To the Guy at the Fast Food Counter

jon w. burger


Click the play button below

“Can I help you Sir?”(How have I had time to become a Sir?)
“Yes, thank you,” I say, “To go please.”
And then I give him my order.
I’ve stood in line, this fast food line, for six or seven slow minutes.
The food’s fast but the service is slow and these six or seven minutes have been so long because I’ve had plenty of time to see that I’m in the wrong line: That other guy, at the other burger computer is serving faster.

Then, “Can I help you, Sir?”
“Yes, thank you. To go please.”
And again I give him my order. This guy can’t remember. This one can’t think, can’t move. This one has no pride. No sense of efficiency or even fun. Maybe he could pick up my cola as he come back past it toward me with the burger?
“No, I ordered a Big Juicy with cheese.”
Is my single Big Juicy, cheese, no sauce, no pickle, no different from the two Double Delights in the order that preceded it? Would you feel better about this lousy job if you didn’t do such a lousy job?
What if you tried wiggling, or giggling? Or hustled? Or skipped? Or tried doing it faster than last time? Or faster than the goofy, friendly guy at the other computer.
Why do your arms and hands and brain and feelings seem to have failed you?
Can you sense how I feel?
How all the others in this slow line feel?
Or is it just me?
Maybe I’m just another image, some kind of Sir, like some Dave or Ronald, some friendly corporate power, and you will not be a slave to power? And is that why you say, finally,

“Is this order to go?”

And, “have a good one, Sir.”


Miss T

DSCN0522 (1)

click the play button below

I come out my front door to bring in my empty trash can after the city truck has come by. Miss T is sitting on her stoop. Her legs nearly straight up in the air against her door jam. Her big pink hair curlers in. It must be gambling day I think. Her 66 year old son will be by to pick her up.

Good morning Miss T.

Hey, Jon: Did you see that man who was here a minute ago? He looked just like that kid who used to live down that way. His mother used to cheat on her boyfriend, and he would come up here and sit around and talk. But his guy doesn’t like to talk. He’ll sit but he won’t talk.  But he’s real good with going to the store and getting stuff and bringing me back my change. Some of these people try to fool you a little about the change. But I’m not going get the basket out for that small stuff. Though I do get hungry sometimes. Like the time I went down to city hall because I had to check on why when I called down they would put me on telephone wait and then never get back on. You can go down there and everything you want is on the third or fourth floor and they’ve hidden the elevators, so I was standing in the hall and nobody else is there or coming by and this is city hall but nobody seems to work there, and then this very nice man takes me around the corner and this big pole and shows me the elevator and tells me I want to see miss somebody on the third floor, and i go up there, and nobody’s in the hall until I see a woman and ask her and she says miss somebody is in room such and so and I find that room, its hiding down this short hall that looks like it goes to a toilet, and I go in there but what I’m supposed to see is not in there. No one is in there. I sit down and I wait. I know how to wait. I can really wait. And she comes in. Like my teacher in bluff street school used to come. Boom, bang, she’s in, and it kinda makes you jump. Like those metal plates that used to be on Pratt Street and you would just be walking by and some truck hits a plate and it smack-booms. Where is this guy? He said he would be back with my chips, there are two stores a block in either way, and he better not have all my change and my chips and not come back at all. He’ll be here. I knew his mother when she was alive. So Miss Strut, no her name was Street, Street. Miss Street comes in and she asks me what I’m doing there and I tell her I’m the one she keeps closing the phone on and making me wait and never getting back on and I want to talk about my water bill. And it turns out she is real nice and she calls me dearie and she says my bill is not unpaid and for real I don’t have to pay nothin’, not now or on the next bill. And I leave and I can’t find where they’ve put the elevator and I’m not walkin down all those big slippery stairs and then she comes out of her office pretty soon and it turns out she’s taking the elevator, so…….here he comes. He’s just slow. I forgot how slow he is. They were slow about picking up those metal plates and filling up the holes in the street. I don’t know what they were lookin’ for in those holes down there. Once, up on Baltimore Street they were digging and they found some old Indian bones, but I thought they might be new Indian bones with all those Indians we’ve got livin’ around here and some of ‘em look like killers to me. And you kill somebody and you’re gonna hide the body, right? Right. …Thank you son, you keep that change. Hey Jon where you goin’?

I’ve got to get this trash can back inside, we’re cleaning up a bit.
I hear her still talking talk as I wrestle the big trash can inside and shut the door to the street.…… I love this woman.

Autumn Leaves: Part 2

jon 1

Click the play button below for the audio story

There’s an old story.  About how, after  The Creator had made the world, it was time to fix the life span of each living creature. It was the mammals’ turn. The ass asked The Creator, “How long shall I live?” and The Creator said “You shall live thirty years.” And the ass said “Oh lord, thirty? That’s a long time.  Don’t you know the life I lead? I have to carry other people’s burdens all day long and I’m given only blows and kicks. Take pity on me.” So the ass was relieved of twenty years.

Then the dog appeared.  And The Creator said “Thirty years for you.” And the dog said, “Oh lordy, thirty years! Do you know how I have to run around? Thirty years! By then I’ll be able to do nothing but slink from corner to corner.  Please: less time.” So the dog was released from eighteen years of life.

Next came the monkey.  “Monkey,” said The Creator, “You’ll definitely want thirty years.  You don’t have to work, or run around, and you’re always so funny.” “Oh heavens,” said the monkey.  “You too? You really believe that my life is a bed of roses? You know what it’s like to have to entertain people all the time?” The Creator took seven years off the monkey.

Then the human being appeared and demanded his life span.  “Thirty years,” said The Creator.  “Oh my God! Impossible!” said the human, “I’ll finally have a job I like.  Just when the trees I’ve planted are bearing fruit and I’m beginning to really enjoy my children?  Give me more time!”  “All right,” said The Creator.  “You can have twenty years from the ass.” “Thank you – but I really need more.” “All right. You get eighteen years from the dog.”   “More, more, I beg you.”   “Very well.  You may have seven years more, from the monkey. But that’s it.  No more time.”

The human pleaded and tried to bargain for additional years, but did not get them.  So it went forth and multiplied.  And now, human beings live about 75 years.  The first 30 are the human years and they are happy and healthy and filled with pleasurable work.  Next come the 20 years of the ass, and one burden after another is laid on, and the rewards seem few.  Then come the 18 years of the dog, when humans lie in the corner and growl.  And life ends with the monkey’s seven years.  Then the human becomes soft-headed and foolish, forgetful and silly, and perhaps, even wise.

Age creeps up on you. Lately, I’ve found myself thinking about maybe moving from Baltimore back to Cincinnati, where I had grown up. Mark Twain, you know, once said: “When things might be coming to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati, because things in Cincinnati always happen ten years later than anywhere else.”

There is serious talk among physicists and cosmologists that our apparently three-dimensional world may be a kind of hologram cast by a two-dimensional object or energy state – meaning that everything is, and we are, phantoms. In my life since my prostate was removed, I have been thinking about, talking at, dialoguing with, a phantom, the “Ghost of Prostate Past.” Even my real prostate was a kind of phantom organ (like an appendix, or a tonsil) before I ever really noticed it, or knew what it did. And now I can begin to accept that a permanent phantom state is where I am headed.

I remember when “old people” used to be the age I am now. To me, “old” has always meant at least twenty years older than I am. But these days twenty years older than me can often mean “dead”. I’m getting ready. “I ain’t gonna live forever, I ain’t gonna learn how to fly.” I’ve decided not to move back to Cincinnati – I don’t believe Mark Twain. But it’s sometimes difficult not to seek comfort in the advice of that Miss Alabama who was once asked the question: “If you could live forever, would you and why?” Her answer: “No, I would not live forever, because we should not live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, and that is why I would not live forever.”

Autumn Leaves: Part 1


Click the play button below for the audio story

Hello, everyone. I’m Jon Spelman.  And I am, as my mother used to say, pleased as punch to be here and to join the dozens of other people, young and older, who are part of Peter Bruun’s visionary Autumn Leaves Project.

Some advice to my 21-year-old self:

Find good work.  Accept good love.

Go hiking – in wilderness if possible.

Find your own voice.  Find your own voice.  Find your own voice.

Try more listening and less talking.

Live with a dog.

Imagine.  Imagine.  Imagine.

Birth is a beginning and death a destination.

Life is a journey, stage by stage, from childhood to maturity; from innocence to awareness and ignorance to knowing. From foolishness to discretion and then perhaps to wisdom.

From weakness to strength, or strength to weakness – and often back again.

From health to sickness and back, we hope, to health again.

From offense to forgiveness; from loneliness to love; from joy to gratitude.

From pain to compassion, and grief to understanding.

From fear to acceptance; from defeat to defeat to defeat – until, looking backward or ahead, we see that victory lies not at some high place along the way, but in having made the journey, stage by stage. A pilgrimage.

I Did It for the First Time

jon wedding i did it

Click the play button below for the audio story

On Sunday August 24, 2014, I did it for the first time…
I officiated at a marriage.

An old friend (perhaps better described as a friend of long-standing) asked me to marry her and her live-in partner of fifteen years. Kathie and Alice live in Georgia and they needed an open marriage state like Maryland in which to become legal partners. So I lucked into the opportunity to officiate at the wedding of two amazing women with four vocations between them: I married a poet, an arts administrator, a graphic artist, and a small town mayor.

I’m aware of a number of oddly instigated marriages (including my own, when my spilling coffee on myself set off a series of rapidly escalating events). Alice and Kathie’s decision was set in motion by a visit to a tax accountant who asked “do you know how much federal tax you could save if you were married filing jointly?” The women are both arts workers so their minds were not turned by any hope of great financial gain, but that option led them to ponder “well, why not?” and seeing no emotional, spiritual, or logistic barriers, the “why not?” soon changed to “where?” and then “when?”

Love and marriage happen for both likely and unlikely reasons. Some of the weddings of other people I know have been instigated by the man and woman meeting when he was dating her mother; or because one spouse hit the other in the buttocks with a very hard and badly misplaced tennis serve; or because the man was supplying drugs for the woman’s father.

And, of course, I know of magical blind dates, and those cases like my own, when people become deeply smitten at first sighting.
Kathie and Alice’s wedding was exactly the kind of ceremony I have come to favor – created and written by the two lovers, officiated by a well-spoken (I think) friend, performed in another friend’s living room, and witnessed by about a dozen other people. Then there were toasts with wine, a celebratory piece of home-made carrot cake, one more night at a friend’s house in town, and then driving home — in Alice and Kathie’s case, to Pine Lake, Georgia.

As part of the ceremony, I told a little story about how Kathie and Alice had met in atlanta during the excitement and confusion of the 1996 Olympic Games, but first began seriously eyeing each other in singing classes led by a long-time mutual friend. Their first date was to a cinema art theatre where they saw a film they do not remember. Their second date was at a drive-in theatre where they saw the dark comedy The Cable Guy. One scene in that film was of a karaoke sing-off where Jim Carrey’s character, Chip, regaled the crowd with the Jefferson Airplane’s version of “You Need Somebody to Love.”

Maybe they were singing it together on the drive home, but probably not. They had long ago found that somebody, and now their love was also legal and official.