Oct 17, 2023, 06:24AM

Awful People

It takes work to keep that belief that human beings are complicated.

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Jules refused to believe people were “good” or “evil.” People were flawed. Imperfect and struggling. Some sending out fear. Others sending out serenity. Our minds were perpetually occupied with future problems, unresolved issues and doubt.

Alcohol, drugs, meditation, exercise, distractions, sports, comedy, these helped erase some of the issues and doubts, but when you returned to the self, lying in bed, there it was again, horrible people doing horrible things.

Before he turned 50, when Jules and Reva had settled into their bumpy middle-aged-father and teenage-daughter existence, years after Reva’s mother hit the eject button on their shared life, Jules began to see compassion as a way out of depression.

Whereas other parents talked about “family life” or “kids,” his life was different. No wife. One teenager. He was glad Reva was an only child. Balancing his life as a dedicated, selfless parent with his work in education, and his friendships, not to mention attempts at dating, balancing it all was never easy. Compassion for himself and Reva. Compassion for Reva’s classmates without fathers at home. Compassion even for Reva’s former best friend who’d lied to her, stopped wanting to hang out, and made Reva’s life miserable when she was 11. Jules knew Tess was jealous of Reva’s life. He’d seen it when Tess first walked into their house and her jaw dropped, seeing Reva’s backyard.

It always took work to keep that belief that human beings were complicated. Some he’d known were truly awful people.

The word people used to use was “asshole,” but the word Reva had just used, in conversation, was “toxic.” Poisonous. As in, “She’s toxic. Avoid ingesting her at all costs.”

It was Thursday. Their weekly phone call. In Northern Philly, the time was 7:44 p.m. Reva was sitting on her living room sofa, eating rigatoni with spicy sausage, mushrooms and peppers. She’d just finished cooking.
Meanwhile, Jules was walking slowly along the beach on the opposite coast, north of Santa Barbara, where the sun was still above the ocean.

Looking down at his watch, Jules saw the time was quarter to five. When he looked down, a runner nearly knocked him over, jumping out of the way at the last moment, yelling “Watch out, old man!” Who knew walking along the beach could be so dangerous?

It was near the end of her exhausting week. Reva was a school superintendent, a job Jules wouldn’t have wished upon anyone, much less his beloved only child. Reva was describing the board meeting she had just attended. Twice a month, Reva had to submit herself to the school board.

Reva was a high school English teacher at the beginning. Then she earned her administrative credential and became a principal. Eventually, she landed in the district office. She was a big-picture thinker, connecting dots that others didn’t see. Reva was always interested in supporting teachers. What she found when she arrived at the district office was layers of dysfunction, massive resentments, endless bickering and malaise. She instantly regretted leaving the classroom, though staying in it became increasingly difficult if she wanted to enjoy her personal life. The grass was inevitably greener wherever Reva wasn’t.

Still, Jules was proud of his daughter’s devotion. First, she devoted herself to learning. Then she devoted herself to her husband. Next, she devoted her life to her two daughters. For over a decade, she devoted herself to her teenage students and the high school. Now, she was being challenged not to devote herself to the madness of the office.

Through his sunglasses, Jules shuffled along the sand, watching the sun glinting off the Pacific, reminding him of the Earth’s natural beauty while Reva vented and sipped her glass of pinot noir.

“Lynn is a wild beast. Wastes so much of our time. Can’t compromise at all. Seven votes. We’re supposed to reach a consensus and then vote. She can’t shut up.” Reva sipped.

“Seamus would say, ‘Somebody needs to push her off a bridge,’” Jules replied.

Reva chuckled. “Lynn would grab the pusher and take the pusher down with her.”

"Sounds difficult,” Jules offered.

“We’re never going to have this budget finalized unless somebody silences Lynn,” Reva sighed.

“When’s the deadline?” Jules asked.

“A month away.” Reva replied. 

“Has anyone suggested food?” Jules asked. “Brought her a cake or something?”

“Bribery. I like it,” Reva replied. “No, it’s the same coffee, tea and old cookies every meeting.”

“Bring in a nice cake next meeting. Find a good bakery. Tell Lynn it’s a cake meant to honor her many years of service on the school board,” Jules suggested.

Reva thought about it and suddenly burst out laughing. Such an ornery old grouch like Lynn wouldn’t know what to do with a generous surprise.
“It can’t hurt, Dad. I might just do that. And how are you this week?” Reva asked.

“Oh, other than losing track of my underwear, being sad and lonely, and nearly getting run over here while I walk on the beach, I’m doing fine.” Jules said.

“Someone ran into you?” Reva asked.

“Almost. Near death experience, but I’m okay,” Jules replied.

“Do you need anything, Dad? Groceries? I can help set you up with a driver for your medical appointments,” Reva offered.

Jules liked driving. He drove slowly. He was very careful. It was the pedestrians that didn’t seem careful, always staring down at their phones.

“I don’t think so, Reva. Maybe next year. I’m careful.” Jules said.

“Okay. Pretzels? Popcorn? Sparkling water? A nice cake? I can order it for you.”

Jules liked going to Ralph’s. It gave him something to do, though he didn’t like Ralph’s when they ran out of fruit.

“No, really, honey. The market is close. Just a mile or so away.”

Jules made it back to the sidewalk, on the edge of the dunes. Near where he’d parked. But he couldn’t find the car. He had a moment of panic. Then Reva spoke again.

“I love you, Dad. I’ll be there in two weeks for Thanksgiving. Can’t wait to see you again.” She sipped her wine.

“Love you, too. It’ll be nice.” Jules had forgotten about Thanksgiving.

How was it November already? And where was that damn car. He pressed the beeper. The car beeped. It was about 50 feet away. Phew. 


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