Monday, March 28, 2011

It was a good idea at the time.

Last Sunday was one of those rainy and cold days that for me are best spent inside, watching some relaxing movie or, if my wife and daughter will allow, in some quiet refuge trying to write. However, neither my wife nor my daughter was going to allow such a thing yesterday.

Early last week I was put on dayshift to cover my two teammates who normally work that time after both were struck with sudden emergencies. It seemed simple enough, but after spending over eighteen months on nightshift my family had worked out a comfortable schedule juggling the demands on my wife and children with that of my work. Being abruptly thrust back onto dayshift forced my attorney wife to trash her routine work schedule so she could be home when the eight year-old Miss Wiggles walked through the door since I could not get back any earlier than four o’clock.

The rest of last week was utterly FUBARed and everyone was extremely happy when the weekend arrived since it meant a return to my normal work schedule Sunday night. Still, the damage was done forcing Dragonwife to catch up on her paperwork late Sunday morning requiring a quiet house without distractions. For that reason my wife asked if Wiggles and I would get out of the house for a while.

For years, Miss Wiggles and I use to spend some time away from the house every Sunday going to the zoo, the state museum, or taking Sparky the Dog to one of the local parks for a walk. It was a regular and enjoyable activity but like her brother before her, who I use to do the very same thing with, she had long begun to want to stay home and play with her friends in the neighborhood or do something that did not bore her like our regular activities had started to do.

As expected, when Wiggles learned we be going to the zoo she became obstinate, not only refusing to go to the “childish” zoo but wanting to stay home and watch SpongeBob all day with her friend who in all honesty needs one of those patches smokers wear but soaked in anti-hyperactivity medicine.

With Dragonwife pulling out stacks of paper with all sorts of legal mumbo-jumbo and other black magic spells printed on them while beginning her chants Wiggles and I came to a compromise about where we would go. Instead of the zoo we agreed to take Sparky the Dog for a walk in the park, which opened up a huge can of worms that I made an oath never to do again. Sparky the Dog is a little terrier that while great with all children absolutely goes ballistic at the sight of other canines.

Several bad incidents had occurred on these previous walks with Sparky going after other dogs, some of them much bigger, and while the police never had to be involved and the other dog owners were forgiving for the most part I had long realized taking Sparky anyplace was far more trouble than it was worth. That is why as all three of us drove away I came up with a great idea about our destination.

The South Carolina state house grounds are an extremely beautiful and relaxing place with its park-like atmosphere and its semi-secluded paths a great place to find a bench and sit and think. Wiggles, Sparky, and I had visited there many times on our little outings paying special attention to all the historical monuments situated on the grounds. During early spring when the azalea bushes are in bloom the color is explosive and the alluring scent of the flowers can almost make a knowledgeable person forget about the Confederate banner still flapping in the breeze nearby. With it being a rainy and cold day, I expected the grounds to be largely empty of both people, dogs, and was happily surprised to find it that way as I parked the car.

The first animals that greeted us as we began our walk were the resident squirrels, which I always confuse with our glorious elected officials. On a side note, if the knowledge of my confusion every reaches the leadership of the resident squirrel clan I expect they will viciously attack me the next time I visit. Sparky went crazy wanting to chase the little furry critters but as I scanned the surrounding area and saw no dogs I was content to let the family canine, safely on his leash, have his dreams of action and adventure.

Trouble never being far behind on these outings finally occurred near the statue of the esteemed Wade Hampton the Third, Confederate general, governor of South Carolina, and United States senator. We had nearly circled the entire grounds and with no dogs in the area and very few people, I was beginning to feel relaxed and had planned to make another circuit around the big gray building.

Wiggles was holding the leash as we approached the huge statue with Hampton sitting gallantly on his horse. Sparky was busy enjoying that wonderful olfactory world exclusive to dogs, I was lost in my thoughts, as usual, wondering when I could find the time to make a trip down to the coast before the crowds returned. Glancing down I saw Sparky very close to the base of the statue clearly getting into that special position dogs do to take a poop. Before I could open my mouth Sparky left a huge steamy pile on the base of one of South Carolina’s heroes and looking very happy with himself.

Right then and there, I quickly lead my little group back toward our car with every intention to leave before anyone noticed the special honor we had left on the monument. I had forgotten to bring the small dog poop bags that are specially made so an owner can take procession of what his furry friend leaves behind and there was no way in hell I was going to pick that stuff up with my bare hand.

As we stealthily slipped away, I remembered my basic South Carolina history and began to feel less embarrassed. Wade Hampton was the original “Teabagger” prototype ending post-Civil War Reconstruction in South Carolina, under very bloody terms, and setting it on the path of clinging to a dishonored way of life oppressing a huge segment of the population that never did anything wrong but be born the wrong color. With our escape apparently successful I allowed myself the dishonorable thought of wishing Sparky had the “stuff” to leave a similar present at the base of Strom Thurmond’s statue as well.

With South Carolina being a state where “Honor” is still in many quarters a sacred thing and people get teary eyed at the thought of the Confederate flag flapping in the breeze while dreaming the Civil War had a different conclusion its not out of the realm of possibility I could get into trouble for bringing this stuff up. So if I suddenly disappear this is my official request that Amnesty International be contacted on my behalf.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A battle I choose not to fight

"Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing up is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing."
Phyllis Diller

"Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight..."
Sun Tzu

It has been a while since I mentioned my son, Darth Spoilboy. All is well, for a fifteen year-old boy, his life right now revolves around his soul consuming desire for his restricted drivers license which he will be able to test for in a little over a month. Life with him is a constant dialog over when and what car we will eventually buy for him and how he will go all out helping his parents. Promises abound with Darth Spoilboy guaranteeing how he will gladly assist us in things requiring a car and more normal things around the house. 

Since we are not a rich family by any means any car we purchase for his use will be a something very basic and hopefully reliable. This goes counter to the various sports cars that idly drift in and out of his fantasies. As for his current eagerness in helping his parents both Dragonwife and I have no illusions that it will last. We fully expect him to artfully forget all the things he said he would help us with like driving Miss Wiggles to her gymnastic practices, making runs to the grocery store, and the very basic thing of simply keeping up with cleaning his room.

Some progress has been made on that front, on a previous post I remarked how I once found a fossilized McDonalds double cheeseburger underneath his bed and how it was so hard I believe it would beat depleted uranium as an antitank weapon. The worst thing lately has been his collection of used drinking glasses that never make it to the dishwasher. It's a stupid pet peeve of mine I admit, but I cannot stand how every time he gets something to drink Spoilboy always gets a new glass from the cabinet. Throw in a  few empty cereal bowls and spoons and I can go into his room and nearly find another load for the dishwasher before I unload the one still in the machine.

I have long since given up on having him make his bed everyday, while it was something my grandparents instilled in me to do as a form of cleanliness and self-discipline the ubiquitous argument he will always put forward is that he will only mess it up that evening so it is not worth the effort. I just have him make his bed every Saturday morning after changing the sheets.

One fight I have completely surrendered on is making any sense of his closet, weekends at my house are a total military-style campaign on getting all the laundry done before another work week begins. No one wants the hassle on washing clothes while fighting children on homework and the epic school projects that teachers gleefully assign tired parents like my wife and myself.

Thankfully Spoilboy usually does all his own laundry and takes custody of it after it is dried but every once and a while will forget about it when something pops up. On a recent Saturday when Spoilboy suddenly departed the house with a buddy I mistakenly folded his clothes along with items belonging to Dragonwife and Miss Wiggles. It wasn't a big deal, I was watching a movie and as far as chores go folding clothes is actually relaxing in a Zen-like way. Being a dutiful father after I finished I gathered all the folded clothes up and put them away in the correct drawers. Except for Spoilboy's stuff, I opened up his closet door and was greeted with what you see above.

I believe the clothes on the shelf in his closet are clean while the stuff in the hamper below are dirty, although I could not smell any real difference between the two separate piles. For several seconds I stood there holding the laundry basket containing his neatly folded clothes trying to figure out what I would do. My grandparents would have flipped out and made me organize everything had I ever dared to do something similar. In the end the little voice in my head said to leave it alone and I turned the laundry basket over and dumped his clothes out on the floor. When Spoilboy came home later that evening he went into his room and never said a word.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday (Cycle 23) Accidental Divinity

Flash Fiction Friday:
Prompt: THEMED WORD LIST, thanks to 75 Words Every Sci-Fi Fan Should Know stellar Engine, mind food, needler, superluminal, and wetware  
Genre: Sci-fi themed pot-boiler
Word Count: Under 1500 words

The first time I actually saw the starship Olympus I was in the transport shuttle approaching the shipyards in orbit above the moon Callisto. Even with Jupiter dominating the window screen silently watching over the affairs of human as they scurried over his collection of satellites, I was lost in awe at the graceful manta-like shape of the ship that was going to be my home for over a thousand years.  She was a beautiful merger of art and science and like every decent captain in human history; I was in love with my ship despite my dubious feelings towards the superluminal pods attached to what I considered her undersides.   

For a couple of seconds I caught a glance at the surface of Callisto long covered in steel alloy and ceramic structures  saying a small prayer of thanks to the workforce living there whose job it was to save the human race by spreading it among the stars. Their own fleet of twenty sub-light starships were nearing completion and by the time they finished Olympus’ two remaining sister ships the entire population would board the multigenerational vessels and leave the solar system. A mere hundred years before the radiation from the Mirkhan magnetar collision reached humanity’s birthplace and sterilized everything.

In one of the more curious cosmic jokes the universe can produce the arrival of the Andar starship in orbit above Earth informing us of the collision of the two orbiting magnetars a little over five-thousand light-years away from Earth had both condemned and saved humanity.  It was the middle of the twenty-first century and the majority of the human race was in embroiled in the insane destruction that history has named the Third World War. The situation on Earth was so bad then that some of the old nation-states refused to stop fighting even with a three kilometer-long ship in the sky clearly visible during the day.

Cooler, and wiser human heads eventually prevailed with all hostilities ceasing and both the Andar and humans finding some way to communicate. The Andar had only one real message, that humans had twenty-five hundred years to get there affairs in order and evacuate the solar system or face extinction. They offered up several important pieces of technology to help us but the most important being the Stellar Engine for light-speed travel and the Zero-Point energy module to power it. With that, they engaged their engine and left humanity behind without saying another word.

But it was enough to begin the human Diaspora, fifty years later humanity was united under a common government and with a clear goal, one to survive and expand. Strict birth control measures and a massive solar system wide infrastructure building program being the priorities to accomplish that objective. 

Now with just a little over two-hundred years left before the wave front reaches us the population of Earth was down to five-hundred million with a good segment of that number saying they would stay from either not believing the Andar warning or thinking they could ride out the radiation deep underground. For those leaving, Earth had its own necklace of sub-light, multi-generational ships orbiting the planet with departures occuring even now..

My mission with the Olympus was completely different, not happy with just the ability to travel close to the speed of light early into the Diaspora several scientists kept researching the principles of star travel and came up with a method of superluminal flight. With the bulk of humanity having a way to leave, enough resources were left for the Appleseed Project. A class of starships loaded with automated factories, androids, planetary engineering equipment, and millions of human embryos who would be raised in artificial wombs, when old enough these children would colonize hundreds of planets all across the galaxy and beyond.

The developers of the project were still uneasy with the idea leaving human children in the custody artificial intelligence so they included a crew of one on the ship to oversee everything. The captain’s body would be put in total stasis while his or her mind was integrated into the ship’s systems allowing a lifespan of at least a thousand years before the amalgamation broke down. With the faster-than-light drive estimates suggested at least forty worlds could be colonized.

My only problem was the mission was that the superluminal systems were largely untested and the very nature of the assignment prevented the earlier Appleseed ships from reporting success or failure. My doubts should have eliminated me from the project but my test scores and personality traits superseded those faults. Mainly because I know having to live out my life on one of the multigeneration ships would have drive me insane.

After visually inspecting my ship from the shuttle I finally docked and was greeted by a gorgeous brunette from shipyard security who scanned me looking for all manner explosives. I found myself admiring her cleavage enhanced by her tight uniform at the same time she kept her wrist mounted plasma needler not exactly pointed in my direction. Proof that the insane Luddites back on Earth would still kill anyone who believed the Andar warning.  

The Diaspora had just about ended all forms of ceremony and a few hours later after being inserted into my fluid-filled stasis chamber and plugged into the ships systems the Olympus and I were watching Jupiter recede in the background.  I was still dealing with the mental buzz the mindfood running through my brain was causing as it aligned my thought processes with the ship’s wetware systems when I discovered a small problem with the superluminal systems.

It was just my over curious nature to discover a small error in the Zero-Point energy system computations and how they were connected to the superluminal pods mere minutes before the Olympus went faster than light. Delving deeper into the program I discovered this was not a small error and that unless I did something fast the ship would be destroyed right after it went into hyperspace. Ancient history had been my passion back on Earth and as I flowed through the interconnected systems leading to the pods I realized what I was doing was once called a “Hail Mary.”

The Olympus went into hyperspace nanoseconds after I finished realigning everything the best I could. My reward was that the ship was still in one piece but it was then that I realized that the issue was a general design flaw and that unless the departed Appleseed captains found the problem, unlikely I thought, they had all died minutes after leaving the solar system. Given the nature of FTL travel they had all been reduced to subatomic particles reentering normal space with hyperspace absorbing the explosions.

Going completely against orders I cut the superluminal engines and reentered normal space barely a light-year out of the solar system. There were other Appleseed ships under construction and I needed to save not just their captains but also the frozen embryos and all that equipment and effort. Aiming my communication array back towards Callisto I was rewarded with nothing but silence and normal background static. Central fleet command on Earth and Luna offered the same forcing me to focus my sensors on all three bodies.   

Shock almost overcame me as I noticed everything was gone, Callisto looked like it did when the ancient Pioneer and Voyager probes passed it in the Twentieth century, Luna was dark brown and gray with no evidence human occupation, and none of Earth’s huge orbital factories could be seen.

I scanned the surrounding stars and discovered the problem, they were all out of proper position. The imbalance, while not blowing the ship and me up, had sent us two-hundred, fifty-thousand years in the past. With no better answer as to what to do I engaged the stellar engine and made my way back home.

A year later I now orbit the home of humanity looking for evidence of my species and finding nothing of Homo sapiens. My shipboard scans and automated probes I deployed can find plenty of Neanderthals and several other hominid species but nothing of the species that nearly destroyed the planet but eventually found a way to overcome their barbaric nature. There should be bands of Homo sapien hunter-gatherers all across southern Africa but the dusty savannas are empty. An old anthropology problem comes to mind as I circle Earth; the question of human origins was long abandoned because of the Diaspora but the fossil record on Earth suggests Homo sapiens seem to have appeared suddenly and out of nowhere.

My duty seems clear, I have over a million frozen embryos onboard and all the equipment I need to start the human race where it should already exist. Thousands of questions occupy my mind over this situation as well as the added responsibility of the collective weight of all future human sins and misdeeds. Do I even have the authority to create the human race in the first place?

This additional accidental divinity is a damn near unbearable burden but even now two of the embryos, one male and one female, are growing in the artificial wombs onboard my ship. I have decided to give them the names Deucalion and Pyrrha, which seems fitting since I am destined to watch over them and their children from my spaceborne Olympus for as long as possible. The ultimate question of what role I will play in this rerun of human history is a mystery to me, will I be an arrogant Zeus or a benign Prometheus? Another question of lesser importance that I none the less ponder in my solitude is what becomes of my ship and me as we march through time back to the beginning?

(Author's note: With the chaos of the weekend fading I dredged up a couple of better ideas for the ending.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

When opinion and perspective clash with fact and truth

"Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth."
Marcus Aurelius

Forgive my presumptuousness at second guessing the good emperor or adding to his philosophy but fact and truth have a nasty habit of smacking unsuspecting fools caught up in their own little worlds up side the head. And if ever there was a time fact and truth crashed in on Americans it was the sight of massive walls of water slamming into the Japanese coast and pushing aside the best efforts of humanity like a petulant child tossing toys in a fit of anger. Add the tragic follow up images of people wandering around decimated towns and villages looking for lost loved ones or some scrap of the life that existed the day before and you have a situation that is enough to startle the most jaded and self-absorbed among us

In a way it is beyond forgiveness that it takes such an event to shake Americans out of their delusion that the world and its peoples revolve around them. As a country that in some ways rightly prides itself on its charity and willingness to help others maybe its best that we do not examine our generosity too closely. Recent disasters that hit both Chile and New Zealand were quickly forgotten in the light of our insipid political battles and the latest antics by the Hollywood elite. Only the plight of Chilean miners trapped deep underground caught our attention long enough to muscle out our dear elected leaders calling each other nasty names while questioning the patriotism of those that oppose them. Of course, such behavior can always be justified by the conveniently rented pundits who find numerous ways to count the angels dancing on the heads of pins just the way the people who sign their paychecks want.

But such is life in this day and age, in the coming days scores of private relief agencies will have their fifteen minutes of news cycle fame as tons of emergency aid is collected, loaded, and sent off to those desperate people in Japan. Bright eyed and smiling reporters will record for the evening news all the good people shedding tears of joy at the outpouring of compassion and generosity meant for that battered nation. This is all fantastic and very much the right thing to do but as always our collective attention span is short and before long the high paid Hollywood publicists and well groomed politicians will find ways dominate the news again.

The shame in this, as far as I am concerned, is that the same people appalled at the human suffering in Japan many times ignore the deep suffering right here at home or in nations that do not serve our vital interests. Sure, the usual fair and balanced commentators will spout off reasons why those less fortunate in this country need an incentive to make them work harder and that those living in third-world countries probably deserve what happens to them. This will satisfy those believers in American Exceptionalism and they will either return to their fears about the current boogieman hiding under the bed out to destroy the Republic or to the latest deranged, attention-seeking celebrity waiting for him or her to wrap their expensive car around a telephone pole.

Neither is a behavior that any sane people would celebrate but none of us have a choice in what era we live and our only course of action is to make the best of the time we have hoping it leads the way to a more enlighten and rational age for us all. Because nothing is going to change until we set aside our petty pursuits and prejudices and the bulk of humanity learns that we are all in this together and that in the end all we truly have is each other.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Declassified Disney Cruise Pictures

My return to normalcy after the cruise has been a rocky road, my head still exists in some different realm of tropical palm trees, lazy beach bars, blatant and unhealthy overeating, and attractive ladies cavorting around on sandy beaches  in tiny bikinis. Nightly, I find myself dreaming about the Caribbean and realizing, like Jimmy Buffett said, "my occupational hazard is my occupation is just not around." So as much as I might want to don my Captain Jack Sparrow hat, seize some harbor queen sailboat down in Charleston, and make like the mythical and fun loving pirates of old but I'm stuck with these sorry ass pictures from the January cruise.    
Last time I offered up a series of Key West pictures showing off my walkabout exploring a small section of the island while visiting a few of the bars and soaking up as much of the atmosphere as possible. As much as I have heard former residents and long-time visitors complain about the abuse of that paradise I would still jump at a chance to not only stay down there longer but live there if I could afford it. Now dreaming further into the improbable the picture above is of Wisteria Island located 645 yards off Key West and around it are scores of liveaboard sailboats. From what I have learned the island was created in the 1890's to the early 1900's as a result of repeated dredging operations. Despite its artificial origins I find it picturesque and if I owned a sailboat it looks like a small piece of heaven that I would anchor at over the winter months. I have read a few places that there have been several recent battles with the usual evil developer unable to leave any piece of land alone and wanting to build condominiums on it. From what I have read as of right now any plans for development have been shelved but those slimy bastards never give up.  
We arrived at Grand Cayman on Tuesday and had to take a tender from the ship to the island. The harbor had all sorts different ships anchored there from three Carnival ships, hundreds of large yachts and sailboats, and one pirate ship. From what I heard its a tourist attraction with daily trips around the island. The crew is, of course, dressed in pirate costumes and somehow makes one of the tourists walk the plank during the short voyage. Given my pirate tendencies I would love to sign on as a member but I would probably takes things too seriously like feeding irritating American tourists to the sharks.      
Why yes, yes I did. Given the priorities of Homeland Security I expect stormtroopers at my door any minute.
Seven Mile Beach, I am usually not big on crowded beaches but I met a lot of fantastic people from around the world. I did find one thing slightly bothersome, when I finally revealed I was from South Carolina to these people not only did a lot of them start to snicker but were surprised at how normal I behaved. Yes, South Carolina's reputation is world wide and not of the good sort. As for my friends thinking I behaved normally, I did nothing out of the ordinary to change their minds but I was only around them for a short time. 
Right off the beach was a great bar called Calico Jacks. This open air beach bar was a little slice of heaven. One of the bartenders was a twenty-something American girl who told me that she came down to Grand Cayman on spring break one year and decided to stay.  She told me her parents are rich New Englanders who had her life planned out after college going as far as setting up many attempts to get her interested in the son of another couple. In an open rebellion during that spring break she lucked out finding a job and just stayed when her friends went back home. Also had a great time at the bar talking with Japanese couple, a retired British gentleman, and a Russian dude who said little during the conversation but what he did say made me think he was former Spestnaz. 
Call me a heretic but after spending time on this vacation in Orlando, Key West, and Grand Cayman all which have Margaritaville restaurants which you might expect I would beat a path to each and everyone but I avoided them all like the plague. I really don't care for chain restaurants in any form, even those owned by Jimmy. While it has blown up in my face several times I like finding out of the way places that my wife sarcastically calls "greasy spoons." All I can say for anyone who visits Grand Cayman is that Paradise Restaurant is not a greasy spoon and I highly recommended you stop by and sample their food. It is not gourmet cuisine by any means but it is great simple food, in a great seaside location, with a exceptionally friendly staff. While there try a bottle of Caybrew beer, made right there on the island.   
On one of the days at sea Dragonwife and I signed up for a tequila tasting seminar. One of the bartenders lectured us on all the types of tequila and what they were used for but since that wonderful Mexican beverage flowed freely every time my shot glass was empty one of the attentive waiters filled it up again. Because of that things quickly started to fade in the background like the lecture. Dragonwife tells me it was very informative and I will have to take her word for it. Now how I ended up in at the Goofy pool wearing a hula skirt and coconut bra I'll never know and probably do not want to find out.    
Never one to learn from my mistakes Dragonwife and  I did a beer tasting a few days later with me doing my duty as a husband saving my lovely wife from having to suffer the effects of any possible hangover by drinking her samples as well. Yeah, there was a lecture for this one as well but I did not sign up for this thing to hear someone speak.  
Wednesday we docked at Cozumel, Mexico but some sort of storm beat us to port and  ruined most excursions including the jamming beach party that was suppose to have everything at it up to naked volleyball. (Just joking, remember this was Disney although I have heard of such things.)  
Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. A glorified sandbar without any natural fresh water supply but for me yet another slice of heaven that I would have willingly stayed if asked. Disney has a permanent staff of about fifteen on the island who maintain the facilities with the cruise ship's crew augmenting activities and duties when its there. The entire fresh water supply used on the island is generated by the ship when it is docked at the island. Scuttlebutt has that Disney is trying to get a solar powered desalination plant going on the island with the possibility that when operational some sort of overnight facilities might be constructed. Disney has a timeshare-like business and when polled members always pick Castaway Cay as the place they would like to see a new resort built. That is all well and good and given the location I might make an exception to my usual distaste at rabid development but the possibility of numerous hurricanes striking the island will probably prevent any construction.       
Just a shot of the beach, the water was crystal clear but unusually cold, even for January but that did not stop me from going snorkeling in the lagoon. 
The cabin was comfortable and the guy who was our steward did a excellent job keeping thing clean and organized. I hate to sound ungrateful but after a couple of days I was getting uneasy with the degree of service the steward provided. This is hard to explain but I hate the idea of ever being described as the "Ugly American" and while the steward was just doing his job I am just a common dude who does not expect anyone to make a fuss over me. A rich man might like his every whim met like his bed turned down every evening, his clothes ironed and put away,  and new towels supplied to the room three times a day but that is just not me. The problem with my proletariat viewpoint though was our steward was a guy from India who depends on good reviews to keep his job along with most of his salary and tips being sent straight home. So Dragonwife made sure he got an excellent review and a tip far larger than that suggested.     
Miss Wiggles doing some minor snorkeling with me before running out of the water because she was freezing. It may have been the cooler water temperatures but I was disappointed with the lack of tropical fish in the area. I got a few shots but none were decent and the fish I caught on camera were almost invisible in the pictures.  
Disney has created an underwater trail for snorkelers made of fake artifacts, statues, and even a sunken submarine. I spent ten minutes trying to get a decent picture of this sunken statue of Minnie Mouse but a couple of middle-aged boneheads kept hovering around it and even standing on the thing. The last thing I wanted were pictures of some pale, fat dude with his feet on top of Minnie's private parts.
One of the sunken artifacts which in this case might have been a real observation sphere. I was told by a lifeguard that one of the submarines that was part of Disney World's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" attraction was sunk on the far end of the lagoon but I never could make it that far out. Halfway out I started shivering and had to turn around and go back to the beach.
Miss Wiggles getting her hair braided.  Needless to say we had a great time but given the global situation with gas prices going into orbit and the economy that refuses to recover I doubt we will be doing another cruise anytime soon.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Friday Flash Fiction (Cycle 21) Finding a way back home

Flash Fiction Friday :This week’s story challenge is to explore a character’s defense mechanism at work in under 1500 words in any genre you want. Let’s see if we can top last week.

The rain is cool and refreshing as I walk, the morning dark and comforting as I carry my burdens both in my head and in the duffel bag on my back. Every step I make I feel my boots sink ankle deep into the mud of the waterlogged dirt road I am walking on. My feet are heavy with the weight of my wet socks and the splash of every step I take only soaks the legs of my old blue jeans. I do not care, the road I am on is taking me home bringing me closer to the one place I can find refuge.

Lightning flashes somewhere close answered a second later by thunder, the steady rain that has been my companion on this seemingly endless journey increases its tempo obscuring visibility but I know where I am going. On my right are the woods I hunted squirrels and rabbit during my childhood. Looking through the mist and rain toward those familiar trees, I wonder why no developer has not snapped up all that land and built the usual golf courses and condominiums. On my left begins the slow swampy slope to the marsh and the sea that my family has worked since before the Civil War. If the weather was clear, I would be able to smell the salty musk of the marsh, something everyone who makes their living by the life it protects and nurtures comes to love.

My solitude is total, as if I am the only inhabitant of my own personal world. But I know everyone is busy, dad and my younger brother Sam should already be on the boat weaving through the channels to the ocean where the long shrimp nets will be dropped and they will troll for days traveling south until the freezer is full. Mom will be pulling a double shift at the hospital and will find an empty room there to sleep when she takes a break before going back on duty for another sixteen hours. She hates being alone at the house with dad and Sam gone. All this is good; it will give me a few days to adjust to being home before mom finally returns to check on the place.

My steps are strong and continuous and before long the old house emerges from the mist. Nothings seems to have changed since I have been away, the tin roof looks new but granddad's old rocking chairs still line the porch looking like worn sentries who refuse to give up their posts. Further back, almost behind the house I see the work shop with one of dad's spare shrimp nets strung up for repair. Close by is granddad's old 1952 Chevy truck, still in the same place it was the day he surrendered his driver's license, the old man died a couple of days later and the family just never had the heart to move the thing.

Stepping on the porch and out of the rain, I throw down my duffel bag and collapse into one of the rocking chairs. I admit it now, I am beyond weary, my soul aches and all I want to do is sit, watch the rainfall, and wait for mama to come home. Despite the rain, which had long soaked every part of my body I can still feel the dirt and dust clinging to me from those dry and desolate places where my friends and I fought for so many years.

Stripping off my soaked boots and socks I sit in the rocking chair listening to the rain. If I concentrate, I find that the metallic drumming of the rain falling on the tin roof is able to drown out both the voices and the faces of the people I saw die over there. It is a small relief but I hold onto it as tightly as I fall into a priceless oblivion.

The rain ends late into the night and off in the distance I notice small lights approaching, the first thing that comes to mind is the enemy and that they have somehow penetrated the perimeter. My muscles tense and I actually reach for my rifle before I realize they are fireflies dancing in the darkness. Feeling stupid, I grab my duffel and retrieve the key hidden above the front door. Inside the house, the only sound is the ticking of the clock on the mantle above the fireplace.

Going up the stairs and down the hall I find my old room unchanged like everything else except for the stack of letters I sent home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Knowing my parents read them in my room to try and feel closer to me I feel ashamed at what I put them through, the torture of always expecting the next letter to be a notification of me having been killed in action. As I unpack my belongings, laying them on my bed the colorful ribbons and silver lieutenants bars on my dress uniform add to my shame as I realize they cost far more than they were worth.

After a shower and finding clean clothes still in my dresser, I move back down to the living room almost ghost-like in my silence. I lay my green beret on the small table next dad's recliner, a statement that I am home for good. I open the door and windows letting the cool night breeze blow through the house. It seems like days since I have eaten but outside the chirping of crickets and the buzz of cicadas sing songs of my return and I lay on the couch to listen. Sleep claims me and I drift away figuring I will call the hospital in the morning to tell mom I am home.

I awake in my VA hospital bed, the morning sun is shining through the dirty windows and I sit up trying to shake off the drugs that allow me to escape this reality. Outside my room, others like me slowly shuffle down the hall toward the cafeteria. We are a motley crew dressed in identical cheap blue robes and slippers. My head spins as I stand up and walk over to join the crowd, I see hulking orderlies standing close by, watching the psych ward inmates making sure they do not get out of hand.

Breakfast is the finest VA lowest bidder cuisine, runny eggs, under cooked sausage, and bland oatmeal. I wash it all down with seven cartons of the plentiful chocolate milk, the high point of my day. I look around at my fellow inmates sitting in the cafeteria, a see a few that I served with in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Good guys, but like me something happened to them that despite all the training they just could not handle. It doesn't matter what caused it, that bullshit about honor, courage, and duty goes out the door the second bullets start flying. When that happens, the only imperative is watching the backs of your buddies but good soldiers and innocent civilians still die for unknown reasons we wonder about in the psych ward dayroom while we play spades, and watch Spongebob on the old television.

The politicians know the real reasons why we fight but they don't tell us grunts. They just smile on television and occasionally visit as the next election approaches talking with the staff in the rehabilitation wards while jockeying for pictures with the amputees.

They never come to see us, the injuries here are more abstract and do not make for good photo ops. For once, I would like to have one ask me about the little girl I saw burned black after a Predator drone fired on the wedding party the operator took as a Taliban gathering. I would even tell him about a local village chieftain that tried to work with us in the hope of getting a new well dug for his village only to have the Taliban skin him alive one night.

Sitting at my table, I feel the rage build inside trying to take control. One of the nurses sees me begin to shake and comes over to check. She would be pretty if she did not look as haunted as I do. Watching close by are the orderlies ever ready to take me down if I become aggressive. I allow the nurse to guide me to my room, once we are back and I lay down on my bed and try to look outside the dirty window and see something of the world. Thankfully, the glass obscures everything but I still feel the desperate need to go home, to feel safe. I can’t though, while fighting America’s proclaimed enemies my parents’ house burned down one night killing my entire family. The mission was so important and I was so far from civilization I did not learn about it for nine months.

The nurse hands me a small paper cup with a couple of blue pills inside. I take them and after a swallow of warm water, the tired nurse offers me a sad smile and walks out of my room. I lay my head down and close my eyes; the warm feeling of safety starts to spread over me.

Soon it is raining again and I am walking the dirt road towards home.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Delving into the dusty and ramshackle regions of my mind.

For some unfathomable reason Mother Theresa over at “The Rain in Spain…” tagged my dull and boring self for the meme asking I spout off seven remarkable things (outright lies) about this poor Southern redneck. This week at work was frustrating and crazy, which delayed my participation. For that, I apologize to Mother T.  I do enjoy these little trips into the dusty regions of my ramshackle mind, I hope I do not scare anyone away, still working in a rush so forgive the typos.  

1.)This is going to amuse a lot of people and have some question my manhood but I actually like the music of ABBA. I never owned any of their CD’s but since I was a kid when one of their songs played on the radio, I would soon be grooving to their music. Now when I was in high school I kept my appreciation of Sweden’s super group a highly classified secret.  So yeah, as my contemporaries were zoning out to KISS, Twisted Sister, and Black Sabbath I was geeking out to a group that back then was at a minimum snickered at or outright ridiculed.

A few months ago, my wife bought a used DVD copy of the movie “Momma Mia”, which is based around many ABBA songs. When I hear her upstairs watching it most of the time I will eventually drift up to the family room myself.  One thing about the movie that just does not ever seem right is hearing Pierce Brosnan sing.

2.) It is a subject I have never touched on, but I met my wife at a Jimmy Buffett concert in Charlotte, North Carolina.  It was the summer of 1992 and I had just graduated with a nice and shiny two-year Associate degree from one of South Carolina’s finer community colleges. My job search had started a few months before and after sending out scores of resumes, I was hitting a humongous goose egg. It was several months after the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm and America was welcoming home thousands of troops with the military gearing up for a massive draw down in strength.

Curious enough, I had left the active army back in 1990 at the conclusion of my four-year enlistment when word started to come down from officials about a reduction in force back then. I figured I would beat the rush by leaving the service, get into college,  and be sitting pretty as a civilian long before the majority of troops were sent home. Little did I know that barely a month after I rejoined the civilian ranks Saddam would do something very stupid and invade little Kuwait.     

My major was electronics and by the time I had my degree I found myself competing for entry-level technician jobs with former Navy personnel with over twenty-years of experience.  Let us just say by that time it was a buyer’s market with forty-something ex-Navy Chief Petty Officers almost coming to blows with each other over a minimum wage technician jobs at Chucky Cheese pizza places fixing old fashion video games.    

My brother Steve took pity on my sorry, unemployed soul and coughed up the bucks for both of us to go see Jimmy’s concert. By chance, I ended up sitting beside the future Dragonwife, who was newly divorced and accompanied by some blind date bozo her best friend had arranged.Thirty minutes into the concert her blind date understood which way the wind was blowing and went home early.

Because of my attending a Jimmy Buffett concert my son, Darth Spoilboy would eventually be born along with my daughter Miss Wiggles being adopted from China. Moreover, my wife and I have been married now for what seems like a couple of millenniums.

3.) One of my most pleasant memories from childhood involves a camping trip to a small barrier island, which was actually nothing more than a glorified sandbar when I was about five years-old.  My hometown, Georgetown, South Carolina sits on the edge of a coastal estuary called Winyah Bay that is used even now for fishing and simple recreation.  While growing up my family would often make fishing trips into the bay and since Georgetown was a port city big freighters were often seen heading towards the docks or back out to sea.  Those freighters fascinated me since I had some idea they were part of a much larger world that I could not comprehend.  Many times as we fished on the bay I would watch those big ships heading back toward the ocean waving at the guys leaning against the railings and marvel at the places they were going to see.

It was early in the spring of 1969 and my dad loaded up his boat with the old tent, an old cooler, and other supplies and along with his best friend and his son we were a few hours later in Winyah Bay heading out the same direction as those freighters. We set up camp on a small barrier island way above the high tide line next a medium sized tree that had somehow taken root. The island was about a mile long but was no wider than fifty yards.  The one memory of the place that is still clear after all these years is pristine beach facing the ocean with huge shells littered all around and how almost Caribbean-clear the water looked.

We fished on the open ocean, a new thing for me, all day after getting the camp setup. Later I caught a small hammerhead shark and who I battled, at least in my mind, like Santiago from “The Old Man and The Sea.” My dad took a picture of me holding up the two-foot creature still attached to the line even though my arms felt like warm taffy. We cut the shark loose then and put him back in the water. He swam around the boat for several minutes, slapped it with his tail a couple of times and then disappeared.

After putting ashore at the camp, we had a manly dinner of canned spam on bread washing it down with Pepsi. As the sun went down my dad and his best friend went night fishing leaving Jack and me at the campsite. After stern instruction about what not to do, we watched them fade off into the night. Jack and I had a ball pretty much doing what we wanted but for me the best thing was watching a freighter heading out to sea.

4.) Watching my teenage son is a riot, free of most of the bad family drama I went through the kid is crazy smart and popular in his group of friends. Now if I don’t have a heart attack worrying when he gets his driver’s license I figure I will be ahead of the game.

5.) My daughter is eight years-old as of this post and if I worry about anything, it is she. Since I was in the military, I have some insight into the workings of the male brain. Hell, not too long ago I was one of those hormone-driven punks and if I ever get into serious trouble if will be because one of those creatures hurt my daughter. But, do not even begin to think I consider my daughter some delicate, hot house flower. She is an utter firecracker and in a few ways the boys do not understand what she can do to them.

6.) I am finding middle-age pretty much sucks, but since fighting it is stupid and the alternative is death which is a serious mega-bummer I can deal with the increased fire threat on my birthday cakes each year. Now if there was a couple of things I could change I would wish for better eyesight and my damn hair back. I suffer from a medical condition with my eyes preventing all forms of corrective surgery, as of right now and the foreseeable future, so barring a miracle I’m screwed on that end. However, I am seriously thinking about joining the hair club for men.

7.) My final aspect I will reveal for this meme is an oldie but a goody, I unreservedly from the deepest bowels of my soul hate suburbia.