Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Those the gods wish to destroy....

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:

“…logic doesn’t apply to Palin. What might bring down other politicians only seems to make her stronger: the malapropisms and gaffes, the cut-and-run half-term governorship, family scandals, shameless lying and rapacious self-merchandising. In an angry time when America’s experts and elites all seem to have failed, her amateurism and liabilities are badges of honor. She has turned fallibility into a formula for success.”
Now understand my right-wing readers (if I have any) I do not hate Sarah, I find her an odd curiosity and totally unqualified to serve as county dog catcher but other than that I am indifferent. I do find it interesting how certain elites are doing their best to keep such an incurious person in the national spotlight. The other person that almost assures me that we are living in the end times is the good governor of Texas.

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:

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday he would support sending U.S. troops into Mexico to fight the drug war. The Republican has long urged beefed-up security on the American side of the violence-plagued border, but he said stronger tactics are needed to defeat the drug cartels. "You have a situation on the border where American citizens are being killed, and you didn't see that back when George Bush was the governor," Perry said in an interview with MSNBC. Asked whether the U.S. should consider deploying troops inside Mexico, Perry said the federal government should consider all options "including the military."
Such is one of the inspiring lights of the conservative movement that he wants to us to go into a country with gun blazing that is still pissed with us over “stealing” a third of their country in the Mexican-American War. If there was any one sure fire answer to end the drug war raging in that country it would be the sight of American tanks and armored personnel carriers going across the Rio Grande. Fred Reed has a far better insight on this although he is extremely politically incorrect.

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.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Returning to the One True Faith

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.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Following my Songline, a short weekend adventure

(Going over the new Charleston Bridge.)
Had to rush down to Georgetown Saturday morning, my Uncle Maxie was admitted to the hospital earlier in that week and I wanted to spend some time with him. It’s pretty bad but they do expect him to be out by Tuesday or Wednesday. After that, it’s a long recuperation, which will require some very basic changes in lifestyle and habits.
Wiggles didn’t go with me and I was frankly amazed at how fast I was able to travel. Almost too fast, somewhere between Columbia and Charleston a buck with at least a six point rack on its head jumped out on the interstate forcing me to slam on the brakes. I fishtailed coming to a stop leaving a lot of rubber from my tires on the road before the deer decided to leap out of the way. I figure Michelle with her recent and far worse encounter can easily relate. The interstate was empty that moment and if I had been carrying that deer would have had a major reason to really run into the deep dark woods with me scared and pissed to the point I almost stained my underwear. However, even with South Carolina’s disposition toward hunting having a dead buck strapped to the hood of my Corolla in the Georgetown Hospital parking lot would not have flown very well.
Spent the day with my uncle and really felt for him since he could not go ten minutes without someone prodding him taking blood pressure, temperature, checking the flow on his IV, or any number of odd tests. That particular hospital has a special “cat nap” time in the afternoon were they want the patients left alone as much as possible so my cousin Allen, who had joined me, and I left to go see his little girl Anna staying at his grandmother’s house.

(A small garden located on South Battery.)
I admit, I was sort of bummed out after leaving Georgetown a little later and couldn’t fight the urge to see where my songline, as Buffett calls it, wanted to take me. I hit Charleston and decided to ride down to the Battery and stroll a little bit before I drove the rest of the way home. Parked near the corner of East and South Battery and started walking. Went up East Battery past the point it turns into East Bay Street feeling like some ghost weaving through the tourists that were out in force. Seeing Tradd Street and having recently finished Pat Conroy’s “South of Broad” I walked down it to see where the fictional Leo King lives.
It was getting late and I cut my walk down Tradd short by turning south down Meeting Street to make it back to where my car was parked. Still couldn’t make myself leave with the nice breeze blowing off the harbor carrying both the salty smell of the ocean and earthy smell of nearby marshes.
While I was relaxing staring out at the various boats on the water rushing home a couple from New York asked me to take a picture them together. The lady flipped at hearing my Southern accent, something that I am uncomfortable with in the best of times and which gets worse if I am angry.

(Sailboats on Charleston Harbor going home.)
“I’m sure happy to finally meet someone from the South,” she said with her own New York accent, “seems like everyone we’ve meet is from somewhere else. I have always felt myself Southern and a Charlestonian at heart.”
It might seem petty but it felt like the nice lady from New York was taking a hacksaw down the middle of my head with the last part of her statement. I’m proud of many aspects of my Southern Heritage, the food, many parts of the easy-going culture, and the area of South Carolina called the Low Country but the darker side of things is never far away.

(Looking up East Battery Saturday evening right before I meet the couple from New York.)
Even funnier was her including the term “Charlestonian." As much as I love the Holy City I am at best a temporary and envious intruder to its streets being forced to return to the glorified train stop in the Midlands that I feel Sherman should have burned twice. I guess one of the things that bugged me about what the lady said was that I have said the same thing down in Florida many times and it was only then hearing her that I realized how asinine it sounds.

However, I joined them for a couple of drinks after they asked and we spent a couple of hours talking about Charleston. It was a small adventure but if I have learned one thing from Jimmy is that you have to go where the songline takes you. And yes, while I never got drunk my wife was mad when I finally got home. I did have the foresight to buy twenty pecan pralines as a sort of peace offering for both her and my daughter but somehow only five survived the trip back home.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sunday Morning Going Down

(Author's note: Once again trying the Flash Fiction stuff, this time working out of the "Icarus' Flight to Perfection" blog. Worked the starter sentence in at the beginning and stayed five words under the 1300 limit. I'm also a week early from the stated deadline. Now if this could translate to the big project I'm on working I would be in heaven.)

It was Sunday, and there shouldn't have been a letter in the mailbox, but there was. It was a simple business sized envelope laying on the bottom of my open mailbox without any name or address written on it. In normal circumstances such a thing would be of no concern, neighbors or even businesses often use such message drops to relay information or solicit their products or services. The problem is being a retired spy, what is common among normal people needs to be greeted with a healthy dose of paranoia by anyone with a past similar to mine.

While it is said that you can't quit the mafia you can leave the spy business behind if you agree to a few simple rules. First, for those for whom being among the general population would place them in danger if a retired spy wants to stay breathing they can chose any number of excellent resort-like facilities on isolated islands or in the middle of empty deserts. If, like me, the headshrinkers deems you safe you can live out your days integrated into civilian society trying to reclaim something of the life you abandoned when you entered the shadows.

So, for five years I had lived in Columbia, South Carolina as a community college instructor situated in the middle of a pleasant neighborhood of old houses filled with young urban professionals. Giving the headshrinkers and paper pushers at Langley credit, it was as an innocuous a cover story and reintroduction to civilian life as they come.

Still though, the people on my street had largely welcomed this real widower and semi-fake teacher going as far as to fix me up on numerous blind dates and include me in their holiday celebrations. Over those years, I relaxed believing my past was behind me until the Sunday morning I walked out into the street to stretch before I began my usual run.

I opened the sealed envelope. Inside was a piece of typing paper with the words “I’m alive” printed on it. Those two words brought the paranoia and all my old instincts roaring back.

Common sense offers you two choices. The first being that it was a setup and that I had the crosshairs of a rifle fixed on me right then. If that was the case, I was sure to die in the next few seconds. The second possibility was that it was someone announcing their return from the dead. Given that the letter was unsigned and anyone wanting to kill me would want me to know who it was, I let out a short breath assuming I was safe for the moment. However, this meant I was the unwilling rodent in a sudden game of cat and mouse.

With this surprise, I walked back into my house but not before turning around and scoping out my street. Someone was certainly watching me but the street was empty and the houses along it seemed quiet. Most of my friends were either in church or out doing other family activities. What worried me was the possibility that someone was still home and being held prisoner with his or her captors watching my reaction.

Normal professional behavior would prohibit any action that might draw close attention or harm civilians in a closed off area like my neighborhood but I didn't want to take that chance. So I quickly changed, retrieved my favorite Sig P226 pistol, grabbed my cell phone, and drove away to await the next move in some very public place.

My idea was to find a seat at an open-air diner located beside the university frequented by obnoxious professors and pretentious student types and just wait for the cat to make the next move. It didn’t take long, the waitress had just given me my coffee when my cell phone rang.

"Scott, find the Reeves warehouse off Bluff Road, be there in fifteen minutes,” was all the synthesized sounding voice said. While the voice was bad theatrics, what got me was the hearing the crying in the background of a little girl that I took to be the daughter of one of my neighbors. Another concern was the caller using my real name, not my assigned cover.

After arriving I found the entranced unlocked and entered the dark building without drawing my pistol. It was certainly a trap but I didn’t want to endanger Rebecca any more than she was already. My eyes had just begun to adjust when I felt the muzzle of a pistol pressed into my back and my own weapon being taken.

Minutes later my hands are bound behind me with plastic handcuffs looped through a wood chair. Rebecca was sitting next me also tied to her chair and terrified, but otherwise unharmed. Here is where clear thinking comes into play, the warehouse we were being held had all sorts of welding goodies located on a nearby table. I had only seen two of our captors but I heard enough to guess at least two more were hiding further back in the shadows loading items onto a moving van.

Training demanded I play the role of captive to figure out what was going on but getting Rebecca out was my first priority. Twisting the cuffs hard against the slats on the back of the chair I was rewarded with the sound of cracking wood. Once free, a little effort with a steel welding file from the table popped the plastic cuffs.

A fire retardant divider separated my area from the assailants who were still busy loading the van but just as I was about to cut Rebecca loose I heard the leader tell someone to go check on us. Weapons were in short supply but the welding table did offer up a rattail file. The file being long and thin when the husky guy came around the divider I was able to position myself to jump him from behind and plunge it up his nose after jerking his head back. The guy died without a whimper but it forced me to take his submachine gun and assault the others.

Surprise and luck being the best allies the three others went down without a long fight. Mopping up I found my pistol, cell phone, and the van loaded up with boxes containing biohazard material, a lot of it. Just as I was about to call in the cavalry my phone buzzed.

Twenty more of my people will arrive soon, you have to blow the building quickly or thousands will die if they retake that van,” the synthesized voice said before hanging up.

Without actual C-4, improvising an explosion on short notice would be impossible except for where we were. The welding area had rows of oxygen bottles lined up; all I needed then was a detonator. The break area supplied a microwave and after ripping out the surge suppressor and throwing in a bunch of metal, I had one. Opening up the valves on the oxygen bottles, I set the microwave for five minutes and got Rebecca and me out of there.

We were three buildings over when the explosion knocked us both to the ground. The sound of police and fire on the way followed seconds later. Picking Rebecca up I saw a car coming toward us, I pulled my pistol out as it stopped and saw the smiling face of my dead wife.

You’re getting rusty Scott, I damn near wrapped everything up in a neat package and you barely got out. Quick get in, Rebecca and her parents will be safe now but we aren’t, you have much to learn. Looking at Isabella more curious than scared, I did just that, I didn’t like retirement away.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Three New Babies and a Busted Dad

Call me a sentimental fool but I couldn’t help but smile when I heard the crying of a very new born baby in the delivery room next door to the empty one I was working in. Since I had entered the empty delivery room about an hour before to make a few adjustments on the surgical table I had listened to the organized chaos next door seeing the dance of doctors and nurses around the expectant mother in my mind’s eye. The actual conversations were extremely muffled to the point they were unintelligible but the screams of the mother and, finally, the cries of the baby were not.

I figured I would soon see the staff taking the most actively involved people next door to the recovery room but instead I heard the professional demeanor of the doctors’ return with mama again slowly ramping up the volume on whatever she was saying. When she started screaming again I was able to figure out what the deal was with the cries of a second baby. A small cheer erupted, I guess from the hospital staff, but it was immediately muted with mama beginning a new round of huffing and puffing which morphed into the sounds of exhausted moaning. While I still couldn’t understand the words leaking through the wall I did detect some concern in the subdued voices and that went on for several minutes.

Finally a new round of cries began with me figuring that the third and, hopefully, final baby had entered the world. The cheers that emerged through the wall then pretty much confirmed my assumption and from my time waiting for other surgical rooms in the past I could hear tale tell sounds of everything winding down. Now if I wasn’t such a nosy fool I would have ignored the following events but sometimes you can’t really go against your basic nature but at least I got a belly laugh out of it.

Just as I was packing my tools up I saw staff starting to pass my door. Since I had become somewhat emotionally involved with the proceedings I stepped out into the hallway to do an impromptu inspection of the sterilizer situated in a small alcove. I was quickly rewarded with the sight of three babies being wheeled out of the room in small hospital basinets by smiling nurses.

The leading baby was wearing a pink skullcap and while I understand the deal about the vision of new born babies being fuzzy she had her eyes open checking out the world. I’m big on first impressions and if they one that hit me was true that little one is going to be the next Albert Einstein. I could feel an intense intelligence emanating from the kid and said a small prayer hoping she can use it to straighten out a messed up world.

The next baby was wearing a blue cap and was sound asleep. It’s easy to figure being born is exhausting for the babies as well as the mom and hell, little dude had surely earned a nap. The thought that passed through my mind about that one was that the baby thing bored him and he wouldn't want to be bothered with much until preschool started.

The third and finally little one had his eyes open like his sister but where I saw a powerful intelligence in her this little dude seemed to shouting “Shaka Brah” to the world. Feeling pretty good myself I did the signal with the thumb and pinkie extended on my right hand with the other fingers closed and flipped my wrist a couple of time while saying “Life is good brah”. Of course that earned me a disapproving scowl from the nurse in charge of the baby but I don’t like her to begin with. I could clearly see that little dude catching some knarly waves on the North Shore years in the future.

The new mom followed soon after and while I have no idea whether her delivery was natural or C-section she was conscious with the head of her bed slightly raised. Even after what was certainly a grueling experience to say the very least, I’ll be damned but the new mom looked radiant. Her blond hair was dripping in sweat and hung in clumps around her head but she had this glow that shined through even though it was easy to tell she was utterly exhausted. She passed by me talking with the nurse pushing her bed and to my surprise she actually seemed giddy.

“I’m glad I’ll never have to go through that again.” I thought I heard her say but the nurse started laughing and I may have misunderstood.

Now the new dad was a total basket case the minute I saw him emerge from the delivery room. Both he and his wife could not have been much beyond their early thirties but where his wife was beaming after everything he looked distraught. The doctors involved in the delivery had escaped in the opposite direction leaving the new dad to follow his kids and wife alone. He slowly shuffled passed me and paused momentarily with this forlorn look.

“I have triplets,” he said to me smiling but looking lost, “and I will never have sex again.

“You got that one right bucko!” I heard his wife yell back. I had just enough time to pat the guy sympathetically on back then jump back in and close the door to the delivery room I had been working in before I broke down and started laughing my butt off.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Brief Hiatus from my Hiatus

Excessive curiosity has always been a problem for me and it manifested itself again Tuesday morning as I was driving home from work shamelessly listening to NPR. As I puttered the dilapidated and crowded highways toward my house the early morning radio reports of long lines at polling places got me wondering what the situation was at the Presbyterian Church that serves as my altar to American Democracy. Sure enough, as I drove by I could see the line stretching out of the Christian certified community center attached to the church and weaved its way down the long sidewalk toward the main road.

Feeling like a shark I turned into the parking lot slowly cruising by and seeing at least a hundred good citizens chatted in the cool morning air waiting patiently in line for their chance to take their country back if the assorted bumper stickers attached to all the fancy minivans, SUV’s, and manly man trucks were to be believed. It was a fairly jovial and perky bunch except for one sullen fellow looking rather out of place much like a lone surviving human who had found some way to blend in with the pod-people in an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” remake. My liberal radar, or “libdar”, was picking him up as the lone Democrat of the bunch. Not feeling as brave as my political compatriot I went on home deciding to return once the best of Southern suburbia had filtered back to their respective hives and Borg collectives.

I returned early in the afternoon wearing just an old Hawaiian shirt and jeans as opposed to my Che Guevara t-shirt and New Black Panthers baseball cap which I’m sure the poll workers would have thought was a great gag as some deputy sheriff tazed my goofy ass.

Once I was escorted to the new fangled electronic voting machine I reviewed the list of candidates that this election cycle had to offer. I didn’t vote a straight Democratic ticket, despite my high admiration for Alvin Greene and his accomplishments, I just couldn’t vote for the guy in his bid to unseat Jim DeMint. I did vote for the Green Party candidate in that race and actually wondered for a few seconds who had the slight advantage between the two, measured in picometers, since neither had a snowball’s chance in Hell in defeating the Godfather of the Tea Party.

I did have an unique dilemma in a couple of races because several Republican candidates did not have any opponent. I solved that issue by writing in Scrooge McDuck for State Treasurer and General George Armstrong Custer for the Office of Adjutant General of the South Carolina National Guard. I almost wrote in Robocop for Attorney General but a lot of people here have issues with Obama's skin color, voting for a cyborg will have to wait a couple of more decades.

Satisfied with my acts of sedition against the body politic of the state I went home and recommenced my increasingly futile attempt at composing my “musical” exposing the seedy and hopefully humorous underbelly of South Carolina and its people. I’ve passed the 10,000 word mark on Sunday but given my history of typos you can realistically cut that in half.

Election Day for me did offer a few surprises, later that evening after deleting three whole pages of my zygote of a tome that made no sense whatsoever my wife came and slapped me aside my head while I was typing and began to tell me that both the Democratic candidates for governor and Joe Wilson’s House seat were several points ahead at that moment. Figuring that both my nightly beer intake and writing frustrations had pushed me over the edge into some delusional state I figured I heard my wife wrong but it turned out true, both Democratic candidates did have a nice lead over the Conservative anchor baby hussy and the slime mold that wears two-thousand dollar suites.

I was perplexed, could the voters of South Carolina have actually delved a little deeper into troubling issues surrounding those two Republican candidates and decided it was best to seek a new approach? In other areas of the country such a query would be minor and easy to answer. But here in South Carolina such a question would open a nasty can of worms forcing me to reconsider many of my long held assumptions about my state. So I plopped on the couch and watched as more voting returns were tabulated, thankfully my assumptions and ultimate fate of my hypothetical novel are safe. Further election results soon arrived sending Nikki to the governor’s mansion, Joe back to Congress, and saving me from having to yet again rewrite significant portions of the mishmash that has come close to sending me screaming insanely off into the night.