Saturday, May 28, 2011

Embracing your Inner Homer

Defying commonsense and logic but in some surreal twist of reality I have read more than a few articles praising none other than Homer Simpson of televisions “The Simpsons” proclaiming him the most unlikely of American heroes and inspirational figures. I have discounted that opinion for a long time but I will be damned but a couple of recent events drove that judgment home for me.

I am not talking sainthood here, if that was the case the long-suffering and wise Marge Simpson would win that title easily. In general, Homer was supposed to be a comedic takeoff on the god-like fathers of 1950’s sitcoms such as Ward Cleaver of “Leave it to Beaver” and Jim Anderson of “Father Knows Best” but instead Homer has somehow emerged as a sort of everyman doing his best to keep some semblance of sanity in a complex age.

When the Simpsons first aired on television, I was in my twenties and Homer was a huge joke to my army buddies and me as we sat in the barracks dayroom watching Bart run circles around his poor father. Add to that his borderline incompetence at work, his sloppy and inconsiderate ways at home, and skewed and limited perception of the world in general and you have what amounts to a pretty sorry human being.

Homer’s elevation to iconic figure in large part comes from the fact that the perceived world of the omnipotent American father has not only ended but has been irradiated, eviscerated,and burned away to nothingness. To Homer, and others like him in real life, the world is outside their scope of understanding so everything is best boiled down to simple things like doughnuts and beer. While Homer’s cartoon personality is a huge stereotype of blue-collar guys, most sitcom fathers are now befuddled buffoons dependent on super intelligent kids or all-powerful wives to save their butts from some calamity they created in the first place. A far cry from the pipe smoking sitcom dad of the 1950’s for whom wisdom flowed out of like an endless river.

Of course, the degree to which the American male has actually devolved into “Homo homerthal” varies with each individual and is not strictly limited to the problems Homer Simpson battles in each thirty-minute episode. Some hate their jobs but regularly pray it is not outsourced overseas. Others have to deal with the wide array of idiots and morons in the world with more than a few having some sort of position authority over them. For me it was my recent discovery that my darling children very often ignore my wisdom (that is sarcasm folks) or scheme on a comparable level to the infamous Bart Simpson.

My first realization of my inner Homer came from my son, Darth Spoilboy, a couple of days ago. My son received his driver’s license the last part of April and since then I have been nothing but impressed with his skills on the road. The only bad thing is that his social life is extremely active with numerous buddies and a steady girlfriend, so it is not uncommon for me to find him and my car long gone when I would like to go someplace. Now I have no real problem with this, I am glad he is a happy and well-adjusted kid with plenty of friends. It is just that Spoilboy is not as knowledgeable as he thinks concerning the operation of a basic 2009 Toyota, Corolla.

Several times, he has returned home with me having to immediately take the car back out to run some errands. After receiving final instructions from my wife concerning whatever she is sending me out to buy at the grocery store I have walked out into the garage to find that my son has not turned off the headlights. Of course, I always yell back inside telling him not to do it again only to have he saying something in effect that the lights will turn off automatically. Excuse me for my Homer-like behavior but I have never read the owner’s manual for the Corolla so I did not take the issue any further thinking my son could well be right, that is until last Wednesday night when I was leaving for work.

Earlier that evening Spoilboy had driven over to a friend’s house for a couple of hours, by the time he returned I had long since gone back to bed to catch a few more hours of sleep. Much to my surprise as I walked out the door around 10:00pm to leave for work, I noticed that he had once again left the headlights on. With a sinking feeling, I tried to start the car only to hear the ubiquitous clicking sound of a working starter but no battery to assist it. The situation became even more fun when I discovered that my jumper cables were lacking just six inches from having enough length to make it from the battery in my wife’s car to the terminals posts on mine.

Surely, no one will fault me for showing Spoilboy that his assumption that the headlight turn off automatically was completely wrong. No, I did not pull a Homer and try to strangle my teenage son but I did jump around and yell something about Dad not being a complete idiot. With time being an issue I drove my wife’s car and when I returned home the next morning, I pushed my car out of the garage and successfully jump-started it. Spoilboy now seemed to understand his assumption about the Corolla was wrong and is making every effort to avoid killing my car battery again.

The next event was so Bart Simpson-like that I honestly did not know if I should be worried or admire the gumption shown by my daughter, Miss Wiggles.

Working third-shift like I do it is my practice to ignore most phone calls while I am trying to sleep during the day. If for some reason my wife needs to get in contact with me she knows to make three quick phone calls in a row letting it ring to the point the answering machine picks up. Last week was such an occasion with me scrambling to reach the phone and in doing so tripping over the cat and several other items in floor figuring one of the kids was sick or injured at school.

“What did you order from FunMovieWorld?” She asked angrily ready to bite my head off after stating some outrageous sum that I would never consider spending without touching base with her first. After denying knowledge of the purchase she and I figured it was our son who did it and that when she returned home later that day she expected his underwear to be hanging from our unused flagpole with him still in it. Just wanting to go back to sleep I agreed and the phone call ended with her stating she would call the company, cancel the account, and plan further torture for our son so he would never grab a credit card again without asking first.

Not twenty-minutes later I was awaken again by the three rapid phone calls figuring the world must be ending this time. In the scramble to reach the phone I actually stepped on the cat this time and for several second believed I killed the thing.

In an out of breath voice denoting almost panic my wife informs me that it was not Spoilboy who established the account, but our daughter Miss Wiggles. In contacting the company my wife discovered it was a Netflix-like internet movie business with many of their shows not the family type if you get my meaning. What puzzled us both is that our daughter is eight-years old with a voice that sounds even younger so we had to figure this was not a reputable company for even dealing with her in the first place.

Fast forward to the end of that day Miss Wiggle, my wife, and I are setting at the kitchen table discussing her unilateral actions. Now understand I was in the army rising to the ranks of a noncommissioned officer, I can handle guys and I am quite willing to go all Drill Sergeant on any male including my son when he steps out of line. My daughter is another matter, with her setting in one of the kitchen chairs looking innocent I am completely thrown off, so much I told my wife right from the start she would have to take the lead in this.

“I wanted to see Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2.” Miss Wiggled responded in a matter-of-fact manner as to why she stole the credit card and opened the account. Now summing this all up I figure other dads would have some pearl of sage wisdom they could boil down in simple enough terms for an eight year-old explaining why stealing the credit card was a bad thing to the point everyone went away happy. Embracing my inner Homer Simpson I shocked myself by having nothing constructive to say and going D’oh!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Breath In, Breath Out, and Carry On

As a kid growing up from the late 1960’s, until I moved away in the early 1990’s a piece of land owned by the county called the “Boulevard” by most was the center of many social activities in my hometown, Georgetown, South Carolina. Situated on a small low-lying peninsula jutting out into Winyah Bay the baseball fields, public boat landing, and playgrounds of the Boulevard are still used by residents even though the facilities have greatly changed. While the ghosts of the past outnumber any real connection I have with my hometown over the years, during my far too short visits, I have brought my kids to those same playgrounds in an attempt to link my memories of that place with their own childhoods. Unfortunately, during a visit to one of the newer parks on the Boulevard last weekend I was reminded that not all my memories are of the happy sort.

Simply put my parent’s relationship was the Chernobyl disaster of marriages, I am the oldest of my siblings and while mom and dad were together I cannot remember a time they were not figuratively and sometimes literally at each other’s throats. All marriages have rough spots, Hell my own has been quite the ride at times, but neither my wife nor I have ever used our children as pawns in some sort of strategic game. In fact with all the lies and deceptions perpetrated by my mother and father on each other I figure they could have easily given lessons on subterfuge to CIA agents.

Never one to let a divorce get in the way sticking the knife a little deeper into his former spouse, one Sunday around 1975 my dad shows up at the Boulevard while my siblings and I are enjoying the playground with my Uncle Maxie, my mom’s brother, and commences to give him detail reports on her late night activities. At times it was all overwhelming but I finally came to the point in my life realizing I could not change my parents or their destructive behavior and that I would somehow have to carry on in spite of it and deal with the scars as best I could. That was why my stomach began to turn inside out last Saturday seeing history repeat itself; it was a small, cold comfort that this time I was just an unfortunate witness to the mess.

After spending most of the day at the beach my daughter, Miss Wiggles, and I loaded up for the return trip home. Usually I would have stayed the night with my aunt, which would allow a sunrise walk on Pawleys Island but my son needed my car Sunday morning. As my usual habit my daughter and I still made our required trip to the Boulevard so she could play, at least for a few minutes, on one of the many elaborate children's playsets that now make up the park.

Since it was overly hot and getting rather late the locals had long since gone home and she and I were the only ones there. Being somewhat sunburned and suffering from a sore shoulder I took a seat on one of the nearby park benches and watched Miss Wiggles run around playing on the different segments of the brightly colored equipment. Truthfully, another reason for these visits before returning home is have my daughter burn off just a little more energy before we start the long drive back to Columbia. That way I am not asked ten-thousand times, “how long before we get home.”

We were not there five minutes when another car pulled into the gravel parking lot and offloaded two girls and a boy a little older than my daughter along with a couple I took to be their mom and dad at first. The girls, excited and full of energy, ran straight for the playset my daughter was on while the boy quietly went the other direction and took a seat on one of the older swingsets that date back to my own childhood. The “parents,” deep in conversation with each other, walked over to the farthest bench possible and took a seat there not even once exchanging greetings with me even though their girls and mine while playing together. This might sound petty but common courtesy, especially here in the South, is a very big thing with me and I took an instant disliking to them.

Not wanting to start a scene with Miss Wiggles since she had found two new friends I settled in for a much longer visit than I planned because if I told her we had to leave she would whine, beg, and plead to stay a little longer. There was also the added benefit knowing the longer she played the easier my drive would be so I grabbed my book and began reading. It did not take long to realize that the people sharing the park had some serious issues.

With the two little girls calling the man by his first name I quickly figured out he was not their father, several times they ran up to him handing him some small flower they picked or other item they found and he honestly seem to return their affection. In fact from my inadvertent but growing observations the girl’s mother gave the impression of promoting it. All this time the boy was still sitting on the swing alone and ignored. Every once and a while the man would turn and yell out to the boy some, from my perspective, empty remark about daddy loving him but would immediately return his attention back to the woman he sat beside or her girls. Never once did he get his ass up, walk over to his boy and attempt to play with him.

Feeling seriously creeped out and bordering on pissed I figured it was time to leave no matter what Wiggles might have to say. As she and I were leaving another car pulled into the parking lot, this time another couple got out and the boy who had not left the swing since sitting down ran over as fast as he could to the newly arrived woman screaming “mom.” The hug the boy gave his mom and the man with her was heartbreaking.

As I pulled out of the parking lot it was all so obvious the resulting scene between the two couples coming together to talk was not amicable. Call me crazy but the storyteller in me filled out the missing information several ways but the common thread in each one was that scared boy who was caught up in the varying degrees of idiocy on full display around him.

By the time I drove away the boy was being held by the man who arrived with his mom, while she was having what appeared to be an intense argument with the father and the woman with him. Stupid words popped into by head but if I could have said anything to that lonely boy it would have been something like breath in then breath out kid and carry on, your shit storm will eventually pass as well.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Time of Rapture and I will be at the Beach

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.
Abraham Lincoln

While the possibility does exist in some sub-microscopic range this could blow up in my face the supposed Rapture Event predicted for today, scheduled for everyone's 6:00am local time worldwide, will occur as Miss Wiggles and I are on the road to Pawleys Island for a day playing in the ocean. For those who might be taken away I wish you Godspeed and for those like me almost certain to be left behind if the Rapture occurs I will be quickly staking a claim at the first beach house near the marsh I find unoccupied. Given the chaos and fear after the Rapture I will be throwing a party at my newly acquired seaside home, everyone is welcome but it is BYOB.   

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday (Cycle 31) The Savoy Gambit

Flash Fiction Friday Prompt: Write a story of a negotiation and have your characters use at least two tactics
Genre: Any
Word Count: 1000 words
Deadline: Thursday, May 19th, 2011, 4:30 pm EST

(Author's note: My attempt was to use"Change the negotiator," "New Player," and maybe a little bit of "Double agent" on the part of the bad guys. Not sure this worked at all, this prompt was very hard and I almost gave up.)

Seeing the company’s favorite negotiator taken away in handcuffs by the New York police was quite the surprise to everyone, except for me. As I watched the proud man lead away both humiliated and shocked, I hoped that I had successful maneuvered everything into place to take his spot in a London auction sponsored by shadowy figures. However, corporate decision-making is byzantine to begin with and the defense company I find myself working for is almost schizophrenic so my little scheme could have easily failed. However, my uncertainty did not last long, I was soon handed a laptop full of reports to review and a London bound plane ticket, and told my future depended on how things worked out.

While on the flight, I learned from the company material I would be staying at the famous Savoy Hotel and after arriving, I went straight to the Beaufort Bar to unwind. Settling into one of the comfortable black leather chairs, I found the black and gold interior soothing and within a few minutes, the bartender had a drink in my hand. My hope was that I could enjoy a full night's relaxation in the hotel before things got complicated tomorrow morning.

Just as the bourbon in my drink was beginning to take the edge off a gorgeous blond woman wearing a very proper but body hugging business suit entered the bar and approached me. "Excuse me Mr. Dagan, may I join you?" she asked with a French accent taking a seat on the nearby gold couch before I could answer placing a briefcase on the small table between us. "My name is Kristen Robideau, I represent Dr. Lukyanov and I need to ask you a few questions.

The lady was a stunner with deep blue eyes, an athletic body, and a face that would put Helen of Troy to shame but Ms. Robideau's expression suggested my position and maybe my cover was at stake and I needed to step my game up. "By all means,” I said trying to seem nonthreatening.

"Dr. Lukyanov and his associates have dealt with Andrew Parker for the last couple of years and are unsettled that he will not be here for the auction. You see, we only received word you would be standing in for him today but with no explanation as to why this happened."

"That is easy to explain," I said taking a sip from my drink, “Mr. Parker appears to have been involved in several unethical practices and was relieved of his duties. In fact my instructions were to review all aspects of the relationship he had with your employers and whether a parting of the ways might be required."

Upon hearing these words, Ms. Robideau's mask of detached professionalism cracked ever so briefly and I felt the need to press my small advantage. “I have reviewed Parker's previous dealings with Lukyanov and overall the company wants our relationship to continue since it has been so beneficial to us both. Now the one thing I am unsure of is the item Dr. Lukyanov is attempting to sell now, I know it is not the usual practice but we could go a long way to rebuilding trust if I could see the details of the item, but that is up to you." I finished hoping Robideau believed what I said.

“That is quite out of the ordinary,” she said acting insulted.

“Ms. Robideau, this is something I will have to insist on, being unfamiliar with usual procedures my company has authorized a great deal of latitude, I need to know if this particular auction tomorrow is even something I want to attend. ” Of course, I was lying through my teeth, my employers told me to obey all the rules set by Dr. Lukyanov.

Ms. Robideau then slipped away for several minutes to contact her employers, when she returned I was surprised when she handed me a flash drive. “This is the only item up for auction, all the relevant schematics, chemical equations, and other technical details are included. My employers are eager to still do business, our only request is that your review the data in a private location.”

Back in my room, I was stunned to discover that the item being auctioned by Lukyanov was a genetically engineered toxin complete with a specially designed delivery system ideal for urban warfare. It violated so many international laws it was possible the company management could be charged for war crimes just for owning the blueprints. I realized this was my ticket to bust the company, a major arms dealer, and escape from undercover work.

I was so caught up in reading about the weapon the sudden ringing of the phone truly surprised me to the point I jumped up, retrieving Sig P226 pistol hidden inside my suitcase. "Hello," I said after picking up the receiver.

"Mr. Dagan," Ms. Robideau whispered on the other end, "if you do not mind I would like to talk with you personally, for your convenience I can be at your room shortly." she finished seemingly out of breath.

The little voice inside my head was telling me something was amiss but being the good businessman I said yes. A few minutes later Ms. Robideau was inside my room, strolling around looking out the window enjoying the evening view of the Thames River, Big Ben, and the London Eye. "Can I call you Michael?" She asked finally turning towards me while undoing her coat.

"Sure Kristen," I said feeling completely different from our earlier conversation.

The coat dropped to the floor revealing her naked, well-developed body and without another word we embraced and began to kiss. Her body had the feel of a wild animal full of energy. "I've taken a chance here," she said after we pulled apart giving me the most erotic look I ever received, "hoping we could conclude our dealings tonight and maybe have you see things our way afterwards?"

"I like the way you negotiate, maybe we can." Was all I said figuring if I survived the night, I could call Langley and report the details in the morning.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fear and Loathing on CNBC

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
1 Timothy 6:10

Recently it has taken a lot to get me riled up with the number of self absorbed idiots with god-like delusions of grandeur that permeate our society. The circuit breaker in my head popped a long time ago leaving me with little in the way of surprise at their actions or the energy to get upset. Just about everyone with major access to the media has some crusade they personally champion with truth, justice, and the American way hanging in the balance. These telegenic saviors always believe some evil boogiemen are hovering just on the other side of the abyss waiting for their chance to pounce and destroy all that is good.

For me personally no matter which side of the political spectrum the latest threat to all that is holy supposedly comes from the incessant whining gets shrill after a while and I tune it out, of course that prevents me from watching the 24/7 news channels for any real length of time. Unless some form of the Apocalypse is about to happen, so they can pump up their ratings, they have a hard time justifying their existence. Now one of the news channels is far guiltier of this sin than others, to the point that they long ago crossed the line from simple hype to a form of propaganda that would curl the toes of Joseph Goebbels with orgasmic glee. However, there are television personalities on the other cable networks that aspire to meet the same level of propaganda and fearmongering seen on the “Fair and Balanced” channel.

This is where the latest blowhard out to save the world from the evils of nasty socialism come into play but this time he involved his daughter. The guy is Joe Kernen and he is the leader of CNBC’s “Squawk Box” crew with his cohorts being an unemotional Vulcan-like woman and a token Hispanic guy, just to add a little color to the set I guess.

Now Kernen, along with the other two on the show, revels in the utter worship and unquestioned obedience to free market capitalism. I watch a portion of the show every morning to try to understand both their fervent protection of their chosen faith and their point of view but I always come away a little flustered with their obvious disdain for anyone not drinking their brand of Kool-Aid.

With the Hispanic dude I can relate a little on how he presents things, he seems human and at least a little open to the idea that the love of money is not the sum total of existence. The Vulcan chick is a nonentity who does not say much but the camera does find her often where she gives curious sideways glances at her cohorts then offers some nice sound bite agreeing with them. If she is suppose to be eye candy for early rising capitalist struggling to wake up and go defeat the forces of socialism some lessons in cleavage exposure is needed from the bimbos on the Fair and Balanced channel. 

Kernen on the other hand is the epitome of the pompous ass who knows everything and reigns over the show like some thug. Looking up his profile, I was surprised to discover he has a degree in cellular and developmental biology and has published works in some serious scientific journals, but somehow he fell out of science and moved into the financial realm, then into “business journalism,” an oxymoron if there ever was one.

God help the individual appearing on Squawk Box that does not share his Ayn Rand-like viewpoint that everything is acceptable as long as it makes money. Over the year or so that I have watched the show I have seen Kernen insult several of his NBC family coworkers showing obvious contempt, bordering on anger, for their different views along with questioning their intelligence. However, Joe Kernan finally said something so outrageous last Thursday that it penetrated my cynical force field inducing me to go on a political rant.

He and his daughter appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” promoting their book, “Your Teacher Said What?” Simply put, Kernan was prompted to write a book defending helpless Free Market Capitalism because his daughter received a few assignments in school daring to question the authority of his religion. Kernan really blew a gasket when one questioned the proper course or action if a hypothetical factory was polluting the environment. Kernan believes there is some sort of libel assault on his Free Market religion, that American Exceptionalism is being disrespected, and that Hollywood is leading the way.

Of course Kernan can feel this way, he is protected by a huge salary, big money friends who he knows so well he probably can vouch for the conditions inside their large intestines, and the fact that these friends have already has bought and paid for every member of Congress at least a dozen times. It is beyond simple paranoid delusions that he should somehow fear questions from a mere public school teacher.

I have no idea if Kernan ever gets around us working folks, my assumption is that even if he does he is so caught up in his blind faith that he can ignore the fact that even when some people do everything like the ridiculous American Exceptionlism bullshits says the financial forces he believes in still grinds them to dust. It does not take an advanced economics degree to know that the big money capitalists that regularly appear on his show and others on CNBC totally fucked the country forcing Bush to bail them out of their trillion dollar misadventures then leaving Obama to deal with the shrill calls of “socialism.”

Throw in how the gap between rich and poor that is growing wider every year with many in the middle class only holding onto that status by maxing out the credit cards. I wish Kernan could explain to me why the poor are suppose to bear the major burden of slashing the federal deficit while his buddies get even more tax breaks. The predictable response will be that the big money players carry the “burden” and “risk” of “growing” the American economy. But dammit, the only economy I really see growing with power and good jobs that were once the backbone of the American working class allowing them put kids through college, by a house, and retire is the fucking Chinese economy because the big money types love the near slave labor there.

Of course Kernan’s religion will force him to say its nasty union thugs that are making the nice business people flee the country. I know union leaders and government types are not without sin in all this but right now, I would not piss on any free market capitalist if he or she were on fire.

Take all the copies of your book Kernan and shove them up your ass.

I have no doubt that capitalism has brought about positive changes in civilization allowing the people with a great idea or invention to lift up all of humanity but for the most it is not capitalism as a principle that I and railing against. Like any other human concept it can be and is being abused these days to the detriment of poorer folks and the environment.

Kernan's belief that capitalism is the absolute best is as misguided as the Catholic Church burning people at the stake during the Inquisition and the Muslim Radicals that give Islam a bad name now. Here are some facts that more properly color my contempt for the Free Market Capitalism religion.

• 83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people.

• 61 percent of Americans “always or usually” live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.

• 66 percent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.

• 36 percent of Americans say that they don’t contribute anything to retirement savings.

• A staggering 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement.

• 24 percent of American workers say that they have postponed their planned retirement age in the past year.

• Over 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, which represented a 32 percent increase over 2008.

• Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.

• For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together.

• In 1950, the ratio of the average executive’s paycheck to the average worker’s paycheck was about 30 to 1. Since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 to 500 to one.

As of 2007, the bottom 80 percent of American households held about 7% of the liquid financial assets.

• The bottom 50 percent of income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.

• Average Wall Street bonuses for 2009 were up 17 percent when compared with 2008.

• In the United States, the average federal worker now earns 60% MORE than the average worker in the private sector.

• The top 1 percent of U.S. households own nearly twice as much of America’s corporate wealth as they did just 15 years ago.

• In America today, the average time needed to find a job has risen to a record 35.2 weeks.

• More than 40 percent of Americans who actually are employed are now working in service jobs, which are often very low paying.

• or the first time in U.S. history, more than 40 million Americans are on food stamps, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that number will go up to 43 million Americans in 2011.

• This is what American workers now must compete against: in China a garment worker makes approximately 86 cents an hour and in Cambodia a garment worker makes approximately 22 cents an hour.

• Approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States are living below the poverty line in 2010 – the highest rate in 20 years.

• Despite the financial crisis, the number of millionaires in the United States rose a whopping 16 percent to 7.8 million in 2009.

• The top 10 percent of Americans now earn around 50 percent of our national income.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday (Cycle 30) A moment of happiness

Flash Fiction Friday Prompt: Walter Richard Sickert’s Monington Crescent.
Genre: Any
Word Count: 1234 words
Deadline: Thursday, May 12th, 2011, 4:30 pm EST, God willing and the cricks don’t rise.

The painting hangs on the wall in a quiet, forgotten corner of my son’s house. My daughter-in-law, Sarah, has no idea what the painting means to me, she found it cleaning out the attic of my old house and just used it to cover an empty portion of wall at the end of the hallway. It worked out well since the room I use in their house is just a few feet away. Even with my feeble legs I am able to make my way to the end of the hallway and sit in the comfortable chair she placed opposite the picture and beside the window. My family believes I bring myself to this place every morning because of the warm sun streaming through the window, I allow them to think just that, but they are so wrong. They do not even know the name of the lady in the painting or what we once shared.

When Emily finally agreed to sit for the painting the ocean was still a foamy soup from the tropical storm that had passed over us the day before. I was sitting behind my canvas as she shyly entered the bed room that we made love in the night before feeling the angry waves shake the pilings of the old Pawleys Island beach house that belonged to her uncle. Nothing had existed outside the walls of that room as we both freely gave our bodies and souls to each other attempting to defy the forces, both natural and man-made that challenged our being together.

Closing the door behind her while tightly clutching the robe she wore Emily looked so unsure that l was reminded of the little girl I first met in grade school so many years ago. As children we chased each other around the huge oak tree in the playground then spent our lunchtime sitting underneath it telling each other stories. It was a perfect way to grow up until we entered middle school. Emily, being from a rich family went to a different one than me but we always found time to meet underneath that old oak.

“You act like I haven’t seen your naked body before.” I say setting up my brushes and tubes of paint.

“This is oh so completely different Jason and you know it,” she said now standing by the window looking out at the angry surf.

For a precious moment time utterly froze for me looking at her, Emily still had her satin robe pulled tight and with the sunlight reflecting off its material it created an illusion of being nearly see through. “Please let me paint you standing right there,” I asked.

“No,” she giggled. “Someone walking the beach could look up here and see me. I’m sorry darling but only you will ever see me this way or know the identity of the girl in your painting.”

Her conditions were something I could live with, we eventually realized we were in love during high school but that our positions made any open relationship impossible. I implored her to runaway with me, I told her we were young and the whole country would be open to us. She always said no, that her life was here in South Carolina with her family and the responsibilities that carried.

Her refusal always made me angry, so much that I often stormed off but somehow I always found my way back to that old oak tree and her. Now even that was soon to end forever.

Without any further cajoling Emily untied the rode letting it fall to the floor. Standing there she gave me an intense look of both love and pleasure then moved around the bed and to the loveseat placed in front of it. Emily quickly penned up her hair then took up the pose that would have to stay with me the rest of my life.

I used my charcoal pen to outline the painting, my right hand felt possessed as I shaped the image, it was almost as if I was caressing Emily’s naked back and kissing her exposed neck. With her a few feet away I did my best to imprint the smell of her body to my memory knowing that when we parted I would never have the chance to be next her again. The brass bed, mirror mounted above it, and the loveseat all represented important parts of our time together. I reveled in the cold feeling of the brass, the detail in the wooden frame around the mirror, and the smoothness of the loveseat.

Minutes later I looked at the finished charcoal outline of the painting panting for breath, Emily never moved and I fought the strong urge just to walk over and take her one more time. Instead I began applying the colors knowing whatever muse that held me could leave at any second.

Except for the space close to the window the room was dark and more than a little foreboding, forcing me to mute the colors. My brush strokes were slow and deliberate equally the tenderness she and I shared in that room. It was as if my fingers were touching her body again and I lingered over every portion of the painting. However, it was over all too soon leaving me spent.

Feeling like a prisoner about to be walked to the electric chair the finished painting now stood before me. The emotions of all it meant raged inside my mind and I considered smashing it to pieces, maybe a clean and total break with Emily was the best leaving me to my rejection and loneliness.

“Jason is it done, can I see it?” She asked standing up from the loveseat.

“No,” I said with the sudden idea that this painting would be the one small part of Emily that would forever be mine. Our lives were diverging from this point and this small moment of happiness we shared would have to suffice for me.

We made love for hours on that brass bed and its lumpy mattress that final afternoon together. Our last few minutes were spent just holding each other on the loveseat both knowing the inevitable could no longer be avoided. Emily was the first to leave as the stars started appearing in the window, she walked out respecting my wish that she not look at the painting.

In a small town, no matter how hard a person tries you cannot avoid running into someone you do not want to see. It was the same with Emily, we saw each other the following weeks and because it was common knowledge we were friends I was forced to greet her as if nothing had ever gone on between us.

Time did heal the wounds but they were heavily scarred. Emily married the man her father had been pushing her towards and only the war and my own marriage eased that particular pain. Still my life was not easy or very happy but I always believed you made do with the cards fate dealt.  That is until I received a note from Emily a few years ago as she lay in a Charleston hospital bed dying of cancer. She wrote that I was still her true love and that she would be waiting for me on the other side under an oak tree, now I just sit here looking at the picture and wait for my moment.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When the dead are no longer envied. Chapter one

The fire crackled in the night as the small pile of scavenged wood collapses offering the only man-made sounds in the mist of the discarded remains of the life before the sky burned. My traveling companions sit close to the flames, silent as the empty and dark buildings of the former Lancaster Medical Center we camp beside. I walk among them guarding the precious items stored in the makeshift horse-drawn wagons we use to transport goods these days.

Inside the wagons, once medium-sized flat bed trucks now heavily cut down and modified, are the summer crops, bushels of corn and other vegetables we will trade at the ruins of the state house in Columbia. It is the summation of all our hard work for the summer and when we return to our little enclave we will hunker down for another long winter. Survival now has been burned down to the basics of food, water, shelter, and clothes. Gone are the days of cell phones, the Internet, television, along with thousands of other things that people believed they could not live without.

Those in my group sitting around the fire are lost in their own thoughts and clutch the person next them or the tattered remains of the winter coats we wear in an effort to stay warm. Septembers are far colder now that the sun has become its placid and dependable self again, the spasms of charged plasma and electromagnetic radiation that assaulted the Earth six years ago are long over but the aftermath is something we struggle to understand each in our own way.

None of them to my knowledge have ever spoken about the end of the world and how they each lived through it, almost as if our existence started the second the killing and destruction became too difficult because there was too few of us left and nothing worth the effort to burn. In some ways you would think it would be the only topic of conversation among survivors since it all began a little over a month after the end of the Mayan calendar. Which for years had been the subject of countless television doomsday shows obsessively watched by those who wanted a vicarious taste of danger as they lounged in their comfortable homes. 

In the before time I was Jake Morgan, a husband and father living a comfortable suburban life when the early news reports about massive sunspot activity and flares were first mentioned between the usual stories of misbehaving Hollywood stars and corrupt politicians. The attractive television news reader, showing ample cleavage and a blinding white smile, said government scientists were expecting interruptions in satellite television and cell phone service but that everything should be okay after a few weeks.

Like good placid sheep we did just that, even as the brilliant auroras shimmered further south each night. The panic began when word slipped out that the new president and the rest of the Washington leadership had abandoned the capital for secure and secret locations. That was about the time the charged plasma flowing out from the sun started burning out transformers and power lines bringing down the entire global power grid.

The darkness itself did not end civilization; emergency radio broadcasts from the new president hiding in his secure hole spoke of prayer and supporting the troops engaged in the titanic relief efforts across the nation. Maybe it was just some sort of social inertia but his words did seem to keep the thin veneer of civilized behavior in place for a few extra days. It was when the food, water, and medicine confiscated from heavily guarded stores started to run out that the first major riots broke out.

That was when I was pressed back into service and separated from my family. My former National Guard platoon leader spotted me standing in line at the local Walmart with my family awaiting a small ration of food and water. Stressed out from days of unrelenting hell leading an under strength platoon he was grabbing anyone with even a hint of military experience in an effort to keep a lid on the growing chaos. Of course I refused at first but the business ends of seven assault rifles pointed at me, my family, and the other civilians changed my mind and that was the last time I saw my wife and kids.

“Jake!” My wife Sally screamed while clutching my sons as three soldiers and the lieutenant walked me away from my family.

I broke away for a moment and turned back towards Sally hearing the rattle of rifles being aimed back on me. “Sally, you and the kids to get your father’s place. I’ll find you all as soon as possible.” I said thinking I would desert the second I could slip away but things just did not work out that way.

At that moment the onslaught that had engulfed everyone was only beginning. As the situation went from the frying pan to the fire the gangs that had once been confined to the inner cities expanded out into the suburbs. Decades of mistrust, indifference, and ignorance had created conditions so bad that the two groups were about as alien as people could be with each other. The Gaza Strip, Balkans, or even Iraq had nothing on the rage and fear that burned in both groups as they struggled to survive.

In about three weeks I went from civilian to platoon sergeant then platoon leader after the lieutenant got himself shot up by one of the many militias that had formed. After that it was just a couple of guys and me driving around in a humvee listening to some fool of a colonel on the radio ordering around phantom units that did not exist. The simple act of turning off the radio was my acknowledgment that everything that mattered had ended.

I eventually made my way to my father-in-law’s house only to find it and every other burned to the ground with no sign of my family had ever made it there. From there I just wandered for months, living from meal to meal, often times with it being wild vegetation, or if I was lucky, a rat whose population had exploded with the implosion of human civilization. Truthfully I wasn’t far from becoming one of the wild, feral creatures that were once human but who now inhabit the ruins and forests. They bear no resemblance to the civilized people they must have been once.

What saved my sanity and my humanity was seeing a little girl walking down the middle of a deserted county road all alone. She was about four years-old and clutching a filthy blanket that matched the ragged remains of her clothes. Winter was rapidly approaching and all I could think of was that she must be cold, it was a strange thought mostly because after the fighting over food and water had died down the horsemen of famine and plague had visited the land leaving damn few of anyone left.

Much to my surprise as I approached her she did not run away, in fact she came straight to me and it was then I had a real reason to live again. Much to the contrary of all the doomsday movies I ever saw when it came to lost children she did speak telling me her name was Amber. She wasn’t able to tell me where her parents were or where she came from but I did not care, she was mine and I would protect her until the day I died.

Living off anything I could find Amber and I made it through the first winter, as spring began we emerged from the abandoned garage that we had taken shelter in beginning a search for a better home. With the arrival of spring others were also coming out of their winter hiding places and banding together, Amber and I ran across Tina, a thirty-nine year-old woman while searching through the remains of a storeroom inside a small county airport.

Trust and civilized behavior was as extinct as the dinosaurs and she and I leveled our respective weapons on each other with every intention to blow the other away. It was Amber who came into the room that diffused the situation.

“Daddy, who is the woman with the gun,” Amber asked nonchalantly as if it was a pre-Apocalypse school social function.

My M-4 rifle was aimed at the unknown woman’s chest while her shotgun was pointed at mine. She was blond and rail thin like Amber and myself but her face was still pretty A scar starting on her forehead above her right eye that ran all the down to her mouth before curving in towards her ear spoke volumes of the troubles she had seen.

“The name is Tina,” she said clearly taken with Amber who had started calling me daddy during the winter. “She your daughter,” she asked with some amazement.

“Adopted,” I said taking a chance that I instantly regretted as I raised the barrel of my weapon while removing my finger from the trigger. Something about her demeanor suggested she was not dangerous; my feeling was total instinct, something that all survivors had sharpened quickly in order to stay alive.

Tina raised her weapon as well with Amber walking over and handing her one of the priceless Snickers bars I had found the day before inside a gas station. I wish I could say the reason Tina and I hooked up soon after that was our mutual attraction but in truth Amber adopted her right then without saying word.

We began traveling together heading generally northward encountering few humans, the danger now were bands of wild dogs, former pets with a vicious pack mentality that preyed on anything they could take down.

Our finally journey ended when we were accepted into the new village of Calks Ferry, a collection of trailers and storage buildings centered on a working well. Before the sky burned it was a mobile home park that somehow had gone unmolested in the chaos afterward. Now it boasted a make-shift protective wall made of wood and chain link fencing. Its biggest advantage was being right beside a huge plot of abandoned farm land.

Since Tina was a nurse before the world ended she was the closest thing to a doctor the people of Calks Ferry could hope to find and was quickly welcomed along with Amber. I was a copier repair technician before it all ended so it took a little convincing to get me accepted but given the times anyone with a strong back who could both work and help supply protection to the new community would not be turned away. Life became a lot more steady after that but somehow it rings hollow and false as if we are all just playing a game waiting for the final shoe to drop washing away the ashes of the life before along with those living in them.


With the old world gone and electricity a growing fable told to mystified little children the nights now are scary dark and as I stand guard there is no moon hanging in the sky and our camp site is a lonely island of light in a dark sea. Still my eyes catch some sort of movement next the remains of the main hospital building. The chaos of the world ending had one side benefit of killing off most those who enjoyed violence as a form of entertainment and used the collapse of civilization as a pretext to see their wildest fantasies come true. They burned themselves up, along with far too many innocents, in flames of rage leaving those left behind numb and with a desire to be left in peace. Still violence in the name of survival is all too common.

Fearing a surprise I quietly tapped the man who would be my relief in guarding our crops to take my place early. This allowed me to creep along the wreckage and debris making my way towards what had been the emergency room entrance. Hiding behind the rusted hulk of an army cargo truck I allow my eyes to adapt to the light provided by the stars and scan the entrance where I thought I saw movement. Peering over the sights of my rifle I see a human shape crawling over the chunks of concrete that had fallen from the building after the collision of two army helicopters in the sky that then crashed into the upper hospital floors causing the entire complex to burn.

I can not see any real detail about the person, the stars do not provide enough light, but he appears to be alone and unarmed. Still, I need to make sure he is not some sacrificial lamb sent out to probe our defenses. I attempt to move closer but my old boots slip on some gravel alerting him to my presence sending him scurrying back inside the dark structure. Instinct controls me now and against my better judgment I turn on the small flashlight mounted on my rifle barrel and following him inside.

(Author's note: What the hell is this shit you might be wondering? No, I have no lost what few marbles I possess and began another delusional attempt at a novel. The first one, all 14,000 words, is still sitting on my hard drive and will probably stay that way. This is just something I started on a whim and may go further with or may not.)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Fantastic but....

Buzz kills and other people who otherwise spoil warm fuzzys are not favorites of mine by any means but I am going to have to play devil's advocate for a moment. While the idea of Osama feeding the fishes with a bullet in his head from a United States Navy Seal team does tickle my fancy many ways in the larger scope of things  he had long since been relegated to small potatoes on the global stage.

Excuse me if I make a few points here:

 The current hub of Al-Qaeda appears to be the strife torn country of Yemen, not Afghanistan or Iraq. Although both of those countries are still huge problems in their own right with billions of dollars disappearing inside them constantly.   

It appears Osama was living quite well in a suburb of Islamabad, the capital of our "ally" Pakistan. Further worrisome is the fact that if reports are correct many retired Pakistani senior military officers also live in the same area. Even with a 18-foot wall surrounding his compound I find it strange that no one knew he was living amongst them. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention Pakistan has nuclear weapons and the ISI, their version of the CIA, is full of Osama sympathizers.

The death of Osama is a blow to terrorism for sure but like the mythical Hydra, cutting off one head will only cause more to take his place. Defeating terrorism will require some out of the box thinking like engagement and dialog in an attempt to cut the heart out of what motivates people to do insane things.

We are still spending billions on wars while cutting aid to poor people and having major politicians speak openly about giving even more tax cuts to the rich. All the while the federal government is running a massive deficit.

Finally, while we are enjoying a warm fuzzy of unity today millions of Americans are unemployed and millions more struggle with under-employment with jobs that do not pay the bills and offer no chance of advancement. Making this situation even worse both political parties appear to be their very best to ignore these people and the struggles they find themselves in daily.