Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Keeping Promises-A work of fiction

Author's Note: At times I sit at my computer screen with a slightly less than half baked idea and can't get anything written because the opening line sounds seriously lame. Another issue that short circuits my tiny brain while trying to write is my son and his friends playing "Rock Band" which is a form of torture for me but that is a whole other story that even now is going on. My son and his friend are playing that hell spawned game right now. But Utah Savage, Ubermilf, and Randal introduced me to a writing group exercise that gives a beginning sentence that you have to write a story around. I had till yesterday and because Monday was bad day I was unable to make the deadline. But with the time I put into this I sure as hell wasn't about to let it sit on my hard drive. Oh yeah, the opening line was "She was suddenly gripped by..."

Keeping Promises
A work of fiction

She was suddenly gripped by the need to check her wallet for the lotto ticket. Almost in a panic she ran out of the tiny bedroom wearing only her panties into the equally tiny living room of her apartment. She grabbed her purse that had tipped over on the couch as she had come in minutes before spilling much of the detritus that anyone living in the modern world easily collected. Her panic only receded some after seeing the wallet still inside. Trembling fingers searched through compartments until she saw a sliver of the zip-lock sandwich bag she had stored the ticket in after not so casually looking up the winning lotto numbers during lunch. Still not quite believing the ticket was real she broke apart the seam and as deftly as a surgeon removing a heart pulled the ticket out to look at the numbers. Also in her wallet was the printout of the state lottery web page that she had covertly as possible printed out trying not to draw attention to herself. She matched the numbers from the printout to the ticket one by one staring at each trying to convince herself it was real.

It was on an utter whim that she had bought the thing to begin with a couple of days before, a quick stop at a convenience store to buy oil for the car. Standing in line at the checkout the flashing LED screen above the cash register displayed a standard list of lottery promotional messages that she knew by heart just because the things were above every cash register in every convenience store in the state. She looked up to see one message flash on the screen that said: “It’s your time.” Like some flash of unexpected lightening she only sees it briefly not really thinking much of it except that it was not part of the norm. But when the cashier handed her back a dollar saying she had overpaid for the oil she felt strongly drawn to buy one quick instant number pick. As she walked back to her car she felt foolish for wasting the dollar. Today as she sat in the break room eating lunch the local afternoon newscast reported the numbers and that one winning ticket had been sold. The bologna sandwich she had been eating almost was sprayed all over the back of one of her co-worker’s head as the numbers displayed on the screen had a strong resemblance to the ones on her ticket. After a very illegal personal use of the law firm’s internet access back at her cubicle she sat in stunned disbelief. Her numbers matched the ones on the lottery web site. Feeling like a spy she made sure that Alexandria, her work group’s snitch was no where around as she printed out the web page and stored the ticket in her sandwich bag to keep it safe.

Minutes slipped by in the apartment as she kept checking the numbers time and time again until she noticed how she was getting cold which was the result of the air conditioning being turned up so high. Her one luxury she allowed herself in an otherwise austere life which was dedicated to her two boys. The other thing she soon noticed was the shadow hovering over her; she turned her head to see eight year old Jimmy Thompson staring inside with his mouth open in shock. The world came back into focus as she stared back at the little boy who was best friends with her oldest son, Brian. Quickly she ran back into the bedroom, grabbed her worn and ragged robe and went back opening the door.

“Hey Mrs. Mitchell, is Brian home yet?” Jimmy asked still clearly aghast at what he accidently saw from the window.

“No Jimmy,” Donna Mitchell replied tiredly and slightly irritated, “Brian and Joe are still at their grandpa’s and will be back tomorrow.” She watched Jimmy turn and walk back down the second floor walkway to his apartment feeling upset with herself given how she must have sounded to the boy. It wasn’t his fault that his friend’s crazy mother had decided to perch herself on the couch naked checking a lotto ticket with the window open. Donna shivered to herself thinking it could have been worse.

She closed the door, locking all three of the big latches, closed the window curtains, and went back to her bedroom. She passed the boy’s room trying not to see the huge Disneyworld poster on the wall signifying the unfulfilled wish of both her boys. Donna gritted her teeth thinking how they were only days away from going to see Mickey when Thomas Mitchell, the boy’s father, up and disappeared taking the money, good car, and destroying the childhood of their oldest son Brian. In the years that have followed Brian’s childhood had quickly passed and when Donna looked into his eyes she saw the soul of a much older person. Brian had taken upon himself to be both a brother and father to his younger brother, Joe, trying to preserve his innocence. One time as she lay with her boys on the couch watching a Disney movie, she saw tears silently roll down Brian’s face. It was then she made an equally silent promise to Brian that one day she would get them to the Magic Kingdom.

Lying on her bed was the work clothes she had worn to the law office that day. Her usual habit upon returning home before her dad brought the boys back to the apartment was to strip off the expensive and slightly trendy business attire her job made her buy and wear so they could “keep appearance up with the clients.” At the end of the day she felt dirty and used having to smile and be polite to the multitude of high priced pigs and bottom feeding sharks she worked around.

Donna knew a little history and literature having finished three years of college before she screwed up her life by hooking up with the boy’s father who left her with nothing after the birth of Joe to run off so he could find himself. Her work place combined the worse traits of a ninetieth century sweatshop and Orwell’s Oceania. Everyone was to work their asses off with far from comparable pay for their efforts along with towing the party line to make the upper-end clients feel good thinking that the partners gave a damn about them. With scores of young and attractive staff running around all dressed as if they walked out of a respectable fashion magazine the partners that ran the firm seem to be able to get away with outrageous billing practices. Poor attitude, dissent, or what the partners felt was disloyalty was quickly squashed with the offender escorted out the building. Each day after she returned home she had to spend huge amounts of time taking care of her work clothes, time she would have rather spent with her boys. Making matters worse in the morning before her dad came to pick up the boys for school her heart sank seeing her children having to wear third hand castoffs. While their dad had been a disaster they were the light in her life. Even though they went without they none the less kept her from sinking into despair and hopelessness.

Since the boys were with her dad for a couple of days of “guy time” she knew she had plenty of time to get things organized but out of habit she inspected what she had worn that day, No spots, stains, or tears, and it actually still looked ironed. Feeling good she hung the outfit back up with the dozen other outfits neatly hanging in the closet and went to have a long shower. Her mind was a blissful blank as she dropped the robe and removed her underwear and stepped into the hot water. As her mind and body concentrated on the water flowing over and down her skin a sudden and jolting thought struck her. It was Wednesday and the pigs and sharks at the firm liked to have a mid-week golf tournament closing everything down early letting the staff leave early as well. The state lottery office was still open and would be open for at least two hours she figured. She almost slipped on the wet bathroom floor running to both dry off and get some clothes on.

The old Civic farted and belched as Donna drove to the local state lottery office. She could feel time slipping by, that it would have her arrive just a little late with the people gone and doors locked. But as she pulled up to the nondescript office park she looked at her watch and saw she still had a good hour and a half before they would have closed up for the day.

“Hello,” the receptionist said lazily clearly not expecting much in the way of excitement as Donna walked in. “How can I help you today?”

Water was still dripping down Donna’s hair which she had barely brushed in her rush to get out the apartment. She could feel how damp her skin was and strangely felt the need to be embarrassed that she had forgotten to put on a bra. The receptionist was looking at her strangely now and Donna struggled to get the words she was about to speak straight in her head.

“I’m Donna Mitchell,” she began, taking time to swallow, “and I have the winning lotto ticket for this week’s drawing.” As she made her statement watching the eyes of the receptionist begin to swell in surprise Donna fished the lotto ticket out of her purse still inside the used sandwich bag. Even though she had understood in a basic sense she had the winning ticket since lunch the final aspect in all this finally hit her. All her struggles were over, as soon as the money was deposited in her usually empty checking account the kids, her dad’s, and her life would change forever. She could tell the firm to go to hell, buy a house far in the country, buy her kids some decent clothes, and school be damned they would all see Disneyworld. Swarms of people came out of every office to greet her causing her head to spin. One gentleman made his way to her saying he was the manager of this office and saying something about an ungodly amount of money.

“How much was that again sir?” Donna asked knowing that winning the lottery meant millions but that number had to be wrong. Before her strange urge at the convenience store she had never paid much attention to the lottery. A caring and comforting smile crossed his face and he pointed to a board hanging on the wall showing the amount she had won. The cash jackpot for her drawing was one-hundred, seventy million dollars. Luckily, enough people had gathered around that when she fainted she was easily laid on the floor. Her last thought before her mind shut down briefly was that after the Disney trip she would look into going back to school.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

No, I'm not a doctor but...

Working in a hospital on a regular basis you see a huge slice of the fruits and nuts that make up the under done fruitcake called humanity. It goes without saying that most of the people walking in and out of the hospital doors are not there for happy reasons. Quiet and withdrawn people, lost in their own worries can be found nearly everywhere walking the halls seemly trying to forget why they are there. A smaller segment or people are there for more joyous reasons. The birth of a child, a final doctor’s visit to confirm the end of a long illness, or to have it confirmed no illness exists. The again there is an even smaller segment of people that appear to have the oddest reasons for walking hospital halls.

A couple of weeks ago I was coming out of surgery fully dressed out in hospital scrubs, paper surgical cap, and mask which was hanging loosely around my neck. Just a few minutes earlier I had just finished fixing a frustrating sterilizer dispelling several dark and disgruntled wraiths in the form of surgical nurses who instantly regained human form and behavior at the dinging of a little bell signaling the successful completion of a sterilization cycle in that particular unit. With the sterilizer that three separate operating rooms depended on up and running I collected my tools in my backpack and left the area eager for a break. Approaching the elevator foyer on that floor outside of surgery I noticed a rather large gaggle of people around the five elevators. This usually signified at least one of the units is down, or that vertical human traffic was so heavy it had simply backed up. While the elevators I was waiting for were primarily for staff both ambulatory patients and visitors were free to use them as well. Given the collection of actual bed bound patients, staff needing to be someplace quick, and visitors all waiting with me meant that for various reasons I had a low priority and would have to wait till most had cleared out.

Minutes began passing and whatever traffic jam issue that existed disappeared and even with new arrivals to the foyer the large group slowly began to clear out. Realizing that I still had the surgical mask hanging around my neck with it beginning to slightly bother me I walked over to a nearby trash can and ripped it off. It was then that I noticed three people at the edge of the foyer with two them studying me rather keenly. One was an older woman which looked to be in her late fifties or early sixties, the second was a much younger woman in her thirties, and the third person was a little boy sitting in a stroller whose attention was completely absorbed in what I recognized to be the latest toy afforded in the Burger Clown’s kid’s meal. The ladies were saying something to each other that given their direction of gaze more than likely had to be about me. While I was wearing scrubs over my work clothes self consciously I found myself checking to see if my pant’s zipper was down. There were still a few people left in the foyers so I just assumed I was wrong, that their attention was on someone else and just began waiting again. However, I couldn’t help but notice that after the last elevator doors closed with ample room for at least them they were still waiting along with me.

Small talk is not one of my talents in the best of times and at that moment I didn’t have the frame of mind to do anything but smile and say hello as I looked up and noticed that indeed their gaze was upon me again. The conversational ice ended up being broken not by them or me but by the little boy who for some reason threw his toy across what was now the empty foyer.

“Here you go buddy,” I said after walking over and getting his little toy since it landed close to where I was standing. The boy, about four or five, just smiled took the toy and giggled a little.

“Say thank you to the nice man Sean, for getting your little car.” The younger lady said who I soon learned was the boy’s mother and was named Sara. On closer examination I could tell Sara was in her early thirties, wearing jeans and what I’ve been told at times was a peasant blouse that was loose fitting and low cut enough to show more than a suggestion of ample bosom. Her hair was strawberry blond cut at neck level that framed a friendly and open face nicely but her most attractive feature were her eyes that were sharp blue. While she was far from being magazine model appealing her demeanor in both her attitude and appearance made her very attractive to me. She and I easily began talking about her boy Sean, which in turn allowed me to open up a story about both my kids Darth Spoilboy and Miss Wiggles.

All the while I couldn’t help but notice the older lady who Sara said was her mother kept examining me like a scientist watched a lab rat that had just been injected with some experimental serum that would either turn the rat into a prince or kill it. But as I spoke most of my attention was on how Sara whose face seemed completely enthralled in the story about Wiggles I was telling which at the same time I noticed she had brought her hand up to the exposed part of her cleavage and appeared to be absentmindedly stroking the lowest part visible and slightly under her blouse. It didn’t take a trained drama critic to understand that Sara’s was acting to a great extent but I have to admit that from my position I was enjoying both the attention and show going on between us.

Several times an elevator arrived at our location but was allowed to precede empty since Sara, Sean, silent unnamed mom, and myself were enjoying ourselves and our little tête-à-tête. As little Sean began a long, drawn out story about his little doggy at home I began wondering what the hell these people were actually up to, I had a suspicion but I discounted it, since the two adults were in no hurry to leave. I would have liked to ask who they were here for but hospital privacy regulations pretty much have the authority from God forbidding such inquires. After the conversation began to lag I figured it was time to leave and I wasn’t surprised to find the three joining me in the elevator. Sara was adding even more over done astonishment and ersatz delight in anything I said as the ride down to the basement began. Finally I saw some sort of slight touch from the mother that ever so slightly changed the tenor of our encounter.

“What kind of doctor do you happen to be?” Sara suddenly asked as the elevator slowed to pick up someone on the first floor.

“Doctor,” I chuckled, “no sorry, I’m a biomed technician here at the hospital. Why do you ask?”

“Biomed technician?” She parroted back slightly confused with a stern look appearing on unnamed mom standing behind her. “What do they do?”

“Oh, I work on sterilizers, surgical tables, and lights. It’s pretty interesting and keeps me busy.”

“So you’re telling me you wear doctor’s outfits and carry around a doctor’s bag and you are not a doctor?” She mentioned my tool backpack that I had been carrying the entire time.

“No, sorry I’m just a glorified wrench turner at times.” I replied seeing the disappointment on Sara’s face.

Unnamed mom clearly tapped Sara on the arm and with the elevator doors conveniently opening to the first floor Sara’s face went completely blank and she pushing the stroller with Sean inside and unnamed mom beat a very hasty exit out.

Just last Thursday as I was walking out of neonatal intensive care after helping one of my co-workers I saw Sara, Sean, and unnamed mom at the elevators again. Using the concealment of a linen trolley sitting in the hallway I saw Sara showing intense interest in some story one of the residents was telling her. Sean was sitting quietly in the stroller playing with some small toy and surprisingly unnamed mom had a huge grin on her face. I guess that she knew they had snagged a prince this time. No, I didn’t present myself or say anything; the young doctor is on his own.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bunch of Good Old Boys and Girls

Had to borrow this from Hillblogger even though I have stayed away from politics recently since my "cringe factor", as Kathleen Parker called it, had up and died long ago over all the crap coming from the Republicans. It's a unfiltered look at old dirty fears and astronomical ignorance that McCain and Palin have been playing with in their blind ambition to get to the White House. Much has been said recently about how favorable it is looking for Obama/Biden right now with the polls leaning their way. But don't pop the cork on the champaign just yet, if people become complacent all these friends of old Sara's could still put her a heart beat away from the Oval Office.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A meme for my friend

Utah Savage has tagged me again with a meme that I found very interesting just for the fact I’ve never really thought about most of this stuff.

Where do I buy my clothes?

The simple answer to that would be from Target or Wal-Mart. Now I understand that both of the places I just mentioned are not kind to their employees and families; buy almost all of what they stock from overseas where it is made by what is close to slave labor, and have pushed many locally owned businesses into extinction. The main reasons I have to buy stuff from them are availability, cost, and size. The clothes I wear are fairly simple: t-shirts, cargo shorts, jeans, sneakers or my hippy sandals, and if it gets cold a sweat shirt or hoody. I can be found pretty much year round in those items and if I do have to dress up in a shirt and tie someone has either died or is getting married which for me is pretty much the same thing. The availability angle in this is that I can drive three miles in just about any direction and have to deal with traffic going into or out of those stores. The cost angle is while there are other stores in my area selling this stuff they get their stock under just about the same conditions and just charge the customer more. Simply put in this blood red section of an already very red state there just isn’t any union, environment, or international worker friendly stores. The final insult in all this is that I am six foot, five inches tall. While Dragonwife and I have hit consignment shops for clothes for her and the kids they just don’t have anything that fits me.

Where did my furniture come from?

First and foremost let me state that I own nothing in the house I live in except my camera, any pictures I have taken, my exploited worker made clothes, and my ACME lonely guy blow up doll (her name is Ashley). I sort of pride myself in thinking that if I ever had to unass this place on a moment’s notice if hordes of raging zombie Republicans ever declared martial law all I would have to do would be to grab my camera, backpack with a few clothes, and wipe down and deflate Ashley so I could be out and gone real quick. So I don’t really want to be saddled with a lot of material processions. But anyway Dragonwife has bought all the furniture in the house from any number of different stores and put the salespeople and delivery guys through utter Hell on any number of occasions.

One time it was about 1997 and Dragonwife decided that the couch she had bought after we had gotten married needed to be replaced. Now I must admit that when she came to this conclusion I was laying on said couch and the way she worded her statement at first along with the look in her eyes left a great deal of room about what she actually wanted to replace. I actually liked the couch having laid on it enough that it had long since been molded to the shape of my body. In addition, it was the site of the most sexually active period of our marriage having been both a cushion to rest on and a platform for our more adventurous positions. In fact in the first house our garage had been made into a den with three rather large window panels and door segment taking the place of the garage door. Late one night after some movie we had been watching had the male, female leads begin a rather physical discussion about the birds and the bees, we ourselves were moved to do the same thing. After our discussion came to a climatic conclusion we then noticed that we had left the blinds on those window panels and the door up giving any neighbors who happen to be having a late night stroll a rather good show on and next that couch. Therefore, I was rather reluctant to get rid of the thing just for the memories.

But we did eventually go to one of the local furniture stores with Dragonwife having the salesperson pull out all the big fabric samples books so she could decide which “style” we would get. At the time Darth Spoilboy was two and he and I just wandered over to the kid’s section which had a television and VCR showing Barney the Purple Dinosaur. While being a sort of torture in itself I at least had a happy kid in a stroller watching television and a very comfortable recliner for me. At this point I began judging time by how many times I had to put a new tape in the VCR with Spoilboy calling for “dada” after Barney sang that insidious “I love you, you love me…” song. It was a good thing that we had entered the furniture store late in the afternoon since I had to rewind the two different Barney tapes twice and we were suppose to have dinner at a nearby restaurant once the new couch was ordered. Looking over at Dragonwife and the saleslady at the beginning both were deep in conversation about the various fabrics and shapes of couches that could be ordered. At the end the prim and courteous saleslady had devolved to a tired, ruffled mess who looked up at me with a clear desperate plea in her eyes for some relief. I’m sure from all the fabric sample books scattered across the showroom floor that in the two hours I had napped while Spoilboy had watched Barney every possible combination of color, shape, and texture for couches had been explored twice at least. Dragonwife, approaching something close to rapture, showed me a fabric sample close to hunter green and that would be used to cover a particular type of couch that to my plebeian style looked just like all the other ones but the differences were enough to come back and haunt me.

Several weeks later a delivery truck backed up to the door to bring us the new couch. I was the only one home and since it looked for all the world like the proper color I thanked the guys as they brought it in the house. Dragonwife came home a few hours later and quickly entered an unqualified state of panic bringing the fabric sample out saying the couch was the wrong color. After being thoroughly censured for accepting such a flawed product she called the store and had the couch picked back up that day. A couple of months later another couch was delivered but Dragonwife was at the house to intercept any errors and sure enough to her the color wasn’t right. Furious phone calls resulted to both store and the district office by Dragonwife as the delivery guys and I sipped cokes outside, but they brought her no sympathy. After taking the old couch they brought the new couch in and she signed for it even though she swore up and down that it was the wrong color. Needless to say to my untrained eye I saw no difference between the fabric sample and the new couch. I soon learned that the unpleasant experience she had with the whole ordering process along with small but for significant differences in the length, width, height, and bounciness of the new couch spoiled the physical fun we use to have in the den. So in a way I blame an off color fabric sample for a large part of any marital problems I have but Ashley doesn’t seem to mind.

Where do I live? You will have to deal with where I live in my mind and want to return in body.

For many people South Carolina is the butt of many jokes about the South and Southerners. Yes, with an education system that lets far too many kids leave school without the basics for life in the 21st century we do spend a god awful lot of time fighting over stupid stuff like a Confederate flag on the state house grounds. Not that I support the people wanting to keep it there who ignore the basic history of that flag which is hopelessly tangled with the institution of slavery then the tyranny after the end of the Civil War. It’s just I'd rather solve more important problems that affect us right now.

With that I have to admit there is no place in the world that I feel more connected to than the coast of South Carolina. The smell of the marsh at low tide, listening to the surf as it competes with an evening thunderstorm in a dueling symphony, the feel and taste of the ocean as I surf or play with my kids in the waves, and watching an osprey fly in the evening as the sunsets. For all its faults that is place I take comfort in during the bad times, that magnify my joy during the good times, and the place I come back home to every time I get the chance.

Favorite Books? I’ll list just two.

My favorites range far and wide being very different from each other. “Beach Music” by Pat Conroy brought to me a fascination with the city of Rome that I hope to visit before I die. As the book progresses though the novel returns the main character back to the Lowcountry of South Carolina in a series of events that can find its roots in the horrors of the Holocaust during World War Two. Out of all the characters I have ever read about the tragic story of his wife Shyla touched me to a point that I feel an actual pain reading about her suicide every time I pick the book up.

The only novel I know of by Carl Sagan, “Contact” brought the wonder of the universe to me and shaped to a great deal my belief that the universe is far stranger than we can fathom and full of unexpected surprises for our species if only we could abandon our ridiculous preoccupations with war and domination.

Favorite Movies?

The Lord of the Rings trilogy- for the human struggle to overcome the worst aspects of ourselves and the acknowledgment that despite our flaws that we do have the capacity to move beyond them.

Favorite Music?

Are you kidding me? Jimmy Buffett. But I do also dig all beach music, John Denver, Tom T. Hall, Charlie Rich, Charlie Pride, George Jones, and just about anything that makes me completely uncool to anyone younger than thirty.

Favorite Television Show?

Good damn question since while I really don’t have one I do like several. Battlestar Galactica, Stargate SG-1, Lost, and probably a few others I can’t think of right now.

Who gets hit?

Colonel Colonel

Mike at Tongue in Check



Keshi at Viva Forever

Monday, October 6, 2008

Seeing some fish and getting a dog

Dragonwife being one to never let a little thing like a pet rescue group say she can't have a particular dog found another one of the same breed on the internet. That dog being on the OTHER side of Atlanta on the way to Birmingham, Alabama was of little concern and me being one to never let an excuse to get the Hell out of town go by we once again loaded up the starship and last Friday evening hit the road. Being true to my nature and boldly going where I've never been before I negotiated a side trip to the Georgia Aquarium and promptly had my little brain blown away as soon as we entered the place. I had heard fantastic reports from several people who had visited the place but never had the opportunity to get anywhere near it. That fault being partially mine since if I head anywhere out of town I usual freak if I ain't heading east toward the coast. My picture doesn't do any justice to the rainbow hue of fish swimming around. Although the clear lexan used for the display did blunt the colors a good bit but this picture does not show how it curves to a point overhead letting some of the larger fish cruise above the viewers. On a side note as much as some of my family that drops into my humble site now might think the bald head in the lower right is me, it ain't I just wish that unidentified gentleman had kept his head down for one more second.

As I said the lexan curves around to a point that is directly overhead allowing the larger fish unafraid of being on the menu to cruise around and be seen. This black tip shark was one of two or three in this display. Sharks have always fascinated me with their sleek lines and efficiency in the oceans. Though deadly at times if not respected on their turf they none the less represent a beauty and honest survival in hostile conditions. Hopefully for most this is old news but despite the hype that springs forth from the media whenever a tourist is biten but far more sharks are ruthlessly killed for little or no reason than humans are ever hurt by them. And for the most part where humans are hurt, mainly by Bull sharks, its the fault of humans who have polluted the waters with fertilizers and other chemicals that kill off or drive away other aquatic life sharks eat.

While roaming the aquarium I saw these two fellows watching the hairless primates grouped around the display watching them. Couldn't help but wonder what they were thinking.

"Dear God George, would you look at the freaks today."

"Yeah Pete, especially the young couple in the back. They should really get a room, I swear that guy needs to pull his hand out of that girl's top before the kids notice like the tall goofy guy leering at them now."

"George, its the kids I'm talking about. Look at the little brat down there picking her nose and smearing her buggers on the glass, mammals are so disgusting."

"Yeah they are, lets blow this position and go eat some smaller fish."

A nice typical group of piranha. All discussing tax breaks for corporations, drilling off shore, how global warming is some insidious liberal conspiracy to hurt America, and Sara Palin's in depth and intelligent debating skills.

I would like to think that given all the opportunities people have now for informative and educational television viewing like the Discover channel more people would have knowledge of the world around them. But it seems that shows representing the lowest common denominator of crass and banal content seem to usually win out. Given that I've been sadly disappointed many times overhearing some of those around me not knowing how people are affecting the world around them and the other creatures in it with us. I have found that places like Seaworld, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and zoos educate a population about nature that usually does its best to stay ignorant.

New Data from Whale Shark Research Research funded by the Georgia Aquarium tracked whale sharks diving to a mile deep and swimming more than 4,500 kilometers (2,835 miles) in just 150 days. That’s 30 km (18.9 miles) per day! Satellite tags were placed on several whale sharks off the coast of Mexico as a part of Project Domino, a collaboration of Mote Marine Laboratory, Georgia Aquarium and Mexican researchers. In the five years since the project began, the whale sharks that were tracked stayed in the Gulf of Mexico. Recently, a satellite tag returned data showing a whale shark that had traveled halfway to Africa.

The Georgia Aquarium has this viewing tunnel that more of less runs through the middle of the main tank with all the big fish. None of the pictures I took of the Whale Shark passing over head were good enough to post namely because I was in so much awe watching that magnificent creature pass overhead I simply couldn't operate the camera. I am of the opinion that anyone that comes away not wanting to protect the oceans and planet in general after seeing such a creature does not have a soul.

One Beach Bum (tall goofy guy) and Miss Wiggles outside the "World of Coke" which we didn't go see. Yes, my weight has increased to the point that I'm now eating like a rabbit again along with attempting to get back is some sort of frame of mine to begin exercising. At best though when the urge comes I'm just go lay down and let the feeling pass like Oscar Wilde is reported to have done. Why am I pointing at the good gentleman next to me? I can trace my weight increase to John Pemberton and his damn product that in all honesty I drink far too often. And yes, I'm trying my best to drink diet but despite the best efforts they still pretty much suck.

Oh yeah, after leaving the aquarium we crossed to the other side of Atlanta picked up the newest member of the family and hit warp speed back to the house. Meet Sparky, his likes are Jimmy Buffett, chasing squirrels, chips I leave unattended, doggy biscuits, smelling other dog's butts, and chewing Dragonwife's scrap booking materials she leaves on the floor. His dislikes are senile old farts running for president and whacked out governor running mates who can make a box of rocks seem smart. This is an Obama dog. On a separate note Miss Wiggles and I took Sparky to park and walked along the Columbia Canal the next day. Having both Wiggles and Sparky with me drew scores of very attractive ladies who wanted to talk with my daughter and pet the dog. All things considered it was a very good day.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Surfing the Cosmic Shores

No, I haven't been smoking anything although it would have been a help.

Many times while growing up I listened to tales of how my uncles would get up before sunrise, load up their surfboards, and then drive up to Pawleys Island to catch some waves as the sun rose over the water. Several times I accompany them on such early morning outings whenever my parents let me and my uncles felt I would be useful chick bait. Even though I remember those trips they have for me moved into the realm of the mythical since they occurred before my parent’s marriage self-destructed, and my uncles moved beyond the carefree life of teenagers and into the responsibilities that the adult world demanded.

As my enlistment in the active army drew to a close in the summer of 1990 I began dreaming again of those early morning trips wanting to recapture the thrill of being the first person of the day to walk those soft sands and to feel that early morning ocean breeze. Even as a child I realized being next to the ocean while watching the sunrise that there were far larger, important, and powerful things than me in this universe. The mountains that I could see right out my barrack’s window could almost inspire the same awe and wonder when I hiked the trails along them but humans had long since put their mark all over the those mountain. From television antennas at the very top of Cheyenne mountain to huge mansions that seemed to have been carved in the side of others took away some of their power and made them seem tame.

My grandfather had passed away several months before my enlistment ended and there were many things that needed to be looked at and fixed after I returned home. My main mission though was to supply some company to my grandmother so she didn‘t feel so alone. Although in retrospect I feel I failed at it since I didn’t do a very good job giving her the company and support she needed. I hadn’t forgotten about my desire to relive those early morning surfing trips but most of my free time was actually spent getting ready for college in the fall. However, at that moment two issues prevented me from making my early morning pilgrimage even if I didn’t have chores I needed to do. I didn’t have a surfboard and all my friends who I had surfed with before my army time had for the most part succumbed to the adult world and didn’t have time to break away from young families and jobs, which fed those families. Uncle George solved the first problem one day as I was helping him clean out his attic. Amongst all the boxes and debris collecting dust in that dark place was his nine foot Hobie surfboard from his teenage years. As I inspected the old girl I could tell that the years had been somewhat hard on her. There were many dings and deep scratches on her surface along with her single fin being broken in half. Unlike surfboards now, the fin on Uncle George’s surfboard, which was made in the 60’s, was permanently set and could not easily be removed and replaced, if at all. Still with all the damage on the board I know how my uncle valued it for the memories it held. Never the less I somewhat nervously asked if I could use it for awhile. I could tell Uncle George actually had to think about it but in the end he allowed me to take it and even went and found the racks that would let me mount it to the top of my car. Both Uncle George’s boys had become very good at surfing but used the more popular short boards and looked sort of askew at their father’s ancient longboard. Therefore, if the old girl was going to get wet again it looked like I was the only person who would do it.

A couple of days later I secured my uncle’s old surfboard to the top of my car with the racks he also loaned me and took off for the south end of Pawleys Island. After the short drive I stood on the crosswalk above the protective semi-circle of sand dunes around the parking lot and looked out on the water. The very tip of the sun had just appeared above the horizon spreading a golden hue across the water. The waves that morning were running about four feet and breaking parallel to the shore. Looking back to the west I saw twilight shrinking fast with a few stars seemly covering the retreat of night. Even though for months my desire had been to be among the first people surfing as a new day begun as I proceeded off the crosswalk and into the sand I felt a small ripple of nervousness realizing I had gotten far more than I dreamed. Not only was I going to be the first person in that water that morning there wasn’t even an early morning jogger or fisherman on the entire tongue of land that made up the south end of the island. Looking northward up toward the houses I didn’t see anyone even sitting on their screened-in porches watching the sunrise.

After applying a new coat of wax on my uncle’s surfboard I finally had her in the water and was paddling out to where the waves began to form. The feel of the slightly chilly water and the taste of the salt from it on my lips quieted any nervousness I had moments earlier. The morning sun on my back warmed me and I could feel the stirrings of the old thrill that I had felt years before. I caught a great ride on the first wave that appeared once I got into position. Which given that I was riding a nine foot surfboard was nothing to crow about since it was so big I should have been able to catch anything down to a small ripple. My cousins, who rode short boards, had both the talent and the practice to perform some fairly wild maneuvers cutting across and up just about any wave they caught. I in turn did not have the practice they had and sure as hell didn’t have their talent so I was just happy to feel the rush of the wind and water as I used the wave’s energy to head toward shore. Several more attempts after paddling back out had me either missing the wave or falling off the board unable to get my balance right. I hadn’t been in the water more than thirty minutes when the waves stopped and the ocean around me went glassy and flat. After waiting for several minutes hoping that a new set would emerge so I could at least try and catch another good ride I decided that just lying on the board in the water with the sun on my back was good enough for the time being. My thoughts began drifting about at random and after scanning the shore line and realizing I was still the only person on the beach my mind used that as a prompt to go off in a very unwanted direction.

It’s hard to describe the feeling when you realize you are utterly alone in the world, even though you may be surrounded by family and friends on a regular basis. Such a condition makes the feeling even more acute since you can’t really go off whining about it to those who now have jobs, babies, bills, and the entire spectrum of normal life on their shoulders. College classes were soon to begin for me and after being away from school for such a long time I worried that I might not be able to handle it and flunk out. I didn’t even have the option of returning to the military if college went bad. Before I got out many of my superiors tried to talk me out of leaving the service telling me that I had a real future as a senior NCO down the road or even an officer if I pursued college while still wearing the uniform. Now that I was out and this being the early nineties the military was beginning its great post-Cold War draw down so I didn’t stand a snowball’s chance of re-enlisting. On a more personal level I might as well have been a complete stranger to my hometown in that I didn’t have a soul I could call to date or just to hang out with like I did before I entered the army. Every last girl I had anything to do with had either moved or married while I was away. After my return I soon found that I occupied a strange position of being too old to hang out with high school kids and that I was not yet a part of the college crowd. In addition, since my old buddies had settled down while I was away I found myself out of place at the bar and club scene. Going alone just didn’t feel right and I found myself heading home after only an hour or two in such places. This line of worries wasn’t new, soon after returning home as I lay in bed listening to the night sounds of nature outside my open window these thoughts would creep into my room like some intruder and play with me until my mind shut down.

As I was laying on that surfboard in the water with my doubts and fears running through my mind it was like some shark latching on to me and pulling me down into the dark depths. Even though my saintly grandmother had taken charge of the spiritual upbringing of my siblings and me to the point that to miss Sunday school you had to cough up your liver and both lungs before she would leave you alone those mornings at that time I didn’t find myself praying very much. I carried a faith in God but I found the increasingly strident, unforgiving, and political nature of the churches around me difficult to bear. Far too much had changed from the compassionate, joyous, and forgiving nature of the churches I attended with my grandparents up until the mid-80’s. However, the darkness that had hold of me right then had me saying a small and tepid prayer of divine guidance.

Many times I have heard from the odd self-appointed philosopher that I have run across say that there is no such thing as reality. That each person colors their own reality with their own biases, beliefs, and lessons they have learned from others. Since I agree with the idea that we each color our own reality take from this story what you will. But as I laid on that surfboard just after my little prayer beginning to think about paddling in and returning home I heard a small splash behind me and out of the corner of my eye saw some sort of fin submerge below the surface. Figuring that the metaphorical shark that had hold of me was about to become real I tucked my arms and legs up on the board to, hopefully, wait out any undue curiosity. Some small amount of time slipped by without any further sight or noise from my unknown aquatic companion and I figured it was time for me make my way to shore before it came back. The ocean around me was still a sheet of off-colored green glass but clear down to about two feet. I was about to begin paddling in when my companion came sliding up parallel to me less than a foot away. Far from being a toothy wannabe Jaws out to consume a lonely and distraught guy on a borrowed surfboard my companion was some sort of species of dolphin. Potential fear fell away to kinetic surprise as both of us examined the other, each curious of the strange mammal that was in the water that early morning. My new friend circled around never losing sight of me. This time “he” came even closer in and while looking into the eye of that creature I felt something that cleared away my worries and fears. To say that I felt some weight lift off my shoulders doesn’t do justice to the fact that I also felt some sort of feelings of compassion, caring, and that I was not alone that seemed to say everything was going to be fine. Like some child I reached out toward the dolphin with the more logical part of my mind saying that I was about to spoil this chance meeting and scare it off. Instead it came right up next to the surfboard allowing me to stroke its side. We stayed that way for only a short time never looking away from each other. How long could it have gone on? I have no honest answer but it was the sound of a car horn over on the other side of the sand dunes signaling that my solitude had ended that broke whatever spell had been cast. After looking up for the briefest of moments I looked back down and he was gone. He came around again one last time splashing me with his flukes then set off for some other location with me wishing I could join him.

Was this only a chance encounter that tide, time, the desire for me to relive earlier days, and the early morning feeding habits of a marine mammal allowed to happen? Or was this the answer to a small but desperate prayer that I had cast out to a far greater more diverse ocean. As the years have flown by I have alternately held both positions along with a hybrid mix of the two. None the less, the dark clouds that had at times confined me to outright despair never appeared with such power again. I still had enough concern to keep my nose to the educational grind stone and far from being a perfect person after my encounter I still found a way to screw up completely on many different levels many different times through the years. Whatever explanation I happened to be leaning toward on that early morning encounter for me the whole basic question boils down to whether there is something greater in the universe than we hairless primates. My own idea on the matter has the curious benefit of irritating just about everyone who has discussed the issue with me. But at least it can be said I came about it on my own.

Years ago I sat in awe in front of my grandparent’s television watching the late Carl Sagan explain on his show Cosmos various aspects of science and the nature of the universe. One of the many things he touched on that blew my mind was how the very elements that make up our bodies were created at the cores of long dead stars. Those same elements would over the course of billions of years coalesce and form our planet. As more time passed those elements somehow combined, crossed a threshold from just a chemical soup to simple life that began the struggle of evolution. After billions of years of evolution we hairless primates emerged having gained a modest amount of intelligence to try and contemplate the very nature of the universe we live in. In short Sagan was saying nothing less that we, and whatever other intelligent species that might exist, are the universe itself becoming self aware and trying to understand its nature.

Where I usually veer off into left field, and piss everyone off, is that to me the universe itself from its earliest times we can discern after the Big Bang has continued to organize itself into higher structures. From the lowest quark to the largest super cluster of galaxies we can observe there is a continuing effort for greater complexity. Even here on Earth as life emerged from a smelly carbon-based protein soup to basic celled organisms it has moved up in the level of complexity until our arrival in which despite our faults and shortcomings have begun trying to make sense of our very reason for existence. I can’t help but wonder that given the age of the universe and the continuing evolution of all things great and small might not there be intelligences for whom we have no way to contemplate or understand their existence much like microscopic life forms have absolutely no way to understand that they are observed and studied by us using a microscope. Let me be the very first to say that all this is the addled speculation of a more than slightly deranged mind who desperately need to find a more productive hobby. But I have always been uncomfortable with the notion that humans are the pinnacle of development for the universe and that there is nothing greater in scope for us to discover. What comes to mind for me was the accepted notions that the Earth was the center of the creation with everything else revolving around us, or that we were the special, highest creations of God which made us and everything else in 6000 years.

While I can dance around the subject I do have to admit that I do believe in a higher power. The nature of that higher power for me is, like my dolphin encounter, subject to my own internal debate which ebbs and flows as time goes on. If I haven’t really freaked everyone out I would more than welcome their input on this subject. My own attempts before to discuss something as strange as this subject have usually failed miserably with the usual two warring camps quickly forming up and dialogue devolving to name calling. In truth the one creature I would love to get its opinion on this subject would be my dolphin friend but I have the strangest feeling if I did get the chance he would just keep his enigmatic smile, say thanks for all the fish, and swim off again saying I think to much and need to surf more. I can’t say that he would be wrong.

(Author's note: I didn't like how this turn out but after messing around with this post far longer than I liked I wasn't about just to leave it on my hard drive.)