Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Better Part of Valor and Raging Hormones

 It was close to four  o’clock in the morning in the winter of 1993 as I drove south on U.S. Highway Seventeen heading towards the small town of Ravenel, South Carolina with my ultimate destination Hilton Head Island where the future Dragonwife was waiting. I had left the outskirts of Charleston behind me thirty minutes earlier and since it was a moonless night, it was nearly pitch black dark with my car the only one on the road.

The area I was driving through back then was like a throwback to a more rural time, huge and ancient oak trees with Spanish moss hanging down off the limbs lined the road creating an eerie feeling that I was being watched. The only sign of human occupation of the area was the occasional weak light leaking out from the windows of old houses or mobile homes set so far back from the road they actually looked menacing as if they were waiting to snare some wayward soul.

My reason for traveling so late was because I was working a seriously complicated and tiring work schedule at the Tupperware manufacturing plant up in Hemingway, South Carolina. It was my first job after earning my nifty and largely useless Associates Degree in Electronics from the local community college and for several reasons I was happy just to have a job. I had the title of “multicraft technician” working in the factory’s maintenance department. A fancy way of saying I was both a simple bruised-knuckle wrench turning mechanic and inexperienced electrician far more likely to blow up some vital piece of equipment. Honestly, I did not mind my duties all that much, the older guys provided great support and I was learning a lot very fast and the money for the early 90’s was very good.

The reason I seemed so motivated was because at that time we were dealing with both an economic recession and a huge drawdown of military personnel after the first Persian Gulf War. My associates degree was nothing compared to thousands of electronic technicians leaving the services with up to twenty years of experience. Things were so bad for a while I heard stories of old navy guys coming to actual blows over a minimum wage job fixing video games at one of the Chucky E. Cheese pizza restaurants in Greenville, South Carolina. However, while I was very happy to have a challenging job working for a relatively decent corporation my work hours pretty much sucked.

After a short training period during normal daytime hours, I was placed on what is called second shift that officially ran from three o’clock in the afternoon to eleven o’clock at night. In reality because of the growing workload, my boss required me to come in an hour early. Throw in travel time from my apartment to the factory in actuality I had to leave for work around one-thirty in the afternoon. Adding insult to injury since there was no third shift that would have ran over to the morning I had to spend up to two hours after the production workers were done setting the machines for the guys on day shift. After all that, I usually got back to my apartment a little after two o’clock in the morning.

During those seemingly endless nights, I distinctly remember wondering why in the Hell did I leave the military. Even with all its stifling rules and odd hours, I had been far better off playing soldier than the typical civilian blue-collar worker.

While Tupperware was a decent enough place as compared to most other non-union employers in South Carolina, it did share one common similarity. Even as business picked up to the point people joked about setting up campers in the employee parking lot the company was very hesitant to hire new workers. So my off time allowing me a life ran from around two o’clock Saturday morning to one o’clock Monday afternoon.

All through this very demanding stage of my life, the future Dragonwife and I were in the hot and heavy physical phase of our relationship and naturally, I wanted to make the most of it even if it meant a late night odyssey across lonely county roads. I had already made the trip several times and felt I knew all the places where a highway patrolman or deputy sheriff might have setup one of South Carolina’s infamous speed traps. In fact, one of the strange things about these trips with me feeding off ranging hormones and convenience store coffee was the fact I hardly ever saw any type of police officer. Several times the idea would come to me to ignore a few of the red lights and just slide through those empty intersections.

As my luck with have it, the very weekend Dragonwife and I made some adventurous plans to do some nocturnal inspections of sand dunes on the beach I had to stay late at work fixing a machine that taped cardboard boxes. By the time I was able to escape, I was pushing my 1984 Camaro to the limit down roads that no sane person would have driven faster than forty-five miles an hour during daytime.

Despite thousands of hunters in South Carolina Bambi and his kinfolk reproduce far faster and it is no overstatement to say that even during the day a stupid deer will often walk out into the road making it impossible for a driver to avoid hitting it. At night, the situation is even worse and if I caught my son driving like I was that night I would take his car keys and ground him until he was thirty.

Proving the point that God looks after fools and children I never once smacked into a suicidal Bambi. Incredibly, where my luck really saved me was when I found discretion the better part of valor and raging hormones.

While the area around Ravenel was undeveloped, it was obvious that the powers that be expected rapid growth in the coming years. Highway Seventeen had already been widened to four lanes a few years before. Along with that, the intersections that at best once boasted a flashing yellow caution light advising motorists to slow down had been replaced with actual working traffic lights.

It was at one of those empty and isolated intersections I found myself waiting for the red light to turn green. Even with my occasional thoughts off running one of those red lights, I played the good and honest citizen and waited patiently. Since I was nearly overdosing on caffeine seconds seemed like minutes but with the clock in my car, I was able to keep watch on the actual time that was passing. A full ten minutes went by with the red light still staring down at me like some giant, sinister alien. Several more minutes passed and the urge just to haul ass through the intersection was growing in my head. I knew the future Dragonwife was waiting for me at her place with everything ready for our adventure.

For reasons I still cannot explain I waited a full twenty minutes for that light to change. When it did, I calmly drove through it and caught sight of a highway patrol car hiding behind two of those ancient oak trees on the other side. The patrolman even turned on his interior lights and waved at me as I passed. Had I “casually” slipped through as my baser instincts were screaming I would have been looking at a ticket in the range of four-hundred dollars along with spending quality time with one of South Carolina’s finest whose attitudes often rival the best Nazis. By the time I finally arrived down in Hilton Head the future Dragonwife had given up and went to bed. Even though I missed our nighttime adventure I actually felt I came out ahead on that trip.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Teenage Angst and Parental Distress


There is nothing wrong with today's teenager that twenty years won't cure.  ~Author Unknown

The tension between my lovely bride, Dragonwife, and my son, Darth Spoilboy had been building all week since he came home Monday afternoon with what amounted to a bad report card. While his grades are usually very good right from the start of this school year, he has struggled with several of his subjects for varying reasons. Since this is Spoilboy’s junior year in high school both my wife and I have been trying to impress on him that he really needs to buckle down with college approaching. Spoilboy blames the bad grades on two of his teachers. One guy is a Romanian immigrant and the other a rookie who just started his teaching career last August.

I’ve met the Romanian teacher and while I like the guy, a big difference as compared to the long-time locals, I can only understand about two words in ten the man says. His accent is very thick and while I hate to sound like an ugly American, but I am not sure he has a true grip on the English language which might be the cause of the whole issue. Three different parents who have kids in the Romanian’s class as well back up that opinion.

The situation with the rookie teacher is a little more complicated. The powers that be have assigned this guy several easy classes, one of them being high school astronomy which previously had been taught straight from the textbook and other associated prepared material. In other words, it was a course that could have been taught straight from a DVD except for the fact the teacher had absolutely no knowledge on even the most basic items being discussed. For example Spoilboy came home one day exasperated over the fact the teacher had no idea about the discovery of planets outside the solar system. Now add the teacher’s habit of deviating from the preplanned material and you have a recipe for problems.

Before someone gets upset about me picking on teachers that is not what I am doing. Both my wife and I have repeatedly told Spoilboy to suck it up and adapt and that when he gets to college there is a very high probability many of his professors will be either old cantankerous farts upset they have not yet made tenure or egotistical twits who sit at their phones waiting for the Nobel committee to call. We have  also told him frustrating high school teachers and irritating college professors are minor bumps in the road to some of the bosses he will encounter once he enters the work force.

 Teachers today catch it from both ends of the political spectrum. From the right wing, they are both incompetent fools living off the taxpayer and sinister agents of socialism out to indoctrinate American youth. Teachers catch it from the left-wing because they want students instructed in a whole range of things like self-esteem and other touchy feely stuff. In a better world, teachers would get million dollar contracts along the lines of what asinine professional athletes get for chasing a stupid ball. 

Even with our urging, Spoilboy has not shown what we think is the required attention to his schoolwork and instead has chosen to follow his raging hormones and spend more time on his pursuit of girls and high scores on his X-Box. When I came home Wednesday from Darth Wiggles’ horse riding class I could hear the yelling as the garage door closed. After getting Wiggles some soup, I proceeded straight upstairs to both referee and support Dragonwife.

Once upstairs I found out that Spoilboy was swearing he had his American history report done while Dragonwife had looked it over and said it would at best earn a “D”. While my wife has not looked favorably on my writing as a useful pastime, both she and Spoilboy immediately agreed that I would be the judge of his history project.

Right from the start, I found several relatively minor issues with the report that could be easily corrected on the word processor. Of course, this did not make Dragonwife happy, right after I made the pronouncement that the report itself was not that bad the look on her face told me her intention was to reign in our teenage son and force him to study further by rewriting the whole thing.

Darth Spoilboy began whooping in premature triumph until I saw the bibliography, which was an utter mess. Even worse, he had used several sources from Wikipedia, something that I already knew was very unacceptable to his teacher. When I told him he would have to go back and do more research using more trustworthy sources his whooping turned into cussing. My move after that was to ground him for a week and load him up with chores resulting in an extra helping of attitude.

So, in the aftermath of all this Dragonwife is mad at me for not backing her up and Spoilboy is upset that he has to do more research and is grounded for the week. After Spoilboy stormed off, I searched for something to say to break the ice with her. Of course, I chose the wrong thing but I thought it was funny and worth a chance. Watch the video and see if you can figure it out what I said.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I Heard I was in Town

 (Author's note: The following is all true, really I mean ever word. Now it did not happen all at one time.)

There is an old saying that in this infinite universe no matter how rare and unlikely an event might be as long as it is not absolutely proven impossible it has probably occurred somewhere. Such was the case one Saturday morning when I crawled out of bed to find that my wife had not left me a weekend “Honey-Do” list before she and the kids drove off to her mom’s house. Do not misunderstand me, I had absolutely no desire to be bound to the stifling suburban domicile I find myself living like some oppressed medieval serf. It is just that the idea of my wife forgetting to write down a list of  “productive” or “substantial” tasks for me to do over the weekend is akin to the sun not rising in the east and bears collectively deciding as a species to poop someplace others than the woods.

For a very brief period that Saturday morning, I actually found myself suffering from a married man’s version of the Stockholm syndrome where I felt upset at not finding some sort of task list of demeaning and time consuming items to keep me busy. Luckily, since I was still not fully awake I accidentally slammed my head into an open kitchen cabinet door while looking for the coffee and came to my senses.

Part of my return to proper male sanity was the realization that my wife was at some point sure to remember her mistake and burn up as much cell phone minutes as needed to contact me.  There was only one way to save my unexpected freedom, and it was a road trip to the coast. I figured it was far better to haul ass and ask my wife for absolution when she came home than hope she might give permission for my impromptu escape from my suburban nightmare when she called.

Without any real plan, I quickly showered and got the proverbial hell out of Dodge. I stopped only long enough to make sure that Sparky the Dog and Spock the Cat had plenty of water and food while I was away from the house. No more than thirty minutes after realizing my opportunity for unrestricted freedom and the danger it faced I was on the road to the coast to the spend the day at the beach.  


The usual route I take to get to the beach has me going through my hometown of Georgetown, South Carolina. I usually do not stay very long anymore since I have no real family left living there but it satisfies some part of my soul to ride through town and see all the places familiar to me. Except this time as I hit the town limits I saw a huge billboard declaring that there was a fall festival going on that weekend located on Georgetown’s main business avenue named Front Street. Feeling a spontaneous urge to do something really different I decided to skip the beach and head into town and check out the party.

Barely an hour later I am sitting at a small picnic table on Front Street, eating a huge bowl of shrimp and grits while listening to some unknown band play their rendition of Buffett’s “Margaritaville.”When I added the beautiful morning and the cool breeze to the equation, I had to figure my unannounced road trip was the best idea I had in a long time. I had no illusions about the repercussions when I got home, my wife and her family are very deliberate and structured people while my spontaneous nature is something they have never understood. There would be metaphorical Hell to pay as my wife pouted over what she considered were fantastic home improvement task I could have completed that weekend.

But that was in the future, at that moment I was wrapped up in my shrimp and grits while watching the crowd pass in front of me. The hordes of people milling about were in happy and friendly mood and I could not suppress the thought wondering if I knew any of them during my years living in Georgetown?

While I did not run with a popular crowd or was well known in my own right I did know enough people in Georgetown to begin wondering where the Hell everyone went. Just by random chance on my brief stops at one of Georgetown’s local restaurants or parks, I should have bumped into some friend or acquaintance at least once. As the years passed, I had long since given up wondering, or even caring for that matter. Leave it to a precocious universe to start offering answers at that moment.   

“Hey Tony!,” Some guy in the street wearing a Hawaiian shirt, baggy cargo shorts like mine, and flip flops yelled looking straight at me in a heavy northern accent. “You lousy Son of a Bitch, where the hell have you been, the old gang has been wondering for years where you disappeared.” He further said almost running up to me then grabbing my hand in a monstrously violent handshake.

Had this unknown guy been angry or shown evidence of being unhinged I would have immediately thrown down but from the smile on his face he seemed genuinely happy to have found someone he thought he knew.

“I’m sorry sir,” I said, “You have me confused with someone else. My name is Ron.”

“Holy shit,” he said somehow realizing his mistake. In all honesty, it was probably my southern accent, which is rather heavy at times but whatever the case he released my hand and stepped back. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “but you are the spitting image of one of my old Air Force buddies.  In fact you could be his twin and I know that bastard didn’t have a brother.”

“No problem,” I naturally said, “the truth of the matter is that you’re not the first person to mistake me for someone else.” I went on to explain that several times while I was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado soldiers returning from duty in South Korea swore up and down they had known someone who looked just like me in their unit. And, to beat the point a little further, I explained the same thing had happened here in South Carolina a few times. Other than some brief thoughts about where my “dear old Dad” might have strayed in his youth, I had always discounted the occurrences as just one of those things.

I soon learned that Hawaiian shirt dude’s name was Mike and he began explaining how he and Tony joined the air force straight out of high school, served together at the Charleston Air Force Base for several years before Tony was reassigned to West Germany. The two lost contact with Mike telling me his friend had for the most part fallen off the face of the earth. After Mike’s wife Carol joined us at the picnic table, he further explained the he and Tony so liked the Lowcountry of South Carolina they talked about retiring here right from the start of their military careers.

Even Carol confessed that my resemblance to the lost Tony was uncanny which made me feel required to recount my history there in Georgetown. Before I really knew it a couple of hours had passed and we all went our separate ways with me continuing to prowl Front Street listening to music and developing some strange need to make contact with someone I knew.


I eventually left the Front Street festival and headed north to Murrells Inlet with the intention of hitting one of the seafood restaurants there for a late lunch of fried shrimp. Being a creature of habit I stopped at a place called “Creek Ratz” and settled in at a table on the patio overlooking the marsh. Since it was so late in the afternoon, the place almost empty with me having the beautiful Diane as my waitress almost exclusively.

Once my heaping pile of fried shrimp was set down on the table I took my time savoring every bite. I must have looked pensive while I sat there because Diane asked if something was bothering me. “No, not really” I said, “it’s just that after living most of my life in Georgetown County it is like everyone I ever knew has disappeared.”

Diane looked thoughtful for a moment trying to think of something significant to say. “Maybe you have inadvertently stepped through a crack in the space-time continuum and entered a parallel universe where you never existed. Some people have the ability to walk across different dimensions as easily as a regular person enters a room.” She said in all seriousness actually looking concerned. “I can perceive ripples in space-time and this area is full of them, “she went on to say. I fell in love with her on the spot although she was way too young for me.


My last stop on my great weekend road trip rebellion was my original destination, the south end of Pawleys Island. That little spit of land had always been one of my favorite places to enjoy the sun, sand, and ocean and by the I time arrived that day it was mostly empty with only a few odd stranglers like myself walking the beach.  My plans by that point were to watch the sunset over the marsh and then hightail it home to feed the dog and cat, which I was sure, would be planning their revenge for dinner being so late.

I had been there for thirty or forty minutes walking the edge of the shore watching the incoming tide when I looked up and saw another couple strolling towards me. They were huddled close together sharing a blanket wrapped each of their shoulders. It was an obvious intimate moment between the two and I looked straight ahead as we passed to give them some privacy.

“Ron Johnson, is that you,” I heard the guy say after passing them by. I immediately stopped and realized that I had finally stumbled upon some old high school acquaintances. As luck would have it, they were one of those obnoxious couples that fell madly in love during their freshmen year. I quickly remembered they had this habit of walking around campus during their free periods so close together you could almost believe they were physically connected. Carrying on a conversation with them was even worse, to them everything was all hope, love, flowers and a bright future. This will sound mean but being around a couple that much in love was like overdosing on saccharin. Their devotion to each other was sweet but prolonged exposure to them left a very bad mental aftertaste.

Trying not to be cynical here but going to sound like it anyway there does seem some justice in the universe that most couples like them usually end up hating each other after the real world smacks them in the face. Fairy tale love just cannot stand the pressures of mortgages, medical bills, stressful jobs, and young children always demanding their parents full attention and time. Standing there in front of them it was evident that this couple had beat the odds, which I had to grudgingly admire.

We talked for several minutes going over our respective histories after high school when they both chimed in that seeing me was like seeing a real ghost. “I don’t understand, what do you mean by that?" I asked. 

“Yeah,” the guy laughed along with his wife. “A rumor went around a few years back during one of the reunions that you were dead.” On that note, I decided it was time to go home. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

In the Land of Enforced Niceness

"Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires"

John Steinbeck

The grocery store closest to my house is one of those national chains that likes to portray itself as something slightly above the common riff-raft who might shop at a more plebeian place such as Sam’s Club. Prices are somewhat higher at this store and there is a wider choice of upper-end items freely using the word “gourmet” on the label, which I rather like on some occasions. The main reason I stop there is its location being three minutes from my house. This is especially important whenever my wife discovers she is missing some vital ingredient to her latest culinary endeavor and I am forced at near gunpoint to go purchase the item with instructions to get there and back as fast as possible ignoring all traffic laws and safety concerns for my fellow humans along the way.

This grocery store does have one huge drawback in my eyes. Since it caters to the upwardly mobile and arrogant yuppies living in the surrounding pod-like subdivisions, it enforces a strict friendliness policy on its employees. You cannot walk through the huge sliding glass doors of the place without being assaulted with a chorus of greetings by overeager employees. Those unfamiliar with this particular supermarket chain might think I am exaggerating but these greetings are far from casual or genuine displays of sociability.

Every employee seems desperate to make and keep eye contact and be ready to fulfill the customer’s every desire all the while maintaining a huge perpetual smile that frankly would have sent my facial muscles into painful spasms. Some might call this old fashioned “customer service” and I will admit in most other stores there is at best a fifty-fifty chance of getting any help from those working there.

At this specific grocery store I have walked up and surprised some stock clerk several times as he or she were doing their job forcing them into asking for forgiveness for not seeing me and then almost groveling at my feet in a desire to help me to make up for their inattention. Given this, I have to wonder if some corporate suit has a job to do surprise inspections and enforce friendliness among the workers. Even worse than some KGB-like corporate enforcer are the weaselly low-level supervisors that enjoy welding power over those under them.  

Case in point was Friday morning when I decided to hit the grocery store on the way home instead of waiting sometime later when it would be far more crowded. My self-imposed mission was to pick up the needed deli meats and other items we would use for lunch over the weekend. I find shopping a horrendous chore and I utterly despise going to any grocery or department store during the times it is full of self-absorbed yuppies who all believe they are the center of the universe. So I usually hit such places right when they are opening or late at night.

Entering the store yesterday, I only heard one poor soul forced to yell out the ubiquitous “good morning” and proceeded straight to the deli counter. The store was nearly empty except, unfortunately, for the deli counter. There was already a small line being serviced by one lone employee. Figuring I could avoid that line I went around picking up the other items I needed. When I returned to the deli counter, there was only one customer left, a woman dressed in what I would call a high class business suit.

As I approached closer, I could hear the business woman complaining about the thickness of the meat on one of the huge deli platters she was stacking in her shopping cart. Given her attire and the platters, it was easy to assume she had some sort of affair or party in her near future. On the other side of the deli counter was an employee doing her best to explain company policy and standard preparation on preordered items. From what I could hear, the deli worker sounded reasonable and more importantly very professional on how the platters were done.

The business woman, of course, would have nothing of it. Business woman wanted everything her way and would complain all the way to the corporate headquarters to see it happen. To throw more fuel on her irate fire business woman made sure both the counter person and her immediate supervisor, now standing behind his worker, would lose their jobs in the process.

Had the immediate supervisor just metaphorically patted the obnoxious customer on the hand and then worked to some compromise I would say things would have been kosher but weasel dude turned and verbally chewed out his worker. The look of shock on the deli worker was so extreme I thought she would strip off her apron and tell her boss to go do something reproductively impossible to himself.

Instead, she took a deep breath, looked back at the customer, and began to grovel to make her happy. When the deli worker left to go off into the room behind the counter weasel boss stepped forward to apologize and say how he would make sure things were corrected. Weasel supervisor dude kissed the butt of that woman so much he might as well have crawled inside and examined her large intestine.

It was then that I decided to skip the deli meat at that moment. I moseyed over to the checkout and paid for the items in my shopping cart and went home. I would like to think that the deli worker would have some recourse to correct what was to me an obvious injustice but good old South Carolina is a “right to work” state meaning a worker can be fired at any moment by their employer. Unless that lady was just working for extra money while her husband or boyfriend's job paid all the bills she had no choice but suck it up and make do. In the old days a union would have evened the scales out between a low-paid worker like her and her weasel boss but in this new "service based" economy that took the place of American manufacturing that deli worker can easily be replaced by any number of other people willing to work that job for far less. Making matter worse, unionism is looked down upon by the very workers such protection might help in the form of better pay and working conditions.  

It is extremely funny to me to hear some ignorant yahoo complain about how his or her pay and benefits suck while the rich continue to amass more wealth. But the rank and file workers here have largely been trained to recoil in terror at the very mention of unionism associating it with such "anti-American ideas" like “socialism.” What we are left with in many cases is an enforced niceness as income and social mobility for the middle and working classes fall and the hope for a better future for their children evaporate. 

God bless America and unrestrained free market capitalism.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

F3 Cycle 99 "The Long Arm of Fate"

Flash Fiction Prompt:  Tell us a story about a character facing the end of something–a job, a relationship, their sanity…  What is actually ending can be whatever your imagination dreams up, but also let us know how it turns out for him or her.  Give us some type of ending (pun intended).

Genre:  Whatever lights your fire.

The outer office waiting area was ultra modern with one wall a large glass window that looked out upon the Chicago skyline. The other walls were painted a glossy white with steel and glass furniture scattered about its large, open space. A light grey carpet covering the floor provided a much-needed contrast but did nothing to change the sterile and lifeless atmosphere of the area. 

Greg Harrison leaned back in the stylish metal chair he sat in trying to both relax and look like he was not nervous. Around him were thirty other candidates all seeking the one open position in mid-level management at a new software company.  Every one of them he realized were at least half his age, and in all probability, far better qualified to work in such a high tech business. Harrison being in his mid-fifties knew he was an extreme long shot as compared to those around him but after being out of work for five years such gambles were all he had left.

Two hours had passed since the group had been escorted to their current location with the knowledge that the next obstacle they would face was on the other side of the huge sliding doors guarded by a petite but extremely attractive receptionist who looked impossible young to hold such a job. She was sitting at desk that seemed more a piece of art than office furniture and since the group’s arrival was waiting patiently for word on whom she would let through the doors.

Without any fanfare, the huge sliding doors leading to the inner office began to open. At the same time, the receptionist picked up a computer tablet, walking over to the waiting candidates, and began calling names off. Harrison waited for his name to be called knowing it was not going to happen. As expected, after five minutes he was the only one left watching the sliding doors close.

At the sound of the two doors locking in place the receptionist addressed Harrison. “Thank you for your interest in the position,” she said in a cold, impersonal tine akin to a robot” but at this time we cannot use your skills.”

For Harrison it was yet another rejection and despite the fact he expected the outcome, it stung nonetheless. He turned to leave from the way he came only to see two beefy security guys in suits waiting to escort him out. Feeling defeated, Harrison walked towards the waiting elevator, and to him it was further proof that the world had no use for him anymore.


The bar was totally opposite from the sterile but stylish office environment he had left several hours earlier. Surrounding Harrison was a collection of old team photographs and sports paraphernalia spanning over a century. The ancient oak counter he sat at actually had visible groves set in the wood where countless others had come to celebrate the triumphs of life as well as the disasters. The lighting was naturally low and the conversations of the few others inside the bar with him at that moment were so muted Harrison could close his eyes and actually make himself believe he was blissfully alone someplace far away.

At the edge of finding some tranquility, he was painfully brought back to reality by the buzz of his cell phone. The small screen displayed his ex-wife’s name. Harrison fought the urge to toss the irritating device into the trash but some deep remaining grain of responsibility forced him to answer. “Yeah Beth,” he said in a half civil tone, “I didn't get the job.”

“Well,” she hissed back, “you better find something fast, your daughter’s tuition will be due again next month and you still owe me back alimony. Let us avoid getting the attorneys involved. I know you remember things did not go well for you the last time you fell behind.”

Memories of a family life long destroyed flashed through Harrison’s head. “Well sweetie,” Harrison said sarcastically, “you can’t get blood from a bankrupt rock. I’m stuck in Chicago until tomorrow morning, after that I’ll surrender to the cops back home. I could use a vacation and jail would be the best one I had in years. I’ll have three meals at day and a cot while you finally have to go out and earn a living in these tough times.”

“It would be best for all concerned if you just suddenly died Gregory.” Was her acidic response before hanging up.

With the mood destroyed Harrison threw back the remainder of the brown liquid in his glass, tossed a few dollars on the bar, then began walking out towards the exit. The only place he had to go was the street or his empty motel room and as much as Harrison was raised never to consider such a thing, he felt he might hurt himself if he went back there.  On the way out the door, Harrison spotted a strange looking contraption off in one corner of the bar. Harrison realized it was a carnival fortune-telling machine. The kind that you drop a quarter in the slot causing the gypsy-looking automaton inside a rectangular wooden box to whir her plastic hands around a fake crystal ball as colored lights blinks off and on. The end result after the cheap theatrics, being a small card pushed out another slot telling the buyer what their future held.

Harrison would have ignored the device except for two reasons. The first being he felt he had no hope or future and felt desperate enough to use it. The second was the uncanny likeness of the robotic gypsy to the young receptionist he saw earlier that day. With nothing left to lose he dropped a quarter in the slot and waited. Instead of the usual display of mechanical movements and cheap flashing lights, the fake gypsy was unmoving but seemed to be looking straight at Harrison.

“Damn,” Harrison said frustrated, “even old machines are screwing with me now.” Just as his last word was uttered, the old carnival machine shuddered and spat out the small card he expected. Harrison felt oddly chastised after glancing back at the fake gypsy inside the wooden box and quickly picked up his fortune. It read, “If it is purpose and hope in life you seek, delay your travel plans for a day.”

“Why the Hell not,” he said to the machine, “got nothing waiting for me at home except the cops.”
After waiting the required day, Harrison sat in his seat feeling the thrust of the jet engines lift his plane off the runway. Strangely, just as the plane leveled out he heard a myriad of alarms go off. As he felt the nose of the plane tip steeply downward all the passenger cabin oxygen masks fell along with one unlucky soul who unbuckled too early. Harrison heard the unbuckled passenger’s neck crack and the nearby stewardess scream as he hit the forward bulkhead.

Seconds later the plane hit the surface of the lake with water flooding in from broken windows. Harrison was still conscious as the fuselage cracked apart with his half quickly sinking beneath the surface. His final thoughts as blackness engulfed him were about how that the damn fortune-telling machine had ripped him off.


Harrison opened his eyes to find himself lying on a small bed inside what looked to be a small house. “Oh Hell,” he said entirely to himself as he scrambled in a panic falling from the bed to the wooden floor. Memories of his final moments consisted of near freezing water and suffocation. “Where am I?” He asked himself.

“You are not far from the place you died many millions of years ago.”Something answered inside his head.

Terrified of the intruder inside his mind Harrison fled out the door in a utter, thoughtless panic. After running a few steps the instinct to flee was overwhelmed by the amazement of finding himself on a path in the middle of an old growth forest. His mind spun trying to comprehend how one second he could be on a crashed plane sinking into the waters of Lake Michigan and the next in some forest hearing disembodied voices.

The question of whether he died and somehow was allowed in heaven passed through his head but was immediately discounted. Harrison knew he was not an evil man but he freely admitted to himself he had done nothing in his life to earn a ticket into paradise. Overwhelmed with confusion he began to spin around only to trip over an exposed root sticking up from the ground. 

He looked back to see the small cottage he just left along with a loosely defined mist coalescing into a human form. “Please, do not runaway,” the mist said in his head as it further took shape and definition, “I am sorry for the abrupt awaking. I assure you that you are alive and not in some afterlife. Please come closer, I have all the answers you need.”

A feeling of calm engulfed Harrison as he picked himself off the ground and watched the now fully human form approach. Somehow it seemed completely normal that the person walking towards him looked exactly like the receptionist and the robotic, fortune telling gypsy. Wearing a simple peasant dress she reached up and touched Harrison’s forehead with her hand.

Images of the world he knew flashed in his head, years passed then something happened, a series of small asteroids crashed into the planet causing hundreds of millions to die. The surviving governments spurred on by nationalistic stupidity then spent years fighting over the ashes of a cold and damaged world.

However, tucked away in the far, isolated corners of the planet something of humanity survived and over time rebuilt the world. The people of this new civilization advanced and evolved into something more than mortal creatures of flesh and blood, eventually even expanding into newer dimensions and realms. But a few of these post-humans looked back upon their home planet now suffering from the ravages of a sun inching ever closer to a red giant and made efforts to save it. They rejuvenated the sun and restored the Earth to what it was at the dawn of humanity.

The post-humans debated the next step but it seemed logical, bring back Homo sapiens. Reaching through time, they saved certain individuals coming close to death and brought them forward with the hope of recreating their civilization.

After everything he saw one question reigned in Harrison's mind. "Why did you save me?" 

The mysterious lady thought about it for a moment before answering. "Our abilities and science would seem like magic to you but we are not gods. We have our limits and one of them is a lack of knowledge about your time. In many ways it is as strange and mythical as the story of Atlantis must be to you. We scanned the centuries looking for likely candidates and it is just by chance we found you sinking to the bottom of that ancient lake."

"But I have no special skills, I was a damn loser at most everything in my life. I can't help you rebuild any civilization."    

“Harrison when we saw you dying in that water we sensed your desire to have purpose. Here you have the chance to rebuild a life and find purpose.” the lady said. “You have your youth again and a world full of promise. You can join the others already here and build something special, it is up to you.”

Harrison felt the young woman step back and dissolve again into mist. He turned and saw a path leading off to a small city on the edge of a lake. Feeling a renewed purpose to his life he ran off to see what this new future held.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Romney Apocalypse

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
H. L. Mencken

It has been two days since the debacle call the first presidential debate of 2012 and I am still fighting a strong urge to get very drunk. This is not some tepid suburban male idea where I go out, buy a six-pack of some chic beer, and sit on my backyard deck with a bottle in hand while I grill up chicken and hamburgers enjoying a very civilized buzz. This is a full-fledged, crack open a new bottle of tequila and gulp it down attitude in a deep desire to forget what happened type of thing while saying to Hell with the hangover anguish the next morning.

For the most part my grief comes from the already well-documented ideas spouted by professional pundits that Willard Mittens Romney came in with a facts-be-damned, metaphorical guns blazing attitude and that President Obama at best seemed distracted bordering on being comatose. Giving the devil his due in this, Mittens did his homework and actually seemed lifelike, a huge departure from his usual manner of being a flesh and blood version of the  mechanical, air-driven automatons people see at Disney World’s Hall of Presidents. I even picked up on the very bad sign early in the debate when Mitten actually seemed a warm human capable of empathy when he humorously quipped back at Obama about him having to spend part of his anniversary with him on the stage instead of being with his wife, Michelle.

President Obama on the other hand seemed to have fallen under some sort of evil Republican spell after that and decided to give up on the debate. Because Mittens went into overdrive and took control being both the frantic candidate out to prove his point and the moderator. I swear to God in heaven Jim Lehrer did nothing to take control and actually moderate the train wreck happening on stage. The only thing worse that Lehrer’s occasional mumbling to show he was actually still in the room was Obama’s complete lack of challenge to the half-truths, lies, and utter fantasy spun by Romney.

My possible, but highly unlikely, one or two conservative readers might me angrily wondering what in the Hell am I talking about. Well for one, let us touch base with Debate Romney’s (to distinguish that version from others) insistence that his tax plan to cut rates twenty-percent across the board will not cause a five-trillion dollar deficit in its own right. Now Debate Romney claims he will close loopholes and end tax deductions to pay for his tax cut but other than putting Big Bird on the fiscal chopping block, along with Jim Lehrer, which given his performance I might actually go along with, he still gave no details. Now under a President Romney (Damn, where is that tequila bottle?) this will all go along with an INCREASE in defense spending. I guess to pay for his war with Iran that he seems so eager on starting.

Debate Romney had some strange bouts with both aspects of Obamacare and financial regulation. The most astonishing to me was Debate Romney’s insistence that the president’s health care reform was NOT modeled on his plan enacted in Massachusetts, strange, since even his knuckle-dragging  republican primary opponents pegged him with that one. I even distinctly remember Mittens saying on Fox News once early in the Obama Administration that the president should model any possible plan he came up with on his.

On financial regulations, all of a sudden Debate Romney has some vague-ill defined notions that restraining the worst behavior of various financial institutions is a good idea. Of course, he included an exception saying regulations are a good idea until they become too burdensome and slow down the “Job Creators”, those mystical and very skittish creatures who flee to overseas havens when predatory liberals are looking to hunt them down. The dividing line between good and bad regulations is all in Mitten’s head subject to sudden shifts when Debate Romney goes back on the campaign trail to become Right-wing Candidate Romney again and gets out around his big money donors.

What was even more astounding was how President Obama just stood there and let Debate Romney define what was going on the stage without offering up slightest challenge. Lest anyone forget all forms of Romney proudly proclaimed the American automobile industry should been allowed to go bankrupt, and that any government bailout would somehow condemn it to utter failure. Now Romney never explained how private capital was suppose to come up the multiple billions required for the free enterprise restructuring of the automobile industry.

President Obama for the most part singlehandedly save millions of jobs, not just in the automobile manufacturing but those that branch out like parts suppliers and other support businesses. After all the hard work was done I remember Mittens on some news feed, once again probably Fox, cravingly taking credit for the rescue saying what the president did was his idea all along.

I for one have to defend Obamacare because while my son is still a minor the clause that medical insurance cannot be denied because of pre-existing conditions will allow my wife and I to keep him on our insurance until his is twenty-six and permit him to purchase his own when he needs. Just recently Candidate Romney said on Sixty Minutes that it was cool for those “living in apartments” just to go to the emergency room for medical care.

When you boil away all the bullshit for me, the biggest reason I detest Mittens is that he has no core beliefs. Time and time again Mittens has changed his views on a whim when the winds of opinion suggested he should. That in itself is no crime, changing opinions and beliefs is actually a sign of intelligence since new information could disprove old facts. However, Mittens has flip-flopped continuously all through his political career whenever the scenario requires and then claimed nothing of the sort ever happened. From being a “liberal” republican running for Teddy Kennedy’s senate seat and later governor to claiming during this presidential cycle, he was a “severely conservative” governor.

Have to give the old boy credit, to loosely paraphrase Bill Clinton, its takes balls to change so radically in a so short of time in the age of easily assemble video archives available on You Tube. Anyway, in the aftermath the televised debacle Obama will desperately need to up his game in the later debates. Anyone with an IQ over fifty can realize September was a terrible month for Romney with many political pundits, including a few republicans, writing his political obituary. That slate has been wiped clean and Romney version 9.0 is out for blood with his minions ever so eager to kick the uppity black guy out of the White House. 

Call me a bad liberal but I wish I could find some aspect to like about Romney. I am very tired of the incessant partisan bickering and wish I could point to a member of the other party that I believe gives a damn about middle and working class folks. But with Romney's attitudes about "the 47%" along with his delusions of aristocratic privilege turn my stomach. While Obama is far from perfect Romney’s political shape shifting and craven behavior enthusiastic to take credit for everything good does not make him presidential material. I just hope Obama can ultimately prove that point. However, no one has ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American public.