Saturday, December 28, 2019

Celebrity Equinox Cruise: December 14-21 PART ONE

Truth be told my wife and I underestimated the time it would take us to get to  port of Fort Lauderdale so we could get on the cruise ship. Having traveled to Disney World more time than I can remember we both assumed the traffic would be about the same as I-4 going into Orlando, It wasn't.

A little south of Vero Beach traffic got heavy and only got worse as we got closer to Fort Lauderdale. In fact it took us close to two hours to drive between Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale itself. By the time we reached the motel would stay Friday night, we were both quite stir crazy from the drive. Long story short, I'd advice everyone to consider flying to Fort Lauderdale if the alternative is a long drive.

The motel we stayed at that night before we got on the cruise ship was an interesting adventure in its own right. My guess was that it was built in the 1980s and had gone through several cycles of decline and haphazard renovation. I would describe it as having a clean but but well-worn look which catered specifically to travelers like us who were about to board one of the many cruise ships based out of the Fort Lauderdale port. The one slightly funny aspect of that motel is best typified by the picture in the upper left.

Like many other motels these day, it offers a free breakfast for its guests. So when my wife and I stepped into the room just off the lobby to join in for the morning meal, I found it overrun with cranky blue-hairs all scrambling for those free waffles, bagels, and small cups of orange juice. While none of these irate Boomers said a word to me, I'm over six-feet tall and with a normal facial expression Clint Eastwood would find intimidating, it was fun to watch two gentlemen squabble over just who was going to get the last boiled egg inside the motel refrigerator.


After "breakfast" there was still time to kill before we could head over to the Celebrity Cruise line port terminal. So I walked the motel grounds just to explore. The alternative being sitting in the buffet lounge as my wife drank coffee and looked at her phone.

Got to admit, that motel did work hard at making their pool area something close to a playground/garden. It had nicely landscaped grass sections with plenty of foliage giving it a tropical feel. Being early morning I did about shit my cargo shorts when I saw this in one of the landscape islands. Being Florida, you can't ever really play it too safe when it comes to encounters with alligators.

No, don't anyone go all nature expert on me, I know alligators are not naturally aggressive. Its just that you don't walk up to one like you do a friendly dog wagging its tail. That replica looked crazily real and it took me about a minute to be sure of that. Yes, I saw the cow behind it and instantly knew it was not a living bovine but remember, that was Florida.

Yes, we eventually made it to the port to begin the process of boarding the amazing Celebrity Equinox. Not before checking out of the motel where my wife for some reason began telling a long drawn out story to the desk clerk about how bad the traffic was in fort Lauderdale.

While she related every microscopic detail to the befuddled clerk who obviously didn't care one nanogram, I was doing my best get her to the car. The one thing about the desk clerk, the guy looked exactly like a young version of Desi Arnaz and I found myself fighting the urge to scream out, "Lucy, you have some 'splainin to do." Yeah, I know that reference puts be ever closer to joining the blue-hair crowd.

 After getting to our cabin and dumping the luggage, we did a tour of the boat with me taking pictures of everything that moved. Fort Lauderdale port is not some huge expanse, I found it quite tight with all sorts of ships entering and leaving with only a few meters to spare between them. 

One of the items I found curious when we boarded were these folks already enjoying the outside pool. My wife and I really literally in the first group of twenty people to board the Equinox but they were clearly in heavy relaxation mode with the pools bars open. I was later told those people were doing double cruises having already spent a week living the high life.

The view looking towards the bow from our cabin veranda.  

Not sure what was the deal with this yacht, it was obviously part of some local television station promotion. Half expected to see some hulking football player and his supermodel, bikini-wearing girlfriend hanging out on deck while sipping drinks, but no luck.  

Obviously a party boat, would be interesting to hear some of antics that occurred on it. 

A Dole freighter coming into port. That ship passed by the Equinox so closely I could smell the fumes coming from what looked to be an open hatch leading to the engine room. Not a big fan of Dole products given what the family did to Hawaii back in the late 19th century.   

Parting shot of Fort Lauderdale with the Equinox heading out into the Atlantic. 

As the day progressed everyone onboard began settling in and relaxing. Caught this shot of the sunset just outside the coffee bar. Given my condition I rarely even drink de-caff coffee but that didn't stop my wife.   

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Back from the Cruise

Well, my wife and I got back home from the cruise late yesterday evening. The drive up from Fort Lauderdale took a little over ten hours and was exhausting. The traffic going north on I-95 was tough but it wasn't as near as bad as the insane number of cars going south. I-95 heading south through South Carolina was bumper-to-bumper and literally crawling at times.

When my wife and I arrived home we dropped our luggage on the floor and went to bed. It's early evening Sunday now and we're still getting organized. So here's a few pictures from the trip with a lot more to follow.

We were on the Celebrity Equinox and the first picture is of the outside pool area looking aft. A much bigger pool than I have seen on other cruise ships.           

This is a bad picture of the cabin. Can't really see the rest of space because my wife got in the way. It was around 190 square feet and was the nicest cabin we have ever stayed on any cruise.

This ugly son-of-a-bitch had an absolutely great time on the cruise. He had one little bout of seasickness involving a ferry boat taking him from the island of Cozumel to the nearby Mexican mainland. His group was going to see the Mayan ruins of Tulum and while to the trip to the mainland had no issue, the seas going back to the cruise ship were brutal.

Got to start getting ready for work tomorrow, so I'll post more over the next few days.    

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Caribbean Cruise Time

When my wife unexpectedly announced about two months ago that she and I would be going on a cruise I was excited to say the least. Our last Disney Cruise was way back in 2011 and I had begun to doubt we would ever go on another.

The stupid kid in me was really happy when she said we were not going to take any of our children with us. Our college graduate son is 24 years-old and now has a real job, so that was a no-brainer. I couldn't imagine him even wanting to accompany his aging parents onto a cruise ship filled with married couples with young kids or older folks like my wife and me who are both hardcore Disneyphiles. Putting it bluntly, you simply do not see single, unattached people going on Disney cruises.

Single parents, yes, in fact they have special programs for the adults so they can enjoy the trip as well as the kids. But if you do see an unattached adult on a Disney cruise, something has seriously gone sideways for that person. The best example being our 2003 cruise on the Disney Magic when word got around that the thirty-something guy by himself had been left at the church altar by his wife-to-be.

But even our high school senior daughter is going to be staying home on this trip as well. There is good reason being that her Christmas Break does not start until the cruise is well underway. She has dreams of going to some pretty fancy universities next year and needs to pay special attention to her grades. I'll make a terrible admission, I'm glad the trip will just be my wife and myself.

What really surprised me though was when my wife told me we were NOT going on a Disney cruise. That I would not be hanging out with my personal god, Goofy, or ogling any of the attractive young women playing Disney princesses onboard. Something I need to be careful about after slightly and accidentally groping Ariel during a character photo-shoot years ago. Hey, I have long gorilla-like arms and Ariel told me to come take a picture with her and my much younger daughter.

After a stern warning by Disney management, I promised never to bother the princesses again. 

This seven day cruise will be on the Celebrity Equinox with stops at Key West, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and one other place I can't remember. Not sure about the Celebrity Cruise line but whining about it is the definition of ridiculous First World problems. So I will not be looking this gift horse in the mouth.

Taking the laptop so there will be numerous pictures. Try not to hate me when I post pictures of me in Key West eating a slice of Key Lime Pie. We'll be leaving for Florida early Thursday morning and boarding the ship on Friday.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Political and Societal Meanderings


   Right after the attacks on 9/11 there was a wave of patriotism that for a short time united the country. My politics were quite different back then but it felt good to stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow Americans despite our differences. What grated my soul during that time though was a little encounter I had with a loud-mouth, fat civilian at the South Carolina State Fair.

 I was at the fair in my army BDUs as part of a recruiting drive for the South Carolina National Guard. Sometime while my fellow soldiers and I were walking among the crowd passing out brochures, the operation against the Taliban and Al-qaeda in Afghanistan was launched. Naturally, with my compatriots and I wearing our camouflaged uniforms we instantly became the center of attention and started receiving congratulations from the now adoring crowd. No problem there, although I personally felt uncomfortable with the adulation since I was essentially at home and not part of the campaign.

What highly ticked me off though was getting slapped on the back by an overweight white guy, who while being careful not to spill what had to have been his fourth or fifth beer that late morning, preceded to give me military advice on how I was supposed to deal with those "rag heads."  Without going into details everything that non-serving idiot suggested would have gotten me charged with war crimes and court-martialed.

 I so desperately wanted to ask that fat moron that with his self-assumed and unearned military prowess how about he enlist and come join what he assumed would be a real life Rambo or Chuck Norris movie over in Afghanistan. In a rare display of good sense, I held my tongue and walked away but that encounter, and several others before and after still shapes my opinion of the general civilian population.

Fast forward to the present and we now have the Republican Party, overwhelmed with non-serving, arrogant, white guys, picking apart the reputation and loyalty of Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Vindman, someone who served and saw actual combat. It's beyond surreal to have Republicans throwing hissy fits defending Trump attempts at international blackmail at the expense of a true American war hero. This is a degree of hypocrisy and decadence worthy of a Greek or Roman tragedy.


    Since Presidential Derangement Syndrome is a persistent malady stretching back to at least Bill Clinton with symptoms appearing during Regan's tenure, my reaction to Trump could be played off as just another sore loser whining about politics. The trouble is that no president has ever embraced racists and racism like Trump. The best case in point was his reaction to the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia a few years back. Neo-Nazis, Neo-Conferates, Klan, and other assorted human scum generally classified as the "Alt-Right" were protesting the removal of a Confederate statue when they encountered counter-protestors.

Violence ensued with a self-identified white supremacist deliberately ramming his car into a group of counter-protestors killing one person. Even with a collection of known hate groups on the right, Trump somehow found the gall to say there "were good people" on both sides. Yeah, I've got vital news for the ignorant, if you're consorting with Nazis, you're on the wrong side of everything. Trump's antagonism towards what seems everyone not white is about as self-evident as the sky being blue on a cloudless day.

   Hey, this one is not an attempt at knocking Christianity in general. There are millions of Christians across the world who truly try to practice the teachings of Jesus. None of us are perfect, except President Jimmy Carter who needs to be made a saint even though he's not Catholic.

 My beef is with the sanctimonious types who profess to be followers of Christ but yet hold intensely anti-Christian views when it come to the treatment of refugees. Yes, I recently had dealings with someone who while regularly claiming a moral superiority based on his religious beliefs but openly and proudly supports separating families and caging kids at the border. His "logic" is that all nations have a right to control their borders.

 A wonderful idea except I don't see American sovereignty threatened by Mexican and Central American people fleeing drug gangs roaming freely in their countries. Especially when those drug gangs are the creation of a complete lack of coherent drug policy here in the United States.  Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign and zero tolerance laws did nothing to offer a different path for people stuck in poverty. All those laws did was mass incarcerate millions of African-Americans giving us a bigger prison population than Commie China.  As for recreational drug users, who were quite often white and at least middle class, they seemed to escape much of the draconian punishments.
   So yeah, I find it darkly humorous that in the coming weeks nativity scenes will be pulled from dusty storage boxes and put on display. All the while those owners will whine and gnash their teeth at news videos of poor refugees fleeing persecution being rounded up and put in cages.      

   In a better world, Trump's campaign would have died right then. There were other candidates just as right-wing as he proclaimed. But they were slightly more polished, more able to act like a decent human being despite wanting to take away health insurance or cut social security. And those other candidates would have absolutely not kissed Putin's ass like Trump does on every opportunity. Trump's one talent is his ability to corrupt everything he touches. He plays to our worst fears and coaxes our worst hates out into the open like dry kindling does a flame. "Evil" is an overused word but for Trump, I think it fits.

 To all those disgruntled progressives who even now whine that their candidate hasn't been proclaimed the nominee already, this is the creature we face. He and his sycophants are actively working to undo every reform for the last sixty years. This election cycle is not an "opportunity" as some of us on the left have dizzily proclaimed. The November 2020 election is about survival. He's gotten two Supreme Court picks with Justice Ginsburg's health becoming more questionable. We're on the edge of an abyss and another screw up like 2016 will be fatal.    

Sunday, November 17, 2019

A Monday Charleston Trip

Last Monday I had to make a trip down to the Holy City to see my cardiologist. Turns out the news from my doctor was really good, except for one little piece. The cardiologist said he was surprised at how well I was doing, that my condition was so bad last year he didn't see me making such a strong recovery. Since my heart condition is genetic, all that means is that I'm doing okay right now and that things will still more than likely go sideways down the road. The appointment was during the morning hours, which allowed me to wander around afterwards. Naturally, I headed to the Mount Pleasant Waterfront Park and Pier.  

Really cool sculpture that's been added since my last visit. Click on the photo to read the tablet at the base. 

Relaxing view of the marsh.

Another piece of art added since my last visit. Not sure why the art is painted on what looks like a giant oyster shell.

Cool fish.

This one was my favorite.

Fish chart of what is normally caught on the pier. Added this because of the number of times People have asked me what they catch on the pier.

My final stop was at Red's Ice House on Shem Creek for my fried grouper sandwich. It was worth the trip and I highly recommend it for lunch or dinner.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Narcissists of the World Unite!

All names have been significantly changed!!!

As coworkers went Andy Martin was the absolute worst. Before his retirement he carried a well earned reputation of being an egotistical, but yet insecure asshole with the vast majority of people who had any encounter with him while on the job. Unfortunately, Andy was on the three man team I was part of that took care of hospital sterilizers. That meant I had to work closely with him on a daily basis. And as you might be able to guess, I was subject to many of his lies, mind games, and outright scams.

The most audacious scam was during the time the third man on our team was a patient in the hospital. We're both at work but Andy calls me up on the phone and says I own him fifty-dollars for my share of the flowers he purchased for our coworker getting surgery. I knew nothing about Andy getting flowers and had never agreed to share the cost on anything. My refusal to cough up any money left Andy stuttering on the phone so badly that he hung up on me. That was a pretty typical example of his underhanded nature.

Anyone working with Andy quickly realized he had no conscious and an extremely exaggerated opinion of himself. And yes, he was obsessed with status and not losing face in front of others. Hence why he called on the phone instead of finding me and asking for the fifty-dollar flower money in person. While this particular scam fell short, Andy was the type that held grudges.

While Andy was a very short, overweight, middle-aged man he regularly bragged about his Ford Mustang, his Harley motorcycle, and his truck which was one of the overly large types. Along with that, he never stopped talking about the land he owned, his extra house in North Carolina, and his numerous guns. I can't help but mention the regular and excruciatingly detailed stories of his home improvement projects he would tell to near captive audiences, complete with a seemingly infinite number of boring pictures showing his progress.

My weirdest incident with Andy occurred over a pair of pliers of mine that in the space of a few seconds went missing. We were both sitting on the floor fairly close to each other working on a particular type of sterilizer. My tools for this repair were situated on the floor to my left while Andy's was on his right. During this repair, I had to crawl under the sterilizer with my pliers to loosen a valve that was giving us trouble. Once it was loosen enough to be removed by hand, I dropped my pliers on the floor between Andy and myself and pulled the valve free of the sterilizer. In the space of a few seconds as I worked the worn part out of the sterilizer assembly, my pliers grew legs and walked away.

I immediately confronted Andy about the location of the pliers but he played stupid saying he hadn't touched or seen what happened to them. While the missing/stolen tool was a minor inconvenience since my boss would order me another, Andy had an evil grin on his face worthy of some Bond villain whose plan to take over the world was on the verge of succeeding. This little piece of bullshit was Andy getting even for me not falling for his fifty-dollar flower scam or some other little imagined insult to his dignity. The one overriding fact in all this I have to make clear was that Andy knew I understood he had stolen my pliers.

Going to the boss and accusing Andy of petty thievery would have resulted in him going all drama queen making everyone's life a pain in the ass for days. Yeah, stupid stuff like this with Andy happened on a regular basis. So much that a few years later management forced Andy into retirement. Most people who work at the hospital for as long as Andy have nice retirement parties thrown in their honor. Not him, in fact absolutely no tears were shed as he packed up his belongings and clocked out on his final day.

This true story of a narcissistic asshole should sound sickeningly familiar on a national scale.

For Trump's entire time occupying the Oval Office, he has been dogged with evidence that in some form or the other he, his family, and his advisers conspired with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election in his favor. Absolutely nothing in his behavior nor actions has done anything to dissuade rational people of that idea. In fact, everything Trump does has some clear benefit to Russia, whether its undermining the NATO alliance, the European Union, our position in the Middle East, or just our national security. As Speaker Pelosi recently told him during a heated exchange, “All roads lead to Putin for you.”

So Friday when it was announced Trump was considering an invitation to attend the May Day Parade in Moscow, the memories of Andy and the stolen pliers came flashing back to me. It's almost like Trump is daring us to accuse him again of being a Russian agent. Just when I thought Trump couldn't be any more brazen with his Russian sympathies than the time during the Helsinki summit a few years ago when he did everything to appease Putin short of kissing his ass on live television.

After three years occupying the White House, you would think the depth of Trump's narcissistic behavior couldn't get any worse. That the Republican Party and his cabinet and staff would force him to adhere to some sort of limits on his extreme behavior. I knew from day one after the November 2016 election that he would be a nightmare, but I never considered how insidious his corruption and narcissism would be to the nation. One little, insecure man with delusions of grandeur can make the workplace a pain. You put a similar individual into a position of power and he threaten the foundation of everything good in an incredibly short time.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Failed Experiment

 Warning, I'm in a deeply pessimistic mood.

For years a certain pompous individual on one of the cable news morning shows would occasionally expound on a quote attributed to the 19th century German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, that I found exceedingly naive in outlook. This pompous morning talking head, a former congressman suffering from his own mild form of delusions of grandeur, would bloviate on this quote whenever he wanted to suggest that the United States was immune to the internal and external factors that undermined most nations.

“God looks after fools, drunks, and the United States,” the morning talking head would say with a medium idiotic smile on his face visibly proud of what he considered to be his down home, country-lawyer cleverness. Okay, while he butchered the quote's true wording, I'll cut the doofus some slack on his use of modern language. But for anyone aware of history and how many nations and empires through the centuries assumed they had divine protection assuring their prosperity and even survival to even mention the quote in a serious way other than sarcasm is stupidity.

Of course, maybe the talking head was being equally sarcastic when he repeated the quote while staring into the camera and flirting with his married, female cohost, but it didn't seem that way. I wish the quote was true, but unfortunately events and circumstances suggest to me that not only are we majorly screwed right now, things will more than likely get very worse. Yes, I'm mostly talking about the slowly evolving Impeachment drama taking place in Washington DC.

For the majority of right-wing folks all the allegations against Trump are a scam perpetrated by Democrats and the media, both hostile to his declared MAGA agenda. A few bold right-wingers have come forward to say that while his Ukrainian actions are not okay, they don't rise to the level of Impeachable offenses. I can only imagine how their opinions would have flipped had President Obama called up some foreign leader before the 2012 election and told him to cough up harmful information on Mitt Romney. The answer to that flight of fancy is glaringly obvious.

For us lefties though I see ample evidence that many of my political comrades don't exactly have both feet grounded in reality. Given everything that's happened, it's a no-brainer that Trump will be Impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. The whole spectrum of Democrat from moderate-centrist to ultra progressive have been gleefully dancing in the streets since the Ukraine-gate scandal broke open.

The problem here is that a good many Democrats seen to have forgotten that for Trump to be kicked out of office he has to be convicted of the Articles of Impeachment in the Republican-controlled United States Senate. That would require a large number of Republican senators developing a working conscious and spines. That is simply not going happen. To even consider the possibility shows such a huge lack of understanding of the Trump cult it is laughable.

So the most likely scenario is this, senate Republicans quickly acquit Trump of the charges with him proclaiming his innocence and the defeat of a soft coup. This will energize his base and bring back independents who soured on the entire process. Not to imitate the pompous talking head I mentioned earlier, but like Emerson said, “When you strike the king, you must kill him.” Going into the 2020 election, Trump could very well ride his impeachment victory into another term.

The Democrats come away from the affair blaming each other and second guessing their leadership. It's not hard to see the party demoralized and rudderless, unable to promote any type of vision with so much energy going to the impeachment. Throw in a credible third-party candidate siphoning off votes and a still growing economy and Trump could win the election even though his popularity has never peaked above fifty-percent. Yes, this scenario has a high probability of him taking the electoral college while losing the popular vote again.

To put it bluntly, I'm not feeling any warm fuzzies over the impeachment and the coming election. The Republican Party is now a cult while many Democrats are running around talking about the 2020 election being an “opportunity.” This only thing this election is about is the survival of the United States of America as a functioning democratic republic. Yes, we need major reforms but you can't remodel a rundown house when some of the occupants are pouring gasoline everywhere and lighting matches.

It doesn't matter to me who the eventual Democratic nominee will be, I'm voting for he or she no matter what. But that being said, I would be lying if I didn't also say that in my opinion some of the candidates are far more electable than others..

Contrary to the television talking head with a illogical fondness of a 19th century German politician's sarcastic quote, there is no divine protector looking over the United States. Numerous other nations and empires who believed they were on the right side of God soon found themselves swept away into history. Remember, the official state religion of the Roman Empire was Christianity for several decades before Rome fell and the western half of its territory descended into chaos.

To believe the United States somehow occupies a special place in God's eyes is the height of hubris, ignorance, and delusion. Personally, given my personality and nature I would be making plans to get the hell out of the country if I had the resources to pursue that goal. Yeah, I believe the situation is that bad. 

Despite my darkness, I would loved to be proved exceedingly wrong in my assessment.  

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Specter of My Two Lives

Jessica doesn't stir as I crawl out of bed for my four o'clock in the morning ritual I have most Saturdays. My wife is a light sleeper and it's her habit of sleeping late after we spend the night making love. I quietly rush to the bathroom to get dressed while trying not to make a sound. Somehow, I accomplish the task and slip out of the bedroom without Jessica even turning over.

Walking down the hallway, I pass the doors to the kids' rooms and listen to their slow breathing. I have about two hours before they both rush downstairs for cereal and pop-tarts and their own Saturday morning ritual of television cartoons. Of course, on Sunday morning the will invade Jessica and my bedroom before sunrise demanding daddy start making pancakes. While I smile in anticipation of the joy associated with that task, I long for the comfort of my short taste of solitude.

Once downstairs, I go to the kitchen to make coffee and toast a bagel then smother both halves with cream cheese. With my breakfast complete, I go to the recliner in my study where I can watch ESPN uninterrupted on the big screen television mounted on the wall. It's a small indulgence, but as I look over at my desk covered in legal contracts and business reports I must read before the end of the month, these few minutes of peace are mine.

On the television, commentators babble on about which college football team will take the national championship as I eat my bagel. It's all meaningless given the state of the world, but I enjoy the lazy discussion and wish life was that simple. If I'm responsible, I'll play Mark Jenner, business attorney and spend at least six hours today reading the contracts and reports. My profession has given me a great life with a gorgeous wife and two smart kids. I'll suffer any drudgery to see that we can keep our perfect life. That's when I glance outside the window and see the falling autumn leaves.

My yard is covered in brown, red, and gold leaves. My mind wanders and I remember that I never cleaned out the gutters last year. My mind leaps at the chance to avoid spending most of the day confined in the study reading an endless supply of boring legal prose showing how people often put their best efforts in screwing someone else over to squeeze out a few more dollars in profit.

A couple of hours later, I run back upstairs to change into something appropriate for outdoor work. Jessica is stirring but is still laying in bed with the sheets wrapped seductively around her naked body. The noise I make changing clothes brings her closer to wakefulness but she is resisting. As I leave the bedroom, I hear her stretching and yawning in a way that to me is so sensual my intended purpose starts to fade from my mind.

I turn around to get one last look at her body. She is half asleep, laying on her side facing me as I stand in the doorway.“Where are you going, Mark?” She asks almost purring like a kitten.

“The gutters need cleaning and its a choice between them and proofreading contracts for most of the day. The idea of going over legalese today makes me a little nauseous.”

“Come back to bed,” she drowsily said with a smile. “Why do you have to clean the gutters today?”

“They're clogged with leaves and I don't relish the idea of doing this as the weather gets colder and wetter,” I say considering the idea of paying someone else to do the job. My main reasons being my wife's obvious amorous mood and the fact I really didn't want to drag the ladder out and climb up to the second-floor roofline.

Jessica begins to say something but at that exact moment, her cell phones starts buzzing. She jerks up, turns and grabs the device off her nightstand. “It's my mom,” she says before taking the call. With that, the mood is broken and I proceed outside to accomplish something relatively constructive.

The extension ladder is at my feet, laying on the ground as I look at my house. It's a Victorian-style dominated by the dual cutaway bay windows of the living room on the first floor and those of the master bedroom on the second. Built-in the 1950s, Jessica and I spend a bundle getting it back in shape after buying it from the estate of the old man who owned it before us.

The most expensive exterior renovation was the installation of vinyl siding. The wood siding it replaced had rotted in many areas giving the house a cold, haunted look. The old man who owned it before us never had the funds nor the family for proper upkeep. Years later, the neighbors still tell us he was a sad and bizarre little man. The front porch is what my wife and I are most proud of, it was rebuilt from deck flooring to railings. The addition of wicker furniture and ceiling fans makes it look like something from the early twentieth century.

I know every inch of the house, inside and out. It is my home and I see myself living there with my wife for the rest of my life.

I set up the ladder with the first goal of cleaning out the second-floor gutters. They are badly clogged and will be the most trouble when the winter rains start. The extension ladder feels safe and secure as I climb upward to the gutter. It's leaning against the house at a proper angle with the pads at the base resting on hard ground.

I climb up and reach the spot where I want to start cleaning and insert the spray wand into the gutter. After pressing the wand's lever that would let the water from the attached garden hose begin blasting out the leaves I get nothing. I look down and see the damn water hose has kinked up against ladder blocking the flow. A smarter man would just climb down and straighten it out, instead, I jerk the hose a couple of times and that's when shit goes sideways.

I lose my balance and begin falling from the second story. As typical with such events everything seems to go into slow motion as I return to earth. Which was relatively okay and acceptable until my head slams hard up against the first-floor roof segment. After that, I don't remember hitting the ground.


My next memory is waking up in a hospital room. I'm dazed and weak but the wires and tubes attached to me are few. The room is of course quite spartan, but something is bothering me. I don't see any flowers or cards that you would expect to receive from friends, coworkers, and especially family. There even isn't drawings from my kids hanging on the walls. I try to move but realize that I'm a glorified mound of jello. Speaking is equally problematic with my voice nothing but a weak whisper. Panic grows with me wondering just how long I was unconscious.

Some indeterminate time later a nurse walks in my room and sees that I have returned to the land of the living. “Well, hello Mr. Cross,” she says with a well-practiced bedside manner. “Dr. Mathews is here right now and I'll alert him come see you. You were in a coma for over five months but regained some brain function two weeks ago. I'll admit we were starting to worry about you.”

I heard everything she said but what stuck in my mind was her calling me by the wrong name. “My name is Mark Tanner,” I croak out puzzled about why she was calling me by the wrong name.

The nurse looks puzzled and slightly concerned. Those emotions are soon replaced with a look of condescension. “Yes, disorientation is common in cases like yours. I'll get Dr. Matthews and let him explain the details to you.” She says before quickly retreating out of the room.

All the psychiatrists I've seen since returning to consciousness are freaking out over my case. Not only did I return to the living believing I was another another person, I had crafted a detailed life complete with wife, kids, and a career. It took days for me to regain some sense of my true identity, to realize that Mark Jenner was something akin to a dream construct during my semi-comatose phase. That my real name is David Cross, and that I am a contract computer programmer and web developer who is divorced and has no real family. The one solid commonality I have with my fantasy man, Mark Tanner is the head injury. Apparently, I fell down a flight of stairs where I live and banged up my head enough to almost die.

In fact the headshrinkers are pushing the idea that my fall off the ladder in my dream state caused me to regain consciousness. When the docs first suggested the idea it prompted my first fit of laughter and for me to curse my man Mark for his carelessness. There's no use to lie, I'm in mourning, while my dream wife and kids never existed, their absence hurts like real deaths.

It gets worse, huge chunks of my memories as David Cross are missing. I have some idea of where I was born, a small town in Ohio back in 1980 but nothing of my elementary days up until high school. I know my parents were killed in a car crash sometime in 1991 and I was raised by my material grandmother after that. She in turn passed away during my time at Ohio State. I have no memory of their faces and it took a social worker digging through old DMV records to retrieve pictures of them.

I was married for a short time but my ex-wife now lives in Portland, Oregon. While the social worker said my ex-wife didn't say anything bad about me, she refused to take anytime out of her busy schedule to call me. That she had kids now and a demanding job and that digging up her past wasn't worth the effort.

I spend two months in a psych ward being watched before they turn me loose. Luckily, I at least have a home and a job to return even though I've been out of action for six months now. Apparently my contract is rock solid with me bringing in a nice cash flow and great health insurance. Near the end of my stay in the psych ward, my boss visits me and we discuss my programming skills, which I still possess, and when I return to work.

“David, I'm going to guess you still want to work from your apartment?” Ms. Davenport asks me as we sit in what passes as the day room of the ward.

The question is a surprise to me, in fact I had somehow pictured David Cross being an office cubicle rat living and dying by computer code. “Yes,” I say wondering if I ever ventured into the office at all.

“Well David,” Ms. Davenport says standing up to leave, “we know how you cherish your privacy and how well working at home does for your coding output.”

The Uber driver that picked me up from the funny farm drops me off at a mid-level apartment complex on the other side of town. I've regained a few memories of Greenville, South Carolina where I live, but they're nothing special with them centered on a nearby Applebees.

Unlocking the door to my third-floor apartment, I am underwhelmed by my decorating style. In the living room are a generic couch, recliner, and large-screen television sitting on a cheap entertainment stand. Inside the stand, I find both a Playstation Four and X-Box gaming systems along with the assorted accessories. The room has nothing in the way of pictures, posters, or any other type of decoration. It's abundantly clear the pre-accident David Cross never really did anything outside the computer.

The bedroom is equally bleak consisting of just the bed and a cheap dresser likely made by the same manufacturer of the television stand. In the closet is one suit, which I imagine was for the exceedingly rare occasions when I have to report to the office. Before walking out of the room, I see some humor in the fact that at least pre-accident David made his bed before he went outside to fall down the stairs.

It's in the second bedroom that I make a disturbing discovery. pre-accident David was using it for an office and it contained two computer servers on opposite ends of the room. One was clearly for my job with assorted papers and books related to work laying on the desk next to it. Across the room, the other server was a homemade job with nothing on the desk next it to suggest its purpose. While I had no memory of what I was using for, something about it creeped me out.

Later that evening after resting and getting settled in, I attempt to log onto the mystery server. I immediately find out I have no memory of my passwords so easy access was impossible. As I played around with the system trying to get in and inspected the hardware, I noticed the server was set up to surf the Dark Web. A segment of the internet where things can get dangerous and extremely illegal.

Later that night, I laid in bed racking my damaged brain for the smallest shred of a memory of what I would be doing on the dark web. Despite my fears, I didn't trash the server or try to access it again. In fact, you could say I came to ignore its very existence in my apartment.

Weeks go by and I slowly fall back into my job and living, although calling my shallow existence a life was a gross overstatement. Wanting more, I start seeing a psychiatrist and attempting to connect with people outside work. Slowly at first, I begin to venture out to movies, coffee shops and even attend the local theater to watch a play.

The really big step was creating an account on a dating site. I had been alone far too long and wanted a relationship again, although I still had no idea why my marriage fell apart. No memory of my ex-wife had resurfaced and she still refused to contact me or my psychiatrist. Making contact with her would have filled in the gaping holes of my past. But it was clear that at the minimum, whatever brought an end to our relationship was bad enough that she wouldn't give me the consideration you would an injured animal. It didn't say much of the person I was before the accident.

Months pass by with me continuing to grow and adapt, so much that my coworkers began asking me to parties. I became quite the party favorite telling my story. Just when I was beginning to think my coma fantasy life as Mark Tanner was behind me, it intersected my real life again in the most unexpected way.

My boss, Ms. Davenport had invited me to her house for Thanksgiving, it was in a section of Greenville famous for its old houses, a section I have no memory of ever visiting. Wanting to enjoy the cooler weather and admire the houses, I park my car several blocks away at a local park and begin walking. I was almost at the Davenport house when I frozen in my tracks. I suddenly knew exactly where I was at without looking up. My mind screamed to keep walking but it was no use. I turned to my right and saw a house that I had come to believe only existed in my damaged brain.

It was the Victorian-style house of Mark and Jessica Tanner, two people I was convinced only existed in my mind. This house was no close approximation nor lookalike, I knew every inch, inside and out and could walk in that very second and make myself a cup of coffee.

Long dead emotions about my fantasy Jessica and kids roared to life. I wanted to go home so badly it hurt my soul. But I knew it wasn't my home, that whoever lived there didn't have any idea about me. That's when the front door opened. At first, all I saw was one of the kitchen windows way in the back but a second or two later, I began to make out the silhouettes of a man in a woman standing just on the other side of the doorway. I knew immediately who they were, it was Mark and Jessica with one or both of them about to come onto the porch.

I began walking away as fast as possible without drawing attention to myself. It was just a quickly forming theory but pre-accident David could have used that second server in the apartment to hack into their home security system. It wasn't a leap in logic to believe that such a well-off family would have all the internet-connected cameras associated with modern systems. How pre-accident David discovered the Tanner family, I literally have no idea but I sure as Hell didn't want them to see me.

They had their life and I was starting to have my own. Walking away was still the worst pain in my life.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Georgetown's Wooden Boat Show

Despite the rain coming up from the Gulf of Mexico, my son and I headed down to Georgetown to look at all the wooden boats on display for the Wooden Boat Show. Held on Front Street on the third weekend of October, it's a excuse for me to bug out from my suburban purgatory and enjoy my hometown. As soon as my son and I arrived, it was clear that the rain had limited this year's attendance. 

An old Chris Craft from the 1930's if I remember correctly. This little baby is a far cry from the mass produced fiberglass models that have been common for decades. The little houseboat in the background is a recent homemade model that would be perfect on a placid lake. 

The old Strand movie theater which was remodeled years ago and is now used to show plays and small concerts if I'm correct. Saw the original Star Wars here back in 1977, and came a hair's breathfrom talking the lady who ran the theater to giving me the original movie poster. The Strand here was built so long ago it once had a segerated balcony for African-American residents. 

A huge model of a fictional pirate ship that was priced at $375. Just to rile my wife back home, I texted her a picture and said I had accidentaly knocked it off the shelf and had to buy it. Her responce was predictable, she texted back, "Haha, nice try." It sucks that she has me that figured out.  Yes, I did want this monstrosity, but I would have had absolutely no place to keep it. The model is quite large and wouldn't fit on the fireplace mantel.   

Little outboard boat that was excellently restored.

If I heard correctly, this is the original moter that has been totally rebuilt. Not sure I would place this baby back into the water. It's more art to me than a useful device for recreation. 

Forgot everything I read about this vessel other than it is in excellent shape and looks more like a home than something you would sail to different destinations.

Front Street has recovered from the collapse of its business district and is nearly a perfect showplace of upscale shops and eateries for locals and tourists. But always in sight is the old steel mill that is constantly going from closed to "partially open."  Eventually it will close permanently, but the cleanup will take years.

A sailing kayak that I would have bought if only my wife wouldn't have beat me to death with the included paddle once I returned home. Been wanting a kayak for years but I'm going to be forced to limit myself to the plastic/fiberglass kind. Not only was this handmade baby expensive, it was ungodly heavy. 

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One of the vendors was selling ships and lighthouses in bottles. Beatiful creations that were nice but I couldn't make myself spend the money on one just to have it sit someplace half forgotten. Yeah, I wanted that big pirate ship, but truthfully it would have suffered the same fate.

Had a great time, even with the rain and will go back next year if possible.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Limits to Human Existence

One of the questions of existence that has been stuck in my head like an irritating song is the nature of human intelligence. The main question being would a hypothetical alien crew out zipping around the galaxy even classify Homo sapiens as an intelligent species.

I mean we kill each other over debates about whose god is best, ridiculous ideas of ethnic and cultural superiority, and political ideologies just to name a very few. Truthfully, I can easily see an alien starship captain telling his crew to lock the proverbial doors to the starship and turn off all electronics as they ride through our solar system in hopes of not being noticed by the naked primates living on the third rock from the sun. Being a little less tongue-in-cheek, I believe there is an argument that these starfaring aliens would see human civilization on the same level we look upon an ant mound on the side of a busy road. But there is another question about human intelligence that is bothering me today.

A recent article published on the website pondered the question as to whether our species has reached the limits of its ability to figure out the universe. That we will not only never discover the answer to certain mysteries of the universe but we will never be smart enough to ask the right questions. The idea being that while chimpanzees know a lot about their native environments, but you would never dream of asking even the most intelligent of that species any questions about things like astrophysics or genetics.

Yes, through science and mathematics we have deduced much of the nature of the universe and then created experiments to test our observations. But our heads seem to be bumping up against some limits, such as being unable to connect gravity with the other fundamental forces of the universe being electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force. Human consciousness and how it came to be out of inert matter is another question that, from everything I read, is giving the scientists fits. Yes, research is ongoing and yes, there have been other questions in science that seemed intractable in the past but now seem commonsense.

Many philosophers believe we might be reaching a point of “cognitive closure” when it comes to certain aspects of the universe. This gets back to why I mentioned you would never ask a chimpanzee anything about astrophysics nor genetics. To believe humans aren't subject to the same limits in some fashion is the height of hubris. The tools we create do allow our species to probe beyond the limits of our senses so we can ask new questions. But could there be a point when the fundamental limits of our intelligence prevent us from being able to even conceive the right questions?

I have to add another possible limit Homo sapiens may be facing is our ability to cooperate on the larger scales now demanded by our problems like climate change. While human civilization has not been organizing on a linear scale, it has generally progressed to larger entities with periods of chaos in between. We have more or less gone from small villages to cities to fiefdoms to empires to nation-states with each paranoid over possible violations of their sovereignty.

With over seven billion people on the planet now and numerous issues that can only be adequately addressed on a global scale, the nation-state cannot meet the challenges of climate change, environmental collapse, resource depletion, nor many other problems we face. However, any attempt to establish a strong global entity to meet these challenges is viciously opposed by most governments, multinational corporations, and other established interests.

Our cognitive limits might slow down human progress until we can create new tools like general artificial intelligence who can supersede our primitive brains, the greatest danger to our survival might our inability to cooperate on the needed levels. For years it was believed that Homo sapiens wiped out the Neanderthals through warfare, while that is still a possibility on a smaller scale, another theory is gaining favor. That the Neanderthals could not fully adapt to the changing conditions they faced. That even after hundreds of thousands of years of species survival they could not adapt to the sudden onset of new conditions like the ending of the last ice age. Whereas Homo sapiens could adapt allowing them to inherit the planet.

This gets back to my initial question, has our species possibly reached the limits of its existence?

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Ruminations of a Nautical Rodent

Well, the old Chinese curse about wishing someone to live in interesting times sure went into full effect last week. Because if the news that the Orange Bastard actively pushed the president of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden to gain political advantage in the coming election isn't a national nightmare, I don't want to imagine what could be.

Then to make matters worse OB goes on live television and publicly states that China should investigate former VP Biden as well. I frankly don't what to make of OB's behavior in this matter. Covertly pushing a foreign country to investigate a political opponent is a serious crime but to brazenly commit the same offense on live television in front of millions of viewers defies all reason. All I can think is that OB is daring the House of Representatives to impeach him with the belief the action will motivate his tried and true gaggle of ignorant sheep to vote in November 2020.

See the issue here is that while impeachment now has to occur, anyone who thinks the senate under McConnell will vote to convict OB is just as delusional as that gaggle of right-wing sheep I just mentioned. What's worse is that if what I've read is true, McConnell can call for a simply majority vote to dismiss the entire case against OB once the Articles of Impeachment are sent to the senate. So we end up with OB riding high, defiantly claiming the senate has cleared him of all crimes.

I'd like to think that given what we know to have happened and the evidence in the form of text messages between others in the administration it should be an open and shut case. But reactions on the right runs from those denying anything he did was a crime to those believing it all a vast conspiracy since the Democrats can't beat him at the ballot box. The latter being something I heard two individuals talking about just a couple of days ago.

Once again one of my biggest concerns is that loose nature of my fellow liberals who can't help but live in their own form of La-la Land. I could be wrong but from what I'm reading on social media their posts suggest that many believe that once OB is formally impeach the Secret Service will then handcuff and throw him in jail and his illegal alien, glorified hooker of a wife out of the country.

Sorry, that last one is a mean thing to write but we have kids in concentration camp cages on the border. And there is a new documentary on Netflix showing peaceful and productive people who have lived in the United States for years being rounded up and tossed out of the country. I don't claim to have any special compassion or love of humanity, given my “sheep” comments, but I simply cannot imagine treating human beings that way.

If there is an ideal outcome to how I believe things will unfold is that Democrats must set aside all their near suicidal tendency of infighting and unite around the nominee whomever he of she might be. Here is where I admit that I have been leaning towards former VP Biden because he seemed the most electable. The other Democratic candidates are all outstanding individuals, except Bernie who I believe is a disaster, there is much to be said about Biden's political career and his ties with President Obama. That being said, my second favorite is Senator Warren. She is clearly intelligent and has actual plans were as Bernie just makes overly dramatic proclamations but has no real accomplishments.

While I do not believe VP Biden or his son, Hunter did anything illegal in their dealings with Ukraine, the optics of the situation on the surface look bad. In fact, I cringed upon hearing that Hunter Biden had anything to do with an Ukrainian gas/oil company since it would certainly become an issue in the coming campaign in some fashion.

Yes I know, somehow OB's family can have oodles of dealing with all manner of shady business people with loose ties to Putin and the Communist China and all that brings up on the nightly news is a fifteen second mention. The best example being Ivanka strangely receiving scores of Chinese patents for her products like their penny candy. Only the fools or stupid would not have some idea that it involved a quid pro quo in some fashion.

I have no real idea how recent events will unfold, but none of this is good for the country as a whole. Not that there is much chance of it, removing OB from office will not be a solution, he's just a symptom of the disease affecting American politics. Both parties have long since divided the country up into opposing groups.

Republicans have the rich white folks, a chunk of the disaffected working poor nursing grudges towards immigrants and minorities, Bible thumpers, and the warmongers. Democrats of course have the classic liberals, radical progressives, tree huggers, most of the minorities, and the peaceniks. A natural occurrence given how various groups run to the politicians that promise to take care of them. If you have President Lyndon Johnson working for civil rights for African-Americans and you have Nixon courting pissed off Southern whites. The obvious problem though is that this polarization only gets worse over time since neither party can alter its basic platforms without pissing off their dependable base voters. This breeds politicians who make a point of only working for the groups that keep him or her in office.

Where we are courting true disaster is the erosion of established procedures and traditions in how we govern. The best example being the abuse of the Senate filibuster to derail legislation. Far too many people in this country worry about the United States collapsing like the ancient Roman Empire. It's a bad comparison, a better analogy would be the failure of the Roman Republic where the rules were not so slowly corrupted to the point it fell apart leading to brutal civil wars.

Yeah, I think things are that bad. The Republican Party is now a cult with OB as its declared messiah. He will never leave office willingly whether it be through impeachment and conviction, defeat in 2020, or the completion of a second term. The only way I see him leaving with a smile is if the rumors are true about Don Jr. is looking to run for POTUS in 2024. Given the mindless makeup of the Republican Party now, I'd bet money I do not have that he would easily will the nomination.

The American ship of state is leaking badly right now with countless termites and worms eating through the hull. A thinking person wouldn't be wrong to start wondering when its time to act like a rat and flee the doomed vessel. The election of 2020 will be an absolute make or break for the American experiment.