Thursday, July 30, 2009

A little bit of hope for us all.

Watching the various daily news programs for me has a deep chilling effect on how I view the cruel cosmic joke called human civilization. At best most our civilized efforts and endeavors never stray far from that of a bunch of spoiled children left unattended on some playground fighting over toys and who controls the swing sets, slides, and water fountains. At worst human civilization can take on characteristics far closer to that of viruses spreading, conquering, and then leaving destruction in its wake.

With almost seven billion people on the planet, dwindling resources, entire ecosystems on the verge of collapse, and global climate conditions that I will optimistically just call degraded we still happily practice the same behaviors our hunter-gatherer ancestors did untold thousands of years ago. We still tenuously cling to ancient ethnic conflicts and hates even when their origins have been lost to history and have been relegated to that of myth and legend. Laws and constitutions, designed to curb abuses of power and to thwart those for whom the desire for power justifies all means, are regularly abandoned whenever they become inconvenient. Instead of judging a person on the content of his or her character we still classify those we do not know and fear into different groups based on skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and even language.

When I get away from overpowering glow of city lights to see the stars and have a chance to think my perceptions and attitudes change ever so slightly. I have to make a distinction between the animalistic behavior of Homo sapiens and its ability to organize, dominate, and control and the efforts of human civilized behavior to create, build, discover, and explore. Maybe even more importantly I have to make a distinction between the callous disregard the animal homo sapiens has for those outside his or her tribe, caste, nation, or race and that aspect of human civilized behavior called empathy that looks beyond the superficial.

Empathy is an extremely rare behavior, especially these days as we continue to writhe in our collective hates and prejudices seeing only the injustices inflected on our kith and kin and view those outside as alien and unclean. Exceptions exist, there are those who bravely see not the outsider and fear what that person might do but our common humanity. Such exceptions need to be recognized and applauded not just for personal acclaim for those exceptional people but to hold them up as an example that all of us can do better, or at least give a damn and try.

Please read the following article on Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife, Bilquis.

Abdul Sattar Edhi has personally washed tens of thousands of corpses that he has rescued from gutters, beneath bridges and from the sea. The 82-year-old Pakistani has devoted his life to the destitute of Karachi, burying the city's forgotten and giving fresh life to its abandoned newborns. His pioneering social work has drawn comparisons to Mother Teresa's.

His mission is synonymous with this sprawling port city, where rickshaws bearing veiled women, scooters spewing smoke and drivers pressing palms to horns all squeeze in the narrow streets through spaces as thin as a ray of hope.

Amid the chaos, in an aging building, is the room Edhi bought nearly 60 years ago to use as a dispensary. He arrived with the mass migration of Muslims from India six days after Pakistan's independence. Edhi was barely 20 when he began the work that would make him arguably the most respected figure in Pakistan.

"I saw people lying on the pavement," he recalls. "The flu had spread in Karachi, and there was no one to treat them. So I set up benches and got medical students to volunteer. I was penniless and begged for donations on the street. And people gave. I bought this 8-by-8 room to start my work."

The single room has grown to a three-story headquarters. Donations, mostly from ordinary Pakistanis, have already topped $36 million this year. The vast philanthropic network offers Karachi's poorest what could be called cradle-to-grave service.

Women's Suffering Starts At Birth

The Edhi Foundation runs two maternity wards in Karachi. Since 1948, 1 million children have been delivered in Edhi facilities — virtually for free, according to Edhi.

His wife, Bilquis, runs one of the maternity wards in Karachi. She has a sunny disposition that contrasts with the suffering there. Just 40 minutes after delivery, one mother, grimacing in pain, gets up to leave.

"In the past, they would stay for three days," Bilquis Edhi says. "But now, even if they have stitches, the women don't linger."

The mother says this was her third child; Bilquis Edhi suspects it is her sixth.

"Islam is driving this," she says. Conservative clerics call family planning haram, or forbidden. As a result, she says, "Women keep producing babies, and these women are dying in the process."

A bright pink veil is placed carelessly across Bilquis Edhi's head. At 62, her skin still glows. Despite bypass surgery, she continues a marathon schedule devoted to helping impoverished women.

In this conservative society, women's problems start from birth, she says.

"When a baby girl is born here, the man storms out cursing his wife. But whenever there is a male born, the men celebrate and offer us tea," she says.

"Most of the babies who are left in the cradle at our doorstep are girls," she adds. "Sometimes the babies are tossed in garbage heaps, gagged and wrapped in plastic bags. In one week, we can get as many as 11 dead babies."

Death With Dignity

The babies are brought to the Edhi morgue, where the acrid smell of embalming fills the air. Employees who are paid a small stipend load a corpse into an ambulance to be taken to the cemetery. It is a long slender body prepared for burial. It bears a number, but it bears no name. The Edhi Foundation buries bodies that cannot be identified.

The makeshift hearse snakes its way to the Edhi Foundation's cemetery on the outskirts of the city. Mohammad Saleem has been a driver for the Edhi ambulance service for 24 years. The service now operates throughout the country. Saleem recalls his first assignment.

"Mr. Edhi sent us to collect a dead body, and the stink was so unbearable I couldn't stand it. We all ran," Saleem says. "We came back with Mr. Edhi, who showed us how to pick up a dead body and transport it."

"We work long hours," Saleem adds, "but we're at ease. We have a kind of spiritual peace because somehow we're serving humanity."

The two young men being laid to rest this day will be interred in a place as bleak as their lives likely were. The van bearing their bodies bumps along the potholed unpaved streets. Little boys rush to sneak a peak through the window, while babies sit like Buddhas in the endless debris.

Gravediggers cover the corpses that have been slipped into the earth of this forlorn field with nothing but a white sheet. In Karachi, death comes without pity.

Finding Homes For Unwanted Children

There is not an area of social need that the Edhi Foundation has not touched, even raising money for the families displaced by the fighting in Swat Valley and pleading with judges to reform the prisons.

The group also has placed more than 19,000 abandoned babies with adoptive parents.

Karachi lawyer Tahera Hassan wanted a baby girl and approached the Edhi Foundation. Not long after, Bilquis Edhi took her utterly by surprise when she called to say that her baby was ready. But her husband wasn't. He was away.

"So I called him up," Hassan says, "and I was like, 'The baby's come!' He said, 'How will we know? How will you know it's the right one?' I said, 'Well, the baby's there. It's the right one! It's there.' So I went and got her."

That baby, Maya, is now 3 — and looking forward to having a baby sister from the Edhi Foundation. Mother and daughter visit Bilquis Edhi regularly so Maya will have a connection to the people Hassan calls "phenomenal."

She says they are able to look at the positive side of things, despite the misery they deal with on a day-to-day basis.

'I Feel Happy God Made Me Different'

Adbul Edhi, bearded and slight, calls himself a "pragmatic humanist." He also has been called a communist for his belief that the rich enslave the poor. In fact, Edhi says, poverty is spreading terrorism.

"Almost all of our leaders are involved in looting and plundering, and the Taliban are a reaction to that," he says.

Bilquis Edhi says of her husband, "Everyone said I was crazy to marry him. Friends joked that while they'd go on picnics, he'd take me to graveyards."

But the man who built Pakistan's biggest social service network with no formal education says he does feel a bit crazy, and he revels in it.

"I feel happy. There's so much craftiness and cunning and lying in the world. I feel happy that God made me different from the others. I helped the most oppressed," he says.

Bilquis Edhi says three or four more people like her husband could change the destiny of Pakistan.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dante never wrote about this type of Hell

...but he should have.

Somewhere I read that the one thing that scares the Hell out of most real writers is an blank white screen on a word processor with nothing typed, a clean white piece of paper rolled into a typewriter empty of words, or a page in a spiral notebook with the only color being the horizontal lines on the page. For me Saturday morning had a similar feeling as I fell out of bed and made my way to my daughter's partially disassembled room to look at the fine light purple painted walls that I would soon be repainting the daring color of light pink. I looked in utter and abject terror at the room that I would soon be bound to in what amounted to as indentured servitude with my release conditional upon satisfactory completion of the project. Given my wife, Dragonwife, and daughter, Miss Wiggles, attitude about what they want I might as well as gone as far as to hang a sign saying: "All ye that enter here abandon all hope."

My morning coffee did me no favors by energizing me and I simply sat on the floor for almost an hour drinking it and listening to the weekend morning show on NPR unwilling to move. It seemed that the "blank walls" were laughing at me saying that I would never complete what I had to do. For several months my wife and daughter went over color samples comparing them to small pieces of cloth with elaborate pattens while did my best to ignore what it all meant. But yesterday it all came due and it was only after my daughter stated playing with the open cans of paint along with the kitten looking like it would jump into the paint pan with the roller sitting in about an half inch of what the can said was "blossom pink" did I find the motivation to actual start applying it to the walls.

After I started it went a lot better until I realized that the paint was so thin that it would take multiple coats and another trip to Home Depot for another gallon. Dragonwife graced me with several visits telling me about the spots of purple showing through. Bless her heart though she was on the deck in the backyard painting all of Wiggles' white furniture black and finding that most of what she had already done would peel off in big pieces of black rubbery sheets. The application of a sander with 60 grit sandpaper along with a serious primer got her back on course. I did have to thank her for almost painting the deck black with a couple of hundred paint drops which will be my responsibility to sand and paint at a later date.

By late Sunday afternoon the walls were done along with the room closet which for some reason for me is always a pain in its own smaller right. Started on the trim painting the baseboards and windows figuring that if I got that stuff the room and closet doors could wait till next weekend. Of course by the end of today Wiggles', as figured, decided that she didn't like the color and that she wanted the room painted red instead. Luckily the very cold beers I had in both my hands kept me calm, even with Dragonwife inspecting the my work.

A fried shrimp and flounder dinner later my weekend servitude was receding like a bad memory. That is until my wife brought out the new bedspread and curtains for my son's room with her wondering about the colors that would go with them. She was holding a collection of color samples about the same size as a deck of playing cards and went to the kitchen table to spread them out and compare much like someone playing solitaire. To damn bad I was the joker, or better yet, fool, of the deck. My son had escaped most of the weekend adventures being that his girlfriend was leaving for a summer camp in North Carolina for a week and he wanted to spend as much time as he could with her.

We start my son's room in a couple of weeks and I have news for my erstwhile oldest child and his social obligations. When I crack open the lids of paint to redo his room he can ask all his friends over to watch and even help but I will have some company and freely share my weekend misery.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Who we were then, who we have become now.

On this day forty years ago man first walked on the moon.

Really it should not surprise me that my son views my childhood as something from the ancient past akin to the discovery of fire, invention of the wheel, or the dark times before the internet when most information was in book form. When I can get him into a library his thirteen year-old sensibilities are almost overwhelmed at all the books carefully organized on the shelves with people browsing the aisles hunting some sort of important information. Sadly, he feels that if something cannot be found using the great god Google it more than likely has no relevance to the affairs of daily life. Given his attitude I have never really explained to him how the simple browsing of book reading the words and admiring the illustrations held so much enjoyment and wonder for me as a child.

During the late 1960’s when I was much younger than my son is now I could often find sanctuary in the collection of encyclopedias that occupied an old bookshelf in a corner of my parent’s house. Being from a family of modest means the encyclopedias I refer to were not the expensive Britannica series but the modest “Book of Knowledge” series that was being sold piecemeal at the local Piggly Wiggly grocery store. For every twenty-dollar purchase at the grocery store you could buy another volume of that year’s edition for about five dollars. While this might seem a strange way of purchasing a set of encyclopedia I thought nothing of it at the time, especially as after we got the volume with a huge section on the space program. Brave Russian cosmonauts and the men here in America with the “Right Stuff” riding into the sky in the Mercury and Gemini projects were my heroes “boldly going where no one had gone before.” One of my earliest memories have me sitting with my grandfather, dad, and uncles watching on television the countdown of some rocket about to blast off from Cape Canaveral carrying with it the hopes and dreams of a nation reaching for both a distant future and for something far greater than themselves.

The summation of that endeavor was achieved when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the dusty gray plains of a dead world and looked back on the only place that even now we know harbors life. That summer of 69 was for some reason one of the most vivid I can remember. I guess the energy and wonder of a child allows for such things at that time. I remember driving the various librarians both at kindergarten and the county libraries crazy demanding new books on what we were doing in space then and what we would be doing in the glorious future.

As much as my home encyclopedias lacked the regal prestige of the more expensive sets they did allow an option to purchase yearly updates that would be shipped straight to a person’s home. The purchase of the update for 1969 was a foregone conclusion for several reasons. However for my grandfather it was mainly to satisfy the desires of a child still ablaze with the most incredible adventure in human history.

It came about a full year later and to this day I somehow remember carefully opening the box it came in and then running off to my room to read about the preceding year’s events. Much to my surprise that update also had a future timeline of projects NASA wanted to pursue. For a kid already lost in space the illustrations and short explanations of future missions had me more than completely enthralled.

Almost flowing along the pages were conceptual drawing of spacecraft designs that showed how over the coming decades NASA wanted to get the shuttle up and running, a space station built, return to the moon on a permanent basis, then on to Mars. As the twenty-first century began we were suppose to see the establishment of bases on Mars serviced by nuclear powered shuttles running routinely between Earth and Mars. At the end of that timeline a couple of decades into the twenty-first century it was further mentioned of manned mission to the outer planets. Maybe someone had seen "2001: A Space Odyssey" a few too many times, but I didn't care, it was a hopeful future, at least for me, and worthy of the people we were then. However, even during the glory days of Apollo voices could be heard saying that it was unfair to spend billions on space with Earth awash in problems such as poverty, famine, war, and prejudices. It was cheerfully offered by some of those voices that we should clean up our messes here then we would be free to explore. Even being as young as I was as the Apollo program ended my disappointment was tempered by the simplicity of the argument that we had much to do on this planet. Exploring other worlds was of little concern to someone who did not have enough food or water, a decent school, or access to a doctor.

Forty years ago today the men of Apollo 11 set foot on that barren surface and it set me to wondering not only far along how far we have come on solving those problems that have plagued humanity but on what sort of people we are now.

Despite programs designed during the 60’s and 70’s to correct the problems of poverty and ignorance we have seen the America we were then evolve into a collection of banal and spoiled self-centered children. Many have enthusiastically embraced a cold contempt for those unable to participate in society because of economic reasons, discrimination, or handicaps and feel an undue slight when they are forced to surrender a small portion of the advantages they feel is their God-given rights.

American citizenship has been replaced with American consumerism where we define our lives by cheap imported goods paid for by the credit card whose terms take on the characteristics of a new kind of serfdom. This new serfdom is also personified in a narrow worldview where everyone else is “either for us, or against us.” Given this we completely fail to understand when a portion of the world weary of our pretentious meddling, refuses to go along with our imperial adventures in securing resources and even actively resists our chosen syncopates who cravenly do our bidding.

Feeling once again that our power and prestige should define the way the world works we paint those who disagree into boogeyman, some very real and evil and others we conveniently imagine. Because of such a view we have stumble into two quagmires in some ways quite similar to Vietnam and like the last time we have neither the money, troops, or enough willpower to end.

So, after forty years the world that was supposed to be more fair and equal for all had been more or less permanently postponed. The war on poverty was called because the welfare of fellow Americans became inconvenient and might force those with more means to sacrifice a little for those who do not. We have though sacrificed a large portion of our future for our lifestyle that we cannot support or hope, in the long run, to sustain. Instead of the people in the 1960’s that looked at the stars and dreamed of things greater than themselves and expanding the avenues of the human experience to as many people as possible we have become a small people and maybe hopelessly self indulgent. We are scared that someone might take what we have here at home and fearful of the perceived shadows lurking overseas. Such a people before long tear themselves apart and are soon relegated to chapters in a history book. It does not have to end that way, we can do far better.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

H1N1 Splotchy story virus----Zombies in the outfield

After what seems like an eternity I have finally finished my segment of a Splotchy inspired story virus. Yes, I have been infected and despite a vacation, crazy wife, wild children including my son's Guitar Hero playing friends, and other associated interruptions all plotting Cheney-like in some dark, dank, undisclosed location to prevent me from completing my sacred task.

For those who might be unfamiliar with the concept I'll let Splotchy do the explaining:

Here's what I would like to do. I want to create a story that branches out in a variety of different, unexpected ways. I don't know how realistic it is, but that's what I'm aiming for. Hopefully, at least one thread of the story can make a decent number of hops before it dies out.

If you are one of the carriers of this story virus (i.e. you have been tagged and choose to contribute to it), you will have one responsibility, in addition to contributing your own piece of the story: you will have to tag at least one person that continues your story thread. So, say you tag five people. If four people decide to not participate, it's okay, as long as the fifth one does. And if all five participate, well that's five interesting threads the story spins off into.

Not a requirement, but something your readers would appreciate: to help people trace your own particular thread of the narrative, it will be helpful if you include links to the chapters preceding yours.

So hold onto your socks and sit back and read what has been wrought. Before you start scroll down to the bottom and start the music.

Splotchy's Episode one:

The ground crunched beneath my feet. Besides my noisy footsteps, I heard only the sound of the gentle crackling fire behind me. Its faint orange light lazily revealed my immediate surroundings. Beyond the glow, there was total blackness. I whistled. I took the small rock I had been carrying and whipped it away from me, expecting a thud, crack or plop -- but a soft yelp of a cry answered.

Chef Cthulhu's Episode Two:

Ice shot straight up my spine as my gut contracted in a terrified knot...he'd followed me. He always knew where to find his master. I heard him shuffling closer and knew what I had to do. Tears welled up in my eyes and my throat tightened as I remembered all the nights camping at this very spot, the hundreds of slobbery tennis balls and bags of Kibbles 'n Bits that had defined our lives together. I braced the butt of my M4 assault rifle into my shoulder and whispered, "Goodbye, old boy."

The stiffly-shambling form materializing at the edge of the darkness around the fire pit immediately drew my aim up, my finger squeezing as the sight swung to its cranium. A banana-clip-worth of brass arced its way to the base of the fire as a foot-long muzzle flash and the ripping sound of automatic fire broke the artificial silence of the night.

Making a sound like a baseball bat clobbering a rotten cantaloupe, the shadowy head disintegrated as the once walking corpse fell to its knees and slumped down into the light. Pongo - or, rather, Pongo's corpse - crawled into the light, his rotting innards exposed behind a the exposed right half of his ribcage. Half the flesh had been avulsed from his face, giving him a gruesome visage as his tongue hung over his mandible. He sniffed the stump of the rotting, headless thing before he dragged his broken, undead doggy body my way, his head lolling from side to side. Instinctively, I released the empty clip, shoved another one home and drew a bead. Pongo stopped and sat at my feet. Bowing his back and lifting his leg, and began licking a place I could never reach on my own body for about 5 seconds before the now cleaned organs fell off and settled a few inches from his hind leg.

Pongo looked up at me and I could read the eyes on his zombified face. They said, "My nuts! Can you believe this shit?" I lowered the weapon. I'd forgotten to chamber a round anyway. I knelt down and hesitatingly reached out to pet what had been Pongo. He offered no resistance. Of all the zombie apocalypses I'd been through since moving here, this one was by far the weirdest.

Something on the creature I'd just shot caught my eye. It had something odd-looking tucked underneath its arm. I looked from the shadowy object over to my truck and slowly back down to Pongo as he dejectedly contemplated his former genitals. I heard the dragging feet of several undead, man-eating motherfuckers approaching the fire...

Now presenting Beach Bum's Episode Three:

Standing in the dark with only the a small circle of light from my fire separating me from the collection of ghouls howling somewhere near it wasn't a good time to wonder about my participating in the United States government Redoubt program. Truth be told though, the little voice in my head that for the most part had always been more cautious and correct about how stupid I could be was screaming for me to get back in my truck and scram. It told me that there had to be plenty of abandoned sailboats on the coast just begging for someone to sail them away from the zombies, chaos, and general collapse of human civilization that had resulted from the recently dead springing back to life with a taste for living fresh.

Such musings were a luxury that I could not afford though with the arrival of new visitors to my little circle of light moaning the eerie guttural cries of the undead. The gentleman was wearing a torn and dirty Hawaiian that while he was alive and reasonably clean probably depicted a nice tropical scene with flowers. Now it was a mash of different colors dominated with black, browns, and reds that it was safe to assume came from the blood of whatever victims he munched on since he was infected with the virus, died, and then reanimated into what he was now. As the ghoul staggered closer I noticed he was naked from the waist down except for black socks and flip flops that during his undead journeys he had somehow kept on his feet. I actually giggled at the sight of his zombifed pecker freely swinging in the proverbial wind.

Physically, the old ghoul man looked remarkably well. Even with just the light from the fire I could tell his skin was the normal zombie gray. His eyes were the curious gold color that stared off into oblivion. Bubbling from his mouth was the black mucus which was what the blood of a person who had been infected with the zombie virus became. It didn't take long for what remained of the living to realize that the mucus was also made up of the virus and any bite by a ghoul on a living person was a certain death sentence.

Following close behind the old man was a ramshackle collection of torn gray flesh, bits of clothes, and a wig tilted far back on the head of what had to once had been an old woman, maybe the other zombie's wife. Little remained of her clothes and her appearance showed considerable damage since reanimation. Her lower jaw was missing along with her right arm. Her gold zombies eyes were undamaged and considerably more spooky than her male undead companion. As what remained of the old woman slowly drew closer it was easy to see they held some sort of awareness, although that awareness was so far removed from humanity that an alien creature from tens of thousands of light-years away would have had more in common with me than what that old lady had become.

They ignored Pongo still laying on the ground and ambled closer to me. Pulling the charging handled on my rifle I chambered a new round then switched the fire select dial to semi-automatic. Two rounds barked out from my rifles impacting squarely on the foreheads of the zombie senior citizens. I just hope they didn't belong to AARP, I could get in some really deep shit messing with any of their members.

In the last days before all communications died some scientists locked away in what I'm sure was a very well protected research lab had figured out that the zombie virus crystallized an infected person's brain turning it into a super charged capacitor allowing it to power the dead person's nervous system forcing the body to walk the earth. Why that now crystallized brain drove the infected body to seek out the living was not something those protected scientists could explain.

However, it was learned that a massive trauma to an infected brain would result in a short circuit finally disabling the body for good. And as my two shots exited the heads of my visiting zombies it was if some puppet master had cut their strings. They fell to the ground completely inert, the resulting silence was far more eerie than had been their strange sounds.

“Damn, could you please try to make more noise. There is a herd of ghouls two states over that hasn't yet heard your rifle fire,” I heard someone say. The sound of a real living human's voice shocked me to the core far more than my now inert visitors could have ever hoped.

Stepping into my circle of light was what had to surely be a crazed hallucination brought on by days of intense life or death stress. Because what now stood before me was a gorgeous woman with short brunette hair dressed in doomsday movie attire that was the dream of every nerdy teenager ever to walk out of the local theater. Making things even crazier she had been my nephew's second grade teacher, Jessica Tyler.

Staring in disbelief the figure before me was dressed in skin tight woodland camouflage BDU pants and army combat boots with massive Desert Eagle pistols strapped to the outside of each upper thigh. On her right leg, strapped lower down just above the boot, was a mean looking combat knife that was usually in the possession of special operation types. Where as her pants were old military her torso was clothed in what appeared to be a skin tight dark blue exercise leotard with light blue trim that daringly, in a post apocalyptic kind of way, plunged low exposing ample amounts of cleavage. Rounding off the sexy, yet very deadly lady, she carried a German MP-5 sub-machine gun with an extended barrel and with the wire stock extended.

“Tall grasses are the venue of the lions and tigers.” She said with a slightly disbelieving air.

The dead rising, massive chaos, the end of human civilization going on I still somehow found time to groan over what some clever paper pusher in the Pentagon must have received ample awards over thinking of damn silly code phrases so members of the Redoubt program could safely contact each other. The look on the lady's face was becoming annoyed with my lack of any response.

“Yes dammit,” I said. “But the bears and wolves like the woods. Can we get out of here now?” I had spent far too long waiting at the GPS coordinates some computer generated voice had said over my cell phone while I sat in my easy chair watching hundreds of satellite channels chronicling the feasting of the undead.

“Lets get going, I'm your redoubt commander and you have a mission.” Was all she said then running off in the opposite direction from my truck up a wooded hill.

Figuring I better follow, or she would shoot me, I ran after her. “Would you please tell me why we are not taking my truck?” I asked as we crested the hill.

“Because,” she smiled, “we would miss all this fun and I need to test you. She motioned down the other side of the hill alerting me to the herd of about fifty ghouls ambling our way. It was easy to figure that my test was how I handled the oncoming herd but without any further word she ran down before me with her MP-5 already barking out single 9mm rounds to each of the ghouls in her line of fire. Always being a good team player I quickly caught up with her firing off my weapon bringing down my part of the group.

Barely three minutes later we were finished and I was again chasing her again. She moved swiftly and quietly through the trees and brush as any tigress but my Redoubt commander was several times more deadly. I felt a sudden, and given the situation inappropriate, disappointment in that all the times I attended my now deceased nephew's school functions I never even attempted to ask her out.

Coming out of the woods to a road was our temporary destination and our mode of travel to our next. What I saw before me was a chariot born in Hell. She had taken an old Dodge Ram, raised it up several more inches, enclosed the truck bed with an armored shell, and had attached a cattle catcher to the front of the truck very much like the type that old steam railroad engines use to sport.

“Get in,” she yelled. The engine roared to life and she drove off driving with the speed and daring of a fighter jock. We soon roared out onto a major highway passing eerily dark subdivisions that a week before had been home to countless people living boring normal lives. Jessica said nothing and I soon began reviewing all the events that had gotten me to this position.

Years before I had been a captain in United Stated Army intelligence reviewing all sorts of apparently unconnected events and developments going on in the world. My little group lived very much on the edge of reality and received a good bit of ridicule from the mainline elements living in the confines of the Five Sided Funny Farm just on the Potomac. However, we were able to foresee and alert the ever responsible elected leaders of the Republic several times to unexpected and outright strange events that threaten national security. The fact that a couple of those national security threats were elected leaders that been brainwashed with controlling cybernetic implants installed will forever be highly classified nonevents.

I was a happy man with an interesting job, a great wife, and even better dental until one dark and cold day. That day my department was unexpectedly closed and my men and women farmed out to interpret Iraqi insurgent communications who were holding up the vice president's buddies from building an oil pipeline. My wife came home and to tell me she was running off with the clerk working at the video rental store. Taking the first two blows like a man I still found the will to finish up my day by making my dentist appointment only to be told I needed two root canals. After such events I retired early from the army and made plans to work at the chicken farm my brother owned.

My last day in the service I was ordered to a nondescript building on a small army post deep in rural Virginia. It was there that two honest to God “Men in Black” came into the small waiting room I was seated in and they introduced me to the Redoubt program.

Jessica's mad driving through the blacked out areas of what was just recently a hub of suburban American life had no effect of my stroll through memory lane. Even the occasional collision with a zombie on a night stroll was of no consequence as bits and pieces flew apart spraying on the windshield. The past few weeks had even begun to wear down my carefully constructed facade of devil-may care cynic. However as we rounded a corner of a state highway clearing one of the many mega-malls the extra bright headlights caught the reflection of what had to be a herd of zombies ranging in size from nine-hundred to a thousand sad infected undead souls.

It wasn't the collective herd of ghouls a few yards in front of us that shocked me and even the more hard as steel Jessica into amazement bordering on shock but the strange disc-shaped craft hovering about one-hundred feet above the undead mass.

The craft had to be at least five-hundred feet wide slightly spinning in the quiet, dark night. I could just make out small fins and what I would call antenna forming a circle along the bottom of the craft. Coming out of those projections on the over wise smooth craft were intense beams of light that went from one zombie to another. Various science fiction stories I read during my younger days flashed through my head and I came to the conclusion that the ghouls were being scanned somehow. After a few seconds of shimmering light the “scanned” zombie exploded into tiny pieces that seemed no bigger than sand.

Both Jessica and I, still stunned, were happy with that since the entire herd seemed mesmerized by the lights and happy to stand still and watch themselves be picked off by the tens and twenties. What shocked us back into consciousness was when every beam from the craft suddenly focused on us.

"OH FREAKING SHIT!” Jessica yelled, flooring her truck in reverse and then swinging it around and racing down the thankfully empty road. I looked behind us to see that the craft had begun chasing us with its scanning-destructo beams still firmly locked on us.

It was then my little voice chose that moment to tell me that I should have listened and we could now be on a sailboat heading for the last known bastion of human civilization, communist Cuba.

To be continued?

Will our as yet unnamed hero and his post-apocalyptic beauty Redoubt commander complete their mission?

What exactly is the Redoubt program?

What the hell is up with all the zombies and who or what is flying the UFO?

And more importantly will anyone make up another segment of Splotchy's story virus?

Tune in again same zombie website, same zombie time.

I'm suppose to tag someone else but I honestly don't know any one who would do it. So if you are inclined feel free to consider yourself tagged.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A stain on the honor of good men and women

My years in the military were many things. Challenging, frustrating, important, trivial, mysterious, and mundane are just a few words that describe what I went through during my years serving in the active army and later the national guard. One word that could never be included would be "racism". Far from being a group of happy campers engaging in group hugs and singing kumbaya around a roaring fire at night after a hard day of army training we often disagreed, argued, and sometimes even fought each other. Never the less whatever divided us was forgotten when that ugly little monster called "duty" reared its head. It was then that color, nationality, ethic origin, religion, and even sexual orientation was abandoned for army green and the person next to you became your closest family.

Under the ever watchful eyes of the non commissioned officers, or sergeants to you civilians, if someone strayed too far off course they would be more than happy to put a boot up the offending person's ass. If that offending individual resisted such corrective action he or she would be descended upon with such wrath that it would seem God himself had taken an interest in their sinful ways. With this in mind I have been greatly disturbed and brought to shame that the army I served and has done much in the past to weed out primitive and degenerate views is slowly being infected with them again. Not only for the sake of the army that I still respect and admire on so many levels but for the ideals of America and the progress it was made over the centuries, I hope measures are adopted by both my fellow NCO's and the officer corp to stem this evil tide. Read the partial article below and definitely link over to the Southern Poverty Law Center to read the whole piece.

The Southern Poverty Law Center today urged Congress to investigate growing evidence that racial extremists are infiltrating the U.S. military and take steps to ensure that the armed forces are not inadvertently training future domestic terrorists.

In a letter to committee chairmen with oversight over homeland security and the armed services, the SPLC said it recently found dozens of personal profiles on a neo-Nazi website where individuals listed "military" as their occupation — the latest evidence of extremist infiltration gathered by the SPLC. It also cites FBI and Department of Homeland Security reports supporting the SPLC's concerns.

"Evidence continues to mount that current Pentagon policies are inadequate to prevent racial extremists from joining and serving in the armed forces," SPLC founder Morris Dees wrote. He added, "Because the presence of extremists in the armed forces is a serious threat to the safety of the American public, we believe Congressional action is warranted."

The letter was sent to the chairmen of the House and Senate committees on Homeland Security and Armed Services. The SPLC has raised its concerns with Pentagon officials since publishing a report in 2006, but no apparent action has been taken.

In recent months, SPLC investigators found approximately 40 personal profiles that listed "military" as an occupation on the Internet forum New Saxon, which is operated by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement. One individual, who claims to be serving in Afghanistan, lists as his favorite book The Turner Diaries, which was written by neo-Nazi leader William Pierce. The book served as a blueprint for the Oklahoma City bombing by Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh. Another individual said he was about to be deployed overseas and was looking forward to "killing all the bloody sand niggers." Still another spoke of his hatred for undocumented immigrants.

The SPLC has been involved with this issue for more than two decades. In 1986, the SPLC presented evidence to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger that Marines were participating in Ku Klux Klan paramilitary activities and urged him to prohibit all military personnel from being members of, or participating in, the activities of white supremacist groups. Although Weinberger issued a directive addressing extremist activity, it ultimately proved inadequate.

The SPLC again brought the problem to the attention of Pentagon officials in 1996, after three neo-Nazi soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg murdered a black couple in North Carolina in a ritualistic, racially motivated slaying. Pentagon regulations were strengthened following an investigation by an Army task force and hearings by the House Armed Services Committee.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Cavorting with sea gypsies

Dispatches from the edge of my vacation.
No matter the location a good bar will still follow certain rules which are actually closer to physical laws of nature. The best bars will not excessively water down the liquor, will toss out the chips and peanuts left over after closing, and have some standards on who they let in the door. This holds true even in Hilton Head, South Carolina that has long since lost most of its cultural soul to the hordes of golf playing middle-aged white guys wearing polo shirts and snazzy matching golf hats and slacks. Despite the best attempts of Tiger to add some color to this group, collectively they have far more in common with undead zombies than actual human beings. Such bar sanctuaries free of the decaying undead and those who enjoy hitting little white balls are hidden away in obscure corners of the island with elaborate rituals developed to identify those worthy of entering. So much to my surprise after stumbling upon such a place they let me keep my seat at the bar.
My discovery of a quiet oasis away from golfing ghouls was by sheer chance last Monday evening as I was strolling around the Shelter Cove marina marveling at the various sizes and types of sailboats tied up. Most of the sailboats, along with the larger and more ostentatious motorized yachts tied up as well, were dark and showed no sign of anyone being aboard. Although, a few offered, by way of partially open portholes, brief but tantalizing hints of a life that has fascinated me since I was a child. My fascination has only grown through the years egged on by my observations of a country having a cultural anxiety attack while swimming in a near boiling pot of societal rage causing me to daydream about sailing away and leaving it all behind.
Since my kids were safely engaged in vacation activities at the resort we were staying at and my wife was out raiding the local outlet malls of even more Chinese-made detritus I was free to wallow in my sailing fantasies. Even though I have absolutely no experience in sailing and have only read books on the subject, never the less as I wistfully looked over the moored sailboats in my mind I was sailing on high seas, visiting exotic lands, while in the company of a sultry island lady.
As much as it might be a surprise to those with their feet more firmly on the ground and reality excessive fantasizing really works up a thirst. So after seeing someone leave from a nondescript door attached to a building with extremely darken windows facing the marina carrying a bottle of Corona beer my well developed bar senses kicked into high gear. Figuring nothing was lost if it turned out I was wrong I headed for my possible watering hole.
Boldly stepping into the darken interior I was greeted by near phantom figures both sitting at tables and at the bar. Slowly my eyes adjusted to the lower light levels to reveal a cast of characters that I would come to know and like over the next several days. About the only thing connecting this definitely out of the ordinary bunch was that they were all dedicated and experienced sailors with a true love of the sea.
The first person I really could focus on was the bartender, a guy named Jake. Jake is an African-American fellow who unlike most of the others living on Hilton Head Island and calling themselves locals can trace his roots back to Civil War days after Union forces occupied the island. Born back before my often whined about golfing ghouls came and overran the island Jake learned his life lessons fighting for Uncle Sammy in Vietnam. Afterward, Jake at least got our favorite uncle to pay for his college degree in which after that he worked as an engineer for various construction companies all over the world. After getting fed up with all the cost cutting and backroom deals of recent years Jake left the crap behind, bought a boat, and sailed the oceans until he got word of family troubles back closer to home. His little bar has him partially and temporary settling down until as such time his family troubles are solved.
At the bar close to Jake was Frank who, once my eyes fully adjusted to the dim light of the bar, I realized looked like a freaking clone of Ernest Hemingway. Once I was told by Frank that he ghost writes for a lot of “famous people” who “don't know a semicolon from their asshole” I figured the look was a conscious business strategy and I didn't ask about it or that I have some interest in writing myself. Because like Poppa Hemingway, some of the stories Frank told me gave the impression that he was short a few french fries of a complete Happy Meal. After hearing a few of his sagas, complete with epic fishing stories in the Caribbean I half expected him to saying something about having drinks with Fidel in Havana.
Sitting at a table were Bill and Dawn, a married couple in their late twenties who looked like they had just stumbled out of time portal connected to 1969. Bill, dressed in a tie-dye t-shirt and cut off jeans was right from the start friendly and welcoming to me. All the others took some time to do the same, they looked me over like a sick lab rat until they figured I wasn't about to start talking about my golf handicap. What set Bill apart from the others was his long and braided beard and his Brooklyn accent .
His wife, Dawn, for me fed upon Bill's rehashed hippy look by taking the air of an “Earth mother” with magic fairy relations. Short curly brown hair hung down her shoulders connected to an athletic body barely concealed by a loose sun dress. Impish-like brown eyes sparkling even in the dim light of the bar gave her the look of patience and amusement of the activities of us lesser mortals, one being her husband who she clearly adored. During my visits Dawn rarely spoke but much to my surprise the first time she did with me in hearing distance I found out she did not share her husband's New York accent but spoke with a thick and sexy French accent. Where as Jake and Frank were at best semi-nomadic but living on their sailboats, I found out inadvertently Bill and Dawn lived permanently on the island and in fact I learned they owned a home in one of the more exclusive areas rubbing shoulders with the very rich and famous. Their sailing adventures were strictly limited to mostly week long excursions with their children who were being cared for by the nanny at home. Given their appearance I admit to some curiosity on how they financed their lifestyle but they remained mysteriously silent on the subject compared to the others.
About an hour passed with me nursing a beer and listening to the four others talk. I clearly got the impression that had they not accepted me after a few brief questions about myself Jake would have found some way to toss my out on the pavement outside. The stories they were sharing were grand and despite some of Frank's incredible exploits very possible, at least to an uninformed fellow like myself. What brought it, temporary, to an end was the arrival of Catherine.
I had seen her before coming into Jake's bar working on a sailboat docked nearby. She was in her forties with blond hair and a body that quite frankly put all my fantasies to shame. Her one flaw was that as I walked by earlier she looked up at me with blue eyes that were the most soulless and unforgiving I had ever seen. As she stepped in the bar the entire group fell silent. When she came up to the bar for her drink, something called an “Azul Aqua” I about melted when she not only acknowledged my presence with a nod but started talking with me. Catherine and I chatted for a few minutes as I noticed the rest of the group coming alive again, but very subdued. My first impression of her was only reinforced with me actually having an impromptu fantasy of forsaking my family and sailing away with her. Several minutes later, after Catherine stepped away to the lady's room, I learned her story and how she had actually gone done that very same thing.
Some years before Catherine herself had been happily married with a family. Her husband was successful and respected and her three children beautiful and intelligent. What Jake and Frank told me was that supposedly while on a “girls only” vacation down to the Florida coast Catherine had been seduced by the captain of the charted sailboat her and her friends had been sailing on. After several days on the water with the man when the group returned to port she waved goodbye to her girlfriends and sailed off again with her new love. Catherine went for many months apparently oblivious to her decisions and when she did surface long enough to contact home her husband had already gotten full custody of the children with divorce proceedings in full swing. Making matters worse once Catherine finally came to grips with the enormity of what she had done to her family she descended into a sort shock that annoyed her lover ending whatever interest he had in her. Several days later he left her penniless and with only the clothes on her back in Belize with a hurricane approaching. Later calls back home went unanswered by both her ex-husband and her parents but for them it was for a whole different reason.
Catherine did make it home only to find her ex-husband now seeing one of the friends she had been on original girls only vacation with, rejected by her children due to her abandonment, and finding out that her parents had died in a car crash a short time after she first called back home. She was an only child with no relationship with any of the more distant members of her family leaving her with no one to turn to for help.
Being about as alone as a person could be she made her way back to the coast finding whatever jobs she could. While with her lover she also fell in love with sailing and over the years worked to have the job she does now. She delivers various yachts and sailboats to distant buyers. Catherine is not beyond taking a lover, male or female, but like a Black Widow makes an almost instinctive point in destroying who she encounters. When she returned instead of talking with me some more she settled at a table in the far corner of the bar with the soulless look of her eyes returning. Jake made a point of bringing her a bottle of tequila and a shot glass, after that it was very easy to tell Catherine had drifted off to some other world far removed from the rest of humanity. I must admit even after hearing her story there was a still a strong attraction to getting tangled up with her.
The final addition to the cast of characters that evening were the arrival of a nicely dressed couple full of energy and good will. Gregg and Mary came in and after speaking with everyone, except Catherine, and took up court at a table in the center of the bar. Looking at my watch I figured it was time for me to head back and I was going to use their appearance to make a graceful exit.
“What is the rush?” Gregg boomed clearly looking for an audience for what was easy to see was going to be a new round of story telling.
“Well,” I meekly began, “I might need to head on back and check in before my wife comes hunting for me. I doubt she is back from shopping but its always easier for me to catch her first which puts me ahead of the game. I hate to be caught after something has happened and be marooned with the aftermath.”
Both Gregg and Mary gave me the strangest look after that statement looking around at those in the bar still living on the same world silently asking some sort of question. When none was offered everyone, again except Catherine, broke into laughter. Feeling I had stepped into something I ordered another beer and waited for the story to unfold.
Gregg and Mary had met the usual way. High school sweethearts that went on to attend college together and were married in their senior year. Gregg went on to law school while Mary became a elementary school teacher working at underprivileged schools well off the educational map. For years they were dedicated to each other each supporting the other when their respective careers looked to be going off the tracks. For Gregg it was an unholy work schedule doing every shit job those higher up passed his way. For Mary it was the frustrations of dealing with kids who often didn't want to learn, parents who at best looked to the teachers just as babysitters , and administrators who only cared for the more affluent and whiter schools.
Their big break was when Gregg became his law firm's star corporate attorney beginning a long history of excessive billing hours while winning cases that either protected rich clients or took chunks of money out of rich defendants. Mary fed up with working for an educational system that looked at failure and giving up on kids as the proper way for doing things abandoned her career. She became a socialite working the social scene of the law firm to prompt the advancement of her husband. Along the way they lost each other with Mary becoming an alcoholic and Gregg chasing whatever nubile college-age skirt that might cross his path. A sort of strange fellowship developed between the two with both looking the other way. They were far too tied together financially and by sheer marital inertia to change anything. However, like all arrangements made by people, no matter how secure it looked at some point it came crashing down. It was just a question of how that would happen.
Gregg and Mary never had children of their own. As they explained there were several reasons but it simply came down to both being far too busy to spend time with any children and both still retained enough of their upbringing to view the excessive use of nannies as a sort of abandonment. But Gregg did have a brother, far less successful, who had a son and like a good uncle and aunt they took up as much time with him as they could spare as well as showering him with all sorts of material goodies. All this was fine until Gregg received a panicked phone call from his brother saying his son had been diagnosed with cancer. Despite their distance from each other and being so tied to a material, social, and carnal world they had developed quite the love of their nephew. His rapidly deteriorating condition shocked them back to the real world and they threw all their money and influence into helping the boy.
Being completely riveted by their story the sudden silence that hit Gregg and Mary in the telling spoke volumes about the ultimate fate of their nephew. When they began the story again both realized what they had become and how much they hated themselves. They tried to return to what had been but were unable and for about a year went through the motions.
Gregg freely admitted what he was about to say sounded like something from a bad movie but he went into work one day began is usual duties and simply froze in place. He could not take it anymore, he walked out of the building and cashed in all his stocks and bonds. His intention was to present Mary with half of the money and just leave the country. Mary, who had adjusted somewhat better to the aftermath, when presented with the idea said she felt the same and simply said she was going with him.
After years of being a corporate attorney Gregg had amassed a rather large wealth and even while being a legal shark had learned to sail, as part of the proper social scene for him and his wife. Their search for a proper sailboat that met their needs began as an indefinite road trip and when it was found was extended to the sea. Adjustments to this new life were hard and time consuming. Not only did they have to learn an entirely new way of sailing, this was no simple day trip they were ultimately planning, they had to get to know each other again.
After learning what they needed to know about their sailboat, the sea, and more importantly about each other happy years went by with them circling the globe. It was not a “happily ever after” scenario by any means but it was one that at least saved their sanity. But human nature being what it was their old ways tried to reestablish themselves at times.
For Gregg and Mary it was when they were sailing the islands they described as French Polynesia. The blue waters and green tropical islands made their past lives seem so far away like a bad dream. Somewhat tired of the nomadic life and cramped condition living on a boat Mary started craving a more settled and roomer existence. Gregg on the other hand again started noticing all the beautiful ladies again and developing more than a passing interest.
One day while searching the island market for various items she spied Gregg coming out of the local medical clinic. This by itself was of little concern since they were both entering their golden years of life and all sorts of ailments were starting to plague them, even though both still looked years younger than they actually were. What bothered Mary was that the clinic's doctor was a hot young female Australian doctor with fiery red hair and blatant sexual disposition toward whatever man that caught her fancy. After spying some more over the intervening days she caught Gregg and the young doctor having a noon-day tryst. Far from being incensed to directly confront her husband she waited a few weeks when they planned to sail on to Australia with their ultimate destination being Sidney. It was their that they had agreed to look into becoming more settled, possibly staying permanently.
Along they way they stopped at some unnamed island for a rest before heading off on the final leg of their journey. The way it was explained to me that some islands have no way of supporting a permanent human settlement because of a lack of a fresh water supply but yet often host various plants that can be eaten allowing the tired crew of a visiting boat to forsake canned veggies for a short time. Without spilling the beans on Gregg's resurgent activities she stored a few items on the dingy before she sent Gregg ashore to find enough for a fresh salad.
Unknowingly Gregg boarded the dingy and once on the island started looking for the plants Mary wanted. After he disappeared into the tropical foliage Mary quickly made way under the power of the sailboat's diesel engine leaving Gregg marooned on the island. From what Gregg told me he came back to the dingy and instantly saw that the sailboat and his wife were gone. Right from the start he figured what had happened and began hunting through the storage compartment on the dingy for the small hand-held radio they kept on it. During his search he found bottles of water, some food, and a note from Mary explaining why she had marooned him. She went on to explain in the note that it was her intention to sail on to Australia, sell the boat, and settle down. She figured that since the island she marooned Gregg was on was well known in sailing circles at some point he would be rescued.
Gregg knew he was metaphorically screwed in way he had never been and he found that no matter how he tried he could not get angry at his wife. He eventually found the radio and tried to contact whatever ship might be near enough to hear his signal. After several hours he gave up and did what he could to make his stay comfortable. Mary, on the other hand, was quite happy with herself and filled with an indignant righteousness. After all they had been through for him to betray her again was the final straw.
Mary was almost a week out when doubts started to plague her. While the island was a stopping point for sailors like her and Gregg there was no assurance that someone would arrive while Gregg had water. Then, on a more simplistic and selfish thought, how was she going to explain her husband's absence when it came time to sell the boat? Realizing what she had done she turned the boat around and began sailing back to the island. Only this time she ran straight into a storm that would have made the going tough for both her an Gregg but next to impossible for her alone.
Gregg as expected ran out of water on the third day no matter how hard he tried to conserve. Food was not a problem because of island birds roosting, a fishing kit left in the dingy, and the fact that Gregg was heartsick over what he had done to his wife and really didn't feel like eating. What ended up saving Gregg was the same storm that was plaguing Mary. The finding of an empty container on the beach suitable for holding water for drinking was allowing him to catch the rain pouring down on his small island .
Never the less as the days passed Gregg was about to give up on everything when one morning he spotted his sailboat anchored off shore and Mary deploying the smaller inflatable dingy they had kept stored inside their boat. The two met each other about half-way, both begging forgiveness. Several days later after coming to grips with each other again they sailed off together for Australia. Far from ending their ocean going adventures they sailed on for even more and after this little story was told to me plan on spending the hurricane season close to shore and sailing for the southern coast of Argentina around Christmas.
After Gregg and Mary finished their story I really knew it was time for me to head back to the resort. I had been gone so long that there was a good chance that my son was back in the room talking to his girlfriend on the room phone. The fees involved for such a teenage-love inspired conversation could be enormous and as for my daughter there was a good chance she might have already attempted a coup at the resort. As I walked back I could not help but think of Dragonwife and what she would do placed in Mary's situation. All things being equal it was easy to come to the conclusion that it would be best for my well being to keep her off sailboats. Far from being marooned for a meaningless tryst I figure she would use me for shark-bait for far less.

***Author's note: Okay, for anyone hung up on such trivial things like the truth the following post is full of fictional facts and factional fiction as Jimmy Buffett would say. All the characters in this post were present at that bar I visited although the degree to which I wrote them up with their strengths and weaknesses open to the world is subject to my alcohol soaked memory at that time. Although some fellow fool once said facts should never play a hand in spoiling a good story.***