Silly me, at one time I truly expected the US government would bring back the draft. With troops facing multiple combat deployments and family stress issues that affected those back home I figured Congress would be forced to reinstate the draft just to keep the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan going. You simply cannot keep asking people to repeatedly go through the physical and mental meat grinder while the vast majority sat on the sidelines watching television. Low and behold the economy collapses and millions of people are out of work. Not one for conspiracies but that sure is damn convenient, now we have a waiting list of people wanting (needing) to enlist. Excuse my cynical statement but what a country! I need a drink.
The big boys and girls in recruiting will feed you a line of BS saying its the new super-doper GI Bill which is drawing these young patriotic Americans into service. Yeah, its a nice benefit but with the rising cost of college tuition and with the middle and working class families finding it increasingly hard to pay for such an education for their kids I'm choking back a retort on that one. Hate to beat a dead horse but I do believe the draft should be brought back. Namely to force what Thomas Paine called "sunshine patriots" to put up or shut up on their love of country and gung-ho attitudes about others going out and fighing in wars that don't affect them.
As the creature called Simon lay on the top of a small hill looking down at the elaborate campsite of his intended prey something in the Arizona night touched a dim memory. The group of middle-aged men and their wives sat around a campfire all relaxing from their long drive deep into a wilderness area not knowing what was about to descend on them. Simon clearly heard their conversation about the glorious night with a cascade of stars overhead putting on a brilliant show accompanied by the sounds of the desert at night. Simon smiled slightly agreeing with the sentiments of those about to feed him and his returning coven.
Looking down upon the unknowing humans Simon’s body was flooded with hormones that enhanced his senses far beyond the range of the humans below. He was inundated with the sensation of a thousand different scents carried by the still night air and the sounds of both the smallest hunters and the hunted on the desert floor playing out the same ageless game of prey and predator he was about to begin.
His prey were relaxed and totally unsuspecting of their part in the game and both the hormones burning through his body and the instincts encoded in his very cells screamed for him make the final leap and take what belonged to him. But the memory sat just beyond his reach mocking him, he knew it must have held great significance and he lingered longer taking in all the sensations of the night to try and let it come to him.
It was seeing the moon rising above a distant plateau that finally brought the memory to his consciousness. His prey was going nowhere and he lay on the ground in silence soaking himself in the distant past.
It began four-hundred years earlier on the deck of a ship stalking its own prey in the Caribbean Sea. The same moon was rising above the horizon when a Spanish ship riding very low in the water was caught passing in front of the shining orb. Simon was the captain of the stalking ship and through his spyglass; he could make out several of the crewmen going about their duties unconcerned of the dangerous waters they traveled. Even then, the prospect of being the predator excited him and he gave the orders to raise the sails and give chase.
The Spanish ship, off course, alone, and heavily loaded with treasure was easily taken and Simon's crew made short work of anyone thought unimportant. He could still remember the cries of Spanish Lords, servants, and luckless sailors dumped overboard pleading for the receding ships to come back. He could also remember the screams of pleasure from a Spanish princess he quickly claimed as his own and brought to his cabin. Fearful and resistant at first but Simon was a patient and persistent man and she slowly came around to his desires to the point the student matched the master.
It was a good and profitable life until a hurricane a year later caught them unaware off the Caribbean coast of Central America. The storm claimed his ship, crew, and princess now carrying his child and left him washed up alone on some unknown shore. Never one to lament the past he began searching for civilization and a chance to regain everything he lost. His journey through the jungle was strangely uneventful to the point the lack of seeing any savages started to concern him far more than an arrow suddenly appearing in his chest.
It was when he stumbled into a large clearing that his concern changed to fear but his curiosity overwhelmed everything and he slowly walked up to the huge stone structure standing in the center. From the windows he could see a fireplace in the largest room with ornate furniture of a style he did not recognize. Inside he saw a figure sitting in one of the chairs facing the fire either ignoring or unaware of his presence.
"Please come in and join me, you have traveled far and I know you are tired" the figure said in accented English suddenly. As if by magic, the heavy wooden door swung open, for a moment Simon thought of running back into the jungle for his instincts told him something was very wrong. But something else spoke to his deepest soul and he found himself walking inside and pulling the door shut.
He silently approached the figure as it softly whispered a tune in a language he did recognize. The soft and lilting voice of the singer had Simon suspecting the person was a woman but he was not sure until far faster he thought possible she stood removing any uncertainty. Standing before him was the most beautiful women he had ever laid eyes on, the light from the fire made her long dark hair glow while the silken robes she wore accentuated every curve of her body. Her stunning ebony face was that of a queen in regal features and sheer power. Simon immediately feared her in a way he had never felt with another living person but he also felt an overwhelming desire that threatened his sanity.
"My name is Tia and I have waited for one like you for far longer than you could imagine." The woman said now standing inches from him, her left hand lightly touching his chest. "As you walked through the jungles I warned the natives to leave you to me, now that you are here there much to learn before you make an important decision." With her right hand she unfastened a small button next her left shoulder and her robes fell apart and to the stone floor.
Days spent walking through the jungle had exhausted Simon but seeing the woman before him naked in the fire light he was overcome with a primal craving that eliminated all other concerns. That night the master gave her first lesson to the willing student and when he was finally offered the taste of her blood he accepted without hesitation. After the transformation was complete the creature Simon had become learned of Tia’s long search and dedicated his soul and mind to its completion.
The images moved around my disembodied consciousness revealing events that had faded from myth long before the pyramids were built. It began with a silver sphere descending down upon some African savanna with a tribe of hunter-gatherers staring up in abject fear and awe. Somehow, I could move my consciousness all through the men, women, and children looking up and I couldn’t tell if simple fear or something else was holding them in place. The sphere, which finally settled a short distance in front of the group, seemed to hum making the surrounding area electric. What I would simply call entities soon emerged and to my untrained eye they appeared complex amalgams of biology, machine, and radiant energy and moved amongst the group touching a few of the oldest members.
The effect on those chosen was subtle but where before there was apprehension, what replaced it was a new but slightly alien awareness. Somehow satisfied the entities returned to the sphere and the images flashed ahead to different areas across Africa and Asia repeating the procedure with different tribes. Fast-forwarding, I saw the affected groups converging at some location very close to the sea. In the distance unknown mountains loomed with a silver gleam resting atop one peak that I knew was the mysterious ship watching their great endeavor about to begin.
Years swept by in minutes now and within a couple of generations, those migrating bands visited by the entities had developed all the essentials of civilization. The village they formed was very soon the first human city with domesticated animals pulling carts loaded with crops, the men carrying bronze-looking swords, and a few other could be seen in wooden buildings fussing over the creation of a written language. Overseeing all this were the Chosen, those touched by the entities, and as they aged, picked others to take their place in the developing society.
Before me the pace increased with the city building increasingly complex structures that went from wood, to brick, and finally to those of stone. The people changed too, moving from primitives living a hard life greatly affected by the environment to a far softer existence of sophisticated city dwellers.
The speed of the images in front of me slowed again and I settled on the docks of the city watching sturdy but swift sailing ships being constructed. With much fanfare, the crews of these vessels sailed off into the unknown world to explore, larger vessels quickly followed, clearly for colonization sailing off loaded with cargo and humans intent on building more cities.
The last thing I saw before the images dissolved was the latest group of the Chosen looking down from the balcony of some building knowing both the humans and the entities working through them were quite satisfied with their accomplishments.
"Why did you stop the story?" I asked my host as I became aware of both my body and the huge room filled with books like the one I had stolen from the vampire that use to be my wife back in New York.
Her holographic image rippled as she looked dispassionately back at me. "There was no point Todd Briggs," she began. "The colonization of the area now called the Indian Ocean proceeded without incident allowing the establishment of ten of the sixteen human cities."
A holographic globe appeared in front of us displaying the shape of the continents circa 18,000BC. On it a dot appeared showing the position of the first city located on the then ice age swollen African coastline near present day Kenya. Other dots soon appeared all along Africa, parts of Arabia and the Indian subcontinent, then around the areas of what would come to be called Indonesia and Australia.
"For nearly two thousand years Humanity prospered under the guidance of the Chosen eventually establishing cities on all the major landmasses. Our only purpose was to bring the benefits of civilization to every human so that we could eventually take our place alongside the Great Ones that had touched the first families of the Mother city."
"What happened to change that?" Asking the obvious question but having no idea what might have derailed the development I had seen so far.
The hologram just looked back at be for several seconds saying nothing. With everything I had been through from seeing my wife transform into a horror movie creature, to learning about ancient aliens and a forgotten advanced human civilization, having an 18,000 year-old recorded personality give me a history lesson still boggled my mind. When my host finally spoke again her lips moved without any sound for about a second, which told me the overriding computer system was having trouble translating her forgotten tongue into something I could understand. The translation that came through was just icing on an already insane cake.
"War in heaven,” she said with more than a hint of discord in its voice like some old worry long overwhelmed by greater concerns was brought to the forefront. The hologram paused again, clearly pondering something. “Please excuse me; other duties demand my full attention.” With that said, she disappeared.
With my host gone, I walked around the huge circular room. It was a colossal library shaped like an upside down wedding cake. I was on the bottom level and it extended at least forty feet high packed with similar bound books like I had taken from the creature my wife, Jillian, had become. Each level above that had a small walkway and ladders to allow access to the highest shelves; at the top was a glass dome where I could see the faint shimmer of the sun penetrating through a couple of hundred feet of water that hid this ancient redoubt.
After I returned from my New York adventure with the ancient book, I confronted the team leader of my vampire-hunting group, Robbie McBride, about the sunburst pattern on the cover of the book that matched the one tattooed to his right forearm. Robbie told me the story behind the ancient item but in all honesty, even with everything I had already encountered I didn't really believe him.
Robbie understood and made a phone call telling me he had friends nearby that could bring added weight to the story. A couple of days later three genuine Men in Black, strange looking guys identical in the same bland features and without any real personality, arrived at our compound and began explaining the story again. Afterward both Robbie and they forced me on a trip with the eventual destination an undersea redoubt and a meeting with the last remnant of a lost civilization.
As I flipped through the pages of a random book pulled from a shelf, I wondered what other secrets it held. Like some child, I felt disappointed not to see any pictures that might give me some idea what the words of that extinct language wanted to convey. More importantly, I wanted my host to return to explain in detail how all this was connected to the vampires. When she did, I became worried about the limits of what my sanity could take.
When the images returned, I watched one group of the Chosen conferring nervously among themselves. The reactions of nearby functionaries hovering a respectful distance away suggested it was not a normal occurrence. Even worse was when the Prime Chosen broke away to step out onto the balcony looking out upon what I knew to be the Mother City and seeing hundreds of strange lights in the sky, their patterns crisscrossing and merging with each other only to break apart again.
The Mother City alone was awe inspiring, glass and stone towers stretched off into the distance with dirigibles gliding silently through the air. In the harbor, ships from primitive sailing vessels to strange looking iron hulled beasts lay docked or anchored. Adding to the mix were clearly human winged aircraft that looked far more advanced than anything flying in the 21st century. From my experience, while they looked unarmed, they had the sleek lines and authority of fighters.
Somehow satisfied with what she saw, the Prime Chosen went back inside, crossed the entire length of the room, and looked out upon the mountains in the distance. The silver sphere that had quietly rested there for nearly two thousand years now pulsated with both light and sound sending the functionaries, that had now abandon all decorum and were doing their best to stay close to the Chosen, into a panic. Without notice, the sphere launched itself from the mountain peak it had rested and disappeared into the sky followed by all the other lights.
In the chamber of the Chosen, all but the Prime now lay scattered across the marble floor, dead. The functionaries fled in fear and panic leaving the Prime alone and clearly in mourning.
After the premature departure of the "Great Ones", the human cities stumbled along for over a thousand years with the mission to uplift all of humanity. Even with tradition and ritual firmly in place, human nature slowly reasserted itself in the ruling classes. The cities, separated by great distances, carved out huge spheres of influence with many territories overlapping. Suspicions and fears grew of power and authority being undermined which created elements in each city that sought to weaken those cities thought as enemies.
The Mother City attempted to easy the tensions but eventually small wars flared among the younger cities with weapons increasing in destructive power just as fast as rage and fear built. The leadership of the Mother City became desperate as negotiations failed to rein in the conflicts and turned to the one avenue they thought could bring the fighting to an end.
Without any religious or societal taboos on genetic engineering, these early humans had developed many artificial biological creatures to do menial jobs. As the fighting escalated, drawing closer to the other cities, the Mother City developed a special type of artificial creature to terrorize everyone back to peace.
An image of a laboratory came into view with rows of cylinders mounted to walls connected to terminals and screens displaying the same language from the mysterious books. A human form floated in the milky haze of each cylinder with technicians crisscrossing the various rows taking readings and adjusting settings.
Overseeing the activities in the lab was none other than my holographic host. She was dressed in a white jumpsuit and stood next a wallscreen divided up into segments displaying data with her occasionally adjusting some aspect of one and giving instructions to a technician who ran off on some crucial errand. Looking at my host as she performed her job it was easy to understand her authority was substantial and unquestioned.
"This," she began, "is the time of creation for the creatures you call vampires. The primitives the younger cities were using for most of the fighting were still extremely superstitious believing in all sorts of demons and monsters that haunted the night. The Mother City Chosen hoped that in creating real monsters, under our control, the primitives would abandon the fighting forcing the younger cities back to peace."
"Let me guess," I said beginning to feel strange since my holographic host was finally showing visible emotion, “things didn't work out like it was planned?"
"No, the plan did not meet with the expected results," she said with a tremor in her voice. "The primitives did abandon the fighting and returned to their villages but the younger cities so full of righteousness turned to sun bombs to continue their crusades." Images of the various cities being devoured in nuclear flames passed before me leaving blackened craters and dead landscapes. Finally, even the Mother City fell as some surviving military element of one of the younger cities destroyed it out of some insane sense of vengeance. My host continued to explain that things went even worse after that bringing an end to their civilization and the beginning of a nightmare that haunted humanity even now.
My host went on to show and explain that the leadership of the Mother City expected the attack and evacuated as many people and material it could in the hope of rebuilding again. The images showed her in a laboratory managing the vampire creatures, which had become an important part in controlling the surviving populace living in the spheres of influence of the now destroyed younger cities. The vampires forced the primitives to turn over advanced technology and surviving members of the various militaries that had destroyed three-thousand years of rapid advancement.
"The original vampires," the hologram explained," were far more enhanced than the ones you battle now with much faster reflexes, greater sensory detection and strength. I purposely designed them to pass as real humans during the day and at night they transformed into the creatures you have encountered with crimson eyes and elongated teeth. They operated for many months away from medical assistance so they had to regenerate quickly from any wounds and sense they could not reproduce I also encoded what amounted to immortality. One of my greatest mistakes was to include genes for pheromones that allowed them to obtain truthful answers from any primitive they interrogated. The pheromone effect was far greater than I could have ever imagined since it allowed humans to be control to varying degrees."
The last images she showed me was of her rushing into the arms of some man dressed in a combination of simple cloth and furs dragging some prisoner behind him wearing the tattered remains of a sophisticated uniform. "The creature," she said to me, "was called Skon and was the most perfect of my creations, so much that I fell under his influence to the point I willingly abandoned my husband, my city, and my humanity." After Skon turned over the prisoner to Mother City human troops, he and my host slipped away to some empty apartment where they made love. The final act was her taking Skon's blood that I knew through what happened to my wife turned her into a vampire.
"My second and greatest mistake was the unintended consequence that the virus I used to create the vampires never was fully incorporated into their bodies and could infect humans if they were exposed to vampire blood." She said clearly disturbed but unable to express full human emotions.
"If you became a vampire where did the personality copy I am speaking with come from?" I asked feeling that this ancient drama was about to end.
"My husband, Koal, was the military commander of the Mother City and forced me to backup my memories in case something happened so all my research would not be lost. Once I changed Skon lead a revolt and scattered the creatures across the planet with the purpose of changing all humanity. The surviving leadership and military of the Mother City knew the renegade vampires to be such a grave threat to humanity that they devoted all remaining resources to their destruction abandoning the idea of rebuilding our civilization. Koal used my last unaltered memory copy to develop weapons to destroy them all but failed in one important aspect.
Koal pursued Skon personally seeking revenge for him seducing and changing my human self. My husband eventually caught and destroyed Skon in caves located in what you call Greece. However, Koal was so gravely injured in the battle the creature I became killed him in turn.
During the fight, my husband's communication device was knocked away and even though I am only a computer program I felt pain as I watched him die fighting the creature my human self had become. I did get one measure of revenge before the creature fled off into the wilderness. I told her that while she was infected with a strong strain of the vampire virus and could rebuild a population, over the centuries it would become diluted with real human DNA and become ineffective. That to truly change humanity she would need the source code to produce pure vampires and that our husband had hidden it in a place even I did not know."
"Don't tell me," I said feeling the punch line coming, "the vampire version of you is still around and looking for this code and that not only are us vampire hunters doing our best to destroy the creatures but looking for this code as well? Any chance that after eighteen-thousand year you might have some idea where it is?
"Yes, through my artificial agents I have tracked her movements through the ages but have never been able to pin her down. I credit my inability to capture her to my limitations as a recorded personality. She was the peak of human intellect at that time and the millenniums afterward have only sharpened it. As for the Source Code, all I can say with certainty is that the facility where my husband hid the code is someplace on the surface of the planet. Todd Briggs, you come highly recommended and I need you to work directly for me in both locating the Source Code and destroying the mother vampire still roaming the planet. Will you join with my human and artificial agents to accomplish that mission? Humanity has recovered much of the technology needed to infuse genetic material into other living organisms; if she should recover the Code first it will mean extinction for our species.
The weight of it all was incomprehensible, but Fate seemed to have left me with no other choice. “I’ll do it Tia, but like your Koal I feel bound to destroy both the creature my own wife has become and the ones who changed her.”
The hologram Tia smiled weakly considering my words. “Given the guilt I bear in bringing this endless nightmare to life I still have enough human in me to understand your feelings.” The hologram Tia then looked away for a moment pondering something else. “I have more request for you should the opportunity present itself but it cannot endanger your primary mission.”
After listening to her request I again found myself wondering what next sick twist in reality would pop up. Much to my chagrin it didn’t take long for that question to be answered.
Joy flooded Simon’s body as his fangs clamped down on the neck of the last survivor of the camp. Blood seeped down the body of the unconscious man forcing Simon to suck harder to avoid losing much of the liquid that sent his mind off into ecstasy.
The man was large and muscular and during the fight had actually landed a few ineffectual blows to Simon’s body. Such an opponent who had the courage to fight back belonged to him alone. The rest of the prey was either unconscious or being restrained by members of his coven who had converged at the camp after hearing his battle screams. They would engorge themselves on human blood and flesh tonight then collapse on the floor as the morning sun arose. An idle thought passed through his mind about toying with the mate of the human he consumed. It would serve his second wife Jillian right for her abysmal failure in New York.
Minutes later the coven carried off the prey leaving Simon to survey the surroundings. Simon had no concern over what the human authorities might think, they were cattle and would attribute the disappearance to animals or criminal elements. The moon caught his attention again, he longed for the companionship of Mother Tia and realized time for her reappearance was quickly approaching. Much would have to be done before her arrival since there were new leads as to the location of the Source.
(Author's note: Have an issue with vampires as artificial organisms for war? Look back at a scary previous post from yours truly and hope the guys and gals at DARPA have their thinking caps on tight.)
Due to a few errant and upset emails, let me state this is not an attack on the spirit of Christmas. Just the excessive commercialism that has developed.
My normal sense of optimism and good humor that I maintained for most of my life has largely been overridden during this time of the year. However, I do remember a time, even as an adult, I welcomed the change in seasons and looked forward to the approaching holidays to be with family and friends. Now, while family and friends remain, this time of the year seems spoiled and tarnished where we are inundated with hysterical commercialism earlier each year equating love and friendship with material goods.
I cannot really pick a specific time when things went bad and I am sure it is different or nonexistent for others. But for me there just seems to be some hazy point where we crossed a line and the holidays became less a celebration and more a business equation with the fate of the nation hanging in the balance. Now understand, I am not against capitalism but around the last week in August the commercials take on a panic-stricken nature determined to get the American consumer motivated into going deeper in debt.
For example, we are shown saccharin sweet couples confirming their love with the exchange of some diamond jewelry or cute children engrossed in the newest toy as their parents look on joyfully, both commercials more than slightly associating their products with happiness. The sad truth in all this is we have become so dumbed down that many do associate love and caring with items that many times end up forgotten in some box on the nightstand or abandoned in a closet. If that was the extent of what I see as the problem I could ignore it, Hell in truth I am guilty of the same thing in many ways but we have gone far beyond just wanting to buy love and happiness,
The land of the free and home of the brave has become a nation of mall zombies who are more than willing to trample anyone who falls under foot as the local retail outlet opens up for Black Friday rush. The national infrastructure can fall apart, the American high school dropout rate can be a global embarrassment, and young men and women can die in a war that no politician can justify other than for political reasons and that is just some boring story on the half-watched nightly news. But goddamm it Americans will get excited about a freaking two-hundred dollar laptop at Wal-Mart to the point there is a near riot in the last few minutes before the store opens.
The final question I will leave you with is one that hit me like a ton of bricks in the video. If we will trample each other to death in the best of times for ultimately meaningless items how will we act if we ever find the store shelves empty of food?
I don’t buy the entire message of the video, the guy who made it wants to “save the republic.” If our country has become this, and by all evidence it has, I want no part of this strange Amerika whose only purpose is idle consumption and moronic behavior and whose existence only serves some corporate bottom-line.
"When you say you're in, you're in. Get it?" My wife, I thought dead for five years, said to me as the barrel of my pistol rested mere inches from her forehead with my right index finger ever so slightly squeezing the trigger. The fact that she was still naked from our very recent physical reunion did nothing to take my attention off her eye movements, a sure hint that she might try to take my weapon.
After picking me and the young Rebecca up a few blocks away from the warehouse I improvised into exploding we quickly reunited the girl with her parents and after grabbing my rabbit hole bag from my house hauled ass out of Columbia. We hardly spoke on the drive out and once we found the seedy motel on a secondary state road, the shock of being together again and our physical needs overwhelmed everything else. After exhausting ourselves we finally talked, I learned she wanted me to join her in finding out who planned the fake terrorist attack in Columbia. But I needed answers to some questions with her reluctant to give them, never a good sign, forced me to pull my pistol. Following procedure I also called Langley explaining that I had stumbled upon and stopped the attack but I didn't mention anything about Isabella.
Through it all, she kept that warm smile on her face as if we were a normal couple having a spat. All I could say was it had been a long day in which my carefully constructed, but fake life had popped out of existence like a damn soap bubble. "Calling Langley was stupid Scott, if it was that simple don’t you think I would have involved them in the terrorist plot you foiled? You are nothing but a liability now that will have to be terminated."
"Maybe," I said to her, "but I need to know where you have been for the last five years and start from the moment your car exploded down in Panama and I better understand the details or I'll kill you here and Langley will be cleaning up the mess." A far more serious and appropriate expression came over Isabella's face and I let her back away slowly to sit on the cheap couch in our motel room.
Isabella had started her spy career in the Cuban Dirección de Inteligencia in the closing days of the Cold War. Our first few meetings resulted in various wounds, and scars on both of our bodies as the power blocs we worked for jockeyed for final position in the geopolitical endgame. What brought us together was as the Soviet bloc collapsed a few rogue elements tried to engineer incidents that would have extended the Cold War, or start World War Three. Isabella's uncle, a general in the DI, recognize the warning signs and had no desire to see the world go up in flames and both defected to the West to stop a petulant Fidel from throwing a nuclear fit.
When it was all over, Isabella and I were in love and assigned to track down other rogue elements. I thought it all ended down in Panama when a Russian arms merchant, trying to smuggle nuclear material into the United States, installed a bomb under the car she was driving. Days later, I killed that man slowly demanding an answer as to how he had gained access to her car. As his blood seeped down the stainless steel morgue table, I took his inability to answer my questions as a stoic resolve to frustrate me.
Isabella, settled comfortably on the couch and covered with a blanket, began explaining that she had never got in that car. Our cover back then had us a more than slightly shady business couple eager to make big money channeling sophisticated weapons to the highest bidder. She had supposedly left our house to meet with another client, from our rooftop patio I watched her car exploded and go off the cliff into ocean below.
She explained that a secret branch of American intelligence had forcibly recruited her and for the last five years she had been running operations for them. Seeing pictures of me in the crosshairs of a sniper scope made her agree to work for a group called "Unit 17." They specialized in assassinations; something Cuban DI agents were generally good at with Isabella a master of the craft.
Unit 17 played to her strengths and talents and before long she fell into the grove but her assignments were easy and obviously evil people. Recently she was assigned projects with American mercenaries operating in the United States and the final straw came with the staged terrorist attack in Columbia she drew me in to stop. Feeling the truth in her story, I put my pistol on safe and after sitting beside her on the couch placed it on the table next me. She wanted me to commit, it was then as I looked into those dark eyes that I decided I would but as I pulled the blanket covering her away I figured we still had a couple of hours before things went critical.
One of the first things they teach you in spy school is to access possible threats and your available resources. My case officer told me over the phone earlier to be in Charleston the next morning for debriefing but if Isabella was right and Langley was compromised we could expect visitors sometime that night given that my Agency issued cell had a nifty GPS feature. Since they thought I was alone we figured a heavily armed two-man team would be our visitors that night and Isabella and I began working to greet them.
Our first piece of luck was that while all the rooms in the motel had washer/dryer combos underhanded electricians had installed circuit breakers for them only in every other room with the cutoff for ours next door. Our second piece of luck was that except for a drunk staying on the far end of the motel it was empty so we were able to move next door after picking the lock. Back in our actual room I cut the power cord to the dryer and stripped it back exposing conducting material then embedded it into the dirty shag carpet. Isabella went to work after finding several cans of aerosol furniture polish which after being taped together and joined with a small improvised flash-bang device was wired to a spare cell phone then placed in a flower pot outside our room door to greet any stragglers.
As Isabella went to the motel clerk to convince him to look the other way for several hours I drenched the carpet in our room with water. When she joined me in our new room I worried for a moment that she might have killed the guy but was relieved to hear she only knocked him out after giving him the five-hundred dollars to buy his silence, my wife called it insurance. After that we just had to wait.
Much later that night a non-descript sedan pulls into the motel parking lot and parks a few spaces over from mine. From our new and very dark room Isabella and I watch three casually dressed men, all with silenced weapons drawn, approach the door of our old room. They hesitate for a moment then the lead man kicks in the door and he and a teammate rush inside while the third man stays outside to cover them.
With timing that comes only from really knowing your partner I flip the circuit breaker sending electricity to the power cord embedded in the wet carpet next door the same time Isabella hits send on her cell phone calling the one wired into the package outside in the flower pot. The two guys in the other motel room lucked out and lived since the breaker tripped sooner than I expected but both were unconscious. The guy outside was not so lucky, he took a piece of flower pot shrapnel to the forehead. In a matter of minutes we collected and bound the surviving members of the hit squad and cleaned up the mess with only the drunk coming out of his room for a few minutes scratching his head apparently wondering if he was dreaming.
Cuban DI agents are also good at extracting information and Isabella had the surviving two talking by morning. They were mercenaries working for one of the big independent military contractors and after they gave up passwords to their smart phones we had a long list of contacts but the surprise came as I looked through the wallet of the leader. The dumbass had left a Capitol Hill pass in his wallet saying he was a bodyguard for the junior senator of South Carolina, Chad Beauregard Lee Lewis the Fourth. Isabella and I looked at each other and realized we would be heading down to Charleston very soon to visit the good senator. The bastard was going to burn one way or the other.
Like Jimmy says, there is always a women to blame.
As I have traveled the road of life I have left countless bad ideas behind me scattered about like so much road kill along the way. While some might cringe at their mistakes and ponder what in the world made them think to do such odd things I have actually become proud of a few of mine. God did not make me the sharpest knife in any type of drawer you might open but at least he gave me enough sense to squirm my way past the worst consequences of my actions and have a little fun along the way.
Examples of my less than optimal thought processes are too numerous to list without making it a career but one that jumps right out at me were the series of events that lead me to spend the night in a dumpster in Juarez, Mexico.
It was the last few weeks of army Advanced Individual Training at Fort Bliss, Texas and some friends and I crossed over the border into Mexico to have some “fun.” No, our destination was not the typical establishment that might come to mind but that “place” was just a few miles down the road from where my adventure started.
After finding little real trouble to get into we ran across a respectable diner, more than slightly off the normal beaten track, and being hungry we stumbled inside. My five friends and I were soon sitting at the counter waiting for our food when we noticed this absolutely gorgeous Mexican girl sitting in a booth with a friend carrying on a conversation in English. She had long silky midnight black hair, dark almond skin, graceful doe eyes, and a smile that had to make her a descendant of Helen of Troy since it stopped my friends and me dead in our tracks but had us ready to jump if she asked.
Much to my surprise she motioned for me to come over and feeling more than a little good I broke away from my buddies and start talking to “Maria”. Her friend soon leaves and she and I instantly hit it off with me discovering she was a college student attending University of Texas at El Paso. When I asked what brought her to Juarez I learn her daddy was a Hispanic-American businessman but her mother was Mexican and she had family and friends on that side of the border. We soon began talking about leaving the diner and going our own way. Hey, we were both young and foolish and I waved off my buddies still sitting at the bar eating their food as she and I walk out the door.
It was late Friday night and Maria was free the next day while I have a weekend pass that was good until Sunday afternoon. In her car we begin driving around, at night and in a city I have no knowledge of, talking about the various places we could go, with the obvious possibility hanging in the air between us. Figuring we have plenty of time we stop by this club she knew about to have a few drinks and get to know each other better before drifting off to that place going unsaid. We are not in the club twenty minutes when Maria’s old boyfriend shows up and gets very upset that she is hanging out with a gringo.
The club was crowded and loud and Maria switched over to speaking Spanish to her old boyfriend but it quickly becomes apparent I will soon be in a huge world of hurt if I hang around much longer. Doing my best stealthy ninja impersonation while saying to myself discretion is the better part of valor I am able to slip away, get out of the club, and start running like Jesse Owens down the dark street of a foreign country. Sure enough I soon hear the yells of Juan and his buddies running after me.
I crisscross several narrow alleys and streets and to add insult to injury some mangy three-legged mutt joins the chase after me barking like crazy as it hobbles along. I finally get a break and see a collection of dumpsters in the shadows of a back alley. Without any hesitation I jump my stupid butt into one and close the lid while praying to Jesus to save me. Being very quiet I listen for the approaching posse and heard them moving in a direction away from me, I think following that damn dog who was still raising all sorts of hell with its barking.
While some might not want to mention such an incident I am very proud of my prowess at avoiding the irate boyfriend and his buddies in an unknown country and city and damn thankful for that dumpster which I did not leave until the sunrise the next morning. Smelling like moldy bread, rotten cabbage, and a few other nasty things I climb out and carefully make my way back to the good old U.S. of A after running into other Americans. To my buddies back at the barracks, I was a fool and to my Drill Sergeants, while they were equally dismayed and threatening punitive action , one told me later that my adventure was one for the record books.
Since then I often think back to that time whenever the trials of life seem to bog me down in a morass of banal stupidity leaving me to wonder if such good times are a thing of the past. I am older now with the responsibility monkey strapped securely to my back and such adventures no longer seem an option for me. Thankfully, after what happened tonight I can safely and proudly say in a small way I am still a fun loving guy who has fun things blow up in his face.
Over the last couple of months I have become friends with a lady named “Tina” who is the nighttime pharmacist at the hospital. We met in the dreaded hospital cafeteria one night while making fun of the collection of items lined up on the various serving counters straining the definition of the phrase “edible food.” After a few nighttime lunches over the following months we soon discovered we were both Parrotheads and had an odd fascination with zombie movies.
Last night while waiting for the elevator I saw Tina at the far end of the basement going into the office of the Administrator On Duty (AOD), the person who runs the hospital at night, with a load of paperwork. I had not seen her for several days and figured I would ask her to lunch so we could talk about the new zombie series on one of the cable channels. It was then that I saw another friend of mine drop off a newly cleaned and special stretcher in front of the elevators. Now this stretcher was different from the usual ones used to transport patients, this one had a tent-like structure over it to conceal someone who had passed away as it was pushed through the hallways.
In a move that even now I find one of my more boneheaded ideas the thought passed through my idled brain that since Tina was certain to walk this way I could crawl under the tent covering the stretcher and when I heard her at the elevator I could moan like some zombie and rise up pushing the canvas away. I was sure Tina would get a kick out of it and we would both be laughing as we rode the elevator to the first floor.
Within a few minutes of getting myself into position, I heard what I thought were the clicks of Tina’s high heels walking down the basement hallway. Much to my surprise the person now waiting at the elevator was standing very close to the to the stretcher I lay concealed under, so close that another facet of my great practical joke presented itself. I reached out, grabbed the hand of the person waiting and was rewarded with a blood-curdling scream. The first problem I recognized immediately was that the scream was not that of my friend Tina but of someone else. The second problem, of course, was that I realized I had just scared the living shit out of unknown person. The first smart thing I did was abandon the planned zombie moan and just pushed away the canvas covering the stretcher to see who it was.
Looking down at me was the AOD “Cindy” and it was abundantly clear she did not appreciate my sense of humor. Tina, my intended target, chose that moment to walk into view and about busted a gut seeing me lying on the stretcher holding Cindy’s hand. While this was an utter disaster, I had a couple of factors in my favor.
Cindy knows me and respects what I do up in surgery, I keep the night shift nurses happy making sure the broken equipment is quickly fixed or that replacement parts are ordered so it can be fixed when they come in. The other thing is that while Tina is a friend and a hopeless flirt she and Cindy are a couple.
“What in the world do you think you are doing Mr. Johnson?” Cindy asked not quite yet realizing how brilliant my plan to scare her partner was.
Even though I could not see my face, I knew I was displaying my patented shit-eating grin which I hoped would somehow calm the distraught administrator although its track record in that use is pretty poor. Tina was still laughing, unable to speak, nevertheless walked up to her partner placing her hands on Cindy’s shoulders.
“Before you get upset Cindy remember the trick Dr. Walker pulled in the morgue last Halloween.” Tina said still stifling giggles.
Feeling that a way out of this mess was about to present itself I looked at both of the ladies standing next to me. “Ms. Harper, what did Dr. Walker do in the morgue?” I asked hoping this would work.
“Tina wants to talk to you about last week’s zombie episode, why don’t you come up with us to the cafeteria and I’m sure she will tell you.” Cindy said resigned to my joining them.
Have lunch with two attractive ladies while pulling my ass out of the mess I so easily fell into? The offer was a no brainer even for me. I jumped off the stretcher and rode up with them to the cafeteria. Just to play it safe, I think practical jokes are over for me.
(Author's notes: As usual all names have been changed, even Maria's but I can't figure out why I did that. Excuse the typos, I'll get them later. I'm sleep deprived and since its 5:00 pm somewhere I have already broken out the tequila.)
Let them eat oil,To paraphrase a dead French queen.
You know the men in women in the Armed Forces can't catch a break. On one side you have many of the right-wing middle class offering platitudes of support as they happily send off soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen to fight in conflicts they would never allow their own children to participate. Don't believe me? I sure as Hell didn't see any long World War Two era-like lines of patriotic men rushing to join up as the World Trade Center towers lay in smoky rubble back in 2001. Yeah, going over and killing in some far away land is all fine and dandy as long as Suburban Johnny and Jane lounging next a pool don't have their college plans interrupted.
Now spanning the political spectrum leftward from the basic independent to many on the liberal/progressive side of things there is a cool indifference to outright contempt of the Armed Forces. The attitude that I seen can be boiled down to the belief that those "people" volunteered and after all they are dumb brutes and maybe something far worse. Speaking strictly for myself on the dumb part, I plead guilty as charged but it is pure ignorance to think that of the vast majority of the people in the military.
If just wasn't bad enough that the military has to put up with platitudes, indifference, contempt, multiple combat tours, killer stress, and financial concerns to name a very few now those serving have to play guinea pig so the White House can show people Gulf Coast seafood is safe to eat. I'm down with that, as long as Mrs. Obama and those brave souls polishing seats in Congress load up on the shrimp cocktail as well. As someone who spent years dealing with the nightly mystery meat served up in the mess halls provided by some unknown lowest bidder I can't help but feel this is above and beyond the call of duty.
The eager crowd in the hotel conference room gathered around the raised podium waiting for James Doohan of original Star Trek fame to enter and begin his presentation. It was late August of 1995 and Columbia, South Carolina was hosting its second Star Trek convention and I was in the middle of the largest collection of riff raff the city had seen since the state legislature had adjourned for that summer.
There were the usual Starfleet uniformed subjects ranging from the uber-dorks in crude homemade attire to the seriously delusional wearing what looked to be tailor fitted costumes straight from Paramount Studio’s
prop department. Let’s just say they weren’t the only aliens in attendance that day.
Now don’t misunderstand me I’m not criticizing the “dorks”, my brother and I had spent the first couple of hours at the convention walking around and talking with people and they were exceptionally nice. More to the point, these dorks ranged in age from the late teens to the early twenties and I figure given the seriously high tech and intelligent subjects they were taking about at least a few are now uber-rich and have retired to living on some tropical island. However, it’s really hard to take an adult serious when he or she is wearing a collection of plastic toys at their hips with a willingness to “stun” someone at a moment’s notice.
I do have critical remarks for the delusional bunch who strolled around not speaking to anyone and who clustered among themselves like a group of secretive Catholic cardinals electing a pope and suppressing ancient secrets. The costume delusional ones were generally wearing the rank of commander or above which may have accounted for the rods stuck up their butts. They looked to be in their thirties and if I wanted to be mean, I could say they were the types that lived in their parent’s basements.
In a category all to themselves were the guys I caught gathered around one of the many cubicles setup to sell Star Trek related merchandise. As it might be expected at the convention anything and everything Star Trek was for sell from two-hundred dollar phasers that emitted a laser that could pop balloons to the aforementioned Starfleet costumes that cost twice as much. Because of that and other high-end items I was somewhat curious as to why one guy was selling primitively packaged VHS tapes at his cubicle and why a “scruffy” looking bunch had gathered around the small television mounted on his table.
I didn’t have to wait long to discover what had so caught the attention of those watching the television. The guy selling the VHS tapes had a continuous loop going showing a small segment of a movie starring Marina Sirtis, Commander Denna Troi of Star Trek: Next Generation, running out of a forest with very little clothes on. Just when the money shot was about to appear that was when the segment looped back to the beginning. Out of everyone at the convention selling something I think VHS guy sold out and Hell no, I did not even think about buying one.
The rest of the people were like my brother and me and at least on the surface looked normal. The one exception I have to comment on was that Elvis had joined us that day. It being the mid-90’s with a minor cultural phenomenon going on at that time of people convinced Elvis had faked his death so he could “live a normal life” everyone stopped dead in their tracks as the king of rock and roll entered the room. This was not the young, handsome, and vital Elvis of the 50’s or the jaded, overweight, jumpsuit-wearing Elvis of 70’s but the 350-pound model who was dressed all in black, wearing blue suede shoes and carrying a large man purse hanging off one arm. A smoking hot blonde hanging off his other arm and wearing a tight leopard-skin dress completed the bizarre package, not that anyone was complaining though.
After marveling at the hot blonde I noticed that Large Elvis’ hair was an even darker shade of midnight black than his shirt. This extended down to his outrageous mutton chop-style sideburns and combined with the patented sneer, which he flashed many times, I was almost ready to believe the King was alive.
After a few hours of Trek cultural exchanges and unbridled nerd capitalism it was time for the convention headliner, Captain Montgomery Scott, to appear. There were enough common seats for everyone but I couldn’t help but notice that the Delusionals had sequestered themselves in their own little section confirming just about everything I thought of them and wondering what in the world they actually did for a living.
This was where I admit I was getting excited, the previous convention the year before had George Takei as the guest speaker and before anyone starts thinking about smartass homophobic jokes I will say straight up I like the guy. But the character of Sulu is nothing compared to Scotty and his “can do” attitude that was always able to squeeze just a little more speed and power out of the warp engines saving Kirk and Spock’s butts. Quite the difference for the constantly depressed drivel issued forth these days from brooding reality shows and over educated sheeple. Top it all off James Doohan had his own real life adventures that had him part of the Normandy D-Day invasion where he received severe combat wounds.
As we all waited in our seats things seemed to be taking too long and we were all disappointed as some unknown person took the podium and grabbed the microphone. I guess it was universally assumed that the guy would tell us Scotty had canceled, forcing us to head home. Instead he offered some advice on how we could enjoy our time with Doohan even more.
Ladies and gentlemen,” he finished up, “there is one more piece of advice that will make your afternoon with Mr. Doohan an even more memorable occasion, do not bring up the name William Shatner even in passing. Mr. Doohan has strong feelings about him and they are not good.”
With that the man left the podium and five minutes later the legendary James Doohan walked into the room flanked by two bouncers wearing old Star Trek red shirts. Mr. Doohan accepted the applause with a wide smile and took his place in front of everyone. The first few minutes had him speaking about how glad he was to be in Columbia and how welcome everyone made him feel. Next he talked about the early years of Star Trek and how Roddenberry created the show along with little known facts about how it was developed.
The one that surprised me was that the Enterprise was originally designed to fly through space essentially upside down as to the orientation we know with the saucer section and warp engines being on top. The other being that Roddenberry had considered making Spock’s home planet Mars. We all had a great time but when the question and answer time arrived but there had to be a pretentious weasel in the audience asking the one question we were instructed not to ask, at least he asked about the character and not the actual man but it was close enough.
What do I think of Captain Kirk?” Mr. Doohan asked back, seemingly biting his tongue for a minute as if he was savoring the answer as it formed in his head. “I think Captain Kirk is a swell guy but William Shatner is a goddamn punk!”
Well that about brought the house down with Doohan going into a story about how Shatner once had a guest role in the old Chuck Connor’s show “The Rifleman.” Some sort of fight scene was called for in the script and in a moment of vain braggadocio during rehearsal, Shatner told Connors he was an expert in karate and would do his best not to hurt him. Connors, whose heart was warmed by this display of concern and friendship, cocked Shatner across the jaw with a haymaker that forced all shooting to be postponed until the next day giving Shatner time to recover.
The final question asked dealt with Mr. Doohan’s military service and action and specifically the Normandy Invasion on D-Day. He shared many things but it was extremely easy to understand those memories still greatly affected him and with that, he called an end to his speaking. The last thing left was the autograph section and Hell yes; I coughed up an additional twenty for the autograph to go along with the twenty-five dollar entrance fee. The only problem was that Large Elvis and I had issues.
At first, I thought I had been especially blessed to have Large Elvis’ girlfriend standing in front of me as we waited for the autograph segment to begin. Her tight leopard skin dress sparkled in all the right places and my brother, who fell in behind me offered me a twenty to change places. However, as soon as the line started to move Large Elvis jumped up allowing her to sit down and now I had what essentially amounted to a rude planetoid standing in front of me digging out stacks of items from his man purse for Doohan to sign.
When Large Elvis reached Mr. Doohan, he handed over at least eight items ranging from episode scripts to group photos of the original cast. Doohan took several deep tired breaths as Elvis instructed him where he wanted him to sign and was visibly frustrated when hot blonde jumped up to take a picture of Elvis and him together. I was getting pissed myself with how long this all was taking and when I finally got up to Scotty he shook my hand looking directly at me then he looked over in the direction of Elvis and Hot Blonde and rolled his eyes in an exacerbated manner.
"Thanks for putting up with all that.” He said as he handed back my signed photo of him.
“Aye sir,” I responded and went on my way listening to his laughter in the background.
Avoiding direct interaction and outright exposure to American politics has become something of an obsession with me. I have watched a few people in my life suffer from dementia and while it is heart wrenching, to say the very least, on an individual level seeing the signs in society as a whole takes on a surreal meaning with nightmarish overtones. For that reason I have held my tongue from making direct political observations and only making the briefest comments at other sites.
This has even played into my viewing of the news, gone are the days when I watched the news channels seeking a constant update on events here in America and around the world. American news channels and shows, at best, have a very myopic view of the world seeking to cast all events in the light on how they affect this country. At worst they spend far too much time on the latest celebrity antics ignoring such “trivial” matters like never ending wars, expanding poverty, increasing hunger, and the growing incompetence and corruption of elected officials to name a few.
Heaven forbid that some nationally broadcast evening news not spend a third of its allotted time explaining how some self-destructive former child star painted an obscene phrase on the fingernail of her middle finger as she bemoaned some judge throwing her back into rehab. At least the high paid readers on those shows still mention when American soldiers are killed in Afghanistan even though it’s an overall bummer with some corporate suit probably up in the office wishing like Hell he could cut the segment out. There is simply no need to depress suburbia when the greater good calls for all patriotic Americans to flock back to the malls and spend money they do not have.
Still though some things defy my ability to comprehend forcing me to wax on like some redneck Gibbon living in real-time as the world falls apart.
The first is the refusal of Sarah Palin to go quietly into the night of obscurity. There is in most reason bound groups a careful, polite chuckle whenever someone brings up the idea of Mama Grizzly winning the White House in 2012. If this was the world of 1992, I would most certainly agree, but with reality increasingly distorted like the reflection in some funhouse mirror I don’t think she can so easily be discounted. Frank Rich in his November 20 column said it best:
Rick Perry is an imposing man with a quick smile much like the ones revival preachers would display right before they began casting demons of illness out of the bodies of senior citizens. These preachers would dance under tents during humid summer nights proclaiming the Second Coming of Christ in a matter of weeks or months and how all the sinners would in the course of God’s plan end up burning in the lake of fire. This would always bring on a round of joyous dancing and loud praising by the good people sitting in the uncomfortable folding seats.
Now do not misunderstand me, I have always felt such preachers had their place in society. In the old days they were largely harmless and existed on the outer fringes of society providing a kind of comfort for folks for whom the world was a simple place. Plus tent revivals are truly an underrated form of entertainment offering excellent home cooked food and the chance to see unusually grumpy old ladies swoon with passion at the preacher casting out Satan's spawn.
It was only when these preachers started drifting into the mainstream of American life and getting elected to public office did things really begin to meltdown. So much that Perry can scream like the aforementioned revival preacher about “federal overreach and tyranny” but in the same breath openly discuss invading Mexico:
That few in the United States understands we did in fact go to war with Mexico in the 1840’s does nothing to give me any warm fuzzies. And to be honest if Perry can find a “reason” to go into Mexico our Canadian friends have every reason to fear we might one day decided to bring the blessings of democracy to them, after all they have plenty of oil as well.
While I am stressing the low hanging insanity of the right in this ramble, please understand that I am fully aware that the left has its own host of people for whom the laws of nature can be suspended with a wave of the magic wand as rainbows and unicorns sprout from their asses. I will leave reasonable members of the right to address those examples since I have already pissed my own people off. On that last sentence, absence of evidence for their existence is not evidence of absence although I am beginning to have my doubts.
My main point is that clever slogans and smooth talking pundits from both sides of the political spectrum do little to address the real issues this country faces. I am a liberal, damn near a socialist when you compare me to the people I am around, but I refuse to believe any one political movement has all the answers. I wish like hell it did, it would make solutions to our problems far simpler. Quite frankly I see several freight train-sized problems headed straight for us which will require everyone pitching in with their own talents and ideas to avert disaster.
But it always comes back to a population giving a damn about something other what they can buy and what some media type is doing on the most popular reality show of the month. Right now there is no evidence of anything like that and we are still mindlessly standing on the tracks with the trains coming at full speed.
There are many forms of evil and I think one of the most elemental has to be hospital cafeteria food. Case in point was the chicken nugget bar Monday night with me a little bit hungry from just eating a salad back at the house earlier that evening. It was an honest effort to eat just a little bit healthy as compared to my usual diet but it doesn’t pay to work nights hungry, you can make very simple and dangerous mistakes paying attention to your stomach instead of the job.
As I paid lip service to the usual jokes always mentioned in a communal eating establishment short of a trained and caring staff, I loaded up my Styrofoam container with lumps of fried golden brown goodness. If I remember correctly, food poisoning was mentioned in a laughing matter as the staff gave us the evil eye. What can I say? Little did I know the universe has a sick sense of humor.
I didn’t go crazy; it was just six nuggets, a small side of honey mustard sauce for dipping, and a diet Pepsi. It should have been a safe choice, as compared to others that night, and for the rest of the shift and well into Tuesday things went swimmingly.
It was only after I got up Tuesday afternoon did things start to go askew with the world doing a counter rotation that only I could perceive along with a heighten sense of smell that suggested everyone and everything needed a breath mint. Tuesday evening things got very bad as I sat watching my daughter doing her gymnastic stuff when some kid came by munching on a Happy Meal, the smell was something from the lower pits of Hell.
Long story short, fourteen hours of worshiping the porcelain god in some manner did much to reacquaint me to the faith that I have not followed in any real manner in decades. There is a mark of true divinity in how cool and relaxing any of the dominations of the true faith can be. It doesn’t matter if you are resting your head on a toilet seat loyal to the First Church of American Standard, the Kohler sect, or the uppity reformed Barclay types with the crazy gizmo that washes your butt. The porcelain god is never judgmental, never makes snide remarks, and is always forgiving of the gravest of sins. My biggest problem is that I had no sins worthy of confessing as compared to what I whispered to it in previous years no matter what some might think.
Now all is not bad, even though I still feel as weak as water I was able to skip the Thanksgiving migration to the in-laws and I find myself, for the most part, propped up on the couch watching Burn Notice with an ample supply of ginger-ale. All things considered, it could be worse.