My friends will tell you that I have (from their vantage point) an annoying habit of peppering, on occasion, a standard sign-off with “most likely.”

Colleague: “See you tomorrow, Paul!”

Me: “Yes! Have a good night, and I’ll see you on the morrow…most likely.” (I know, I know — I was born to be an eccentric English teacher. Pay no mind.)

This isn’t me being vague about my plans. Quite the opposite. I agonize over my word because once given, that is that. When I say that I’ll do something or be somewhere, I will unless, of course, I’m dead.

Amtrak’s Cardinal lumbered past the sleeping trees of West Virginia’s mountains. I sat in my compartment — feet propped up on the seat facing mine with Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited in my lap. The car rocked back and forth on the rails — our passenger train but an interloper on these smooth coal lines.

I drank in the faded November beauty. Flurries fluttered about in the tremendous gusts of air generated by the train as it barreled down the track. Far up ahead, the engine blew its horn. We crossed a road and dove into a tunnel.

I love trains…

Photo by Andrej Lišakov on Unsplash

To say that I agonize over decisions is an understatement. One way that I cope is with something my friends call The List.

“I got an Apple Watch. Check this out!” A colleague taps the screen and twiddles the “crown” to some unclear end. “Better put it on the list!” she chirps before darting into her class.

“I hear you keep your house pretty cold, but we just got an Eden Pure. It’s pretty efficient, and it might keep you warm without breaking the bank,” a scruffy math teacher says. “Better put it on the list!” he chuckles.

The List…

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

“Don’t buy anything — go for a hike!” I texted to a friend who takes an inordinate amount of pleasure in finding a deal. Wisely, she didn’t engage. I put my phone on a bookshelf and set off for the day’s adventure.

I jumped back from the road, my boots squishing into the tender ground as a driver zipped past leaving a dirty mist to settle over me. This place wasn’t built for humans on feet. Despite this being a residential area of suburban eastern West Virginia, there isn’t a sidewalk to be seen. …

Paul Utterback

Teacher writing about literature, minimalism, food, simplicity, sustainability and education.

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