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Category Archives: Scenes

The howling winds: Who will win?

The fields exhale as if it’s a contest, a mini-tornado like intense game of back and forth blows.

Their breaths chap the skin, making humans guard their faces and shield their bodies.

In the country, though, the howls meet in the middle: Interstate 29, where cars cruise the fastest and crash the hardest.

The winds push the cars to the left. They howl the vehicles to the right. How quick and how drastic the vehicles dart depends on the size of the ride and the control of the driver. But, no matter how big the vehicle, when the driver lifts his hands off the controls, the fields make their move – whistling the motors to the rumbling strips.

You’re aware now – of the strips and of the howls, how intense they feel and how much damage they could cause. You pledge to keep both hands on the controls, or at least just one, at all times.

Still, the fields persist, apparently upset over this prolonged winter that has brought temperatures in the 20s when they should be in the 40s.

Spring: Is it near? The fields do not know, nor do they care. Their corn has been stripped, their beans have been picked. And now they wait, for a time when the howling will stop, when the sun will shine and when the corn will rise again from their dirt and when the beans will crowd their soil.

People will saunter about the fields, and the fields will no longer shout and scream.

Spring: When the fields will rest.

Until then, drive carefully.

“Is he your son?”

“Is he your son?”

The elderly man asked the woman standing next to me in the lunch line.

The woman, to be clear, is probably old enough to be my mom. But I am 25, so that only means she is at least 40 or so.

She, standing next to me, a source for a future story, didn’t hear him through the setting of trays and the pinging of silverware.

“No,” I responded, turning to my left where he stood behind me in line. “No, I’m a reporter at the World-Herald.” (Apparently that means I don’t have a mother as well.)

I extended my hand to his, and we shook hands but didn’t exchange names.

It was just after noon on Monday, and the Omaha Public Schools cafeteria at the district’s administration building had few empty tables. Some 400 people work at the district’s Teacher and Administrative Center. About 100 of them must have choosing to eat on the cheap this day.

I turned to the appetizing lasagna teasing in front of me. What will you be having? the lunch lady asked.

“I’ll take the meat lasagna, please.”

It had been so long since I savored a fat piece of meat, cheese and cottage cheese all warmed together to form the gorgeous selection of food known as lasagna. We have our Italian brothers and sisters to thank for lasagna, which even makes for a beautiful word, too: lasagna. It moves up and down, taking we wannabe linguists on a trip just like the dish does to our taste buds.

Staring at my soon-to-be lunch reminded me of my mother’s lasagna, which was, of course, much better looking.

“I didn’t like you from behind,” the old man said to me, making some gesture to his bald head.

I turned around again and laughed. I have a white-man’s afro, a head full of curly brown hair that, at the moment, I have let stretch to nearly past my ears, almost hiding on my baby-faced chubby cheeks.

“I get that a lot,” I replied.

Bald men have said something resembling that to me the past two weeks. Just the other day at work, a bald co-worker said he had a photo of himself that looked just like me at his desk. He was serious, he told me when I innocently laughed.

Sliding my tray down the metal spokes, my eyes darted to what was next on this nostalgic return trip to a school cafeteria. My predecessor had spoken highly of this particular cafeteria, namely for its cheap prices, not delicious foods. But, when my source suggested we meet for lunch after the 11 a.m. meeting, I was eager to dine just like I had a teenager.

As in high school, I watched what the person in front of me did: she grabbed a bowl of fruit. I chose the orange cantaloupe, another reminder of an earlier stage of my life.

The old man slunk behind, nudging his tray along.

A few steps farther along, and I plucked a mug for coffee, slid my tray down the homestretch, turned the corner and placed my lasagna, fruit and coffee in front of the female cash register.

It was fairly quick process, although it all seemed so new that it feels like it too much longer. It was like experiencing school lunch once more.

“$3.35,” the woman at the register said.

I happily dug for my wallet and slid out my debit card.

“Oooohhh,” she said, spotting my plastic and not paper. “Only cash.”

Luckily, I had a couple $5 bills snuggling behind some $1 bills.

Paid with a $5 and got change for lunch, but a quarter slid through my fingers.

My source had already paid and walked back to our table near the back of the cafeteria.

“Where’d you get your Italian nose,” the elderly man, who might or might not have had an Italian nose, said.

I have an Italian nose?

“I don’t know,” I said, very perplexed. “I’m, my mom is 100 percent German so I’m 50 percent.”

I squatted to grab the quarter.

“It has the curves and everything,” he said, staring at my nostrils.

The woman working the register saw us talking and posed a question our way: “Is he your grandson?”

An afternoon at the police station

He sat against the wall, looking exhausted.

Circles had formed under his eyes. Stubble had grown on his face.

To his right, his worried mom.

To his left, his bubbly bro.

The three waited in the lobby of the police station, talking about nothing in particular.

A few police officers sat behind a glass wall, ready to answer anyone’s questions. But the three were content in their uncomfortable blue, plastic chairs.

Then two uniformed police officers – one young man with short hair, one old man with gray hair – walked out of the authorized area. The younger officer grabbed the boy’s ID that had been tucked into his belt, and said the boy’s name.

I say boy because he looked like a boy with his long, brown hair stretched in every direction, with his mother by his side. He didn’t look like a man. He didn’t look like someone old enough to be turning himself in for a crime.

The boy stood up.

The younger officer asked him some basic questions, if the boy had any weapons or explosives on him, if the boy had any money.

The boy reached to his back jeans pocket for his thick, brown wallet, his bond money. “Should I give it to her?”

“Yeah, give it to her,” the older officer said.

The boy’s mom grabbed the wallet.

The boy turned around and faced his mother and his brother. The younger cop attached handcuffs to the boy’s wrist and started patting his legs and searching for the guns and explosives. (Apparently, he didn’t believe the kid.)

The older cop started questioning the boy, but not in an annoying, I’m so much wiser than you way. He questioned the boy in a kind, inquisitive way, like a grandfather would or like an older cop who is trying to help an 18-year-old would.

How’d you get here?

“MIP.”

What were you on probation for?

“DUI.”

This older officer has probably seen the worst because of people’s love for alcohol. The endless domestic violence cases. The fatal drunken driving incidents. The pointless shootings after 2 a.m.

“I’ve never seen anything good come from alcohol,” he said.

The mother said something, something like, yeah, we agree.

“Been sober for one month, 10 days,” the 18-year-old said.

The older officer then seemed happy, content with the 18-year-old’s answer. He stopped the life-advice session. The younger officer ended the uncomfortable patting.

A few feet away from the group, the older brother stood with his cell phone.

“The cuffs,” he said, as he motioned to his brother to turn a little.

The cell phone clicked. Moment captured.

Mom watched her cuffed 18-year-old son walk with officers. She pretend slapped her other son.

“This isn’t funny,” she said.

A backhand to his right cheek. An open hand to his left.

They walked through the rotating glass doors, into the sunny, breezy afternoon.

And I kept waiting for my next interview.

Yet, as I sat there, I didn’t think of the questions I would ask or the answers I would receive.

I thought about what I had just seen: a police officer latching metal bracelets around an 18-year-old kid. A mother watching her son walk into jail. A brother being a brother. And an older man trying to save a young man from alcohol, the most underrated drug we know.

It was all so humbling, so real, so transformative. And it was only 3:45 in the afternoon.