Trapped in a Friendless Life

Terrell was weak. Not from the loss of blood dripping from his stool that flushed out of sight, although it did give cause for concern, but from his inability to find a true friend. Months after the lay-off his friends dissipated one after another along with his health.

His swelled belly was wrought with starches from food pantries. Not a single handout was healthy. Most were discarded foods that some man bought for his wife by mistake. She’d generously drop off the bag to a food pantry on her way to pick up the right items.

Still, there were days when Terrell was fortunate to receive a few dollars to spend on a greasy fast food burger in order to increase his caloric intake. He didn’t mind the extra fats, as it would seep through his pores and slow the chaffing on his face caused by the inability to groom properly.

Finding a place to lay his head at night was never a problem, but one with a shower and body wash was better. He was fortunate to find two such locations each month, so he positioned his interviews for the morning after those stays. The locations also provided a filling breakfast that gave him the fuel needed for the interview process.

The interviews were seldom productive. Most of the companies ran background checks and learned that he had lost his house a year after the lay-off. His age was also a deterrent, as they were looking for a thirty-something, not someone who had crossed into his fifties. Besides, the hiring manager was usually intimidated by his vast knowledge of the industry and figured there had to have been more to his lay-off than meets the eye.

Terrell did try to dumb down his resume. But the interviewer always made him comfortable, causing him to answer every question truthfully, which revealed his great knowledge and life long wisdom. This response made it obvious that he was far overqualified for the position. Few hiring managers would hire someone that, once back on his feet, would probably find a higher level position within the year and leave. The remaining managers were afraid he’d eventually come gunning for his or her job.

All of these frustrations bothered Terrell, but far less than not having a true friend with whom he could speak openly. The few fringe friends always wanted him to quickly fix his problem, rather than allow him to talk through his issues. Then there were those “friends” who positioned themselves for the day that Terrell would land back on his feet, hoping they would be found in his good graces, especially since there was word on the street that he was being quietly groomed and reviewed for a high position once he met certain criteria.

The unspoken criterion was a frustration that stood all on its own. Terrell wished he had a friend to talk through what the possible criteria might be and what side of the tracks generated the conditions. Were they people who wanted to use his gifting and ability to communicate or a camp of people desiring his demise, who seemed to have the upper hand based on his circumstances?

Terrell had a passion that if funded would change the way society viewed life. It was an incredible power that seemed squandered in a man that was rich in ability, but trapped on skid row. His enemies would be devastated if he ever found his way out. But for now, they were thankful that his allies were keeping him in humble circumstances that was taking a toll on his health, which might soon give permanent strength to Terrell’s enemies.

Tears welled in his eyes as Terrell dropped his shoulders to relax. The shelter he arrived at for the night was one of his favorites and had a woman gifted in affirmation to sooth his soul. Her kind words caused him to reflect on remarrying some day, but he knew his experiences would keep him from such a gentle woman.

But it didn’t matter, as few women would attempt a relationship with an unemployed man. While it’s hard to fall in love with someone who is living out his worst scenario in life, it’s even harder to fall in love with such a man that will radically change once he is resuscitated back to normal society. Trapped men always snap back to life with far more power than anyone expects, making sure no one ever has the ability to put him down in the future.

Terrell was never a man who desired control or an abundance of power. In fact, it scared him because his morals were stretched every time he was forced to live a life contrary to who he was made to be. His only solace in those times would be a close friend that he could trust, which no longer existed.

There were plenty of people who were friendly to him, but no one would dare cross one of Terrell’s enemies. Nor would they interfere with his silent supporters that put him in his uncomfortable predicament in order to test his resolve and learn if he was driven by pride or humility. The risk was too high and the manipulation seemed to be for his good, so most just avoided any close contact.

However, there were a few false friends that would step in and out of his life long enough to report back on the condition of his heart. The reports were somewhat confusing, as Terrell always had a great outlook on life. His judges couldn’t tell if he was being arrogant about his future, or humbly making powerful faith filled statements. So, they purposely increased his suffering to learn the truth.

The testing continued for years and Terrell was unable to guess how he needed to act in order to stop the turmoil. Clearly those sent to check on him weren’t able to tell where he was coming from and his calculated behaviors that he assumed would stop the testing never did. His suffering continued to his detriment.

The night finally came when Terrell’s bleeding was so significant that he lay in bed crying. He only had $11.23 in his jeans, very short of his health insurance co-pay. Every hour he’d walk into the bathroom and sit on the throne, praying that he wouldn’t loose too much blood as it dripped into the bowl.

He finally had weakened to the point of no return and laid in his bed with tears dripping down his face. He didn’t fear dying and even wondered if anyone would ever miss him. But he was thankful someone would at least find him in the morning. He had wished it would be a friend who might care for him if he survived the night, but he knew that friendship was no longer possible in his worthless state.

With a deep breath and lonely resolve, Terrell realized that most people around him had friendships of convenience, rather than friendships of love. And he knew that his life was not convenient for anyone to participate or care about. So he closed his eyes and whispered his goodbye to the world.

The next morning a volunteer nudged Terrell’s body. Her warm touch caressed his face as she told him it was time to get up. His eyes popped open with a look of surprise followed by a warm smile. He was alive and could tell that his bleeding had stopped.

Confidence rose in his heart and he knew that he had been gifted with another day of life. He immediately got cleaned up and started to strategize on how to start a new future that included true friends and a good job. He was ready to go for it, regardless of his enemies and those who were trying to manipulate his future. After all, it was a new day and he had enough strength to live it.

Copyright © 2014 by CJ Powers

The Admiral and the Signal

This is a short story I shared at a recent gathering.

There’s an old urban legend that unfolded in the pacific about an Admiral who took command of a ship.

The ongoing battle had stopped as the intense storm rose. The Captain of the ship was headed back to port when the Admiral took over in the choppy waters. Not because of the Captain’s dereliction of duties, but rather due to the Admiral’s inability to do nothing.

The pitch-black storm made maneuvering difficult and radio static forced the Admiral to require the presence of a signalman on the bridge and not a moment too soon. Everyone could see the blinking light in the distance off the ship’s bow and the signalman quickly interpreted it.

The signal flashed, “Divert your course 15 degrees to portside to avoid collision.”

The Admiral was incensed and commanded that the return message state, “Divert your course 15 degrees to port to avoid collision.”

The signalman cringed, as he read out loud the response to the Admiral, “No, I repeat, divert your course.”

The Admiral’s face filled with rage from the disrespectful response. He demanded that the signalman request the rank of the one sending the message.

A simple reply followed, “Petty Officer 2nd Class.”

With that the Admiral’s chest puffed up and he sent another message reading, “You are communicating with an Admiral, divert your course.”

The signalman nervously read the next response, “Unable to comply, divert your course.”

The Admiral grabbed the signal light and flashed it himself, “We are a battleship destroyer, divert your course.”

The Admiral and signalman stood in amazement as they watched the return message, “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”

No matter how high we get in our work, social or family life, we always need the insights and perspectives of others. It’s therefore prudent to be a good listener before demanding that our choice is implemented.

Johnny’s Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving I wanted to give thanks for the inspiration I received for the first story I ever wrote. It was ever so slightly rewritten and I hope it is still a blessing to my readers.

Johnny's ThanksgivingThe snow lightly fell outside of the big picture window where little Johnny leaned against the back of the couch. His eyes sparkled at the small fawn crossing his grandfather’s snow covered lawn in the north woods of Wisconsin.

The smell of turkey snuck up behind Johnny, as his grandmother kissed the back of his head on her way to the dinning room table with the platter. Johnny spun around and caught a glimpse of the golden brown turkey, as it was set on the table in between the sweet potato and dressing.

Johnny kicked his feetsy pajama covered feet out and dropped with his seat landing squarely on the couch. He slipped off the edge and took his place at the dinning room table next to grandma.

In place of a traditional prayer, grandpa suggested each person take a moment to thank God for the simple things for which they were thankful.

Grandpa thanked God for his job, new car and having the family over for Thanksgiving. Grandma thanked the Lord for His provisions and the family. Johnny’s mom thanked God for his baby sister who was partially covered by a small blanket, as she enjoyed her dinner.

It was Johnny’s turn and he leaned back in his chair and took pause. The others were curious and wondered what was going on in his little mind. He thought and he thought, bringing smiles of anticipation to each one at the table.

“I wonder what Daddy is thankful for,” questioned Johnny.

A warm smile came over everyone in the old Chicago gym where Johnny’s dad was dishing up turkey for the homeless. A tear of joy rolled down the cheek of a mother holding a small child on her hip. A man with long stringy hair and a stubble face smiled as he received the turkey leg. An old woman reached out her shriveled hand and patted Johnny’s dad on the shoulder, “Thank you for giving up what you’re thankful for, so we might be thankful as well.”

Johnny smiled and said, “I’m thankful for my dad and I’m going to grow up and be just like him.”

And so, that Thanksgiving day everyone found something to be thankful for and shared with each other generously from the depths of their heart.

Copyright © 2005, 2011, 2013 by CJ Powers
Illustration © Kelly Hironaka –


Paganini’s Great Success Story

Nicoló PaganiniI was given a unique opportunity as an inspirational/motivational speaker last Sunday night. I spoke to 200 professional and accredited investors on my experiences with film investing. The opportunity allowed me to not only share my projects, but also allowed me to speak into the investor’s lives.

During my talk, I shared about how most great success stories come from people who aren’t passionate about making money, but rather are passionate about bringing change to their community, leaving a living legacy, and baring their soul through the arts. This awareness came after I learned about Nicoló Paganini and how his passion, not his investments, gave him a prominent place in history.

Paganini was a master violinist who played multiple string instruments. He started with the violin at age five and played his first public performance at age twelve. His passion for the art focused his training to the point where he could accomplish certain techniques that no one else could.

He was the first violinist who could play an entire octave without moving his hand position. He was also the first to play with a vigorous staccato. And, he eventually became known as the father of modern violin techniques.

These unbelievable techniques during the early 1800s caused his peers to rumor about him having sold his soul to the devil in order to accomplish what was not considered humanly possible.

While he had massive skill, it wasn’t the reason he excelled. His passion for his community, creating a legacy that would out live him, and for the art drove his success. This was proven out on numerous occasions, but one specific night went down in history.

His concert was moving along very well, but by the end of the second to last piece, one of his violin strings snapped as he played the final climatic note. The concert host was concerned and suggested that the concert come to a close since there was only one piece left. Paganini would not hear of it and before the host could suggest anything else to the contrary, Paganini started playing the last piece without having restrung his instrument.

The audience marveled as he sped up his fingering to compensate for the missing string. Awe filled each face as the music became more vigorous. The complexity of the music eventually overwhelmed the strings, causing the audience to gasp when a second string broke during the piece.

Paganini recalculated his fingering positions and continued without missing a single note. During the final crescendo that he played with great staccato, the third string broke. Without a moment of concern, Paganini played out the last few notes and bowed to a thunderous ovation.

After five minutes of applause, the host quieted the crowd and thanked the master violinist for his superb playing. But Paganini wasn’t ready to leave the stage. He stepped forward to the audience and reminded the fans that it was customary to play an encore for such a supportive audience. He then lifted his violin to his chin and played the most incredible piece of his career with one string.

Paganini’s passion for his community, his one concert that went down in history as a great legacy, and his passion for the art altered music. Historians share how Paganini’s performance was the turning point in music history that changed the way violins are played. There is a distinct difference in the lullaby type performance techniques prior to Paganini and the vigorous style that he introduced, making cinematic music like Indiana Jones and Star Wars possible.

His success was found within his passion and I encouraged each investor to not only consider how they manage their money, but to consider investing in the things that touch their passion as Paganini did. By doing so we are bound to touch those in our communities, leave behind a living legacy, and express our passion through the arts in a way that brings greater fulfillment into our lives.

Copyright © 2013 by CJ Powers

Drawing a Crowd of Drive-by Fans

The beautiful fall weather made our new location for Mystery at the Johnson Farm a perfect experience. There was something special about shooting the farm scene at a suburban house that looked exactly like the book described, with the exception that the big barn and back forty would have to be optically rendered. The shooting day was right on schedule and everything that we needed to come together was fitting better than expected.

Mystery at the Johnson FarmEven the special physical effects goose, used to attack the girl when she first arrives at the farm, looked just like its living counter part that was being shot some 700 miles away. The Atlanta team had an eye for detail and painted the grass to perfectly match the Midwest footage.

With our spirits flying high, one crewmember pointed out that this film was going to make us famous. Since it was my first children’s film, I wasn’t able to drink the “Kool-Aid”. That didn’t stop his excitement. Nor did it stop him from chatting with everyone on the set about the cars filled with fans that kept driving by to watch the shoot.

There hadn’t been any publicity or leaks to the press, so we didn’t need police to block off the street. In fact, the yard was so deep that all of our equipment and vehicles were on private property. In my mind, the only fans would be made up of curious people who happened to drive by or their friends who wanted to share in the event.

The longer the shooting day, the more the actors and crew were starting to pay attention to those driving by, a pattern that picked up as the day continued. I even started to take note of the various cars driving by and realized that not one of the cars returned. They were all different vehicles that drove by with an increase in frequency. It was becoming significant.

I soon bought into the possibility that our production team was a big deal for this suburban town. It was also possible that the press would soon be descending on us. We’d need to wrap and head to the next location before we encountered problems with the press, although I’d always considered that type of problem a good thing.

During our last break I chatted with one of the homeowners and asked her how she might feel with the press bringing attention to her home based on the film. She laughed and reminded me that we were on a quiet street and had nothing to worry about.

I took a quick moment to think about how I should point out the numerous drive-by fans that were on the increase. I decided to frame it as a question in order to bring the right magnitude to her revelation, “Have you noticed all of the cars driving by this afternoon?”

“Don’t worry about those cars,” she quipped. “There’s a repair shop at the end of the block and they test drive the cars down our street every day.”

I cracked up laughing. She tilted her head and gave me a curious look. I responded, “Never mind me, I just had too much Kool-Aid.”

Copyright © 2013 by CJ Powers

Directing at Age Four

Fear and trembling shot through my veins as my mother and I walked into the dentist office. At age four, it was the scariest place that I had ever been. I could never get used to visiting a location that created pain in the name of health. But, all I had to do was sit patiently in the waiting room until my mom’s teeth were evaluated.

While I wasn’t the type of person to sit still, a book about TV production fascinated me. I had no idea what was written in the book, but I could tell from the pictures that they used three cameras, a director and talent. The on-camera personalities sat on a small stage or platform under cool looking lights. The cameras were numbered so the director could pick which one went live during the production.

President_StatueWhen I got home, I ran up to my room and got some of the Jewel-Osco president collectables. They were miniatures of each president standing in a regal pose. I put a piece of masking tape around the belly of three that looked like cameramen and numbered them. Then I took a few other presidents and put them on a little platform made from a book and positioned Andrew Jackson to direct. I played for hours setting up various shots.

My imagination ran wild, as I pretended to make a feature film. While I don’t remember the exact story, I do recall that the cop story was intense, as the detective cornered two suspects.

“Mr. Bellagio, where were you during the night of October 31st?” asked the detective.

“I was with the dame from the all night pub.”

The detective slowly circled him, as camera 3 pushed in on a close-up.

“So, you say you’re innocent, but I can prove that I’ve caught you red handed.”

Trixie quickly turned toward the detective and confessed, “I was with Mr. Bellagio all night, even when we visited that dame. He couldn’t have stolen the cash.”

Camera 2 dollied in to a tight shot of Trixie, revealing her increased pulse. She was hiding something.

“There is only one way for me to prove you’re guilty.” Camera 1 set on a two shot. “Will you submit to a simple test?”

“Maybe,” quipped Mr. Bellagio.

“First wash up,” the detective instructed, tossing him a dry towel. Camera 3 turned to follow Mr. Bellagio’s every move.

Mr. Bellagio stepped over to the wet bar and washed his hands. When he pulled them out of the water they glowed bright blue.

“Hey! What’s this sadistic magic you’ve performed on me?”

The detective clasped handcuffs on Mr. Bellagio as he explained. “The stolen money was laced with a dye that once wet, turns a florescent blue. So, I’ve caught you red handed… Thanks to blue ink.” Camera 2 swung wide.

The detective walked over to Trixie and held up a second pair of handcuffs. “It’s now time to cuff your accomplice.” Camera 1 pushed in for a tight shot of Trixie’s face. She swallowed hard.

“Oh no, Mr. Detective, sir. I remember now that I was with Mr. Bellagio on a different night.” Camera 3 zoomed in on the detective.

The detective smiled at her. “I’ll see you at the pub for a drink later.”

Trixie smiled and ran off.

A shout from the first floor told me it was time to put away my film team and head down stairs for supper. My dad was home for dinner and I couldn’t wait to tell him about the adventure I filmed. It was an awesome movie for a four-year-old’s imagination.

Copyright © 2013 by CJ Powers

Getting Captain Action to Safety

I was undercover, as much as a grade schooler could be. My grandma didn’t notice me slip upstairs to my bedroom. She was too busy spending time with my sister on a sewing project. But it didn’t matter. I had received a secret assignment from an invisible branch of the government known as the Action Alliance. It was my job to get Captain America past the canyon and to the new flight port behind our rickety garage.

Captain Action ToyWith my Captain America toy in hand, I proceeded to open my second story bedroom window and climb out. I had seen workers on our roof before and knew that I just had to be careful with my footing to avoid falling off. I wasn’t afraid, as my new sneakers would grip the shingles and keep me safe.

The roof was steeper than it looked from the ground so I had to lean toward the peak of the roof as I climbed. I was startled when Mrs. Williams shouted with panic in her voice, “Get down from that roof or I’ll call the police!” My heart raced. Fear shot through my veins. I was petrified, well, that was until I realized that if I moved to the end of the roof I would be able to see the entire back yard from a bird’s eye perspective.

The view was incredible at 35 feet.

I checked the parachute on Captain America and tossed him high into the air out over the backyard. The Captain peaked from my toss and started to fall, forcing the parachute to pop open. The sight was amazingly beautiful, as I watched the Captain slowly drift down into the yard. Once he landed I headed back to my bedroom window.

By the time I got downstairs I could hear my grandma talking with Mrs. Williams at the back door. I moved to the kitchen and tried to figure out who was winning the argument. Mrs. Williams saw me and glared. She was satisfied that I was off of the roof and headed home.

Grandma turned to me and asked, “What kind of trouble have you been getting into?”

I shrugged my shoulders and headed into the backyard to play. The Captain had landed within a few feet of the new flight port, so I picked him up and wrapped the parachute for another jump. I climbed on top of the garbage cans and then shimmied onto the garage roof.

The roof was less stable than the house since the garage was on an angle. My dad suggested at dinner a few days earlier that it would soon fall over. But for me, it was the perfect launch point to toss Captain high into the air and watch the chute pop open for another successful mission. The Captain landed perfectly in the sandbox, which was next to the flight port.

It didn’t take long for the Action Alliance to congratulate me on getting Captain back safely. He had just completed an intelligence mission tracking the notorious Chet Dagon, super lord of the evil swazitey empire. I knew that a call would come requesting my expertise in the near future, but for the time being I headed into the kitchen for some milk and cookies

 Copyright © 2013 by CJ Powers