping the attendance numbers up, and he had failed. Jim's parting words were, "Maybe you should rename the church FinancialSprings!" and in typical Jim fashion, he slammed the door. Nobody chuckled. Elders, unlike wives, are not always right, and usually have a worse sense of humor.  

Both events happened in one week, and played hell on Jim's psyche. He was a good man. Never really drank. Didn't care for the few times he tried drugs. Was a decent father. An okay husband. Never cheated on her, or any girl, for that matter.  But being unemployed in his early thirties, felt like a judgement straight from the heavens.

Instead of cursing the heavens, he started damning people to hell; or more exactly, virtual hell, as he devoted his time to first-person-shooter video games. He enjoyed online killing, he wasn't sure why, maybe it was an evolutionary thing; although Jim didn't necessarily believe in evolution. At least not ape to man evolution; but maybe like those birds on that one island that don't fly anymore because they don't have predators, evolution. That made a little sense, in his mind. He also started drinking cheap beer by the half-racks, as an outward sign of youthful rebellion that he had never participated in.  All these changes felt good, at first.  Like a vacation from his life. Life, up until this point was all about responsibilities and making good decisions. Like anyone who had been a something, once, though, he realized he was devolving. He just didn't know how to return from this vacation. Every so often, his escape into other-worldliness and indulgence manifest itself with disastrous results with the actual spinning world. His wife and kids had even taken a vacation without him, as they needed to escape his outbursts of illogicalness. 

The worst came when he confronted the guy who came to repossess his 2013 Accura ILX Hybrid and ended up getting punched in the face.  His wife found him sleeping it off in the front lawn two hours later. Another notch in the belt of awesomeness. If only he had been packing an RPG, he wouldn't have an empty spot in his driveway, and a splitting headache.  Okay, an RPG would be really messy, maybe just a Heckler & Koch G36. 

Jim felt the same type headache setting in as he sat cramped in his wife's 2000 Honda Insight with a reconstructed title.  Many salesmen and buyers on his former lot wouldn't be caught dead driving one of these "gay" cars, and yet, well, here he was.

The normalcy of his own neighborhood faded the longer he drove. Some of these spots he had visited while in college, a bar here, a supermarket he forgot existed, and then, on the corner of a bunch of big-box restaurants, a new sign: Hooters.

He laughed. His wife would never let him go to Hooters, at least he thought she wouldn’t. He didn't even know a Hooters had opened in his town, not that they would've gone there.

"What's the harm," he thought. "It's not a strip club. It's just a restaurant with sexist outfits."

He wondered if they still served food at 10:45 at night. He was craving bar food. French fries and fried stuff.

"Just one, honey?" asked Shelly, the hostess who was probably too old to be forced into her costume. "You wanna sit in the bar?"

"Yeah, it's just me," Jim sighed. Even when he was working, he rarely ate out alone. He wondered if divorced guys had to do this. He shivered.

She threw down a cork coaster.  "You want a menu shug?"

"Yeah..."

She was already gone.  He looked around. It didn't look much different than an Applebee's late at night, except for the random orange butt-tight shorts. A few people drinking alone, a few couples.  Even a few families that didn't get the memo that 10:45 at night was too late for kids to be eating on a school night (AND AT HOOTERS!). It felt good to judge someone else, Jim thought. He had been too hard on himself. Talentless. He was funny, kinda. And he could facilitate and organize people really well. Or at least, he used to.

"Hey stranger, you know what you want?"

Jim looked straight into the young boobs of a girl he didn't know.  He looked up, and still, didn't remember her.  "Oh, umm. No. I've never been here. I haven't got a menu yet."

"No, silly, you know what you want to drink?"

"Oh, umm. Just bring me whatever is on tap, domestic."

She sighed..."We have, like, ten different beers that..."

"Coors. Coors is fine."

"You still don't remember me, do you?"

"No. I'm sorry, I'm..."

"It's Krystal. You were my youth pastor a bunch of years ago..."

"Oh, oh yeah, Krystal...wow..." He thought how bad he must've been at ministry to lead a girl to Hooters in her early twenties.

"Don't worry, I'm just doing this to earn my way through college. It's not like I'm pole dancing or anything..."  She must've seen the look of failure on his face.

"No judgement...I worked all kinds of odd jobs, I mean, they don't really have a male-version of Hooters..."

"I'll just bring you that Coors."

He threw his head down into his folded arms on the bar top. He wanted to nuzzle away into the beer stained wood grain. "Great. Just great. Can't even disappear at a Hooters." He wished he was at home, holding his Playstation controller, shooting evil terrorists.

"This one's on me, Jim." Krystal said as she sat down his frothy beer. It was mostly foam.

The carelessness of the drink delivery guaranteed she wasn't hitting on him, even though it was free.

"Oh, thanks Krystal, but you don't have to do that..."

"I know. So Whadda you want? Buffalo wings?

"I'm not sure...I never got a menu...I don't know what's good."

"Well, most people get wings, but I like the nachos and burgers."

"Hmm. Well, I've never eaten owl before...are the thighs any good?" Jim joked.

"Oh, a “Hooters” joke…Haha...please, please don't ask for the largest breasts we have to offer...it gets old."

"Oh shit...I mean, jeez, I'm sorry...I wasn't going there...I...just bring me some nachos and fries please...I know they don't go together but..."

"Okie-dokie"

He downed the 6 drinkable ounces of beer in one drink, the froth slowly settled back down into the cup.  He watched it slowly coalesce into something like beer. What am I doing with my life? Why am I at hooters drinking cheap beer and sticking my foot in my mouth? I should just go home and put my resume on Monster.com.  No more feeling sorry for myself.  Time to get on with it. Time to get on with it.

He pulled his cell phone out.

One text from his wife: Please come home. The kids heard us...they're scared and sad. They...we want you to come home. 

His eyes watered.  She was a good woman. She let him slide into this depression without guilt. She carried them financially and emotionally, while he sat in self-pity. She shielded the kids from his fall. But a year of nothingness will stretch anyone.  He didn't know what to text back.  


Krystal brought out the fries.  "The nachos will be out in a minute. You want another drink?"  


"Oh, um. Better not, I need to get home."  


"Okay, but next one's free too... 'member Pastor Steve?  The old pastor at our church, he's at the other end of the bar. He offered to pay."  


"What?"  The oddity of him, Jim, an aging man, getting two free drinks at Hooters. He felt like photographing his free beers on Instagram and tagging them with #sororitysisterprivilege.  

"Pastor Steve is here?"  Jim grabbed his fries and started towards the other side of the bar.  


"Don't call me pastor, please," said Steve, as he pulled his notebook, and Bible reference book to the side to make room for Jim.  


"Alright, but it looks like you're still practicing, Father-Steve, " Jim joked.  


"Well, ready-to-be-used, is all. Ready to be used. Might has well use this time to stockpile sermons."  

"So...you didn't give up?" Jim regretting saying it instantly.  "I mean, the church, it just gobbled you up..." 


"Yeah, it, the church, can do that," Steve said as he gulped down some blackish brew. "Jim, you're blind. You live here, in the Pacific Northwest, in the brewery capital of the world, and you're drinking Coors."  


"Yeah, well, hey, wait a minute, don't get all holier than thou with me, you're at a Hooters..." 


"I am. I am. You forget I'm from Kansas City. This is as close to Southern food or bbq I can get.  The wings aren't bad, and I do live just down the street."  


"Oh, maybe I should've order the wings, I let Krystal talk me into the nachos."  


"They're good enough."  

Jim gulped down a long drink from his mocked beer, and found the courage to move beyond pleasantries. "So, did you ever think about going back to the Midwest, after...you know after?"

"Not really. Sarah ran back there anyway. I don't have much there but old seminary guys and cousins in jail. And the idea of seeing any of them, especially Sarah, seems more depressing than sticking it out here."  

"Yeah, sorry about that whole Sarah mess, I didn't really know her, but nobody..."

"Yeah, nobody deserves that. True. But I wasn't a great husband. I think I loved the church more, well, not the church but the idea of a successful church more, more than I loved her.  I did love her once. But I got complacent in my marriage. It takes work, as you probably know, to keep things afire." 

"Um, yeah."  

"Not real convincing, Jim. Please don't tell me that your marriage is in trouble?"  

"It isn't. Or maybe it is. I don't know. She would know. I just haven't been, much...much of a man, much of anything, for some time, now. I guess if I could pull it together, maybe..."  "Gawd, look at us...consoling each other like priests in a confessional. Is this your normal Hooter's small talk? Haha..."

"Haha, well, you've heard of the priesthood of believers. What if this is what we're supposed to be like? Isn't this what Jesus wanted, his Disciples in some sketchy area of town, speaking truth into each other's lives?" 

"Well, don't go calling me Mary Magdaline. I'm just a hostess," Krystal perfectly chimed in from behind the counter, obviously she had heard part of their conversation.  "Although, if you want to wash my feet, I'm always game for a pedicure."  

Both Jim and Steve looked at her in bewilderment. Where did this Biblical knowledge come from? 

"Don't look at me so weird, guys, the story of Mary Magdaline isn't exactly obscure. I can work here and read the Bible every once in a while, sheesh."  She slid Jim's nachos over to him.  

"You must've had a good youth pastor, once," Steve said knowingly.  

"I did," she smiled back, "You need anything else? Hot sauce? Sour cream? I'm not offering another cold beer, because we know what the Lord says about drunkenness…"  

"…Oh yeah, what's that?" Jim jokingly replied.  

"He's against it. I don't remember the exact verse, because my youth pastor quit."  

"Well he can make it up to you," Steve said, "he doesn't have any oils to wash your feet with, but he does have some Coors light...the alcohol might have a similar effect." 

"I've been here,” she twirled her arms around at the ambiance,  “for six months, pastor Steve, and that may be the most disgusting comment I've ever heard," she said laughing, "but I guess I walked into it, didn't I."  She smiled and reluctantly went on with her business on the other side of the bar.  

"Wow. Just wow, guys. Is this a set-up. Is there some camera hidden in the back, and we are on Christian-Candid-Camera?"  Jim asked.  

"Haha. No, although that'd be a fun show. Catch what the worship leader says under his breath when his mic get turned off, or have some guy steal the money out of the offering, and watch the usher's response..." 

They laughed and watched Krystal joyously serve another soul some spirits.  

"That girl is too, uh, old, now to be a part of any youth ministry, and much too young to ever be in a conversation with guys our age talking about rubbing oils or alcoholic drinks on any part of her body." 

"Don't I know," Steve replied with a hint of sorrow, "although if we were priests..." 

They laughed again, and enjoyed a brief moment of silence. They had laughed well, and it was good.  

Steve continued, "You know, I never got to thank you." 

"For what?" 

"For the moral stand you made on my behalf, for being the lone dissenter.  I'm sorry you lost a church in the process."


"Well, it wasn't right. It's not right. You're a good pastor, a good man...numbers shouldn't matter."  


"No, they shouldn't...but they have bills to pay, and I was running on fumes. I should've taken a sabbatical. But I let pride keep me there. It wasn't just the numbers, my intentions were wrong.  I lost track of why I joined the ministry. I allowed myself to be lonely. She left me, yet I had stopped talking to her, and God for some time. I thought I was a superman. I thought I could do it all on my own. I see all of this now. It's much clearer." Steve's eyes strayed to a shapely waitress on the far side of the restaurant. 


Jim looked over, it was a good view, a small smile started to form on his mouth.  


"Don't you judge me, Jim. I'm a free man, and she's marginally closer to my generation. Plus, I come here for the food. You, however, don't seem to know the food, and are still married, even if there are sexual problems..." 


Pffft. Jim slapped his hand over his lips to keep the rest of his beer in his mouth, and swallowed quickly. "I never said we had problems with our sex life," He said laughing.  

"I know. But there always is. Or usually something related to sex is the problem. At least from the man's perspective. You already told me that you felt like less than a man."  

"I was referring to my lack of job stuff. And becoming lazy and drinking."   


"Oh, never mind, those things do wonders to a guys libido." 


"I never realized how funny you were, Steve.  Anyways, not working, not making money, It just rips at me...I've always had a job."  


"That it does. That it does."  "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man..."  

"I love how you guys do that...just throw out some Bible verse for every season of life."  

"Yeah, well, it's all I know. The word. I spent years in seminary, studying Greek, Hebrew...The King James version. I didn't learn know how to keep a wife happy. They didn't teach me about church politics. But I know the Word, and I occasionally speak with God, and that keeps me going."  

"Again, sorry Steve...she was...she didn't..."

"She was human, Jim. Just like your wife. We men tend to get caught up in things. stuff.  Sales numbers...attendance...bull shit. Stuff that doesn't matter. I know I did. You better stay diligent, Jim. Good women don't hang out in Hooters, looking for broken down men like us. Let me guess...she doesn't know you're here, does she?"  

"No, not exactly."  

"Well, good thing there's hardly any alcohol in that Coors, because I think you should head home, kiss your woman, and apologize."  

"Yeah, but I'd hardly know where to start."

"Well, obviously I'm no expert, but I think "I'm sorry," said authentically, means a lot."  "That's what I'm looking for: authenticity. In my walk with God, in my next church, in my friends. Perhaps, someday, in a woman.  And you have it."  "It's early, way too early to be talking about, really, but 
I want you to work with me. I'm starting a new church. The Evangelical church is looking for another location on this side of town. FaithSprings recommended me."

"They did?  I mean...what?  You want me?" 

“Because they knew I just needed a break.  I was good at what I did, once.  Just like you were, are. And being broken has made me stronger. I trust you Jim. I like you being in my corner. You defended me, like a good Samaritan,” he took another sip of his dark beer.  “They should make a beer called the Good Samaritan.” 

“Yeah,”  “Well, maybe not. Beer doesn’t exactly do good things for most people.” 

“Good point. Moderation.  Anyway, I can’t offer you much money, now, obviously, as the church isn’t even off the ground yet, but there is a little planting money, and I’d like you to preach…”

“But I never went to seminary, I only know the basics…”

“The people need the basics, Jim. They need a leader, one who won’t make mistakes, and one who has a true heart, like you do, for authenticity. We won’t be phonies, Jim.  I want this to be real, and I don’t care about numbers, or programs, or what the building looks like. The youth, our nation, is looking past these status symbols.  People want the real deal. I want the real deal. I want it to be about Jesus!”

Jim felt a shiver go down his back. This was everything he wanted as well, and it frightened him. Could he develop a sermon and preach? Could he do it authentically? Could he be used, by God?  And if he was good at it…what does that mean, at best a salary of $32,000 dollars? Shut up mind, it’s not about money. 

“Look, I’ve given you a lot to think about. I want to you to go home and talk to your wife. Well, do other stuff first, then talk to your wife…here’s my cell number…”

“Geez, I don’t know,” Jim said smiling, “I don’t think I could work for a pervert.” 

“Weren’t you a car dealer before?  You can work with anyone.” 
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Jim quietly drove home. He missed the sound of a gas engine. He intended to buy a real car again, soon.  Although if he became a pastor, it might be a long time. 

He opened the door to his house and saw his wife crying on the loveseat.  “Why didn’t you call or text me back?” 

“I’m sorry. I ran into an old friend.” 

“Really, where at?  We’ve been worried sick. The kids are probably listening at their doors, pretending to be asleep.” 

“Well, this is going to sound weird, but I had a spiritual encounter at Hooters.” 

“A what? At Hooters?  I’m sure you did…” her whole expression changed.  Jim knew this look from the few times he was genuinely in trouble. 

“I’m serious. I got offered a job. It had to be God. It was too weird not to be God. I had a spiritual encounter at Hooters.” 

She knew her husband too well. He wasn’t lying, she could see something different about him as well. She saw the old Jim.


“Well, this, I gotta hear. But you better go hug your kids first.”

As he galloped up the stairs by twos, the noise of little feet sprinting back to their beds, with giggles giving away their former positions, before he ambushed them with hugs, she smiled. She wiped the last tear away, before another trickled down her cheek. This one started from a different place, a better place, and she let it travel her whole face.