Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Safely Being Shark Bait

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

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

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

Monday, December 26, 2011

Arrived safely, found poolside bar, all is well

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ah, it's Christmas again dammit

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 19, 2011

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

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

A Carolina Parrothead book review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

F3 Cycle 59 "Under the Golden Arches of Atlantis"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Police State America, coming really soon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Indignities of Being a Middle Aged Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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