I paused at the corner the other Sunday morning to contemplate which direction I would take for my meandering walk through the neighbourhood; should I tackle the uphill uneven footpaths first or keep them until midway through my amble. It was a beautiful late summer morning; the sky was clear and blue, and the sun was just starting to warm the day. I settled upon a route that I don’t take all that often; the curving narrow road running through part of the nearby golf course. Halfway along the curving narrow road, a pedestrian crossing leads to a downhill path that runs alongside a tee off and then past a small pond, with a concentration distracting water geyser before it empties into Elmwood Park Road. Elmwood Park Road feeds into AKSARBEN Village, my usual halfway point when I walk the uphill uneven footpaths first. I do the golf course route once every couple of weeks. I distract myself when I’m walking the fringes of the fairways by looking for golf balls. It doesn’t take much searching; if I didn’t pick up the balls I would trip over them. I wonder how golfers can lose so many of their balls.
After walking a couple of blocks to reach the street corner to turn onto the curving narrow golf course road I came to a hesitant stop. I was besieged by runners and walkers; surrounded by a flood of coloured tee shirts, vibrant hue running shoes, and earbuds. People of all ages and shapes were emblazoned with numbered race bibs. I was in the middle of the 2017 10K and 2 Mile American Lung Association Fight For Air Omaha Corporate Cup; walking the wrong way without a race bib. There was a water stop by the pedestrian crossing, where runners and walkers were snatching yellow cups of water to hydrate; the water stop volunteers were verbally pushing the runners and walkers into the back half of the race with cries of Good Job. As I started down the downhill path alongside the tee off I could see a sea of walkers and runners on the back half of the race, pacing themselves along Elmwood Park Road.
And once again I became part of the Corporate Cup; this time walking the right way, but still without a race bib. When I sauntered past the Elmwood Park Road Cheer Station a chorus of Good Job chants, together with a thumping sound of muted clapping greeted me. The Cheer Station volunteers were slapping together two-foot tubes of solid foam rubber to cheer me on. I was now at my halfway point when I tackle the uphill uneven footpaths first route, so I walked on the footpath as I usually do; alongside the Corporate Cup participants and towards the finish line. The footpath ahead was packed with spectators so I stepped onto the roadway; it seemed that with every step I took I was greeted with shouts of a Good Job and fist pumps. As I walked to the side of, but past the finish line I could still hear the cries of Good Job; I felt a surge of pride.
You hear a Good Job a lot nowadays. It seems to be the go-to praise phrase for most mums and dads. Telling their little ones every time they hiccup Good Job; Good Job when they blow their nose, Good Job when they put their plastic water bottle in the recycle bin, Good Job when they put their coat on, Good Job when they eat all their fries at Macca’s, Good Job when they finish colouring outside the lines of a kiddie restaurant placemat, Good Job when they eat their broccoli, Good Job when they wake up from having a little nap, and Good Job at pointing Percy at the porcelain. No task is too small or too large for doling out a few Good Jobs.
If only mum and dad had told me Good Job. I would have followed my own success plan for my future self; I could have chosen any of my dream jobs of the seventies
Fitness Instructor: always surrounded by flocks of beautiful women. You didn’t need to know what you were doing; aerobics and nautilus equipment was so new that nobody knew anything about them anyway.
instead, I wandered Europe and the Middle East along the ill-defined hippie trail searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary.
Back then, if what has been your biggest failure was a question asked at job interviews, my answer would have to have been
I’m not exactly sure what my biggest failure is. Everything I’ve ever done and everything I do is a failure; I’ve never been afraid of failure. Nobody has ever told me Good Job. I think failure is good for success.
Shut the front door.
The spare room was an unfinished room in the back of our house. There was a door from the dining room to the spare room and a door from the spare room into the back fernery. The spare room had two windows; one looked out onto the small sideway, and the other into the fernery. The sideway led into a back gate that opened into the fernery; a door from the fernery opened into the backyard. The kitchen back door also opened into the fernery. I don’t remember what bad deeds warranted what punishment; sometimes a simple slap of dad’s hand across the back of the legs was enough, other times several whacks with the leather belt across the back of the legs was enough, and at times being locked in the dark spare room was enough, or being locked in the dark spare room after being whacked across the back of the legs with the leather belt was enough. The spare room was stacked with boxes, and old household things that mum didn’t want to throw away; she might use them again sometime. The spare room was also the nighttime refuge for our collection of pets.
Each night the white cockatoo was put into its cage, and the cage was draped with a towel and placed between the boxes; the guinea pigs cage was carried into the spare room and put on top of the boxes, the white mice’s cage, and it always seemed to have a litter of squirming babies, was also carried into the spare room and put on top of the boxes. When we were locked in the spare room for punishment we sat with the animals in total darkness. Sometimes the cocky just wanted to enjoy the company, and would start talking; rapidly repeating its word dictionary and thesaurus of sayings, hoping for some sound from the boy sitting in the darkness. I never knew how long I had been sitting in the spare room when the dining-room door was unlocked, but I knew I had done a Good Job of sitting in the dark and refusing to talk to the cocky. If only dad had told me Good Job when I walked out; I may have become a fitness instructor.
After an uncountable number of times sitting alone in the dark and listening to the cocky, I started to plan my escape from the room. I experimented with how to get out, and back into the spare room undetected. One night I discovered the key was always in the door to the fernery; the door from the back of the fernery opened into the backyard, and it was easy to climb the small backyard wooden fence into the sideway. There were many nights that I escaped from the darkness of the spare room, and the cocky’s never-ending favourite sayings. I walked the dark, and sometimes rain-drenched, streets of the neighbourhood. About five houses up from our house was a small somewhat overgrown park that led into the road that ran parallel to our street. A rough, uneven asphalt winding pathway crossed the park; I walked that moonlit path many times. Most times when I escaped from the spare room I was barefoot. On that moonlit night, I knew the gash between the heel and toes on the sole of my foot was serious. I reached down and picked up the bottom of a broken glass milk bottle; one of the jagged, thrusting blades from the side of the bottle was covered in my blood.
I limped home leaving a trail of blood down the footpath. Mum opened the front door and panicked; mum and dad drove me to the Williamstown Hospital for injections and stitches. And now when I run my finger along the faint scar on the underneath of my foot I think back to the Good Job I did with the slow and painful hobble back home. If only mum had told me Good Job when she opened the front door and saw the blood draining from my foot and pooling onto the veranda I may have become a bartender.
Dad and granddad did a Good Job fixing up the spare room; they lined the walls and ceiling with sheets of masonite, put in a new louvred glass window that looked into the fernery, replaced the two top wooden panels in the door to the fernery with glass, and carpeted the floor. And the spare room became my bedroom. I wonder if they knew they did a Good Job.
Before long, the morning sun will no longer be able to warm the start of the day; the winter cold will send me back to Westroads Mall and my old walking mates. They’re not really mates; I never talk to any of them and I don’t know their names. I just give a slight head nod or an indiscernible move of the index finger as we pass. I think when I return I will replace my head nod with a high spirited shout of Good Job.