Monday, January 30, 2012

Confessions of an Unrepentant Space Cadet

This is a difficult admission for me but recent declarations perpetrated by a certain presidential candidate who I believe is a sociopath with megalomaniacal leanings has prompted me to come out of the closet, so to speak. I freely admit to the world that I am an unrepentant “Space Cadet.” All my life I have been an avid fan and supporter of NASA, manned space flight, and the belief that humanity’s future is out among the stars.

Out of all the nerdy burdens I have had to carry all through my life the term Space Cadet is the one that has brought me the most grief and outright ridicule. The blame for this condition probably rests with me being a highly impressionable child during the heyday of the Apollo program and the original Star Trek television series. Some of my clearest memories of that time have me watching American astronauts both walking and later four wheeling on the moon. Often times by the end of that day I would be tuning into the interstellar adventures of Kirk and Spock kicking butt and exploring “strange new worlds.”

When I have had time to ponder what made me this way I imagine some caveman ancestor of mine sitting outside the tribal cave gazing off towards the horizon and wondering what the hell is on the other side of the mountains he sees in the distance. I have to figure that if my ancient predecessor had half the wanderlust I feel at some point he probably up and left everything behind to go find out. Obviously he survived long enough to hook up and make a few babies with some hot cave lady from another tribe before becoming a snack for a saber tooth cat or a meal for unfriendly locals but since I am not the sharpest knife in any drawer I doubt he was successful much beyond that.

 In other words, the idea and excitement of exploration of new frontiers is encoded in my very DNA. For my liberal tendencies I figure Roddenberry is the blame since the moral and ethical dilemmas Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew had to face while exploring the galaxy were great lessons in human compassion and understanding that have stayed with me all my life.

For me the cancellation of both the Apollo program and Star Trek was a testament to how the optimistic but troubled 1960’s were replaced by the overly realistic and preoccupied 1970’s. The overwhelming refrain from that era involved the argument that federal dollars were being wasted on space exploration when we were engaged in the Cold War with the Soviets and fighting a war on poverty and drugs here in America.

Hey I admit it, those voices were largely right, big bucks were going to a whole bunch of questionable projects and in a far more perfect world all that money would have gone to cure sickness and end poverty. The only problem with the argument about bucks being wasted on space exploration was that even in the heyday of sending men to the moon NASA’s percentage of the federal budget was very small potatoes compared to the money going to defense and social entitlements.

However, priorities had to be set so I understand why the space program was paired down to the barest minimum. Just enough was left operating so we could save face and not let anyone get the idea we were ceding the ultimate high ground to the nasty commies. The grandiose plans to follow up the Apollo missions with a lunar base and sending astronauts to Mars were put on a permanent hold.

The shuttle program has come and gone without any operational replacement to get Americans up into orbit. This has forced NASA to cough up about fifteen-million a person so our guys and gals can hitch a ride in their old but dependable Soyuz, an embarrassing situation for a country that prides itself on its extraordinary “Exceptionalism” as compared to the rest of the planet.

However, while things look bleak for certified Space Cadets like me things are changing for the better if you look close enough. Several upstart corporations are pushing the developmental envelop which in a couple of years should offer Americans a range of advanced launch systems to get back into space. On second thought may I should have said things were looking good until the self-proclaimed savior of Western Civilization arrived on the Space Coast of Florida last week.

This small and strange man stood on a podium and promised to not only establish a lunar base within the period of his two-term limit but also make it an actual colony. He then went deeper into his delusions by saying this settlement could achieve statehood once it had a population of thirteen-thousand souls. While that little sanctimonious bastard has about a snowball’s chance in Hell of being elected president of the United States thank God in Heaven for a Constitutionally mandated two-term limit.

The space program has long suffered from a giggle factor among the general, non-geek, population not enamored with space exploration. The last few years there were some signs that this giggle factor was dying out as people became more aware of the real benefits associated with the space program but in one swift move, that little man has returned it all to the subject of jokes and outright derision. If anyone needs to be sent to the moon to establish a lunar settlement it is that joke of a man and his android looking wife.

Just for giggle here are a few Space Cadet organizations that are seriously pushing into the final frontier:
Mars Society
Planetary Society
Virgin Galactic  
Bigelow Aerospace
Scorpius Space Launch Systems

Hopefully one will be cheap enough one day for your truly to ride into orbit, that way it will be easier for the Mother Ship to pick me up. Long Live and Prosper y'all.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Feeling under the weather

Caught some kind of bug and feel about as weak as the water in a dirty mop bucket. Going to sleep most of the day to try and regroup so I can go to work tonight. I will leave everyone with this question, what does it take to get a teenage boy to unload the dishwasher before he leaves another pile of dirty plates, glasses, and utensils in the sink?

Monday, January 23, 2012

An Ode To My First True Love

As love affairs go it was bad idea from the start, she was an understated but sincere beauty with sensual curves in all the right places combined with an air of danger that never failed to turn heads while I was a naïve kid who did not have two-cents to rub together. Her seduction was quick and permanent leaving me no other option but to move heaven and earth to own her body and soul. Far from being something noble and good like love at first sight at its heart, my emotional state was nothing more than simple animal lust.

I spent days occupied with the thoughts on possessing her but I had to be patient and carefully lay out my plan. All this happened around 1984 and at the time, I was working for the South Carolina Highway Department doing anything they told me to do. I drove huge riding mowers cutting back vegetation encroaching on roads, replaced worn and faded highway signs, and my favorite, I inspected the undersides of bridges, which could bring me face to face with all sorts of snakes and rats larger than house cats with twice the attitude. All that hard work was done for the paltry salary that was very little above minimum wage at the time.

Eventually the day came where I collected my meager resources and with my grandfather, whose arm was very sore from my twisting, we drove off to the Chevrolet dealership in my hometown where I signed the papers on the car of my dreams. What, you thought this was about some woman?

My grandfather, who was my reluctant cosigner, looked on with a combination of amusement and sadness as I drove off with my 1984 Camaro Coupe. It had a grey paint job with just a V-6 engine but to me it was a freaking starship with its sleek lines and soft purring motor. Other people with the more expensive and powerful Camaro Z-28’s looked down on my baby but to me they were trying to overcompensate for something they lacked physically and frankly I considered that car style somewhat “whorish.”

For two years, my baby and me plied the roadways of the South Carolina Low country staying out of most trouble until I transferred over to the active army from the National Guard. The location of my permanent duty assignment was Fort Carson, Colorado forcing a temporary separation from my car until my grandfather and one of my uncles drove her to me. Once reunited, my Camaro opened up a whole new level of male oriented twenty-something activities that the greater Colorado Springs area offered.

Hey, I never considered myself a Don Juan but in simple terms, if that car could talk many of the stories associated with those activities would be rated “NC-17.” Since I need to cover all the bases and I will not make any further comment about it but I have researched the issue and the statue of limitations has run out on anything else that might have happened during that time.

Through it all that Camaro, which my granddad thought was a piece of junk, kept me out of trouble and brought me safely home although there were a few times I don’t remember how. This lasted all through my active military career, my time in college, and for a couple of years after I got married.

There are two chief reasons why guys are interested in sports cars. The first reason involves a love for speed and the second is to impress women. For the most part I did not give a damn about going fast; somehow I always seemed to attract the attention of highway patrolmen with a penchant for hassling goofy looking guys with me being the poster child. For me, my Camaro was about style and being cool, in other words I was only out to impress women.

However, over the years owning that car became less about picking up some chick and more about how it made me feel. There was an easy freedom and peace of mind while driving that car that now seems like a something from a dream I barely remember.Unfortunately, reality being the huge pain in the ass its likes to be my love affair with that car had to end but only after my wife got pregnant.

That was 1995 with my son, the future Darth Spoilboy, just a few months away from arriving on the scene. For several months my wife had been on my case about selling my Camaro and buying something more children friendly. I resisted the best I could remembering all the trips and adventures we had been through but after much convincing I finally realized the logic in my wife’s arguments and agreed to let her go. The two main reasons boiled down to a lack of space in the backseat to mount a baby carrier and the fact that I simply did not have the money needed to fix her up in the areas she needed some restoration. However, I just could not betray my four-wheeled lady so I left the selling of her to my wife.

The best way to sale a used car back then involved listing it in the “Carolina Trader”, a local classified advertisement paper with a very dedicated readership always looking for a bargain. My wife called the paper about my car on a Thursday with the advertisement appearing in the new edition on sale the following Monday afternoon around four o’clock. Some will no doubt think I am exaggerating but I arrived home from work about that time and the phone started ringing less than thirty minutes later. Right then I should have known something was very wrong.

“Hello sir,” the overly eager voice said from my phone, “I’m calling about the Camaro in the paper, is it still for sale?”

“Yeah,” I said suddenly feeling very depressed, “you’re the very first caller.”

“Does the car have any tires?” The disembodied voice asked instantly raising my suspicions that I was missing some important piece of information.

“Ah yeah, all four and they are close to brand new.” I said starting to feel irritated at his questions.

“Are you telling me the car is still drivable?” The voice asked at an increased pitch, so much the guy was starting to sound like a little girl.

“Dude, I just drove it home from work about twenty minutes ago. It drives fine.”

“I’ll be at your house in ten minutes with the money.” The voice said urgently before hanging up.

Luckily for me my wife arrived home about the same time the call ended. This allowed her to tell me what price she listed for my sweet Camaro because if the guy I had just finished talking with had tried to hand me a check for that ridiculously low amount then drive off with my car there would have been blood.

“You listed my car in the paper for three-hundred and fifty dollars!” I screamed at my wife feeling several blood vessels in my head about to explode.

To say reality broke down for me right then would have been a monumental understatement, my Camaro was not some rusted piece of junk sitting on cinderblocks it was still an operational and street worthy automobile. It had only two real problems, one being the paint job, which was extremely faded and scratched up, and the other was the ceiling headliner, which was in the process of coming unglued and falling down. The engine itself, the most important part still purred like the day I bought the car.

Circumstances being what they were I had little recourse because phone dude was true to his word and pulled up in my driveway just minutes after I learned what was going on. Matters were made worse after all three of us drove to a local bank to get sale paperwork notarized. I learned that a similar 1984 Camaro coupe in fair condition, like mine, should have sold for about fifteen-hundred dollars in 1995.

Call me immature and crazy but I was furious for weeks and if it had not been for my son who was due around November, to this day I am uncertain what I would have done. Nevertheless, as wise men like to say time did eventually heal that awful wound but it left a serious scar.

Fast forward to just this last December, my wife was in one of her moods and decided to reorganize the attic on a cold Saturday morning. Having learned my lesson after numerous issues with her instinctive need to move stuff around I carefully accounted for all my precious crap making sure it did not go missing. My son was not so lucky, a box containing his Legos and other toys from his early years ended up donated to the local Goodwill.  What upset my son in particular were the plastic toy soldiers that he had inside that box.

Darth Spoilboy over the course of the entire Christmas break brought up the fact that he had wanted to keep those toy soldiers. Now I mean no harm about this but my wife is not the sentimental type, if anything she is far more Vulcan than Spock when it comes to getting rid of anything she feels is useless and just taking up space. God help me, but there have been more than a few times she has given me a very curious look like she was contemplating the logic in kicking me out onto the street so I told my son to just suck it up.

Now this should be the end of my story except that my wife came home Saturday carrying several bags from her shopping trip that day and placed them on the kitchen table  I was lying on the couch dealing with a massive headache when I saw her pull a large plastic container out of one of her canvas shopping bags. I was blown away to see the words “five hundred toy soldiers” emblazed on the container and her unceremoniously carry it to my son’s room.

My face must have been showing the look of utter dismay I was feeling as she walked back out towards the kitchen. It was enough to stop her in her tracks and looked at me as if I was a simpleton. “Please grow up,” she said in a disgusted manor, “you’re not getting your Camaro back so get over it.”

The world felt extremely unfair at that moment, so what is a grown man to do? I went and made a batch of margaritas and spent the rest of the day silently toasting my first true love.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Making My Own Paradise

The weather always seems unsettled these days with freezing temperatures one day and uncomfortably warm the next. Leaving the concerns about how humans are changing the global climate for the worse alone for a moment these swings in weather are Hell on my sinuses. Somehow I have avoided the worst of the recent changes but as I woke up this morning I felt the all too familiar throbbing pain of a category five headache building inside my head somewhere between my eyes. Thankfully a couple of Advil, a hot shower, and periodic sessions with a heating pad wrapped around my head seems to be keeping the pain down to a category three.

Of course today is primary day here in the intellectually challenged Palmetto State and while everyone here at the house has gone off I have had scores of people with the IQ's of brine shrimp call here desperately urging me to vote for what I feel are morally bankrupt individuals preaching impending doom. These callers have all the righteous zeal of your average suicide bomber and without going into details my exchanges with them have not gone well. Their one commonality is an utter hatred of President Obama and the belief he is singlehandedly destroying the fabric of the country. When I ask one of these political callers why don't the surviving and fearsome Republican four just unite behind one candidate to defeat this evil Darth Sidious-like person living in the White House all sorts of rusty knives are pulled out and plunged into the backs of these supposed knights on shining conservative horses .

Such is life I guess but given my unstable condition preventing coherent thought I have essentially retreated to my mental redoubt. Soft steel drum music is playing on the stereo, I am wearing my favorite Hawaiian shirt, and before long I will be drinking lemonade as I imagine myself someplace tropical. I am hoping my headache will be gone by the time polls close allowing me what I am sure will be a laugh riot as the various candidates spin the results.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

F3 Cycle 63 "A Little Boy's Secret"

Flash Fiction Friday Prompt: You know something, but you do nothing…ever, no matter what happens
Length: Let’s do it between 500 and 1500 words
Style: Noir, psychological thriller, or horror
Deadline: Wednesday January 18th 9:00PM

“Wake up sleepyhead,” my mom said after gently kissing me on my nose. I was eleven years old at the time and she knew I hated overt contact so I wiggled underneath my covers in an attempt to prevent any further embarrassment. I had come to believe I was an adult and grown men just did not receive kisses from their mothers.

“All right big boy,” she said laughing while trying to tickle me, “breakfast is downstairs and Steven you need to eat and get ready quickly if you want to come to work with me.”

I was still underneath the covers with my body tucked tightly into a protective fetal position when I felt my mother’s weight lift off my worn mattress to be replaced with the sound of her heels clicking on the hardwood floor of my bedroom as she walked out. Throwing back the covers, I laid on the bed for several moments thinking about how my father once came in after my mother and spend a few minutes with me before he had to run out the door.

Funny how pain and heartache fades over the years but I still remember laying on that old bed feeling the intense sense of loss his absence brought. He had died a little over a year before after a drunk driver ran a red light and crashed into him. I never told my mother but I would often dream of sitting beside him as he drove that old Ford truck he got from granddad. It was a pleasant dream and somehow I always knew we were heading towards the Tastee-Freez for a private father and son ice cream cone.

The reason I never told my mother about the dream was that it always turned into a nightmare. At some point, I would no longer be in the truck but standing on the sidewalk watching the huge speeding semi slam into the small truck. The last thing I would see before waking up would be the puzzled and disappointed expression on my father’s face as his life ended and the truck he drove was twisted, smashed, and compacted all at the same time. It was almost as if I could tell he understood what was happening to him and how his small family would be lost without him.

Not wanting to torture myself any longer I thankfully remembered my promise to my mother to be the man of the house, so I pushed the sorrow away and jumped up so I would not make her late for her job. Breakfast was pancakes and bacon and like any growing boy, I gobbled it down without really tasting anything of the food. I was especially happy that morning because a few days before a water pipe had busting on the third floor of my school resulting in all the rooms below being flooded and classes abruptly canceled.

The destruction was so great that both the district superintendent and my principle had decided to keep the school closed until after the Thanksgiving holiday to allow the workmen enough time to repair and clean everything up. It was every elementary school kid’s fantasy come true, not only had the school been closed but all our textbooks, recorded grades, and homework were soggy oatmeal-like sludge being pushed into trash cans.

My mom’s job was in the huge motor vehicles records warehouse located on the southeast corner of Elm and North Houston Streets. She was part of a crew of other women who spent their entire day filing incoming records or retrieving those that might be needed somewhere. The building had seven floors and when I accompanied my mom to work, it was a huge and mysterious playground with all sorts of strange rooms filled with storage boxes that acted as oversized Legos. This was all made possible because my mom’s boss was a kind man who let the ladies working under him bring their children to work occasionally.

The day my perception of the world changed for the second time I was the only child in the warehouse but on the sixth floor I had a fort built from a previous visit and I was looking forward to playing cowboys and Indians with an entire tribe of imaginary Apache warriors out to overrun my stronghold. For a couple of hours I played contently repelling several assaults when I happened to glance outside one of the big windows that lined the wall.

A huge crowd had gathered all along the parts of Elm Street I could see and it appeared to stretch all the way into the park further down. Using all the strength I had I forced open one of the old windows so I could get a better view of what was going on. Before long a cheer rose up in the distance and seconds later I saw a small motorcade approaching.

From below, I heard faint mentioning of President Kennedy with my child brain finally making the connection with the memory of the radio announcer mentioning he was suppose to be in town that day. I grew excited for all the dreams and hopes he inspired in everyone at that time. He was the man that challenged us to go to the moon and stared down the evil Soviets during the scary Cuban Missile Crisis.

As President Kennedy, the First Lady, Governor Connally, and his wife rode past my spot I quickly hurried over to the other side of the building and opened up another window, this allowed me to see all the way down to Dealey Park.

Seeing the president and his beautiful wife pass in front of me was the most exciting thing to happen in my young life but movement in the window of the building across from me that tore my attention away from them. Almost parallel to me I saw two men huddled close together looking out one of the windows. The one in the background was holding something made of wood, which for some reason I took to be a broom and the other in the forefront was looking through a pair of binoculars observing the motorcade.

They quickly changed positions with the man who I had thought was holding a broom taking up what I learned from movies was a firing position. This unknown man with the speed and precision of what was clearly professional training, even to a kid like me, worked the bolt-action rifle three separate times. He was so fast each pop from the weapon almost overlapped the other. I was transfixed with what I saw but the screams that followed were proof enough that he had hit his intended target.

The man with the binoculars pushed the other one out the way bringing them up to his eyes. A maniacal smile appeared on his face as he watched the chaos below and my soul ran cold because I was convinced I was looking at none other than the devil himself.

“Help someone,” I screamed at the top of my lungs while leaning dangerously out the window, “they shot the president.” The entire world, so caught up in the anarchy below, ignored my pleas. All except the devil man who brought the binoculars up to his eyes and looked directly at me.

I froze like a rabbit in the crosshairs and felt death hovering over my shoulder. The devil man just continued smiling and seconds later disappeared into the recesses of the Texas School Book Depository.Within minutes police were everywhere like my imaginary Apache Warriors had been before and I ran downstairs in an attempt to tell them what I knew.

The only one who I was able to stop listened for only a few seconds before I was interrupted by the loud voice blaring from his walky-talky, he then quickly ran off and disappeared. The only adult who listened all the way through was my mom’s boss. He made a few phone calls but later told me with everything so crazy he believed it would be days before anyone came around to talk with us.

Two days later he was killed in what the police claimed was a robbery at his home. As the days passed strange men began appearing at my mom’s work walking the floors looking for something.

Fearful of these men,whenever I accompanied my mother to her work I retreated to an very isolated hiding place deep in the bowels of the building and only left as the work day drew to a close. I would appear at my mother's desk and make her leave as everyone else walked out to the parking lot. For reasons I cannot explain these mysterious visitors eventually faded away like evil wraiths and over time I have come to believe they may have been figments of my imagination, or at least that is what I tell myself. Still though, as I spent long fearful days hiding among all the dusty boxes I made silent prays promising to say nothing more about what I saw if they left my mother and me alone and I have kept that agreement.

Every year as the anniversary approaches, it’s always the same. Scores of documentaries muscle in on the moronic reality shows that infest the so-called historical cable channels like a bad case of fleas on a stray dog. Serious looking men and women holding all sorts of degrees in history and engineering will explain what actually happen and how a lone gunman killed the president. Yes, one man fired the shots but I know he was not alone and this secret will die with me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Clowns to the left and jokers to the right

Down here in South Carolina you could feel the shift in reality last night the exact moment the various news networks declared Mitt Romney the winner of the New Hampshire primary. This will sound crazy but I liken it to having the fiery and evil eye of Sauron focus it gaze on the hapless Frodo weary from carrying the Ring of Power.

I am sure the huge army of campaign staff workers and press personnel were already packing up for the trip to the Palmetto State even before some programmer was tasked with downloading the focus group approved victory speech into the newest animatronic Mitt. I watched the speech and I've got to admit those engineers have really made some huge advances in creating lifelike robots. The former governor of Massachusetts for once actually looked like he was a real fresh and blood person. Now he still spoke in halting sentences suggesting a processor upgrade might already be needed and after the first two minutes it looked liked a couple of the gears in his jaw were stuck making his smile look less mechanical and more like something you would see on a jovial skull.

For Newt his very poor New Hampshire showing last night and resulting speech explaining how the combined forces of everything unholy and anti-American stymied his crusade left him looking like a disgruntled Orc and Drawf half-breed if you will allow me another nerdy "Lord of the Rings" analogy. He seethed so much anger and resentment at the podium last night that I half expected his wife, who looks remarkably like a sex blowup doll I once knew, to explode into flames. It wouldn't have been a big deal, given her husband's past behavior she would be foolish not to realize Newt probably already has a replacement for her waiting in the wings.

As for the press they are expecting a death match between the renegade Disney Hall of Presidents animatron and the white-haired megalomaniac convinced he alone can save Western Civilization and South Carolina is the battleground. It is sure to be fun since my home state is such fertile ground for political fruits, nuts and associated moralistic stuff suits. In fact if you add Oops Perry desperate to be taken seriously again and sweater vest Santorum it becomes a huge circus. Although the former senator from Pennsylvania would disapprove of the primary being called that because it would mean animals and fun and we simply can't have that here. People might get ideas and that is never good for those trying to protect the moral fiber of the nation. Someone might be forced to wash all the frothy stuff off their hands.

But it will all be over in two weeks and the traveling circus of candidates and press will then move down to Florida. God help those poor souls and for God's sake will someone please tell Huntsman to just give it up before then. Don't even get me started on Ron Paul, that's a whole separate rant all by itself.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"What Came After" by Sam Winston

A Carolina Parrothead book review.

There are many reasons a person might read a dystopian novel, but a wild guess about the chief motivation for some would be to taste, ever so vicariously, how bad things can get. This is particularly true for people with a political bent, pundits and futurists from both the left and right of American politics like to froth at the mouth whenever their specific groups are out of power warning us about how the other side is out to crush everything good in the country. Whether these political agents actually believe the propaganda they like to spew or just use it to keep the unwashed masses fearful of the boogeyman they want their members to believe is hiding under their beds is just one of those things that have to be judged on a case-by-case basis.

Since the election of President Obama the right wing has been exceptionally inflamed with fears that he is a secret Kenyan-born anti-colonial/Islamic/socialist out impose the tyranny of Sharia law on the United States or is the actual biological spawn of Satan. In fact after the recent purchase of my Kindle I was browsing the long list of cheap books by unknown authors and found a “novel” that had a ragtag group of true red blooded Americans patriots out to overthrow a fictional president curiously similar in accused background as Obama. At least the author had the good manners to put a disclaimer on the advertisement saying that his work “might be offensive to some.”

I will do something dangerous here and make an assumption that anyone with some semblance of a rational mind will have to admit that the vast majority of nightmarish scenarios that have members of the right wing running around like Chicken Little are simply insane. I doubt I have any conservative readers but before anyone’s nose gets out of shape I will admit my fellow liberals are very good at espousing their own brand of insanity from time to time. Except in the case of many  liberal dystopian nightmares, I am forced to write that we have good little bit of evidence on our side that we are dancing dangerously close to the abyss. The final result of what may happen after such a fall can be read about in a book called “What Came After” by Sam Winston, which I recently finished.

You would pretty much have to be living under a rock these days avoiding all news media, or just watching Fox News, not to have heard one of many reports saying that since 1980 a huge majority of American have seen their real worth decline an insane amount. At the same time the richest amongst us, a small minority, have seen a huge Midas-like increase. The same is true for how the national infrastructure of roads, water systems, bridges, power lines and many other vital things that support our ability to stay competitive globally is absolutely falling apart from lack of repair and replacement.

Now throw in the Conservative talking points about how all government and taxes are evil and that the free market is the solution to everything from the ingrown toenail to male pattern baldness. For good measure add the real life worship of corporate profit above all else with the deranged phantom of Ayn Rand floating around infecting certain members of society and the end result is the dystopian world of Sam Winston’s book.

Set twenty to thirty years in the future it would be an understatement to say that the United States has at a minimum fallen to third world status although it would not be pushing it to say that good old America has more in common with medieval, Dark Ages Europe than say real life Haiti or Liberia. The federal government has not just gone broke or been physically taken over by corporations it has been “disassembled.” The main cause for this was a complete collapse of the economy and the persistent, deluded myths of libertarian philosophies and the core Republican belief that government services should be outsourced so it could be done cheaper and better.

The result was a few massive corporations effectively in control of the country. A monolithic banking corporation issues some sort of monetary scrip everyone uses. A pharmaceutical/agricultural corporation that makes medicine, for those that can afford it, and grows heavily genetically engineered crops that if I understand correctly will poison those who eat them if the plants are not processed. What few roads that are still operational are controlled by a corporation called “National Motors” whose main job it seems is to transport supplies that keep the rich comfortable.

The big winner in the United States pulling a full-fledged reenactment of the fall of the Roman Empire is a corporation called “Black Rose.” They provide the lion-share of the security with corporate headquarters in none other than the former United States Capitol building.

Given the hints about extensive life support equipment used to keep the last chief executive of the Republic going it easy to guess that fine stalwart of human compassion Dick Cheney is the man who ushered the United States into that good night freeing us all from the threat of the federal government taking our money. But wait, there is more, the country has not just been liberated from corrupt federal bureaucrats but even state governments have disappeared leaving civilization just along the coasts and in a few scattered spots like Chicago and Houston.

What down home Red State people like to call “Fly Over” country when they want to separate themselves from the nasty liberal elites has been declared Empowerment Zones. I have to admit the exact purpose for these zones was never really explained fully but given the Orwellian speak done these days it has a very uncomfortable ring of possible truth.

In the book as food prices rocketed into orbit as the economy collapsed a huge chunk of the population starved to death and when the dust cleared the result was the survivors barely living at some subsistence level. This is where I have to introduce the main character of the book, a poor but intelligent man named Henry Weller.

Henry is an old-fashioned Mr. Fixit who has created a mechanical workshop from equipment he has salvaged. After one of the very powerful men working for the baking corporation drives his ancient hummer into a ditch Henry is able to fix the wrecked vehicle. Before driving off Mr. Banker makes the mistake of having a picture taken with Henry and his family and writing on it something to the effect that he owes Henry big.

A few weeks later while Henry is looking at the photograph he gets the idea to going on the long and dangerous trip to New York with his young daughter to have Mr. Banker use his influence to cure her increasing blindness. What unfolds is an odyssey that should scare the living hell out of any observant person because while this is just a work of fiction all the elements for a similar future are already here. Needless to say, I highly recommend the book.

“What Came After” is mainly available as an eBook on Amazon for the Kindle but can be bought in the paperback form.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Busch Gardens Facepalm

After our stopover at Discovery Cove last week on a bit of a whim, we decided to forgo our usual follow up visit to Sea World and use our complementary passes to go see the other sister park, Busch Gardens Tampa the following Thursday. My family and I have been going down to Florida for years making a habit of hitting all the major theme parks around Orlando but for various reasons we had never taken the short drive over to Tampa. My wife and I are big fans of the fantastic animal habitats on display at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park and we were looking forward to finally seeing what many people had told us were even better ones at Busch Gardens.

After arriving at the park and getting through the entrance, which for an hour proved problematic not just us but for everyone else as well because of faulty ticket scanners the first habitat we came upon was for the chimpanzees. We entered the viewing section, made up to look like a cave and found a huge window that looked out upon the living area for the resident chimps.

Now I understand opinions differ widely on the morality of keeping our closest primate kinfolk captive so a corporation can make a profit but I think there is a bigger picture that needs to be focused on here. While I understand those who think it is wrong the educational benefits of actually seeing chimpanzees, marine mammals, or any other endangered species in person goes a long way to making them real in the eyes of the average American. In this particular case, Busch Gardens was doing its best to add to the educational effect by having one of the chimpanzee keepers give a lecture about the resident chimps and the chimpanzee species in general.

As someone who has read many of the works of the great primatologist Jane Goodall, I was very interested in what the Busch Gardens keeper had to say. Since one of the chimps was in the open playing in the middle of the living area the keeper was having a hard time getting anyone in the crowd to listen to her.

As she struggled to continued, I could actual see the frustration on her face as she tried to describe the various chimps that live at the park then delve into the species native African habitat and how dangerous their existence can be there. Like a champion, the keeper eventually finished the lecture then invited the crowd to ask questions. Of course, the very first inquiry disproved the idea that there are no stupid questions.

“Could you please tell me why do the monkeys just eat bananas? The thirty-something mom asked while trying to take away the Nintendo her son was playing making him oblivious of his surroundings and what was going on.

I actually felt bad for the Busch Gardens keeper who had clearly stated that the chimpanzees were not monkeys but apes and our closest primate relatives. Like the trooper she was, the resident expert backed up and again explained what the chimps are and that they are omnivores, eating both plants and meat that they hunt for in groups.

On our way back out of the park several hours later, we again stopped by the chimpanzee habitat and caught the tail end of the same lecture. There was a new keeper giving the lecture this time and like the one from the morning, he opened up the floor for anyone in the crowd to ask him questions about the chimpanzees.

Right off the bat the first question shouted out caused the keeper to take several very deep breathes and slowly massage his forehead in tired annoyance.

It was an older guy this time who asked, “Why don’t they have tails like other monkeys?”

I felt so bad for those keepers right then I would have bought each and every one of them a case of beer for their troubles.