Thursday, May 28, 2015

Part Two -- A Cut and Paste Existence

 (Author's Note: Excuse the typos, doing this in a hurry. Also, I'm consciously keeping the parts short.)



No one reacts favorably to real evidence that their sanity has finally cracked, so while my mother was still upstairs I quickly and quietly slipped out of the main house and returned to the cottage. I needed some space to try and figure out just what in the hell has gone wrong with me. I knew the only logical assumption was that the problem was me, but deep down I knew Milton Solomon had lived and written some of the most important books of the twentieth century. My father's passion for his works had carried over to me and while I hadn't memorized his novels and short stories verbatim I could clearly see some of his most famous passages in my mind.

Once inside the cottage I locked all the doors, closed the curtains, and collapsed on the couch and tried to make myself believe this was all some crazy dream. Laying there I felt the frustration of all the years of my life wasted learning to deal with the tragedies that had hit me. Over the last several months my emotional injuries had begun to fade enough to allow me to dream of becoming a functioning adult again with a chance at happiness. Now to have my mind stolen by some delusion seemed far too cruel a fate than anyone should be forced to face. As I laid on the couch I could almost see sections of Milton Solomon's works floating around my head almost taunting me to prove they were real. I was forced to consider the even worse idea that if I had indeed lost my marbles the delusion I had constructed was quite elaborate.

Given how my mother viewed my mental health before I started spouting off about what was to her a phantom writer she was sure to come to the cottage to check on me once she realized I had left the main house. I simply didn't want to deal with her concern and worry, so I jumped up and slipped on my running shorts and sneakers. After leaving a note taped to the door telling her I had gone running, I made my way to the main road with the hope that the exercise would allow me to get a handle on my thoughts.

After decades of development, the lonely country road my parents had built their house next to now had dozens of suburban developments sprouting off from both sides. Since returning home I had despaired that the solitude I had enjoyed walking the lonely road as a kid was destroyed by the closely packed McMansions and their frantic inhabitants. But given my current problem, I was able to ignore them and just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other while hoping I could somehow just sweat away this new threat to my well being.

I had several miles behind me when I realized something important, as a high school senior I had written a biography on Milton Solomon for my literature class detailing his parents and family, his activities, and his writing career. The paper itself was long gone, probably thrown away by mother when I left for college but I still remembered many of the facts about the man. While in all likelihood Solomon was indeed a construction of my deranged mind I could at least look up what I thought were the facts about his parents lives.

Buoyed by a concrete plan, I almost sprinted the entire way back to the cottage. Once inside I went straight to the computer and pulled up what I remembered about the Solomon family. Milton's dad, Amos, was a longtime associate of Theodore Roosevelt and in fact was a New York state senator when the big Rough Rider was governor. Milton's mom, Edith, was a leading activist for the women's suffrage movement and later an early pioneer in civil rights for African-Americans, both individuals of enough renown for them to leave a mark in history.

I knew this was a gamble, that if I couldn't find either of them it would be crystal clear I had serious issues with my mental health. A part of me also realized that even if they existed I still wasn't out of the woods but at least I would have something solid to base my possibly imaginary memories of Martin Solomon.

I looked up Amos first and as my fingers danced across the keyboard I actually felt fear creeping up my spine like ice water in my veins. It only took a fraction of a second for Google to come up with a Wikipedia page that confirmed my belief that Amos Solomon had indeed existed as I remembered him. Several paragraphs later the article also confirmed that Amos married an Edith Keeler in July of 1890. When I jumped over to the brief entry for Edith it listed her as an important member of the women's suffrage movement and that both her and her young baby boy were killed in a hospital fire in May of 1900 just days after giving birth.

Sitting at my computer I was elated with the news that Edith had given birth at the same time I knew Milton Solomon was supposed to have been born. However, another part of my mind was worried because if Milton Solomon never existed how did I know anything about two individuals from the ninetieth century who had largely been lost in the mists of time. Rationally, I guessed it might have been possible that while in a fugue state I somehow researched obscure people from the past and then constructed an elaborate history for their dead child, even going to the extreme of having him become one of the most important American authors of the twentieth century.

It was then that despite the utter insanity of the idea, I had an inkling that there might be something far stranger going on, some surreal fault with the nature of reality itself. But based on my computer search for Milton Solomon back at the main house after talking with my mother it didn't make any sense that out of all the people in the world I would be the only one who noticed his absence from everything. That seemed to put me back at square one. With nothing else to go on that seemed to suggest that maybe I had some sort of brain tumor or another medical condition that would cause me to create a person out of whole clothe. Luckily I had someone who I could talk with that would almost certainly help me without calling the proverbial guys with the oversized butterfly nets.

My sister, Melinda Singer, had followed my dad's footsteps to become a doctor of internal medicine. While she lived and practiced medicine down in Charleston, if I used my family card I felt sure she would see me today.

“Hey Sis,” I said several minutes later after dialing her personal cell phone.

“What do you want Peter,” she said clearly agitated, “I'm busy today.”

“Yeah, sorry about this but I have an emergency. I'm experiencing something today that quite frankly is scaring the hell out of me.”

“What's wrong Pete?” Melinda asked with clear concern in her voice.

I then explained everything that happened from asking my mother where the Milton Solomon books went to searching for him on the computer and finding nothing. After hesitating for a few moments I even explained how I was so convinced of his existence that I looked up what I knew about Milton's mom and dad and finding that they at least had lived.

“Okay Pete,” she said after asking if I was well enough to drive, “get down here here immediately and I'll get some x-rays and run some tests. You can sleep at my place tonight if I don't have you admitted.”

Relief flooded my mind, with any luck little sister would find some simple but probably gross reason I had lost my marbles as well as explaining how I knew anything about Amos and Edith Solomon. Unfortunately, calling my sister would open up another can of worms in the form of further revelations that would definitely challenge my sanity.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Cut and Paste Existence







One of my doctors called it the first tangible sign of my break with reality but I literally woke up one morning knowing something was fundamentally different with the world. That morning I opened my eyes and while the morning sun was shining through the curtains and birds outside were singing, everything seemed odd. Some part of my mind felt as if everything around me had been replaced with exact copies but whose locations were slightly off from the originals. A more rational explanation that I chose to embrace would have described my unease more akin to that of a person who stayed out too late drinking when they normally would have been in bed.

Not that I would have any idea how a normal function adult lived. When things changed I was living in a little cottage tucked away in my parents' backyard. I had taken refuge there after the economy crashed in 2008 causing the upstart software company I worked for to implode.

Before the financial houses of cards fell I was a respected and successful programmer leading a team of equally bright men and women creating software that was scaring the hell out of the established players in our field. During that time I immersed myself in my work. It allowed me to think of something other than the loss of my wife and child during the 2001 attacks. It all came to a sudden end when the practices of the self-described financial Masters of the Universe sent the economy into the abyss. Being a start-up company our operations were still dependent on the capital provided by our investors, when that disappeared all the hard work and good intentions of my coworkers and I became collateral damage in the great free enterprise con game.

So like any good loser I packed up the few items I held dear and went home to live with my parents. The cottage I moved into had originally been built as a guesthouse by my father to accommodate my maternal grandmother. Their mutual animosity being so great that my father spared no expensive in making sure the cottage was as made as comfortable and self-sufficient as humanly possible.

Against the wishes and advice of my parents, I became a bit of a recluse earning a living by writing code as an independent contractor. They wanted me to seek counseling and even try to rebuild my life but I was happy just existing from day to day.

With nothing urgent hanging over my head I laid in bed for a good while trying to isolate what was bothering me. Eventually even the most heinous slacker must stumble out of bed and so I walked over to my bathroom and looked out the small window while I did my morning business. From that spot I could see my mother, the ever early riser, puttering around her flower garden.

“Hey Peter,” she called out after noticing me staring from the window, “I made muffins this morning, get dressed and go have some before your father eats them all.”

I waved back without saying anything. Minutes later I have showered and brushed my teeth then fished out some clothes that at least felt clean. My parents, Kyle and Samantha Singer have both long since retired but never seem to sit still. Dad was one of the doctors of my little home town of Watertown, South Carolina while my mom taught elementary school. Out of their three children I was the only one who could even be considered the failure, although everyone assures me that my only fault was some incredibly bad luck. Still though, when people perceive you as having a dark menacing cloud always hanging directly over your head even dear old friends tend to drift away.

I step outside onto the small porch attached to the cottage and take in a deep breath of mid-morning air. Despite being springtime there is a chill to the air that the sun hadn't yet subdued. As I look around the backyard still struggling with the feeling of wrongness everything looks normal. The main house is still the two-story structure Cap Cod-style I grew up in and my mother's garden is still just as elaborate and well maintained as ever. I shake off the feeling and walk towards the main house to snag a couple of those muffins.

It wasn't until the youngest of my siblings, Jack, left home for college that my parents thought about having nice furniture and even making an effort at keeping the house truly clean. For my entire childhood it was a chaotic mess with only the barest of efforts made to keep it clean beyond what was needed to stay livable. To look around now and see how my mom and dad have made it a showplace both inspired me with their foresight and depressed me with the idea that at the age of thirty-seven I was again living with them a broken man.

Without trying to think anymore, which would ruin my day, I grab a plate and four of mom's blueberry muffins and a large glass of milk. Going against the new house rules I walk into the den and take a seat at the antique card table where she plays bridge with her friends. The muffins as expected are perfect and I eat in silence.

One of my dad's lifelong obsessions is his book collection. Sitting at the small table I look at all the books sitting on the shelves of the specially made bookcases lining the walls. All the masters of the written word are there and as I casually look at the names I remember the nights my dad would pick a book and read to my siblings and me. Somehow I eventually see one author's books are missing. My father was never anal enough to alphabetize his collection but through sheer familiarity I know one collection is missing.

It takes me several minutes but I eventually realize it is the Milton Solomon collection that is missing. All first editions with a few signed by the great man himself. My father loved his work and would never in a million years part with them. Knowing my father's daily routine he had long since left to work at the local free clinic down in Charleston so I hang around in the main house until my mother returns.

I hear the squeak of the back door opening then its soft impact as it closes. I then go find her in the kitchen preparing to arrange some flowers she picked from her garden. “Mom,” I say putting my plate and glass on the counter, “what did dad do with his Milton Solomon collection?”

My mom, looking like a Southern version of the great primatologist Jane Goodall, calmly looks over at me. “Whose Milton Solomon, honey? I've never heard of that author.”

For several seconds I am dumbfounded by my mother's comment, in fact the words simply didn't register. Next I think she is just playing with me, but the look of puzzlement on her face is equal to mine. “Martin Solomon,” I say again suddenly hoping my mom's advancing age is not catching up with her. “He won the Noble prize for literature in 1957, author of twelve other books and short story collection, friends with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and others like John Kennedy and Martin Luther King. He even was married to Kathrine Hepburn for ten years before she dumped him for Spencer Tracy.”

The look of puzzlement on my mother's face starts to mix with some form of concern for me, she puts down her flowers and walks over and instinctively puts her right hand on my forehead checking to see if I have a fever. “Sweetie,” she says, “I have no idea who you're talking about, are you sure you have the right name.”

“Of course,” I say, “he's one of dad's favorite authors.”

“I don't know Pete, I guess you'll have to ask your father when he comes home.” My mother says clearly hoping to end this line of conversation. Since the death of my wife, Beth, and our child, Luke, then the collapse of the software company I helped to found my mother has worried about my sanity. The fact that I have refused to reengage with the world has only made her fears worse, so I drop the subject. We continue to chat while I eat another two muffins. She then drifts off to her bedroom to get cleaned up while I race back to the den to look up details on dementia on the computer while trying to figure out a way to tell my father that the love of his life is in deep trouble.

I spend several minutes surfing through medical websites and come away with the feeling that my mother is fine. The analytical part of my brain then suggest that the only alternative is that I have somehow become confused. So, I pull Google back up and search for information on Milton Solomon and find absolutely nothing on the author, it's as if his existence has been erased. I quickly surf over to Amazon and look up the titles of all his works and find nothing.

A strange form of desperation begins to creep into my mind, a person of Solomon's stature cannot be erased this easily. I then look up the biographies of some of his friends and ex-wives and find that they to are missing any reference to Solomon. In fact, the lives of everyone of them are considerably different then what I had learned.

What was the initial worry over my mother's mental health has now given way to the seemly obvious fact that my own sanity is now highly questionable to say the least. As fear begins to choke off what is left of my rational mind I remember the strange feeling I woke up to earlier, that something was wrong with the world.

End of Part One

(Author's note: This was not suppose to be a story multi-part story. I got distracted yesterday, namely by a long and much needed nap and couldn't finish. With it now being Sunday, I've got to start getting ready for the work week.) 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Death in Hollywood v2.0

(Author's note: This is a massive rewrite of a flash fiction story I wrote a couple of years ago. It's far more detailed than the original. No, I'm not picking on a certain former Disney child star. If anything I sort of pictured this as being an alternate universe version of the character of Penny from The Big Bang Theory.)

The text message came in the middle of an office meeting. All it said was, “Come save me” with the name Emma and an address on the other side of Los Angeles right below it. Naturally, at first I thought it was a joke from one of my coworkers, they know my past even though I avoid all attempts to discuss the subject. The only problem though was that I didn't recognize the phone number and I doubted anyone would go to the links of getting a new cell phone just to play a trick. Whatever the case it had been years since I heard from her, but it didn't really matter, short of one of my kids getting hurt there was no way my boss would excuse me from his boring lecture.

When the meeting finally ended, I left the office and sat in my car for thirty minutes staring at the little screen on my cell phone wondering if I should head over to the address she sent. Figuring I had nothing to lose I made the drive across LA just to satisfy my curiosity. The address turned out to be an old warehouse whose interior had been turned into apartments. From the information on the faded billboard mounted on the roof I imagined the developers had intended it to be upscale residences for hip, young professionals but shifting neighborhood lines had claimed the area making it more than slightly dangerous.

Walking inside, the lobby was empty except for the smell of piss and the faintest hint that someone had recently smoked a couple of joints before going out to meet the world. As expected, the elevator was out of order but I was impressed with the fact that what passed as building maintenance had a new sign stating it was broken duct taped to the door. For a moment I stood in the eerily vacant lobby wondered if I should turn around and go home, its not like she would have ever gone this far for me.

It was simple morbid curiosity that made me walk up the four flights of stairs and then down the seedy hallway that reminded more of a scene from a zombie movie than I wanted to admit. When I reached what supposed to be her apartment I knocked causing the door to drift open.

“Emma,” I called out while pushing the door a little further open. “I got your text message, are you okay?” I asked with no response.

Maybe I should stopped there, plowing through LA traffic and exploring a building on the short list to become an oversized crack house is one thing but walking uninvited into a dark apartment is another entirely. It was me catching a fleeting glimpse of one of her movie posters in an expensive frame hanging on the wall that I finally knew I was in the right place. No one but Emma would have spent so much to frame something now representative of failed expectations.

“Emma,” I cried out, “it's me, Mikey...Mike Stanton; I got your text message. Are you okay?” Still nothing, but with my confidence building I pushed the door open all the way and stepped inside. It was a one bedroom studio apartment with the kitchen, and living area occupying one large room. With the curtains pulled blocking most of the afternoon sun the two windows in the living area only allowed a tiny amount of light inside. Combined with a small bulb mounted above the stove, the available illumination allowed me to navigate the apartment but it left huge shadows big enough to hide a person.

The living area of the apartment was orderly but rather spartan, the movie poster being the one genuine item of decoration I could find. The other pictures and even the furniture itself were all generic that suggested cheap motel surplus. For a moment I began to think that maybe Emma might be okay, that she probably had left the apartment but failed to close the door. But as soon as I stepped into the small kitchen area I was hit with the stench of liquor and death coming from the bedroom.

Standing in the doorway looking into the pitch black room I reached inside and instinctively felt for a light switch and flipped it up. I was instantly rewarded with the sight of the once famous Emma Carter now dead, lying naked on her bed. On the nightstand by her bed was a decorative box containing a collection of multicolored pills and an empty bottle of Jack Daniels on the floor. It didn't take much of an imagination to figure out the combination of the two was how she took her life. 

Our history together was long but lacked any real bond of friendship. It began over twenty years before when we were both cast to star in one of those sickly sweet television sitcoms. The story line had us as brother and sister orphans from the country going to live their rich but cantankerous grandfather. She was going to be the energetic and mischievous older sibling out to convert all the jaded city dwellers to honest country ways and values. I was the shy but intelligent younger brother who more often than not had to brainstorm a way to save his sister from some funny but precarious predicament. Every episode ended with the city folks coming to appreciate the moral life lesson Emma's character wanted to impart even though she created nothing but a chaos storm in the process.

For reasons I can't explain even now the show was a hit and lasted six years. When the series ended whatever fame I had evaporated overnight thrusting me back into the real world. The combined effects of severe teenage acne and a disastrous transition into puberty robbed me of my boyish innocence. I knew the deal even then, in simple numbers there were thousands of better looking boys my age all desperate to have a chance in show business. So I was less than a statistic to those wearing the thousand dollar suits and making the decisions as to who to promote or kick to the side. I reached out to Emma and her agent several times in hope they would put in a good word for me with someone, but I never heard anything back from them.

I didn't have far to fall being from LA, once the decision came down in the space of a month I went from having my every whim being met to learning the complex social rules in a crowded public school full of hormone-ravaged teenagers. I was a small injured fish in an ocean filled with angry sharks. Making matters worse, a less than ethical agent and my parents brutal divorce battle consumed whatever money I earned during the series.

Things went very differently for Emma, the producers loved the fact that she was from Nebraska and every bit the country girl she portrayed. So eager were the producers to keep her in the public consciousness our now canceled series was still in summer reruns when her first CD was released. It only took a month for her to become brightest new star in pop music. Two years later she wins a reoccurring part in an established television drama and stays with the show until it ends. That was about the time entertainment journalists started floating rumors that with Emma's ethereal beauty and devastating acting ability she could be the next Elizabeth Taylor.

Sitting at home nursing a bruised ego and a growing envy of her never ending success I watched the massive promotional campaign on the eve of her first movie hit the media like a tsunami. You would have thought the world had come together and unanimously declared her the empress of all creation. Just six weeks later I actually cringed hearing the the same media folks who once praised her awesome talent now talk about how awful her performance was in that same movie.

Three more major flops later and her once golden career is reduced to singing in shopping mall food courts and struggling to win a spot on some reality show. That was her life until seven years ago, it was then I got a call from her new agent that interest was building in a reunion of all the cast members of our sitcom.

“What interest?” I exclaimed to the voice on the other end of the phone. “I haven't seen a rerun of our old show in years. It's been forgotten.”

“That may well be the case Mr. Stanton but you will be paid ten-thousand dollars to attend the reunion event.” The voice then said completely changing my opinion on the matter.

The day of the cast reunion I walked into the rented banquet hall to find only a hand full of disinterested paparazzi hanging around the bar. I didn't care, I was there for the money and didn't mind when I walked right past them without any of them recognizing me as one of the main characters. Even though it was billed as a happy reunion of cast members who thought of each other as family only a fool would have believe it was anything other than a last desperate attempt to revive Emma's comatose career.

The last to arrive was of course Emma. Dressed in a designer western-style shirt and jeans tucked into boots that went up to her calves she stormed into the banquet hall that day acting like the energetic young girl from the series. For a few brief minutes whatever magic her personality possessed back then returned, the scattering of diehard fans that somehow knew about the event started singing the theme song with Emma dancing around shaking hands and giving hugs. Once Emma was on the podium the speeches began, all glorifying her and how wonderful she was, and the energy quickly died.

Of course everyone in the cast posed for pictures in front of an ever dwindling number of bored paparazzi that for some reason stayed through all the speeches. But even those few stranglers soon started drifting out the door with Emma literally running after them at one point. The whole affair became a total disaster when Emma's agent suddenly left without saying a word becoming the epitome of the rat abandoning a hopelessly sinking ship.

I stayed, not for any sentimental reasons, Emma and I were never close. But I had no where else to go, my wife had kicked me out the house weeks before and my apartment at the time was its own special kind of cheap rat hole. Emma eventually found me at the bar finishing off the last of the liquor.

“Aren't we a pair,” I said as she sat down on the stool next me.

“Where did it all go Mikey,” she asked, “they said I would be a star. That before I was thirty I would have won an Oscar and become one of the legends of Hollywood.”

While I was never that smart I knew it would be rude to answer a rhetorical question. So we just sat in silence drinking while the staff starting cleaning and clearing everything out. Sitting there next her you couldn't ignore the fact Emma was still a beautiful woman, as long as you avoided the look of haunted disappointment in her eyes. I wanted to tell how utterly ridiculous she was being, that her ride had lasted far longer than mine. But the one thing anyone realized about Emma if they watched her for longer than five minutes was that she was totally self-absorbed. That as far as she was concerned the sun, stars, and every galaxy in the universe revolved around her.

“You were always a good friend to me Mikey.” She suddenly said out of the blue.

Frankly, I was dumbfounded by her statement, but I didn't make an issue of it. Several hours passed with her crying on my shoulder and complaining about how everyone had given up on her. Right before we parted we did the perfunctory but empty promise of getting together which meant exchanging email addresses and phone numbers. As she drove off in her car it went without saying I knew I would never see her again. So it was quite the shock to receive her text begging that I come save her.

While the living area of her apartment was almost devoid of anything personal, her bedroom was filled with mementos of her television and movie career. In fact, I'd have to call it a shrine since the stuff filled a couple of large bookcases and most of the available wall space. Looking at her body I began to wonder why she called me, all I could think of was that she had somehow confused the characters in our series with real life. My character of the younger brother dearly loved his impish and idealistic sister and would do anything for her. Maybe in her last desperate moments that delusion was all she had left after the world had finally tossed her away.

With nothing left to do I called the police and told them what I had happened. They told me head back out towards the entrance of the apartment and wait. For a couple of seconds I almost did just that, then on a whim I pulled out my cell phone and started taking pictures of Emma's body and her bedroom. The tabloids would pay a bundle for the pictures of the fallen child star and I have child support I have to pay.

The cops took my statement and eventually allowed me to leave. It was dark outside by that time and the flashing red and blue lights reminded me of the opening of Emma's first movie. I watched it on television and Emma, wearing a golden gown, walked up the red carpet on top of the world. There was even a crowd outside the converted warehouse not to different from all the adoring fans that threatened to engulf the new Hollywood idol. This time however Emma was exiting under quite different circumstances inside a black body bag covered with a blanket. It was then that part of me wondered if this was all some elaborate prank just to reclaim what she thought was her rightful place in the spotlight.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Stumbling Towards Collapse




Back in 2011, I stumbled upon a chilling dystopian novel called What Came After written by JonClinch but working under the pen name of Sam Winston. Set fifty years in the future the United States of America has fallen and become a impoverished wasteland, but not because of some nuclear war, ravaging zombie hordes or evil alien invaders. No, what happened was that the American Republic was downsized and privatized to death by various corporate elites and the politicians they owned. A better way to describe this is situation is that Grover Norquist's dream came true in that the federal government was reduced in size to the point the Elites drowned it in the proverbial bathtub. While America's demise in the novel lacked the theatrical glamor normally associated with such stories the result was even more apocalyptic in that it had the uncomfortable feel of being based in a reality.

Don't get me wrong, for Ayn Rand, Norquist, and libertarian types What Came After, and its sequel Into The Silent World, is a joyous romp into the future where the “producers” or “job creators” have triumphed over their parasitic oppressors, everyone else. This is not meant to be a book review, I have already done that for both novels, but in short what remains of the American population since the “The Great Dying” lives under what I have come to call a cooperative corporate feudalism. The main players running the show are a monolithic banking corporation, another corporation that covers agriculture and food production, a pharmaceutical corporation, one for transportation, and then there is Black Rose, the ultimate in military contractors charged with the defense of the status quo.

For those who don't belong to the elite one-percent, or what is called the Ownership class in the books, you are either a second-tier caste called management or generics who closely resemble medieval European serfs. The managements types have it a little better than the generics but for everyone except the Ownership class life is brutal and most often extremely short.

The main question that shook me to my core was how in the hell could the United States could go out with such a pathetic whimper. Mr. Clinch gives a general synopsis but naturally does not give a detailed back story. That is where the documentary Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream fills in the missing pieces so well that it could almost be a historical piece made especially for those characters cursed to find themselves living in the universe of Mr. Clinch's books.

The documentary centers itself on the fact that the Upper East side of Manhattan section of Park Avenue is the home to some of the richest people on the planet who have enjoyed an unprecedented amount of prosperity for the last thirty years. In fact these privileged residents are part of the an amazingly tiny group of four-hundred Americans that own more wealth than one-hundred fifty million other people in this country.

At the risk of being called a “class warrior” a concentration of that much wealth in the hands of so few runs totally counter to the basic democratic principles the United States of America. These mega-wealthy are not content to just enjoy their dozens of mansions spread across planet nor to laze away the days sailing the oceans in yachts so big that they rival cruise ships. No they are rigging the American political system to secure even more wealth and power for themselves and their select group. The question was once raised in a movie, Wall Street I believe starring Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas, was just how many homes could the rich own and yachts they could water ski behind before being satisfied. It turns of the the question was rhetorical, no the uber-wealthy have long since turned their sights on controlling the United States.

For example, during the 2012 presidential race billionaire Foster Friess single-handedly kept former senator Pete Santorum's campaign afloat. Santorum, a religious and socially conservative extremist nutcase, by himself had absolutely no chance to win the Republican nomination in 2012 but a single financial donor provided enough funds to make him a serious contender. More disturbingly Santorum's very presence in the race helped pushed the republican party even further to the extreme right. I admit, none of his fellow contenders during that campaign were paragons of reason and logic but Santorum's continued presence among the field only reinforced the mutually assured craziness of the all. Even worse, his beliefs fed the worst fears of a portion of the American population whose grasp on reality is far from secure.

Another billionaire, this one named Sheldon Adelson, kept the overwhelmingly narcissistic and equally extreme Newt Gringrich in the 2012 presidential campaign far longer than sanity would have allowed. Any rational person should be gravely concerned when a small group, or even one individual, has the financial ability to make their favorite pet a serious contender for the highest office in the United States. Say a Santorum or Gingrich did become president, just who would they owe their allegiance to, the American people or their financial master? What I found darkly humorous was that both Santorum and Gingrich claim to be defenders of old fashioned morals and religious values. Okay, but Santorum's values are that of a radical religious theocracy while Gingrich has abandoned wives at the drop of a hat.

Then there was Mitt Romney, to paraphrase what the late Ann Richards said about Bush Senior, this bastard was born on third base and even now still believes he hit a triple in life. Desperate to justify his existence, over the years Mittens has ran for several elected offices and with the exception of one term as governor of Massachusetts, lost everyone. No, what makes Mitt special is his belief that forty-seven percent of Americans are lazy bums looking for nothing but welfare from the government.

The thing that ties Pete “Frothy” Santorum, the ever faithful husband Gingrich, and the poor little rich boy Mitt is their belief that the rich deserve some sort of special status in America, a type of economic aristocracy that sets them apart from the teeming, unwashed masses.


As much as the Taliban-like Christian bible thumpers might not want to believe these rich backers of irrational and extremist candidates have absolutely no interest in morals or old time family values. Santorum, Gringrich, Romney, and the new crop of clowns for the upcoming 2016 race, should any of them get elected, are just puppets that will allow the rich even greater control of government policies and practices.

The problem with the rich and powerful having an inordinate amount of influence over the government can be boiled down to the old saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sure, some of the rich in America are very honorable, from my feeble observations it tends to be those who have actually built something, as opposed to the crowd like Mittens Romney that were born into wealth. But the general idea we started taking seriously in the late ninetieth century and continued to develop up to thirty years ago was that “all men are created equal.” Masculine pronoun not withstanding that had come to mean to many everyone irregardless of their gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, religion, or more importantly wealth. You simple cannot parade around to the rest of the cloaked in the finery of democracy when in truth there is an aristocracy controlling the levers of government.

The rich and their sycophant followers have crafted a largely false message that if you work very hard anyone can get ahead in this country. At one time it was largely true, but economic conditions had deteriorated to the point that studies show the social class a child is born in will more than likely be the one he of she stays their entire lives. Back when there were jobs that paid decent wages a family could buy a house, enjoy life, and put their kids through college. While I am not opposed to globalization, or even capitalism for that matter, the United States has been in a race downward since the early 1980's in an effort to satisfy ever whim and whine of the business class. In an effort to entice these delicate orchids to create more jobs state governments have essentially written them blank checks absolving them of all responsibility to help pay for the required infrastructure so their business could operate in the first place. Because of that our schools, roads, bridges, hospitals, airports are crumbling. Throw in “right to work” laws that gut, if not make illegal, any worker effort to organize so they could meet their employers on an even playing field and you have the conditions that have utterly devastated social mobility in the United States.



Running and maintaining a healthy country is a difficult job in the best of times, There are always competing forces that if not monitored could cripple or even destroy the strongest nation. The people of the United States have never been the sharpest knives on the world stage, the combination of a largely untouched wilderness teeming with resources and simple dumb luck allowed us to become the world players we are today. 



That day is over, if we as a nation even want to hope to stay a viable player and stay true to our values we will be forced to turn our energy inward to some degree and rebuild what through apathy and neglect we have allowed decay. That will require a degree reason and intelligence I simply don't think we have anymore. Of course the alternative is to continue our current path and allow those with power and money to accumulate even more to protect their personal empires at the expense of us all. There is still an illusion of a middle class in this country but give the rich a few more decades of unchecked power and the books of Mr. Jon Clinch could turn out to be mild by comparison.

  

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Everything Changes---A book review






Despite being a voracious reader only rarely do I find a book that thoroughly pulls me into another reality. When I do find one returning to the “real world” is often a painful experience because of the characters I have come to admire and love. That is what just happened a couple of days ago after finishing the Jonathan Tropper novel, Everything Changes.

I first became aware of Tropper's works with the release of the movie This is Where I Leave You starring Tina Fey and Justin Bateman. After seeing the movie I purchased the novel and was totally hooked by the author's clean but detailed writing.

Everything Changes was just as enjoyable, if not more so, with its main character of Zachary King who finds himself doing pretty good in life but questioning whether or not he is on the right path. While a fairly recent tragic event took the life of his best friend it is the discovery of blood in his urine that finally sends him off to question the basis of his life. Matters are not helped with the return of his father, Norm, after a twenty year absence who eats Viagra like M&Ms and has the groin bulging evidence to prove it.

While his job as a “professional middle man” managing the relationship between production factories and business owners sucks from the outset, Zack is engaged to a beautiful, smart, rich, and well connected lady named Hope. Zack and Hope are in love but more and more he finds himself thinking of the widow of his best friend, Tamara and her little girl. Their relationship is platonic but charged with an unspoken attraction that neither wants to admit.

As the story unfolds Zack concern over his health and the clumsy attempts by his father to reconnect only makes the various situations he is trying to safely navigate worse. Zack and his two brothers are suspicious or Norm's efforts but a few ill timed situations actually provide the father with a way to gain some reluctant acceptance by them.

I will not provide any spoilers but I will say that unlike This is Where I Leave You, Tropper does provide a real and satisfactory conclusion to the novel. No, it is not a total happy ending but at least in my opinion it had the hint of real life.

The only real problem I had with this book was that it ended. With the exception of the blue-blood fiancée Hope and the Viagra-dependent father Norm I came to see the characters as real people I liked. In my opinion the character of Hope was never really developed but I have a predisposition not to like such people in real life. Money alone doesn't disconnect a person from their humanity, I know enough soulless working class individuals to provide a multitude of motivated extras to play eager Nazi storm troopers in a movie, but in my experience wealth does tend to isolate many from the world most have to endure.

As for Norm, what can you say about a guy who abandons his kids in such a callous and degrading way. Many parents have been forced to live away from their children because of difficult circumstances. But through it all they still somehow stay connected to their children. Norm's twenty year absence from his three boys damaged them in ways that I personally found criminal. In other words had my own "Norm" showed up at my door the cops and an ambulance would have been called a short time later.

The one character I "fell in love" with was Tamara. There was just something about the widow of Zack's best friend that I found deeply compelling. The only other character I came close to feeling that strongly about was Shyla Fox from Pat Conroy's novel Beach Music.

For Tamara, the death of her husband made her question whether or not she could be a good parent for her toddler daughter. Some might suspect that Zack's continued interest in Tamara after the death of his best friend might be just an attempt to play the knight in shining armor. It isn't, there are enough hints to suggest that their ties go far deeper than just two people desperately clinging to each other after a tragic event.

From my review you might be able to guess that Everything Changes is written from a guy's point of view. Some might not like that, especially since it causes a few innocent characters to come up short in the end. All I can say is that I highly recommend this book. As for me, I'll be reading the rest of Tropper's published works as fast as Amazon can deliver them.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Embracing the Darkness








Those who have never worked the night shift for an extended period of time will never know the incredible frustration of trying to sleep during the day when the vast majority of their fellow human beings are going about their daily lives. More importantly, people who work normal daytime jobs will never know the warm and comforting embrace of the night as the darkness guides them to a much needed deep slumber.

I really don't want to think about how many years I have now been working night shift but I will tell you that it all began right before President Obama took office. The circumstances of my nocturnal exile are unimportant but with Fate's fickle finger being what it is I have long since accepted both the good and bad aspects of my assigned working hours. The one thing that is different is how I now view the all encompassing blackness of the night.

I'm not sure how this will sound but not too many years ago I was the type of person that needed some form of nightlight to keep sense of my where I was in both time and space. It had nothing to do with being scared of the dark nor the fear of any mythical boogeymen that are suppose use the night to their advantage. The best way I can describe my past predicament involves an event back when I was in basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas. My unit was in the closing days of basic and we were out in the field learning the practical applications of many basic soldiering skills. One of them was sleeping in old fashioned army pup tents.

For the sakes of all unfortunate soldiers, I pray to an inattentive god that those things have long since been replaced with something at least slightly more advanced. But army pup tents were essentially two pieces of canvas--generally called shelter-halves-- snapped together and supported with six wooden poles, a couples short pieces of rope, and a few stakes to keep it all in one place. Once erected and secured in place pup tents theoretically would provide shelter for two full ground soldiers and their gear. The general design of the pup tent has been around since the nineteenth century and if you took in consideration how badly the damn things leaked when it rained you would assume that was also when all of then were made.

Despite the insistent leaking and a troubling inability to shelter anyone from a cold wind, once the sun went down they were pitch black inside when all the snaps were together. That was the situation really early one morning when my training unit's Drill Instructors went on a mad rampage. They wanted everyone up and ready to move out in some ungodly short period of time way before the sun's edge even peaked over the horizon. I had no problem waking up, the trouble came as I tried to determine which way was up and down, left and right since I literally could not see the hand I had placed just an inch in front of my face.

The other young trooper sharing the tent with me did have a problem waking up so he wasn't any help. Long story short, yes, I was lost inside my small tent and pretty much destroyed it trying to get outside. Through the years there have been a few other instances of me suffering through darkness-induced spatial disorientation but except for a few painful stumped toes and one collision with the bathroom door during a local power outage but nothing like that time at Fort Bliss. Mainly because I always had some small light on to keep me properly oriented.

Of course, there isn't any possibility of suffering through a darkness-induced spatial disorientation episode for those of us who have the glorious privilege of working at night. The truth of the matter is that you don't really sleep during the day, with normal humans going about their daily chores the best a third-shift worker can hope to accomplish is to take extended naps. Now I admit during the winter months the situation borders on the tolerable with the sun coming up later and most yard work related activities having ceased because of the cooler weather. The difficulties during the summer months run the gambit of overactive neighbors using lawnmowers. leaf blowers, weed whackers, and my favorite high-pressure washers. This last one just doesn't just make a hell of a lot of noise, if the acoustics and ground conditions are just right pressure washers can transmit vibrations. I write from experience because I have a work-at-home prick for a neighbor who pressure washes his cement driveway once a year. Now throw in delivery trucks with a bad muffler, the occasional evangelical nutcase who knocks on the front door desperate to save your soul, and of course telephone calls and you can understand why I say night workers just take extended naps.

All that is why I have come to embrace the all-encompassing darkness on my nights off. Just this Friday night I went to bed around nine o'clock pm after having opened the windows and turned on the ceiling fan to draw in the cool night air. What first hit me was not the darkness but the near utter silence. Except for the sounds of a few nocturnal insects and a distant set of wind chimes moving with the breeze it was so silent it seemed surreal. Neither my wife nor my daughter have ever had the issue with total darkness that I did so when they go to bed all the lights in the house are turned off. That is when the darkness seems to engulf me and I slowly sink into a restful oblivion.

It doesn't quite end there, see when your body's circadian rhythms are screwed up you can't really sleep completely through the night. I myself wake up at least three times a night but after looking at my alarm clock and realizing the time the darkness quickly rolls back in to comfort and lull me back to sleep. It is during those times that I dream. I have no idea about the mechanics of dreaming or the different levels of sleep but on those nights when I am home I even seem to dream differently.

When Sunday morning arrives all I can do is prepare for the return to my normal work schedule. Which means around noontime I have to lay down for a nap to get ready to start my shift. Returning to work is an utter waking nightmare, that first night even thinking is hard making mundane tasks seem like solving equations for quantum mechanics problems. About the only thing that gets me through the week is the knowledge that the coming Friday night the darkness will welcome me again.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Early 2016 Campaign Fear and Loathing


(Author's Note: Yeah, I'm in a bad mood.) 





Despite the fact that my political beliefs are so left of center when compared to the average South Carolinian I could readily be classify as a seditious communist I have alienated numerous people I associate with on the internet. The main problem seems to revolve around the idea that while I would love to see Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or Bernie Sanders of Vermont or Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida elected president the current American zeitgeist makes that impossible. Leaving alone for the moment the assumption that if any of those three were elected president by some near magical twist in reality they would immediately face a hostile congress bent on nothing but their defeat and embarrassment I will instead concentrate on my issue with my fellow political comrades.

Being open and honest while I would like nothing better than the United States to embrace many policies of the European social-democracies like universal health care, worker rights, environmental protections, and social libertarianism most Americans run from such ideas because they seem scary and foreign. Hell, you want to talk about true American Exceptionalism, there is nothing like the utter stupidity of someone in this country whining about the spoiled nature of workers who belong to unions then start complaining about how their benefits are being cut and that they haven't had a pay raise in years.

Truthfully, that is when such non-union workers are even slightly aware of of something greater than what goes on outside of their narrowly defined lives. I know many individuals who literally cannot see past the numerous reality shows and favorite sports broadcasts they watch on their Walmart bought flat screen televisions. If such people do think of the greater society as a whole they follow the implied but never really stated position of corporate management that they should just be grateful to have a job and that if they get too uppity some unemployed putz can be pulled off the street to work for much less.

Proles and animals are free” (Ninteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell)

In short the American working class is the reality based version of George Orwell's “proles” from his book Nineteen Eighty-Four. For those who haven't read they book, proles are the lowest class in his fictional country of Oceania and make up the vast majority of the population. Despite outnumbering the middle management types of the “Outer Party” and the elite one-percents called the “Inner Party” a prole's purpose is just to work and breed. They live in poverty, receive little education, work manual labor jobs with no possibility of advancement, but are allowed to enjoy numerous entertaining distractions that keep them happy and quiet. If any of that even sounds the slightest bit familiar you can move to the front of the class.

This is where the election of someone like Warren, Sanders, or Grayson becomes problematic. All three like to point out the social and economic inconsistencies inherent to life in the United States and while they are tolerated are almost always kept at arms length and labeled “radical” by those in the press whose supposed job it is to uncover the uncomfortable truth.

The Lesser of Two Evils” (a common comment by numerous Utopia seeking progressives)

It would be an epic event if any of the Liberal big three were elected president, along with a socially progressive congress, but barring some major miracle it ain't going to happen. This coming election day in November of 2016 you can whine and stay home while listening to Joan Baez and dream about some progressive messiah but all that will get you is a President Cruz, or Paul, or Rubio, or yet another Bush. My personal nightmare is a President Chris Christie, that bastard makes Nixon look like a warm and fuzzy socially conscious hippy. Yes, what I am implying is that the alternative is none other than Hillary Clinton.

Sharing another bit of honesty I have rather disliked Hillary for years. While I am completely ignoring all the conservative-inspired conspiratorial propaganda she has always seemed a little holier-than-thou, in other words the poster child for the elitist liberal. Back in 2008 I was willing to ignore my perception of her until she came up with the ball-faced lie about her and her daughter landing in Bosnia while taking gunfire form Serbia militias. CNN, in a rare bit of actual journalism, showed her giving a speech telling that story while running the actual footage on a separate segment of the screen of her landing in Bosnia showing a slow walk off the military cargo plane with young local girls giving her flowers.

My opposition to Hillary back then earned me the hatred of several progressives who called me a sexist pig and the snickers of many conservatives who assumed that my dislike of her would either keep me home on election day or force me to vote for War Crazy McCain. The only thing worse than being called a sexist pig from people I respected was the outrage from both groups when I declared my support for Barrack Obama. This is where the tendency for progressives to look for a socially aware messiah comes into play along with the near universal disappointment that follows when political realities are not faced.

I would only be exaggerating slightly when I say the election of Barrack Obama as president was viewed by many progressives as the beginning of the Age of Aquarius. He was suppose to take the oath of office then in the space of a few months end poverty, stop climate change, fix our immigration mess, end all wars, close Gitmo, and then fix the yawning economic gap between the rich and poor before the mid-terms.

Yes, during his first two years in office Obama had majorities in both houses of Congress but the idea that meant much is an uninformed assumption at best. Ignoring the fact for a moment that the 535 members of both houses each have their own individual agendas, namely to get reelected, Obama's fellow Democrats at that time covered the political spectrum from the DINO, (Democrat In Name Only), to actual progressives wanting to reform the country with the majority being the self-serving former. Now imagine some staunch, uncompromising progressive totally dedicated to upending the corrupt status quo being elected president. That person wouldn't last out their first and only term in office

When you also consider how progressives failed to vote in 2010 allowing the Tea Party-Republicans to win the House of Representatives and you have the beginnings of all the crap Obama has had to deal with since then. I truly believe many liberals and progressives have totally failed to appreciate the nature of the opposition Obama faced in congress along with the fact that the way our government is supposed to work means that the legislative and executive branches have to cooperate. Obama's executive orders to sidestep a racist congress is all well and good but I remember a time when George W. did the same thing with Democrats freaking out.

Politics is the of the possible, the attainable-the art of the next best” Otto Von Bismark

Don't get me wrong, Obama has made some huge mistakes during his time in office. But I refuse to start believing like one person on the internet I know that this means he has been in secret league with the same people who backed – or controlled Bush and Cheney. They don't compare politics to the making of sausage for no reason. Politics is about the art of compromise and what is possible. Tilting at windmills is all fine and good but when you are faced with people like Cruz, Rand, Rubio, or Christie and the several others all riding in the same clown car you damn well better be able to live with consequences. What that means to me is that all the idiots who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 bear some responsibility for the actions of Bush and Cheney.

Yes, Hillary is too hawkish for me and along with that carries some political baggage that is cumbersome at best. But I live in the real world where reality isn't pretty and compromises have to be made so that in the end liberals like me can actually point to some progress for the common man and woman. I'd like life to be all about peace, love, pretty flowers, and unicorns that fart brilliant rainbows from their butts but it ain't going to happen. Idealism is an important part of the American political experience but unless it is tempered with pragmatism and the realization that building a better future takes time and often dirty work we will stay on our “trickle down” course the Republicans set for the nation back in 1980.

So unless something major happens I will most certainly be voting for Hillary in 2016. Am I happy about that fact, not really but there is only so many Citizen United decisions, corporate tax breaks, environmental disasters, civil rights degradations, and wars the United States can take. Who you vote for in 2016 is a choice each individual has to make but until the long awaited progressive messiah finally appears and awakens the distracted prole masses, I'll do the only viable alternative and vote for the perceived lesser of the two evils because in real life nothing is simple black and white.