No Way Back Today, page 1
Copyright © 2019 Eric J. Shoars
All rights reserved.
Print ISBN: 978-1-54398-541-2
eBook ISBN: 978-1-54398-542-9
Table of Contents
KISS and T.E.L.L.
Springing a Leek
Bacon and Onions
Come On, Get Onions
Lights, Camera, Onions
NO WAY BACK TODAY Lyrics
And now for the legal stuff...
About the Author
Writing a book is always a journey without a map or directions. Along the path of every journey are people who make the trek even more memorable and special. I’d like to thank the people who were with me on this particular excursion.
Thank you to my wife, Julie, for her support, encouragement, and belief in my art. I’m so blessed you are on every journey with me.
Thank you, Aniko Eastvold, for being the little sister I always wanted and for being a constant source of positivity. This book would never have happened if you hadn’t invited me to speak to your English classes so I could share my stories with your students. You have my never-ending gratitude.
Thanks to my collaborator Lisbeth Tull for working with me on the lyrics for the Onions At A Crime Scene album No Way Back Today. You helped create the emotional impact I envisioned for each song.
Thanks to my editor Judi Blaze for not being afraid to take a red pen to my work and for helping me make a good story an epic one.
Thanks to the publishing team at Book Baby for getting this story reader ready.
Thanks to James Sturm, author of Unstable Molecules. The way you told that story was the inspiration for how I’d bring the legend of Onions At A Crime Scene to the world.
And, most of all, thanks to the members of T.E.L.L. for the opportunity to complete some unfinished business. I wish you all the best in the next chapters of your lives.
KISS and T.E.L.L.
January 12, 2018
It’s been more years than I care to remember since I was in a high school classroom for any reason. It is 8:05 on a Friday morning and this will be the first class of three grades I will address today. My appearance here is at the request of my sister Aniko who is their English teacher. A sea of 20 faces examines me with curiosity and suspicion, not sure what they are about to experience. The students - tenth, eleventh, and ninth graders in that order - will be the fortunate recipients of my wisdom about storytelling.
This sampling of the digital generation that communicates in short bursts via emoji or abbreviations is having a difficult time grasping how to write stories that are more than 140 characters. Ani asked me a couple months back if I would come in and do a presentation about the storytelling process. Of course I said yes.
The room is very much a classroom. Light blue, cement block walls are two sides of the room that are covered with motivational posters. The wall to my right is interrupted by windows that run nearly the entire length of it. Aniko is seated at her desk which is tucked into the corner to my right. The door is to my left opposite of Aniko’s desk. Behind me is the Smartboard. Sophomores are in front of me.
The tardy bell sounds alerting everyone in the school that if your butt isn’t in a chair, you’re late. I look over and nod at Aniko letting her know I’m all set to go. She smiles and rises from her chair.
Aniko and I look like we’re brother and sister with our brown hair, blue eyes, and glasses. The main difference is that she’s a pixie, almost seven inches shorter than me. Her blue eyes are kind whereas mine are mischievous. Her demeanor is more laid back and studious where mine is more in your face and impulsive. We are opposite sides of the same coin; her introvert to my extrovert.
“Good morning, class,” Aniko begins walking around me to get to the dead center of the room. “Today I have a special guest, my brother Eric, who is going to help you become better storytellers. Eric owns his own marketing company. His job is to help businesses tell stories about their products and services so people will buy them.”
The faces looking at me change again. The looks are a mixture of curiosity, amusement, wariness, and outright defiance. What could this guy possibly tell us that would be of any use? Then the mixture of expressions among the kids unifies when they realize a substitute teacher is here and they’re not going to have to do a thing. The feeling of jubilation is almost palpable.
“I expect you to pay attention because when we start our next section on Monday you’ll need to be able to do what Eric is going to share with you today. Okay?” Aniko reminds. A classroom full of nods comes back at her. “Great. Well, then, let’s welcome my brother Eric.” My sister returns to her desk and takes a seat. The group greets me vocally instead of clapping. I’ll take it.
“Good morning,” I greet with enthusiasm. “When Mrs. Eastman asked me to talk with you today I thought a lot about how I could best help you without lecturing you. Is it okay if I don’t lecture?” The room is filled with bobbing head dolls; emphatically communicating a lecture-free hour is totally fine with them. I smile. They have no idea what they’re in for.
The next thirty-five minutes are spent telling stories from my life growing up through adulthood. Every story has a purpose and every story has a moral. Out of the corner of my eye I catch Aniko smiling. She knows what I’m doing and she approves. The kids, however, haven’t caught on.
“All right, my friends, that wraps up our storytelling lesson,” I say with about 15 minutes until the bell rings. My audience, however, is openly bewildered. Everyone is looking around at everyone else wondering if he or she is the only one in the group that has missed the lesson somewhere; wondering if he or she had fallen asleep at some point and not realized it. The head turning is replaced by buzzing as people are trying to figure out what just happened.
“This is a storytelling lesson, isn’t it?” I ask. “All I’ve done is tell you stories, see?” The buzzing stops and I have everyone’s complete attention. They don’t know it but I’m having a blast.
“Here’s what storytelling is,” I begin explaining a joke no one got. “There are four parts.” I hold up my right index finger. “Once upon a time...” My middle finger joins my index finger. “...there was a person who encountered conflict. Conflict just means something happened to him or her. It doesn’t mean a fight.” Third finger goes up. “Here’s what the person did about it.” Pinky finger rises. “And he or she lived happily ever after or didn’t or here’s the moral of the story. That’s it. Nothing magical. All stories have those four components. The only difference is the length of the story it takes to tell the four parts.”
Eyes widen and jaws drop. They just got the joke. I had been teaching them while entertaining them and none of them had caught it until now and they are bobble-head dolls once more. They get it and understand. Each of my stories wasn’t merely entertainment. Each had purpose. Each had substance.
“Let me tell you one more story before the bell rings. I glance at the clock by the door and turn to Aniko. “Ten minutes till the bell, right?” Aniko nods. “Outstanding. Here we go.”
I pause for dramatic effect while returning to the front of the classroom making sure everyone can see me. “When I was in fourth grade,” I start, “I wanted to be in a rock and roll band. I had it all figured out.” With each word my excitement grows as I recall how my nine-year-old self felt that October day on the playground.
“Three friends and I were going to be in the band
“Oh, we had it all figured out,” my eyes widen like a mad scientist about to bring forth something that will change the course of history. “Now, there were two problems - I couldn’t sing and I didn’t know how to play drums. But those were just details because I knew that in sixth grade we’d have music class focused on singing and in seventh grade I could take band and learn how to play drums. I just had to get to those grades and it would be full speed ahead.” I pause to look at the group and study their faces. I have their full attention. How would this story end? What would the moral be? What happened with the band?
“When I got to sixth grade my music teacher Mrs. Schmidt told me - in front of the whole class - that I couldn’t sing. I told myself that was okay. You don’t have to be able to sing to be in a band. You do need to know how to play an instrument. The dream is still alive.” I pause again for effect.
“Then I got to seventh grade and was so excited that after all these years of biding my time I was finally going to learn how to play the drums. A week into band class everyone in my grade had their instruments - even the drummers - except me. I sat in class watching everyone else play. I was confused and frustrated for sure. I walked into Mr. Tripolino’s office after Friday band class one day and asked him when my drum kit was going to arrive.”
I break off my story momentarily to make eye contact with every student in the room. All eyes are on me. No one makes a sound. No one moves. I take a deep breath and fully exhale before continuing.
“Mr. Tripolino looked at me and said, ‘Well, I didn’t think you’d be any good at it so I didn’t bother ordering any for you’.”
A collective gasp of horror fills the room. Of all the possible outcomes this one was not on their radar. Some kids have a look of dejection as if those words had been directed at them not me. A few girls have tears of empathy in their eyes that a teacher would be so cruel to a kid.
I lift my right hand and move it through the air mimicking an air plane making an appropriate jet sound only to be replaced by the sound of a whistle of descent; my hand now in a sharp motion toward the floor accompanied by a vocal effect of a crash and explosion. “Rock and roll dream crashed and burned. Done.” I punctuate the end of my sentence with a shoulder slump. “I quit band and that was that. I never did learn how to play a musical instrument.”
A collective shoulder slump mirrors mine as this group is reminded how awful some people can be. Tears are flowing down half a dozen cheeks.
“I didn’t tell you that story so you’ll feel sorry for me or to bring you down. You’re in a time of your life where people are trying to tell you what you can or can’t do or who you can or can’t be. Don’t do like I did and let someone - anyone - who really doesn’t know you end your dream. If you want to do it, take a chance. Don’t be afraid to risk. You find out if you can do it by giving it your best shot. Don’t let someone’s opinion determine your reality.”
Aniko rises from her seat with the speed as if she’d sat on a tack. She quickly moves in beside me. “Let’s thank Eric for sharing how to tell stories. Be sure to write down some thoughts in your notebooks or your devices so we can hit the ground running on Monday.”
The bell rings. The students scramble to gather their gear to get to their next class. Each one thanks me for telling sensational stories as he or she walks by. I thank each student for the opportunity to share them.
The room is empty for a few moments before the juniors come in for their storytelling lesson. I’m satisfied with how this first hour went and how well I was received. A positive omen for the next two grades I’ll address.
“Is that what you’re looking for?” I ask Aniko seeking an assessment of my performance.
“Yes, that was perfect,” Aniko replies almost giddy. “I wasn’t sure how they would act, if they’d pay attention or not but they were spellbound. Wish I could get them to do that.”
“Oh come on, sis. I’m the substitute teacher. Everybody loves the substitute,” brushing aside an assertion I did anything special.
“I had totally forgotten about your rock and roll band,” Aniko tells me with more than a hint of bemusement. That band was all you’d talk about when we were kids. Tripolino was such a jerk. I hated band until I got to high school.” Aniko, three years younger than me, had played clarinet all through school and still plays on occasion. Apparently Mr. Tripolino had seen more ability in her than he had in me. She got her instrument almost immediately.
A new crowd rushes in to fill the seats. The expressions I received from the previous group are the same ones I’m getting again just on different faces.
The second bell rings and round two of Storytelling 101 begins.
If tossing and turning were an Olympic event I’d have won a gold medal two hours ago. A check of the clock reveals it is three in the morning. Haven’t slept much all night. My wife Julie enjoys a peaceful slumber beside me. Thankfully my restlessness has not prevented her from having a restful sleep.
Sleep continues to elude me because the gears in my brain won’t stop turning, working on a problem that has no solution. I should be feeling triumphant. My guest-speaking stint before Aniko’s students was an undeniable hit. All three classes I spoke to reacted almost identically to my stories, my lessons. It was an enjoyable experience and every minute was gratifying for me. If it’s one thing I love, it’s a good story...especially when I’m the one telling it.
Triumphant is not the word to describe my mood at this point in time. The word is troubled. Or sad. Or disturbed. Take your pick.
The story of my band that never was has weighed on me since departing the high school this morning. Memories came back with a weight I hadn’t felt since I was a teen. That weight is something I’m wrestling with in between brief interludes of sleep. What eludes me is why this story is so bothersome and why now? What is so special about sharing the story today that produced this evening’s toss and turn fest?
Suddenly the answer lands. October 1977. January 2018. Forty years. October 2017 marked 40 years since the conversation on that elementary school playground among four friends of a dream never realized. The underscored point my brain is making is that it has been 40 years since the young me had a dream that others had crushed like a bug.
It’s only five months till the big five-oh would be attached to me, till that AARP card arrives in my mailbox. AARP card. How did I get this old this fast? It doesn’t seem like 40 years since we were on that playground together.
October 18, 1977
“Are you going to play football?”
I look up from my staring contest with the asphalt that is the elementary school playground. We’re at recess after another disgusting lunch. Standing over me is my best friend in the whole wide world, Todd Kane. I’ve known Todd for as long as I can remember. Our dads work together at the local seed company.
“No, not this time,” I reply.
“How come?” Todd inquires taking a seat on the swing beside me. “Are you feeling okay?”
“I’m fine. I just can’t stop thinking about something.”
“KISS?” Todd responds. “Gene Simmons is great. I’m hoping to get their album Destroyer for Christmas.”
Todd and I had discovered KISS almost exactly a year ago. They performed on The Paul Lynde Halloween Show. Todd and I watched the Halloween TV special together at his house and we were stunned by what we saw that night. The costumes, the music, the energy hit us both like we had touched a live electrical wire.
We became fans from the first
“No, I’m thinking about the band idea,” I tell Todd.
“Still? You haven’t given up on that idea yet?” Todd acts with more than a hint of incredulity.
Two girls in our class approach us before I can respond. Todd and I are the only kids who are in this area of the playground so the girls’ curiosity has gotten the better of them. Laurie Laning and Lori Politis are two of our friends and classmates. Laurie has short, sandy blonde hair and is one of the smartest kids in our grade. Lori has long, brown hair and is one of the most popular kids in our grade.
“What’s going on, guys?” Laurie asks. She’s wearing her green jacket and blue jeans. Lori is in jeans also, but her jacket is brown.
“Eric’s decided not to play today,” Todd tells them.
“What’s going on, Eric?” Lori asks me. No matter what Lori says it sounds like she’s singing.
“I’m thinking about our band,” I reveal.
Todd shakes his head upon hearing my admission a second time. Laurie scrunches her eyebrows and the corners of her mouth turn down. Lori cocks her head to the left pausing for more information before committing to any reaction.
“Are you kidding?” Laurie asks. “We’re nine-years-old. How are we going to form a band?”
“We aren’t going to be nine-years-old forever,” I fire back. “We have to think about the future.” My voice is stern and certain like I’m trying to inspire an army before a battle.
“You’re my best friend but you’re nuts.” Todd, clearly, is not taking that hill.
Lori is at least courteous if not curious. “Tell us what you’re thinking.”
I reach into my back right pants pocket and pull out a folded up piece of paper. I unfold it as Todd leans next to my left shoulder while Laurie and Lori walk around my swing to look over my right shoulder. On the paper is a drawing I made and colored.