Second Chances

Unknown

Yes you read the title correctly, it says second chances – plural. I know that a lot of folks never get a second chance – singular. They go through their lives either successfully, poorly, middle-of-the-road-ly, or otherwise and they never get another snatch at the brass ring or another bite of the apple.

I seem to have spent my entire life getting these “back-hand” second chances.

I remember when I turned my back on acting the first time. My first wife did not like me being “in the business” and since I was very young and very much in love, I turned my back on my passion. Years passed, the bloom went off the rose of my first marriage and I got divorced.

I didn’t handle it well. Too young and too broken-up, thoughts of ending it all danced around the periphery of my mind. Not seriously though, thank who-ever: but I was pretty damn miserable for a long time. I moved to England, courtesy of Uncle Sam, and not long after arriving in the UK, I was drafted into an amateur theatre group.

I was back to acting again and I was loving it.

Then my job began to interfere and I had to turn my back on it again. Time moved on. I got married again and just before I got reassigned to The Netherlands (Holland) a mate of mine got me a job as an extra on an American TV movie, The Last Days of Patton. I worked for over 12 hours playing a WWII soldier who goes through a rifle drill with a whole platoon and we then got to meet General Patton (George C Scott).

The giant mansion behind "Patton" head is where we filmed.
The giant mansion behind “Patton’s” head is where we filmed.

It  was a memorable moment. Mr Scott was personable and approachable. He spent his time between takes talking to us Air Force guys who’d learned to do a rifle drill after a couple of hours of training by the film’s technical advisor. I remember thanking the “guy upstairs” for giving me this, a sort of taste of what I’d been missing.

Later when we’d settled in at our new Dutch home, I got to do some radio work and through the AFN guys, I got some film and TV work. Again getting a little taste of what I had turned my back on so many years ago. My daughter was born on the day that I had two auditions for a couple of American television commercials. I decided that my daughter’s entrance into this world was more important and called the casting folks up to express my apologies.

I got a few more little jobs here and there and met some interesting people and almost got a couple of great acting jobs. But fate had another idea and these close grabs at the brass ring, missed.

Later, when we moved back to the UK, I got out of the Air Force (I didn’t retire, I got out via the early out cut-back program) and did some more voice-over work. I even did some extra work. But reality kept creeping in and kicking me in the face. I kept trying to write the whole time I was being diverted from the acting side of my life. That activity was as doomed as the acting. Something always got in the way.

Lack of privacy; lack of ideas; lack of concentration; lack of confidence. All these things interfered with any sort of creative process and more. I finally decided to turn my back on any sort of creativity.

All thoughts of creating something either physically or mentally were killed off and buried.

The proud, the few, the under-appreciated...
The proud, the few, the under-appreciated…

Life went on, I found a good job that allowed me the time to enjoy my family and watch my daughter grow up. The job also came with a great retirement set up. It wasn’t the best job in the world and it was not anything that I’d have chosen for myself as the “last” job I’d ever do.

Then, injured at work and off for just under six months. Right after I start back to work, I have a heart attack. Two surgeries; one an emergency surgery that left me with pretty much permanent damage. The end result of this was my life was saved, barely, and I was ill-health retired from my job.

I won’t lie. I was a little depressed about losing this job that I’d done for just under ten years. I didn’t love it, but I like most of the people I worked with and I’d finally gotten top pay for my job. I felt like the character on films and TV that shrugs and says, “Eh, it’s a living.” But I was panic-stricken.

I had no idea what I was going to do.

I still don’t; but I’ve finally woken up to the fact that, for what ever reason, I’ve been given another second chance.  I’m not sure how many this is now, but it’s a lot. I don’t know if I’ll wind up doing anything creative or not. I do know that I’ll keep blogging, because it is a bit addictive now that I’ve started it, but I kind of feel like the sky’s the limit at the moment.

What is really evident to me is that of all the second chances I’ve been given, this one is perhaps the most important. All the previous ones were sort of career or personal goal oriented.

This one is a second chance at life.

I am going to try not to waste it.

Boldly going to where I've never gone before. Sorry Captain Kirk...
Boldly going to where I’ve never gone before. Sorry Captain Kirk…

The Old Man’s Hands

The old man sat in a row of empty chairs in the waiting area of the bus station. He was the only live occupant in an area filled with dust bunnies, cobwebs, and deserted candy wrappers. Every time the entrance door opened with a sigh, pushed by the swirling ubiquitous wind, the bunnies and wrappers would shuffle away from the door and then slide back when the wind died. The cobwebs moved, in a kind of sympathetic sway to and fro; shakily as if they were so fragile that to move too much would make them lose their anchor and sail away.

The wind did not appear to bother the old man. He sat looking at his hands. Hands that despite being wrinkled and liver spotted were huge. They were cracked with blunt sausage fingers, the nails were cut to the quick but still showing a touch of year’s worn grime under the nails themselves that no amount of scraping or brushing was going to remove. Sometimes he would make a fist. Both hands curled up like a bare-knuckle boxer. He would turn them this way and that, still scrutinizing them as though he had never seen them before.

The wind pushed the door open again and Sam behind the ticket counter looked up for what must have been the hundredth time. He seemed incapable of not looking. He would raise his eyes and cock his head quizzically and if he’d been a dog, one ear would have cocked forward. As his eyes drifted back down to the crossword puzzle in front of him, they detoured to the big old man who seemed so fascinated by his own hands.

Footsteps came up behind Sam and he spoke without looking. “Hey Leanne.”

“Hey Sam.” Leanne headed to the only other chair behind the ticket counter. “Slow day, huh?”

Sam nodded slowly, still concentrating on his crossword, which was almost finished. “Oh yeah; if it wasn’t for Mohammed Ali’s cousin over there, this place would be dead.”

“Who?” Leanne glanced over at the old man in the waiting area.

“The old man sitting over there with those big old boxer’s hands.” Sam nodded in the direction of the bus station’s only occupant in the waiting area.

“Has he come up to the counter,” Leanne asked.

“Nope,” Sam said, still more interested in finishing his crossword than talking about the old man. “I don’t even know when he came in. I just looked up and he was there. Made me jump, I don’t mind telling you.” Sam put down his pencil, “The next bus ain’t due for another two hours and he’s been here at least that long already.”

“Well, you know Sam, you could have tried asking him what he wanted.” Leanne’s tone was dry. “He might have grandkids coming in to visit or a son or daughter coming home.” She shook her head in disgust, “But I suppose that would have taken you away from your precious crossword.”

Reaching in his back pocket, Sam pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose, loudly, and then spent a couple of seconds sniffing and wiping the end of his nose. “Well, if it was that damned important to him he would have said something wouldn’t he? Besides, he ain’t hurting anything and he’s been real quiet. He hasn’t moved from that chair. Just keeps looking at his hands like he’s never seen ’em before.”

Without folding it, Sam shoved the handkerchief back in his pocket. Glancing back down to his crossword, he scowled. “Hey Leanne, what’s a three-letter word for old sailor?”

“Tar.”

Leanne and Sam both jumped as the old man said it again, “Tar.” They looked at each other, struggling not to laugh nervously; Leanne checking the crotch of her jeans because she could have sworn she’d wet herself just now. Sam nodded and said, “Thanks Old Timer.”

The old man grunted and went back to inspecting his hands.

Leanne leaned close to Sam and whispered, “Jesus, Joseph and Mary, he just scared the shit out of me!” Sam leaned back and putting his hands behind his head to crack his knuckles, nodded. “Me too.”

“Didn’t he sound kind of familiar? You know, like someone you know, or is that just me.”

“He just sounded old and gravelly. Like he has rocks in his throat or chest; in a few more years he’ll start sounding all wheezy and whispery. I mean look at him, he must be 90 if he’s a day.”

The wind blew again this time it was a real howler. Wailing and gusting aggressively the wind smacked the entrance door open. Sand, litter and the odd scorpion were blown into the waiting room. The dust bunnies and empty candy wrappers swirled up and away from the old man’s row and for a second looked like a miniature dust devil. The cobwebs strained against their anchored ends and held on. Clenching his fists, the old man did not move one bit. Even his clothes seemed to be unaware of the wind and dust that was swirling around.

“Leanne!” Sam pointed to the still open door. “Go close that damned thing before it breaks and put the latch on. There are two of us here now we can close up and watch for the bus. I don’t want to be stepping on scorpions and tarantulas in here!”

Leanne bolted from her seat and with her eyes squinted against the grit in the air she slammed the door shut and turned the bolt. “Is that good enough for you, your highness?”

Sam didn’t even bother looking up. “Great. Wonderful. Put yourself up for a commendation. I’ve got a whole drawer full of gold stars. Why don’t you pin one on your ass.” Leanne, shot him the finger and Sam chuckled. “Yes dear, I know I’m number one. Thank you for remembering.”

“George C Scott.” Leanne jumped and whirled around. The old man was looking at her with eyes that looked kind and tired. “That’s who folks tell me I sound like.” Leanne smiled. “That’s it! That’s who you sound like. My boy was watching some cartoon where he did the voice. You sound just like him.” He redirected his eyes to his hands and seemed to forget she was there. Leanne watched him for a moment thinking he might say something else, but he remained mute.

Spinning around she headed back toward the counter. Just as she reached the counter, Sam looked up and past her.

The old man rose slowly from his chair. As he got to his feet he reached behind him with both hands as though he were going to massage his back. His hands reappeared with two of the biggest guns Sam had ever seen. They made Dirty Harry‘s .44 Magnum look like a pea shooter.

Sam’s eyes widened, “Leanne, Look…” Sam’s face erupted in a geyser of blood and bone and flesh, his body toppled backward on the chair and only stopped when it met the floor. His pencil was still gripped in his right hand and it marked the floor a bit as he twitched once or twice.

Leanne felt someone punch her in the back, hard, as though she’d been hit by a baseball bat; she automatically looked down and saw a section of her spine blow out of her stomach. It was the last thing she saw as she lost consciousness and fell to join Sam’s lifeless body on the floor. The big old man walked slowly up to the two dead bus station employees.

He stood looking at them and put the guns back in his waistband behind his back. He leaned over Sam and cleared his throat. Sounding just like George C. Scott he said, “Shooter’s hands sonny, not boxers, shooters.” He turned on his heel and strode out the entrance leaving the door to swing in the wind.

Michael E. Smith copyright 2013-01-08