Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Safely Being Shark Bait

Tuesday had us at the beautiful Discovery Cove theme park here in Orlando, a place that limits the amount of people who can visit to about one-thousand a day. Of course it has a laid back, tropical theme with such attractions as a lazy river with lush scenery, an aviary, dolphin encounters, and a tropical reef. The usual way to enjoy the reef has visitors put on a swim mask and snorkel then casually floating around all the brightly colored fish and stingrays.

For those willing to fork out the extra bucks you can don a seventy-five pound helmet with attached air hose and walk along the bottom. Its call "SeaVenture" and while its about as safe anything else you might do at any other there park Discovery Cove like to sell the attraction by saying you will see plenty of sharks and other possibly nasty deep sea creatures. First of all the sharks are separated from people like me by a sheet of plexiglass and the stingrays and Eagle rays that swim freely are fairly benign creatures. There are plenty of tropical fish and and for anyone who has been too scared to scuba dive I highly recommend it to anyone who visits.   
One of the sharks that my group saw yesterday, there is just something about that sleek form that thrills me to no end. A long time ago I did scuba dive in the ocean in the waters off South Carolina but never saw the first shark. While I was perfectly safe with no chance for Sammy Shark to sink his very pointy and sharp teeth into me, unless he somehow figured how to jump over the plexiglass barrier, I have to admit I did feel like a kid watching him swim by just centimeters away.

Another great thing about SeaVenture was the near weightless feeling I had walking along the bottom. In fact given my "natural buoyancy"(i.e. body fat) I figure I could have used an extra ten pounds on the helmet to keep me down. 
Alas, I was eventually forced to get out and turn over the fancy helmet to someone else. But I found my lounge chair and was soon taking advantage of another of Discovery Cove attraction which is totally free beer. One of them being Buffett's "Landshark Lager" which was on draft. My only criticism is that they forced me to only one beer at a time.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Arrived safely, found poolside bar, all is well

Monday morning finally arrived with the alarm clock angrily chirping but this time I did not want to throw it out my window. I immediately jumped up, ran over to the kid's room, and tossed the kids out of their respective beds with threats to come back with a bucket of ice water if they did not get moving. Dragonwife was more of a problem to get out of bed but I threatened to get naked, and well lets just say she was up, had her teeth brushed, and was dressed so fast I was highly disappointed.

The drive down was uneventful except for the persistent nagging by Darth Spoilboy about how we were neglectful parents by not buying him the car he so richly deserved. Of course with a captive parental audience Darth Wiggles used the opportunity to begin her assault for not just a cell phone but one of those Android smart gizmos like the one ALL her friends have.

When we got to Animal Kingdom Lodge we ran into some issues at check-in, see they overbooked and while it was a bit of a concern for a few minutes the attack lawyer personality my wife hardly ever exposes to us poor humans became unhinged sending the clerk scurrying off for his life. After that I had dreams of an unlimited bar tab along with upgrades to whatever goes as the celebrity suite in this fine establishment. We did get an upgrade to a room facing the resort savannah meaning we will have nice views of the animals in the morning.

Once in the room Darth Wiggles and I raced down to the pool where she promptly dumped me for some friends she made a few minutes after we got into the water.

No big deal, I soon wandered off to the poolside bar and made several new friends of my own. Off to Discovery Cove in the morning, hope everyone is doing well and I will toast you all tomorrow with all the free beer they serve there.    

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ah, it's Christmas again dammit

My nifty tradition of going on a rabid-like rant about the putrid and undead nature of hyper-commercialized Christmas has fallen flat this year. I guess the blame rests with how my wife talked me into standing in a long and godforsaken line outside of Best Buy Thanksgiving evening from nine o'clock to freaking two o'clock in the morning. The reason for me joining her that cold night was because the Best Buy account is in my name and we were very quickly approaching the end-of-life moment for our seventeen-year old refrigerator.

See, I like the milk with my Chips Ahoy cookies very cold and the old Amana model we inherited from the previous owners of the house we now live was having a hard time keeping a constant temperature. Throw in the door handles that were loose and cracked, a freezer that produced enough frost to create a glacier forcing us to defrost about every two weeks, and even a Bachmann supporter would have had enough sense to know it was time to buy a new one.

 Long story short, once we got inside the store the last thing in the world on our minds was buying a refrigerator. For me it became a matter of surviving the consumerist zombie hordes and for my wife it became about a laptop, X-box video games, and an iPod. The Best Buy staff was very professional and friendly but they had their hands full dealing with the untamed mob. I personally would have blasted a couple of rounds into the ceiling from a Mossberg 500 riot shotgun with a tactical stock to calm down their shark-like feeding frenzy nature.Yeah, that was my Christmas wish list but Santa did not go for it despite my warnings of the pending 2012 doomsday.

Afterwards, I felt soiled and corrupted walking out the store with all that booty. Since then my usual outrage at the banal nature of all the luxury car, jewelry, and cell phone television commercials filled with an overabundance of rich and beautiful white people has been dulled.

Thankfully, my spirits might soon be revived with the family leaving for a vacation the day after Christmas. While it will not be a Caribbean cruise or a trip down to my beloved Key West, it will be a Disney vacation with a visit to Discovery Cove, Busch Gardens Tampa, and if the fates allow a swim with manatees. Excessive amounts of travel-related pictures are soon to follow with me doing all the stupid stuff that is sure to bore the living Hell out of everyone. Until then there is one holiday I do enjoy, and I wish everyone a Happy Festivus! Please feel free to state your Festivus annual list of grievances in the comments.


Monday, December 19, 2011

"The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell" by John Crawford

"An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq"

A Carolina Parrothead book review

My half-assed twenty-one year military career ended in 2005 with me joyfully retiring from the National Guard and on my last day wearing the uniform there were no parties, hugs, much less any tears by me or the leadership of the unit I belonged. If anything, I would be willing to bet money that if I crossed the minds of those I left behind it was the passing thought of old fashioned “good riddance.” See I never could adjust to the high speed National Guard where troops gleefully accepted multiple two-week summer camps in one year, went to required army training schools, and did everything an active duty soldier did while supposedly a “citizen soldier.”

I had a wife, kids and a job and as much as patriotism is a mile-wide down here in South Carolina, in the area I live I have never found its true depth more than an inch or two. The best example of this was the day I inadvertently heard a few coworkers at my previous job whining because one of them was going to have to cover my weekend shift so I could attend my National Guard drill. Now this was 2003 with us well into the Iraq War. You would have expected patriotic rednecks to be all about supporting the troops but my service to the country was cutting into their deer hunting time and they had their priorities.

The actual statistics are mind blowing but somewhere around less than one percent of the country served in Iraq or our current conflict in Afghanistan. It is fascinating really, two jetliners flown by terrorist’s crash into the World Trade Center buildings. A third flies into the Pentagon and a forth is stopped by courageous passengers and not only does the president at the time just tell us to travel and shop but only a very few Americans find their way to an Armed Forces recruiting station.

Its far too easy for a civilian to stick a magnetic yellow ribbon on the end of their SUV, say nice things supporting whatever war we happen to be fighting, and believe they are supporting the troops. Many will not like what I am about to write but most Americans are so ignorant about what these men and women have to put up with that it is criminal. Movies portray glamorous fight scenes and non-serving pundits talk about "doing one's duty" without ever serving one day themselves ignoring the the hardships carried by soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen and their families.

That’s all ancient history now but with the very recent departure of American troops from Iraq I am sure of one thing, it is that given this country’s short attention span various people will quickly try to rewrite this segment of United States history to their benefit, while many will do their best to forget about it all together. For anyone who cares I have to urge you to read a book that will give a first person account of how one guy was swept up into the ill planned and executed madness that cost the lives of nearly 4500 American servicemen and women, an untold amount of Iraqi lives, and trillions of dollars.

The author’s name is John Crawford and like many, he joined the National Guard to pay for college. One semester shy of graduation and very recently married, he finds himself mobilized and soon on the fronts lines in Iraq. Before anyone starts complaining, yes both he and I raised our right hands swearing to uphold and defend the United States Constitution. But we did not enlist to become sacrificial lambs for corporate imperialism or a civilian population overwhelmingly preoccupied with their narcissistic lives.

John Crawford's book offers a view into the weary world and mind of a combat soldier. It isn't glamorous and offers nothing in the way to justify the war in Iraq. It is about one man trying to survive and keep some small part of his sanity dealing with things that are completely alien to the fat and lazy civilians for whom our wars are at best episodes in some low rated reality show. If you want to feel the terror, stress, and utter frustration of a war that many will spend a lifetime trying to figure out I highly recommend you read his book.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

F3 Cycle 59 "Under the Golden Arches of Atlantis"

Flash Fiction Friday Prompt: Road Trip Story
Genre: Open
Word Limit:  1,300

Time had lost all meaning as my hands clutched the steering wheel of my car; my mind whirled in a multitude of other dimensions with minutes being as long as millenniums and eons passing as casually as seconds. The road I was driving stretched before me like a lazy anaconda basking in the sun with me a miniscule ant moving across the length of its body. My journey along the reptilian back had some importance but with reality taking some sort of break everything had lost meaning and purpose.

The road was my only constant, I felt a strange disassociation with all time and space having the ability to be driving across a lonely desert one minute and a crowded city the next. What really worried me was seeing the group of iguana cowboys herding hundreds of kittens across the dry and desolate landscape only to be suddenly replaced by pink flamingo policemen walking their urban beat. Both the iguanas and the flamingos watched me suspiciously as I drove by to the point I would hunker down low to avoid their gaze.

Above me, the sky blazed psychedelic patterns dancing in time to the helium-induced sounds of the Chipmunks singing Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” God himself was present watching over my journey in the form of a joyous and smiling Mickey Mouse sitting on a throne off in the distance. Every once and awhile I would hear his wise and caring voice give me directions. “Turn right at the next intersection,” he would sometime say and I would obey without question.

Of course, Donald Duck was nearby condemned to play the part of a disgruntled Satan complete with pitchfork, forever relegated to participate in all events as Mickey’s fall guy. But, Donald seemed bored with the role and when I occasionally passed him on my drive he was always sitting in some beach chair either reading an Archie comic book or perusing James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” A cooler full of beer and a bowl of chips and salsa beside his chair tempted me to stop and visit but Mickey would always chime in giving me new directions.

Even with the Mouse’s diligent guidance, I began to get hungry and decided to get something to eat. The Golden Arches just happened to materialize in front of me at that moment and I quickly turned into its parking lot so I could grab something from the drive thru. I pulled up to the big board showing all the items on the menu and began staring at the speaker mounted in the center waiting for the person inside to take my order, it was then that I noticed this was no normal fast food restaurant.

Stretching out before my eyes was the legendary Atlantis itself and that it was populated with all the great and terrible people who had ever lived. Sitting inside the dining area I saw Bob Marley wearing an expensive Brooks Brother suit talking with Ronald Reagan dressed in a ragged t-shirt and shorts oblivious to his Nancy and Frank Sinatra passionately kissing behind him. I had to figure Ronnie did not care because he was holding the biggest damn joint I had ever seen with the smoke from the burning end circling his awesome set of dreadlocks hanging down from his head.

Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck were outside in the patio area talking with Plato and Julius Caesar while Mitt Romney was hanging down from a tree playing the part of a piñata. Ernest was screaming out hints in ancient Greek to a blindfolded Plato who was holding the sword taking swings at a smiling Mitt. John and Julius were just standing close by and somehow I knew they were talking about Paul Newman’s famous salad dressings.

As much as I wanted to continue watching everything and everyone the speaker finally came alive with some unknown language blaring loudly from it. I had to figure it was the Arches employee asking about my order and I responded by screaming back “sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit.”

Pulling forward to the pick-up window, I immediately understood why I did not understand the Arches’ employee. The worker was a beautiful chicken with a rich and vibrant plumage of feathers who politely handed me my biscuit then motioned me to look in front of my car. Standing there was Satan Donald Duck holding with his arms around two bikini-clad ladies. His smile was as sinister as the ladies were gorgeous and I could feel his words inside my head telling me I could stay and have all sort of fun for all eternity. The “come hither” look Donald’s companions gave me my curled my toes and made me tingle in places best left unsaid.

Just when I felt myself succumbing to temptation Almighty Mickey decided to reassert his presence. “Recalculating,” I heard him say in his magnificent high-pitched voice and with that, Donald went into his normal fit of rage to fade away along with his awesome babes.

Everything slipped by fast now and all sorts of visions came and went, all blurred with the apparent acceleration of time and space. I barely recognized the sound of my dash-mounted GPS say, “You have arrived at your destination.”

Feeling all sensation slip away, I slumped over laying my forehead on the steering wheel. There I stayed trying to make sense of what I had saw and felt in what seemed like a multitude of eternities. My rest was short as I heard my car door open and my wife slap the back of my head.

“Just where in the Hell have you been?” She asked me, “I sent you out to the drug store thirty minutes ago, what took you so long?”

It all came back to me then, my family and I had all been struck down by the flu and I had been given the mission to make a drug store run. I was now in my driveway not only gathering my small and weak collection of wits but the energy to go inside my house. My sick wife staring at me in disgust while wearing her old sweat suit was enough of a motivator for me to find the energy I needed.

Retrieving the shopping bags containing bottles of cold and flu medicine along with several cans of chicken soap from the floorboard of the passenger side I pull myself out of the car and begin to make what the long walk to the front door.

Just then, my daughter Cindy sticks her head out the front door. “Daddy,” she cried out, “don’t forget to bring Mickey and Donald in with you.” Turning around and looking back inside the car I see that both Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck had been propped up in the front passenger seat, something she had done to provide me company on what was supposed to be a short trip down the road.

Pulling my two road trip companions out of the car, I also see copies of “Islands in the Stream” and “Grapes of Wrath” in the back seat, both high school reading assignments for my son. Finally trudging my way back inside I make a mental note to tell my wife she will make the next store run, if I go back out I just may decide to hang out at the Golden Arches of Atlantis.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Police State America, coming really soon

Talk about inconvenient but it really sucks to high heaven when the soulless husks posing as elected leaders and polishing seats up in Congress actively seek to destroy the United States Constitution right in the middle of the Christmas shopping season. Of course neither the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights can get your average twenty-first century American a fifty-inch LED television at a great price, with most everything in the United States dysfunctional or outright falling apart Americans can take pride that their talent for setting priorities has not suffered. However, that is the very thing happening up in the halls of Congress while Americans lucky enough to have a job or at least a working credit card do their impersonation of rats running the retail maze.

What pray tell are the senile but power hungry minions up in Washington trying to do? It is the National Defense Authorization Act (S.1867) which provides funds for the military allowing them to do all sorts of things from the benign building of family housing on military bases to the unabashedly sinister indefinite detention on American citizens accused of supporting terrorism.

Yes, that is correct; I have not flown off into the nether regions of some really bad Orwellian novel, although I sincerely wish that would was the case. Overly proud stuffed and deluded suits have convinced themselves that the fate of the Republic hangs in the balance unless we betray the very principles that we established the United States to preserve.

The putrid meat of the bill is contained in section 1031which through some intentionally vague wording expands the definition of terrorist activity. A seriously cool thing when you have inconvenient groups running around protesting and members of the powerful elite looking on in disgust upset they could not get to the stock market in time because traffic was blocked. The cops will be even more happy because it will offer them more chances to don their fancy riot control body armor and use pepper spray on college kids.

Personally, I would like to lay all the blame for this on soulless husks I mentioned above with the prime examples being Senile John McCain and his absolute Sweetness Lindsey Graham but truthfully, they are just the distorted reflection of a nation deeply saturated with fear and apathy. Our nation did not get this way magically, sometime in the past the American people, totally comfortable in their credit card fueled lives and convinced of their total awesomeness, left the controls of the government open to all sorts of strange and bizarre creatures. The result being an encroaching police state that the American people of the 1970’s would not have let stand for one single second.

Matt Taibbi of the Rolling Stone has a far better handle on the subject:

Indefinite Detention of American Citizens: Coming Soon to Battlefield U.S.A.

There’s some disturbing rhetoric flying around in the debate over the National Defense Authorization Act, which among other things contains passages that a) officially codify the already-accepted practice of indefinite detention of "terrorist" suspects, and b) transfer the responsibility for such detentions exclusively to the military.

The fact that there’s been only some muted public uproar about this provision (which, disturbingly enough, is the creature of Wall Street anti-corruption good guy Carl Levin, along with John McCain) is mildly surprising, given what’s been going on with the Occupy movement. Protesters in fact should be keenly interested in the potential applications of this provision, which essentially gives the executive branch unlimited powers to indefinitely detain terror suspects without trial.

The really galling thing is that this act specifically envisions American citizens falling under the authority of the bill. One of its supporters, the dependably-unlikeable Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, bragged that the law "basically says … for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield" and that people can be jailed without trial, be they "American citizen or not." New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte reiterated that "America is part of the battlefield."

Officially speaking, of course, the bill only pertains to:

"... a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners."

As Glenn Greenwald notes, the key passages here are "substantially supported" and "associated forces." The Obama administration and various courts have already expanded their definition of terrorism to include groups with no connection to 9/11 (i.e. certain belligerents in Yemen and Somalia) and to individuals who are not members of the target terror groups, but merely provided "substantial support."

The definitions, then, are, for the authorities, conveniently fungible. They may use indefinite detention against anyone who "substantially supports" terror against the United States, and it looks an awful lot like they have leeway in defining not only what constitutes "substantial" and "support," but even what "terror" is. Is a terrorist under this law necessarily a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban? Or is it merely someone who is "engaged in hostilities against the United States"?

Here’s where I think we’re in very dangerous territory. We have two very different but similarly large protest movements going on right now in the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement. What if one of them is linked to a violent act? What if a bomb goes off in a police station in Oakland, or an IRS office in Texas? What if the FBI then linked those acts to Occupy or the Tea Party?

You can see where this is going. When protesters on the left first started flipping out about George Bush’s indefinite detention and rendition policies, most people thought the idea that these practices might someday be used against ordinary Americans was merely an academic concern, something theoretical.

But it’s real now. If these laws are passed, we would be forced to rely upon the discretion of a demonstrably corrupt and consistently idiotic government to not use these awful powers to strike back at legitimate domestic unrest.

Right now, the Senate is openly taking aim at the rights of American citizens under the guise of an argument that anyone who supports al-Qaeda has no rights. But if you pay close attention, you’ll notice the law’s supporters here and there conveniently leaving out those caveats about "anyone who supports al-Qaeda." For instance, here’s Lindsey Graham again:

"If you’re an American citizen and you betray your country, you’re not going to be given a lawyer ... I believe our military should be deeply involved in fighting these guys at home or abroad."

As Greenwald points out, this idea – that an American who commits treason can be detained without due process – is in direct defiance of Article III, Section III of the Constitution, which reads:

"No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court."

This effort to eat away at the rights of the accused was originally gradual, but to me it looks like that process is accelerating. It began in the Bush years with a nebulous description of terrorist sedition that may or may not have included links to Sunni extremist groups in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But words like "associated" and "substantial" and "betray" have crept into the discussion, and now it feels like the definition of a terrorist is anyone who crosses some sort of steadily-advancing invisible line in their opposition to the current government.

This confusion about the definition of terrorism comes at a time when the economy is terrible, the domestic government is more unpopular than ever, and there is quite a lot of radical and even revolutionary political agitation going on right here at home. There are people out there – I’ve met some of them, in both the Occupy and Tea Party movements – who think that the entire American political system needs to be overthrown, or at least reconfigured, in order for progress to be made.

It sounds paranoid and nuts to think that those people might be arrested and whisked away to indefinite, lawyerless detention by the military, but remember: This isn’t about what’s logical, it’s about what’s going on in the brains of people like Lindsey Graham and John McCain.

At what point do those luminaries start equating al-Qaeda supporters with, say, radical anti-capitalists in the Occupy movement? What exactly is the difference between such groups in the minds (excuse me, in what passes for the minds) of the people who run this country?

That difference seems to be getting smaller and smaller all the time, and such niceties as American citizenship and the legal tradition of due process seem to be less and less meaningful to the people who run things in America.

What does seem real to them is this “battlefield earth” vision of the world, in which they are behind one set of lines and an increasingly enormous group of other people is on the other side.

Here’s another way to ask the question: On which side of the societal fence do you think the McCains and Grahams would put, say, an unemployed American plumber who refused an eviction order from Bank of America and holed up with his family in his Florida house, refusing to move? Would Graham/McCain consider that person to have the same rights as Lloyd Blankfein, or is that plumber closer, in their eyes, to being like the young Muslim who throws a rock at a U.S. embassy in Yemen?

A few years ago, that would have sounded like a hysterical question. But it just doesn’t seem that crazy anymore. We’re turning into a kind of sci-fi society in which making it and being a success not only means getting rich, but also means winning the full rights of citizenship. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see this ending well.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Indignities of Being a Middle Aged Man

(Author's note: This story IS NOT autobiographical, like Jimmy Buffett has said this is a story with fictional facts or one with factual fictions. But never the less. like he also said this is my story and I am sticking to it.)

The exam room used by the company doctor was cold, small, and so Spartan it felt more like a prison cell especially designed for solitary confinement. The walls were window-less and painted a cheap and depressing grey/blue and as I sat on the old examination table, wearing the type of patient gown that exposed a person’s rear end I began to wonder if I was part of some physiological experiment attempting to induce stress and paranoia in unknowing test subjects.

After the second hour of waiting, my mind kept drifting to strange visions of armor wearing prison guards storming the small room with truncheons and tazers at the ready, while sporting sadistic gleams in their eyes. Making matters worse the gown I was wearing was a size too small which allowed my naked butt to get to know the cracks and tears in the vinyl pad covering the table very well.

Normally I would have done just about anything to avoid a doctor’s exam but my employer was offering a significant discount on my already high priced health insurance if I agreed to a preventive check up involving several simple and quick tests. The brochure in my annual insurance sign up package assured me it was a minor formality with the whole purpose to help me establish a healthier lifestyle and that I would be in an out of the physician’s office in short order.

Fat chance, during my long ordeal I had been poked and prodded to the extreme along with what had to be a couple of pints of blood drawn from my arms by nurses that seemed to hold a personal grudge against me. And you do not want me to even start to describe the office prostrate exam; I swear the nurse screamed out in joy as her finger went boldly where absolutely none had gone before. The small consolation that I was clinging to tenuously was the idea that the worst had to be over, there was simply nothing left for them to check or examine.

Just when I was beginning to contemplate escaping the company doctor stormed into the room carrying a file folder, grabbed the small stool next the exam table, dropped himself on the equally cracked vinyl cushion covering the seat, and began reading what I assumed was my test results. Since the good doctor had to be pushing close to four-hundred pounds, I silently winced as the small stool he was sitting on creaked and literally groaned every time he changed position.

While I feared the stool could collapse at any moment sending the rotund physician to the floor with a heavy thud it nonetheless withstood the weight as he silently reviewed my results. Enough time passed while he read that I was able to identify several of the stains on his lab coat with the most prevalent being ketchup, mustard, and ample amounts of chocolate. For someone who was suppose to help me develop a better way of life he looked the exact opposite of the stated objective, and I actually snorted in surprise as he reached inside the pocket of his lab coat pulling out a pack of cigarettes and lighter.

“Mr. Logan,” he began after placing a cigarette on the edge of his lips while working the lighter, “ you are thirty pounds overweight, have high blood pressure, and your blood sugar levels are unusually high for a man of forty-five years.” He paused for a few seconds after successfully igniting the cigarette taking several deep drags off it. “Due to company regulations,” he began again,” unless you shed the weight, you will not only lose your insurance discount but be forced to pay an extra fifty-percent penalty fee because of your risk level. The good news you have six months to reach the required weight, the nurses will make an appointment for the weigh-in and I look forward to seeing you again then.”

With that, he was up and out of the office far faster than someone his weight should be able to, but as the door closed behind him, the doctor broke into a coughing fit that sounded like his lungs were trying to abandon the man and skip town. As I put on my clothes, I realized that I could not afford my health insurance, which included my wife and son along with me, if I lost the discount much less meet the expense of the penalty. I had no choice but join a gym and lose the required weight within the six months.

Finding a gym was no problem, as multiple subdivisions full of elaborate and overpriced McMansions began to pop up in my area like rows of annoying but well organized weeds a system of supporting convenience businesses developed on the outer fringes. My locale was once a secluded and peaceful rural area but it now supported a host of upper scale rackets targeting the young and rich professionals who inhabited the subdivisions so they would not have to deal with the stress of driving back into the city for their favorite trendy activity or gourmet treat.

On my way home after leaving the fat doctor behind, I stopped by several of the new and, for me, unfortunately hip gyms looking for one I would like. Almost every time I walked through the doors, the young and nubile babe paid to greet possible new members would look at me and like a deer caught in headlights and attempt to escape. I did not mind for the most part, I realized I did not meet their target demographic. It was obvious I was a very out of shape, balding middle-aged man who looked clearly out of place among all the young beautiful people. Still though, I eventually found a gym that did not completely annoy the living shit out of me with its snobbish attitude and I began working out in earnest.

At first the very idea of being forced to work out on a regular basis annoyed me to no end, I thought myself a very busy man with commitments and demands on my time that would make it difficult but as the weeks began to fly by I found my schedule remarkably adaptable. In other words after returning home from work in the late afternoon my life revolved around dinner and watching television until I went to sleep.

While I skipped the cost of a personal trainer to assist me, I did have a routine setup by one that had me spending forty-five minutes on the various machines working my arms, legs, and torso then doing forty minutes of a cardio workout on a treadmill. Every day I entered the gym I strictly adhered the same exercise machines in hopes that ingrained habit would help me succeed where no other technique had done before. Before long, I was actually enjoying the thought of going to the gym.

During my time working out I would put on my headphones and listen to old 1980’s music on my shiny new MP3 player that my son thought no better than the stuff my own parents listened to when I was his age. Not wanting to embarrass myself too much around people I might know I had chosen a gym on the opposite end of the suburban sprawl I lived. It was for the best and it allowed me to concentrate on my exercise rather than trying to socialize with people more often than not I did not like. That is how I first saw Annette.

She was a regular like me usually appearing ten to twenty minutes after I arrived. In simple terms Annette was the type of woman that had every man sucking his stomach in and trying to stand a little taller as she walked by. It was clear Annette noticed the disruption her entrances caused but she was nice enough to greet any guy who said hello to her.

Without being too drawn out, Annette could best be described in mythological terms. She had the body of an Ancient Greek goddess that men clearly would have worshipped. Her red hair was long, wild, and curly like a barbarian or Celtic princess, which was paired with a beautiful but mischievous face. Topping it all off, the skin-tight exercise leotards she wore to the gym gave her the look of a superhero. All she had to add was a golden lasso and bullet-deflecting bracelets and she would have looked like Wonder Woman’s sexier and more scandalous sister.

Annette looked to be in her early to mid-forties but she had clearly aged like fine wine where as the small collection of other middle-aged people like me using the gym were not as lucky. We had more in common with a spoiled, cheap malt liquor. For many of us Annette did carry an air of mystery around her; she wore no wedding ring, something that supplied ample fodder for discussions and fantasies. During my early months at the gym that is about as far as my interests in her went, nothing more than a heavy dose of ogling along with many third-rate fantasies.

But a funny thing often happens to your average guy when he sticks to a regular exercise routine. The increased activity doses the brain with plenty of hormones that over time alleviates stress and increases the metabolism rate but it also begins to build self-confidence. Within four months I had dropped all the required weight and was feeling like a young twenty-something again, the down side was that I had begun to think Annette was following me around.

It started simply enough, I would be working my usual, tried and true exercise circuit when I noticed Annette using one of the machines nearby. Occasionally we would make eye contact and she would flash a pleasant smile my way, which would induce my heart rate to explode. Figuring she was just being nice I did not think too much of it. However, since people are always looking for meaning, even in the most trivial things over time I began to believe she had some romantic interest in me. My delusion was only enhanced as I looked into any mirror I passed and saw the weight I had lost along with the increased muscle tone.

As I cultivated my distortion of reality I began to wonder how I could break the ice with Annette and begin what I figured would be a passionate affair. Being a dedicated family man I had never even considered the idea of cheating on my wife in all my years of marriage. But with enough exercise-induced endorphins floating around my head along with an exaggerated ego supporting a corrupted premise I began to convince myself life was just too short to pass an opportunity to be with a beautiful and sexy woman.

The only way that came to mind was to slow my workout routine to the point she caught up with me allowing us to talk. It was lame beyond all comprehension but in my mind the idea was suave and sophisticated. Sure enough as I slowed my workout we began to make eye contact more often, which only enhanced my delusion.

The day finally came when I had slowed down enough that she was using the machine right beside me making feel like a teenager about to receive his first kiss. Deep down I knew this was going to be the day when my life changed for the better with a universe of possibilities opening up I could have never considered a few months before.

Still though, when Annette finally touched my arm it was as if electricity was running through my entire body. Locking eyes with her I removed my earphones eager to hear the first words spoken directly to me.

“Please sir,” she said with clear intent that she was addressing me like she would a much older man like her grandfather, “ I need to get home and fix dinner for my family, could you let me use this machine so I can finish my work out and get out of here.”

If her words, all cold and impersonal, were not enough to destroy my elaborate but loosely built fantasies, there was absolutely no warmth in her beautiful green eyes. As far as she was concerned I was just another stranger she had to navigate around as she went through her day.

Curiously feeling like both an insignificant bacteria and the biggest fool on the planet I smiled back and silently surrender the exercise machine. Afterwards I quickly left the gym myself but not before stopping somewhere and buying my wife some roses. It took days for me to work up the nerve to return to the gym but when I did I quickly realized that the entire embarrassing episode was confined to my head, Annette still came to the gym oblivious to my stupidity.

The day of the weigh-in I passed with flying colors, my achievement was so good that I actually broke through fat doctor’s practiced indifference.

“Damn, Mr. Logan,” he said with a cigarette dangling from his lips while reading my updated file, “this is outstanding. What did you do, join a gym and fine yourself a hot girlfriend?”

“Please,” I said acting disgusted, which was not hard to do since his lab coat seemed to be sporting more food stains. “I’m a middle aged, married man; I have no time for such foolish ideas.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The View Between Heaven and Earth

"The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos."
Stephen Jay Gould

Watching the cable news networks in this country has become problematic for me. Not only have they largely become one-sided affairs with most discussions involving only supporting members of a particular issue but for the longest time the American news media have taken a jaundice view on global events with the United States the ultimate center of everything in the world.

Everything is viewed in the context of how it affects this country whether it is a natural disaster killing thousands overseas or another country’s government telling the United States they will not go along with whatever foolish, and possibly illegal military adventure that strikes our fancy at the time. Despite this egotistical attitude the truth of the matter is that very little of what Americans worry, argue, and fight about will be remembered a couple of hundred years from now.

This refined American idea of superiority has been around for a long time and partners nicely with the general human arrogance that we naked primates are the center of the universe. While religion lost the war putting Earth at the center of creation long ago, individually that is still how most view their existence. For the affluent our lives have become a neatly contained universe all themselves even if our daily struggle is nothing more dangerous than dealing with the demands of living in a Western consumerist society. A far cry from the small child in Africa wondering where his or her next meal or drink of water will come from or a Mexican father caught in the middle of a drug war and fearing what might happen to his family.

At best our concerns bleed over to our families and maybe a few close friends because for most of our species time on the planet small groups were all we could manage.Tribalism, in various forms, is something we understand and will fall back on instinctively when things start to go bad. Realistically, its not pretty but it is basic human nature encoded into our very DNA since the number one survival trait is to pass on our genes to the next generation. The ultimate struggle we face as an intelligent species will be the need to overcome our primitive instincts and fears and realize that cooperation and inclusion enhances the chances of survival of everyone.   

It is my hope and the subject of my weak prayers that similar forces that made us choose civilization over continuing with the hunter-gatherer lifestyle will make us look beyond our narrow and tired concerns. Excuse my semi-intelligent rant but every now and them something comes along that, at least to me, gives a real hint at the true scope of existence. Special thanks to Nance over at “Mature Landscaping” for bringing my attention to this remarkable video.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving? Not for the turkey

As I was sitting back in my favorite chair yesterday afternoon sipping yet another fine Mexican beer the very attractive and highly intelligent news babe on MSNBC was explaining how President Obama had just pardoned two turkeys from what I am sure they consider the annual Thanksgiving Day Turkey Holocaust. The two birds, both oblivious to the formal ceremony, are to be sent to Mount Vernon to what I am sure for them will be turkey heaven, bypassing the usual requirement of having an appointment with an axe.

It was a mildly amusing scene and as it closed and the news babe went on to other stories I zipped over to the Fox Noise Network seriously figuring the usual sock puppets that appear there would be foaming at the mouth about how those turkeys were evil Islamic/socialist terrorists out to destroy America. Since Obama cannot fart without the Fox crew screaming the sky is falling I was actually surprised at their lack of response. But honestly, as I moved on to other more productive endeavors I figure we will hear of the president's unconscionable and illegal turkey pardon at the next Republican debate. Which is funny since I have never seen a finer bunch of half-assed turkeys ever assembled on stage in my life.

Of course the final real thought I had on the subject as I walked over to pop a top on another beer is that if through voting by republicans or inaction by disgruntled progressives if anyone of those buttholes are elected president the American people will be the turkeys and we will deserve what those fine fattened gobblers usual get on this day.

To all my friends, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

And yes. my ass, along with my daughter Darth Wiggles who I am forcing to go, will be seeing the new Muppet movie sometime this weekend.   

Sunday, November 20, 2011

F3 Cycle 57 "All in a night's work"

Flash Fiction Friday Cue: Use a bottle of ketchup in your story.
Word limit: 1000
Genre: Open

 “It’s not a fit night for the living to go outside Mr. Chevalier,” the old doorman Thomas said while opening the ornate glass and metal door leading outside my apartment building.

Lost in my own thoughts when I finally comprehended the words Thomas said I found them so odd they froze me in place on the edge of the foyer. I pondered the possible meaning, praying to a God I had long abandoned that this gentle and kind man was not implying anything. Standing there watching the wind and the rain from the stalled tropical storm hovering just off the coast, battering the city of Savannah, Georgia dispelled any foolish doubts that had momentarily crossed my mind.

“Yes, Thomas,” I said adjusting the collar of my trench coat and pulling my safari-style fedora tightly down on my head. “This night is not fit for the living; unfortunately I have important business with someone tonight.”

“Opening another restaurant sir, how many do you own now?” Thomas asked innocently.

“Maybe, if fate continues to be kind to me, and I own four” I said absentmindedly then stepping out into the weather. An awning stretching out from the door to the edge of the street prevented the worst of the weather from pelting me as I walked the distance to my waiting car. Feeling guilty for my brief paranoia I quickly turned around. “Say Thomas, it has been ages since I saw you and your lovely wife at my café on Bay Street. Call Sonya and make a reservation at your convenience, everything will be on the house.” The smile and thumbs up Thomas gave me in thanks soothed my troubled soul, if I have one, allowing me to focus my thoughts on the unpleasant task ahead.

My appointment was with a man in his private residence across the state line in South Carolina. Mere minutes after leaving the city behind the rural nature of the area along with the inclement weather combined to make the night pitch black, so deep was the darkness I began to feel myself transported in time. Driving the empty county roads with the undeveloped woods and marshes fleeting images briefly illuminated by my headlights I felt as if it was possible that anything could jump out in front of me. For various reasons I found that thought strangely funny.

Before long, the GPS system mounted on the dashboard of my car signaled my pending arrival. Turning off the main road, I was greeted by two huge horse statues on either side of the ornate gravel driveway. Minutes later, I was pulling up in front of a similarly ostentatious gate that was no mere ornamental fixture. The gate itself was over twenty-feet tall and was accompanied by what had to be a fifteen foot fence that I easily guessed would run the entire length of the estate. Security cameras, which strangely point both out and inward on the property, ran at intervals along its length.

“State the nature of your business here,” barked from a speaker mounted in a brick column beside the driveway.

“I’m Simon Chevalier; I have an appointment with Mr. Parker.” I responded beginning to feel the hairs on the back of neck tingle.

“When the gates open follow the driveway to the manor, do not stop. When you arrive someone will be at the door to let you in.” The person speaking to me from the speaker said.

With my destination in sight, I cheerfully followed the instructions, which soon had me inside the house and sitting in a comfortable chair in a study whose walls were lined with books. A cup of tea and a fire burning in the fireplace were very dignified touches of hospitality. Mr. Parker even had the dignity to allow me a few minutes to enjoy my surroundings.

“I trust the drive here was not too inconvenient,” Anthony Parker said storming into the room dressed in a very casual polo shirt and slacks, “and that the staff has met your every need while waiting for me.”

“Yes, everything has been fine.” I said, again making a mental note of the staff, they were loose ends that would eventually have to be dealt with.

The exchange of pleasantries was typical but Parker decided to come to the point first. “Please, Mr. Chevalier explain to me who pointed you my way and why I should do business with you.”

“Mr. Parker, we are both successful business men having friends on both sides of the law, which precludes me from disclosing where I heard your name. Just let me assure you I have… tastes that I am sure you can help me satisfy and I am willing to pay handsomely to have them met.“

From the minute I saw Parker walk into the room I knew my information was correct and that I was in the presence of an utter evil monster. The huge book he pulled down from one of the shelves with pictures of little boys for me to choose from only pushed me beyond my limit of endurance. I held back when I slapped him across the room just so he could see my eyes turn blood red and my vampire fangs extend from my upper and lower gums.


A few nights later, I am relaxing in the private dining room of my favorite restaurant. The stew placed in front of me is not exactly to my liking, the chunks of meat were stringy and I had failed to add enough red wine to the base leaving it rather bland. When my culinary skills fail, it depresses me but the arrival of Chief Detective Altman of the Savannah police department raised my spirits.

“So,” he began taking a seat at my table, “how did it go?”

“Robert, it went so well that I am now having Mr. Parker for dinner, or at least his remains.”

“His friends and benefactors are in a panic, the governors of three states and a certain United States senator are all asking the FBI to look into his mysterious and very sudden disappearance.” Robert said coyly watching me eat my dinner.

“Well that is why you ask me to look into these indelicate matters from time to time,” I replied after wiping my mouth with my napkin.

“Yeah,” Detective Altman said, “I just want you to know how much I appreciate your help on these problems we are unable to solve.”

“I did them for your grandfather, your father, and when your son ascends to your position I will do my best for him.”

“You’re a good man Simon,” Robert said getting up from my table and given my abilities, I knew he truly meant it. “Oh yeah, I almost forgot,” he said while fishing something out of his coat pocket.

He placed a bottle of Heinz ketchup on my table, a very old joke that went back to his grandfather. One that never fails to make me again feel my lost humanity.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Observations from a stranger in a strange land

Sleep proved to be elusive one day last week, it happens, there is just times that my nocturnal work schedule makes any decent slumber impossible during the day. Those days I am reduced to light catnaps with periods of roaming the house trying to find a restful frame of mind like it was some tangible but misplaced item that I could recover. It was during one of my periods of wandering the house that I caught sight of my neighbor across the street from my front door window.

I have lived in the same suburban purgatory for nearly eleven years now and I believe I have talked to the guy no more than three times, and briefly at that. Like everyone else in the increasingly gentrified collection of lower-level McMansions I reside around he is a long time resident caught up in his own life and activities almost to the point we barely exist in the same universe. From what I hear, it is a common occurrence these days across the country and because of my early onset curmudgeon attitude not one that I would even begin to want to rectify. When you realize you are a stranger living in a very strange land you come to appreciate the distance you keep between the locals and you.

Looking from my front door window I caught sight of him proudly marching out of his garage carrying his manly leaf blower like it was some weapon locked and loaded for combat. I forget the manufacture but it was huge and had all the macho bells and whistles for the anal-retentive suburban types ever ready to do battle with autumn leaves that dare to disturb the aesthetics of a clean looking curb or driveway. As expected after two quick pulls on the starter cord the machine roared to life blowing what I am sure was at least category-three level hurricane winds from its ferocious snout.

Like some ancient king might contemptuously review the commoner riff-raff he slowly strolled the curb blowing the leafy detritus onto his yard, every once and a while squeezing the hand throttle of the mighty blower like some renegade biker would do his chopper in an attempt to show off. Once he was done this prime example of a civilized and proper American man looked upon his work as if he had just finished sculpting a fine statue. Obviously satisfied with his work he again proudly walked back inside his garage.

Several minutes later after getting something to drink and wander around the house some more I look back out my front door window and see him atop his riding lawnmower looking for all the world like the Lone Ranger or Roy Rogers. This was no bargain basement model of a riding lawnmower, I have seen the same model at the local Lowes and my first car cost less than that fine mechanical stallion. Like his manly leaf blower it comes with all the neat, upper end accessories like real headlights, cup holder, and a vacuum attachment.

Using the vacuum attachment like those cowboy matinee heroes from the 1950’s caught bank robber or cattle rustlers, he sucked up the leaves in his yard that dared to fall on his uniformly green lawn. Neither Rommel nor Patton could have commanded such precision in how he drove across his yard never overlapping more than an inch from where he had already cleared the offending organic material.

Once done, he meticulously bagged the leaves the same way a hazardous material team might contain and collect toxic chemicals and then threw them into the back of his huge and equally impressive truck. Given the usual habits of local suburbanites, the destination for the bagged leaves was certainly the local trash collection point where they would later be hauled off to the nearby landfill and buried. I imagine hundreds or maybe thousands of years from now eager archeological students will dig up those non-biodegradable trash bags and open them to find those very leaves and wonder what in the Hell people were thinking back then.

With the show over, I finally wandered back to bed and fell back to sleep although it was short. Once my daughter came home a couple of hours later I was back up getting her situated so she did her homework, Soon after that, I was off to pick up my son from school. As I drove away, I noticed that the wind had blown leaves from other yards and along with trees on his property the curb and a large portion of his yard was covered again. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I figured there was some sort of statement that could be said about human stupidity and the fact that Mother Nature gives less than a damn about suburban lawn care.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Masks We Hide Behind

Someone much smarter than me once said that we all conceal our true selves behind masks of civilized behavior, that if we showed our real faces and spoke our true thoughts in public our society would dissolve into chaos. I cannot find the author of that statement but I was once naïve, or just plain stupid, enough to doubt the accuracy of those words. After an unfortunate combination of events, I learned all too well how that statement is far truer than I could have ever imagined. The funny thing is that I can now look back at times when the application of basic honesty would have made things much better.

If I have one good and consistent talent, high on the list would be my ability to take a good situation and throw it totally away for one full of uncertainty and stress. I found myself in such a position in March of 2003 after returning to a job I had been laid off from a little over a year before. During my first stint working at what I will call “De Luca’s Telecommunication Widget Factory”, where I had worked from late 2000 until early 2002, I had thought I had made real friends there but I was shocked at the barely concealed contempt I received upon my return.

I returned to the widget factory leaving a great job repairing x-ray machines that had everything you could possibly desire in a career except decent pay. Since I had no formal training in X-ray repair I was literally making about the same as a pizza delivery guy, something that bugged the daylights out of my wife. Formal x-ray training that would have bumped my salary up to widget factory levels but that would require me attending technical schools that were so expensive my employer would have to flip the bill for the tuition, travel expenses, along with room and board during the classes. Since I was still in the National Guard at the time, standing a better than average chance of being mobilized, the x-ray company I worked for did not want to spend the money only to lose it after I turned up for orders sending my unit and me to Afghanistan, and later Iraq.

Finding myself caught in a nice “Catch 22”, I spent a year of on the job training learning radiology repair, including advanced procedures for calibration, but making less than someone driving around with a load of pepperoni pizzas in his or her backseat on a Saturday night. This dichotomy was the subject of many heated discussions between my wife and me since we were rapidly approaching the date when she and her sister would leave for China to bring the infant Darth Wiggles home. So, when the widget factory suddenly called me about returning, with a pay raise, I quickly jumped at the chance.

From day one of my return to the widget factory, I quickly realized that I had violated some redneck social taboo placing me on the same level as a leper or some other social untouchable. It was so bad that months later that by sheer chance I learned my supervisor had tore my fellow employees’ new buttholes after hearing them complain about my return ahead of some of their buddies. Something I had absolutely no knowledge of until much later, if fact one of the guys who complained the most behind my back about my return had actually talked to me a week before I gave my notice to the x-ray company. Had this fine example of “Deliverance” level inbreeding given me a heads up on the situation I would have stayed where I was and been immensely happier in the long run. Yeah, I still harbor some bad feelings that often bleeds off on my opinion of where I live even now.

Fast forward a few months later and I am working twelve-hour night shifts at the widget factory while Dragonwife is dealing with getting the infant Darth Wiggles and a much younger Darth Spoilboy up for school during the workweek. Throw in alternating weekend shift work, and once-a-month National Guard duty and family life had taken a considerable hit all for more money. On a side note, I did call the x-ray company asking for my job back but that went over like a submarine with a screen door. I was replaced less than two weeks before I called them with someone with accredited training and several years of real experience.

To say I was disgruntled every morning when I returned home would have been a huge understatement, but not quite enough to load up on 9mm ammo and go postal on my telecommunication coworkers with my Sig P226. But I have to admit I regularly dreamed about seeing most of the widget factory maintenance staff on a bus with it flying off a cliff and them dying a horrendous, fiery death as the vehicle explodes upon impact with the ground. Yet even with these feelings I somehow found the strength to greet them nicely each morning as they came into work.

The house was usually empty when I returned home and because of the long shifts I worked, I was required to quickly have a shower, eat, then jump into bed to try and get some sleep before the family come home from work, school, and day care late that afternoon. I had little time to decompress which left me no time to shed the frustration and stress that never went away.

Even with my aggravation, I was usually able to quickly fall asleep but one day I found myself be awoken by a crying baby. Now my first thought was that somehow Dragonwife had, in some insane fit of stupidity, left the infant Darth Wiggles home. Such was my state of mind that I literally ran all through the house looking for my baby daughter thinking all sort of nightmarish scenarios that could have been scripts for some half-assed horror movie.

I eventually collected enough of my meager wits to discover the source of the crying to be the baby monitor receiver in my bedroom, Dragonwife had left it on and I was hearing the howling of some baby in another house. Needless to say, I was greatly relieved even though I was feeling some empathy for the poor kid. Soon enough I heard an adult female over the receiver began to say soothing things, which quieted the baby down.

Over the course of the next few weeks hearing that baby cry became a regular event when I returned home, and when it started I would just turn off the monitor. What changed my instinctive habit of turning off the receiver was the introduction one day of an angry male voice that would cuss the baby and the apparent mother. The arguments between the two adults would become so heated at times the sound of someone hitting the other would not have been a surprise. The words said between the two adults were so bad actual hitting might have been kinder. They made the arguments I had with my wife pale in comparison. Both of these unknown people would curse the day they had met each other and the decision to have a baby neither really wanted.

Lying in bed I could not help but begin to wonder where these inadvertent transmissions were coming from. The baby monitor system my wife had bought was a new but very basic system. The manual for it said its range was very limited but even though I have never been popular in my subdivision, I knew of a few families with newly arrived infants like Dragonwife and me but they were several streets over.

At times, while working in the yard I would see each of these families walking the neighborhood looking seemingly happy with each other while pushing a baby stroller. I wondered about the masks they wore in front of everyone else and how they would have reacted if they knew their true feelings were available for anyone to hear.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Accidental Love In The Tropics (Chapter One)

Jack Carter knew he was in trouble from the first moment he tried to open his eyes. At that instant, the very act of moving his eyelids was such a painful experience it rivaled the pain he once felt passing a kidney stone. Given the size of what he instinctively knew to be a massive hangover the early morning symphony of birds and other animals he usually enjoyed coming from the jungle outside his cottage became a tortuous amalgamation of sounds that felt like nuclear bombs going off inside his head. Even through his suffering a small segment of Jack’s mind appreciated the irony that he had originally moved to the small town of Alabama Wharf in the country of Belize in part to escape the insane clamor of daily life in New York City.

“Oh my God, I’m dead,” Jack said to himself when he was finally able to focus his eyes on his immediate surroundings. The mosquito netting hanging down from the ceiling and surrounding his bed had created a surreal, milky hue to the world making it seem unearthly. Adding to the effect was the megaton-sized banging in his head and that the rest of his body refused any command to move Jack momentarily pondered an afterlife condemned to haunting a cheap queen-sized mattress.

As minutes stretched into what seemed an eternity of alcohol-induced anguish Jack’s mind completed the reboot process allowing thoughts that were more complex. After realizing he was not actually dead he became aware of the sun peeking through the slates of the shutters covering his windows and the spin of the ceiling fan in the center of his bedroom.

As sensation slowly returned to his body he came to the realization that he was in bed naked, not his usual way of sleeping but given the degree of his current discomfort it was not a big issue at that moment. With his increasing awareness, there was a nagging feeling that something was just not quite right but he just did not yet have the mental capacity to discover the issue.As best he could, he began taking stock of his surroundings in his one room bungalow.

As Jack lay on his right side facing his nightstand he saw Angelina, his scarlet macaw, just outside the mosquito netting standing on it looking at him accusatorily. “Good morning honey cakes,” the colorful bird said while dancing around on the nightstand. “No food for me, no more loving for you,” it squawked harshly a few seconds later obviously upset she did not yet have her usual breakfast of orange and apple slices.

He could also see Tanner, his German Shepard, still asleep on his pillow over next the couch, probably because the damn dog was as drunk as he was from drinking beer last night. The dog had the strange habit of watching tourists and when one would leave the table he or she was sitting at, quickly run up, knock the bottle to the floor, and begin lapping of the spilled liquid. It was a trick Jack and other locals enjoyed since Tanner had the uncanny ability to target the most obnoxious person of whatever tourist group happened to be visiting at that time, usually a white, middle-aged American male.

With everything in his field of vision accounted for Jack made the sudden realization, that whatever disturbance he was feeling was behind him sharing the bed. Ridiculous visions of a lonely jaguar or amorous python that walked or crawled into his house during the night momentarily filled his head but after slowly turning over Jack knew the situation to be far worse.

Much too his shocked but happy surprise Jack found a gorgeous redheaded woman laying next him sleeping on her belly. The unknown woman was naked from the waist up with a light sheet the only thing covering the rest of her body. The fact that a beautiful woman was sharing his bed not the reason Jack was panic-stricken. Mainly it was the idea that he did not remember bringing her home followed by his immediate discovery that she was wearing a specially designed wedding ring with him realizing he was wearing an exact match.

Both gold rings were molded to look like braided rope with a large an obviously fake diamond mounted on top of each. Imprinted on both fake stones were the same color portraits of a smiling young Elvis Presley looking as if he would begin singing “Love me tender” at any second. Memories of his previous marital disaster caused chills to run down Jack’s spine but seeing the face of Elvis gave him an idea of where last night’s events had to have taken place. At some point, the sleeping lady and he had visited the Graceland-inspired Fast Eddie’s Tropical Chapel of Love, a place catering to the sudden romantic desires of any couple, or larger group, twenty-four hours a day regardless of their state of mind.

Not wanting to disturb the woman who may now be his wife Jack eased out of the bed in hopes of locating his cell phone and calling Fast Eddie and talking him into tearing up the wedding certificate. Feeling a heavy dose of fear and anxiety at the thought of being married again Jack skillfully and quietly cleared the mosquito netting only to have the macaw Angelina jump on his back.

“Cough up the goods lover boy,” the parrot chimed in, which was in effect a cross species mugging and the bird’s way of demanding her breakfast. Fighting an urge to swat Angelina off his back, which Jack knew would only result in a vicious bite from her sharp beak he ambled over to his small kitchen as best he could and began cutting up slices of apples and oranges. Whomever the woman was sleeping in his Angelina’s squawking did not even rouse her in the least, she still lay on her belly with her red hair framing a stunningly beautiful face.

While being held hostage to an impatient macaw pacing the countertop of his small kitchen island Jack racked his brain for some memory of the previous day. It all went blank early last evening after he arrived in the small tourist town of Punta Gorda joining his usual group of malcontents at one of the local bars named the Apache Saloon. After several minutes of cutting apples and oranges, enough to placate Angelina, Jack found a worn pair of cargo shorts and  began a desperate search for his cell phone, which eventually lead him outside to his chief means of transportation, an ancient army surplus jeep.

Stepping outside from the protective shade of his screened-in porch the shock of the morning sun and tropical humidity renewed the assault on Jack’s alcohol-idled mind and sluggish body. However, after a few minutes of rummaging through his jeep he was rewarded with not only finding his cell phone but a crumpled up marriage certificate from Fast Eddie’s dated from last night. On it, the bride’s name was listed as Rebecca Huntington of Seattle, Washington and for a brief moment Jack actually believed he had the situation under control. The scream of utter surprise and terror that suddenly came from inside his small house cut through him like a knife and sent nearby birds flying into the air and monkeys deeper into the jungle fleeing for safety.

After quickly running back inside, he was rewarded with the sight of Angelina dive-bombing the naked redhead who was trying to avoid the bird while desperately clinging to the sheet she had pulled from the bed in an attempt to cover herself.

“Evil hussy!” the bird squawked, circling the lady before going into a shallow dive with talons extended like an irate eagle. It was obvious the terror-filled woman had never had to fight off a jealous bird but the sight was so surreal that Jack could not help but chuckle, which allowed both disgruntled females to notice him.

“I don’t know who you are but get this damn bird away from me before I find something that will allow me to kill it.” The woman shrieked while huddled on the floor covering herself with the sheet.

Seeing Jack, Angelina landed and began waddling around on the floor with her wings spread out in victory. “Lover boy is mine,” it said possessively. This allowed Jack to walk over and permit the bird to jump to his left shoulder.“Send the hussy away lover boy,” the bird said while giving Jack playful nips on the head with her beak.

“Be a good bird Angelina,” Jack said while letting her jump to a perch above Tanners’ pillow bed. For added insurance, he attached a safety leash to one of her legs to prevent any further conflict with his new bride. For all the wild commotion, Jack was impressed that the dog, while awake, had looked on oblivious to it all, a testament to how smashed Tanner was and how much he was use to Angelina’s possessive fits.

With the bird secured to her satisfaction, modesty became a more pressing concern with and the redhead wrapped the sheet tightly around her body and began collecting her clothes that were scattered about the floor. “I’m going to assume,” she began, “we had a great time last night but would you mind telling me where I am at and who you are.”

“Well, umm,” Jack said slowly trying to think of a way to break the news, “this is going to be complicated.”

“How complicated?” she said nervously looking at Jack. It was at that moment she noticed the strange wedding ring on his finger and the one she was wearing that matched.

Long before Jack left his South Carolina hometown to attend college and eventually move to New York afterward to become an investment banker he remembered his grandmother talking about something called a conniption fit. According to her, it was the worst of behaviors usually reserved for hopelessly spoiled children who desperately needed a good, old-fashioned spanking with a belt until they could not sit down anymore. As a child Jack had never actually seen the nearly mystical seizure put on by anyone but the woman he believed to be his new wife was surely showing him one now.

After looking at the bizarre wedding ring for several seconds, the new Mrs. Jack Carter stuck out her left hand as if she had just discovered an engorged tick implanted on her finger. In a panic, she began rapidly stamping her feet up and down to the point they had become a blur making her look like she was trying to run a one-hundred yard dash in his house. Jack was increasingly dumbfounded and worried as her eyes became huge and her breathing became panicky, so much that the sheet she had carefully wrapped around herself came loose and fell to the floor without her noticing.

Angelina loved the commotion and was doing her best to fly off and attack the strange interloper but was restrained because of the leash Jack attached. “Crazy hussy, crazy hussy!” the bird would squawk before breaking down into what Jack assumed was fits of macaw laughter.

Even Tanner was finally awaken enough to move into a sitting position on his pillow to watch the perplexing show.“Just what in the bloody Hell is going on here?” the dog seemed to say to him as it looked incredulously over at Jack.

However, the show ended soon enough as the beautiful redhead named Rebecca finally fainted and fell to the floor. Being a decent sort Jack rushed over and gently lifted up his new wife and placed her back on the bed. Jack’s first thought was that as soon as possible he would need to contact Fast Eddie to end this mistake immediately. His second thought was that compared to his first marriage this was actually a good start to the relationship.

(Author's Note: In spite of the near certain accusations that will come my way of suffering from a delusion that I can write there will be a second chapter to this story.)