September 11, 2013

The Eightfold Path

By Thomas Mundt

My wife demanded super-bright horizons for Glade, our eldest and only child, way brighter than those offered by the Bright Horizons pre-k up the block.  I wasn’t sure daycare was in our budget, given my recent surgery.  Weren’t there plenty of Polish in our humble hamlet, hungry for work and the leftovers in our fridge, who would be over-the-moon just hanging out at our house for pennies on the dollar?

Of course, my wife had to go “there” and ask Were the calf implants necessary?  I responded with a salty Can you put a price tag on self-esteem?  She countered with You can and we did, then $7500, which will be more like $13,000 once we’re done paying off the Chase Freedom Card.

She had a point.


We did our homework and, after switching our internet provider from nothing to Comcast, performed some serious World Wide Web research into the best, most available daycare options in our neighborhood.  The results were positively bananas.  Sure, there were plenty of providers with First Aid Kits and easy-to-read exit signage in the event of a fire or other catastrophe, but would they help prepare Glade for Stanford and, later, The Ever-Changing Modern Workplace?  Could they wring out his potential like Bud Light Lime from a bar rag? Could they milk achievement from his Life Utter?

My wife insisted we think outside The Box, the daycare search engine recommended by her mentor Rudy, a practitioner of Tae Bo and all-around success story.  The answer’s out there, somewhere she said, then Rudy and I are just good friends and I don’t know who those soccer shorts you found in the den belong to.

I had abandoned hope, as well as my shirt, and turned to the teachings of The Vedas when I came upon The Eightfold Path.  Its proprietor, a gentleman by the name of He Who Lies In Waiting In The Brambles, was opening a new facility across from the Denny’s on Veterans Parkway, offering Montessori-style instruction and, on Wednesdays, a complimentary continental breakfast consisting of found roughage and freeze-dried acai berries.  Admission was rolling and contingent upon the clearance of a non-refundable, non-Traveler’s check in the amount of $250, made payable to CASH.

It was 3:30 am and I knew my wife was in the middle of her rotation at The Free Clinic, distributing literature and Kleenex to the teen moms in the Designated Waiting Area, but I had to be a harbinger of hope, a communicator of can-do.  For some reason Rudy picked up, assured me he’d deliver the good, no, scratch that, great news.

I was grateful my wife had found a confidant.


I rang the bell and waited. Glade was fidgety so I have him half a Mum-Mum, reminded him to chew like a big boy or, failing that, an ape of like mind and ability.  A young Polynesian-looking woman in a pink, oversized NADER ’00 sweatshirt greeted us. Come to join inside she said as she led us up a narrow flight of stairs, kindly pointing out the phonebooks and loose planks along the way.  Safety was clearly Job One for The Eightfold Path and a calm, as well as some (hopefully) unleaded paint chips, washed over me.

I could tell the space used to be a salon because they still had those reclining chairs and hairwash bowls. I saw who I presumed to be He Who Lies In Waiting In The Brambles sitting cross-legged in a corner, smoking two hookahs at once, the tubes sticking out of both sides of his mouth.  In the background was a Red Hot Chili Peppers song whose title I can’t recall.

I’m Curtis and this is Glade I said, then Please, don’t get up.  He Who Lies In Waiting In The Brambles grabbed one of those toilet paper tubes stuffed with dryer sheets and blew a bunch of smoke toward a cracked window.  I wasn’t planning on it he said, then Sorry, you know how landlords can be dicks about these sorts of things.

I have your check I said, holding up the envelope for him so he could see I wasn’t full of it, then I hope it’s okay that it’s dated for today.  He Who Lies In Waiting In The Brambles motioned for me to slide it over so I did.  It got stuck on a nail and I had to give it another shove with my wingtip.  It’s standard practice to date a draft for the day you intend to have it redeemed he said as he held the check up to the light, then A watermark, great.  Everything looks in order.

I wasn’t sure what to do with Glade so I just kept dangling him, my arms getting tingly.  Please He Who Lies In Waiting In The Brambles said, then Come to me.  I took two steps before I heard Just the boy.  I set Glade down on the hardwood and gave him a little swat on the posterior.  I expected him to book the other way because he doesn’t exactly thrive around strangers but Glade walked straight into He Who Lies In Waiting In The Brambles’ Dutch East Indies-looking blouse-type thing and nuzzled.  I was proud to have such an open-minded son, one who wasn’t afraid of the arms of a man not dressed as a cartoon velociraptor.

He Who Lies In Waiting In The Brambles started kneading Glade’s head like pizza dough.  Are you sure you’re not a parrot wherein the soul of an Aztec warrior-king resides? he asked Glade.

My son just looked back at me. Go ahead, Glade I said, then You can tell the nice man.


The Polynesian-looking woman led me inside and Glade and the other children were all in a circle, and in the prone position.  Shhh please remain to be quiet she said and I obliged, ducking behind a potted palm.  He Who Lies In Waiting In The Brambles emerged from the unisex bathroom, chanting and swinging censers that smelled of fresh mulch.  When the smoke cleared He Who Lies In Waiting In The Brambles set the bronze canisters on a blonde-veneer Ikea coffee table, made a series of tiny incisions into his exposed pectorals with an X-ACTO knife, and said Rise, and go forth.  I was unsure as to proper incantation etiquette so I began to clap.

He Who Lies In Waiting In The Brambles immediately grabbed both of my hands, pressed them together.  His blood got all over my brand-new Land’s End polo but I didn’t object, knowing I had just witnessed something special.  Your gesture demeans all of us he told me.  Then he delivered a well-placed haymaker to my skull, knocking me backwards and into a Jimmy Cliff tapestry.


Glade was quiet during the car ride home so I picked his brain while he picked his nose.  Something the matter, sport? I asked, immediately regretting calling him “sport.”  Today I learned about pain he said, then Why did The Ottomans do all that mean stuff? I needed context for his inquiry so I asked Glade what he did at school today. He told me that He Who Lies In Waiting In The Brambles provided the kids with a cursory overview of The Armenian Genocide, passed around some gold coins his great-grandmother stashed in her knickers so the creeps at Ellis Island (and later, Cleveland) couldn’t get at them.  The Ottomans took their heads, dad Glade told me.  People need their heads.

I didn’t disagree.


Get a load of this, honey I told my wife. I was in the middle of leaving a pretty-detailed voicemail when Rudy picked up. Now’s not a great time, Curt he told me.  I thought I heard the sound of a canned ham falling into a whirlpool tub and then a lot of giggling. Then our conversation ended somewhat abruptly.

DCFS had called. Turned out The Eightfold Path had skirted a number of licensure requirements and had the afternoon to vacate their rental space lest the Cook County Sheriff’s Office get involved.  I asked the rep What happens next?  She burped and  said Sorry, Wendy’s and then Dude, if I knew that I’d bet on college athletics.  I was then informed that I had 20 minutes to pick up my son, while a Case Manager was still on-site.  Then I listened to DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night” on repeat for approximately 45 minutes before I realized the operator wouldn’t be picking up again.

I accidentally ran over a half-full 2-liter of Diet Squirt as I pulled up to the curb.  Glade had what appeared to be week-old avocado smudged on each cheek.  He’d been crying.  People came, dad Glade informed me.  They came and told my teacher he’s bad and then they pulled his hair real hard and threw him into a garbage can.

I lifted him up off the concrete and squeezed him until I thought he might break my sternum.

Thomas Mundt is the author of one short story collection, You Have Until Noon to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe (Lady Lazarus Press, 2011), and the father of one human boy, Henry (2011).  Additional teambuilding exercises and risk management advice can be found at

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