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Mad Man, Wild Woman

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Summary

Henry Logan and Melissa Jones have recently begun spending a lot of time together, and Melissa says she thinks she's falling in love with him. They have lunch together daily, and for the last week they have spent every evening either walking to the park or dancing on the roof of a department store. Melissa would like him to kiss her, but Henry is stoic. He lives by principles that he won't violate, although she tries to get him to do so. She wants his affection, and she encourages him to give her some. Henry is 19, and so is Melissa. He has been looking for a job since graduating from high school 13 months ago. He applied for 15 jobs online and didn't get a single interview. He is discouraged, and he has lots of time on his hands. He has grown terribly cynical over the past year. Every day he goes to The Bean Bag, a coffee shop downtown. He sits alone at the same table reading several newspapers. He loves to read the news. He's interested in politics and economics. He's a libertarian, and he believes in living by principles. He was a loner at school. Melissa comes to the coffee shop at noon every day to see him. She sells shoes at a nearby department store. She is attractive and energetic, obsessed with romance, fashion, music, and poetry.

Genre:
Romance
Author:
rolfmcewen
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
4
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
13+

Chapter 1

I’ve tried to find happiness, but it’s not so easy. And I’ve been looking for a job but can’t find one. It’s like beating my head against a wall. Yesterday I was driving around in my car, and I suddenly got the idea to pull into a business and go to the office and ask for a job. I didn’t even know if they had any jobs. I was sick of applying online. Talk about being out-of-touch. Applying for work online is like writing a letter to yourself. Actually, you don’t know if anyone received the application, or read it, or if they even had a job available. I applied for fifteen jobs online. There’s no way to know if those jobs were real--maybe they picked someone before they posted the job. How can you know?

My name is Henry. I’m 19 years old--that’s the problem. I graduated from high school last year. I didn’t get good grades. Why should I? I wasn’t interested. Talk about boring—I mean those teachers. Where do they come from? They’re not real people. They don’t get excited about anything. They don’t have any spirit. They express no opinions--they’re vegetables. They’re boiled celery, I swear. I do like learning, though, I really do. I like reading and writing and learning about the real world. But to sit in the presence of boiled celery all day is to commit mental suicide, to poison the spirit, to make the brain numb. What a bore! Well, at least I graduated. I stayed in the system as long as I could take it. I missed a few days--I mean about 40 days a year. The principal called me to his office and threatened to kick me out of school due to absenteeism, but he never did it. Why? The government pays him for the kids that do attend school, not for those that don’t. That’s why schools don’t kick kids out--why they pass everybody--so they’ll get the money. That’s all they want, really--they don’t care about kids or education, that’s obvious. They want the money and the benefits, so they make it easy for kids to stay in school, even if they don’t learn anything.

What did I do in school? I just sat there for four years and doodled, really. I didn’t need to study--classes were easy. What good does it do to fail someone? If the kid fails, the school fails. It’s the system--it’s a racket really. They make a law requiring kids to go to school--compulsory education. Do they enforce it? No, of course not. About 70% of high school kids in this country graduate. What about the other 30%? We never hear about them. Why not?

But I’m a success because I graduated from high school. Mark me down as educated and ready for the workforce. I’m ready, but where are the jobs? I’ve been looking for a year. Let me say this--there aren’t any jobs, at least not for me. How many responses do you think I received from those fifteen job applications I filled out online? None, that’s right. I touch myself now and then to see if I actually exist. It’s humiliating. It’s stupid, that’s the truth. All this talk about jobs and opportunities--it’s a lie. It’s a fantasy. There aren’t any jobs, even if they say there are, even if they advertise them. The government is up to tricks. The only jobs available anywhere are government jobs, and those go to people already in the system, along with their friends, of course. Outsiders like me don’t have a chance. We’re nobodies--yes, I’m a nobody. I’m nothing. I don’t exist. I don’t have a job and I won’t get a job because that’s how the system works. America has gone crazy. People who have jobs can keep them forever--they’re protected. The unions--the unions guarantee workers jobs for life. It’s a racket, like I said before. Everyone outside the system will remain outside the system. That’s how it works.

It makes me mad. The fact is, I think I am mad. The situation has driven me mad--by mad, I mean disturbed, angry, hostile. I have begun to attack people from time to time, sometimes without a reason. I don’t want to be cruel, but I’m so frustrated I just launch an attack to relieve the pressure, to make myself feel something, to get in touch with my emotions. I refuse to become like those teachers--numb. I want to live! I’m young and I want a future.

I need money, that’s one thing. I live at home or I would be on the streets. At least I have parents--without them I would be sleeping in a field or under a bridge. The thing is, recently my dad has started threatening to kick me out of the house. “Get a job and make something of yourself,” he says. “Do something with yourself.” Okay, I’m trying--I try every day to get a job and earn money--the magic stuff. I’m beginning to think what life is really about is money--it’s the main thing. Well, it makes sense--we’ve got to have it to eat, to live, to do anything. Did they explain this to us at school? Of course not--those stupid teachers. They don’t explain anything that really matters. They talk about stuff that doesn’t matter--stuff that’s irrelevant.

Let me pose a little question, can I? Why teach stuff that doesn’t help the students? Why teach ideas that don’t relate to the real world? I don’t get it. How can schools get away with wasting the minds of students? I mean, it doesn’t seem possible that kids can go to school for 12 years and learn almost nothing that matters. What skills does a kid have by the time he graduates? Skills that will get him a job? No. Skills to be numb? Yes. I was so good at wasting time. I was a doodler and a day-dreamer. I talked to everyone who sat near me. I didn’t pay attention to the teacher. I went to the bathroom for 15 minutes of every class. And why not? Nobody is learning anything anyway. Schools are a waste of time. It takes 10 minutes for them to take the roll, and that happens every period, so 30 minutes of every day are spent taking roll. Brilliant! I think America would be better off if all the schools were closed. Let the parents educate their kids if they want to. If they don’t want to learn, then let them be ignorant. Anyway, you can’t really make kids learn if they don’t want to, so why bother? Close the schools. But they won’t close them--you know why? Because schools keep kids away from home and off the streets. That way parents can work all day and teachers can have jobs for a lifetime. That’s the game. Schools don’t care if kids learn anything. It’s a game. I didn’t want to believe it, but I figured it out, and it’s true.

People say I’m cynical for having that attitude. They say they’re shocked because I’ve grown cynical at such a young age, but what else can I do? I didn’t want to be cynical, but I see what’s happening. I’m responding to circumstances, to what’s happening in society. I didn’t make the world the way it is--but I see it, and I don’t like it, and it makes me angry. So what do I do with the anger?

What a pile of crap this world is--I mean my world, the world I walk in and live in. It’s crazy! “Think positive thoughts,” says one of my girl friends. Wonderful, wonderful. How do I do that? Can I control my thoughts? Stuff just comes at me every day at a thousand miles an hour. “Don’t be so negative about everything, Henry,” she says. I see her sometimes at the coffee shop where I hang out--The Bean Bag. I drop by there every day and drink three or four cups to keep up my energy. I need coffee to fight the depression. Why am I depressed? Well, I just explained the crazy kind of crap that has been coming at me for the last year. I think caffeine helps me fend off depression--no, no, I don’t take pills or drugs. I don’t want to become an addict. So many people are addicted to drugs these days--I can’t even believe it! They can’t get through the day without drugs--uppers and downers and wakers and sleepers.

This girl I see at the coffee shop—her name is Melissa. She’s wants me to stop being so cynical. “I’m worried about you,” she says. She’s just a friend--it’s not like we’re dating or something, but we like each other--we like to talk. She’s smart. She got really good grades in school, too. She worked hard and showed a lot of respect for the teachers. I don’t know how she did it. She was a model student, you might say. I don’t know what she sees in me. She knows I practically flunked out. She knows I didn’t do homework or pay attention in class, but I swear she still respects me. If I’m sitting alone at the coffee shop, like I usually am, she comes over and joins me. She says, “Can I sit down awhile?” It’s nice. I mean, she’s really interested in me. I don’t know why, either. Why is she interested in me? I mean, she was really popular at school. Everybody liked her. I only had one friend--Martin. We hung out together at lunch and before and after school. We were good with skateboards. He was awesome, like a flaming champ. He competed, but I just messed around with it, just had fun. I’m not much for contests. Who needs a trophy for being good at something? I don’t. I mean, if you like doing something, and you’re good at it, that should be enough. Do we really need a crowd to clap for us? I don’t. I don’t like crowds. They creep me out. I’m sort of a loner.

I was telling you about Melissa, how she sits down at my table and asks how I’m doing. “What’s up, Henry?” she says. She seems to really care about me. I don’t have much to tell her because nothing is happening in my life, except for the 15 online job applications I filled out that led nowhere. She works at a department store selling shoes. For one thing, she’s good looking--she’s very good looking, so of course they want her to sell shoes in a fancy store. People buy shoes from her just to get near her. Maybe they think if they buy shoes from her, they’ll be popular too, I don’t know. Life is so weird--if you’re a cute girl you get a lot of breaks. You just apply for a job selling shoes, and bang, you get hired. I’m not kidding when I say she’s good looking, either--she’s a knockout. That’s the reason I don’t understand why she hangs with me! She comes over and sits with me and talks every day.

I know she thinks I’m smart, even though I was a loser at school. We have some great conversations--she likes my ideas. She asks me questions about the real world--about politics and economics--stuff that I follow every day. I read a lot. I read the news every day, for one thing. Some people don’t know anything about what’s going on in the world--it’s crazy! Do they vote? How do they know who to vote for? Americans are ignorant about current events. They get their information by watching TV, I guess, because most of them don’t read. They work all day and watch sports at night, so how do they find out what’s happening with politics and economics? I don’t get it.

Melissa asks me about current events every day. She’s fascinated with the stuff I tell her. Thank God I know that stuff because it keeps her coming back to see me, back to my table. I read about four different newspapers a day. I find them laying around the coffee shop, so I scoop them up whenever someone leaves one behind. I read The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and sometimes The Washington Post. I read local news and national news and international news. It’s interesting, not like school. It’s about the real world, not the phony world they tell students about. I wonder if teachers read the news? I wonder if they know anything that’s going on in the world. They never talk about it. They never talk about anything that’s important or interesting. They don’t talk about sex, either. I wonder if teachers even do sex? Do they? They’re so neutral about everything. They’re so politically correct? How can they live with themselves? Are your testicles removed when you become a teacher? I really wonder if teachers have any opinions of their own. If they don’t, I think it’s kind of pathetic. I’d like to meet a teacher someday who expresses a personal opinion openly and honestly, just once. That would be so refreshing. It would help restore my faith in humanity. I might see hope for the future if I could just meet one teacher who acts like a real human being and has real passion for life. That would blow my mind!

Melissa has long brown hair. She tosses it around a lot when she sits with me. When I’m going on and on about economics, she listens and stares at me. About every five minutes she pushes the hair back from her eyes or pushes it behind her ear or something. It’s interesting. Her fiddling with her hair is one of the reasons I talk to her--I keep going on so she won’t get up and leave. She’s fun to talk to, and she’s fun to look at. She gorgeous, to tell the truth. I’d talk to her four hours straight if it would keep her from leaving. I’m getting good at talking for long periods of time. It’s amazing that she can sit there and listen to me go on like I do. She is so patient. She just stares at me and pushes her hair around. She’s my favorite part of the day, I’ve got to say.

Melissa is the reason I keep trying, actually. I look forward to seeing her every day. And I take her advice seriously--I really am trying to be less cynical. I’m trying to be positive about something--I am. It’s not easy for me. I don’t know how people can be positive about life. I don’t get it. I mean, there’s so much wrong with the world. There’s crime everywhere. The government lies to us and wastes money like crazy. Everybody is in debt. The schools are worthless. The Middle East is rife with war. People are popping pills like crazy to get through the day. How can think I positive with all that stuff happening? How can anyone have faith in the future? I can’t.

I don’t see a future for our country, actually. I don’t think America’s going to make it--it won’t last because the people aren’t devoted to anything except money. All they want is money. You can’t sustain a country on the love of money--it can’t be done. People have got to believe in something if they’re going to be motivated. What do Americans believe in, I wonder? I can’t figure it out. Actually, I don’t think they believe in anything except the pursuit of money--that’s it, and that won’t be enough to sustain them. People need something to touch their souls if they’re going to survive. Their souls and their spirits. Straw men don’t survive--eventually they just blow away. That’s why I don’t see a future for this country.

One day I heard this guy say something to the barista while he was waiting to get his coffee. He said, “I’m not a democrat or a republican, I’m just biblical.” After he got his coffee, he sat at the table next to me, so in a rare act of boldness I asked him, “Is there a biblical political party you’re a member of?”

“No,” he said, “I just mean I vote for principles instead of agreeing with one political party or the other.”

“What’s wrong with being republican or democrat?”

“Neither party is right about everything, so I don’t want to support either one.”

“Can a political party be right about everything?”

“No, because politicians can’t be trusted.”

“How do you apply biblical principles to political issues?”

“I just know what’s right and go with it.”

“Can you apply biblical principles to how schools are operated?”

“No. Schools are neutral zones due to separation of church and state.”

“What’s a neutral zone?”

“A place where biblical principles can’t be applied.”

“How about Congress? Can biblical principles be applied to Congress.”

“Well, that’s tricky too, for the same reason.”

“Do you vote?”

“Of course, I vote.”

“Mostly for republicans or for democrats?”

“I don’t pay attention to their political affiliations.”

“Don’t elected officials work together with their party?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Doesn’t each political party operate based on certain principles. I mean, each political party has a platform where they define what they stand for, right?”

“That’s true.”

“And the leadership of each party promotes an agenda based on those principles, right?”

“Yes, but not every politician follower party dogma.”

“But members of each party try to stick together and vote for certain law, don’t they?”

“What are you trying to say here?”

“I mean, each party has certain issues it champions, right?”

“Of course.”

“The democrats want to spend money to help the poor, for instance, and republicans want to spend more money on national defense, right?”

“Are you majoring in political science or something?”

“I read the news, and I’m interested. I think the way to determine what principles a political party supports is by observing where they want the nation to spend its money. So if you support biblical principles, you need to determine which political party wants to spend money on.”

“You make it all sound so simple, but it’s not. I look at candidates and decide if I like them or not.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, are they attractive and well-spoken? Do they have crowd appeal?”

“So you vote more for how the candidate appeals to you than you do for political principles of either party, is that about right?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Well, if you don’t vote for the principles in the party platforms, I don’t see how you can expect to vote for biblical principles, either. You just pick the candidate you like best, it’s like to me.”

“The way to get things done in government is to elect people who are appealing and persuasive.”

“Even if they don’t govern based upon their principles?”

“You know something, you’re sort of stubborn and obnoxious.”

“It looks to me like you can’t escape supporting one party or another. When you vote for a republican, you’re voting for the republican party platform. That’s what the candidate will promote, and when you vote for a democrat you’re voting for the democratic platform, so you can’t escape supporting one party or the other. If you vote for politicians from both parties, you just split your vote and split your influence. Seems to me like you should make up your mind which party you really believe in and support it.”

“I don’t want to blindly support one party.”

“You won’t be blind if you know what they stand for.”

“So you think everyone should vote the party line, is that it?”

“Yes, I do.”

“That’s narrow minded, young man. I have had enough of this conversation.” Then he stood up and walked away, just like that. I guess I made him mad. That’s what’s weird about talking politics with people--they get mad and walk away from a perfectly sensible conversation. It’s frustrating. That’s why I usually keep my opinions to myself.

It seems to me people should be able to discuss politics without despising each other. I mean, we can’t escape political reality. We will always have government. Government makes laws that affect everybody, so government is relevant to everyone--we can’t escape it, so we might as well become informed and do our best to influence it one way or the other. How can anybody be neutral? What good can that do? I think we’re stuck--voters are forced to choose the party that best represents their views, and support it by voting for candidates who represent those views. There’s no escape. What’s next? “I’m not American or un-American, I’m just human.” The reality is that everyone is a citizen of some country. There’s no escaping it even if you don’t like the country you were born in. You can renounce citizenship in one country and become a citizen of another, but everyone must be a citizen. You can’t say, “I’m not a citizen of any country.” Sometimes we simply have to make choices. “I don’t believe in religion of any kind. I have no religious views.” No, that doesn’t work either because such people are gods unto themselves. They write their own creeds and live by their own laws and principles. No, there’s no escape--no exit. There is no neutrality in reality. You can be silent, and you can be ignorant, but you cannot be neutral. You can’t do the impossible. You can pretend, however.

What a world we live in! People are so confused. I was angry about this guy getting up and walking off after our conversation because he didn’t seem to get it at all about being consistent and choosing which side he was on, so when Melissa showed up at my table the next day I told her about it. “I had a conversation about politics with a guy yesterday. He was sitting at the table next to me, and we started talking about democrats and republicans. He said he wasn’t either one, but he was biblical, whatever that means. We got into a long conversation about it, then he got mad and walked away.”

“Why did he get mad?” asked Melissa.

“He said I was obnoxious--stubborn and obnoxious,” he told me,” and he stormed off.

“Is it true?”

“No, we were just having a conversation about voting for this party or that.”

“How old was he?”

“I don’t know, maybe 40. He was opinionated.”

“So are you.”

“Yes, that’s true. I was trying to make a point about supporting either the democrats or the republicans, and he was saying he didn’t support either one, but he was biblical. I said we don’t have a biblical political party. What does it mean to be biblical, anyway?”

“I wouldn’t know. What about you--are you a republican or a democrat?”

“Neither--I’m a libertarian.”

“What’s that?”

“Libertarians believe in liberty.”

“Well, that makes sense.”

“Libertarians believe a lot of what the founding fathers believed--Jefferson, Adams, Franklin--those guys.”

“Sure, I studied them.”

“They supported a Constitution based on the rule of law. They didn’t really trust government. They hated the tyrannies of Europe. They promoted a revolution that removed the king from the top and put the people at the top.”

“How’s that?”

“They founded a republic with a written constitution that all political rulers must follow. In other words, there is no king. There are three branches of government instead of one. The three branches provide checks and balances. In England and France, the king was law, but in the U.S., the law is king. Nobody is above the law in our republic.”

“What difference does it make?”

“A huge difference. The people have the law to protect them from government abuse, for one.”

“Come on, the government doesn’t abuse anybody.”

“Well, kings in Europe abused people for centuries. A king owned the country and the people. He could do whatever he wanted. That kind of tyranny is what caused the Revolution. It’s just history to some people, but it really does make a difference in the way people live.”

“I don’t see that people live much different all over the world.”

“Have you been all over the world? Have you lived outside this country?”

“No.”

“Maybe you don’t actually know how life is lived in other countries.”

“I suppose that’s true.”

“I’ve read a lot of what Jefferson wrote about government and law. He hated tyranny. He promoted freedom in his books. He was logical and he made great arguments. He lived by certain principles of liberty and democracy. He wrote the Declaration of Independence--“all men are created equal, etc.”

“Yes, of course, but what difference does it make what form of government we have? Does it matter?”

“Oh, it matters. Do you want to live in Cuba or Russia or China?”

“Why not? Life might be better there.”

“No, it’ll be worse because you won’t have human rights or freedom.”

“Some countries in the world are poor, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have freedom.”

“Do you know people who live in China?”

“No.”

“Remember Tiananmen Square? Thousands of people were demonstrating in support of freedom and human rights. The government sent in tanks to crush the demonstrations, to silence the protesters? The suppressed the freedom of expression. The First Amendment here guarantees the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion--none of those rights exist in China.”

“I don’t see how it’s so important.”

“Because you haven’t suffered oppression and the denial of your rights. You would know why it matters if you lived there.”

“How do you know this stuff?”

“I read.”

“Why do you care?”

“I care about freedom--don’t you?”

“I have freedom, so I’m not worried about it. Why should I be?”

“Because it can disappear, that’s why. ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.’ That’s what Edmund Burke wrote, and he was right. Many nations have had freedom and lost it.”

“Okay. Well, that’s it for my lunch break. I’ve got to get back to work. How about this? Why don’t we meet back here later after I get off work. We can go for a walk. Want to?”

“Sure. I’ll be here.”

“Great. See you later, then.”

“Okay.” And away she goes.

Henry takes a deep breath and looks around the room. He sees a newspaper lying on the table and goes to get it and starts reading. “I better get out of here for a few hours if I’m coming back to meet Melissa.” He tucks it under his arm and walks out.

At 6:00 Henry is back at his table waiting to meet her. She shows up at 6:15, just like she said she would.

“Here I am,” she announces from behind him while he’s reading.

“Oh, great.”

“Let’s go for a walk.”

“Right now, already?”

“Yeah, come on.”

“Okay.” They go out and start walking along the street.

“Care if I look in this shop?”

“Okay.”

“Will you come in with me?”

“A women’s shop?”

“Yes, come with me. Tell me what you think would look good on me.”

“Okay, I guess so. I don’t know anything about fashion, though.”

“I’d like to hear what you think.” She enters the store. He follows. “Come on, it’s okay. Relax.”

“Go ahead and do your thing. I’ll wait here.”

“Stay with me, will you?” She wanders around looking through racks of clothes. She pulls out a blouse and holds it up. “You like this one?”

“It’s okay, but I think you look better in pink.”

“Oh. Well then, let me find a pink one.”

“I want you to know that I can’t afford to buy anything for you.”

“Hey, I’m not expecting you to buy me something. I just want you to be with me, that’s all.”

“All right. I didn’t want any misunderstandings, that’s all.”

“Fine.” She continues to look through rack after rack. “Hey, here’s a pink one. How do you like it?”

“I’d have to see it on to know for sure.”

“Okay, I’ll try it on. Follow me.”

“To the dressing room?”

“Yes. Can you wait for me?”

“All right, I guess. You actually want to try it on now?”

“Come with me.” She goes to the dressing room. Henry follows and sits in a chair outside the changing room. After a few minutes Melissa comes out and strikes a pose. “Well, what do you think?”

“It’s cute. Don’t you think you should tuck it in?”

“No. Everybody’s wearing them out this season. It’s the style.”

“Well, that’s something I wouldn’t know. Are we done now? I’d feel better if we got out of here and continued our walk.”

“Okay, we can go. You’re not much of a shopper, are you?”

“I never shop.”

“Be right back.” She goes back to the dressing room and comes out after changing. “Wait a minute while I buy it. You did like it, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Okay, then I’ll buy it.”

“Don’t buy it because of me.”

“Why not?” She goes to the clerk. “Okay, I’m done. We’re out of here. That didn’t kill you, did it?”

“Kill me?”

“You looked like you were dying the entire time we were in there.”

“Oh, well, I felt awkward.”

“Well, thanks for doing it. Thanks for helping.”

“Sure.”

“Let go to the park, shall we?”

“Okay.”

“We can see the gardens and walk along the river, or get on the swings. There’s lots to do there.”

“Okay.” They walk down several streets and make it to the park.

“Let’s go on the swings first!” she says, running to leap onto one. She starts pumping with her legs and pulling with her arms. “I haven’t done this for years!” She is soon soaring as high as she can, shouting each time she reaches the peak. Henry is swinging silently. “Hey, come on, keep up with me!”

“It’s embarrassing. I don’t much like to swing.”

“You’re no fun. Come on, live a little. Nobody’s watching.”

“I think we should walk through those trees over there.”

“Okay, you party pooper.” She slows down and gets off the swing. “Let’s go for a walk, then.”

They meander down the paved path into a grove of trees. They stop and watch some squirrels darting from tree to tree and climbing straight up. They find a bench and sit down. Henry picks up twigs and tosses them at a tree.

“You’re not a very good shot,” she says.

“Not really. I never played baseball.”

“What sports did you play?”

“None, actually. I’m not an athlete, but I’m pretty good with my skate board.”

“That’s cool.”

“I go skate-boarding with my buddy Martin a lot.”

“I think I know who he is. Kind of a quiet guy, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, that’s true.”

“You’re kind of quiet too until you start talking about government and politics.”

“Probably. I like talking about that stuff more than other things.”

“I’m learning a lot about it from you.”

“Are you?”

“Yes, I really am. I never paid much attention to that kind of stuff before.”

“It’s important. It’s the real world. It affects our lives.”

Long pause. “What time do you have to get back?”

“I don’t know. There’s no rush. I’ve got to be home before dark, that’s all. Why?”

“Just wondering.” They sit for awhile in silence.

“I’ve been wondering something too.”

“What?”

“I’ve been wondering if you have a girlfriend.”

“Me? No, no girlfriend.”

“Oh.”

“Why do you ask?”

“Just wondering, that’s all. Why don’t you?”

“I don’t know very many girls, I guess, and I’m not all that popular, either.”

“You’re popular with me.”

He looks at her. “What?”

“You’re popular with me, I said.”

“Oh, wow, thank you. That’s really nice.”

“You’re welcome. Am I popular with you, too?”

“Yes, yes of course. I mean, I like you a lot.”

She smiles. “Good, I was hoping you did.”

“You were? Well, I do--I like you a lot, I mean it.”

“Would you like to kiss me?”

“What?”

“Would you like to kiss me?”

He looks at her. “Oh, well, I don’t know if I should.”

“Would you like to?”

He looks off in the distance. “No, I better not.”

“But you said that you like me.”

“I do like you, but that doesn’t mean I should kiss you.”

“Why not?”

“Because we’re not dating, we’re not engaged.”

“Well, maybe you should kiss me.”

“I think kissing is serious business.”

“So do I. I wouldn’t have asked you if I weren’t serious about you. I like you. I like talking to you and listening to you. We’ve been friends for a while. I thought you would like to kiss me. I don’t ask just anybody. I only asked you, just you.”

“Thanks.”

“You tell me thanks?”

“Yes, thanks for asking me. You’re very generous.”

“And you’re very weird. Are you going to kiss me or not?”

“I better not.”

“For what reason?”

“I don’t think it’s right for people to be kissing if they haven’t made a definite commitment.”

“Commitment to what?”

“To their relationship.”

“You mean you won’t kiss a girl until you’re engaged or something.”

“Right.”

“You’re a strange boy. Most boys will kiss any girl who’s willing.”

“I wouldn’t know about that. But you know, I think we should be getting back. I want another cup of coffee.”

“Okay then, let’s go back.” She gets up and starts walking ahead of him.

“Hey, don’t be mad at me. Slow down and let me walk with you.”

“Are you sure we don’t need to have a commitment first?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“You’re the strangest boy I’ve ever known, Henry.”

“Thank you.” They walk all the way to the coffee shop without speaking. They start to go inside, but Melissa stops at the door.

“I’d better go home. Thanks for the walk. I’ll see you sometime.”

“Okay, thanks Melissa. See you later,” he shouts after her. He goes into the coffee shop and orders something, then sits down at his usual table. He stares at the floor, thinking about what just happened. He keeps shaking his head in disbelief. “That was awkward,” he mumbles. “That was so awkward.” He sits for an hour, then walks home.

The next day Henry is at The Bean Bag by ten in the morning, sitting at his table drinking coffee and reading a book about free trade. A man sits at the table beside him and says, “What are you reading, young fellow?” Henry doesn’t realize someone is speaking to him, so he continues reading. “Hey, young fellow, what are you reading?” says the man a bit louder.

Henry looks up and sees him. “Oh, are you asking me? It’s a book about free trade and economics.”

“Is it, now?” says the man, who is dressed in working clothes and looks to be about 50. “I don’t care much for that free trade idea.”

“Why’s that?”

“It hurts my wages, that’s why. I work in the woods. I’m a logger.”

“How does it hurt your wages?”

“The Canadians have an advantage over us Americans, that’s why. Their government subsidizes the timber industry. That allows Canadian lumber to be sold cheaper in the United States than we can provide it. We lose jobs. We’re not playing on a level field, if you get my meaning. It costs money to grow the timber and harvest it, and to send it through the mill. Because their government subsidizes timber operations, we can’t compete. People can buy Canadian lumber cheaper than they can buy what we produce here. The result is that American loggers and mill workers get lower wages so we can compete. Free trade doesn’t work. They shouldn’t be allowed to import to this country. We need to stop importing lumber from Canada. We need a law, or we’ll see our own industry shut down.”

“How can the Canadian government afford to subsidize?”

“I don’t know anything about that, except I know they do it.”

“Does our government subsidize our timber industry?”

“Not much. They help a little, but nothing like Canada.”

“Who pays for these subsidies?”

“I told you--the government.”

“Where does the government get the money?”

“Well, we all know the answer to that one, don’t we? From taxes.”

“So I’m thinking governments should get out of the business of subsidizing the timber industry and let them compete on the free market.”

“That’s all right, except we can’t control what they do in Canada. We have influence with our own government, but not with theirs, so whatever they offer in subsidies our government has got to offer here in the states--fair is fair.”

“What happens if we do that with our other industries, like computers and airplanes and wheat and corn?”

“What I think is this. If governments in other countries are helping their own industries sell products at lower costs, then our government needs to make up the difference somehow. We can add tariffs to imported goods, or provide financial assistance to U.S. companies. We can’t allow other countries to put our people out of work.”

“How can our government provide financial support to every company that is competing against foreign imports? We import stuff from all over the world. Half the stuff we buy is made in other countries.”

“That’s a problem for the government to figure out. Here’s what I know--the government of this country needs to protect American jobs. If that means reducing imports or abolishing imports, then it needs to be done. We should only buy products that are made in America. Buy American.”

“But won’t that drive up the cost of living for consumers?”

“Who cares about that? What I care about is keeping my job and earning a good wage.”

“What about the things you and your wife buy? If you can only buy things made in America and cheaper goods that are imported are no longer available, it will cost you more to live.”

“Oh, hell, I don’t believe it. Don’t try to put that on me. Our government needs to protect our jobs. If that means they stop importing foreign goods, then that’s what they should do.”

“I don’t think I can buy a shirt made in America anymore. That’s because with the cost of labor in the U.S. nobody would be able to sell a shirt that didn’t cost double what the imported shirts are going for.”

“I don’t care about shirts; I care about timber.”

“But it’s the principle of the thing. If the government is going to subsidize some industries and not others, how is that fair? In a system of free trade, the government keeps its hands off of trade. It doesn’t add tariffs and it doesn’t provide financial assistance to any business. All businesses must compete as best they can. That competition causes increased efficiency, and that’s what drives down costs. Competition allows consumers to buy goods at the lowest possible price.”

“I don’t care about that crap. All I care about is keeping my wages high.”

“I think free trade is the system that provides a market with the best prices for consumers.”

“Well, that’s just dandy for you, but what I think is you’re young and stupid, and I’m saying goodbye to you now, young fellow. You’d better find a better book to read. I don’t want to hear anything more you have to say.” And away he went.

Henry watched him go and looked around to see what else was happening. Lots of women were sitting at tables talking up a storm. Several men were reading. A bunch of people were in line to buy coffee. The coffee shop is a lively place. People come to get a good brew, to meet people, to talk, and to read. There’s nothing quite like a coffee shop.

Henry walked around the room collecting newspapers from tables. He sat down and started reading, writing some notes on a napkin from time to time. He overheard a couple fellows talking about how hard it is to find a job, and how they had both applied for about 30 jobs without success, which made Henry feel better about his own experience. After hearing all the places those guys had applied for work, he decided to write down the name of every possible employer that might have a job for him. “I can work anywhere,” he though. “I need to apply everywhere.” He sat musing on the possibilities until noon, when suddenly Melissa bounded up to his table.

“Hey, there!” she beamed. “How are you doing? Drink four cups of coffee yet?”

“Five.”

“My hands would be shaking if I did that.”

“Well, I do feel a bit jittery. Sit down awhile.”

“I’ll order some coffee and something to eat first. I’ll be back.” She went to the counter to order. Henry was watching her when she looked up and met his eyes. She smiled and waved with both hands. He shrugged his shoulders and went back to reading a paper. She came back.

“Did you put lots of half-and-half in your coffee today?”

“Just a little. It’s fattening.”

“That should be no problem for you.”

“It’s best to maintain good habits. I don’t want to be one of those girls who binges on eating, then diets frantically before starting the cycle over again.”

“Did you sell some shoes this morning?”

“Yes, I’ve had a great day. I sold eight pairs already, but four of them were to the same lady. She pulled out a wad of hundred-dollar bills like I’ve never seen before. Some people have a lot of money. I never realized it until I started working at this fancy store. Last week a woman spent $800 on shoes.”

“Yeah, some people have money and some don’t.”

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned it. If I had lots of money, I’d spend a fortune on clothes and shoes too. It’s so much fun to dress up in new stuff, to look nice all the time. Hey, will you go shopping with me again today after work?”

“Where?”

“I don’t know. Let’s just window shop until I see something I like and then have a look.”

“It’s not exactly my thing.”

“No, but it’s fun to be with me, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s fun being with you.”

“Then let’s do it. I know you don’t have anything better to do. You will have read every newspaper in here by then.”

“Okay, I’ll go with you.”

“Good. Now I have something to look forward to. It’s no fun to go shopping alone.”

“Don’t tell anyone I go shopping with you.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not a very manly thing to do.”

“Shopping is manly?”

“It’s what girls do, but not guys.”

“I see. I’ll keep our little secret, then.”

“Thank you.”

“Read you paper while eat my lunch, will you? Otherwise, I’ll never stop talking.” Melissa set about eating her sandwich, and Henry went back to reading. They sat in silence for fifteen minutes while she finished eating. He never even looked up at until she said something.

“Oh, that was delicious. I love roast beef, don’t you? But now I have to get back to work, so I’ll meet you here at 6:15 again.”

“I’ll be here,” he said. She squeezed his hand and walked briskly to the door, turning to give him a smile when she reached the door.

“Quite a girl,” he said under his breath. He found another napkin and started writing down some ideas as he read some commentaries in the papers. “Maybe I should write some commentaries myself,” he thought to himself. “It will help me define more precisely what I think.” He started writing. By the time Melissa showed up he had filled five napkins with articles of his own.

He was buried in thought and writing frantically when she touched him on the shoulder and said, “Hello, I’m back.”

“Oh, hi. Is it already 6 o’clock?”

“It’s 6:20 and I’m done for the day and ready to play. What are you writing?”

“My ideas.”

“About what?”

“This and that--you know, politics and economics. If I write, it helps me clarify my thoughts. It helps to write out an argument and then refute the opposing arguments.”

“Did you fill up all those napkins?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve almost written a book already. What you need is a notebook. Those napkins could get lost easily. You need to get organized.”

“Napkins are all right.”

“No, they’ll get lost. Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll take your writing home and key it into my computer and bring you a CD of your work. That way I’ll get to read it, too, and we can discuss it.”

“Great. You can tell me how to improve my arguments. You can find my weaknesses.”

“And you can explain what your ideas are all about.”

“That’s good--I like that idea.”

“And I’m a really good typist, and I’m fast.”

“Of course, you are.”

“But I don’t know what you know about politics and economics.”

“No, but you know all about fashion.”

“Hey, I think you’re figuring me out. So let’s go shopping. Give me your napkins. I’ll keep them safe in my purse.”

“Okay.” The walk out and meander down the street looking at window displays in the shops. Melissa makes comments about what she likes and explains why certain things look stupid. She has definite opinions on such matters.

“Let’s go in this shop,” she said when she found a very chic display. “Follow me.” She pushed open the door and he followed her from rack to rack without saying a word. She pulled something out for a better look every now and then and collected several things in her arms. “Come on, I want to try these things on, and you can tell me what you think.” She grabbed his hand and pulled him along to the dressing rooms. He sat down and waited. She came out first wearing a red blouse and turn around for him. “What do you think of this one?” she asked.

“It’s red.”

“Very observant. Indeed it is red, but do you like it? How does it look on me?”

“I like you in blue or green better.”

“But red is vibrant and flashy. Doesn’t it sort of fit my personality?”

“Well, you are vibrant and flashy, without or without wearing red.”

“I like it. It gives me some color, and it flatters my hair.”

“Whatever.”

“I’ll try on something else.” She bounded off and came back wearing a thin brown sweater. “You like this one?”

“Yes, that’s nice. It matches your hair--brown on brown.”

“Oh, yes, that makes sense. You’re catching on.” She looks at herself in the mirror. “Okay, now for a skirt,” and off she went. She returned wearing a pale pink skirt. “This is for summer, see?”

“I suppose so. It’s so short you’d freeze in the winter wearing that.”

“Right, it’s short and bright and cheerful for summertime. Isn’t it fun? The fabric is light and breezy, too. Do you think it’s too short?” She turns several times while looking in the mirror.

“It’s short, no question about that, but I wouldn’t know what “too short” would be.”

“It’s half-way between my knees and my waist, which is fine for summer for a girl who’s 19 years old.”

“You know better than I do.”

“Of course, silly. But do you like it?” She turns again before the mirror.

“I like it, yes.”

“Okay, I’ll buy it, and I’ll buy the brown sweater, but that’s all. Make sense?”

“Yes, if you can afford it.”

“I got paid today. I have money. I think I’ll wear it. Come on, let’s go find a clerk. She makes her purchases and they make their way down the street, going into three more shops where Melissa finds things that delight her. She holds them up for him to see and smiles brightly whenever she finds something she loves. He gives a thumbs up for the ones he approves of. Shopping goes on for two hours, then they begin walking again. “Let’s go to the park again and sit on that bench,” she says.

“Okay.”

They walk in silence for awhile enjoying the evening air and the low light as sunset approaches. The stroll into the park and sit on the bench.

“This is our bench, don’t you think?” she says.

“I guess so--since we’ve sat on it two days in a row, I think we can claim it.”

“Me too. It makes it more personal. Look at those pink clouds. The sun will set soon, and we’ll be sitting here on our bench on a warm summer evening. That’s kind of cool.” She kicks her legs out. “Hey, push me on the swing, will you?”

“Okay.”

She leaps from the bench and runs to the swing and sits down. “This skirt probably isn’t appropriate to wear on a swing, but you won’t look, will you?”

“Of course not. Anyway, I’m behind you, aren’t I?”

“That’s a good thing.”

“I guess so.”

“Push me as high as you can, okay? I want to feel like I’m ten years old again.”

“Hang on, here you go.” He pushes her several times, higher and higher with each shove until the chains begin to go slack when she comes down from the peak of her swing.

“Whee! That’s so high! Keep doing it. Don’t stop.”

He pushes her for ten minutes. “Okay, now slow down and go half as high. My hands are getting sore. I don’t want blisters.” He pushes softer and they keep it up until the sun has set. “That’s enough. Let me down, now.” He stops the swing, and she gets off. They walk back to the bench and sit down. She reaches over and takes his hand. “That was fun. Thank you. You’re a good pusher.”

“Aha, I’m a pusher, am I?”

“I don’t mean drugs.”

“I’m more like a pusher-swinger.”

“Yeah, that’s what I meant.”

“It all sounds pretty nasty.”

“You’re not nasty. That’s one thing you’re not.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re sort of cynical, but not nasty.”

“Right.”

“And you’re sort of intellectual, too.”

“That’s not bad, is it?”

“Not at all.” She looks around and then squeezes his hand. “Hey, how about this time. Will you kiss me now?”

He looks her in the eyes and pauses. “Why are you so interested in kissing?”

“I like you. It’s romantic. I mean here we are at sunset on a beautiful summer evening, just the two of us. It’s a perfect time to kiss, don’t you think?”

“I’m not so sure. Kissing is heavy stuff. Anyway, whoever stops at a kiss? I don’t think we know each other well enough.”

“I was hoping you’d change your mind after last night. Lots of boys would die to kiss me, and here you are turning me down. It’s sort of weird.”

“Don’t get me wrong--I like you a lot. I think you’re awesome, really.”

“Then why not kiss me?”

“I’m not ready for that yet. I save kissing for something special.”

“You’re making me sort of sad.”

“Better sad than mad, you know, like yesterday.”

“Yeah--sorry about that. You disappointed me. I was even offended. But you are who you are, so let’s just forget it and walk back to the coffee shop. It’s okay. We’re just different, I guess.”

“I’m glad you’re not mad at me.”

They make their way slowly without speaking during their walk back. They say goodbye. Melissa goes home and so does Henry, she in her Lexus and he in his Ford.

The next day Henry is again at his table with his coffee, but this time he’s not reading, but writing. He brought with him one of his school notebooks that he never used, and he is writing essays. On the first page he identified several subjects about which he plans to write. On the second page he began writing his thoughts. As a result of Melissa’s suggestion, he has abandoned the use of napkins for his writing. His first essay reads as follows:

Numerous virtues have been ascribed to public education, but it is certainly not free in any sense of the word. Although tuition is not paid at the classroom door, we know that taxes are taken from people-at-large to pay for public schools. Costs per pupil per year range between $6,000 and $18,000 in various states. Although we know that taxes pay for these services, there is often an illusion that schooling in America is somehow “free.”

We know that education for youth in America is mandatory. During several decades of the mid-nineteenth century, it was decided in various legislatures that compulsory education was good for the people and for the nation, perhaps to ensure an educated populace capable of democratic self-government. It was thought that representative government required a level of education which could not be guaranteed without institutions mandated and financed by taxation and government promotion. It was sometimes considered a matter of national security, that a superior knowledge might be achieved in the people, providing a higher level of productivity and a competitive edge in world markets. Legislators considered it a matter of law to establish excellence in education through a public tax-supported system. Therefore, the freedom to choose not to go to school was removed, and compulsory attendance laws were enforced. Citizens were not free to neglect school attendance, and they were not free to neglect tuition payments through taxation.

The intentions of those promoting tax-supported public education were good. Compulsory education laws were intended to promote the general welfare and to ensure that parents would not neglect their children’s education, exploit their services at home, or manage family resources so that funds were not available for tuition payments. But the good intentions of lawmakers have not brought success. Public schools are not successful in guaranteeing student proficiency or in maintaining school attendance. Only about 75 per cent of students entering high school graduate, and many of those are considered functionally illiterate. It is estimated that 20 per cent of Americans cannot write a letter or read the newspaper.

Can we say then that public schools have succeeded? Have literacy and educational proficiency improved during the century or so of public schooling? Studies have shown that literacy rates in eighteenth century America were higher than they are today. Thus, ironically, the general public was more proficient academically before the introduction of compulsory education and government support of schools.

How can this be? Why have the public schools failed to provide educational excellence? Vast amounts of money are being expended, voluminous studies have been conducted, graduate schools promote advanced programs, and yet the results are so disappointing.

Perhaps the answer lies in simple concepts such as individual initiative and freedom of choice. Do not most people find it profitable to be able to read and write? Do not most people wish to make the most of their own lives, to compete successfully for desirable employment and higher incomes? It appears sensible that the pursuit of happiness provides sufficient incentive for people to improve themselves educationally. Thus the need for schooling is in one’s self-interest, although perhaps “schooling” is not the most accurate term, for maybe it is actually learning that people seek. When schooling is mandated by law, that sense of “opportunity” which arises from free choice vanishes, and often a stubborn and uncooperative spirit finds its way into the classroom, causing disruption and hindering the learning environment for eager students. Attitude is affected by compulsion, and poor attitudes hinder education.

Likewise, the economic compulsion attached to taxation creates additional attitudinal problems. There are those who do not willingly submit thousands of dollars to the local schools, and their attitudes find expression in the surrounding culture. Often these taxpayers believe that they should have some freedom to choose their children’s school. Perhaps they wish to select the teachers for their children, or the curriculum. This is not practical or possible in our public school system. Parents are unable to effect change or to choose from a variety of alternatives because the system is rigid and often controlled by district administrators or policy-makers far removed from the local community. When state funds are provided to local schools, strings are often attached. It is difficult for local communities to operate schools free from bureaucratic control at state and Federal levels. It is frustrating to teachers to be manipulated and directed by restrictive policies, it is frustrating to parents to be unable to make choices of schools and teachers, and it is frustrating to students to have to submit to state-mandated coursework.

Many are persuaded that abandoning compulsory education laws and tax-support for schools would result in empty classrooms and impoverished schools, but there is little historical evidence to support this theory. If it is in the interest of people to develop knowledge and skills in order to acquire desired employment and financial success, will they neglect their education? Quite the contrary, students will have greater desire for education than they do under the compulsory education law. They will perceive education not as a requirement, but as an opportunity. Administrators will not be burdened with trying to provide discipline for uninterested students, and schools would arise to meet the demands of various student interests and abilities. The market would soon be competing for students, and students would be competing for the best schools and the best teachers. The entire psychological atmosphere surrounding schools and education would be improved, would be more positive, and there would be excellence in a variety of programs. Of course, there would be some who would choose to not attend school. But those same students are not attending under the present circumstances.

Is it the responsibility of government to decide that citizens should be educated? Should the state decide what is proper curriculum? I believe these matters are better left to parents and individuals. The enormous expense now placed upon society is not efficiently managed. Attitudes are not right. The bureaucracy has promoted attendance and conformity, but has failed to maintain creativity, interest, and excellence. Money has proven to be insufficient to mend the ills. The truth is that what education requires, government cannot provide. It needs freedom. Education needs a free market without government funding, direction, interference, or assistance. What the legislators intended to improve they diminished.

One might ask “You don’t think you’re going to abolish public schools in America, do you?” It does seem rather incredible to pose such a possibility. It’s an appealing possibility, nevertheless. It’s sometimes just enjoyable to pipedream. The sad fact is that public education has declined for the past twenty-five years. More and more money is tossed at the problem, but results are dismal. Achievement tests have recently shown some improvement, but only due to a drastic lowering of difficulty in the tests. If the 1960 editions of standardized tests were administered to students today the results would indicate inferior levels of achievement in all academic disciplines.

Private schools would take up the task of education and provide services at a variety of locations, with varying costs, philosophies, and areas of specialization. Students and parents would select schools of their choosing, and they would examine the programs more closely than they do under current conditions. Parents would have to take more interest in their children’s education because they would have to inquire into schools and teachers and curricula. The choices would promote lively debate and inquiry in the community as parents sought the best education at the lowest cost.

Teachers’ salaries would be determined by market competition. Good teachers would be promoted and poor ones would be weeded out. The bureaucracy would be unable to protect jobs for poor teachers entrenched in their positions. Teachers would sense greater support from parents and greater interest from students. Stultifying regulations and controls would be lifted from their backs, and they would acquire added freedom to stimulate learning and improve achievement. In short, the entire academic atmosphere would obtain a shot of vigor in the course of competition, freedom, and choice.

Now, why is all this a pipe-dream? Because people believe the experts whose self-interest is served by continuing the current system. Citizens are too busy to examine the problem and too docile to take responsibility for education themselves. The government system is easy on such people because it makes choices for them and thinks for them. We must muse ourselves and take responsibility for our own lives rather than leaving it to government to provide for us, to educate us, and to make our decisions. If we give the government 40 per cent of our national income and tell them to spend it for us, they will. And in fact, they do. Education is a good place to begin directing our own lives by allowing people to choose their own schools, or no schools, and to see education as the opportunity and responsibility that it is.

Henry spent five hours writing it. He did some computer research last night after getting home, and he wrote for three hours at The Bean Bag in the morning. He brought a small dictionary with him which is sitting on the table beside his tablet.

As usual, Melissa popped in at noon to say hello. “Henry, you’ve already got a notebook? Look, I brought you this one!” She hands it to him.

“Hey, thanks, that’s great.”

“But you don’t need it now.”

“Yes, I do. I’ve already filled a bunch of pages in this one. I like to write.”

“Anyway, mine is a better color. Red is way better than black. And here’s the CD with the stuff you wrote on those silly napkins. Henry, I like what you wrote. You are quite a thinker, aren’t you? You’re not writing anything depressing today, are you?”

“It depends on your point of view, I guess. Here, look at my essay.” He hands her his black notebook. She thumbs through the pages.

“That’s amazing. You wrote all this today?”

“Last night and today.”

“That’s incredible. Do you have that many thoughts floating around in your head?”

“I suppose.”

“It would take me three days to write that.”

“I like to put down on paper what I’m thinking. I see more clearly that way.”

“I’ll go buy my lunch, then you can read it to me while I eat.” She goes.

He quickly grabs a newspaper and reads the front page while he waits. She returns.

“Okay, read it to me.”

She begins to eat, and Henry reads his essay to her. She looks up occasionally to take a glance at him while she enjoys her sandwich and coffee.

“So that’s it,” he says when finished.

“That will make a lot of people angry, Henry. You know that, don’t you.”

“Yeah, I’m afraid it will, but it’s what I think and it’s what I want to communicate. I think it’s better to write my ideas than to have conversations with people. A conversation can easily become an argument and even a shouting match, but when someone gets mad at what I’ve written, I don’t know they’re angry, and I don’t have to listen to them yelling at me. The other day in here a man told me I had stupid ideas and he didn’t want to hear any more of what I have to say, and he left. It’s kind of disturbing. I don’t like being the enemy.”

“Then be careful what you say.”

“I believe what I believe, and I think it’s important to talk about certain issues. I can’t keep my thoughts to myself. What good is it for me to remain silent when I have good ideas to share? It’s important to speak up.”

“You’ll pay a price for it because of what you believe. Your ideas are not mainstream.”

“I’m aware of that, but my ideas are right, and I need to express them. That’s the one good thing I can do in life. I mean, that’s my job, I guess, since I don’t have another one.”

“That’s one way to look at it. I’m glad I sell shoes for a living. I don’t get into arguments or shouting matches over shoes. You picked a controversial line of work.”

“I think you’re right.”

“I like to make people happy, so I sell them beautiful shoes, and they go away smiling. You share controversial ideas with people, and they get upset and start shouting and go away angry. I prefer my line of work.”

“We are who we are, and we do what we do.”

“Yes, well, I’d better get back to the store. How about I meet you here after work, and I’ll buy you an ice cream cone--I’ll take you out! You know, I have money.”

“Can you afford it?”

“I can. It’s my treat. See you later.” And away she goes.

Henry opens the red notebook she brought him and thinks for a moment. He opens the black notebook to the first page where he listed ideas for his essays, then begins writing another essay. He does some research on his phone, takes a few pages of notes, then sets about writing for the rest of the afternoon. Here’s what he wrote:

In order to improve primary and secondary education in the U.S., leaders must promote excellent teaching skills in the classrooms. If leaders would act in ways to assist teachers, to encourage and reward good teachers, it would totally revolutionize education. But that does not happen for 95% of teachers, and public education unions resist all types of evaluation and reward for excellence. Good teachers grow frustrated and quit within five years. A teacher in the U.S. is not adequately rewarded and is not recognized for doing good work. To remain a teacher is an act of charity and personal devotion to some over-riding cause. Teachers face constant discouragement, hindered by lack of support and recognition. Disruptive students destroy learning environments, but such students are allowed to remain in classrooms throughout the system. Unruly students are protected at the expense of good teaching. Students who refuse to cooperate in classrooms should be corrected or removed so teachers can be effective with other students who want to learn. This is common sense. Leaders have known this for decades, but changes are not made, and improvements seldom occur.

The priority for classroom environments cannot be tolerance and protection for students who are disruptive or disinterested, but for students who are engaged, productive, and cooperative. Cooperation and productivity are essential to success of the classroom much like in the workplace. Teachers are not granted the support needed to create learning environments free of disruption, and replete with resources. A teacher is considered in U.S. social and economic circles to be an unimportant person, irrelevant and without value. If an elementary or secondary teacher wishes to obtain respect from society in the U.S., the solution is to leave education.

The secret to improved performance in our schools lies with quality teachers. Teachers make contact with students. They present the information and provide inspiration, motivation, and discipline. A lousy teacher destroys the learning environment. Teachers who prove to be superior should be paid more, providing added incentive toward effort, training, and excellence. Children are our nation’s greatest resource, and to place before them incompetent teachers in order to protect their job security is criminal. Parents and students should have the freedom to select any school in the vicinity. A voucher indicating that school taxes have been paid is sufficient payment for attendance. Schools work best when choice is maximized. Schools do best when forced to compete for students. When schools have a captive clientele, they lose incentive to attract students. The quality of our schools is the result of our insane system of controls by which students are directed to a particular school. Let every teacher in America be informed that their job performance will affect their pay level, and that poor performance will result in termination.

He’s reading and editing his essay when Melissa joins him again at his table.

“What have you been doing?” she asks.

“Take a look,” he says, handing her the red notebook.

“Hey, you used the one I gave you this time. How sweet!”

“Yes, I filled it with subversive and controversial ideas. Red represents blood and war and violence, so it’s quite fitting.”

“I see you wrote about your favorite subject--education. At least that’s something you know a lot about after 12 years in the system.”

"The system is right.”

“I know, you don’t like it. Well, don’t read this to me now. I’m taking you out for ice cream right now. Put this stuff in your bag and let’s get going.

They make their way onto the sidewalk and start walking. Melissa points out the best fashions in the windows as they make their toward the ice cream shop. “I like that skirt,” she says pointing. She stops to look.

“No shopping today,” he says. “Two days in a row is all I can take.”

“That’s fair. I can live with that. We’ll make it tomorrow then.”

They walk and talk and make fun of strange people as they go, joking and laughing about every ridiculous thing that happens. Melissa takes his hand.

“You like holding my hand, don’t you?” he asks.

“Oh, is that all right, Henry. I didn’t even think about it. It just comes natural to me.”

“You grabbed it last night when we were on the bench, too.”

“Oh, I didn’t even think about it. It just happens, you know.”

“I noticed it, though.”

“Is it okay?”

“Yes. I noticed it because I’m not used to it. It doesn’t come natural to me.”

“You and I are very different, you know that?”

“True. I’ve noticed.”

“Here we are!” They go into the ice cream store and she buys two cones with three scoops.

“These are huge. I’ll never eat all of this,” he says.

“You can do it. There’s no hurry. We’ll walk all over the city while we do it. There’s so much to see. Maybe we can go to the mall.”

“Not to the mall, Melissa. We’re not shopping today.”

“What else is a girl to do?”

“We’ll think of something. We’ll start by getting our exercise.”

“Yeah, to work the calories we’re taking in from the ice cream--good plan.”

They walk and talk and eat ice cream for an hour.

“Shall we go to the park again?” he asks.

“No, let’s go to my car and listen to music. I have a ton of CD’s in there.”

“Probably all girl-stuff.”

“You’ll see.”

They walk to her car which is in a parking garage at the department store where she works.

“Let’s drive to the roof where we can see the sun when it sets.” She drives them up and around to the top deck of the garage and parks facing the sun, which is low in the sky. Nobody else is parked up there.

“Kind of lonely up here,” he says.

“Not with me around.”

“I mean no other cars.”

“It’s more convenient to park close to the doors down below. What do you want to hear?”

“I don’t know. You choose. Show me what you’ve got. You be the DJ.”

“Okay, how about Taylor Swift?”

“I knew it--girlie-stuff.”

“Let’s start with her.”

“Do your thing.”

She puts it on and turns it up and rolls down all the windows. After awhile a song comes on about dancing in the parking lot. Melissa smiles, takes his hand, and says “Let’s do it!” She turns up the volume, jumps out of the car, and starts dancing around, spinning in circles and laughing. “Henry, come on, dance with me!”

“I don’t dance.”

“Everybody dances. It’s good for the soul. Come on!”

“Really, I don’t dance. I never have.”

“That’s ridiculous. I don’t know anyone in the world who doesn’t dance. Take my hand--I’ll teach you.”

She grabs his hand and swings him around. “Okay, now watch. I’ll stand beside you and you just follow my lead and do whatever I do. Don’t worry about getting it right.”

“I won’t get it right because I won’t know what I’m doing.”

“Nobody’s watching, and I won’t tell. Come on, do what I’m doing.” She is moving her feet and swinging her arms and making lots of motions, none of which Henry can do well. She starts laughing so hard, she falls onto the pavement. “You kill me! You’re the worst dancer I’ve seen in my life!” She stands up and gets in his face. “Now listen, you need to loosen up. Dancing should be fluid. Let your arms and legs be loose and fluid. You’ve got to feel the music and move with it, flow with it, go with it. It’s a dance, Henry, it’s a dance, not an argument.”

“I can’t do it. It’s not my thing.”

“Try it. This song has a good beat, sweet and simple. Just move to it. I won’t look at you. I’ll look the other way and dance by myself. You watch me and do the best you can. Just feel the music, let yourself go, be free.”

“I’ll try it, but don’t look at me, understand?”

“Fine, no problem. Henry, you’ve got to learn to dance in order to learn to live!”

“I don’t think so.”

“No, really. It helps you feel things, to express your emotions, to loosen your limbs--it’s a very healthy activity.”

“I’ll try it. Now look the other way.”

“Okay. This might take a while, so keep dancing. When a new song comes on, adjust to the rhythm and keep going. Try new motions with each song. Let yourself go.”

They dance to the rest of the first CD, then through three more CD’s while the sun is setting. The clouds are bright pink and shimmering with light.

“That’s all I can do,” he says. “I’m going to collapse.”

“Oh, you baby. I could do this all night. Okay then, get in the car.”

They get in the car and she puts in a different CD. “Tell me kind of music this is,” she says, looking at Henry. She turns it down.

“I don’t know. It’s not American music, that’s for sure.”

“True, it’s Latin music. Here the beat? They dance to this stuff in South America. They do Salsa and Mambo and other stuff. It’s got great rhythm. Can you hear it?”

“Yeah, but don’t ask me dance to it.”

“That would require lessons, I’m afraid. It’s very sophisticated dancing, and very romantic.”

“That would fit your style, then, wouldn’t it?”

“Why, you think I’m romantic?”

“I meant I think that you like romance--you know--sunsets, fancy clothing, kissing.”

“It’s true. I am romantic--I like romance--it’s beautiful, that’s why.”

“Well, that’s fitting enough, ’cause you’re beautiful, too.”

“Henry, that’s so sweet! Thank you. It’s not like you to say things like that.”

“That’s true, so you know I really mean it.”

“You do?”

“Yes, I do.”

“But you won’t kiss me, even though you think I’m beautiful?”

“Let’s not talk about that again.”

She turns away and looks at the sky. “Those clouds are beautiful, aren’t they? So many things about nature are beautiful. We should go for a hike in the mountains some day. That would be fun, wouldn’t it?”

“Maybe. I’ve never gone hiking before.”

“You’re kidding me. I cannot believe you--you have lived a deprived existence. You’ve missed out on so much. All you do is read and write and argue and debate.”

“I’ve always been sort of a loner. I haven’t had much of a social life.”

She looks at him and takes his hand. “I feel a little bit sorry for you, you know that? I mean, you’re smart and talented and good looking, but you’ve missed out on so many of the good things in life.”

“I’m all right. It didn’t kill me.”

“Have you changed your mind about kissing me?”

“No.”

“That’s too bad.” She looks away and surveys the parking lot, then turns back toward Henry. “Maybe there’s another way you can show affection, since you don’t want to kiss me.” She squeezes his hand and starts caressing it. She brings it to her face and places it against her cheek. “You could rub my shoulders and my back, couldn’t you?”

“I guess so.”

She turns her back to him and he begins rubbing her shoulders. “Massage my neck. It relaxes the muscles.”

He massages her for awhile.

“Yes, like that. You’re good at this--imagine that!”

He rubs her neck with his fingers.

“Now do my back.” He starts rubbing her back. She leans forward with her head on her lap. “You can push harder on my back. You’re supposed to work out the tension and loosen the muscles.” He works on her back until she sits up and turns toward him, looking him in the eye. “Now you can do my chest if you want.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s a good idea. That’s not smart.”

“Why not? Henry, I’m falling in love with you.”

“It’s not smart because one thing leads to another. We’re not married.”

“You said last night we don’t know each other well enough to be kissing. Well, how can we get to know each other well if we don’t do things? We’ve got to share some affection if we want to get to know each other.”

“Some things should be saved for that very special person.”

“But maybe I am that special person, and we need to get better acquainted. Affection is very important to me. I need it.”

“It can wait. I can wait and it should wait for marriage.”

“I love you, Henry.”

“Well, I’m not in a position to get married. I don’t have a job, or a career, or money, or a house, or any sort of life that can allow me to get married.”

“I’m not expecting you to marry me yet. I just want to love you. Have you ever touched a girl?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve never had a girlfriend.”

“You really have led a deprived life.”

“I got by fine without a girlfriend.”

“But you missed all the fun. You’re 19!”

“I had plenty of fun.”

“Okay. Well, it’s getting late, so if you don’t want to kiss me and you don’t want to touch me, then I guess we’d better call it a night.”

“I think so, too.”

She starts the car and drives to the coffee shop where he gets out. “Good night, Henry. I love you.”

“Good night, Melissa. See you tomorrow. Thanks for the dancing lesson.”

“My pleasure.” She drives off.

Back at The Bean Bag the next morning, Henry is writing frantically. He’s had four cups of coffee in four hours. Here’s what he wrote:

A nation prospers when people are productive and respectful of the law. Government policies that encourage people to work contribute to the wealth of the nation. Policies that reward people for not working reduce the wealth of everyone. People become productive and helpful when they are forced to provide for themselves, to pay their own way, to make good things happen. Whenever government provides a way for people to get something for nothing, there are many who do so. But those who get food, housing, and health care from government are benefiting at the expense of other citizens. The government acquires money by taxing those who work. All citizens who work and pay taxes find it advantageous for others to do the same because such conditions lead to lower government expenses and lower taxes. Low tax rates encourage workers to work longer and harder because they reap the rewards. People who get food, housing, and health care from the government force others to pay their bills.

The best way to provide workable incentives to people to become productive is to encourage them to do so by refusing to provide for their needs except to offer them an abundance of opportunities to become employed. If there are available means of finding financial support from government without working, then a sizable percentage of people will do so, and indeed are now doing so.

The consumer decides what is purchased in the marketplace. When a consumer makes a purchase, demand is created for that product. Thus production increases, jobs and materials are committed to production, and demand is met. Most Americans base decisions for their purchases primarily upon the lowest price, regardless of place of production. As a result thousands of U.S. manufacturers have constructed plants overseas in order to take advantage of low labor costs. U.S. companies that resist this trend and maintain production facilities in the U.S. must pay higher wages. The cost of production therefore increases, and they go out of business because people won’t pay the higher prices they must charge for their goods. As a result millions of U.S. jobs have been lost, while millions of jobs have been created in China, India, Indonesia, and Mexico to produce goods for U.S. consumers who care more about the price of goods than about the place of origin.

Many people who decry the movement of manufacturing to overseas locations are the same people who prefer to purchase cheap goods produced overseas, by which means they support the loss of U.S. jobs and the movement of manufacturing facilities out of our country. The consumer alone decides which companies prosper, and their daily purchases become the deciding factor, not political or economic policy.

Governments constantly seek to obtain a higher percentage of the people’s income, and no matter how they frame the tax to appear “harmless” to the majority, in the end it is always the people who pay the taxes, either directly, or by taxes and fees on businesses that are passed along in the form of higher prices for goods and services. The solution is reduce the size of all government budgets by 2% per year for 10 consecutive years, or 1% per year for 20 years, and allow them to adjust through sound planning. Government must become smaller if people are to prosper.

There is in America an emerging desire for limited government and for increased freedom which is arising in direct opposition to current attempts by government to take increased control over our lives. Lovers of freedom are passionate, energized, and ready to act if they can find a practical outlet for action. Socialists are moving swiftly to increase government control over all aspects of society—educational, political, and economic. People are choosing sides--divisions are growing deeper.

People want opportunity, not charity. Charity cannot be a beneficial function of government. Charity belongs in the private sector, managed and provided by willing participants. True charity is a function of generous people and private organizations that wish to assist needy people to get back on their feet so they can become productive. When government provides charity, beneficiaries of assistance believe they are receiving help not as a gift, but as a right, and the government owes it to them. They sincerely believe they can demand, demand, demand whatever they think they deserve. Lawmakers, don’t do it. Let people earn their food and housing. If they don’t, then they should bear the consequences. Welcome to the real world.

Socialists believe they know best what is needed for society and for individual citizens. They are convinced that the common man does not know what is best for society. They believe that somehow nature has provided an elite class of leaders with superior knowledge to compensate for the ignorance of the average citizen. For the good of society, they confiscate money from working citizens and spend it for the benefit of the state. They provide tax-supported education for all children, forcing everyone to pay for it. They establish laws for compulsory education, and they mandate that teachers can teach only if they obtain a license from the government. The teacher’s license is given to instructors who are paid by the government--instructors who indoctrinate people to support the state and its policies, instructors who encourage people to submit to the will of the state. Those who are paid by the state support generous funding of the state.

The founders of this country had it right. Those who fashioned the Constitution of the United States did not create policies to assist those who do not work, who are needy, or who are eager to obtain food, housing, and education provided by government. It was the responsibility of people to provide for themselves, while government was prevented from oppressing people or denying them freedom to pursue their ideas and interests. The rights of the people were asserted and protected, but government was not to be a provider. How things have changed over time! If current sentiments prevail for long, some governments will be bankrupt.

The best way to unleash the enormous creative energy and productivity of American workers is to reduce taxes on businesses and individuals and to eliminate restrictions on free trade across all borders. Let the entire world be our marketplace. Production will increase tremendously under such conditions.

Liberals don’t understand that prosperity is encouraged best when government maximizes opportunities for people to work while minimizing the taxes imposed. The nation produces more goods and services when everyone is working. The wealth of the nation increases when people are forced to provide for themselves because government refuses to give them something for nothing.

In case somebody out there is new to the laws of economics (such as some of our elected representatives appear to be) they should realize that the government can work hard at printing money day and night for the next several years, but it would be more beneficial if they would encourage citizens to work hard at creating the things that people need and want. If people are unemployed and government creates nothing but paper money, there won’t be shoes and cars and shirts. Government actually produces nothing but laws, codes, rules, and regulations.

At noon, right on schedule, Melissa showed up. While he was writing, she snuck up behind him and put her hands over his eyes. “Guess who?” she said.

“Marilyn Monroe?”

“Oh, so that’s who you’ve been thinking about? Is that how it is?”

“No, I think about you.”

“That was a good answer. What are you writing today?”

“Great stuff--everyone should read it.”

“Well, at least I will. Give me your notebooks tonight and I’ll make you another CD. We must preserve your ideas so we can publish them some day.”

“Thanks for your assistance.”

“You’re welcome, but I have a request. In exchange for my services I request you to write me some poetry. Is it a deal?”

He thinks for a moment. “Poetry is something I truly love, but I don’t write much of it. However, for you I will make an exception. I will attempt to compose something especially related to you.”

“Thank you. If you’re going to be a writer, and if I’m going to be your friend, then at least I should get some poetry out of the deal.”

“You wish is my command.”

“By the time I return at six I hope to have some verses composed in my honor. Can that be done?”

She puts her hand on his. He looks her in the eye. “It shall be done.”

“Good. Now I need to get some lunch,” she said, and off she went. While she was eating, he read to her what he wrote in the morning.

She returned to work through the afternoon. He set about composing poetry. When she returned at the end of the day, she hurried to his table and asked, “Did you write some poetry for me?” He smiled and handed her the red notebook. Here is some of my poetry. Look at it while I read this book.

“Henry, that’s beautiful,” she said, and she leaned over to kiss his forehead. “I am amazed. You put all your passion into poetry instead of into action, don’t you?”

“I’m glad you like it.”

“I don’t just like it--I love it. You’re expressive in your writing, but not in your life.” He looks at her and makes a face. “Oh, sorry. I mean your poetry is so passionate, but you are so--oh never mind, I can’t say it right. But the poems are wonderful, and romantic!”

“I wrote them for you, and I wrote them to you.”

“Come on, gather up your stuff and come with me.”

He puts his notebooks, pens, and papers into his bag, and they go out the door.

“Where are we going?” he asks.

“To my car. I’m taking you for a drive in the country.”

“What part of the country?”

“A beautiful part. Over rolling hills, along flowing rivers, in fragrant meadows. I’m going to take you on a hike in the hills, not the mountains, because the hills are nearby.”

“I told you I don’t go on hikes.”

“You will today.”

“Okay, it looks like you’ve already made up your mind.”

“Indeed, I have.” She drives her Lexus with the windows down and music playing. She sings along with every song. Henry’s hair is blowing in the wind. He takes in the view, looking at Melissa from time to time. After an hour, she pulls off the highway onto a little side road. She turns off the car, gets out, and comes around to open Henry’s door. “Come with me,” she says, grasping his hand and pulling him. “I have something to show you.” She leads him along a winding path through the meadow until they come to a stream that’s bubbling over big rocks. They sit down in the tall grass. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Yes, it’s beautiful. Beautiful and peaceful.”

They lie down in the grass and look up at the blue sky. It’s a sunny day in the early evening. It’s a warm summer day. She rolls onto her side and props herself up, hovering over Henry. “I love you, I’ve decided. You’re a very strange man, I admit, but I really love you. I can’t help it.”

“Be careful. Don’t get in a hurry with love. You might change your mind some day.”

“No, I’ve made up my mind.”

“But it’s so sudden. So much has happened in only the last few days.”

“I’ve dated lots of boys, Henry, and you’re the one. You’re the one I love, and you’re the one I want.”

“Well, fine. That’s great.”

“Henry, you can do better than that! I tell you I love you, and you say, “Well fine, that’s great! Yeah, that really get my jets going!”

“Sorry, I don’t know what to say.”

“I’m sure it’s difficult for a logical man like you, but turn on your emotional side if you have one, will you?”

“Lately my only emotion has been anger.”

“I don’t want that emotion!”

“I love you, too, Melissa, but I don’t want to show it because I’m not in a position to take care of you or spend money on you or marry you or anything.”

“I know that.”

“I’m not in a position to show you much of anything. I’m a nothing, a nobody.”

“Well, I’m in a position to show something to you! So here goes.” She starts unbuttoning her blouse.

“Whoa, what are you doing?”

“I’m taking off my clothes--showing you what I look like.”

“Don’t do that. You can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“Because we’re not married. You’re not my wife.”

“I love you--that’s all that matters to me.”

“You don’t want you to do this.”

“But I do. Look, you won’t kiss me and you won’t touch me, so I’m not really in danger, am I? You won’t give me affection. You write sweet words to me, but you don’t hold me. So I’ll show you the goods--I think you’ll like it.”

“Wait a minute. Let’s think about this. Really, it’s possible that our relationship won’t last. Have you thought about that? You might marry somebody some day and regret what you’ve done here today.”

“I’m not worried about it. I love you. I want to be with you. I want you to want me. I want you to appreciate me, so I want you to see me without my clothes.”

“You’re an impulsive person and a wild woman, do you realize that?”

“You might be right. Now just sit there and watch. Have I got your full attention?”

She unbuttons her blouse and takes it off. She takes off her bra and smiles at him. “Do you like?”

“Yes, you’re beautiful.”

She unfastens her pants and pulls them off, then slips off her panties. “See? This is me. This is what you’ll get if you stay with me. I’ll give all of it. I love you, Henry, and I want you to have me. Understand?”

“I understand. Now please get dressed.”

“You know something, you are the most stoic man I have ever known. Usually, it’s the men who are trying to take off my clothes, but you are trying to get me to put them on. You’re a very unusual man.”

“I do it because I love you.”

“What?”

“I said, I do it because I love you. I don’t want you to regret what do with me. We don’t know the future. If something happens and our relationship ends, we will both someday have other relationships. I don’t want you to regret what you have done with me. That’s why I’m holding back. It’s for you own good.”

“You have more self-control than anyone in the world. Tell me, how do I look?”

“You are absolutely beautiful--a Venus de Milo. Some guy will be lucky to get you.”

“I want that guy to be you.”

“So do I. Okay then, you’d better help me get a job so we can make this happen. We can’t be together if I spend every day at The Bean Bag.”

“Good enough. I’ll do that. I’ll help with your books, I’ll type them for you. I’ll help you publish them. You’re a writer. I’ll help you--we’ll do this together. We can do this!”

“You’re amazing. I can’t believe what you’re saying. But it’s good--we’ll do it together. We’ll make things happen.”

“All right, so that’s settled.”

“Now will you please put on your clothes?”

She smiles, then slowly puts on her clothing. He looks the other way while she does it. She looks at him. “Are you human?” she asks.

“Yes, I’m human. I love you. You’re beautiful. I want you, but it’s going to have to wait.”

“I figured that out. I thought it would just happen, something would just happen. But I guess not. Well, suppose we walk along the river and make our way up the hill?”

“I told you, I’m not a hiker.”

“Can you do it for me? You said you love me, so can you do this for me?” She grabs his hand and tugs on it, and they walk together along the path through tall grasses and over broken branches. More tall trees line the path as they make the climb uphill. A breeze is blowing. They come to small waterfall--water rushes over huge rocks, turning silver in the sun. She stops. “Isn’t that awesome? I love nature. Look at it--can water get any cleaner than that?”

“Well, it’s not Lake Erie.”

“No, that’s pure water rolling over solid granite in bright sunlight.”

“You’re pure water.”

“Me?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t ask me about my past, please.”

“I’m not interested in it.”

“In that case, I’m pure as pure can be.”

“I believe it.”

“After the way I’ve behaved with you?” They continue walking. The vegetation turns from meadow to more like a forest as they walk.

“Tomorrow will you write more poetry about me?”

“If you want me to.”

“I do. I want to know everything you think about me.”

“All good things.”

“And your imagination--let your imagination go wild. It doesn’t need to be real.”

“I’ll try, but my mind is rather logical.”

“Let your imagination go wild--make me an angel.”

“I’ll try.”

“Don’t just try--do it! You know--I love romance.”

“I picked up on that. Hey now, the sun is setting, and it’s going to get dark, so we’d better make our way back to the car while we can still see where we’re going.”

“You are so practical. I never would have thought of darkness when we’re standing in the light.”

“Do you have a flashlight?”

“No, but I have you. You’re my flashlight.”

“Then let me lead you back down to safety so we don’t die up here in the wilderness.”

“Okay, lead on.”

He leads her back down the path to the car, and she drives them back to the coffee shop.

“Thanks for the fun,” she says. “Thanks for indulging my caprices. Thanks for enduring me. Don’t forget to write poetry--lots of it, and give it to me tomorrow at lunch.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” He gets out of the car, and she drives away, waving an arm out the window as she goes.

At noon the next day Melissa joins him at his table. He hands her his red notebook.

“Oh, thank you! I’ll go get my lunch. You can read it to me while I eat. I’ll read it again when I get home tonight, when I’m alone. I want to hear it first from the mouth of the poet, from the mouth of my writer.”

She returns with her lunch and sits down. “Read it to me.”

He reads the poems to her slowly in a deep, rich voice. She stares at the table while she listens, concentrating intently and smiling often, sometimes looking up at him.

“I love them, I love them. I’m your princess, aren’t I? I never realized you observed me so closely and saw me so vividly, that you were so totally aware of me--my movements, my arms, my hands. You’re more observant than I ever took you for. You know how hard I’ve tried to get your attention with my clothes and my shoes, and also without them. But you’ve been watching me all the time, haven’t you? I never knew!

“I have eyes and ears. How could I not notice?”

“I’m a lightning bolt! Just what I want to be. Come with me, let’s get out of here.”

He shoves his things into his bag and off they go. “Where are we going?”

“First, we’re going to my car.”

He follows close behind as she races forward in a frenzy. When they reach her car, she unlocks it and opens his door on the passenger side, then sits in the driver’s seat.

She grabs his hand and kisses it. “Those poems were powerful. They were perceptive and alive. I love them!” She starts the car. “We’re going back to the roof to dance.” She drives rapidly up the circular road to the roof and parks in a secluded corner of the enormous area. There are no other cars. She turns on the music and gets out of the car. “Come on, we’re going to dance! We must do a poetry dance. I’m celebrating the poems you wrote about me and for me and to me.” She spins and kicks and moves her arms to the beat of the music. “Come on, join me!”

“I think you need to calm down. You’re sort of wild. Did you have a difficult day?”

“I’m excited--I’m so happy! I love your poems. Dance with me!”

He gets out of the car and stands beside it. “I think we’d better go to the park and play on the swings, don’t you?”

“No, I want to dance right here,” and she does so ferociously and frantically. “I’m so happy! I’m so happy!”

“Hey, you’d better quiet down--somebody might come up here and kick us out. Remember, you work in this place. They’ll put you on probation.”

“Oh, stop worrying, will you? Cut loose for once and enjoy yourself!” She spins in her skirt and jumps and dances wildly for five minutes while he watches.

“You’re sort of out-of-control,” he says between songs.

“That’s exactly what I am, and it feels good, it feels wonderful!”

“Come on, get back in the car and let’s go. He turns off the music.”

She stops dancing and looks him in the eye. “Okay, I’ll get back in the car.” See does, slamming the door after herself. “You want to be in the car with me? You want me to quiet down? You want to see me?”

“Yes, that’s what I want.”

“Will you kiss me then?”

“No, I won’t.”

“Will you touch me?”

“No, I can’t.”

“Yes you can, but you won’t. You worry too much. You’re obsessed with fear!”

“We should go now.”

“Do you think I’m beautiful?”

“Yes, I’ve already told you that. Let’s go home.”

She looks at him in frustration and sinks down in her seat. “I can’t get you to love me, can I? I try to tantalize you, but nothing works. I want you to love me.”

“I do love you. I love you totally, but marriage comes before love-making. It’s one of my principles.”

“You and your principles--they’re a curse. You have no freedom, you have no spontaneity. Everything for you must be principle and reason and logic. How can you live like that? Well, I can’t. It’s driving me crazy! Can’t you see that?”

“Yes, I see it. I’ve driven you crazy. I’m very sorry. Everything will work out eventually. But for let’s go back to the coffee shop.

She leans back in the seat and takes a deep breath. “I’ve never known a boy I couldn’t control, but you’re utterly impossible. You drive me mad.”

She looks away, takes a deep breath, starts the car, and drives slowly back to the coffee shop.

Henry gets out. “Here, I’ll give you my red notebook with the poems in it. I’ll keep the black one for tomorrow. Go home and get some rest. You’re stressed out. Maybe you’re having a nervous breakdown or something. You scare me. I thought I was the crazy one, but maybe you have a touch my disease. Sweet dreams tonight.”

She kisses the red notebook and lays it in her lap. “Goodnight, Henry. I love you. Thanks for putting up with me.” And she drives away into the night.

The next morning Henry was back at his table writing. Here’s what he wrote:

Because free markets exist, people who are exploited by unfair employers can move to another job and escape the abuse. When government controls employment, people cannot choose to change employers. No system is perfect or totally fair, but freedom offers the best choice. When governments grow large, dominant, and dictatorial regarding economic choices and employment, people cannot escape situations they do not want. A free market which is not dominated by government allows people to choose the best available employer.

Anybody who owns a business strives to make a profit so worker’s wages and other expenses can be paid, and the employer can make money. Nobody wants to work for nothing. The employer makes money by creating a business that is profitable. In the process the employer hires good workers to whom wages are paid. The worker takes the job to earn wages. Productive workers make the business profitable. It’s a win-win situation when good workers cooperate with a good employer to produce a good product that people are eager to purchase.

When more people are working, less people are living on government assistance. This is not rocket science. Increased taxes on businesses cause them to seek more favorable situations in other countries. Higher taxation on the wealthy results in large percentages of them moving out of a state, as has occurred in California, New York, and New Jersey in recent years. Raising taxes reduces the number jobs, and provides a disincentive for employers and employees. Citizens must vote for policies that actually contribute to the good of society. Financial policies have consequences. Let’s elect leaders who will establish policies that benefit the people who are eager to work and provide for the needs of themselves and their families.

Freedom comes with a price. It is the willingness of all people who live in a democratic republic to be self-supporting, to be generous to others through personal sacrifice, to work hard, to save for the future, to become informed voters, and to take the time and effort necessary to know what our political leaders believe and practice in their elected capacities. To be ignorant or lazy regarding what our elected officials are doing is to allow fraud, lying, mismanagement, and deception.

Elected officials often promote their own careers and success at a cost of sacrificing truth and practicality which benefits society and all people. All who live, work, and serve politically in the United States of America must consider more than their personal profit and advantage if this nation is to have a future. If everybody attempts to take from government every advantage they can find, the nation will eventually face bankruptcy and will collapse.

Should the government of a free people in a nation steeped in liberty and individual responsibility bow down and submit to control by political leaders who desire to dictate how citizens must live, how they obtain health care, what schools their children must attend, and what politically correct ideas must be accepted?
Must the free people of a great nation, born through the sacrifice of men and women who surrendered their lives, their fortunes, and their blood to win freedom from tyranny and to create a written constitution to control the power of government, divided among three distinct branches of government, now bow down to leaders who dictate how people must live, how their tax money must be spent, and what their children must learn, without choice?

“Henry, I’m back,” says Melissa out of the blue.

“Is it lunch time already?”

“Yes, it is.”

“I guess I got lost in thought.”

“Nothing new about that.”

“Are you feeling better today?”

“I felt fine yesterday, and I feel fine today. Here’s your stuff I typed.” She hands him a CD and the red notebook.

“Thanks. You did this last night? I thought you’d be too tired.”

“I read it, and I loved it. I love everything you write, especially about me.”

“Well, it’s good to have at least one fan.”

“You do. I’m your first fan.”

“I’ve got start somewhere.”

She sits down. “I have something to tell you. It’s serious.”

“That’s rather frightening. Well, at least I didn’t get you pregnant.”

“That’s for sure. No, it’s about a job. I met a woman today at the store. She was trying on shoes for about an hour and buying everything that struck her fancy. She asked me about my life and my future plans. I told her I had a boyfriend. I told her I see you every day a lunch and after work. She was happy for me. She asked how we can get together at lunch time. I told her where you hang out and what you do every day.”

“Hey, I don’t like people to know that much about me.”

“I said that you are a poet and a writer, and that you write beautiful poems to me. She asked if I could show her one, so I handed her your notebook and she read some of them. She loved them.”

“Melissa, those poems are only for you. Don’t show them to anybody! They’re private, between you and me.”

“She said she and her husband own a publishing and printing business. She said they need an editor and asked if you’d be interested. I said, yes, you desperately need a job. She handed me her business card and said you should call and make an appointment to meet with her about an editing job. Her name is Patrice--it’s on the card. How about that?”

“No way. You’re making this up.”

“No, I swear to God, this really happened. Is that exciting or what. Look, here’s her card. So call her up and make an appointment.”

He looks at the card carefully--“Patrice Johnson. This is incredible!”

“Maybe you’re finally going to get a break!” She claps her hands.

“Maybe I’m finally going to get a job, and some income. My dad will pass out.”

“Isn’t it wonderful? Congratulations!”

“I haven’t got the job yet.”

“Not yet, but you will. She loved your poetry--now that’s a connection!”

“I can’t believe you showed her my poems. You’re so impulsive.”

“Yes, and I got you an interview for good job doing something you’re good at.”

“True. Thank you for that.”

“I told you I would help you, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did.”

“And I’ve done it, haven’t I?”

“Yes.”

“Because I love you.”

“I believe you.”

“Because it’s true.”

“When should I call her--did she say?”

“Call her this afternoon. Why wait? She might hire somebody else if you don’t get right on it.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Oh, Henry, get a life! Call her and tell her I spoke to you about the job. She knows both our names, and she’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. She’ll ask you to come in for an interview. That shouldn’t be a problem. You should be available any time of day or night! Make the appointment and take the interview.”

“I’ve never had an interview. I don’t know what to do.”

“I have. I had an interview, and I got the job. It’s easy. Just be friendly and explain what you can do. It helps to dress up so you look nice.”

“You’re good at that. I don’t know what should I wear?”

“Something nice. Not jeans and a T-shirt. Wear some slacks, black shoes, and a dress shirt.”

“What’s a dress shirt?”

“It’s a shirt with buttons and a collar. You can wear one of your sport shirts, I guess. You probably don’t have a dress shirt.”

“No, never even heard of it.”

“Okay, wear a sport shirt. Make sure everything is clean.”

“Is that all there is to it?”

“Yes. They might ask you to fill out an application, and they might want to see your high school transcript and some letters of reference. It’s not a problem--you can do this!”

“Okay. I’ll call her this afternoon. I’ll need to think about what I’m going to say first.”

“You have plenty of time to do that. Write it down in one of your notebooks first if you want. Better use the red one.”

“Yes, that’s what I’ll do. That will be my rehearsal--good idea.”

“I’m full of good ideas. Call before three. Get to her before someone else does. This is your chance--don’t blow it!”

“Okay, okay. This is so weird.”

“I knew we could do it if we work together. There’s two of us, working together.”

“You think that makes a difference?”

“I know it makes a difference. We can build a life together, Henry, we can.”

“Wow, this is too weird.”

“I’ve got to get something to eat. I’ll be back.” She goes to the counter and returns with her sandwich. Henry is already writing down what he plans to say on the phone.

“Put it aside right now and talk to me while I’m here. I only have twenty minutes left.”

He looks up. “I should write down what I’m going to say in the interview, too. I need to think this thing through.”

“The interview probably won’t be for several days, so you have plenty of time.”

“Oh, that will be torture. I want to get it over with.”

“Things take time. It’s nerve-wracking, that’s true.”

“It will drive me crazy.”

“No, you’re already there.”

“Thanks. You said the same about me, remember.”

“You did sort of flip out yesterday.”

“Stuff happens. I’m a nice person.”

“True, but a little crazy.”

“So we make a good match.”

“Yes, we do make a good match.”

“Now you’ll get a job and earn money, and we can get married.”

“Wow, you can leap a long way in one day, can’t you.”

“This is the plan. This is fate. This is happening.”

“I don’t know about that. And I don’t believe in fate. Slow down here--one day a time.”

“Nope. It’s fate.”

“Eat your sandwich and let me write my thoughts. My mind is going a million miles an hour.”

“Okay, if you’re rather do that than talk to me, go ahead.”

“Hey, I’d rather talk to you, but I’m distracted. I’ve got to do this. Cut me some slack.”

“Okay, fine.”

He opens his notebook and begins writing. He looks up at her now and then but doesn’t say anything. She smiles and rolls her eyes. After ten minutes she gets up to leave.

“Gotta go, now. Good luck with your phone call. Don’t blow a fuse. Be yourself. Remind her about me--I’m your connection, I’m your helper, I’m your support, I’m your good luck charm.”

“Yes, you’re all of that and more.”

“See you after work.” She leaves and he returns to his writing.

“What a girl,” he says to himself. “What a girl.”

He works on his thoughts for the phone call and the interview. At 3:00 o’clock he calls Patrice on his cell phone.

“Johnson Publishing--how may I direct your call?”

“Hello, can I speak with Patrice Johnson?”

“Just a moment, please.”

“Thank you.”

“Hello, this is Patrice. How can I help you?”

“I’m Henry Logan, and I . . .”

“Oh, Henry, I’m so glad you called. I spoke with Melissa this morning, and she told me all about you.”

“Did she?”

“Yes, and I read some of your poems. You’re quite the poet, Henry.”

“Thank you.”

“And it certainly sounds like you’re in love with Melissa.”

“Well . . . ”

“Melissa said you’re looking for a job--is that true?”

“Yes, it is.”

“My husband and I operate a publishing business, and we need an editor. Does that sound like something you’d be interested in?”

“Yes, it does, for sure.”

“Melissa told me you love to write, and do a lot it.”

“That’s true.”

“Well then, this work might be a good match for you. Would you like to come in for an interview?”

“Yes, I would.”

“All right, let me look at my calendar. How about this Friday at 10:00 AM?”

“Sure, that’s fine.”

“All right, I’ll see you then. Do you have my business card?”

“Yes.”

“The address is on it. Please bring your high school transcript with you. We’ll sit down together, and I’ll explain the job to you and you can tell me if you have the skills and the interest that are required. Sound okay?”

“Yes, yes, that’s fine. I’ll be there. Thank you very much, Mrs. Johnson.”

“Good bye, Henry. See you on Friday.”

“Good bye.” He hangs up the phone. “Wow, what just happened,” he says to himself. “This is amazing. Melissa did this. My girlfriend did this. I apply for 15 jobs and don’t get a single interview, and she gets me an interview for a job I don’t even apply for. Incredible.” He puts his notebooks in his bag. “I’ve got to get some fresh air. I’m going for a walk.” He goes out and starts walking. “I’ll go to the park,” he says to himself. “I’ll sit on our bench.” And that’s what he does. He sits on their bench for two hours thinking about the job and the interview and his girl. He goes back to The Bean Bag at 6:00 to wait for Melissa.

At 6:15 rushes up to him and grabs both his hands. “Did you make the call?” she asks excitedly.”

“What call?”

“Stop it, you freak? Did you call Patrice?”

“Patrice who?”

“Come on, tell me!”

“Yes, I made the call.”

“How did it go?”

“Fine.”

“Well, what did she say.”

“Oh, she said she met you and had a good talk.”

“You’re infuriating! Did you get an interview?”

“Not yet.”

“You didn’t get an interview?”

“Not until Friday.”

“You got it? You have an interview on Friday?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, thank God!” she shouts.

He looks around and everybody in the shop is staring at them. “Quiet down, will you? Everyone’s looking at us.”

“I don’t care. This is the best news in the world! You did it! You really did it!”

“Let’s go for a walk.” He gathers his stuff and leads her outside. “You can’t shout stuff out in the middle of The Bean Bag. People know me in there.”

“Now they know me too.” She throws her arms around him and puts her head against his chest. “This is so wonderful. I told you it’s fate. It’s fate--you’re going to get this job. Is life amazing, or what? I mean life with you and me.”

“You did it. You’re the one that made this happen. You’re my lucky charm.”

“I told you that. I am your lucky charm, it’s true. You’d better keep me close to your heart.”

“I don’t have the job yet.”

“All you do is doubt and worry. You don’t believe in anything.”

“Facts are facts--I don’t have the job yet.”

“And you haven’t lost the job yet, either. Hey, I made a connection with Patrice in the store, and you made a connection with your poetry, and this is fate. You’re going to get hired at a publishing company. How perfect is that?”

“It would be perfect, all right.”

“So have some faith. Day after tomorrow you have an interview. At what time?”

“Ten o’clock.”

“That good--it’s good to get it over in the morning. It would be torture to wait until 4:00 o’clock. You’d be a nervous wreck.”

“I’ll be a nervous wreck at 10:00.”

“No, but don’t drink four cups of coffee before you get there. You want to be calm and collected.”

“I’m sure you’ll instruct me regarding everything I need to do.”

“Of course I will. I’m your helper--your lucky charm.”

“Let’s go to the park, shall we?”

“Sure. We can sit on our bench.”

“Yeah, we can sit on our bench.” And they start walking. They walk in silence most of the way. Melissa does her window- shopping routine, as usual, examining every outfit that catches her eye. Henry patiently waits for her. She glances at him whenever she’s done looking and is ready to move along. At the park they stroll through the rose garden, then they sit on their bench.

“Can I sit close to you?” asks Melissa.

“Sure, why not?”

“Because it might be against your principles, that’s why.” She slides up against him. “Will you put your arm around me?”

He looks at her. “Right here?”

“Yes, right here in public, in front of the two people that might walk by this evening.”

He smiles at her. “You’re a cynic, sometimes. You know that?”

“One of us is, that’s for sure.”

He puts his arm around her and she snuggles up against him. They make conversation and laughter for an hour before heading back. He walks to her car with her. “This has been an amazing day. Thank you, thank you, my lucky charm. You have changed my life. You have really changed my life.”

“Because I love you.” She smiles, gets into the car, and drives away while waving one arm out the window.

“What a girl,” he says out loud.

They continue their normal routine for the two days leading up to Friday. Patrice dropped by on Wednesday to give a job application to Melissa. She and Henry sat down that evening and filled it out before going to the park. Each day Henry writes out the ideas he wants to use in the interview. Melissa wrote out a list of topics they might end up discussing, and she wrote out a list of questions she thinks Patrice might ask him. They conducted practice interviews on their bench on Wednesday and Thursday evening instead of playing their usual games. Things became quite serious and practical for those two days while Henry was preparing for Friday morning.

Finally, the day arrived. Henry showed up on time for the interview. He was dressed in slacks and a sport shirt, with black shoes. He was led down a long hallway to Patrice’s office, where she greeted him warmly. She asked for his application form and his transcripts first. She asked him a bunch of questions for half-an-hour, then she gave him a tour of the facilities and encouraged him to ask anything that he might want to know about the business. When they were done with the tour, she led him to a small, quiet room. She gave him an envelope.

“There’s a five-page story in here that needs editing. It has lots of errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure. I want you to re-write it with everything corrected, as if preparing it for publication. Understand?”

“Sure, I can do that.”

“There’s a pen and paper on the table. You’ll have one hour to work on it.”

“Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”

“I’ll be back in an hour to pick it up, and then we’re done.”

“Okay.” She goes out and closes the door, and he sets to work. He finds lots of errors and writes it the way he thinks it should be. The first page takes 15 minutes, so he realizes he’s got to work faster in order to finish within an hour. He speeds up. The second page takes 10 minutes. “That’s better,” he says to himself. He has 35 minutes to complete the next three pages. “Eleven minutes per page,” he mumbles, and he sets to work. “What a lousy article,” he says out loud. “I can write better than this.”

After an hour Patrice opens the door. “Time’s up, Henry. Did you finish it?”

“Yes, I just finished. There were a lot of errors in that thing.”

“That’s true. I’ll take it and look it over. I’ll examine the application and transcripts as well and get back to you sometime next week. Thanks for coming in.”

“Thank you, too, Mrs. Johnson.” He shrugs his shoulders, turns, and walks out. “Well, that’s that,” he says to himself when he gets in his car. He drives to The Bean Bag.

Melissa asks all about the interview, what they talked about, what questions she asks, what he saw on the tour, and how he corrected the article. She pumped him for every detail imaginable. They carried on their lives anxiously, eager to hear something from Patrice. On Monday afternoon Henry received a phone call from her.

“Henry, this is Patrice Johnson. I read the article you edited and was very impressed. You corrected nearly every error, and I like the way you altered the sentence structure to make the language flow better. Well done. If you’re interested in work at Johnson Printing, I have a job for you.”

“Really?”

“Yes, indeed.”

“Good, I mean that’s great, that’s wonderful. Yes, I want the job. I’ll take it.”

“Glad to hear it. Can you start tomorrow? That’s rather sudden, I know, but I have lots of work that needs to be done.”

“Tomorrow? Sure, that’s fine, no problem. What time?”

“Eight o’clock. You can dress about like you did for the interview. We like to look professional around the office. You’ll have an hour for lunch. You can bring one or go out. Your shift ends at five.”

“Okay, I’ll be there. Thank you very much, Mrs. Johnson”

“See you tomorrow then. Congratulations.”

“Thanks. Goodbye, Mrs. Johnson.” That was it. That was the news that Henry shared with Melissa when she came to his table after work on Monday.

“You got the job?” she shouted right in the middle of The Bean Bag in front of everybody who was there. She jumped up and threw her arms around him and shouted again even louder--“You got the job? You’re amazing!”

He rushed her out onto the sidewalk to avoid a scene. She was so excited she continued jumping up and down and laughing and hugging him. She didn’t care at all that people were staring at them. She didn’t care about that, but she did care that Henry got the job.

“We’d better go to the park,” he said. “We can’t stand here and disturb the peace. So they walked to the park. Melissa held his hand and kept laughing and looking at him all the way to the park. She didn’t look even once in a shop or in a window. When they got to the park they strolled through the trees and along a couple of paths they had never noticed before. They came back to their bench right as the sun was setting.

Melissa scooted up close to Henry. She took his arm and put it around herself. “Is that acceptable?”

“Since I got the job, yes it is.”

“That’s good--I don’t want to violate your principles.”

“I appreciate your sensitivity.”

“Glad to be of service. I try to please as best I can.”

“Well then, maybe you can please me with regard to a question I’d like to ask you.”

“I don’t know. What is it?”

“I was wondering if you will marry me?”

“What did you say?”

“I want you to marry me. Will you marry me?”

She jumps up from the bench and starts laughing hysterically. “Yes, yes, yes I will marry you. Are you crazy? Yes, yes, I know the answer to that question. You are crazy, but it’s the kind of crazy that I love. I love you, Henry Logan, and I will marry you right now!” She throws her arms around him. “Now will you kiss me?”

“Right here?”

“Yes, right here in the park in broad daylight, will you kiss me? Finally kiss me?”

He looks around in all directions. “Why yes, I can do that.”

He takes her in his arms and gives her the most surprising, long, deep kiss.

“Wow, I didn’t know you could do that!”

“I try.”

“You’ve got skills. Yes, that was really good! I am such a lucky girl! You kiss as well as you write.”

“Come here, wild woman.” He sits down on their bench and pulls her onto his lap and wraps his arms around her and kisses her again. Not a word is spoken, but there is without question a great deal of communication. “Wow,” she says. I love you more than ever!

“Hey girl, will you marry me, please?”

“Ha! This is my lucky day. Yes. I thought you’d never ask.”

“I was waiting for the proper setting.”

They linger on their bench enjoying each other for a long, long time. They are wrapped in the arms of one another, doing kiss after kiss. It’s dark as they make their way back to the car. They don’t even notice that the sun has set.

The End

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