Tuesday, October 29, 2013

BeyondProse.com Short Story: Anything That Can Go Wrong, Will Go Wrong

 (Author's Note: The prompt for this story is, "The alarm went off" and comes from the recently and confusingly reorganized Helium.com. This was suppose to be a serious story but things got out of hand and that appears to be the reason it went over like a lead balloon at the new sister site Beyond Prose.com)

Yeah, Master Sergeant Rick Adams said as he leaned back in the old office chair while his feet rested on the top of the facility monitoring console, “there was a time when the this post was swarming with scientists and senior brass all wanting to impress the politicians. They couldn't wait to cook up some new super bug that could bring both the Soviets and Chinese to their knees.”

Lieutenant Michael Phillips had heard it a couple of hundred times since he arrived at the secret site situated in an obscure section of the sprawling Fort Irwin army base located in southern California. As the old noncommissioned officer droned on Michael did his best to ignore the story about how the underground installation housed thousands of different types of contagious diseases, both naturally occurring and some man-made, in large refrigerated containers that were themselves stored in bunkers that were supposedly tough enough to withstand a nuclear attack.

You know Sergeant,” Phillips interrupted just for giggles,” I never understood why the army and the Defense Department just didn't incinerate everything stored here at the end of the cold war?”

The old man was stunned silent for a moment that the newly minted Second Lieutenant would dare to derail the vital information he was trying to impart to him. Did they not teach these young ROTC punks any manners at college there days he thought to himself. Despite the fact Adams, as an enlisted man, was many years past due his mandatory retirement both senior army and DoD civilians officials had made a point of keeping him on active duty for his detailed knowledge of the bio-weapon storage site.

Well sir, the old noncom said gearing up for another lecture, “some of these organisms are simply indestructible...” Michael quickly lost interest and stopped listening as Adams carried on, which in hindsight was not the right thing to do.


As the Cold War wound down and the hundreds of scientists and army technicians were reassigned or left the service it was Rick Adams who through experience and training or dumb chance was left in charge of the deadly installation supervising a rotating staff of five. For most soldiers assigned to the site, known simply as “Area Omega”, since the draw down the duty was a relaxing piece of cake. All that was required was the monitoring of the refrigeration systems inside the bunkers. When one went into alarm the soldier on duty would activate a redundant secondary system then place a call to have specially trained technicians to come and fix the unit.

Such was the easy life for Rick and the various people under his command who came and went over the years. With the Cold War slowly fading from the consciousness of military types, the elected leaders, and civilians in general the bio-weapon storage site became sort of lost in the bureaucracy. So much that Adams had long since given up maintaining army fitness standard to the point the young Lieutenant Phillips thought he reassembled the hugely fat and gross Jabba the Hut from the Star Wars movies. But no matter how well any system might run change does come and it was a civilian desk jockey that instigated it for Rick Adams and Area Omega.

The nameless drone occupying a seat in one of the Pentagon's subbasements was busy scanning personnel record anomalies on his computer screen when Adams' name popped up. Stunned that an enlisted man had gone over the thirty-years of service limit memos quickly flew out to all sorts of different departments asking how this happened.

The instinctive bureaucratic response was that everyone claimed both ignorance while pointing fingers of blame at anyone close. Now truth be told at one time in the Pentagon it was the job of a particular army colonel, named Dick Holden, to catch these types of Top Secret issues and quiet them down but he had long since retired, moved to Florida, and died of a heart attack. Whether it was from playing golf or the twenty-one year old hooker which left the small cabin of his boat the morning of his death only his close friends and a betrayed widow know for sure.

The matter of the dead colonel's last duty assignment became problematic because his actual job was itself classified as top secret with him working under the title of Chief Administrator of Floor Tile Inspection in all army buildings worldwide. After Dick retired seven separate generals, all non-combat REMF's, desperate to save their own pet projects, fell over themselves to point out that floor tile inspection could be cut as a cost saving measure. Which it quickly was leaving no cover for Area Omega or anyone in Washington DC really understanding the purpose of the place except for a couple of former KGB types who had long left the unprofitable spy business but who now ran online dating and gambling websites becoming millionaires in the process.

As the wheels and gears of the Defense Department bureaucracy slowly turned the truth about Area Omega was rediscovered which greatly surprised Rick Adams when one of the guys under his command called his house in Barstow, California to inform him that three army Major Generals, six Brigadier Generals, five colonels, and scores of lesser officers had arrived at the site demanding to know what was going on there. Now having such a collection of officers appear anywhere so suddenly would have been unusual the most important member of the group to appear at Area Omega was Congressman from the great state of South Carolina.

Things moved rather fast after that with Adams receiving retirement orders that became effective as soon as he trained someone else to take over. That is where Michael Phillips unfortunately became a player in this story.

All his life Michael Phillips had always suffered from one of the worst fates that can befall any man. He had never once lived up to the high expectations that was expected of him. The son of army helicopter pilot David “Flying Mad” Phillips who first claim to fame was using the twenty-millimeter cannon on his AH-64 Apache gunship to mow down a couple of hundred Iraqi soldiers during Operation Desert Storm. As far as the American press and public was concerned he had dodged an incoming storm of antiaircraft bullets and missiles to defeat the ravaging hordes which resulting in him being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross medal.

See, what happened in actuality was that fifty near starving soldiers who had been abandoned by Saddam weeks before thought the approaching American helicopters meant rescue and fired off a flare so thy would be spotted. For Flying Mad, who had once dreamed of single-handedly blunting a Soviet tank advance pushing into Western Europe, the orange glow of the flare, the figures crawling out from camouflaged foxholes, and an itchy trigger finger was enough for him to open fire.

From there Flying Mad became a national hero who left the service to write a book, travel the lecture circuit, and eventually enter politics and eventually becoming the sole congressman to inspect Area Omega with all the other senior military officers. Between that time he married a beautiful Charleston socialite and produced the baby Michael who Flying Mad was sure was destined for great things.

The problem was that except for a low-grade animal cunning Flying Mad was an idiot with no real ability for abstract thought or nuisance. Flying Mad's one real talent was the skill to memorize any procedure or task, while that had its uses one of his instructors at Fort Rucker compared him to a mindless welding robot one might find on an automobile assembly line.

Michael's mother, Karen, did have a good deal of intelligence but it was strictly for social climbing. In truth her social climbing ability was Darwinian evolution in action since her particular family had trained young girls to do nothing else since colonial times. In Karen's calculating mind given the current political climate in South Carolina and the country she at worst would end up the wife of a future governor and maybe, with a little luck, the First Lady of the United States. During all this she continued to drink and party while pregnant with Michael so the poor rich boy really never had much of a chance.

Michael Phillips himself was kicked out of a every fine boarding school his parents sent him which eventually resulted in his education coming from expensive tutors who came to his Charleston home on Tradd Street. Clever maneuvering by his father later got Michael into West Point but after a ridiculous attempt to seduce the wife of the commandant he was kicked out and told never to darken the doorway of any building on campus again. From there it was the Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC) at a series of universities for Michael with Flying Mad getting several of his corporate sponsors to “donate” large sums of cash to the schools to see that his son graduated with some sort of degree as well as a military commission.

As the years went by Flying Mad had given up in despair on his son but when the command for Area Omega became available his used all his political clout to see Michael got the assignment. With the Pentagon brass pleased with the way Master Sergeant Adams had kept up the place they collectively shrugged their shoulders and agreed as long as the lackluster Second Lieutenant followed his example.

Michael himself, long use to the advantages of having rich and powerful parents, believed his life had ended when he received news of his first command in such a desolate place. No matter what Flying Mad told the boy Michael continued to whine about how he was being abused and how he could destroy his father's career and reputation. What made Michael finally accept his command was mother who threatened to cut off all the family money to him.

As Master Sergeant Adams attempted to train Michael how to oversee the stored bio-weapons Area Omega received a major upgrade of systems. New computers, refrigeration, air intakes, filters, and sensor systems were installed with the hopes that the site would quietly operate for a hundred years. Because Flying Mad chaired the subcommittee providing funds to secret military sites he made a special point of using private contractors in a naive political attempt to “save taxpayer money.” The fact that private contractors were from his father-in-law's construction company went completely unnoticed.


Since Area Omega was still classified Top Secret the retirement ceremony for Master Sergeant Adams was a private affair held behind closed doors in the banquet room at the IHOP in Barstow. Flying Mad was quite pleased with the choice and he made sure everyone ordered nothing on the menu over ten dollars.

As the weeks passed by Lieutenant Michael Phillips quickly fell into the routine of his new command and, surprising to him, actually began to enjoy the it. In fact he would often relieve the soldier on duty at the monitoring station since it give him a thrill to sit alone and be in command. The job was simple enough, all he had to do was watch the monitor and make sure the high-tech automated software did everything.

Thinking of old Master Sergeant Adams he sneered in silent contempt at all the worthless information he tried to teach him. Michael actually believed if the rest of the army was this easy he might show up his dad and make something of himself after all. That, of course, was when the alarm went off.

See the private contractors, eager to save money had used several types of computer software that didn't exactly work well together. When a new sensor, suffering from a factory defect, in a bunker went bad one of the monitoring programs believed the entire facility was at risk of failing. Lights started flashing and alarm horns were blaring with Lieutenant Phillips quickly at a loss to correct what he thought was a cascading failure event.

With one software program in alarm the rest, suffering a bout of anxiety, went into automatic diagnostic mode to check their own sensors readings resulting in a total crash of the system because of their mutual incompatibility with each other. Michael desperate to think of what to do, saw one of the computer screens asking if he wanted to do a reboot. Figuring a reboot had solved all his other issues with computers when he was younger hit the button believing that would return everything to normal.

By this time all the different computer monitoring software programs had gotten quite frustrated and confused with each other to the point the proverbial up had become down, left had become right, cold had become hot, and worst of all, in had become out. When Phillips tried to reboot system what really happened was the refrigeration systems cut off, while air intake systems began sucking tons of hot desert air inside the facility.

One of the software programs eventually realized what was going on a few hours later and in what amounted to a computerized version of “Oh my God!” attempted to shutdown the uncontrolled intake of air and to expel what was already inside. By this time the biological weapons had all thawed out and it only took a few minutes for a nice sized cloud to form above Area Omega. A strong wind blowing in from the southwest promptly then began pushing the deadly biological mixtures towards the city of Las Vegas.

As chance would have it Flying Mad happened to be in town for what his aides back in Washington DC had listed as a “business conference”. In reality Flying Mad was standing on the high-rise balcony of his ten-thousand dollar a night hotel suite recovering from a night with a couple of beautiful South American prostitutes when he noticed the strange cloud above the city and the sticky drizzle coming down from it. By the time he went back inside his hotel room the cloud was over the airport and his throat had already become sore while a rash had already developed unnoticed on his hands.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Spectacular Insanity

Before anyone's knickers get all twisted into a wad of righteous indignation let me state that I am a honorable discharged veteran who served four years in the active duty army and seventeen in the South Carolina National Guard. During those years I saw both the exceptionally positive aspects of serving in the military and, of course, the nasty dark side that neither the mindless gung-ho types will admit to nor the armchair generals have any idea exists. So while I am a sorry ass, bleeding heart liberal strangely fixated on little things like social and economic justice for all Americans I, unlike a multitude of chickehawk conservatives, have actually served my country. While that does not make my opinion anymore important than that of the craven little fools who love the idea of war until they, or some member of their family might serve, at least I can say with all certainty I am not a hypocrite.

You do not have to be an anthropologist to understand Americans are a conflicted people these days. Many of us feel privileged to the point that any suggestion that we as a nation might be wrong in even the most miniscule issue can cause multiple waves of self righteous indignation. We wallow in a semi-fascist concept called “American Exceptionalism” that makes everything we do something directly ordained and approved by God. The planet can be raped and corporations can run amok but its all okay because we are the baddest people that ever walked.

Despite these narcissistic tendencies our longstanding dominance of the world stage is faltering because other countries are becoming better educated and organized while conversely we Americans seem to have our collective heads permanently stuck up our consolidated asses. We live off a mental diet of inbred reality shows and abject escapism deep fried in a batter of indifference. So much that a strange collection of elected morons can shut down the government bringing us damn close to causing a national economic meltdown but just a few days after the crisis is postponed we quickly return to our favorite delusions.

But deep down I have this gut instinct that Americans on an unconscious level understand that our privileged status and days of power are running out. The country that was once sickly optimistic believing that every problem could be solved with just the right amount of intelligence, faith, hard work, and guts has become a place where paranoia, fear, and self interest rule almost exclusively.

Our defense budget is greater than what all the other major nations spend combined. It makes up fifty-seven percent of the total discretionary budget available to the United States government. A paltry six percent goes to education while science gets only three. This is not the behavior of a people ready to meet the future and remain a player on the world scene.

So while we continue to build things like massive aircraft carriers, stealthy submarines, and sleek jet fighters designed to fight a power like the dead and gone Soviet Union shit like this happens: 

From the Washington Post

Hey, I understand what the armchair generals and chickenhawks will say. "It's a dangerous world filled with crazy mother f*8kers that live to blow themselves up. We've got to defend our freedoms and all that awesome shit that makes America special."

Okay, like I said at the beginning, I'm a veteran myself and I do understand that like Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred said in one of the Batman movies there are just some people who want to see the world burn. So yes, that means for a long time we will need men and women ready to defend this country and our allies.That is still no excuse to let the United States decay and fall apart because politicians like the idea of a world empire at the same time the CEO's of the corporations making up the military/industrial complex play atop their mountains of taxpayer dollars. 

Hell, even some of the big brass types that warm expensive and ergonomically correct office chairs at the Five Sided Funny Farm (the Pentagon for those who didn't know) think we are wasting gigabucks on stupid projects. But who are they to question the wisdom of constantly building bigger, better, and more expensive toys so the politicians can massage their egos, corporations can loot the planet, all the while kids without trust funds fight in foreign lands and twelve-year old little girls die because the school can't afford a nurse. For the most part it's better not to think about this crap, it's too damn depressing, but when I do I have to admit there is a spectacular insanity to this all worthy of an exceptionally stupid people. That is my definition of American Exceptionalism.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Flaws of Fate and Choice

(Author's Note: There are two elements of this story based in reality. A small South Carolina town whose economy was based on the now dead textile industry and closer to home a mysterious house that I passed a couple of nights ago on the way to work. All else is total fiction. Once again excuse the typos.)

Having lived all my life in the small South Carolina town of Tucker Crossing it's correct to assume that I have some knowledge of its long but uneventful history. This is especially helpful since chance, or maybe it was fate, deemed that I become the Tucker County sheriff right after my twenty-ninth birthday. Situated just a short thirty miles, as the crow flies, north of the state capital of Columbia, my hometown has nonetheless remained a calm and boring little oasis of old Southern charm complete with a laid back lifestyle. A few of the local residents have put those pleasant attributes to use by opening up several bed and breakfast inns which in all honesty is the town's main economic draw these days. But there are others who say we have paid a high price for such a quaint but weak way to pull people to our town.

Tucker Crossing missed out on all the rampant development because of a dilapidated two-lane road that is our one direct route to the interstate highway which the state refuses to repair. Another issue the developers have never liked is the abundance of abandoned textile mills that surround the town which could be used as sets for some post-apocalyptic movie. For those reasons we have missed out on the tacky and cheap strip malls, the larger fortress-like edifices packed with national retailers, and the congested subdivisions that blight the other small towns surrounding Columbia.

This has left Main Street as the primary business location in town. Given the town's isolation our shops and stores can often trace their beginnings back to the early twentieth century. So it was quite the event when I noticed what looked to be a new business that had opened up in the old Miller house on the corner of Main and Cedar Streets while driving into work Tuesday morning. Even with Tucker Crossing's relative isolation from the outside world, occasionally some enterprising soul will come to town and attempt to open up a business selling antiques or some other cheap nicknacks to the tourists staying at the bed and breakfast places.

I assumed that was the case when I saw the flashing “open” sign hanging from the first floor bay window. In the back of my mind I did find it slightly unusual since as long as I could remember the old Miller house had stood empty. In fact, even though I was a lifelong resident with family connections that went back even further I had no idea who these Millers were the house was named after.

Sitting on the far western end of Main street the Miller house is a two-story bay-and-gable style with a large wrap around porch. Never exactly an eyesore the old house had always shown a high degree of weathering and need of minor repair. Yet somehow its condition never got any worse despite no one living there. In fact, even though the houses surrounding the Miller place are all occupied it is curious how the neighbors, and the rest of the town's residents for that matter, simply ignored the place as if it was not really there.

Walking into the small county sheriff's headquarters I stop by the desk Mary Wilson uses to dispatch my deputies and keep track of their locations. “Mary,” I say, “what do you know about the new business that opened in the old Miller place?”

“The old Miller place? I have no idea what you are talking about Jacob.” She replied obviously annoyed that I had disturbed her from finishing up her morning duty assignments.

The old, vacant house on the corner of Main and Cedar.” I say as she hands me the duty logs from the two deputies working night shift.

Mary, like me, is a lifelong resident and while my own curiosity about the new business was slowly being replaced with my normal morning duties of quickly scanning the nighttime reports I did notice she had to actually think about the Miller house like it was something she had never seen.

“Oh, that place,” she replies, “no, I don't know a thing about anyone opening any sort of new business there or anywhere else in town. It would be nice to have some new people though.”

As I read the nighttime reports I notice one of the deputies had a run in with some local rednecks which took me completely away from my overactive curiosity. Still something in the back of my head would not let go of the strange and sudden nature of the newcomers. But I am a well trained and disciplined police officer, its been six years since I inherited the job of Tucker County sheriff when my predecessor suddenly died. As much as I dislike the idea sometimes this job has become my life, whether I like it of not, and I once again submerge myself in its daily demands.


Insomnia is an insidious disorder, for many who have never suffered from it there is a certain ignorant humor associated with anyone who had to deal with an abundance of sleepless nights. I have long since trained myself in dealing with it by spending as much time outside my little mobile home as possible.

During the weeknights my usual haunt is a bar called “Fallen Angels.” It is a hangout where every recent graduate of Tucker Crossing High School still living in town spends at least a couple of nights a week. There are no class distinctions, everyone from the mayor, the town's two doctors and three dentists along with the guys from the local garage and Pete's Septic Tank Cleaning Service drink and talk as if we were all one happy family.

By the time the owners Sylvia and Luke close the doors I can often go to my severely spartan home and catch a few hours sleep. When I can't, I drive all over the county listening to the radio and wondering what decisions I could have done differently in my life. It makes no difference, I always end up back at the sheriff's department headquarters, go inside my office, and lay my head on the desk and catch enough of a nap to be useful when everyone on day shift comes into work.

That was my plan in the dark and early hours of Wednesday morning. I had drove around and surprised both the night shift deputies who had parked behind one of the abandoned textile factories and gone to sleep in their cars. After scaring both of them to death and having the best laugh in the process I decided to head back into town.

My route takes me past the old Miller house where I notice light coming from every window and see a figure staring out the first floor bay window. I immediately pull over to the side of the street and stop out of a sense of job-related duty. As I get out of my car and walk towards the front door I am flooded my what could be a memory or a hallucination of me as a child walking past this house at night.

The old theater was still open then and I am walking home after seeing some movie. The Miller house was dark and empty as it had been all my life but I was overwhelmed by some presence that I believed was watching me from inside. It felt neither good nor evil but there was the impression that it was somehow judging me. Being around the age of twelve I ran off in abject fear and somehow erased it from my memory.

Walking up the steps I fight off the irrational urge to runaway again. Out of instinct I place my right hand on my pistol while with my left and I turn the ornate doorknob, push the weathered front door open, and step inside.

“Hello Sheriff Allen,” a beautiful raven haired woman says from behind a small counter situated in the corner of the house's foyer. Dressed in a simple but alluring peasant-style blouse and long brown skirt she looks like a gypsy that could steal both your heart and money. Her smile is open and friendly but I could not shake the idea that she somehow knew more about me than I could ever guess. “It's awful early in the morning but you are welcome to look around all you want.”Her accent was definitely not southern but it had a musical lilt that was almost hypnotic.

Both my voice and brain shutdown for a few seconds leaving me looking like a fool. When both come back I sound like a shy teenager who had never talked with a girl. “Just saw the lights on and you in the window, I felt it prudent to stop by and check things out.”

“By all means,” she says still smiling, “you can call me Chloe. If you need anything or have any questions I'll be right here.”

Stepping into the first floor living room every conceivable space is occupied by some item. I see antique furniture, paintings of all sorts, musical instruments, books, fine china, various weapons from swords to ancient rifles, early phonographs, children's toys and so many other items my mind goes into overload. Every room I walk through is as crowded with things as the first one I saw, not only that, I realize everything is one of a kind.

By this time my mind is so overwhelmed I completely ignore the fact that as I step into a room with only one entrance I find Chloe already there. “We have much to offer but I have a feeling you will find something special upstairs.” She says in a kind and subtle way that deep down is in actuality a stern order I am unable to disobey.

There to meet me on the second floor is a blond version of Chloe. “Hi, I am Lacey,” she says in a sultry voice full of sensual energy. Where her sister below looked like the girl next door, Lacey's was exotic and dangerous. The vibrantly colored dress she wore emphasized every curve of her body and combined with her come hither expression I quickly felt my own blood begin to boil. “You may find something interesting down the hall in the last room on the left.” She said in a disinterested manner utterly dissolving my growing animal lust.

If anything the second floor of the old house was even more packed with strange and interesting objects than the one below but my focus was on the mysterious item I was assured was important to me. Stepping into the room Lacey directed me I immediately see what she was talking about. The room itself is empty except for an old chair with an ornate picture frame resting on the seat. But it was the picture that stunned me to my core. The picture was of my high school girlfriend, Emily Altman, holding a strangely familiar child. As I stepped closer a story unfolded in my head counter to the actual events that tore us apart.

After graduation I foolishly joined the army and ended up serving a long string of combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. During that time all my ideals and beliefs melted away under the nightmare of wars waged primarily for the benefit of rich people. Emily instead went off to college in North Carolina, and a few years later met and fell in love with the man that would become her husband. For a couple of years after I returned to Tucker Crossing and became a deputy sheriff I made every excuse to talk with Emily's mom, Sally Altman. I never fooled the old woman who took every chance to remind me her daughter was quite successful and happily married.

While looking at that strange picture of Emily and that baby a new story unfolded to me in what I would call a waking dream where I skipped the army and went to college myself. Sometime later Emily and I run into each other at a high school reunion and quickly fall in love. The child she held in the picture was our first born and while I somehow knew this alternate version of our lives was no happily ever after, it was the way things were suppose to have happened.

“The item is yours for the taking if that is your desire.” A new voice said behind me.

I turn and see another version of Chloe and Lacey but with red hair this time. Instead of the open and friendly nature of Chloe or the raw sexual nature of Lacey this identical sister was stern and unforgiving. Nothing about this situation made any sense and ran counter to my training as a police officer where control meant everything.

“What do you mean the item is mine if I want it?” I ask partially confused but yet unable to believe I was looking at some incredible miracle that could erase my mistakes and allow me to have a real life.

“You have been given the chance to correct your own ill conceived life choices as well as an inherit flaw in the cosmos. Millions have lived and died praying for such a chance so make your decision quickly.” The red-headed sister tells me clearly growing angry.

I turn back towards the picture but hesitate. What right do I have to change the course of Emily's life? More importantly my own actions while in Iraq and Afghanistan weigh heavily on my mind and I find myself not really believing I deserve any happiness.

“Ashley, what of our customer? Has he made his choice?” I hear both Chloe and Lacey call out.

“No, sisters,” she says behind me, “doubt and guilt cloud his mind. This one has failed.” She says and as I turn around in panic to plead my case everything goes black.


I wake up in the sterile and nearly empty bedroom of my trailer. My sheets are drenched with sweat and I find myself fighting off such a wave of despair several minutes go by as I stare longingly at the pistol sitting on my nightstand. The only thing that saves my life is the idea it was all a dream.

My duty to the town and years of ingrained habit soon take over. I ignore my feelings and go through the motions of getting ready for work. That is until I pass the old Miller house on the way in which looks completely devoid of any inhabitants. In the belief that seeing the house empty I will slay the active demons in my head I pull the car over, run up onto the porch and peer inside the bay window.

As I thought, the house is empty and looks like it has been that way for uncounted decades. But the police officer in me will not accept anything until I go inside.

An elbow punch to a side window breaks glass and a few second later I am inside. I am immediately bothered by the fact the layout is just like that of my dream. I convince myself that has more to do with other houses that I have visited that look similar. The air inside is musty and stale but there is an eerie silence to the old house that bothers me, almost like a residue of monumental disappointment. Knowing nothing will be settled until I march upstairs to the room I saw the picture. A weird form of fear flows through me as I slowly begin to climb the steps.

A grown man should never feel the fear and uncertainty that truly challenges his sanity but as I look into that room and see the exact chair the picture of Emily and our baby was sitting. The picture, of course, is nowhere to be found although I already knew that, I had my chance and blew it.

A numbness comes on me and I walk down the stairs and back out of the house like some toy robot a child might wind up. When I get to headquarters I take out my pistol, remove the magazine and the round from the chamber, and place it on Mary's desk.

“Mary,” I say as she looks at me with concern, “call the mayor and then the county council chairman. Effective today I resign, I cannot do this anymore.” Before she can say anything I remove my badge as well and walk back out.

Several days pass with everyone doing there best to change my mind but it's during that time I figure out a plan for my life. The sheriff of a second rate and impoverished county does not make a lot of money but I was never one to spend much anyway. I buy a motorcycle complete with saddle bags, pack a few belongings, and leave town.

In this reality Emily has found her happiness and I will not disturb her but I will be damned if I let my life pass by and not try to find some small scrap of it for myself.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Second Helping of the Cognitive Dissonance Burrito

 "Government is the enemy until you need a friend."
Former Senator William Cohen 
Republican from Maine

Recently I introduced the curious case of “George” and his inability to understand or on an even more basic level recognized the massive discrepancy in the makeup of his reality when it comes to what is commonly referred to as welfare. In short, just a few nights ago George went on an unhinged diatribe blaming Obama for the government shutdown because he wants to give all sorts of hard working taxpayer dollars to lazy bums who want something for nothing.

Not two hours later he completely reversed himself and became gravely worried about how his unemployed and unwed daughter was going to feed her twins if the federally funded Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program stopped giving out money because Washington had gone into a politically-induced catatonic state. Now George, who considers himself a good Christian following the teachings of Jesus, has absolutely no idea that his able bodied daughter and her live in boyfriend are the same lazy bums wanting free money that he whined about a few hours before and in all honesty, on many other previous occasions since I unfortunately came to know him. This is all old news but I needed to cover the basics before delving into my reasons for serving up another helping of the Great American Cognitive Dissonance Burrito.

Since the election of Barrack Obama conservative American politics has gone into spasms of fear-mongering panic, mixed in with moral outrage over a perceived liberal agenda to corrupt the country, touched off with more than a dash of barely hidden racist demagoguery. In the middle of all this is the emergence of an Ayn Rand-inspired Libertarian strain of Republican politics. Now this little, “I've got mine, screw everyone else”, monster has existed for decades in various incarnations but its general habitat has always been on the extreme end of the once honorable party of Lincoln. Even then, GOPers have tried to keep this beast safely confined in some dark cage out of sight from anyone with a soul or tiniest bit of intelligence. Not anymore, due to the rapidly changing demographics in the United States these Libertarian-Republicans have come to the forefront and while their true numbers are small they have an inordinate amount of power.

The true gods of the Libertarian-Republicans are of course Ron Paul and his son Rand but down here in the Midlands of South Carolina there is a local celebrity who faithfully carries the same banner. Since I would very much like to go avoid anymore issues with the locals than I already have to deal with I will let this influential person go unnamed, but for the purpose of this seditious post I will call him “Wally.” Absolutely no one could listen to Wally or read his posts and not understand the center of his being is fretting over money. That is typical of every libertarian I have had the misfortune of encountering. Now Wally is an entirely congenial guy, and can backup his beliefs by a long and successful career built on talent and hardwork.

The trouble is Wally moves away from just fretting over money and enters the realm of fearful obsession when it comes to dealing with government funds. To him the federal government has long since crossed the boundary from what the Founding Fathers would believe is constitutional. A list of these offenses would be far to long to name but they include social security and curiously enough for my friend George, welfare. Wally believes federally funded welfare is wasteful and could best be done by private charities. It is a common notion for types like him but where these private charities would obtain the monumental funds and large scale organizational abilities to meet the challenges of the needy here in the United States even during prosperous times are never quite answered.

That being said, Wally's issues with welfare exists on a more basic level. To sum up his position with a decent degree of accuracy he believes democracies generally crash when the unwashed masses find out they can vote themselves gifts of money from the state or, in this case, federal treasury. I for one cannot help but find some odd and dark humor in this curious couple. When George is in the mood to worry about his daughter on welfare he blames Obama for the government shutdown and the suspension of aid. Whereas if Wally and his Libertarian-Republicans buddies took over complete control of the United States government they would cut off his daughter and her children without any hesitation. Part of me would love to see how George, a barely literate working man with a kid on welfare, and Wally, a successful but cold-hearted miser with no real problem letting children go hungry would work out this huge conflict of interest.

Of course for George and Wally their usual state of mind involved righteous indignation over welfare and that everyone should work for a living. If asked, both would undoubtedly say they fervently support American capitalism and how socialism is an evil entity promoted by unknowing fools and those out to destroy American democracy. In the case of Wally his love is true and while I cannot speak for him such libertarians generally excuse all the sins of capitalism as long as it makes them a buck. Fresh water supplies can be contaminated through fracking, dangerous lead paint can be applied to children's toys, and entire forests can be mowed down for shopping malls and it is all okay because someone will be richer for it.

For George, not to be mean, he is a barely trained parrot mouthing words he does not understand while harboring illogical and irrational resentment towards those who he believes are taking advantage of the system. If George does have any opinion on capitalism, it is some grainy belief that anyone can be rich. Fine, there are definitely a multitude of rags to riches stories in this country but unless such an inspiring person has a quality education success becomes exponentially more difficult in this day and age.

What puzzles me is how both Wally and George, who go ballistic, over welfare waste and fraud completely ignore the abuses and mismanagement often inherent to the capitalistic system.

Case in point is how a bunch of billionaire bankers and corporate CEO's in 2008 came within a whisker of throwing the country into a second Great Depression. In the span of a few weeks criminal incompetence and outright greed caused hundreds of billions of dollars to disappear. This strictly man-made crisis ruined the dreams of millions of middle and working class folks who just wanted a decent retirement or to send their kids to college.

The uncomfortable truth of the matter many middle and working class either refuse to face or remain conveniently ignorant about is that a highly educated banker, or his lackey in congress can steal far more money than any welfare recipient could ever dream. These Demigods and Wizards of Wall Street can, and have, made billions of dollars disappear with a few keystrokes on a computer. Hundreds of dishonest poor people on welfare cannot even begin to approach the scope of thievery of just one of those expensively dressed but self adsorbed assholes. Nor do people on welfare have a way to counter the professionally crafted charge on certain media outlets that they are all parasites on the hardworking members of society.

Yes, absolutely there is fraud and waste in the welfare system. But that is inherent to every system devised by humans. The way capitalists gets away with the illusion that they are immune is through clever accounting and when that fails, government bailouts. The final question we as Americans must face at the end of all the political bickering is that do we want to be a compassionate country that helps those suffering through no fault of their own and provides a way for those less fortunate to possibly make the most of their talents and intelligence. Or have our morals decayed to the point that we can actually look at a hungry or destitute human being and say to them, “Sorry bud, I've got mind, you're just out of luck.”

In the case of George his cognitive dissonance is apparent, but I cannot help but wonder that if circumstances changed for Wally to the point that he and his family faced possible starvation would he stay true to his Ayn Rand/libertarian beliefs or would he be one of the many demanding government aid? That is a question anyone who gets pissed off at the idea of welfare should ultimately ask themselves.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

In Search of Suburban Solitude

 ...Or When Neighborhood Pariahs Meet

Solitude is a rare commodity at my house. With a socially active teenager son eager for the day he breaks free of meddlesome parents and leaves for college, a middle school age daughter who feels she is actually as old as her brother, and a wife who quite frankly likes to keep me busy leaves me little time to break free to sort through my thoughts. For a while I use to make regular weekend trips down to the coast to enjoy the beach. Especially nice was early Sunday mornings where, depending on location and time of the year, I would walk a near deserted shore communing with the ocean and the breeze recharging whatever mental energies it takes to prevent me from ripping the throats out of the various idiots and morons I deal with on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, those trips became fewer and far between as the demands of the kids, my job, and home ownership became more complicated. This will sound hopelessly pitiful but I actually dream of the day when I can on a whim load up the car and haul ass to beach like I did when the kids were much younger. No matter what I do, that happy and carefree era seems to drift further into an always nebulous future. As I wait for that day, this still leaves me the problem of somehow keeping my mental health while marooned in a soulless suburban setting.

For most suburbia would seem an easy place to live a serene, happy, and enjoyable life. I have found though that if you look a little deeper into the deceptively peaceful facade you will find a putrid underbelly. The worst are the paranoid trolls forever looking out for possible neighborhood transgressions, then there are anal retentive lawn serfs who freak the minute a single leaf touches their pristine lawns, and finally there are the types who constantly want to talk about current events and gossip. Since my politics differs, often wildly, from the local norm that in itself isolates me from my wonderful neighbors. (Yes folks, that's sarcasm.) Add to the mix that I refuse to become a slave to my lawn, I have become quite popular with lawn serfs. (More sarcasm) The icing, complete with a nice cherry on the top, on my suburban cake is that I have been graced with a truly paranoid neighbor across the street from me who I have had several nasty encounters with. Things got so bad for a while I could not walk into my backyard without the blinds of his second floor window opening and him occasionally looking out to see what I was doing. (Absolutely no exaggeration, but I will spare everyone the more in-depth record of our mutual issues.)

While tensions have eased, in fact we actually wave hello to each other about once a year, our relationship was so bad I still feel an almost instinctual uneasy feeling when I go into my backyard. Whatever the case the end result of all these elements I have, proudly, become the pariah of the neighborhood. Now you might be wondering how airing all my suburban laundry relates to my need for solitude and I am glad you asked!

Several weeks ago my wife bought one of those cheap plastic Adirondack lawn chairs and placed it underneath one of the trees in the backyard. From the location she chose during the worst of my suburban cold war both my troll neighbor and I could have glared at each other much the same way I did with an East German soldier back in 1987 when I was an active duty soldier on REFORGER in beautiful Deutschland.

Now I did notice once when I went outside to get my wife from her spot underneath that tree that the layout of my backyard created a little and immensely private cove in a far corner. The proverbial light bulb appeared over my head and I promptly move her chair over to that spot. For me it was an immediate paradise of solitude. From that spot most of my backyard stretched out before me with my line of cedars trees and part of the house providing privacy from the adjoining backyard and my troll-like neighbor across the street. Completing my new Fortress of Solitude was the fence behind me which blocked any possible views along with sudden and impromptu conversations.

From my new spot of happy solitude underneath a different tree from my wife likes I was able to watch the birds flutter to her hanging feeders enjoying a closeness to nature I have rarely experienced. One of the feeders was designed for hummingbirds and I sat amazed watching those little marvels of evolution hovered and flew backyards in an effort to sip red liquid from the container. The other feeder holding seeds was frequented by a particular cardinal who actually seemed unafraid of me. It landed once momentarily on the arm of the plastic chair I was sitting. This occurrence was so sudden and expected that I unfortunately jumped scaring my feathered friend. Needless to say the little guy never repeated that activity.

As the weeks went by I unfortunately began describing that secluded spot as my Garden of Eden. It was a poor choice of words because it became an unintended foreshadowing of an event this morning.

I woke up this morning and as my usual Saturday habit I let Sparky the Dog out into the backyard so he could run around. Both the pre-sunrise, early morning twilight and cool and crisp feel of the morning air appealed to me and the thought occurred in my dusty and corrupted head that it would be great to make a cup of coffee and go sit in my spot.

A few minutes later I am doing just that and the pleasant feeling was everything I hoped it would be. Sitting as still as possible I could feel the peace and quiet flowing through me stabilizing my often shaky mental health. In hindsight I was probably sitting too still sense there came a moment I noticed this black shape slithering on the ground to my right. Now with my previous encounter with the overly friendly cardinal everything was over in about a second.

For the snake, a Black Racer, and me time did one of those near stops stretching things out. My coffee cup disappeared with me attempting to go from a sitting to flying position about the same time the snake noticed me. In that brief instant our eyes meet and we both looked into each others souls.

“Son of a bitch!” I screamed out, absolutely not like a little girl and that is the story I am sticking with. At the same time my near psychic contact with the snake allowed me to understand what he was feeling.

“What the flying F%ck!” It obviously screamed out in sudden reptilian fear.

Once I picked myself off the ground---maybe four feet away from my chair--- and collected my thoughts I realized the snake was non-poisonous and as terrified of me as I was of it. The latter was easy to figure out because dude had up and disappeared. Figuring discretion was the better part of valor in this case I found my coffee cup---an incredible eight or nine feet away---and went inside to watch Ted Talks on Netflix.

This story is not yet over. About an hour ago I was laying on the couch in full professional slacker mode watching a movie when someone began pounding on my front door. It was two of my neighbors that I happen to be on decent terms with, one was an elderly lady holding a garden hoe and the other was a retired cop carrying a machete. Both looked upset and for a couple of seconds I wondered what I could have done this time that would prompt then to come over and dismember me.

After exchanging greetings they explained that they had both seen a large black snake and were trying to run it down. As it can be guessed I have no real love for snakes, it's a mammalian thing, I blame on my rodent ancestors that had to deal with obnoxious dinosaurs millions of years ago. But I've got to admit I felt a certain kinship to my leg and armless buddy, its hard being the neighborhood pariah no matter what species you happen to be. Maybe he and I can have coffee one morning and form a support group.

My spot, even after the snake encounter.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Great American Cognitive Dissonance Burrito

(Update at 11:37pm: Used some bad information from Wikipedia. Have deleted the inaccurate data. I'm a bad boy.)

When I started the bizarre practice called blogging back in 2005 I was far more political having just shed the last vestiges of a short but intense conservative Republican mindset. The reasons I abandoned the circus called the right-wing had a lot to do with what the country was going through at the time but if it could be summed up few words I simply could no longer deal with the incongruities and lies built into modern conservatism.

That being said while I am still a liberal bordering on socialist, if you take into account the political beliefs of the average South Carolina resident, I have become equally disillusioned with the basic mechanics of American politics and the corruption inherit to the system. Whatever the case, I have to bring up a recent conversation with someone that was shocking in that it brings to question the nature of intelligent behavior and discourse. It involves an acquaintance I will call “George” and his blatant ignorance and industrial strength hypocrisy that staggers my imagination.

George considers himself a “good” Christian and his political tendencies make him an above average right-wing type although I do not believe he has ever voted. George has been unduly upset with the recent shutdown of the federal government and blames Obama for the disruption because he believes the President is out to give honest taxpayer money away to lazy bums who refuse to work. Truthfully, he used far more colorful words but I will leave that to the imagination of you readers.

Now this attitude is not unusual for George’s type. He, like many others, thinks very highly of himself and his abilities believing he is the model of the strong, independent American who works hard for a living and that everyone else should do the same or go hungry. On a somewhat side note,  I have been around George enough to know he has probably never read a book for enjoyment, is contemptuous of anyone with an education greater than high school, and is certain that the Rapture is imminent and that he will stand among the clouds high-fiving Jesus at the end of that day.

Despite the fact I would shoot such a man if my daughter was ever misguided enough to bring someone like George home in truth he is perfectly free live his life as he wants. My problem is that after hearing George go off about President Obama, the government shutdown, and all those lazy bums wanting free money is that his concept of reality is seriously screwed up. Not two hours after George’s rant I learned that he was gravely worried about how his unmarried and unemployed daughter was going to feed her newborn twins since she is on the federally funded Women, Infant, and Children Food and Nutrition Service or “WIC” for short.

For those who do not know “WIC” is a federal program that provides health care and nutrition assistance for pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and children under five years old. If I stooped to using George’s words I could describe WIC as free welfare money for lazy bums who do not want to work.

No, George completely fails to see the contradiction in his viewpoint about these hypothetical lazy bums out to take his hard earned money and his unemployed daughter needing taxpayer money to feed her children. As anyone with a few IQ points to spare should realize this is not some isolated problem. Personally, I feel it is my duty as a citizen to help those who through various circumstances are down on their luck, even if that ultimately means some got there through their own stupidity. God knows I have done some ridiculously stupid things in my life with divine intervention probably the only reason I am not dead right now.

Hey, I am not a total bleeding heart; even I realize people like George’s daughter need some sort of forcible guidance so they can eventually contribute to society. But even that would require a large social safety net like decent and affordable child care for the twins and some type of education for her.

The main point for my rant is that neither George nor many others like him can see the contradiction in their basic beliefs about society and the role of government. Making things even worse it goes beyond the relatively simple idea that a government program is wasteful until the time comes that it benefits them. George actually believes welfare assistance for those less fortunate is evil even though he has a daughter feeding her children off the government tit. When you have an uneducated and unaware population that cannot separate the flaws in their logic this leaves them open to all sorts of demagogic politicians and media types that seek power by spreading fear and mistrust.