Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Dummy

Early in March of 1990 Specialist Chuck McKenzie arrived at Fort Carson, Colorado with a group of other soldiers returning stateside after spending a year stationed in South Korea. For those of us already assigned to Alpha Battery of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Battalion our first impressions of him were underwhelming to say the least. Unfortunately, after being assigned to my Stinger platoon my cohorts and me soon learned our first appraisal of the short and obnoxious dude was a gross underestimate of his true nature.

Right from the start it was obvious McKenzie was a supreme kiss ass looking to score as many brownie points as possible with any officer or senior noncommissioned officer that made the mistake of talking with him for more than twenty-seconds. Believe it or not kissing ass is actually an underappreciated form of art and McKenzie was so blatantly bad at it, he quickly became a joke to most of the leadership in the battalion. Whenever he appeared with his customary greasy smile after a few minutes of tolerating his latest ravings, he would be dismissed and become the butt of several minutes worth of bad jokes.

If that was McKenzie’s only fault the rest of my platoon would have quickly forced him to adapt to a more proper form of behavior, but after realizing he failed at brown-nosing the decent officers, he took a different tact and became a snitch to those in the battalion leadership like him. Holding the junior enlisted rank of specialist, a non-leadership position between a Private First Class and Sergeant, he never the less had some influence with the privates under him and he used it to the fullest by squealing on them whenever he spotted the smallest infraction.

At that point in time I held the rank of corporal, the same pay grade as specialist but it is a noncommissioned officer rank and has more weight, so McKenzie was of little concern to me. In fact, right from the start both McKenzie and I knew instinctively we disliked each other and because of my leadership rank and size he made a point of avoiding me. Which was fine with me, my enlistment would be over in July of that year and I planned on leaving the army, going home, and attending college. McKenzie on the other hand had dreams of becoming Command Sergeant Major of the Army, the highest enlisted rank possible, and bored everyone to the point of suicide talking about what he would do when he held so much power and prestige.

As much as I did not give a damn about him and liked the fact I could ignore his ass, sadly when you are in the same platoon with someone you eventually have to interact with them no matter how much of an ignorant twit they can be. That day came when I was in the battery offices on business and was snagged by the First Sergeant and ordered to give McKenzie a ride home because his own car had broken down. When the top enlisted dog in your unit tells you to jump, you immediately jump right then and hope to God you go as high and fast as he wants.

After McKenzie took his sweet damn time getting his gear together we loaded up in my car and headed off post with me hoping the twit lived nearby. He did not, but while on the long drive out in the boonies, I made a remarkable discovery.

The South is heavily blamed for its overabundance of ignorant rednecks, while many rednecks seemly do talk with a southern drawl during my forced company with McKenzie I discovered that there is such a thing as a Yankee redneck. As we attempted to carry on a conversation in my car, I learned he was from Indiana and that his hometown was South Bend. For exactly twenty minutes, I actually considered the possibility that McKenzie was not such a bad guy as he told me great things about the place he grew up. McKenzie was even polite enough to act like he was listening when I started describing my hometown of Georgetown, South Carolina. The problem came when out of the blue he asked me if southerners had indoor plumbing now or did we still go to the bathroom in things like outhouses.

I realize I have tons of faults and that I am ignorant of many things but the utter stupid nature of his question was so mind blowing that I was stunned for several second when I realized he was seriously asking.  Top it all off when I assured him that the vast majority of southerners not only had indoor plumbing but such a thing as water heaters he looked dubious. Even worse when the conversation drifted over to other members of our platoon when McKenzie asked me about one of my friends, Jody Vaught, I explained that Jody would be soon leaving the army to return to college so he could become a psychologist. Somehow, McKenzie confused “psychologist” for “psychic” leaving me to explain for the last segment of my torture of driving him home the difference between the two. My relationship with McKenzie only went downhill from there.

By then I had no desire as I once did to pursue the army as a career and had long given up trying to achieve higher rank. I have no idea how they may do it now but back in the late 80’s the active army had a points system for awarding rank starting at sergeant and higher. Despite it all and like some lame April Fools ’ Day joke I somehow had enough points and found myself on the promotion list the first day of that month. Sadly, for McKenzie despite all his ass kissing and pronunciations of his imminent advancement from the day he arrived at Fort Carson he was not. The day they pinned the sergeants stripes (E-5) on my collar I could see his skin tone was a bright puke-pea green and that our casual dislike had blossomed into a fine growing hate. It was the fact that after only six months on the list I made sergeant while McKenzie was on it for close to two years had a lot to do with it.

The very next month McKenzie made sergeant (E-5) and word quickly got back to me that in a fit of supreme and unjustified arrogance he declared that I was one of the people in the Stinger Platoon he was going to see do an actual day’s work. Like the heat seeking Stinger missile I was trained to fire, I searched out that bastard and with him pushed up against a storage container I informed him I had him on time in grade, meaning I still slightly outranked him, and that he could kiss my short timer ass. The little weasel then ran off to our platoon sergeant who informed him just to leave me alone. McKenzie’s overblown idea of superiority did get the best of himself before I left earning him the award of the biggest fool of record.

Late in May my air defense battalion had our annual live fire exercise where we wasted a couple of million dollars in taxpayer funds launching what amounted to thirty-foot bottle rockets that we shot down with live Stinger missiles. It was great training and second only to skydiving as having as much fun possible with your clothes on. The results afterward were several brushfires downrange that threatened to explode into full-fledged uncontrolled wildfires. My platoon sergeant was in charge of range control during that exercise and formed up six teams with the new sergeants like McKenzie and myself in charge and after putting us in humvees sent us off to fight the fires.

Several hours later, all six teams had returned but there were only five vehicles back at the firing point. Sometime while the teams were fighting the fires, McKenzie sent half of his people to help another sergeant then for some reason a little later parked his humvee and with the other half of his team got on another sergeant’s vehicle leaving his behind. In the process, he forgot where he parked his humvee. Making matter worse after a couple of hours of searching the sun had set behind the nearby mountains and it was pitch black night with no moon in the sky offering up any pale illumination.

McKenzie by his actions had long since made his bed with the other members of the platoon and we all ragged him senseless over loosing an object as freaking large as a damn humvee. It took hours of driving around and looking but sometime a little after midnight someone in one of the remaining five vehicles spotted the missing humvee behind a cluster of bushes.

For McKenzie this was just slight bump in the road to further ass kissing and glory, within days he had forgotten the incident and after a while, even the other members of the platoon stopped messing with him over the issue even though his misplacement of a humvee became something of a legend in the battalion. Now my relationship with the twit stayed the same, we hated each other for different reasons but because of army protocol had to be civil and at least respect the rank we both held. That still did not prevent us from messing with each other covertly.

As my last day in the United States Army rapidly approached, I started receiving good-natured razing from everyone in the unit in an attempt to get me to reenlist. Feeling what was then an unusual need to twist the proverbial knife in McKenzie one last time I went out an acquired a twenty-foot length of thin nylon cord, somehow the evil little demon in my head said it was certain to bring down the house.

Soldiers and Marines carry a bunch of small pieces of equipment like compasses, extra ammo, a side arm, canteen, and back in my day a codebook containing radio frequencies that allowed a person to access the communications network. We kept it all close by storing it on something called our LBE, or Load Bearing Equipment, which was a belt connected to a harness that came over our shoulders. Since the codebook, sidearm, and compass were vital items that needed to be secured at all times they were often attached to something called a “dummy cord,” a length of thin nylon cord that was secured to the equipment on one end and the LBE a soldier wears on the other.

Like one of those strange events where the planets and stars have to properly align along with the moon being a deep blue both the battalion commander and the battalion sergeant major showed the day I got McKenzie for the last time. It was late afternoon, close to end of the day and my entire platoon were just hanging around the motor pool waiting for final formation. The battalion commander was talking with me about the huge reenlistment bonus I could receive for another four years commitment. Feeling left out McKenzie decided to chime in about how much I would be missed the resulting sarcasm apparent to everyone. Remembering the cord was nearby I quickly grabbed it telling everyone I had a going away present for McKenzie and the rest of the platoon.

Strangely enough, McKenzie truly looked puzzled as I handed him the twenty-foot piece of nylon cord but everyone else was as silent as the dead. “What’s this for?” he asked dumbfounded.

“Sergeant McKenzie,” I said as formally as possible, “this dummy cord is a token of our friendship and it is for you to attach to your vehicle so you never have to go look for your humvee in the middle of the night ever again.”

For a few seconds the silence hung in the air like a lead weight being dropped, when the laughter hit every member of the platoon, the platoon sergeant, and battalion commander had tears rolling down their eyes. The battalion sergeant major was laughing so hard he was hunched over the hood of a humvee trying to catch his breath.

McKenzie’s face turned a deep shade of red with him turning completely around looking at everyone while trying to figure out what to do. Eventually he stormed off and surprisingly gave me a gift in return, for the three weeks that remained of my enlistment he stayed completely out of my sight.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Massive Summer Suckage

This summer has entered the realm of massive and unprecedented suckage.  The unrelenting heat and near constant demands on my time trying to maintain the putrid remains of what mindless drones still call the "American Dream" is close to shredding what few active synaptic connections I have in my brain.  I've had only one trip to the beach and my current schedule makes it improbable that I will make it again before Labor Day. Boys and girls, I ain't called "Beach Bum" just because I'm a handsome fool on a surfboard, my mental health is very dependent on burying my feet in warm sand while smelling the salty ocean air and seeing the waves crash on shore.

Throw in the Nero-like idiots up in Washington fiddling while the country burns and I have to wonder about the old adage that says God looks after fools and the United States of America. Given what is going on and that the republicans are attempting to piss on us all and claim its rain maybe the big guy has decided we ain't worth the hassle anymore. Please forgive the following video, it is my attempt to restore some jovial balance to the damaged grey matter between my ears. Plus, I like the dancing crabs.       

Friday, July 22, 2011

Accidental Backwoods Road Trip

Every person on God’s green Earth forgets and misplaces things at times so please understand I am not trying to act like a jerk on purpose blissfully living in the proverbial glass house unconcerned about hypothetical  stones being cast my way. This is just a recounting of past events and the uncomfortable situation I found myself several years ago while being sent to reclaim Dragonwife’s, my spouse, ATM card from the people who found it after she left it in the bank ATM machine.

Somehow this became an inadvertent and unwanted quest for me which started on a Friday in the middle of spring with the hero, yours truly, going about his daily business at peace with himself and content with the world. Truthfully, if I remember correctly I believe I was doing yard work that particular morning cussing up a storm about serfdom and asshole neighbors but you all have heard that stuff before so just go with the crap I wrote about peace and contentment.

Whatever the case when I finally came back inside I remember the answering machine chirping indicating that while I was hard at work my wife found the time to call me. Given her tendencies, such calls usually meant she had remembered another thing for the Honey-do-list so understand I was indifferent at best about listening to her message. Since the list was long enough already, I decided to ignore the call and claim I did not hear the answering machine when she asked about it later that evening. At the time of this incident, I was working third-shift and without going into a deep explanation of my work hours my weekend had already started and I did not want to spend any more of it working in the yard.

That plan came apart thirty minutes later when the phone rang again and while I let the answering machine take it, I could hear my wife as the machine recorded what she said. “Ron,” she whispered in panic, “I lost my ATM card someplace, look around the house and see if you can find it. Just call me as soon as you get this message, I may need to cancel it.”

Well that presented quite the conundrum, my plans after I cleaned up involved going to the movies then sipping a cold one at a nearby bar but visions of some slimy villain skipping through town with my wife’s ATM card buying anything he wanted seemed to suggest I should reconsider. Truthfully, given my strange luck I figure there was a real possibility I could end up sitting on my favorite barstool after the movie talking baseball scores with the very person who found her card and was buying beers with it. Much to my chagrin, I called my wife back and after conferring with her began looking for ATM card but came up empty.

After turning the house upside down, I called Dragonwife to inform her she needed to move with all haste and cancel her hopelessly missing ATM card. After that, I figured the situation was solved, the card was now cancelled and would be rejected if anyone tried to use the thing. In about a week she would have a bright and shiny new bankcard and I was sure she would rush out to use the minute the nondescript envelope it was sealed in arrived in the mail. If I had any concerns it was that a week without a frivolous purchase of any kind might result in such pent up anxiety she might melt the new card the day she received it. Dear Lord in Heaven I wish that was the case because a completely new can of worms opened up the next morning.

During this period in the lives of my family Saturdays were even more laid back than now. Darth Spoilboy’s best friend lived next door and the two would be out and about as soon as the sun popped over the horizon. Darth Wiggles was a toddler and she and I would spend a good portion of the morning watching SpongeBob Squarepants before going off to the zoo or state museum. Dragonwife would pursue her favorite habit of reorganizing a closet that absolutely did not need it.

Later that afternoon would have us all going out for lunch then spend a couple of hours at the local mega-book store. All things considered, it was a pretty sedate and comfortable suburban life and if we had not answered the phone that morning it would have stayed that way.

Around nine o’clock the phone rang and since that usually meant it was my mother-in-law calling I let Dragonwife answer it. While it will surprise a few I really like my mom-in-law, I find her a fairly rational person to talk with except on the days when she gets this strange urge to turn every statement I make into some question with psychoanalytic overtones. For example you cannot believe the frustration level involved one time when I had to slowly explain to her once why I was going to the beach one cold February weekend. Somehow, the fact that I have family on the coast, had the free time and money, and simply love the solitude of having the beach and the ocean largely to myself did not compute to her.

So, as the phone rang that Saturday morning I felt this surreal psychic foreboding connected with it and figured my wife should answer it. That is the problem with psychic warnings, you can never figure out when they are counter-intuitive. Had I answered the phone I would graciously thanked the person calling and then promptly forgot to tell my wife that someone had found her now cancelled ATM card.

Just a few minutes went by when Dragonwife entered the living room explaining the situation and that she was sending me to go pick the card up in a couple of hours. Now for anyone wondering how in the world they found our phone number you have to understand Dragonwife being an attorney kept her maiden name when we were married and her last name is rather unique and alone in the local phone book. Still I was rather puzzled why I was volunteered to go after the defunct card.

“Tell me again why I have to go for your bank card?” I asked while eating the wilted remains of my daughter’s frosted flakes and drinking what was left of the chocolate milk from her sippy cup.

Dragonwife rolled her eyes and I got one of those looks that signified she was again wondering how she had ever hooked up with such an uncouth barbarian with absolutely no manners. “Because they were nice enough to remove my card from the machine and look up our phone number so they could return it to me.” She said now taking on this stern look that I am sure people like Stalin used whenever they are about to make someone disappear. Since I had an inkling that I might get laid that night I quickly capitulated and got ready to leave. Had I looked at the slip of paper with the directions to where I was going sex be damned I never would have left the house.

In less than thirty minutes after leaving my neighborhood, I departed the comfortable and dignified world of middle class suburbia with its ornate McMansions and perfunctory American flags calmly flapping in the breeze and entered the world of rednecks with cluttered trailer parks and Confederate flags snapping arrogantly in the wind. Now this did not bother me at first, I get along well with most rednecks and in fact, I am a bit of a celebrity among some of them because when I practice a little I can shoot a fly in the left butt cheek while chewing on a piece of venison jerky. What can I say? They seem to enjoy talking with a liberal that owns weapons and does not shy away from good deer meat. No, what bothered me as I continued my journey was that I was quickly leaving the province of roughhewn but decent country folks and moving into dangerous territory.

The area I was nervously entering sends students to a local high school where one of my best friends teaches and I could not help but remember a little story he told me once. My friend “Pete” is a decent guy who bends over backwards to help his students and be available to their parents if they have any questions or requests. This won him the respect of the people in that area even although he is originally from far out of state making him a "foreigner" in their eyes. Over beers one night he told me a story about how the grandmother of one of his best students, who at the time was suffering health issues, invited him to a fund raising benefit being held for her grandchild by one of the local civic organizations.

Pete was seriously considering going until this delightful little old lady mentioned offhand the name of organization sponsoring the benefit. To avoid name-calling let us just say that this group really likes it when white sheets go on sale. Making matters worse my friend Pete while not having an ethnically obvious name is Jewish so as diplomatically as possible he had to turn down the gracious offer by the old lady.

With this in mind I followed the next step in the directions and turned off onto a dirt road then a few miles later turned off on another dirt road that was actually more a path if you wanted to get technical. It was at this moment that scenes from the movie “Deliverance” began running through my mind. Questions abound as to why I did not say screw it and turn around and go home, all I can say is that I am stupid and figured my wife was going to owe me so big she was going to have to break out the cherry flavored joy jelly that evening once the kids were asleep. Before long the trailer that marked my finally destination appeared and after that it was too late.

The trailer and it’s outlying buildings had a very rustic nature that would have fit well in either a Great Depression or post-apocalyptic movie. It was nice to know that the residents were politically active given the number of bumper stickers on the array of broken down cars that were scattered about, the mildest being one questioning what species other than humans liberals prefer for sexual relations.

Beginning to feel bold for some insane reason, I grabbed the small wrapped present that contained a thank you gift from my wife before getting out of the car and walking up to the front door. The first person to come out was my worst nightmare, a young guy about my size but who looked as unbalanced as a hungry Hannibal Lecter. The person after that was an older lady who I guessed was his mother.

After going through the required chitchat with the lady she handed me my wife’s defunct ATM card and I gave her the small present. After five minutes of idle conversation with his mom the big guy had stayed eerily silent, this was really bothering me to the point I was wishing I had brought my pistol. Now the mom was nice but was ripping through my wife’s excessive gift wrapping on the present just like a five year-old on Christmas day.

You really can’t judge people at first sight because as soon as the lady pulled the scented candle out of the box her pleasant nature evaporated like a snow cone in the Mojave Desert on a summer day. “What the Hell is this shit.” She said with the best look of sudden disgust I had ever seen on a person.

Oh crap, I thought, I figured big guy was going to get all belligerent since I had pissed off his mom and would make me the evening meal for the nice sized sow and her piglets I now saw in a pen behind the trailer. However, like I said you can’t judge people, the big guy broke out into a huge smile and snatched the present from his mom. “Now this is precious, I smell lilac.” He said taking a sniff of the yellow candle now pressed up against his nose.

The big guy began thanking me intensely and inviting me to stay for dinner, which I turn down. Being as gracious as possible, I said my goodbyes and raced to my car to get the Hell out of Dodge before everything went to shit. Once in the car I turned it around and noticed the mom was still standing outside giving me dirty looks but her son was nowhere to be seen. Right before driving away I noticed the rainbow flag bumper sticker attached to one of the newer cars on the property and almost drove into a tree laughing at my own sheer stupidity and preconceived notions.

A fitting postscript to this rambling but very true story would be that Dragonwife never again drove off leaving her ATM card in the automatic teller. However, to keep the story factual I cannot write that, just a few weeks later she came home in a fluster looking for the card that was the replacement to the one she sent me out to retrieve. Luckily, this time no backwoods Samaritan called to say they found it, at least that is the story I told my wife.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday (Cycle 40) Visions of who I did not want to be

Flash Fiction Friday Prompt: Use the photo for inspiration.
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1000 words

The New York Subway system is an unforgiving place and if you are smart, you quickly adapt to its way of life. I came to the city six years ago and learned the ropes by riding the system in the early morning hours from my apartment in Flatbush to my job at an accounting firm in Upper Manhattan. The basic rules were simple, never make eye contact with anyone and ignore everything that goes on around you unless your life is in danger. If it is someone else’s life being threatened then it then becomes a judgment call but I have been told several times by cynical native New Yorkers even then its best to look the other way. It went against everything I was raised to believe but like everyone else, I soon realized getting involved brought more problems than it was worth.

After a promotion I moved to Jamaica Estates in Queens and began my established routine even earlier, which had the benefit of me riding the trains before they became unbearably crowded. Each morning I saw the same small group of people at the station reading the morning paper or working on their laptops as we waited for our ride. When the train arrived and the doors slide open like programmed ants we would invariably spread ourselves as far apart as possible staying locked up in our own little worlds. I either ignored those around me by transporting myself to some faraway and isolated land where angry ocean waves crashed upon rocky shores or by working on one of my novels I was writing that I hoped would make me famous and do the same thing.

I easily adjusted to the new route and in some subconscious way felt I was accepted by those around me even though we never looked directly at each other. We were all quite the featureless professional bunch, nicely dressed in some sort of business attire, each carrying some form of briefcase and maybe if the weather was bad, a matching trench coat.

Some part of me hated this existence, the money I was making was great but I felt as if my soul was slowly being corrupted. Feeling an ill-defined hopelessness, I figured this would be my life unless something drastically changed. Another promotion resulting in a transfer could be that that change, although improbable, or by actually getting one of my books published with it making the bestseller list would work as well, although that was a joke for several reasons. Change did soon come and as usual it came from an entirely unexpected and nearly unbelievable direction in the form of a grubby old man.

It was a spring morning when he first appeared. He was small in stature with a baldhead and long white beard he never the less had intense eyes that marked him either absolutely crazy or very smart. His clothes at best were tattered consisting of dirty sneakers, baggy brown pants, and a faded t-shirt with the word "Navy" written on the front. He contrasted sharply with us well-dressed riders preparing ourselves for the onslaught of another day being good, productive citizens racing against the clock to constantly beat some arbitrary deadline only to have another replace it.

For my fellow rider and me his appearance was so sudden that we all committed the gravest of sins by looking him directly in the eye. Callously indifferent to the stares he was receiving; the old man took a seat and gazed right back with disdain.

While his sudden appearance that first day was a surprise, the problem he brought came from him disrupting the neatly crafted territories that separated the people on the subway car. Usually we all had an empty seat on either side of us, just enough to allow everyone an illusion of personal space but the old man threw that out of whack forcing someone to move which caused a ripple effect throughout the car. No matter what though, by disgruntled wordless acclamation the accepted orthodoxy had to be maintained forcing each member of the commuter collective to move whenever the old man boarded.

Months passed and despite it all the old man became an unwanted fixture daily taking a different seat in the train forcing yet another wave of movement as people adjusted their personal spaces. Somehow, I was immune to the irritation he caused choosing to return to my imaginary storm tossed coastline or again dreaming about being a bestselling author after I my turn came to adjust seats.

The change the old man brought to my life occurred one morning when I got off the train far earlier than usual. I had an appointment of the east side of Manhattan and in the rush to get off in time I left my briefcase on the subway containing not only work related files but one of my novels on a flashdrive. Realizing this I turned around in time to see the train speeding away with just about all my hopes with it.

Fortunately, the accounting paperwork could be easily restored but the version of my novel on the flashdrive was nearly irreplaceable and it would take months at least to bring an earlier version up to the same level. Waiting in the subway station for the return home that afternoon I was almost despondent until the old man plopped down beside me on the bench I was sitting then handed me my briefcase saying the words that I needed hearing.

“Listen son,” he began, “you don’t know me from Adam’s housecat but I was very much like you once. I played the game everyone told me I should participate in while deep down I knew none of it was right for me. I hated it and over the years it ate me alive, by the time I couldn’t take it anymore I was responsible for a wife and two kids. So, I started playing fast and loose with my job and family trying to cope and lost it all. I’ve watched you for months and you are not like those mindless drones, just look at me as what your future could be and run as fast and as far away as possible and find something you love to do.” Right as he finished he handed me my flashdrive with a huge smile on his face.

Completely stunned by his words and feeling I was indeed seeing the person I could become I thanked the old man and ran away from it all despite the stunned disbelief of many. Will it pay off? I have no idea but I now happily watch the wave’s crash ashore on the coast of Maine awaiting some answer.

(Author's note: Okay I have no idea if this story works, but I wanted to do something without gun play, detectives, starships, aliens, or hinting of the great and awesome Jimmy Buffett. Comments are very much welcome, so tear it a new one.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Looking in the face of madness

Despite the surreal dance of death being performed by the Republican Party over the distraught body of our Union I have found it hard to find my voice and comment on the situation. Hell I'll be up front and admit this shit makes no sense to me. It started after November 2008 as American politics descended into even darker regions of human conduct with barely coherent masses enraged over Obama’s clear electoral victory.

Even as John McCain was getting ready to give his traditional speech congratulating the new president-elect voices in his camp were already questioning Obama’s legitimacy. From charges of Kenyan birth certificates being hidden, allegations of secretly being a Muslim, to even shrill screams of him being the Antichrist by a few there has been an unbelievable level of irrational fear over one man who in any other circumstance would be held as the highest example of American success.

Far beyond the surreal fears of ignorant masses, what the expensively dressed elected officials from the once honorable party of Lincoln are doing goes beyond normal sycophant behavior and is devolving into a form of insanity. Listening to them on the news channels call for massive cuts in programs working and middle class Americans depend on while gnashing their teeth in panic over the mere mention of their rich benefactors having to share some of the burden is like watching an episode of the Twilight Zone.

Madness is one of the most curious afflictions that Humanity can suffer. On an individual level, it can be relatively easy to identify allowing someone detached from reality to receive some form of help. However, when madness starts affecting large groups it not only becomes easy to justify but also begins to grow exponentially like a virus. Strange rumors and half-truths become hard, unquestionable facts along with anyone outside the group who refuses to join and march lockstep in mindless agreement becoming the personification of utter evil.

It is my belief that much of the insanity that permeates our society today is based on an inability by a huge segment of Americans to come to grips that the all powerful United States of the 1950’s with its comforting absolutes is dead and gone. This is made worse by sniveling little fearmongers who are using this uncertainty for their own profit or for the simple fact they want to see the world and nation burn.

I would like to believe things would eventually get better as the ethnic and age demographics of the country changes to the point the close-minded and selfish people representing the older generations rooted in the twentieth-century passes into history but I have my doubts. From my own personal experiences, I have met many young people for whom hate has become engrained in their soul. Their fear of change is so deep that they live in a delusional mindset where even the most basic commonsense fact that goes against their worldview is not only discounted but is probably part of some grand conspiracy out to impose a terrible tyranny on them.

As the world moves on leaving these people further behind they will blame others even more for their increasingly untenable position and American politics will become even darker and my belief ultimately bloody.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Beach Bum's Amphibious Kids

Way back in the ancient 1980's your truly was flush with money stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado while serving in the United States Army. At the time I was living in the barracks and when my fellow peacetime soldiers and I were not on some field exercise preparing for the Soviet invasion of western Europe we were looking for something to do. While I had more than my share of embarrassing escapades involving the fairer sex I did try and participate in a  few constructive activities. One of them was getting a PADI open water SCUBA certification, yes after living most of my life on the coast of South Carolina it took me moving to the middle of the North American continent to learn to scuba dive.  Life being what it is after leaving the active army, and no longer flush with money, I fell out of scuba diving but now with the kiddies getting a little older I'm looking to get back into it. Today both Darth Spoilboy and the newly minted Sith Lord Darth Wiggles took a "Discover SCUBA" class at a local pool. The above picture is Spoilboy with his gear on and getting ready to follow the instructor underwater. He is the one actually old enough for a formal certification and in a few months both of us will be in the open water class, for me it will be a refresher but I have not dived since 1992. I am so stoked right now I cannot describe it.      
As I mentioned Wiggles is quickly coming of age and I went ahead and awarded her the Sith title of Darth Wiggles. Her recent behavior has been "questionable" with me about ready a few times to go screaming off into the night over how frustrating she can be at the age of eight, God help me when she becomes a teenager. I actually believe she enjoyed the scuba class a little more than Spoilboy but she has to wait one more year before she can even begin to take lessons and even then she will be greatly restricted as to when and where she can dive.

I was actually rather surprised at how well both performed in the small class, Wiggles had some trouble with water entering her mask but cleared it underwater without any help, now that was rather spooky but she has always been a fish having learned to swim underwater before on the surface.  Spoilboy has a strong gag reflex like me but had no problem with keeping the regulator in his mouth. His one problem were the fins provided by the local scuba shop, they were a bit small for him. Needless to say I am already looking forward to some scuba trips down to Key West and other places, its going to be a blast!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday (Cycle 38) Having all the Facts

Flash Fiction Friday Prompt: Write a story involving madness in whatever form appeals to you.
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1200 words.

 The VA councilor leaned back in his cheap government issue office chair and sighed deeply while looking up at the ceiling of his small office. “Josh buddy,” he said from behind his equally cheap desk, “I’ve told you time and time again, hyper-vigilance is just a symptom of your PTSD. You and your unit spent months in that Iraqi village waiting for mortars, RPG’s, and God knows what to fall down on your heads. How many times was your unit attacked in your six months you all were inside the walls of that compound?”

“At least twice a day,” I replied, doing my best to prevent the memories from overwhelming me. My councilor was a decent guy, but he just did not understand. He had spent twenty-one years in the peacetime army where the toughest thing he had to endure was an extended field training exercise to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin. The desert to him was mock Soviet tanks and other armored vehicles played war games while ambitious brigade commanders kissed ass and pushed their units for that golden after action report. “But this isn’t hyper-vigilance Raymond,” I said, “things at work seem wrong. I feel like people are talking behind my back and keeping something from me. Its paranoia I tell you and it makes me feel very uncomfortable.”

“Explain to me what you think is happening.” He said giving me an irritating paternal smile.

Even though I had witnessed what I thought were several instances of strange behavior I found myself thinking hard to give Raymond a good example. “About a week ago I was headed to the break room to buy a soda and was stopped just outside by someone wanting information about a report. I could see about ten people inside mindlessly staring at one of the big corporate guys who was saying something. I couldn’t hear him but his gestures and facial expressions were odd. When I finally stepped inside it all suddenly stopped with everyone looking at me as if the zipper on my pants was open. More than that, I felt exactly the same every time my squad was on patrol in some Iraqi town, like the locals could at any minute swallow us whole then spit us out in bloody pieces.”

Raymond chuckled and began looking off into space, he was ignoring me now and I hated that. Feeling as if I needed to respond I looked away from him and began reading all the certificates, diplomas, and pictures that adored his “I Love Me” wall signifying a military career totally free of some asshole trying to kill him. “Listen Josh, when did you get your degree in psychology? God knows I’ve seen this in hundreds of other veterans that have left the service. You’re just transferring your post-traumatic stress to the civilian world. Tell you what, I’ll up your anti-anxiety medication for a few weeks. I have some sample bottles in another office and if they relieve the symptoms, I’ll write out a full prescription.

With that, he was up and through the door in less time than it would take a starving man to devour a Thanksgiving turkey. As I waited, the thought began running around in my head that Raymond could be on to something, except for another veteran like me I working around a bunch of sorry ass civilians. At worst all I had to worry about was them stealing my iPod or not inviting me to some asinine social function. So, when Raymond returned I took the collection of small bottles he offered and walked out.

The next morning as I walked into the building on the way to my cubicle I did somehow feel freer than the day before. While it was no weekend beer buzz at the beach, I took the sensation the new medication was giving me at face value. Making a conscious effort to integrate myself back into the banal normality of the civilian world, I made a concerted effort to look my coworkers in the eyes and greet each one like a normal person.

Unlike many civilians, I viewed my tiny office cubicle as a cozy, safe sanctuary. The enclosed space was diametrically opposite from the huge expanse of Mesopotamian desert that I looked out upon from my counter-sniper position overlooking the Iraqi town my unit was charged to protect and secure. The dull florescent lights were an easy load to bear as compared to the unforgiving sun. But the best aspect of my job was the building air conditioning, it was steady and so cold I often found myself chilled.

My job was simple enough, I worked for a big pharmaceutical company and I coordinated reports from several regions at the effectiveness of various drugs, namely anti-depression medication for adults and attention-deficit disorder pills for children. Truthfully, the job was incredibly dull but I was lucky to have it, with the economy in the ditch a lot of my fellow vets were out of work or in worse shape, sleeping under highway overpasses. While my councilor was a dick sometimes, Raymond was the one who pulled the right strings for me to land the position. It was too bad my morning good feeling just didn’t last.

The building was maze-like with halls that twisted and turned seemly at random. Unmarked doors that were always locked lined each side of the corridors. When noon hit I found myself lost trying to navigate my way through the labyrinth to the employee park outside that served as an informal gathering place. Taking Raymond’s advice, I was going to become part of the group, Hell there was a gorgeous blonde-haired woman named Sharon in accounting I knew hung out with the others outside and I was going to do my best to get to know her.

I was about to give up when after turning a corner the exit outside finally came in sight, it was then that one of the nondescript doors ahead of me opened with two guys coming out. Immediately, the hairs on the back of neck raised up as I watched them slowly shuffle trance-like out of the building. The door the two came out of did not fully close and while my paranoia was building to orbital heights my curiosity was even stronger. More to the point, I felt the need to confront the irrational fear that was not so slowly gnawing my insides to paste.

What I saw at first was just another hallway but this time huge plate-glass windows on the walls showed what was inside attached rooms. Bizarre surgical tables were lined up beside each other with surreal looking instruments from the darkest nightmare hanging down from the ceiling. Further back in those rooms were aquarium-like tanks each occupied with a creature that looked like a cross between a huge shrimp and a scorpion.

Being so caught up in looking at what was inside the rooms I totally did not hear the important corporate executive I previous saw in the break room days before giving strange lectures walk up beside me and grab my arm.

“Mr. Hamilton,” he said smiling manically, “it’s so nice to see you. You’re not scheduled for the treatment for several more weeks but since you are here we will go ahead and get started.

I tried to pull away but his grip was like steal, as if things could not get even weirder, the nameless executive’s neck started to swell far beyond what was humanly possible. That’s when his jaw extended like a python’s and something started to emerge from his mouth. Running on pure instinct with my free arm, I reared back and punched his neck with every ounce of strength of possessed. As I stepped back free of his grip the executive fell to the floor but struggled back up on his hands and knees. Again, on instinct I kicked him in the neck, which forced the thing in his neck to explode outward. This time both fell to the floor dead. Somehow I wasn't surprised to see that the creature that came out the executive’s body was the same type as those floating in the nearby aquariums.

For about a second I was lost as to what to do, but I quickly recovered and with a pocketknife I always carry, I stabbed the strange creature close to what I thought was the braincase. Then after wrapping it up in my sports coat, I ran back into the main corridor and as fast as possible left the building. A television station was my destination but as I passed the employee park with my now former coworkers all quietly sitting on the benches like powered-down drones I realized someone once said, “Sometimes paranoia’s just having all the facts.”