Sunday, March 23, 2008
Strangeness and overwhelming confusion seem to permeate my life and honestly at times I just find its just best for me to sit back and go with the flow. Adding to the confusion is how some around me, while driving themselves crazy trying to keep up, seem to get upset with me for not doing the same myself. Now I bounce from one bizarre and confusing situation to another concerning my wife and kids hoping someone will fill me in with the details at some point.
My son finally got a cell phone this weekend but much to my surprise after months of whining he gazed upon the thing he most wanted in the world and said he couldn't show his face while using it because it was a pre-paid cell phone. None the less when asked if it would be best for us just to return it he quickly grabbed it and ran upstairs. A few hours later he was begging for more time since he had already used what time we bought texting.
After being told by Dragonwife that it was going to be a low budget weekend with no eating out or mad rushes to the grocery store for chips, beer, ice cream, and a can of whip cream (wait that was just me fantasizing) after Miss Wiggles throw a fit saying she has no clothes that look nice she and Dragonwife ran off to the nearest upper end department store and come back with multiple bags fill with bright fancy new clothes.
I in turn now sit upstairs drinking some fine ice tea wondering when I can just get out of this town just for a weekend. Luckily one is coming real soon. I still can't get over the nagging feeling with a world going crazy on almost every level maybe the hokey pokey is really what its all about.
Monday, March 17, 2008
You should always be careful when you step through the looking glass and enter the surreal and while novels provide a relatively safe way to do so even then the results can be unsettling. Not too long ago I stepped through upon opening a book entitled “Prayers for the Assassin”. In this book we learn in the prologue the United States experienced a post Iraq mega-malaise, a major economic downturn equal to or worse than the Great Depression, and as the fabric of a tired disillusioned society frays a major conversion of the “blue states” populations to Islam who were tired of the empty shell of the Christian faith. The killing stroke for the country came in the form of two terrorist nuclear bombs, supposedly planted by the Israelis, that destroyed New York and Washington DC plunging the country into a second civil war as the Islamic north and west try to conquer the south that turned back to its Christian roots and wanted no part of the new Islamic States of America forming the independent nation of the Bible Belt. The main body of the story takes place decades later as the heroes Rakkim and Sarah, both citizens of the Islamic republic, race to expose that it was not the Israelis that nuked us but a fanatic billionaire Muslim called the “Old One” who wishes to establish a global Caliphate. As they dodge an even more fanatic assassin sent by the Old One to kill them they struggle to collect the final pieces of evidence of the attacks they journey through a polluted and the very alien land of The Islamic States of America.
The second novel of the announced trilogy, “Sins of the Assassin” has been released and this time we take a trip into the Bible Belt states, and just so you understand right off it ain’t no wonderland. After the Second American Civil War that killed up to 36 million Americans the Islamic States ended up in control with the blue states of the north east, the Midwest, and the Pacific states, along with most of the Rocky mountain states. An independent Nevada where the civil war was barely a minor bump in the gambling profits, and Mormon Utah which controls parts of several other states it borders both wiggled out from the Islamic government. The Bible Belt in turn got the states of the old Confederacy, most of Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia. For the Bible Belt, South Florida broke away and is independent. At the start of the second book a couple of years have passed from the first and we quickly learn that both of the major American nations are having territory claimed by its major and more advanced nations to the north and south. The Mexican Empire has already taken a small chunk of the southwest from both countries and wants more. South Florida, suffering from flooding from global warming, wants territory all the way into Georgia, and even Canada wants a nice chunk of the northern Midwest states. But even with all this going on the various factions in both the Islamic republic and the Bible Belt fear each other more. So much that when Islamic republic intelligence catches wind of a Bible Belt warlord, Colonel Zachary Smitts, is searching for a doomsday weapon developed and hidden by the old United States it has to send someone either to steal it or destroy before the Bible Belt can use it on them. Sending Rakkim and a super-geek kid Leo into the Bible Belt we are soon exposed to the nasty underbelly of how this part of the old United States has fallen. David Koresh’s former compound in Waco is a major tourist attraction which every Sunday the ATF attack is recreated on a full scale replica. And yes, Koresh and his followers are the tragic good guys fighting off the nasty federal government agents. While racism is dead in the Bible Belt, indentured servitude is a commonly used method to collect debts or “teach someone a trade”. Coming full circle, Bible Belt Americans are the mid-21st century’s dirt cheap labor providing cheap commercial products for Russia, China, Brazil, Canada, and a whole range of 1st world countries for which neither the Islamic republic or the Bible Belt can be called members. And of the two major American nations while the Bible Belt keeps most of the form of government of the old United States its central government is weak with local warlords holding most of the power.
As Rakkim and Leo enter the Bible Belt through what remains of Texas not part of the Mexican Empire and work eastward toward the Colonel we get a good look at rural poverty, corruption, and abject decay of what was once the most advanced country on the planet. Rakkim and Leo briefed that the warlord colonel is a dangerous man out to destroy the Islamic republic find him to be a thoughtful caring man after working their way into his camp. Yes, he is a Christian and patriot to the Bible Belt but he is in no way a threat to their country. Given that the elected Bible Belt leadership is extra eager to sale both the people and their natural resources off at rock bottom bargain prices as a warlord he honestly is an improvement. The worst things that can be said about him is that once the super secret weapon, hidden in an abandon coal mine, is found he plans on selling it to the Chinese who are the leading world power with the Russians nipping at their heels. Rakkim makes some seriously disturbing discoveries as his plan to steal the hidden weapon works his way to a conclusion, namely what the weapon actually is and in its current shape. Saying anymore would be giving far too much away in an otherwise enjoyable futuristic thriller. The biggest drawbacks I will discuss involve Rakkim’s discovery of a secret cabal of people from both the Islamic republic, namely Rakkim’s wife who is major player in their government, and the Bible Belt who are at least exploring ways to begin to work toward reunification of the two countries. The author has created, in my opinion, an unbridgeable scenario between the two and given how the Islamic republic and the Bible Belt populace view each other a reunification strains the book’s credibility. Also an issue is the comic book villain of the Old One who has a strong hand in what goes on in the second book. The Old One is somehow a combination of Lex Luthor, the emperor from Star Wars, and a hundred-plus year old Donald Trump with his hands in everything around the world. But ignoring him and just exploring the American dystopia while cheering on the conflicted but heroic Rakkim still makes this an excellent read.
Our country faces severe challenges across a whole range of issues as we enter the 21st century. For me part of the attraction of this trilogy is safely reading about this surreal world in the comfort of an easy chair as I sip a cold ice tea. While this review and these books should in no way be thought of a prediction of future events it would be unwise to discount them as a cheap thriller. The problems that plunged the fictional United States of these books into a spiritual and societal depression, economic collapse, then civil war are real even if we never see terrorist nuclear weapons explode in this country. Far too many people from all factions (left, right, liberal, conservative, fruitcake, or wacko) view but a single facet of the world and are hell-bent ever to see it through someone else’s eyes. The United States has enjoyed the pinnacle of world power these last couple of decades but has lost the vision of what put it in this spot. Americans have generally become conceited and lazy thinking the world owes us something simply because we view ourselves as the rulers of the world. God, karma, or simple history usually has a place for those who view themselves that way and to put it kindly it is the pages of a dusty unread forgotten history book. When you’re on top of the world and abuse your status there is only one way to go and its down.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
No one will ever say that I do things the easy way. But it took me moving to the middle of the continent to realize things about the place I came from. I had lived almost all my life on the coast of South Carolina with all the ocean, sand, and sea breezes anyone could ever want and it was not until I was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado did I learn to love the ocean more than I could ever imagine. While I was born on an army base in Arizona my dad was stationed at I spent most of my childhood living just a few short miles from Pawleys Island. A place that I still consider very magical and special to me. The best way I can describe the Pawleys Island of my youth was that the place had an out of the way coastal village feel. Even though now urban growth has taken a great deal of the quiet coastal village feel and replaced it with urban yuppie coastal chic I still love going back to it.
Georgetown, the town I lived in and about 15 miles south of Pawleys, in the 60's and 70's was a small, quiet, southern town. You would be hard pressed to find the "higher forms" of culture that other people in bigger cities appreciate about their hometowns. But we did have the beach and you could find many of us heading for the ocean anytime we got the chance. While classical music was in short supply we did have beach music. And while fine restaurants, at that time, were few we did have fresh oysters, shrimp, grits, and some of the best home cooked fried flounder you could ever find.
As the years for me went by I had come to overlook the very magic of the place. So one day in 1986 I left my home and flew far away to Colorado to serve my country. At that point in my life I wanted to see a different part of the country, and to get away from my family. Like many of my age I had come to view their affection as more an interference in my life and I wanted to strike out on my own. I arrived in Colorado in the summer and quickly fell in love with the place. The mountains were awe inspiring and I enjoyed hiking threw the trails in the warm months. But in October the snows began and at first I enjoyed the snow, I had only seen snow about five times my entire life before living in Colorado. When it did snow in South Carolina the snow had the good manners to have melted away within a couple of days after throwing the entire state into a panic. In Colorado it snowed and snowed and when you think it wouldn't, it snowed some more. So this Lowcountry boy began to dread the winters and, no I never learned to ski. By the time snow skiing season had begun I had decided that the best place for me was in my room under four blankets doing research on human hibernation. Except for my duties I was pretty much holed up until spring. Thank God even though there might be five feet of snow of the ground and more still coming the boys and girls at the various pizza joints always got the pizza to me at least warm.
I was on my second year in Colorado when I returned home on leave and realized how badly I missed the ocean. I came home in late September and the cold winds had already started blowing at Fort Carson promising an early winter but the weather at Pawleys Island was still fully entrenched in summer. This was 1988 and most of the tourists had gone home and the locals were busy with their lives. Kids were in school and the great majority of adults were at their day jobs and this was before hurricane Hugo trashed the place when you could still see the "arrogantly shabby" bumper stickers on the cars of people who lived at Pawleys.
I wasn't suppose to have leave that summer. My unit's leadership wanted enough people on hand for any last minute demands for extra bodies any other units in the division might need for their summer field training. The eternal curse of those in air defense units is to be farmed out to other units when they need someone to pull their shit details like good old KP, guard duty, or my favorite driving some gung-ho officer around who at 1:30am wants to go find his buddy in another unit to trade MRE's. This is after you have just gotten in your army fart sack (sleeping bag) after pulling four hours of guard duty. So I was very surprised one fine morning to have my First Sergeant at morning formation call out several names, mine being one of them, wanting us to report to his office. Usually such a call does not mean good news but once the others and I were assembled in his office we were quickly told that we had been approved for leave anytime between now and the middle of October. While this was good news I had no high expectation that I would be able to get a plane ticket back home for the seven days of leave that had popped up for us. But none the less I called and got a great airfare for a flight just three days later. Here is where I should have called and told my family that I was coming home. But some idea popped into my head to fly in and surprise them with a call from me at the Charleston airport.
I flew into Charleston late one morning and hustled over to the military lounge to call my family and eat all the taxpayer provided free food and drink all the free sodas I could while I waited for them to automatically drop whatever they were doing and joyfully drive the sixty miles south to pick up their grandson, nephew, or cousin. After several hours of calling and getting absolutely no one I started to get worried. I had even begun to entertain the thought of renting a car when I finally reached Uncle Paul at his house. I quickly learned that my grandparents, Uncle George, and his wife were on vacation at Cherokee, North Carolina and would not be back for at least the entire week I would be on leave. Uncle Paul, Lady Einstein, and their son Neo were themselves but a few hours away from driving down to Miami to board a Carnival Cruise ship and seven days in the Caribbean. I had somehow picked the very moment that month when the entire family was just not busy but away for the entire time I was scheduled to be home. Uncle Paul explained that since I had called several months before saying that it didn't look like I would make it home everyone had made other plans. Renting a car was looking like my only option to make it home, which would blow my budget for just about the entire trip. Uncle Paul told me to hang on and call him back in one hour. When I did he he told me that my honorary uncle Surferdude was on the way to pick me up and would take me back to Charleston the next week. Uncle Paul told me to hang out at his house and that the place was mine along with his car. True to his word SurferDude showed up a little over an hour later and dropped me off at Uncle Paul's beach house. My luck continued to hold out as bad when SurferDude told me he had to go back home and get ready for work the next day.
So after SurferDude left I walked a lonely beach with a salty breeze blowing around my head and warm ocean water around my feet. I could hear the seagulls circling around knowing that they were looking for their food. That day the ocean water was so clear and clean it almost looked like water from the Caribbean. I could see many small bait fish swimming around in the shallow areas. More than likely that was what had the gulls in such an uproar. I walked over to the creek side and smelled the marsh at low tide. Some have compared that smell to something bad but to me it's a smell that signifies life. It was there that I meet a beautiful young lady, who for the sake of clarity I will call Sharon, who had also come home from living elsewhere. She was taking a semester break from attending college in Tennessee. Being about the same age and for the most part alone Sharon and I hit it off rather quickly and began to hang out together. A couple of days went by as we walked the beach, saw some movies, and played in the water. After she realized I probably wasn't a complete nut we had dinner at her house and watched the stars come out that night. We talked about our love of Pawleys Island and wondered why we had left such a place. It turned out that she also felt that her family was interfering to much in her life and that moving away would give her some independence. As the night went on a summer rain shower moved in and we went to her room and listened to a Van Morrison album call "Moondance" as the rain fell outside. That morning we walked the beach and watched the sunrise. We spent a couple more days with each other before we both returned to our separate lives. As fate would have it we wrote each other for a few months and slowly drifted away. She had returned to school and I had my duties as a soldier.
It was just a few months later that I was pulling guard duty at place called Pinon Canyon in southeastern Colorado. It was on the plains in a bad snow storm and I was in a foxhole, very cold watching the blowing snow. I was enthralled by the patterns the snowflakes made as they came down but at the same time I knew this place was alien to me. That I did not belong there and that I should return home as soon as possible. Which was of course problematic, I had almost two more years on my enlistment and Uncle Sam was not about to release me. So I did what I had to do and finished my enlistment. I left Colorado in 1990 and returned home to the place I should have never left. I spent the following two years attending college myself and working to shape my adult life. Which looking back to that period now, maybe I should have done a few more things differently. But a real comfort to me has been just strolling down that sandy little island letting the water wash over my feet. It has always has brought be back to some sort of peace and let my mind settle whatever problem I may have had.
Yes, I think of that lovely lady often. After stumbling over "Moondance" at a used CD store years later I bought it and to this day it brings back Sharon and our time together like it was yesterday. I never saw her again, I figure she is happily married having yuppies and raising puppies, as Jimmy Buffett would say. I wonder if she ever thinks of me?