Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The State of the American Union

Just because it's cold as a well diggers butt with the threat of snow and freezing rain sending the entire local media weather people into fits I decided it was time I offer up my State of the Union assessment. There is no enjoyment in this for me, preempting the president is generally considered bad form but then again we live in an increasingly pessimistic age that is not so slowly moving into desperate and dangerous conditions. Cutting to the point, the theme for my State of the Union boils down to three elements and they are delusion, corruption, and outmoded thinking.

The delusion aspect can cover a whole range of problems but I will limit my semi-coherent rant just to America's imperial attitude. While Americans have generally never suffered from a self esteem problem the defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War opened up and entirely new and Roman Empire-like attitude to the rest of the world. Our military and economy at this writing cannot be realistically touched, however once a people or nation claims the peak of some high mountain for their throne there is only one place to go and that, of course, is down.

Because of our current but decaying military and economic superiority a large majority of Americans believe our poop does not stink. This has lead to a belief that all other nations are in some way inferior, even though their standards of living, educations levels, and ability for social-economic mobility make us look like eighteenth-century England with its stratified and restrictive hierarchical nobility. Now speaking against the wonderful American capitalistic system is something akin to a minor form of treason but I saw screw it.

As a side effect of believing your poop does not stink there tends to be a belief that any change in the status quo is subversive. The idea being that God in his infinite wisdom has ordained us as rulers of the world and that any criticism or new ideas are anti-American which could lead to God revoking his universal blessing and you-can-no-nothing-wrong card. This covers a distrust of education, new technologies, and anything that suggests America is not the freest, absolutely most wonderful place in the world.

American corruption covers two areas, the first being the old fashioned kind of back-door deals and bribery. Few weeks can go by without some of our elected leaders and business types being caught someplace they shouldn't or doing something immoral or simply illegal. Being that they have high-paid lawyers on retainer it is also no surprise that many of these pillar of the community never do any real time. The second area involves how those with power and money now control our government to the point calling it a democracy is such a stretch that it borders on fantasy. Sorry folks, for me the Republic more or less fell when our wonderful Supremes declared that corporations are in actuality people entitled to all the rights of an individual. Like the old meme, I will not believe these nebulous economic entities are people until Texas fries one on its electric chair.

Few, if any, legislative bills can live long enough in the slimy halls of Congress without it being of some benefit to the corporate interests who own the souls of our elected leaders. The again calling our Representatives “elected” is itself a bit of a stretch. Congressional districts are carefully crafted and molded to make unseating an incumbent almost a minor miracle. Add to that the flood of corporate and political action committee money required to even attempt a serious bid to elected office again makes it extremely difficult for anyone to run who is not “pre-approved.”

Outmoded thinking is a more elusive and difficult concept to define. Because of this very impromptu rant I will include in this definition of outmoded thinking simple blatant ignorance. While ignorance is not an exclusively limited to conservative types by any means these days with science and technology going the proverbial warp speed even a minor examination of some of their quotes concerning climate change, energy production, and genetic engineering should send most reasonably intelligent people into a state of despair.  

 I would be remiss if I did not also mention that I believe Americans ultimately have a deep seated fear of change no matter how much propaganda we generate to convince ourselves that we bravely face the future. Many falsely think that what was good for the United States during the last century has relevance to our nation in the early twenty-first century. Nostalgia is all peachy keen  and everything but just because certain practices and habits worked for our grandparents does mean they are beneficial or moral to us now. Our child-like and delusional intransigence that the world should work exclusively to our benefits makes us a laughing stock to the rest of the world.

In conclusion the state of the American Union is not only endangered but has long since drifted into territory where it could very well become one of the items on the trash heap of history. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Getting Down with the Sickness

Despite the fact I am not a big fan of Star Wars I appreciate the idea that the wise and distinguished Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi has described the Force as an energy field that both binds us and surrounds us, in essence making it the underpinning of our universe. That being the case it was sometime last Sunday afternoon when I began to feel the first hints of a disturbance in the Force that binds me. Not that I let that bother me, since I work third-shift with my week beginning Sunday nights my bodily rhythms are always as screwed up as a conservative Republican's view of reality.

So like I have for more years than I really want to think about I went through the usual motions for the rest of that day and drove off to work at my usual time that night. From there it promptly went straight downhill with the slight tremors in the Force increasing to the point they would have registered about a nine on the Richter Scale that measures earthquakes. Going from feeling just “bad” to alternating between chills one moment then to intense bodily, flop sweats in the space of minutes was bad enough, but having to drive home in Monday morning rush hour traffic made things even more interesting to the point the journey took on certain suicidal aspects.

I'm not saying people here in this part of South Carolina are any worse drivers than in other cities but there were certain hallucinatory incidents that made the trip home especially difficult. Some of these apparitions were easy to distinguish from reality. I know I didn't really pass by the previously mentioned Obi-Wan and Captain James T. Kirk having an awesome beach party on the side of the road with the green-skinned Orion Slave girl volleyball team while roasting the body of Jar-Jar Binks over an open fire. However, I'm still a little worried over the image I saw of Mitt Romney as a Borg drone, Fat Boy Christie dressed up as Baron Harkonnen from the Dune books and movies, and Michele Bachman as her normal self.       

After I arrived home though that is when the all encompassing body aches joined forces with the chills and sweats tag team. Last Monday was MLK day here in South Carolina and because of that the wife and kids stayed home all day. Not that  let that bother me, it was all I could do to close the bedroom door, strip down to my Spider-man adult-sized underoos, then fall down on the bed hoping I didn't miss the damn thing.

While my wife would later roll her eyes in dismay and give the usual speech about how I should try and pass a football-sized infant through an opening the width of a pea that entire day was spent in a world of bewildering pain that I thought several times, during belief semi-lucid moments, it would tear me apart down to a genetic level. It was during those short moments of functioning consciousness that several rather profound thoughts crossed my mind.

Since I had long since come to the conclusion that I was suffering from the flu my first thought was that, like for the last seven years, I had received the shot for it why had it hit me like a semi going two-hundred miles an hour. The next occurred after a short dream involving ravaging hordes of the undead feasting on brains where I found myself believing that my condition might be an improvement if all this was me suffering from a zombie bite. The final thought was the question of why hadn't my loving family brought me a warm bowl of chicken soup. I made several pitiful distress calls while lying on the bed but when no one answered I decided I would have do the extreme and make my own soup.

Believe it or not I either walked through an unexpected dimensional portal that made the walk from the bedroom to the kitchen an epic journey across an unknown continent on another planet or I simply got lost and walked around in a daze. I honestly don't know which would be worst but I was eventually found by my wife who swears I was making sexual advances on the Dyson vacuum cleaner. 

Except for the onset of certain messy stomach related issues I will not cover that pretty much sums up the rest of my week with me recovered enough to go back into work Thursday night. A little helpful rule of thumb for anyone who later finds themselves working third-shift but missed most of the week due to the flu. I was so mentally and physically out of the loop on what was going I would have been a danger to anyone around me had I not picked a task that confined me to a very isolated part of the building.
Hopefully this illness will completely pass in a few days, I still have the occasional hallucinations but unfortunately they don't involve the scantily clad Orion Slave Girl volleyball team. My visions now involve the Dyson vacuum cleaner dressed  like Michele Bachmann whispering to me that the refrigerator is secretly a communist.

Here's the theme song to Frasier, thank god for Netflix this past week.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Writers Write Prompt---Flowers for the Ex-wife

 (Author Note: This is serious late and extra long. But warning, it is highly seditious and full of disdain for corporations and American politics. As always, excuse the typos.)

You always hear life has a more leisurely, almost glacier pace in the tropics but most Americans simply are unable to grasp the truth of that cliché until they actually come to live in these hot and sticky environs. I've lived as an American expat on the Bahamian island of Spanish Wells for close to seven years now and I still find the disconnect that exists between the rest of the world and here mind boggling. Yeah, there are a few internet cafes on the island and I am sure the very reclusive rich living in their posh fortress estates have their own vampire-like access to the internet to watch the ever important business reports and stock market fluctuations. But for the vast majority of the locals and expats like me Spanish Wells might as well be on a different planet circling a far, distant star. As most people could guess about us expatriates though, is that you don't move to a place like Spanish Wells to stay the proverbial mover and shaker in the modern world.

Some like me live here because we tried to take on the world and were instead mauled to a bloody pulp and left for dead. This assault was especially bad for me since the person who perpetrated it was none other than my lovely ex-wife. Once the dust had settled on my betrayal I literally had nothing left to do but bandage my emotional and financial wounds and limp off like some abused dog. When I arrived here I welcomed the solitude and seemingly light years distance between me and the rest of civilization. I figured that even though the world had utterly beaten Jason Wright and sent me into exile the best revenge was live well in paradise. Funny thing though, from time to time the outside world still finds a way to remind me this splendid isolation is just an illusion.

That little statement was proved in spades yesterday when the Bahamian Postal Service delivered the latest information care package from my sister, Barbara, living in Charleston, South Carolina. It is a medium-sized box filled with several weeks of newspapers and magazines plus a few home-made DVD's of American television. For the first couple of years I wrote Barbara back telling her I didn't want the stuff but like any kid sister upset that I did not make an effort to return home for the holidays she continued with me just throwing the unopened boxes into the small closet here in my beach-side cottage. I wanted nothing to do with the world and I went as far as limiting myself to just listening to the BBC international radio broadcasts for a few minutes a week making a conscious effort to turning it off whenever some news report about the United States started.

However, curiosity often has a more corrosive effect that either time or loneliness for wearing away the rock of stubborn certainty. It was about the third year of my exile when on a whim I opened the latest box and began catching up on what was going on in the United States. I binged for two straight days on the collection of already out of date newspapers and magazines. After everything was read though I felt dirty and a little hypocritical.

The creepy, dirty feeling came from seeing how American culture could always find new ways to delve ever deeper into the self-righteous glorification and banal behavior, especially among the rich and powerful. The cloud of hypocrisy that formed over my head came from the knowledge that at one time I was well on my way to becoming part of that group and it was only my wife's betrayal which prevented that from happening. Such powerful and deep self introspection was too disturbing for me and I soon developed the habit of spending the following night in one of the island's bars and getting stone cold drunk to cleanse my soul. All things considered, the routine of catching up with the latest American cultural and political antics was an unhealthy and ultimately self-destructive habit but it was the latest box from my sister that upset that happy applecart.

The mail had come late the previous day and I didn't open the box until the following morning. So with the sun rising over the peaceful ocean I sat down at the small table on my porch with my first cup of coffee and with a small knife sliced the packing tape sealing the box. Right off the bat I am staring down at the cover of a Time magazine graced with the picture of my beautiful ex-wife, Anna, and her husband, my former best friend, and attorney, Mike Rayburn.


Truthfully it's hard to pick an actual point in time when this tragic, for me, comedy began. Anna, Mike, and I met during college but our mutual friendships were slow to begin. We were all majoring in different fields but shared a few classes together, hung out at the same bars and parties, and liked a spot on campus under an old weeping willow tree to study and relax.

It took about three months worth of study dates under that tree before Anna and I started approaching anything close to becoming a couple. Mike, and Sara, the woman who became his first wife, soon joined our little group. Those college years went by fast with Anna earning her degree in business and me in electrical engineering. Moving into that first ting apartment with her and starting our lives together was both the happiest and scariest time in my life. Marriage followed about a year later but in hindsight it seems now it was more a formality than any real conscious declaration of a lifelong commitment. Mike and Sara moved off to attend law school leaving us behind but as fate would have it our lives would soon converge again.

What changed our lives forever was my boss assigning me the project of writing some minor software code for a new line of industrial relay controllers. It only took a couple of days to realize I had a knack for programming. A week later I am coming up with a whole host of computer programs for industrial uses. After some careful planning with Anna a couple of years later she and I have a software business going to the point I decided to call in my best friend Mike to represent us. Not only had Mike gotten his law degree but had branched off to become a first-rate investment banker.

I can still remember the look of utter astonishment on Mikes face as he sat on the old and ugly couch in that tiny apartment looking over the quarterly earnings and the list of small and medium-sized business that had bought my software. “Dammit Jason!” he exclaimed, “these numbers can't be real. On paper Anna and you are worth a couple of million right now. Why are you still living in this small dump?”

I remember Anna and I just looking at each other and shrugging. I certainly hadn't thought about anything other than work and being with her. I then looked around and realized that the apartment was so small I could sit on the couch and easily carry on a conversation with someone sitting on the bed or the toilet. Anna and I almost immediately jumped to four-thousand square foot house along with going on a general spending spree that never really stopped. Life seemed perfect, Anna ran the company, Mike plied his legal skills as well as talked with investors, and I was writing some seriously cutting edge code and had begun recruiting a team of programmers to expand the business.


The magazine cover had them sitting on the steps of the new company headquarters outside San Francisco. The building looked like an ugly cross between something from Star Trek and the United States Capitol Building. Just to show how devoted Anna was to Mike her head lovely rested on his strong shoulders. However, it appears there was some sort of trouble brewing in their software paradise because the building had been photo shopped to look like it was on fire while the caption underneath the loving couple asked if they might have accidentally killed the billion dollar Golden Goose.

I have to admit it made my day to read how a series of bad decisions and failed risky ventures by them had placed the company in financial jeopardy with rumors flying that some major Wall Street vultures were greedily eying the wounded animal, eager to kill it off and pick its bones clean. Since Time magazine had long since realized that the average attention span of most Americans was a great deal shorter that a few decades ago the article offered few details about their mismanagement but to me something just didn't sound right. I had to log onto the internet and and surf several financial web pages to learn the numbers. When I was done I knew full well Mike and Anna were trying to scam the shareholders because they had done me the same way.


Once the company I had named “Swiftrider Software” was formally organized with Anna as Chief Executive Officer and Mike playing full time Chief Financial Officer, I became the Chief Operations Officer overseeing the creation of new software and the maintenance of our existing products. That was all well and good, and easily ran through a series of intelligent underlings I had hired but my true passion lay with a department doing experimental research into artificial intelligence. It was a cozy situation and stayed this way until a particular Tuesday four years later when both of them unexpectedly came into my office for a private conversation.

“Listen Jason,” Mike said in a formal tone, “the numbers in your experimental department don't add up, truthfully it looks like you and your team were literally flushing money down the toilet. Were going for an initial public offering next year but with this amount of money essentially missing most investors will run away from us as fast as they can.”

“Honey,” Anna said, “both Mike and I have talked about this, maybe, for the sake of the company, you should take a leave of absence at least until after the IPO. Then you can come back and work on The AI stuff again.”

At that time I did not catch any whiff of the big fat dead rat the two were trying to thrust upon me. I would have trusted both with my life at that moment and truth be told I was feeling a little burned out. The AI stuff was indeed not producing any useful fruit and since by any reasonable definition I was flirting with the status of being ultra rich I decided to spend a year traveling to places I had always wanted to go. I even thought that the time away might allow me some insight on producing a true AI operating system.

Six months later while hiking the South Island of New Zealand I log onto the internet only to read a banner headline proclaiming that I was under investigation for squandering company funds. And I was shocked to read that my lovely bride and my newly divorced best friend had thrown me under a large, fast moving bus. I returned home immediately to defend myself and in doing so quickly learned that the two had been having an affair for some time and were madly in love with each other.

Standing in Anna's office she made an obviously fake gesture of concern forcing me to sit down on her couch and then grabbing my hands. “Listen Jason, after some investigations we discovered your pet project is in the red for close to fifty-million dollars. Now I don't know what you did with the money but Mike and I have covered it up with certain friends in the federal government willing to let this all disappear as long as you do the same.”

“What the hell are you talking about Anna? We never played with that kind of funds, it's insane.” She then produced a printout showing that in fact the AI department did have that kind of budget authorized by me. I was dumbfounded to say the least and only then beginning to understand what it all meant.

“I see this report was produced by Sara before she divorced Mike and left the company. I'd very much like to talk with her and that bastard.” I could tell, from the look on her face, Anna was playing a game of chess with me.

“The divorce was difficult for Sara and she has moved out of the country.” Anna said in her totally business tone of voice. “You'd have to speak with her attorney to arrange something and from what I'm told she has standing orders to be left alone. More to the point Jason, the feds will tear you apart if you don't leave the company. Do you want to go to jail.?”

I had been the worst fool in human history when it came to Anna and Mike but I was not stupid. I agreed to go quietly and they generously put fifteen-million in a bank for me to have a comfortable exile. The last time I saw Anna was the day we signed our divorce papers.

“I'm sorry things ended up this way Jason.” She said after asking for one last private conversation in the attorney's conference room. “I really did love you but we drifted apart. I really wish you would say something to Mike before you go, he'd like to say goodbye.”

“If I ever see that bastard again he'll be dead a few minutes later.” I responded with Anna knowing I meant every word to the deepest part of my soul. She made a sad face and incredibly, gave me a hug.

“This will pass,” she said, “in fact I predict that one day you will bring me flowers again.” After that we parted with me unable to figure out if she actually believed her last statement or was just mouthing words she had rehearsed.


I skipped the usual bar crawl that night and laid in the hammock outside my cottage go over my past and what I had read about the current state of the company I had created. I just couldn't wrap my head around the idea that Mike and Anna were essentially pulling another scam, even worse for what reason? As a couple they were worth half a billion dollars. I knew both loved the idea of being rich, I had tasted the same delusional waters, but how many damn yachts, mansions, private jets, and land could a person have a desire to own. What did it take for such people to ever be satisfied.

It was a sickness and from my vantage point it looked like everyone in a position of power in the United States suffered from some insidious strain of it. Technically it was a nifty and desirable disease to endure but it sucked for the vast majority of people who just wanted a decent life and to see their kids grow up without want. They were the ones who paid the ultimate cost to support such a small privileged group. That night I slept under the stars disgusted with them and myself. The next morning though I knew what had to be done.

Much had changed since I left Swiftrider Software but after looking over their websites I found out they still used in house software to run the day to day operations. More to the point, after some careful snooping I happily discovered my secret backdoor access into the company mainframe was still there. Back at the start of my programming days I had included it as way to do quick fixes. As the lines of codes in later software grew almost exponentially it became lost in the background. It was there that I had to stop, o delve any deeper would probably alert Swiftrider's network security but I had a plan to get around that.

The American expat community is a multifaceted bunch with many different reasons for living outside the land of the free and the home of the brave. Like Jimmy Buffett likes to sing, some are running from lovers, some are in the drug trade, and some are pure criminals hiding from an Uncle Sam whose arms seem to grow longer everyday. One of these guys, who went by the alias Lewis Carter, was a first-rate computer hacker living off a huge chunk of change he stole from an American political action committee. It was nearly the perfect crime because like the mafia, American PAC's are semi-secret organizations that try to hide their members, funds, and actions from the general public.

The one huge advantage American PAC's have over the mafia though is that they are legal and protected institutions and don't have to worry about the law coming after them. On the other hand if, like my friend, you can hack into their bank accounts and steal their money they generally don't openly squeal to the police because it's bad publicity to let the unwashed and happily numb masses get any idea how much they truly control the American political system.

To keep any possible private investigators or bounty hunters confused Lewis moved around a lot but he and I kept in contact. His latest haunt was a house deep in the El Salvador rain forest and after some clandestine communications he liked my idea of pulling a job on the American corporate establishment, from there everything accelerated to warp speed.

With my help Lewis hacked into the Swiftrider mainframe and went straight to the highly-encrypted financial records. Sure enough, Mike had two sets of financial records, one faked to make the company look weak and the real one showing everything was fine. After further cracking the email server Lewis and I found confirmation that Mike and Anna along with a few others planned on wrecking the company, sell off the pieces, then declare bankruptcy with the shareholders taking a bath.

There was a problem though, Lewis and I had obtained both the faked and real financial records and the smoking gun emails illegally but I had long since thought a way around that. The one way to destroy a monster is to involve another, even meaner monster. In other words I employed a high-powered New York law firm to anonymously give the hacked records to several of the big Swiftrider shareholders. Once the figurative blood had hit the waters of the financial markets the feeding frenzy began before the end of the day. And as I thought if the big Master of the Universe investors get any sort of hint their money might be threatened their lackeys in the federal government act fast.

Just a month later Mike and Anna were arrested, and since they had tried to play the big Wall Street power brokers they got none of the special consideration white collar criminals normally received. If revenge is a dish best served cold it was near absolute zero in the court room as I watched Mike sentenced to forty-five years in prison for fraud and several other crimes. See once the two love birds were busted they both began singing to the feds about the other. I loved the look of utter despair on Mike's face once his lawyer informed him that he was going to a real federal prison filled to the brim with big and tough street wise guys that loved to develop long and lasting relationships with white collar types. I even made sure Mike saw me as he was lead out of the court room to begin his sentence.

Because she had sung like a Nightingale, Anna received a somewhat lighter sentence of only thirty years in a medium security prison. A year after she started her time I flew back to the States to go visit her. “You look marvelous in prison orange.” I said to Anna as she sat on the other side of a large table from me.

“I suppose you had something to do with Mike and me going to jail?” Was all she could say in response.

I had played the fool too many times for her so I didn't take the bait. “Nope Sweeetie,” I said, “ I have no idea what you are talking about. I was down in the tropics living the nice and easy life when this all exploded.”

She just sat there in hateful silence. Sitting across from a clearly destroyed person I suddenly didn't have any taste for revenge and decided to cut to the chase. “You once predicted I would bring you a flowers and here they are.” With that I dropped the bunch of roses on the table and walked out without looking back.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Poking the Corporate Hologram

The late and truly great Joe Bageant once wrote that Americans exist inside a nicely crafted “hologram” of interwoven “self-referential illusions.” It's a bit of an abstract thought I admit until you really decide to have a peek behind the proverbial curtain. Then, like a person walking around a Hollywood movie set, you discover that not only are some of our most cherished ideas about ourselves just clever facades built to keep the public happily numb but that in reality our proud nation is really structured to protect those with money and power. Right now I figure there are two general reactions to this last statement. The first being a huge and condescending “Duh” from those leaning to the political left and the other being thoughts that I am a sorry ass, seditious traitor to this glorious, God-fearing, and righteous nation from those on the right-wing.

I might be living in my own little hologram but I have always liked to think that true Reality—yes, I meant to use a capital R—defies the preconceived beliefs of political idealists on both the left and right. My problem though is that as I continue to examine the workings of our society I find that the situation is far worse than we could ever have imagined.

To nearly everyone in my family and to South Carolinians in general I could already be classified as an evil socialist. First of all I am agnostic, a certified tree huger, then there is my disdain for the proto-fascist, militaristic nature of American patriotism that rules the local scene. As for corporations, well, in my mind they belong to a whole other classification that at the very least is nightmarish and that is the point of this latest rant.

God bless Netflix because once you view a certain type of show on its internet-streaming service its nifty software starts suggestion similar items, in my case documentaries. The one I viewed yesterday was called Food Inc. and it taught me many horrific things about how not only food in this country is produced but how the massive agribusinesses resort to Orwellian tactics to protect what must be billions in profits.

Case in point was the interview with the mom of a two-year old child that had died from eating hamburger meat tainted with E. coli bacteria. She is pushing our spineless and soulless politicians to pass a bill called Kevin's Law which would allow the USDA to close down processing plants that produce contaminated meat. Now while I may live in my delusional hologram that seems a great idea! But no, the meat industry is fighting her like a rabid dog saying the law is unnecessary and would raise the cost of food.

The interview took a turn into Orwellian territory when this heroic lady started carefully choosing her words over fear she might say something that would bring down the wrath of high-paid lawyers comparable to squadrons of flying monkeys coming down hard on Dorthy and her entourage walking the Yellow Brick road. What she feared was something called “veggie libel laws” or know formally as Food Libel Laws. These monstrous examples of authoritarian power that would curl the toes of Joe Stalin in orgasmic glee make it easy for food producers to sue their critics. Apparently these laws restricting free speech vary greatly from the thirteen states that currently have them on their books but just the idea that a mom who lost a child due to crap mixed in a fast food hamburger has to carefully chose her words and not the meat producer responsible boggles my tiny mind.

But honestly, this is what we Americans ultimately deserve. Not only do we demand cheap food and manufactured products like electronics and clothes we go ballistic like spoiled children when such items become scarce. I heard more verbal crap on the news lamenting the death of the Twinkie snack cake than the fact that the company called it quits chiefly because they could not get the union to agree to a contract that gutted benefits and pay for the workers.

It really sucks to play the part of some half-assed Cassandra in a society so narcissistic that we get upset when the rest of the world refuses to sniff our poop and smile but America will pay an increasingly high price for being willing slaves to our comfort. Cheap food is seen as a God given right these days even though the large-scale practices that enable it are hugely destructive on the environment and unhealthy. We love to buy cheap clothes and electronics but they are only that way because the corporations moved the factories, that use to pay Americans enough to plan a future for themselves, to countries that offer slave wages.

So while the middle and working class folks sink because we are on a cycle that is attempting to keep “always low prices” with unsustainable practices and shipping jobs overseas the rich continually maneuver to protect their positions of power and privilege through methods that make this country hypocritical at best. Somehow in all of this the phrase “karma is a vicious bitch” keeps bouncing around in my head.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Writers Write Prompt---The Bitterness of a Fool

 (Author's note: Bored to tears this weekend, had to find something to play around with. This is almost complete and utter crappy fiction. Except for Martin, he's a combination of several people.)

Martin thought he had worked all the angles to secure the position of safety inspector for the factory. I couldn't really blame him for wanting the job when the duties involved walking around the plant writing up work orders and reading already prepared safety lectures to the production workers. The job even included a small office and the occasional trip to conventions in such terrible places like Orlando, Florida. It was a truly sweet deal compared to working maintenance on the night shift.

The morning Martin and I saw the human resources flunky posting the the job on the bulletin board I saw his eyes light up like a five-year old on Christmas morning. We went our separate ways at the time clock as he ran off to fill out the application. I thought about applying for the position myself for a couple of seconds then I remembered that while night shift sucked in many ways at least my wife and I didn't have to worry about who would be forced to take off from work when our son got sick and couldn't go to school.

That night though I found myself hoping Martin got the job and soon since it require him to work day shift. “Listen Gregg,” he said to me just minutes after we clocked in, “I'd appreciate it if you could see if Hank is still mad about our little disagreement. He could totally sink my chances on getting that job. But don't let on to him I'm the one really asking.” I physically cringed when Martin made the request. Hank Wilson was the plant's night shift production manager and he and Martin had almost came to blows one night over several matters one time. The tension between the two had put me in a difficult spot.

“Yeah Martin,” I replied, “I'll see how he feels.” The one thing that I could never quite get use to about Martin was that the man talked too damn much and clearly had an overly large opinion about himself on everything. It didn't matter whether someone had gone scuba diving in the Bahamas or served overseas in the military, Martin had done something ten-times as grand and twenty-times as dangerous. I wasn't the only one working night shift who felt that way, most everyone else who knew Martin's personality did their best to limit contact with him. It was different for me though, I had to directly work with the guy which forced me to adapt to the uncomfortable circumstances. It's childish really but his incessant bragging has long since forced me into the habit of spending several hours of each shift away from him in some far corner of the plant.

Contrary to my promise to Martin I just came out and told Hank that he was interested in the safety position and was quaking in his work boots that a bad word from him might sink his chances. Hank just laughed, “Damn Gregg,” he said, “I'll write Martin such an awesome recommendation letter he'll want to kiss me on the lips.”

Given Martin's opinions on evolving social morals not only was Hank making a monumental overstatement but the look on his face was a bit disconcerting. Maybe it was the mechanic in me but I could almost see an elaborate set of wheels turning in his head. Whatever the case, I delivered the news to Martin who promptly went into overdrive kissing the butt of anyone he thought could help him.

For two weeks I had to deal with Martin telling me what his plans were when he got the safety job. “I tell you Gregg,” he said one night was we replaced heating coils on an old plastic extruder, “I'm going to make sure all this old equipment is replaced with new stuff. That's what the safety guys does, he has the power to deadline stuff and force management to replace it.”

“Sure Martin,” I said while connecting the wiring for the heating coils to the relays. I quickly tuned out on his babbling and as usual, a few minutes later I looked up to see him twenty feet away talking to one of the production workers.

Given the amount and duration of Martin's butt kissing I wasn't surprised when he got the safety inspector position. A month later, after his replacement settled in on night shift I start passing him coming into work as I am leaving. Day shift had only amplified his bluster and supreme arrogance and it was obvious to everyone but Martin that people took great pains to avoid him. What pushed it into the realm of the comedic was his totally out of date tie and his short sleeve button-up shirt complete with a nerdy pocket protector he always wore to work. To me, he looked like a controlled obsessed character from a 1960's sitcom that was always on the wrong end of some disaster.

That is exactly what started to happened six weeks later. Anyone with the least little bit of awareness could have seen the signs but that left Martin out in the cold. The first was how the contract with the temp service was not renewed. In good times the plant had anywhere from twenty to thirty temporary workers filling in the gaps and generally doing all the dirty work. One day they were met by security as they tried to clock in and told to turn in their company ID's and go home. The next sign was how all overtime was forbidden, even having ten minutes over the standard forty-hours would get someone written up. The final sign was when I saw security and senior management standing at the time clock thirty minutes before night shift ended.

Incredibly they left night shift alone, it sort of made sense because we were always understaffed. But day shift was different, it was generally bloated with too many employees and to correct that it seemed as if one out of five people walking through the entrance was stopped and turned around. Just as I was about to swipe my badge to clock out Martin walked through the door. Almost out of nowhere Hank appeared with two security guards and the head of human resources nearby. They intercepted Martin and pulled him aside.

Poor Martin had a truly idiotic smile on his face, which probably originated from some belief that he would be immune from the ongoing slaughter. Hank and the human resources person leaned in close and told hims something in private. The look on Martin's face quickly flashed from astonishment, to disbelief, to anger, then to barely controlled rage.

“I have years of seniority in this plant!” He screamed at Hank who now was sporting a truly sinister smile.

“Yeah, you did Martin,” Hank replied loud enough for everyone to hear. “But that evaporated when you took the safety job. Now you're just a glorified new hire.”

Rage now mixed with intense hate on Martin's face and he stood there for several seconds obviously reeling from the news that not only had he screwed himself but was dealing with the possibility that he had been setup in some fashion he just couldn't quite figure out.

Just as one of the security guards reached for him Martin let loose with a guttural scream that came from the darkest regions of someone's soul. Martin tried to attack Hank but the other security guard quickly hit him with a tazer that had him convulsing on the factory floor like a fish out of water.

The last I saw of Martin was him being dragged away by security. He caught sight of me and while he still looked to be in a murderous rage he also looked totally lost and alone silently mouthing the question, “Why are they doing this to me?”

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Flash Fiction---Stranded In A Frozen Airport Purgatory

(Author's note: Doing the BeyondProse.com flash fiction again. The prompt was "stranded in a snowstorm" and while I have pulled a a few fictional strings this story is very nearly true,)

The only thing worse than being fourteen thousand feet in the sky inside a small commuter jet plane during a snowstorm or having to land during such bad weather is being stuck in an unfamiliar airport praying that your connecting flight home is not canceled. On paper, I was supposed to have a thirty-minute layover in Detroit once the vagaries of post-9/11 air travel were satisfied allowing my suffering travel cohorts and I off the plane that truly had more in common with a sardine can than will be appreciated or believed.

Inside the terminal for a couple of minutes I had some hope that the travel gods might show some mercy on me because the television screen showing all the still active flights leaving Detroit had my particular plane's departure only delayed for thirty minutes. Like some cruel joke though, that minor thirty minutes delay then turned into and hour, then two, then was canceled outright. That was when the worst of the waiting began.

My work had sent me to a three-day trouble shooting class offered by the company that manufactures the equipment we use. Their headquarters is located in Pennsylvania requiring a travel route deep into territory where winter weather, for me, could get weird. Here in warm South Carolina the entire state panics if more than two snow flakes hit the ground at the same time. I found the fact that the Detroit airport, a place where snow is normal, was winding down operations that day because of the white fluffy stuff more than unsettling.

Several long and boring hours later as I strolled down the nearly deserted American Flier Airlines terminal I couldn't decided if it more resembled a cathedral or an empty tomb. I was leaning towards the latter because there is just an innate eeriness of being in a place nearly devoid of people when during a normal business day it should be so crowded some might find it hard to breathe. There were a few unfortunate souls like me left stranded here when the snowstorm ramped up into a full fledged blizzard. Each person had long since staked out tiny territories close to their departure gates in the slim hope that the weather might let up enough for them to escape. As I walked by these strangers they all looked at me warily obviously worried I might come sit by them and try to chat.

Finding company was the last of my concerns as I walked down the terminal. I had been stranded in that frozen purgatory for over six hours without anything to eat. When I stepped off my plane most of the various eateries had long since closed up with their employees fleeing back to the safety of their Detroit homes. It didn't take a food connoisseur to realize that those left open were only for those so desperate that they bordered on suicidal. In truth, my hunger had almost pushed me to point of taking a chance with the green tinted wieners from a place trying to pass itself off as a fast food joint specializing in gourmet hot dogs.

“Hello sir,” the dude working behind the counter said slurring his words as if his batteries were running low. “Welcome to Jiffy Dog, what can I get for you?”

“I don't know,” I replied suddenly losing the courage simple hunger had built up inside me. “Give me a minute will you.”

It was only as I stood in front of the semi-awake hot dog dude that I remembered from my previous visit there was someplace in the terminal where a vast array of vending machines were located offering an assortment of processed food that while unhealthy were not an unnatural green. As my usual luck would have it I also realized those vending machines were on the far, opposite end of the terminal. Curiously enough after walking ten or twenty feet, I turned back around to see if the hot dog guy was still standing at the cash register. He was, but what bothered me was that he seemed frozen as if my sudden abandonment of his open air establishment had not yet registered on his consciousness.

Once my little forced, indoor march was complete when I finally came upon my coin-operated Shangri-La I imagined my reaction was similar to that of man seeing a green and watery oasis after spending days lost in a hot and dry desert. Standing in front of a machine selling snack cakes my mind imagined the sweet taste of a honey bun as I eagerly pulled out my wallet to grab a couple of dollar bills. However, just as I inserted the first bill into the cash slot the power in that section of the terminal died sending each of the machines I thought would be my deliverance dark and quiet.

“Oh my God!” I screamed to an uncaring universe. I could still see the power was on throughout the rest of the terminal but for some reason, whether weather related or man-made, only the dim illumination of the emergency lighting was holding back a near total darkness. Adding to the stark desolation a nearby plate glass window offered a view of the outside showing that if anything the weather was getting worse.

About that same time I started seeing people scurrying about that were obviously airport maintenance workers. There sudden appearance lead me to assume that the power outage was weather related so I decided to wait and see if the lights and vending machines might soon come back on.

An hour later, still sitting in the darkness I finally answered the question I had been wondering about since I arrived. The hurried activity of the airport workers I had observed right after the power died had disappeared. What reigned now was a surreal silence that gave an overwhelming feeling of being utterly trapped in an ancient and forgotten tomb.