What Would The Balloon Hear You Say?

Photo by Mykola Volkov on Pexels.com

It was a cold, nasty, awful weekend in central North Carolina. I was surprised to see anyone in church on Super Bowl Sunday. It was one of those days where the temperature was hovering in the high 30s, and if it dipped any lower, we’d be blanketed with snow, but that didn’t’ happen. It was just a cold drizzle. I wondered who would get out of bed and drag themselves to church on a day like yesterday. But, as is usual on mornings that begin with such skepticism, I was surprised at what hot coffee, companionship, and a little prayer will do to warm the human soul. We weren’t as full as last week, but overall, those who braved the weather impressed me, and I thanked them for making an effort. 

The wet weather moved east overnight, and the blue skies returned to North Carolina. The winds were still cold, but at least there was no rain. It was dry. We could see the sky and sunshine. Oh, how I had missed the sunshine over the past week. My body and soul needed physical and spiritual vitamin D. If I couldn’t see the sun and blue sky, how on earth could I look for Chinese spy balloons?

This morning as I went to the car to meet my parents for breakfast, I glanced skyward for the first time in several days. Was there anything above the church listening to our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness? I was hoping I might see something I could not spot because of the previous day’s inclement weather. But, instead, I realized yesterday morning: if there’s anything that will change the subject from disaffiliation, it is intelligence-gathering balloons traversing the United States (or North Carolina) from China. So let me say thank you to the People’s Liberation Army for making coffee time about something other than the slow-moving train wreck that is United Methodism. Or, as you guys would say, “谢谢 (Xièxiè).”

The balloons (or objects) raise some interesting theological questions for United Methodists. Our government says the first balloon was equipped with listening and intelligence-gathering equipment. We know for sure that it floated over North Carolina. I wonder what it would have picked up as it went over our Methodist churches and homes during the week it was airborne. What would the balloon have heard us say about our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness? Would the balloon have picked up that those people who say they are so open to welcoming and admitting the stranger, the other, and their neighbors on Sunday morning go straight home and say just the opposite during the week? Would it have picked up that we make ever so slightly racist jokes about Black History month from our places of permanent white privilege while talking about the need for anti-racism as an annual conference priority? Would the balloon have heard us telling our neighbors misinformation about the disaffiliation process? Who knows what the balloon heard? Perhaps that’s why we are so nervous and so ready to shoot them down so quickly.  We can’t let the truth get out. Fire the missiles! Destroy the evidence.

So, we go out on clear days, look skyward, and check to see if someone is listening to what we say and knows our secrets. The answer is yes. Someone does know, and we can’t kill that someone with a Sidewinder missile.

We are in bad shape if we need a Chinese balloon to remind us that God is listening or that we have a conscience.

–Richard Bryant

Publicity Photos

I’m just saying,
those publicity photos on the wall,
will not do at all,
I’m just saying,
the 80’s called,
they want their stringy hair back,
the late 70’s called,
those faux dusters still look slack,
the misspelled names department phoned,
the wampum, hawgs, and dawgs have all gone home,
I’m just saying,
these goatees will not do,
the bad facial hair department called you,
you might want to take these down too,
I’m just saying,
the next time they call,
tell them you’re already on the 21st-century ball.

–Richard Bryant


*image courtesy Trip Advisor

A Play About Nothing

You may recall, gentle readers, previous missives, published here by S.P. Wildeman. The same author has been in touch and asked to submit another story. I have so obliged.

Richard Bryant, Proprietor, Richard’s Food for Thought

Note to the reader: Everything in this short story bears a resemblance to someone living and something dead. Whether man or machine, theater critic or person, we’ve all met for coffee and coordinated our versions of the truth.
-S.P. Wildeman

I’m never sure where I am these days. So many of the places I inhabit tend to blend together in the darkness. Lit only by second-hand lamps, I am led among frayed extension cords, by one-eyed adult orphans, and through hastily arranged curtains. The villagers, I am told, have taken me to the theater. The play we are about to see is something I created over a decade ago. There were no actors, plot, or scenes. Borrowing mainly from the work of Samuel Beckett, I wrote a play where nothing happened. The curtain remained closed for two hours. Behind the curtain, the audience could hear the occasional sound or see an intermittent light. There might be a clashing cymbal.

Here is my point. Nothing happened. One person (in the early days, it was me) sat behind the curtain, making the noise. After a few of the trendier theater journals reviewed my descent into nothingness, I was able to bring on a few stagehands to bang wooden spoons against my kitchen pots. Eventually, they wanted to be called actors, so I fired them and hired the one-eyed orphans. This was a play without a plot, actors, or any of the conventions of modern drama. I was going to ask my audience to stare at a closed curtain and listen to random sounds for two hours, all in the name of culture.

While the New York critics were harsh, we were huge in France. The French ate this up. The best negative review I’ve ever received came from Le Figaro. “Could less have occurred on stage?” It was a good question. Could I do nothing at all and still call it a drama? Would people pay to stare at a closed curtain with no sound or any physical interaction at all? Yes, I thought they would. I would go for all and nothing.

Why a remote village in northern Togo cobbled together enough Central African francs to buy the rights to produce a 10-year-old American play about nothing was beyond me. I had a theory. I once wrote a book on Dom Deluise as a recurring Christ figure in the Burt Reynolds’ Cannonball Run Story Saga. (I sold 12 copies, 4 of which were to Reynolds himself). Deluise’s comedy was widely revered throughout French-speaking West Africa, with his work featured in film festivals in Guinea, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Burkina Faso in alternating years.

Let me clear things up. I didn’t know where I was beyond a dank basement and hastily assembled theater somewhere on the northeast side of Togo’s capital, Lome. And even when I’m in Lome and watching a play I wrote, I couldn’t find myself on a map with a GPS if I had to.

One question still vexed me. Had the Togolaise seen any of my work? Did they know what they were getting into? How would they respond to spending their hard-earned money to get nothing in return? Plays about nothing are fine and dandy for first world theatergoers with disposable incomes. I can hear it now, “où est le dialogue?”
Were they expecting DeLuise to be a character?

Finally, someone asked, “When does the funny fat man arrive?”

He’s here, sitting in the corner, a piece of paper in his hand, furiously writing a part for a man named Santa Claus in a Christmas play about nothing.


The Late Modern Produce Machine


Bienvenue to the
produce machine.
I am broke do tell,
even today,
because I can’t spell:
bale peprs,
hallo peno peprs,
them small blak things,
I confuse with large flies,
that look something like,
Little gray paes with black eyes.

–Richard Bryant

I’ve Arranged My Books

I’ve arranged
some of my books,
even the ones,
behind the nooks,
the tall ones,
a few wee tomes too,
antinomianism stands in pride of place,
Zeitgeist waits,
to know its fate,
turning around,
then I see,
I can arrange my books,
in any way,
for they are mine,
bought and paid.

–Richard Bryant

Paradise Falls By A Dashboard Light (or how I heard Genesis 2 and 3 in Randolph County, NC)

Start at the beginning,
the third page of the book,
two people left behind,
Ready to make a go,
A human start,
When the dinosaurs said no,
Adam and his manly chest,
Eve and her… all the rest,
Out of the mud they came,
country people,
from lower Mesopotamia,
Adam ate with elbows on the table,
A cap on his head,
Outside and in,
Cause he had no Mama,
to name this sin,
“Boy, your manners just ain’t right,
I hope you don’t meet a reptile with a mandolin,
or a girl with an apple who offers a bite.”
Life didn’t get real until it got wrong,
When it got wrong,
it was past making it right.
Two people alone,
Leaving paradise,
Navigating creation
by a dashboard light.

–Richard Bryant

There Is A Hole in My Sock

One of my socks, hole-less, shown solely for poetic purposes.

There’s a hole in my sock,
Whatever will I do,
How can I walk,
With gum and chew,
Or attempt to talk,
While I’m very blue,
As those who gawk,
At the in Argyles in my shoes,
My socks are bound for dry dock,
The only path to choose,
Though not an angry walk,
I’ll pick another two.

–Richard Lowell Bryant

The Death of Cool On the Island of Diabetic Ducks: An S.P. Wildeman Story

You may recall, gentle readers, previous missives, published here by one S.P. Wildeman.  The same author has been in touch and asked to submit another story.  I have so obliged.

Richard Bryant, Proprietor, Richard’s Food for Thought

Note to the reader: Everything in this short story bears a resemblance to someone living and something dead. Whether man or machine, fowl or person, we’ve all met for coffee and coordinated our versions of the truth.
-S.P. Wildeman

In May of 1979, I live by selling bootleg seersucker suits from the back of a yellow 1975 Volkswagen Sirocco. We had both seen better days.  The car and I reeked of low-grade diesel fuel. This was before the environmental movement hit fuel swing – pun intended. Driving anywhere was a dirty business for motorists and Mother Earth.

The seersucker suits, in all their wrinkled glory, however, were immaculate. Their finely tailored cuts (designed to fit any gentlemen) and thin blue lines were crafted by the best Russian tinker, tailors, soldiers, and spies. With their help, I was going to be America’s next men’s clothing giant. They guaranteed it. American’s would love the way Russians thought they should look. Who was I to second guess their advice?

On a cold morning in Moscow, using only the letters in my Captain Crunch cereal, I spelled out the letters of the clothing brands I could duplicate. My company was to be Trooks Trothers. I’d open a chain of stores called Barks and Bencer to sell Trooks Trothers suits. This was the only business plan I thought I would ever need. After all, “cool” wasn’t about who you wear, it’s about whom people believe you are wearing. Labels only mattered to a point. With only $2.74 remaining to my name, I returned to the only place I thought might be cool enough to buy seersucker suits from Russia on the cheap.

Long story short, it was one heck of a drive. Before it was all over, I drove the car and nine different boats; the last of which was a ferry. I should have known something was wrong the moment I arrived at the ferry terminal. Everyone was leaving. I was the only person going over to the island. What could be wrong? No one seemed to know. It was when I arrived that I noticed the ducks. Something was amiss with the ducks. Broad groupings of ducks milled aimlessly, up and down the center of the street, quacking loudly at friend and foe alike. What traffic remained on the island came to a halt. Nothing moved north or south, left or right, and up or down because of the ducks.

From a distance, they appeared harmless enough. Come on, who’s afraid of a duck? A duck exudes the gentle air of waterborne bunny rabbit with a beak, or is that my Pepsi fueled imagination talking? I’d driven (without fear or common sense) from Russia to the Outer Banks with no memory of a bridge at the Bering Strait or Oregon Inlet. I was held for 29 days by Rohingyas on the north end of Burma. When my parents refused to pay the ransom, even my captors realized I was worth less than the distinguished blazers in the back of my cheap German car. Today was different. These ducks, they scared me.

In the parking lot of the community store, where a large crowd of mallards had gathered, the ground was littered with Kit Kat wrappers, M and M bags, and Reese’s Cup containers. These birds were mainlining chocolate. While across the street and down the road, another group stomped about like angry teens realizing their fake ids are not good enough to buy vaping products.

Might they be diabetic? Yes, these were diabetic ducks. Everywhere, chocolate-covered quacks for help came from bushes, ditches, and roadside glens.  What does one do for ducks overdosing on Toberlorone?  I didn’t know.  On occasion, I ate duck.  I was not a speaker of duck dialects.  They ignored my pleas to “Stop Eating the Chocolate”.

Airborne veterinarians don’t come cheap. In fact, they don’t come at all. Someone eventually reached a level one trauma center with a helicopter. They promised to send a veterinarian with a kayak.  Neither the kayak or the doctor arrived.  Morning showed up right on time.  The ducks, however, were gone.   Local news reports place them somewhere south of here, north of there, and looking for their next oversized Kit-Kat fix.

Even though years have passed, if the winter wind is just right, I hear plaintive quacks for duck insulin.  While I did not know them personally, the emotional bond remains.

When it was all said and done, I learned one thing: no one wants to buy chocolate stained seersucker suits, regardless of how cool they make you feel.

Things You Can’t Live On All Alone

This is, by no means, a comprehensive list.  It is, however, a gathering of items when taken separate or together, one might not sustain oneself, on any single item alone, in any meaningful way.

  1. Bread
  2. Salt
  3. Pickles
  4. Radishes
  5. Pickled Radishes
  6. Salty Pickled Radishes
  7. Ketchup
  8. Onions
  9. Liver
  10. Liver and Onions

The Beatles, My Children, and Me (Scenes from Parsonage Living)

I knew this moment would come. There were indications on the horizon for some time. At first, they watched the “musical” television shows like American Idol and more importantly “Glee.” There, attractive young people danced and sang all sorts of songs they’d never heard before. While wrestling with broken hearts and an evil cheerleading coach, they sang the music of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and others. Here’s where I should tell you the “they” are my daughters. In the days before Glee, they wouldn’t be caught dead listening to the Beatles, especially in the car with me.

Then it happened. A few months ago, I heard music coming from their bedrooms. It sounded like they were listening to the Beatles.   I asked Mary, “Are they listening to the Beatles?”  Snippets of “Come Together” emerged from beneath the door and between blasts of the hair dryer. Could it be that our children were developing their own tastes in music, that mirrored our own, and they didn’t tell us about it? I wanted them to sit with us on the couch, ask about the Cavern Club or the band’s early days in Liverpool. Who simply begins listening to the Beatles? The Beatles are like John’s gospel. No one jumps right in.  Everything is really a long prologue that leads to the White Album.

Yesterday, it finally turned weird. Our twenty-year-old daughter walked in the door. She’d returned from the post office bearing a package.  With the grace of Indiana Jones removing a statue, she presented us her treasure. It was a reproduction of the 1962-1966 Red Album from the Beatles. Did we want to go back to her room and listen to “Ticket to Ride”? No. I had punched that ticket. It had been a hard days night, and I felt fine.

I am officially old. My children are impressed with reproductions of albums initially released the year before I was born.   Sometimes I think they believe the Beatles were discovered under a rock in Cleveland somewhere about 2002.

I don’t look forward to the day they discover the 1980’s. That was awful when I lived through it. If they find some the garbage still waiting to be rediscovered, go ahead and put me in the home.

Richard Lowell Bryant