Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fighting the Good Fight

 “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
Nathan Hale

 “Those in authority not only organize things to suit themselves, they interpret things to suit themselves.”
By Richard Holloway from his book “Doubts and Loves: What is Left of Christianity.”


As someone who readily admits my observations of the world and the human condition are more than slightly skewed to the unusual, I always get enjoyment when a person far more erudite like the honorable Richard Holloway comes to a similar conclusion. The one amendment to his quote I have to add would be that everyone, not just those in authority, interprets things to suit themselves but ignore all facts and commonsense that runs counter to their views no matter the price they might have to pay in the end. Now you might be wondering what has brought another episode of my strange ruminations? I am so glad you asked.

Since becoming First Lady Michelle Obama has taken up the cause of fighting obesity in America by championing exercise and healthy eating habits. Since no good deed ever goes unpunished in the land of the overweight and the home of the mentally deficient her sensible stance has been the subject of harsh criticism if not outlandish conspiracy theories by those on the right-wing of American politics. It really is a testament of American stupidity when the merest mention of sensible exercise and occasionally choosing a salad instead of a greasy half-pound burger becomes a socialistic conspiracy that threatens the very foundations of the Republic.  Now understand I am no food saint, my culinary habits tend to be on the bad side along with my exercise routine being spotty no matter how hard I try to establish a regular schedule. However, I recognize that I am the captain of my own fate and do not fear some government boogieman forcing me to eat tofu.

This brings up the trigger to my newest brain droppings. It began last Saturday afternoon after my wife, daughter, and I left the movie theater. We had just seen the latest “Men In Black” movie and decided to grab an early dinner at one of those ubiquitous national restaurant chains that look identical inside and quite frankly serve nearly the same menu. If nothing else such restaurants prove the point “that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

After my family and I were seated, it became apparent that the people at the table in front of my point of view were full-fledged Tea Party supporters. Ignoring the energetic discussion going on at the table the bright yellow t-shirt with the coiled rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Trend on me” worn by the patriarch of that group made it self-evident.  No matter what teabaggers might say about them being oppressed by the liberal masses, it is still a semi-free country and they had every right to express their view to each other even though a number of their beliefs had me an evil emissary of socialism.

Now the one item I have yet to mention is that the Tea Party patriarch sitting at the table in front of me was pushing close to three-hundred pounds but could have stood no higher than five feet-five inches. His entrée was one of the huge half-pound burgers I mentioned earlier and along with a heaping pile of French fries there was enough greasy aroma in the air to send your average vegan into a suicidal fit.  Of course the topic eventually turned to something called by them “food freedom” with the aforementioned liberal elites and media attempting to take away the right to choose from good Americans.

This went on for several minutes with the group talking about the stupid stuff liberals and nanny state intellectuals would force everyone to eat. It became a laugh riot for them until patriarch dude started choking. The sound of his distress caught my attention and when I looked up patriarch’s face had turned as red as a stop sign. The choking cleared after a minute or two but patriarch then started complaining about his chest hurting. Panic soon appeared in his eyes with his wife helping him out and to their car while the others in that group paid the bill and followed soon after.

 Now if there were a moral to this story I would offer it here, except that as I wrote earlier I am no health and food saint myself. As much as I hate to write this, I did find some dark humor in patriarch’s situation. I have no idea of the ultimate resolution concerning his chest pains and hope he is okay. But I cannot help but feel that he truly believed there is some horrific Obama inspired conspiracy to make everyone eat healthy he may have given his life that day so Americans could continue to be grossly overweight and enjoy artery clogging foods. In twenty-first century right-wing America that is true patriotism.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day in Modern America




Tomorrow countless families and friends all across the country will gather in places like backyards, beaches, and lakefronts and mindlessly party. From personal experience, always a very narrow perception of reality I admit, most will not have the slightest idea of why May 28th is not a regular business day. Sure, television commercials have blared advertisements for a couple of weeks now declaring “Memorial Day” sales but I am willing to bet money that except for a very few actual awareness of what the day means is limited.

As a country, particularly here in the patriotic south, we give especially great lip service to recognizing those that have fallen in the service of the United States and to those veterans who came home. But in all honesty except for a magnetic yellow ribbon attached to the back of the stereotypical civilian family SUV the vast majority of Americans do not give a damn about those that raised their right hand to protect and defend this country. I have ranted and raved for years over the shallow platitudes offered up by civilians as the rare individual decided that he or she would actually put their lives on hold and join those soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen already serving. All the while if you listen carefully, you will hear these proud civilians mention how they would never let their own children join the armed forces. The all too usual refrain whispered by the faceless mass of America is that while the person enlisting is a fine example of American courage their own child has to go to college and start their careers. This is not some piece of fiction I made up, it came from a stalwart member of a local community that prides itself on love of America and its values.

Now before anyone gets the wrong idea I was NOT in favor of the war in Iraq and feel we need to pull out of Afghanistan as fast as logistically possible. Untold billions have already disappeared over our little adventures and will continue to be sucked down some fiscal black hole as the bills come due. My problem is with those civilians who gleefully supported the wars without actually having to pay the price in family blood. Once again, I have to bring up the fact that the day after Pearl Harbor men all across the United States willingly lined up in front of recruiting offices ready to fight. After the attacks on 9/11 no such massive show of real patriotism materialized. As the months after the World Trade towers fell went by with various members of the Bush Administration and allied pundits declaring we were in a “War of Civilizations” with the forces of evil that attacked the country for the most part the majority went about its usual business.  I was still in the National Guard when all this happened and it was funny watching the recruiters scratch their heads in amazement as interest in joining the military evaporated like a snowball in the Sahara with not one but two wars looming.

I was lucky, by 2005 I had become very cynical but with having twenty-one years of service I filed my retirement papers and got the hell out. For the very few that joined and those already in the service the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan became an annual rotating nightmare for them and their families. I know a few guys and gals that did four combat tours but to a person none of their marriages survived and despite laws and assurances that their civilian jobs would be waiting when they returned many of them ran into strange circumstances making that promise a joke. While they can and have to a certain extent picked up the pieces of their lives those that came home missing a limb or with severe mental trauma, those wars will stay with them until the day they die.

Please excuse my attitude, for all intents and purposes I am a peacetime veteran who joined during the safe and secure days of the Cold War when a possible conflict with the Soviet Union was viewed almost universally as an incredibly bad idea leading to global nuclear war. For what it is worth, I am proud of my service and grateful for the incredible things the military gave me the opportunity to try. While in the service I met the absolute best America had to offer, and that was in peacetime. Those that have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan war and their families are damn near demigods as far as I am concerned for putting up with the huge amount of crap offered up by cowardly politicians and a civilian population I will refrain from describing.

Adding further insult to injury read up on the amount homeless American veterans. I could write entirely independent posts on the suicide rate of veterans and active duty troops, the financial problems their families back home face, and many other issues further leading me to believe the land of the free is occupied with nothing but self-centered and delusional children. 


And homelessness is not just a problem among middle-age and elderly veterans. Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are trickling into shelters and soup kitchens seeking services, treatment or help with finding a job.
The Veterans Affairs Department has identified 1,500 homeless veterans from the current wars and says 400 of them have participated in its programs specifically targeting homelessness.
The Alliance to End Homelessness, a public education nonprofit, based the findings of its report on numbers from Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau. 2005 data estimated that 194,254 homeless people out of 744,313 on any given night were veterans.

Stop by and check out:

National Veterans Homeless Support, Inc.
"We Fought Together; Once, Forever"

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

F3 (Cycle 80) "Practicing what you preach"

 Flash Fiction Friday Genre: Open
Word Limit: 1000
Cue: Use the words “frenetic” “hobbit” and “cummerbund”
Deadline: Wednesday May 23rd 23:59PM EST

  Theodore Watts stood at the foot of his king sized bed inside his multimillion-dollar luxury yacht feeling extremely frustrated and put upon. Looking at his reflection in the full-length mirror mounted on the real mahogany paneling of the cabin wall he saw a man wearing a fine tailored tuxedo. Everything looked and fitted perfect except for the cummerbund, which was the reason for his aggravation. Theodore turned around and looked at the blue and black plaid abomination lying on the bed instead of his trademark fiery red he wore to symbolize his personality. Another reason, only mentioned in fearful whispers among his workers, was that the cummerbund color was important to Theodore because it matched what his hair looked like in his youth.

  The man standing in front of the mirror had long since passed his eightieth birthday and while keeping his health and frenetic energy level that had allowed him to build a financial empire his face and hair had long since succumbed to the ravages of time. Despite the best attempts by plastic surgeons all across the world, Theodore looked like a wicked wizard with a wrinkly and craggy face that had more in common with the bark of ancient oak tree than that of a person. Of his once bushy red mane, only patchy strands remained that had long since turned ghost white. Nevertheless, Theodore would spend hours along with his personal hairdresser arranging what hair he had left into, what was for him, a satisfactory placement. The trouble with styling his hair was of little concern to Theodore he had the money to satisfy his extreme vanity.

   Minutes ticked on with Theodore’s patience, something thin and small in the best of times, dissolving away. “Just where in the hell is that worthless son of mine.” He said to his reflection. While he expected no real answer, one came after the door to the cabin bathroom opened up.

   “Theodore,” his wife Eva said, “why don’t you just wear the stupid cummerbund you have? We have to leave for the dinner party just as soon as the helicopter touches down on the landing pad. Anyway, it’s not Simon’s fault the tailor put the wrong cummerbund with your tuxedo.”

  The old man looked over towards his wife with a mixture of amazement and disgust. “It’s not about the goddamn cummerbund; it’s the principle of the matter. That little hobbit son of mine has never been able to do anything right his entire life, if I did not have him working as my assistant he would be living underneath a highway overpass. It’s a dog eat dog world out there with survival of the fittest the only real rule.”

   “Fine have it your way Theo, except where I was raised….”

   “WHERE YOU WERE RAISED!?” Theodore exploded at his wife with his face coming close to replicating the same color as his long lost red hair. “When I found you my dear you were a struggling actress a week away from turning tricks to pay the rent. You were nothing then and if I wanted, I could return you to that same position, all it would take would be a phone call. So do not even begin to think you can tell me anything you pathetic flea.”

   Eva froze in place and just looked at her husband. Even with the advantages that came with being a very rich man’s wife deep down in her soul Eva wished she had never applied to work at the escort service that supplied female eye candy for important events. She had in fact been a struggling actress a week away from being homeless on the streets of Los Angeles when her sorry ass agent had called about a way to make some quick, easy money. Theodore hired her to escort him to a gathering of investment types and within the week she had become his latest mistress living in one of his mansions. It seemed an unbelievable miracle for the twenty-two year old girl who once had dreamed of being in movies. After five years of being his wife, Eva stared at the decrepit old man who loved to treat people like bugs and realized she was in fact a gloried hooker. Before she could say anything back to Theodore the cabin door opened with Simon charging in holding a red cummerbund.

   “Here father,” he said in a mild panic,   “I found this in storage and quickly cleaned it in my cabin.”

   Theodore snatched the item from his son’s hands and quickly tied it behind his waist. After that, he left the cabin without saying a word knowing his wife and son would obediently follow. As the small group headed up to the helicopter pad on the stern of the yacht Simon struggled to control his breathing. He had long since come to the understanding that his father was an evil man who enjoyed making people squirm all the while spouting inane platitudes. After years of berating and emotional torture, Simon still had enough of a soul to know hating his father was wrong but it was something he could not help.

 When the trio stepped out of the passageway door the yacht’s captain met them on the helicopter pad, from the look on his face Simon immediately knew something had gone wrong which would throw off his father’s schedule. “Mr. Watts,” the captain said in a very dignified voice, “we got a call from the pilot just a few minutes ago, the mechanics have found an issue with the helicopter’s engine, it will be down for three days at least.”

   As Simon expected his father exploded again claiming he would destroy the captain, the pilot, and anyone else who got in his way. As egotistical rants go, Simon had to admit it was one of the best he had ever heard.  Within a minute of receiving the news, Theodore had his personal cell phone out making all sorts of calls to get another helicopter to his yacht so he could make the important dinner in San Francisco.

  The captain, Eva, and Simon watched as Theodore absentmindedly walked to the very edge of the stern while talking on his phone. Theodore raved on about how it was a dog eat dog world and how you had to sink or swim to be a success and if you didn’t, the sharks would eat you on the way down to the bottom. Simon could not help it but began to giggle hearing his father carelessly throw out metaphor after metaphor about sinking and being eaten by sharks because he knew he father could not swim.

   Without saying anything to Eva or the captain, Simon walked over next his father, waited for him to finish his phone call, and then gently pushed him over the side of the yacht. The old man fell into the freezing waters off the coast of San Francisco and began a desperate struggle to keep from going under.

   Both the captain and Eva joined Simon on the edge of the yacht but did nothing to save Theodore who was screaming at them as the ship continued to sail away. “Time to sink or swim father,” Simon yelled out. Whether Theodore enjoyed the irony as the ocean depths claimed him no one would ever know.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Darth Wiggles at her acting recital



In an attempt to channel some of Darth Wiggles' excessive energy my wife found an acting class for her to attend back in January. During the first couple of classes Wiggles was very shy around her fellow students to the point she meekly asked my wife and I if she could drop out. Of course, we answered that question with a huge no even though for several more classes she went through the motions of protesting the activity.

Once she arrived at the class and got around her fellow students and new friends her attitude changed completely. So much that Wiggles would come running back towards the small waiting area and demand the parent that had come with her leave so she would not be embarrassed. That was fine with me, the waiting area only had four seats and I am terrible at small talk, so once she had settled in I would retreat to my car outsude in the parking lot. But not before standing in the hallway and watching her and the other children for a few minutes.

Watching her classes were amazing, kids as young as five years-old were acting with real emotion and energy. While I can at least watch a movie and know when the actors are good, I have never understood the mechanics of how they crafted feeling and sincerity into a play or movie. Even watching Wiggles class for a short time I saw how the instructor guided mere kids into becoming serious performers.

The class recital was this afternoon at a local church with Wiggles and the rest of the group performing short skits. The older kids, those twelve and up, took on some serious subject like parental divorce, school bullies, and suicide. The regular class session is over until September but Wiggles will be attending an acting summer camp. Here is a short video of her monologue, and yes, I am very proud, 

video
I would have included some of the other performances but I do not want to open a can of potential internet worms by showing other peoples children on video.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Farting into the Apocalyptic winds




One of the most deeply ingrained and cherished parts of the American mythos is that of the rugged individual with his feet firmly rooted in commonsense and his vision forever cast towards an optimistic future. It is a very nice idea and at one time, I actually believe it was true to a great extent. However, things have changed in this country in the last twenty to thirty years making that concept at best outdated and more than likely a desperate delusion. I really have no intention to purposely upset anyone’s mental apple cart but America is no longer a nation that embraces the future but one that cowers in fears both real and imaged.  

If you want examples the very best I can immediately point to was any of the candidates who were seeking the Republican party’s nomination for president of the United States. Listening to the debates at the beginning of current campaign these individuals seeking the highest office in the land writhed in an orgy of fears to a willing audience that screamed in orgasmic glee each time they were mentioned. These fearmongers worried over terroristic boogiemen hiding under the beds of innocent and God-fearing Americans; the current president being an evil villain with nefarious plans to subvert all that is good and holy; to female contraception being some sort of satanic plan. I would be delinquent if I did not mention other republican–inspired fears over the gay agenda to convert the nation one way or the other, public school teachers being both totally incompetent but somehow a dangerous threat to the belief in “American Exceptionalism” , and the international socialist conspiracy over global warming.

All of that dovetails nicely with the Republican, and unfortunately many Democrats, need to bomb the living Hell out of every place on the planet that refuses to play by rules set by our corporate dominated government. Instead of dealing with other nations respectfully its easier to cast them as sinister threats to our precious freedom to buy crap we do not need with credit cards insuring a growing American serfdom.

To be fair and balanced Republicans are not the only group wallowing in the irrational. You cannot go into a bookstore without seeing a new bestseller proclaiming we face some terrible threat to human civilization. Books predicting asteroid impacts to mega-natural disasters are a big favorite along with the latest in apocalyptic Christian fiction where everyone not towing the evangelical line are ground into a bloody pulp by a vengeful, Rambo-like Jesus. Other non-political anxiety-inducing fears include things like pandemics, environmental collapse, massive solar flares destroying all our neat electronic gadgets, and global financial breakdowns to name a very few. Now many of what I listed are real concerns that need to be looked at rationally and met with intelligence and cooperation. The problem is that intelligence and cooperation are in short supply these days. Many people tend to ignore inconvenient truths or want things totally their way with any disagreement seen as a crime.

The most bizarre forms of societal fears come from ancient prophecies. There was a recent time on the History Channel when every other show was about some ancient figure who predicted all our troubles centuries ago. Nostradamus is by far the favorite with thousand of people in the United States pouring over every vague passage this medieval French dude wrote about. Supposedly he foretold hundreds of events from his temporal vantage point centuries ago but we never realize this until well after the fact making him a huge buzzkill. Other secular prophets include some guy named Edgar Casey and even Leonardo Da Vinci who when he was not being a brilliant scientist and artist was, according to some, delving into the occult leaving semi-secret hints of the future for people in our age with way too much time on their hands to discover.

Recently the Mayans were leading the pack with their apparent prediction that there would be no tomorrow after December 21, 2012. All sorts of self-proclaimed experts have written books and appeared on television warming the world about how the supernaturally accurate Mayan calendar was reason enough to show that the priests and shaman in charge of keeping it knew what they were doing. Well now, there is a small problem with that supposition that the world is facing a final deadline this coming December. A recent discover suggests the whole thing might be a bit overblown.



Experts say it makes no such prediction. The new finding provides a bit of backup: The calculations include a time span longer than 6,000 years that could extend well beyond 2012. "Why would they go into those numbers if the world is going to come to an end this year?" observed Anthony Aveni of Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., an expert on Mayan astronomy. "You could say a number that big at least suggests that time marches on." Aveni, along with William Saturno of Boston University and others, report the discovery in Friday's issue of the journal Science. The room, a bit bigger than 6-feet square, is part of a large complex of Mayan ruins in the rain forest at Xultun in northeastern Guatemala. The walls also contain portraits of a seated king and some other figures, but it's clear those have no connection to the astronomical writings, the scientists said. One wall contains a calendar based on phases of the moon, covering about 13 years. 


Why bother to do that? Maybe the scribes were "geeks ... who just got carried away with doing these kinds of computations and calculations, and probably did them far beyond the needs of ordinary society," Aveni suggested.Experts unconnected with the discovery said it was a significant advance."It's really a wonderful surprise," said Simon Martin, co-curator of an exhibit about the Mayan calendar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.While the results of the scribes' work were known from carvings on monuments, "we've never really been able to identify a working space, or how they actually went about things," Martin said.The new work gives insight into that, he said, and the fact the room had a stone roof rather than thatching supports previous indications that the scribes enjoyed a high social standing."It's a very important discovery. We're only getting a glimpse of it" in the published paper, said John B. Carlson, director of the Center for Archaeoastronomy in College Park, Md."This is an intriguing start for this discovery." 



Of course, none of this excuses the unhealthy American preoccupation with the world coming to an end. Whether you want to blame it on simple and willful ignorance or a child-like petulance that since things are not going completely our way we will just give up I have no idea. But whatever the case it does not bode well for our ability to face our fears and solve them. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The One Lesson I Learned From My Father

(Author's note: For a good while I have wanted to write a story without zombies, invading aliens, spaceships, demons, or the use of weapons. This one is rather long and yes, several tidbits are autobiographical. Its late and I will get the typos when I can. Comments are welcome.)

The first real memory I have of my father was of him sitting at a workbench soldering on some sort of electronic circuit board. My mother had sent me upstairs to his attic sanctuary to call him down for dinner and on very shaky four year-old legs I slowly climbed the steep and very scary stairs to the place he spent nearly all his time when home. After reaching the top, I stood on the small foyer in front of the closed attic door and felt a strange combination of fear and accomplishment.

My fear came from the apparent height, it was a long way down and while I had yet to even to even see my father part of my mind was wondering how I would get back down. Then again I felt a child’s sense of triumph at tackling such a difficult task, so much that I opened the door and walked inside the attic eagerly wanting to tell my father.

At that time in my life the attic was a place of mystery because of all the times I heard my mom and dad discussing all the time he spent up there. He was an industrial electrician at a Charleston power plant but worked on all sorts of different items like televisions in his free time for extra money. When something could not be fixed dad would buy the item from the owner and take it home.  For him the castoffs were spare parts, but my mom called it all junk and openly resented the time he wasted upstairs when there was so much around the house that needed fixing. Somehow, I had made the attic a place of wondrous machines with dad constantly tinkering with some complex device. Seeing it for the first time, I had to agree with my mom in that it all looked like sad pieces of junk.

Every available space was filled pieces of party disassembled televisions with their electrical guts falling out of wooden cabinets, huge ancient radios covered in dust that seemed like works of art, and boxes filled with countless smaller items. On the far end of the attic sat my father at his workbench, his attention so focused on what he was doing he had absolutely no idea I was nearby. Part of me wanted to announce my presence right there but another part was fascinated at what he was doing.

Like any child at that age, my father seemed larger than life and I wanted to please him in every way I could, that he always kept me at arms distance was something I attributed to my young age. But I had now climbed the scary stairs, which to me meant I could now join his world in some fashion.

As quietly as possible, I walked closer to my dad watching the smoke rising from the circuit board as he soldered new components to it.  I stood inches away from my father for what seemed like an eternity with him not taking any notice of me. Waiting patiently for a child is always hard but I was enthralled by what my father was doing, his movements were deft and efficient although I had no real idea of what it all meant. I finally decided to speak up when he put down the soldering iron.

“Daddy,” I almost whispered, “mom says dinner is ready and she wants you to come down.”

My father did not react at first; he was fishing around in several tiny bins on the workbench obviously looking for a part. I waited to the point I started to think he did not hear me the first time. “Daddy, mom says dinner is ready.” I said again but this time louder.

“I heard you the first time Jamie, tell your mom to go ahead and eat without me. I will be down in a few hours once I’m done here.” He said without even looking at me. Even now as an adult, I remember feeling inconsequential and almost ghostly at his casual disregard of my existence.

“But daddy,” I said, “I’m scared of the stairs. I’m going to need your help getting down.”

He still refused to look at me and went back to his soldering after finding the right part. “You made your way up here alone, you can make it make down.” He said with such indifference that I found his words surprisingly cold even then.

With nothing left to do, I backed away and left my father to his work. I was confused and hurt but at that moment, my fear was centered on how to get back down the stairs. Once I finally made it down my mother was already at the kitchen table and did not seem surprised by my father’s decision, she just sighed and poured herself another glass of brown liquid she said only grownups could drink.

You had to give mom credit, she could really cook and that night she had made fried pork chops, green beans, and macaroni and cheese. Despite the meal, my appetite was stunted as she and I ate in silence with her sending me straight to bed afterwards. As always, I would wrap my pillow around my head and hold it as tightly as possible in an attempt to muffle the sounds of their fighting.

***

Things did not better as the years went by; the only exception was the birth of my brother Jake when I was five. They tried to be a couple and support each other but on Jake’s first birthday almost by mutual consent, they gave up all pretenses of being husband and wife and returned to their self-centered ways. After that, my mom and dad continued to drift apart with him keeping more to himself to the point I did not even notice when he finally moved out of the house when I was nine years-old. Their divorce soon followed and it was bitter and drawn out. As much as the various parties involved tried to leave us out of the court battles the countless accusations that flew between the two still filtered down to us.

When the dust finally settled we were in mom’s custody with dad restricted to weekend visits that very rarely happened. The usual Friday afternoon meeting place was supposed to be the parking lot of a seafood restaurant but we would wait for hours until mom went into a cussing fit and took us back home. My brother and I went to our room and mom opened a bottle.    

Over time Mom’s drinking slowly escalated with me spending a great deal of my time cleaning up her messes. For my brother and me our only refuge was her parents. They were the ones who gave us our birthday parties and made sure Santa visited while our mom spent her time emptying bottles and chasing a growing cadre of male losers who enjoyed using her then casting her aside. The situation eventually became so bad that the court assigned custody of my brother and me to our grandparents.  Mom then faded away into the static of our lives with only the occasional phone call or birthday card.

The only news we received from our father was about his move to Texas and his marriage to a widowed lady who had three children of her own. Jake and I were teenagers then with a healthy dose of cynicism about that development, but much to our surprise our father contacted granddad about us spending the following summer with him and his new family. Neither of us wanted to go but with our grandparent’s health failing they wanted us to try to build a new relationship with the man. Jake found some success and seemed to fit in with our stepsiblings and dad. For me it was a total disaster, dad seemed as distant and cold as ever and my stepsiblings openly resented me every time I opened my mouth. The day we boarded the plane back for South Carolina I made a promise to myself I would never waste another moment on a man who thought and cared so little of me.

I kept my promise with my father and his family becoming something a half-forgotten memory for me, although much to my chagrin Jake continued to communicate with them on a limited basis. My attitude was that while Jake and I were dealt a bad hand for parents that did not mean they could control our fate. I dedicated myself to school, then college, and was able to take control of my grandfather’s small home building business after he finally passed turning it into a multimillion-dollar company.

Along the way, I got married to a wonderful woman and we had our first child before our second anniversary. When the doctor handed my newborn son to me, I made a promise to both him and his mother not to become my father. As much as I meant to keep the promise, life has a way of slowly molding you in ways you never could possibly conceive. The ultimate irony was that my father was the one who pulled me back from the brink of making the same mistake.

***

It was during the summer of 2008 and the home building business I had built was collapsing all around me like the proverbial house of cards. While I had far too many empty houses ready to sell that were now worth less than the money it took to build them I was at least juggling the numbers enough that I might be able to ride out the storm without losing everything. I had stopped all new construction and laid off nearly all the guys on my building crews but at least the core of the business remained and I promised everyone when things got better I would call them back.

During the worst, I had spent weeks living in my office to the point I bought a new couch so I could sleep comfortably. My wife would call me in the evenings demanding I come home but I was so overwhelmed by real fears of losing the business I had worked so hard to build.. The stress was utterly devastating and the only person I could talk to during this period in my life was my brother.

Jake had taken a far more leisurely route to adulthood and seemed to be able to ride out any storm, both literally and figuratively, without breaking a sweat. Instead of going to college, he enlisted in the army and left it to start a fishing charter business out of Cocoa Beach, Florida. Along the way, he had bought a bar, which kept him financially afloat during tough times while the charter service made him money when times were good. I often found myself blindingly envious of the simplicity of his business plan, which always earned me a good laugh from him. With him my only real shoulder to cry on, I eagerly answered the phone when I saw his number flash on the caller ID screen.

“Jake, it’s great to hear from you. “ I said after snatching up the phone.

“You to brother, but I didn’t call today to shoot the usual shit with you. Step mom called me to today. Dad had a stroke last week and is in the hospital in critical condition. I don’t really know how to broach the subject so I’ll just spit it all out, she wants us both to fly in and say our goodbyes.”

I sat back in my expensive office chair at a loss for words. I admit after everything I felt some conflicting emotions at the news but my own scars were far too deep for them to last very long. “Well Jake,” I said in the neutral tone of voice I could muster, “I figure you are going and you can give them my regards.”

“That’s what I thought you would say and it’s cool. My flight leaves in two days, one other thing I, shouldn’t mention it but the hospital bills have just about wiped them all out. I don’t want to piss you off and it’s going to hurt me a good bit but I plan on helping them out by writing a check to cover as much as I can afford.”

“Good for you brother, you were always the best of the two of us.” I said feeling slightly betrayed.

“Don’t be mad bro, I feel the same way about our old man as you. It’s just that something inside me can’t leave them hanging.” Despite my brother’s pleas, I was in fact mad but my anger was not directly at him. Every time I had dealing with my father, he seemed to bring nothing but chaos and sadness. Feeling frustrated I gave up on the never ending paper work that was always threatening to engulf me and walked out of my office.

It was early evening and the famous Charleston heat and humidity had long since forced every sane person into some sort of air-conditioned shelter. It was especially bad on me since I was still wearing the suit put on that morning. I didn’t care, I just wanted to walk and clear my head even if that meant walking all night I would do just that.

As the sun finally set bringing with it a cool breeze off the water, I found myself standing on the Battery looking out over Charleston Harbor. My long walk had actually accomplished something concrete. I figured out what would restore some semblance of happiness for me. I wanted revenge on my father, nothing involving murder or even bodily harm. I wanted him to feel the rejection and cold indifference he had heaped so freely on me during my childhood and I knew just the way to bring it about.

***

“I’m glad you came along Jamie,” my brother said as we walked down the hall leading to my father’s hospital room.

All I could do was give my brother a sidelong glance, which he took he took to mean as resignation of the situation. I had not mentioned a word to him about my true intentions of rubbing my dying father’s face in my contempt. Three days before during my evening walk up and down the streets of Charleston I came up with the idea of making my father’s family believe I would pay the lion’s share of the hospital bills saving them from economic ruin. Even with the housing market in the crapper my wealth was diversified enough that I could swing it without making my nearly estranged wife and child homeless.

I had gone as far to call my brother and tell him I was coming with him to Texas. Feeling more than a little malicious, I had even taken the unprecedented move of contacting one of my stepsisters and telling her of my plans. All I had to do was wait till I finally had my father’s attention and with him expecting me to pull out my checkbook I would tell him and his family they could burn in hell. My brother would be very disappointed, maybe even furious with me but I had been through far too much and I felt I needed to make dad feel something of the hurt he had put me through over the years.

Jake and I entered the hospital room to the cheers of my stepmother and stepsiblings. Dad was, as expected, confined to his bed with what looked to be dozens of tubes and wires running in and out of his body. While I had no real timetable for my plan, I moved up to his bed and was somewhat disappointed to see him sleeping, no matter I figured, I had waited this long and a few extra minutes would not be a stretch.

I had not seen any of these people in decades but it only took a few minutes to determine they had not changed since that terrible summer I spent with them. Our stepmother, Donna was a caring woman but overly controlling and sickly sweet to the point I got a sour taste in my mouth listening to her talk. William, our stepbrother, was a simpleton who I knew was functionally illiterate when I first met him and seemed no better now. Our stepsisters, Sandra and Chloe, were still fanatical bible thumpers who broke into prayer at the drop of hat. To prove the point they both fell to their knees when Jake and I walked into the room and spent twenty minutes thanking God for the salvation we represented.

As we all went through the motions of small talk, I almost vibrated with anticipation at how I was going to crush their hopes. Truth be told, I harbored the evil thought that when I told my father he would not receive a dime from me that the shock alone would kill him. All through the ordeal, I smiled when it was required and laughed at their stupid jokes. Jake truly amazed me at his ability to fit in among them and I regretted the strain that might develop in our relationship.

Two hours later, I was chafing at the bit to get on with what I needed to do but a series of nurses and other visitors strung out the whole affair. That was when I felt my cell phone vibrate. I pulled it out of my pocket to see my own son’s picture on the screen, on pure thoughtless and selfish instinct I let it go to voicemail. The second time my son called a few minutes later I was about to turn the phone off when I saw that my father was awake and looking straight at me.

Something came over me right then that to my dying day I will never be able to explain but after years of total neglect, my father taught me a valuable lesson. From the deepest part of my soul, I abhorred the idea of being like him in for even a nanosecond but everything I had done involving my own family were actions he would have done. I felt so sick I almost puked in that hospital room. It was all I could do to run out of there without collapsing on the floor. When my brother finally caught up with me, I was outside the building I was bent over sucking in air as if I had just run a marathon.

“What the hell happened in there Jamie?” My brother asked with genuine concern.

“Brother dear,” I said, “find out from Donna how much they need and I will write a check for a good chunk right now. Once I get back home I will figure out a way to help with the rest.”

“That’s great bro but like I said I’m going to cough up some funds to help keep the old bastard breathing.”

“That’s the other thing Jake,” I said standing up and looking him in the eyes,” I going to sell my business. I miss my wife and kid and this shit I have been putting up with just isn’t worth the goddamn hassle. Could you use a partner down in Florida because if my wife and kid will have me back I’m bringing them down there with me.”

“Sure thing bro, you know I’ve wanted us to work together for years.”

Jake and I made a few quick plans with him returning to dad’s room a few minutes later, when he disappeared inside, I pulled out my cell phone and call my home. My wife answered on the second ring but I had somehow lost my voice. Right when she was about to hang up I was able to choke out a few desperate words. “Honey,” I said, “I love you and our child and I am so sorry for everything and I would like to come home if you would let me.”

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Going Rogue



After millions of years of evolution where the pretentious primates that ultimately became humanity worked its way down from the trees and onto the vast African savannas and finally the urban jungles of our own creation there is still one huge flaw in our development that we have yet to rectify. This defect in our maturity results from our inability to learn from our mistakes forcing us to constantly rediscover simple truths the hard way. Of course, you could also say that God in his, or her, infinite wisdom realized that we were such a huge aberration in the normal progression of life in the universe that just for laughs inserted in our DNA a self-destruction sequence with a time delay just to see how stupid we could get.

This would explain a whole multitude of strange macroscale behaviors like disco, Chia pets, suburbs, narrow-minded political and religious dogma, soul-sucking hyper-consumerism, and the belief that Republicans care for the middle and working classes just to name a very few. On the much smaller individual scale of things, I can only speak for myself but I have numerous examples of my own stupidity. In fact, one of those special events happened this morning readjusting my attitude and for at least the moment my outlook on life.

 It started yesterday morning as I entered the hospital cafeteria heading toward the glorious vat of cheese grits seeking corn and cheddar based Southern style nirvana. It is a given that the vast majority of people roaming any hospital located eatery are not there because they want to enjoy the smell of commercial grade antiseptic in the air while they partake in prison level cuisine. At that time of day, surgical waiting rooms are filled to overflowing with friends and family waiting for a loved one to go under the knife. The collective misery as scores of people sit in a confined spot waiting for the worst can get so thick sometimes that any escape, even to the cafeteria, can seem a godsend. Even with the welcome relief of being able to move around expressions on the faces of people in the cafeteria range from worry to outright fear.

 Everything in human affairs being relative I was dealing with my own dark thoughts after a series of small disasters and irritations that originated from my attempts to make as many people happy as possible by jumping through a series of increasingly smaller hoops. Now, it must be said that unless a person is born with a Romney-like silver spoon in their mouths it is a good idea to develop the agility to leap through a few moderate sized rings but never to the point you start daydreaming about taking a chain saw to work.

Be that as it may, as I was standing in line waiting for my chance to scoop out some cheese grits, the one item the cafeteria staff has yet to find a way to screw up, I had a lot of issues on my mind but I still had enough rationality to be aware of those around me. In the serving line for the full breakfast a few feet away from me were a husband and wife. They had all the standard hallmarks of people waiting for someone about to be operated on with their worried looks and nervous movements as they spoke in hushed tones to each other. I would have not given them a second look if I had not spotted the young boy of about four or five strutting up to them like a king while holding a single-serving box of Apple Jacks cereal in each hand.

“Mom, dad,” he said proudly, “I’ve got theses!” To show everyone else in the cafeteria his remarkable triumph, he turned around in a full circle and again yelled in what amounted to an expression of pure joy, “Look everyone I’ve got these!”

Now I like kids and believe they are the best part of the human race but even the most narcisstic and cynical human parasite would have been forced to smile at the site of this little kid just out of instinct. On a side and very partisan note, I do not include Mitt Romney in that exception. Given how he acts in my opinion, he would have fired the kid on the spot then attempted to make a joke about it while relating a story about his late dad. Despite the joyful nature of the kid from the look on his mom’s face, she did not share the same enthusiasm for sugary cereal.

“Sweetie, we are getting you a good breakfast, go put those back.” That statement froze the kid in a nanosecond. The look of rapturous joy on his face was replaced with sudden suspicion and steely determination with him bringing his arms down to the point he was hugging his two small cereal boxes. His dad chose that moment to rightful backup his wife.

“Son, go put the cereal back, we are getting you some eggs, toast, and sausage. “ Now I’ve had the scrambled eggs and sausage there and if truth be known the prepackage boxes of nearly pure sugar with cinnamon flavoring are probably healthier and better tasting but there was no way I could say anything about that subject. While only seconds went by the tension in the room grew as the small scene became the center point of everyone’s attention.

The result everyone expected was that the kid would get a disappointed look on his face then walk back to the small stand were the cereal is on display. Instead, the little dude took off like a warp-speed capable rabbit still holding the two boxes, twisting dodging around the other people in the cafeteria like a hall of fame running back. I followed his progress and not only did he successfully escaped the cafeteria but disappeared out into the hallway.

In spite of it all, the scene was a welcome break for everyone with numerous people immediately volunteering to pay for the two pilfered cereal boxes once they recovered from laughing. The lesson I relearned in all this might sound a little odd and counterintuitive (but when has that ever stopped me) but I realized yesterday do not sweat the small stuff originating from people with little minds. Enjoy life as much as possible, even if it means escaping from a hospital cafeteria.