Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Just Another Suburban Nightmare

Despite my passionate hatred of suburbia and all things associated with it, I will grudgingly admit that at one time it was a good idea before things got out of hand. I am old enough to remember the numerous shanty-like dwellings all too common in the South during the 1960’s which had the desperate look of something from a Third-world country. Please excuse my admittedly socialistic tendencies, impinging on purely capitalistic motives, but during those years suburban housing developments of relatively low-priced homes did much to foster a sense of community and responsibility.

While I call it a “neighborhood” in the old sense of the word, I largely grew up in a subdivision. Made up of modest homes where families were raised and people actually knew the person living down the street. It also boasted the now strange idea of having things like stores and even schools within easy walking distance.

Now, as I have written about ad nauseam, things have changed. Up until the concept largely self-destructed under the weight of its unsustainably, houses were thought of as investments. You bought a “starter home” and after it increased in value, you sold it and bought an even bigger house. With everyone desperate to not only to move up the social-economic ladder in terms of showing off an increasingly affluent lifestyle but attempting to ensure their retirement by buying as large as house as possible then cashing in on the value. This strange and greedy mutation of the American Dream eventually created the modern concept of the subdivision and the term “McMansion.”

For your average suburbanite the next house had to be further out in the country away from the riff-raff and other social malcontents that they invariably had to spend more money on gas just to return and work amongst these same people most days of the week. These suburbanites also wanted larger kitchens for more assorted fancy and overpriced food processing gizmos so they could look like culinary experts when in actuality the overworked microwave was the center of most food preparation. And of course, my favorite bugaboo, elaborate and overpriced McMansions always come with yards that require countless hours and money for even basic upkeep. This brings me to my latest clash over my resistance to this modern serfdom.

While my current house does not quite meet the McMansion standards, it is far more ostentatious then any house I lived in as a kid. In an effort of full disclosure my wife and I were required to purchase a bigger home to meet the prerequisites needed for the adoption of my daughter, baby Darth Wiggles. At the time, I was exceedingly naïve about the degree of commitment required to keep the beautifully landscaped yards we purchased up to standards.

The previous owners made their living from an in-home business and for them it was simple, they could just step outside when they had free time. Since I even now work complicated shifts and still do not own all the extravagant and upscale lawn tools some things simply slip my attention, not that I have ever based my existence on how my lawn looked. The one thing that I sort of thought was cool was the automatic lawn sprinkler system complete with its own electrically powered pump that drew water from our own well.

Now the sprinkler heads are a pain, at the beginning of warm weather each year I always had to replace several non-functioning heads and while not budgets killers by themselves, throw four or five in a Lowes shopping basket and they start to add up. This does not include the three larger type sprinkler heads used in the backyard my son, Darth Spoilboy, has ran over at times resulting in an artificial geyser shooting thirty-feet into the sky showering everything nearby until I turned it off. Those bad boys are twenty bucks a pop. At least the pump was dependable and something I could always rely on so I could meet the very minimum of lawn care standards for the subdivision, not anymore.

Even before the recent passing of my father-in-law I had noticed something slightly off about the yard as I drove home early in the morning after getting off work. The grass was looking even more sickly than usual but since I largely do not give a rat’s ass what my neighbors think of me, or my yard, I just conveniently forgot about the whole thing. It was not until my wife sufficiently increased the level of nagging to the point of it being painful that I finally looked into the problem.

Concluding this long story, I have discovered that the submersible pump supplying well water for the sprinklers has burned up. The first clue was the fact that I could not reset the 20 amp breaker after that it was a simple trouble shooting procedure using my trusty multimeter, a device that measures voltage, amperage, and resistance on electrical equipment.

At the very least, I am looking at five-hundred dollars just to replace the pump by myself. Since I am lazy and feel this lawn care crap is egotistical bullshit I looked into having it all done by a local landscaping company. The attractive lady in charge of giving such estimates brightly smiled at me saying they could have me up and running for the paltry sum of fourteen hundred dollars. With her sitting at her desk and me standing at least I got to see a whooping amount of her very nice cleavage before I got dizzy thinking about all that money flying away.

Because of the defunct pump and the lack of any significant rain in two months my yard is a small sample of the Mojave Desert surrounded by pretentious recreations of yards surrounding old fashioned English manor homes. Even with the desert-like appearance I am serious thinking about waiting until next spring before I do anything. Maybe I can use this to talk Dragonwife into moving out into the country where there is some real distance between houses, Hell the neighbors might even help on this one just to get rid of me.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Obama Conundrum

Once again, I am feeling the strange need to wax philosophically about something significant and important affected the nation. I have no idea why I want to do this, blame it on some disturbing but curious character flaw, a desire to shake off my suburban malaise brought on by the dog days of summer, or just my need to join my fellow Americans in collective whining, the only thing we excel at in the twenty-first century. With that out of the way what will allow me to properly grovel in the verbal emissions of my pomposity? How about something I have been pondering about for several years, the performance of Barrack Obama as president and liberal short sightedness and the conundrum they present for 2012 election.

For conservatives Obama never stood a chance once he vanquished Hillary in the 2008 campaign, they immediately tagged him as something akin to the Antichrist with a certain segment actually believing he is the spawn of Satan. On the other hand, within a few months after taking office progressives began to go rogue when he did not whip out his magic wand and instantaneously transform the country into a social utopia.

Call me a sleazy sycophant but for the longest time I cut the guy significant slack given the dire situation the country faced. For starters, I can mention the two wars going on with billions disappearing into a black hole that had Dick Cheney’s Cheshire cat-like smile superimposed over the event horizon. We also faced a financial apocalypse caused by the finely dressed banking rats eating holes into the nation’s economic ship of state forcing the previous president to bail them out leaving Obama to finish cleaning up the mess and to be call nasty names by the moronic masses for doing so. Top it all off as if two southwest Asian quagmires along with a monetary disaster were not enough millions of Americans lose their jobs before and after he took office.

So excuse me for not jumping early on the progressive bitchy bandwagon and castigating the man for his failure to have unicorns and rainbows sprout from his and Michelle’s ass and cover the country in sweet rose pedals and happiness. The only problem with my early high optimism that slowly morphed into pragmatic realism then to impatient frustration is that while Obama was a great campaigner in all honestly we seem to have gotten a hybrid cross of Hamlet and Mr. Spock of Star Trek. He appears to be a president more interested in contemplating his existence while casting unemotional observations about how Washington is broken rather than getting involved in the dirty business of politics.

Once again, I do not completely blame him, there were disturbing signs and omens during the 2008 campaign that liberals were building him into something he was not. I remember some lady on MSNBC that literally had a religious look of utter rapture talking about how super duper things would be right after Obama took office. Cartoons of Obama wearing a Superman-like costume regularly appeared with him beating up corporate villains and fixing global warming as an afternoon project. In my ever-humble opinion liberals and progressives placed Obama on far too high a pedestal expecting far too much of him given the rules Washington works under.

Another problem that liberals/progressives created for themselves at the expense of Obama was the utter failure to counter the Koch brothers and Fox Noise sponsored Tea bagger movement that sent the country spiraling off the cliff to near default status. We had close to two-million people in Washington attending Obama’s inauguration and had that group stayed organized and vocal the assorted right-wing rubbish that arose to run such fine American intellectuals as Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell would at the very least been blunted. Even better had right-wingers carrying assault weapons at town hall meetings during the health care debate screaming slogans about the tree of liberty needing to be refreshed by the blood of tyrants been met with liberals passing out flowers the public would have freaked at the visual dichotomy.

Now I have come to the point where I have to express my disappointment with Obama. For someone who was the visual definition of high-energy charisma and dynamic action while running for president his lackluster leadership since taking office has been depressing and unexplainable. During the Republican drive to renew the Bush Tax cuts, something that created much of our current deficit, he shrugged off all suggestions to tie the agreement with an extension on the debt limit. The resulting uncertainty the prolonged and ugly battle to increase the federal debt limit threw the country into yet another crisis. This was a failure of leadership on Obama’s part that bordered on a George W. Bush level of incompetence.

One criticism the Republicans have tagged Obama with that I believe hold some merit is that he appears to be quite infatuated with his own celebrity. During the worst of the Gulf oil spill crisis Obama came down to Louisiana on one visit just long enough to have some pictures taken before jetting back to the White House so Paul McCarthy could give a personal concert to him and the family that evening. He did not talk to any locals and never got his nicely pressed khaki pants and bright white dress shirt dirty. Hello! Rule number one to all those hoping to be elected to any office and stay there is to press the flesh and feel the pain of the lowly minions.

My biggest disappointment with Obama has to be his inaction on the unemployment front. Millions of Americans languish with no job or doing their best with underemployment and once again, the president is playing the dithering Hamlet. Several people light-years smarter than me like Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Chris Matthews of MSNBC have been screaming for months about tactics that the president could use to outmaneuver the Republicans on getting a jobs program going. But only very recently have we been rewarded with a pronouncement from the vacationing president that he will present a jobs plan after Labor Day. I just pray that many of the unemployed have the luxury of electricity then so they can hear about his wonderful path to salvation.

Here is where my conundrum comes into play. The Republicans running for their party’s presidential nomination make the aliens in the Star Wars cantina scene look like a white folks country club social gathering. They are the finest collection of paranoid fanatics, religious extremists, and sleazy flip flopping toadies ever assembled and given the comatose American economy Democrats would be suicidally insane to think the eventual nominee could not win the election.

Therefore, the question is do we reelect Obama despite his faults and failures or do we surrender the country allowing the Republicans to continue their assault on the working people? Because while I am seriously asking the question I feel many in the liberal/progressive movement are equally at fault for their apathetic laziness to the tea bagger movement and narcissistic infighting over their own special interests at the expense of the country as a whole.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dealing with the aftermath

Despite some descriptions to the contrary, for me when death comes to visit it carries a sickening sweet tinge much like the aroma of something made of sugar about to go bad. Because no matter how unwelcome and unwanted at times, it is a natural part of life and something we will all have to face in the end. This became especially true to me back in 2008 after my grandmother, mother, and Uncle Gwen all passed away within the span of thirteen months. While their individual passings were heart-wrenching age, health concerns, and long-term sickness made each expected on some level.

That did not make coming to grips with their departure any easier, but we still had to pick up the pieces and began to structure a life around the gaping hole that is their absence. The worst thing for me in many ways is to this day there are times I still think of them in the present tense and have to remind myself they are gone. It’s bizarre on so many levels to feel how important a particular person is to your existence and then remember they are no longer around.

The situation was hugely different and yet strangely the same last Saturday. It was my daughter, Darth Wiggles, birthday and the entire family, including my son’s girlfriend, were at the mall letting her spend the collection of gift cards she had received. I’d like very much to claim I felt something wrong, like someone might feel that subtle change in the weather heralding the coming of a rainstorm but it was a clear, sunny, and actually pleasantly warm day. If anything all signs pointed to yet another boring day becoming a boring evening sitting at the house with me wishing I could run down to the coast.

All that changed when we returned home and I made the perfunctory run upstairs to check the answering machine. As I mentioned in my very brief post my father-in-law’s passing was sudden and very unexpected. While a senior citizen, his health could have been considered excellent especially since he golfed several times a week and did all of his own yard work.

I have to be honest here and write that I have never mixed entirely well with my in-laws. This fact has to do with my blood kinfolk and me being the spontaneous beer and barbeque crowd at the beach and them being the deliberate wine and cheese set at the country club. That does not change the fact that they are all quite accomplished and talented people, at times irritatingly so, which in many ways made it more painful to watch them deal with such a sudden loss.

This going to sound trite as Hell but in the end I came away with the idea that with this insane world mired in a continuous set of disasters pulling everyone apart about all we seemingly have tying us together these days is the finality of death. It’s the lowest of the common dominators we all have and something I found beyond excessively depressing. If we had any sense as a species its something we would work damn hard at changing for the better.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Death in the family

My father-in-law passed away very suddenly yesterday. Would appreciate all prayers and good vibes sent to my wife, mom-in-law, and the rest of that family. Will be away for a couple of days, best wishes to everyone.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday (Cycle 44) Amongst the ruins of our souls

Flash Fiction Friday Prompt: A story about unrest.
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1500 words (or fewer).

"Nature is indifferent to the survival of the human species, including Americans." Adlai E. Stevenson

The odors of rotten meat from the defunct freezer and spilled cherry syrup from the snow cone machine assaulted the nose of Irvin Washington as he hid behind the checkout counter of the long looted convenience store. The slight gasoline smell coming from the full five-gallon container he clutched only made things worse and it was all he could do not to puke in spite of the danger making any sound might bring him. Through force of will alone, he stayed completely quiet listening to the words of the seven militia personnel across the street as they interrogated the Hispanic teenager they caught sneaking out of the equally looted grocery store.

“Where’s the rest of your gang, Jose?” One of the more verbally belligerent members of the irregular militia asked for the fifth or sixth time. The terrified kid mumbled something about being alone and looking for food for his family. A chorus of laughter and disbelief was all he got for his fearful honesty before the sounds of multiple blows impacting a helpless human body drifted back over to Irvin.

Irvin desperately wanted to look over the counter and see what was happening to the boy but if he were discovered there was no doubt the militia types would turn their attentions on him. As far as they were concerned anyone they ran across was guilty of looting until proven innocent. Irvin’s black skin would only make his presumed illegal behavior that much worse.

Still, the screams of the unarmed teenager being beaten clawed at his soul, so much that he pulled his old M9 army service pistol from his shoulder holster while forcing himself to get up and look over the counter. Irvin played with the insane idea of attacking the seven heavily-armed men with his pistol or walking over and demanding they stand down and submit to his authority as a former US army major, anything that might save the kid’s life.

But it did not take a military genius to realize neither idea would work, the seven men, dressed in mismatched camouflage clothes, were armed with an odd collection of assault rifles ranging from the leader carrying a tricked out, high-priced civilian version of the army’s M4 carbine to several with cheap AK-47’s.

All were working under the auspices of the ad hoc Committee of Public Safety based out of the secure area around Greenville in the upstate. The committee was the only thing South Carolina had close to a state government since everything went to shit after the president federalized the National Guard and deployed them up north to assist in controlling the insurrection in the northeast and Midwest states. Helpless against the overwhelmingly armed psychos Irvin, now just a simple high school science teacher, could not help but marvel at how far the once nearly omnipotent United States had fallen in the twenty years since he left the service in 2006.


Since the start of the twenty-first century, the United States had suffered a steady stream of mainly self-inflected military, diplomatic, and economic disasters that deeply strained the fabric of the nation. The catastrophe that finally pushed it over edge was the 2024 election where the political machine of one party was discovered to have rigged the presidential election in favor of the daughter of a former vice president.

The voting manipulation was so blatant in thirteen states that the governors took the issue to the federal courts, only to see Supreme Court uphold the results. The riots that soon erupted quickly became pitched battles so intense that regular army and National Guard forces from across the country had to be called in an attempt to restore order.

The violence was made even worse as gangs used the chaos to spread out from the cities and start attacking the suburbs. Once it became too dangerous to transport goods on the roads store shelves became bare and with that, the remaining social structure of the country fell apart.


Peering over the edge of the counter Irvin watched as the Hispanic boy was pulled to his feet. Somehow, he found the ability to stand on his own as the militia leader with the fancy M4 broke away to say something over the radio in the truck they were using. It was then that Irvin realized the boy had been one of his high school chemistry students a few years back. His recognition came right before the militia leader walked up to the boy, placed the barrel of his rifle a few inches from his head, and pulled the trigger. The body fell to the ground like a wet sack.

“The command post,” the leader said, “in Columbia has confirmed sightings of gang activity a few miles from the coliseum, load up and prepare for battle.” A chorus or rebel yells met the news and a minute later the odd collection of armed men were gone leaving only a dead body and silence in their wake.

Irvin wanted to do something for the dead boy but the smell of gasoline brought him back to his own needs. The gasoline he was able to scrounge from the virtually empty underground tanks might be just enough to allow him and his family to make it down to Manning, South Carolina and the relative safety of his brother’s property.

Quickly Irvin lifted his precious load and left the convenience store from its rear exit. He darted from behind one building to another staying out of sight as much as possible, with any luck he hoped to be home by nightfall and then after refueling his car leave his suburban home the next morning during the brief time the local militia allowed people to travel.

Even with his most determined efforts to make it home, just a couple of hours later a sudden thunderstorm with severe lightning forced Irvin to take refuge in the ruins of a strip mall. The respite was welcome along with the luck of finding an untouched vending machine inside what was once a nail salon. Irvin sat in the small office in the back listening to the pounding rain and the crackle of lightning while gorging on small bags of corn chips.

As the rain fell, Irvin used the sounds of falling water to think of happier times before Americans abandoned hope, reason, and compassion for apathy, rage, and selfish desire. In the comforting darkness of the small office, he was unable to understand why such a destructive road had been taken by a people who had so much.

Over the days and weeks as the violence grew, Irvin and his family would huddle together at home and listen to the reports over the shortwave radio as a stunned world watched America fall apart. His more fearful thoughts made him wondered how far he might have to fall to get his family to safety. The answer to that question came the next morning.

The thunderstorm that had forced Irvin under cover persisted through most of the night. Sleep came softly but when it did, it was heavy, so much he barely awoke up in time to aim his pistol at silhouetted figure standing in the doorway.

“Back the fuck off or I will shoot!” Irvin yelled.

“Irvin Washington is that you?” The dark figure said before backing off from the doorway a few inches and into the feeble morning light coming from the broken windows at the front of the store. “It’s me Peter Jacobs.”

The recognition was instant, it was one of his neighbors from his own subdivision who lived a couple of streets over. Even in more civilized times they did not consider each other friends but with children the same ages they had talked many times at school social functions and the community pool while watching their kids play in the water. Now all motives carried a possible sinister side and the two suspiciously eyed each other while not making any sudden moves.

“What are you doing here Peter?”

“Same as you I guess,” he said easing forward back into the office doorway, “looking for food or fuel to get the family and me through another day.”

The same time Peter said the word “fuel” Irvin saw his eyes dart to the five-gallon can of gasoline next him, probably drawn there by the smell. Back in the 1990’s, when Irvin was a young lieutenant in the army he served peacekeeping duty in Bosnia. He never understood the stories of how people who had lived next door for decades could overnight begin to slaughter each other.

In a flash he finally understood as Peter’s right hand began to move for something in his pocket while still looking at the gasoline. The shot from Irvin’s pistol was so surprising both men were startled by the sound. The only difference between the two was Irvin leaving for home minutes later while Peter died alone with a gunshot to his neck.

(Author's note: First, I'm actually under the word count for a change. Secondly, this is part of a series of stories I have written about a second American Civil War. "After the House of Cards has Fallen" is the first and "When the Center Cannot Hold" is the prequel. This story sets somewhere in the middle of the two time wise.) 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday (Cycle 43) The Best Show of the Summer

Flash Fiction Friday Prompt: A story involving your hometown. Make us believe we’ve been there.
Genre: Open
Word Count: 2000 words

(Author's note: This story is largely true, well as true as I can remember. Names were changed and characters compressed, the unabridged version could truly be a book. No offense was meant to anyone of faith. Excuse the typos, I'll get them as soon as possible.)

Seeing the ushers open the double doors at the rear of the church sanctuary that early August afternoon in 1973 created a much appreciated and eagerly awaited exit for all the children, including myself, who had just sat through another of Preacher Simpson’s long-winded sermons about the fate of all sinners. The preacher was a good man by all accounts with himself living a virtuous life as prime example of the saving power of Jesus Christ who in his own words had spent his younger years chasing strong whiskey and loose women. However, even the older and more dignified folks of the Georgetown Church of the Nazarene would sometimes whisper complaints that if running off at the mouth was a sin the old man was sure to spend eternity sniffing brimstone and swimming in the lake of fire.

That particular Sunday the entire adult congregation was aggravated even further by the stifling heat of the sanctuary because of the preacher’s refusal to turn on the newly installed air conditioning system. “Christ,” he said at the beginning of his sermon, “suffered far worse to save our souls and the least we can do is sacrifice our own comfort for a short time.”

A murmur rippled through sweaty people sitting uneasily on the wooden pews but Preacher Simpson never said anymore about it and quickly walked off the pulpit at the end of his sermon smiling manically. Much to the chagrin of my grandparents, I was the second kid to scramble out the doors to freedom that day confirming the suspicions the uneasy worshipers whispered during the service. Standing outside with the other kids we saw the huge circus-like revival tent being erected by a group of black men in the vacant lot next the church.

Thus began the unannounced annual week of revival, which would be seven days dedicated to the reawaking of the Christian faith of the good members of Simpson’s flock complete with impassioned preaching, public testimony, live gospel music and inadvertently some young adult drama. Seeing the tent being setup the now disgruntled Nazarene congregation knew from tradition older them all that they bore the responsibility of providing the food for the revival that would start later that evening. Despite the inconvenience of Old Preacher Simpson’s surprise, meant to shake what he saw as the congregation’s lethargy, everyone rushed home to prepare the food they would bring.

Above all else, by the early 1970’s Georgetown, South Carolina had become a mill town demanding clockwork precision twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Since the ending of the Civil War, the people who lived there largely made their livings through the growing of tobacco or from what they could haul from the ocean. The work was seasonal and the fates and livelihoods of most everyone was dependent on the price of the green leaf and whether shrimp nets pulled out of the water were empty or full. This created a way of life based on a foundation of religious faith with everyone coming together in the off months to pray for salvation and prosperity. For a long time this made the various preachers and ministers of the community unelected leaders and anyone who defied their guidance virtual outcasts.

With the opening of the new steel mill three miles away for the long-standing paper mill the majority of the people who lived in my hometown during my childhood were now earning their living from those two huge companies or from the secondary businesses that cropped up to supply their needs. Because of that, the rhythms of the Georgetown and its people changed to accommodate the needs of those workers.

This meant those people who observed the Sabbath as a day of worship and rest had to adapt to the changing times. Most people in my hometown did not mind this near heresy since their 24/7 operation meant dependable incomes and a growing affluence allowing a better standard of living for them and their children. For those who welcomed the growing affluence the changing times brought certain other cultural side effects were difficult to deal with, for those determined to live by the old ways the actions of young people were impossible to understand.

As much as the congregation was initially put off by Preacher Simpson’s surprise, it only took a few hours for attitudes to change. While revivals were meant to renew a church’s commitment to Christ, for poor southern folks they also served as the equivalent to a huge Broadway stage production complete with music and the drama only the saving of lost souls can offer.

The music would be provided by a gospel group called “The Singing Kings”, a North Carolina family who made their living singing for the Lord as far north as mysterious New York State and west as the wilds of New Mexico. Given the introverted worldview back then such places were as exotic as northern Outer Magnolia and Patagonia are now. Even more amazing to me at the time was that they lived in and traveled the country in an old converted school bus. The Kings family consisted of Samuel the father, Helen the mother, the twins Peter and Mary who were around my age, and the oldest daughter Rebecca who at the age of seventeen was the epitome of the chaste young lady working to save souls through music while saving herself for the man she would marry. As gospel groups go they could not hope to equal the energy of African-American singers but could easily put us poor white folks to tears by singing “How Great Thou Art.”

The drama for the revival would be provided by the middle-aged veteran of saving souls Preacher Calhoun Murphy and his new protégé, the young and charismatic Preacher Daniel Barnes. The likes of Calhoun Murphy do not really exist anymore, while a true man of the cloth he was also an intelligent and very well read person who could quote the likes of Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Shakespeare, Voltaire, and many others to the point he scared some less sophisticated folks for whom reading is akin to witchcraft.

Daniel Barnes on the other hand was a harbinger of the coming age of shallow and ambitious televangelist preachers for whom the only education they cared about looking good and maximizing the profit margin. Right from the start it was easy to tell Murphy did not like his young student but it was their job to energize the congregation and get them dancing in the aisles and motivated for entire year. 


By Sunday evening, the amazingly resourceful ladies of the Georgetown Nazarene church had thrown together a remarkable collection of home cooked dishes, which now sat on several tables underneath the large revival tent. My grandmother’s contribution to the menu consisted of a heaping plate of fried chicken, her special potato salad, and twelve ears of freshly cooked corn, which she took great care of placing well away from similar items so they would stand out. After she was satisfied, she joined the other ladies of the church who were ogling the handsome young Barnes but trying not to seem lustful about it. Dressed in a tailor-fitted black suit with brilliant white shirt and razor sharp black tie for the older ladies he was as dashing as Rock Hudson or any other handsome American actor.

Now my grandfather and I slipped out of the tent to pay our respects to Preacher Murphy who was holding court behind the church building sipping cold beers with the rest of the guys, a scandalous behavior sure to draw condemnation from the wives if they were not so enchanted with Barnes. Murphy looked the aged and tired opposite of Barnes dressed in a similar but rumpled black suit with a stained white shirt and wrinkled blue tie. His appearance was so scruffy he looked like he made a habit of sleeping in his clothes. Topping it all off in a way he actually resembled Albert Einstein in the face, who Murphy claimed to have met on a train in 1949.

After the required socializing was over the business of saving souls began with the King family beginning a series of gospel songs to set the mood. Samuel and his wife Helen each sang with Peter playing the guitar and Mary the tambourine with the beautiful Rebecca singing backup while playing a portable piano.

When the sermon began an hour later, Preacher Murphy took it from Matthew 19:24 about how it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Even though I was only nine years-old at the time I remember his words as clear as day even now and figure if some pastor attempted such a near socialist sermon now in the south a bunch of white folks would immediately run that preacher out of town, if not lynch the guy.

When it came to the altar call for people to rededicate themselves Preacher Barnes took over with his own sermon, which included the laying on of hands to heal the sick and infirmed. Swooning old ladies quick fell in behind each other with a couple actually tussling over their place in line.

“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I command you foul demon to leave the body of this servant of God!” Barnes would yell out while placing both his hand on the head of the person in front of him. So charged was the atmosphere with spiritual energy that the person seeking healing would let out a deep and loud moan then scream before passing out on the floor. Ushers would then come forward collecting the apparently unconscious person so the next in line could receive the same treatment.

As the night progressed dinner was the last thing on the agenda and by that time with everyone was so hungry that nothing of the huge amount food brought was left to put away. It was during these feasts that nearly all formality was forgotten. Kids ran and played games like hide-and-seek all over the church grounds, ladies gathered around and gossiped despite the glaring looks from Preacher Simpson who had kicked back and relaxed all night, and the men folk collapsed in the chairs underneath the tent patting their full stomachs.

The only real problem came when it was time for some of the men to go and get ready for work. Since the ladies wanted to stay longer to socialize the men began to depart sharing rides with the ladies and children leaving a little later. After everyone left the Kings would retire to their bus, Preachers Murphy and Barnes would sleep on cots in the church with everyone ready to do it all again the next night.

That was usual plan for the entire week but by Wednesday night it was obvious to everyone that the twenty-something Barnes and seventeen year-old Rebecca King had taken a strong liking to each other. Barnes had clearly staked what amounted to a claim on the young lady and with his authority as a preacher had effectively run off the boys her age. This being the 1970’s the general belief among the group was that it was a harmless infatuation that would end once the revival was over and everyone went their separate ways. No one for a minute believed the young ambitious preacher nor the beautiful young woman would do anything to soil their purity. But times were changing with all sorts of assumptions were being proved wrong every day.

Thursday night right before dinner was served Samuel King began looking for his daughter; he felt the urge to play more songs and wanted to get his family back together on the small stage they were using. The trouble was that after looking in the family bus and all through the offices on the first floor of the church he still could not find Rebecca. Eventually Samuel approached Preacher Murphy and Simpson who were seated close to each other under the tent with Bibles open discussing theology to ask if they had seen his daughter. That was when my friend Timmy Gibson and I walked by and mentioned that we believed Preacher Barnes was laying hands on Miss Rebecca in private given how he was screaming and she was moaning up in one of the classrooms on the second floor of the church.

Remember these were different and far more innocent times so neither Timmy nor I understood why Murphy and Simpson went running towards the church or why Mr. King came back by a few seconds later with a shotgun. We finally did understand when a much less handsome and happy Preacher Barnes, his wife Rebecca, and baby Barnes returned with the rest of the Singing Kings the following year. Overall Preacher Simpson was still quite happy the revival, and everyone else thought it was the best entertainment they had all summer .

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dreams of Goofy

Last Saturday Dragonwife, my lovely spouse, was once again struck by the overwhelming urge, probably encoded in her very DNA, to reorganize some aspect of the house whether it needs it or not. During such compulsions its best just to leave her alone as she takes every last item out from where it is stored, determines it usefulness, then with an attention to detail approaching that of a master sculptor places it back with an eye towards total efficiency and ease of retrieval. I am sure if a professional sport for such talents existed, she would be in the major leagues.

Usually, she targets one of the kid’s closets and to be honest, there are times when such reorganizations are desperately needed. In my son’s case on several different occasions after my wife reorganized his closet we found three missing textbooks, two empty pizza boxes complete with fossilized crust and cheese inside, an expensive graphing calculator, and once even an X-box gaming system that went missing one Christmas. However, last weekend the attic was her target for uber-reorganization and because of her efforts, a box of my stuff that I had forgotten about turned up.

Now her first idea was to trash the entire container and its contents naturally assuming that if it belonged to me nothing inside was important. I was able to save my precious but unknown crap by promising to look through it and then finding a place to store it were it did not take up valuable space. Of course, sometime in the forgotten past I am sure we had nearly the same conversation with me storing the box in the attic, which was my intention all along of repeating. But at the time of the discovery I was pursuing my muse writing some insightful and provocative piece of thought so I just pushed the box underneath my bed for investigation at a later date.

This morning after much cajoling and renewed threats to send the box to the trash dump I finally got around to looking through the contents. Truthfully, there was not much inside for me to get excited about,some paperback books, redundant National Guard forms, and a couple of old music CD’s. The one exception was a business card from an employment recruiter for Disney World that brought back some pleasant memories.


My family and I have for years been a part of the Disney Vacation Club, it is a timeshare that allows us to stay at the Disney resorts right next the parks and those outside the Orlando area far from the mouse and its usual domain. One of these offsite resorts is located in Hilton Head, South Carolina and it is there that I unknowingly met a Disney employment recruiter.

Because we are only a couple of hours away from the Disney Hilton Head Resort my family and I often spend an extended weekend down there when we have the required points for a room and the free time allowing us to get out of town. With it being well away from the parks, it has a far more relaxed and easygoing atmosphere with plenty of activities for the kids and because of this, grownups can carry on conversations with other adults while drinking certain types of beverages children cannot partake.

During one of these extended weekends several years ago, my wife and I met Diana and her husband Mark while we were all soaking in the resort hot tub. The hot tub that day was especially relaxing for both couples since both our respective teenagers like my son Darth Spoilboy were walking a nearby nature trail and those around my daughter Darth Wiggles age were in the mud chasing terrified fiddler crabs. This allowed us adults to loosen up without having to worry about some sulking teenager intruding and begin whining about missing their friends or the younger kids demanding we all go and play putt-putt golf.

The conversation floated around a whole manner of enjoyable and intelligent subjects and to be honest I kept expecting it all to come crashing to an end with the kids mutinying on the counselors and showing up at the hot tub looking down on us with clear looks of disdain on their faces. Somehow, God even saw fit to smile down on us preventing any disturbance and things were so good that the four of us were able to make several trips to the conveniently nearby tiki bar so we could recharge our empty glasses. It was while I was returning to the blessed hot tub with a full container of an orange smoothie concoction complete with two shots of high-grade tequila that Diana hit me with a weird statement about my appearance.

“Ron,” she said only slightly slurring her words while watching me approach, “you would be a great Goofy.”

Even with the pleasant buzz going on behind my eyeballs, this struck me as quite the curious thing to say. “You have the perfect height and gait to pull it off along with the ideal Goofy personality for dealing with young children.” Diana said further with me totally at a loss for what she meant.

After slowly reentering the hot water trying not to spill my precious drink I looked over at my wife and saw her giggling senselessly. Feeling like I was on the wrong end of some joke I could sense the most unwelcome feeling of irritation displacing my warm orange smoothie assisted buzz. “Excuse me,” I said, “someone please let this poor fool of a country boy in on the joke.”

For some reason my confusion only made the situation even funnier for the other three. It took Diana’s husband Mark to explain what was going on. “Diana is a recruiter for Disney, she hires upper end talent for the shows but at times she has also hired for the costume characters. While you were away she told your wife that you were perfect for Goofy.”

With the situation explained, my bewilderment was replaced with an entirely different feeling. “Really? That’s freaking awesome because Goofy is my favorite Disney cartoon character.”I said to her with visions of quitting my job and heading down to sunny Florida and becoming a willing minion for the evil corporate Mouse. Now Diana went on to explain that they prefer hiring retired gentlemen because the pay for a costumed character was not that great, which was a slight bummer with having kids to raise but at least I have something fairly realistic to look forward to in my old age. 


Yes dear folks, since that day in the hot tub I have a deep seated ambition to retire, move to Orlando, and walk around one of the huge Disney theme parks and be Goofy. My very supportive spouse assures me it is the one position in life that I am exceptionally qualified for without any formal training.