A Day to Look Back

Well, Dad, nineteen years ago today you left this world for bluer skies. I’d ask where have the years gone but I know the answer: into the past. Gone but not forgotten.

babyjoey

Dad, with J. Conrad, circa 1957

Did you ever think I’d live to be sixty, ever imagine what I might look like? I didn’t. It’s not that I have a death wish, but I wonder if anyone ever views themselves as old. Inside me there is a twenty-five-year-old wondering, “What happened?”

I think about you every day. And as I sit here sipping a White Russian—one of your favorite cocktails—I hope you don’t mind that I’ve written about you often, in memoirs mostly; but aspects of who you were in life appear in my novels, too. My way of keeping you alive, I guess, and of tipping my hat to you because I feel you were a better man than me. Your firstborn doesn’t approve that I write about you and Mom, but what the hell, she never liked me anyway.

We had our differences, you and I: days and sometimes weeks when we didn’t speak. But in retrospect I can honestly say I never felt unloved or unwanted.

Still, you weren’t very nurturing to me in my youth (I forgave you for that long ago). Whether that’s good only you can know. Perhaps one day I’ll find out. It would be nice if I learned the answer before I step over to your side of the Great Divide. That’s been a problem for me as I age: expecting that every question has an answer. Some just don’t and never will, not while I live and breathe at least. Probably the greatest unfairness in life, that we must die in order to learn some of life’s great mysteries.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes and have my share of regrets. You once told me no one gets out of life without a few. Sometimes it feels as if I have more than most. Maybe that’s a sign I’m getting old. In my defense, being introspective and reflective, I find it difficult not to look back at the past, especially since there are far more years behind me than ahead of me. You once told me it’s okay to look at the past, because we learn from it. But I suspect I tend to stare too long. Do that too often and you miss what’s in front of you.

Yet I’ve found a measure of happiness, having gotten remarried nearly three years ago. You and Mom would love her. Her name is Colleen and she’s part Polish, which should please you, and I can honestly say she’s getting my best.

Say hello to Mom for me, will you? And tell her your baby boy misses you both.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memoirs

The Girl Who Loved Cigars

It’s said that those who experience a life-threatening event see their whole life flash before their eyes.

What if a fetus, at the moment they feel their limbs about to be torn asunder in abortion, see their whole unlived life flash before their eyes?

Marla is haunted by nightmares of being in the womb, terrified by the prospect of having her whole life—everything she’ll ever have and everything she ever will be—taken from her.

The Girl Who Loved Cigars is my new work in progress. It’s been nearly two years since I finished my last novel and I’ve been itching to start a new one. After kicking around two ideas for several months I finally settled on this one and set pen to paper.

I love new projects, but it’s a love-hate relationship. I love them because… well, they’re new, fresh. The ideas for characters, story, plot twists flow freely. The downside is they’re new, fresh. Ideas abound, which results in a lot of starts and stops, and false starts. It takes me a while to settle in, to become intimately involved with the characters, and settle on a theme.

The Girl Who Loved Cigars promises to be my most challenging write to date. I’ve written several short stories from a woman’s perspective, but never a novel. It’s intimidating, and I fear I won’t be able to pull it off, to write convincingly from a woman’s point of view. I don’t know whether I’m good enough to succeed. But I do know I’m ready to try.

Below is a short excerpt.


“It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. You take away everything he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.”
Bill Munny, Unforgiven


Chapter One

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
Galadriel, from the movie adaptation of Lord of the Rings

“I’m Marla. I’m almost four years old, and I live at 6543 Arcola in Garden City, Michigan.” It’s shaped like a mitten, I thought. I’d seen a picture of it in a big book of maps that showed all the states. There were fifty. That’s a lot. But not as many as a hundred billion, which is how many stars Daddy told me are in the Milky Way. The galaxy, not the candy bar.

“And our phone number?”

“Our phone number is Garfield, G-A-2-468—”

“Nine.”

I felt my eyes begin to tear. Mommy had been making me say my name, our address, and phone number for the last long time. I was bored. I wanted her to read to me. Tubby Turtle is my favorite. Tubby is sad because he’s slower than all his forest friends. But one day he saves Squirrel and Rabbit from drowning and becomes a hero.

“Say it again, honey, from the start.”

“Mommy, but why?”

“Because if you should get lost you need to be able to tell whoever finds you who you are and where you live.”

“Why?” I didn’t understand. Lost is what happened to pennies when you can’t find them, or a sock, and then you do, between the cushions of the sofa or in the dryer. Nothing is ever really lost. You just need to find them.

“I just told you.”

“Why would I get lost?”

Mommy breathed deep. She did that when I made her mad.

“I’m sorry, Mommy, I’m sorry.”

“For what, Marla?”

“For making you mad.”

Mommy took my face between her hands, which always makes me feel happy and safe. “I’m not mad, honey. It’s just…”

“What, Mommy?”

“I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“Why would anything happen to me?”

Mommy hugged me. After a moment she pulled back, holding me by my shoulders.

“Remember yesterday when we went to Hudson’s?”

“Oh, yes!” It was a grand adventure: a bus ride downtown, all the pretty clothes and shoes and perfume—and the toys! All the toys on the twelfth floor!

“Remember when we got separated?”

I nodded. “Is that what it means, getting lost?”

“Yes.”

“But you found me.”

“Yes, I did. But what if I hadn’t? What would you have done?”

“I—” It suddenly occurred to me I had no idea what I would have done had Mommy not found me.

“That’s why you need to know your address and phone number. So you can tell someone if I can’t find you. So they can tell me where to find you. Understand?”

I wasn’t sure I did. But if Mommy thought it was important, then it must be, and I wanted to make Mommy happy.

“I guess so,” I said.

“Good. Now tell me again, your name, where we live, and our phone number.”

And so it went for the next long time, until I got it right enough times to make Mommy happy, and she knew I wouldn’t ever forget.

And then she read Tubby Turtle to me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction

A World Without Music—Chapter Three

“Mozart is sunshine.”
 – Antonia Dvorak

April 5, 2012

“I can’t believe you’ve never been to a ballgame.”

Reagan and Prisco sat in row D, behind the Tigers dugout. It was opening day at Comerica Park, and Tigers fans had high hopes for the season. The organization had signed hard-hitting Prince Fielder in the off season, shortly after learning that Victor Martinez would miss the entire season due to knee surgery. Reagan had hoped the Tigers would acquire a bona fide leadoff hitter with some speed. With Fielder the new first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, who’d won the batting title in 2011, was moved to third base, and Reagan thought that combination would be a defensive liability – one which he couldn’t see the power hitting of Fielder and Cabrera combining to consistently overcome. Only time would tell.

“It seems a silly game, chasing a little ball around a field,” Prisco said.

“Prisco, Prisco. That’s the beauty of the game. It’s a simple game, a kid’s game – hit a round ball squarely with a round bat. It’s also a game of percentages and statistics – ideally suited for an analytical mind like yours. A manager knows if his utility infielder hits better under the lights than in the afternoon. It doesn’t mean he’ll hit in the clutch at night, but the manager, more often than not, plays the percentages.” Reagan took a sip of his Summer Shandy before adding, “Nearly every boy in America dreams of playing major league baseball when he grows up.”

“Did you?”

Reagan nodded. “I dreamed of being Al Kaline. Kaline is in the Hall of Fame. He played for the Tigers in the late fifties, sixties and early seventies. Played twenty-two seasons for Detroit. The greatest right fielder I’ve ever seen – a real natural even if he wasn’t the most gifted athlete. He hit for average and occasional power. Won the batting title at age twenty, the youngest player to win it. He wasn’t fast, but he was a smart base runner, and could steal a base from time to time.”

“Why didn’t you play?”

Reagan laughed. “This game is not as easy as it looks. Today, with thirty teams, the majors are composed of maybe seven-hundred-fifty ballplayers. Back in the mid-eighties, when I might’ve played, there were twenty-six teams. So there were fewer roster spots. And I didn’t have the talent to get noticed by a major league scout. I was a solid first baseman in college; but I never learned to hit a curveball.”

Prisco only nodded.

“Besides, at this level, it’s a thinking man’s game. When I was a kid, pitchers threw hard and I hacked at anything close to the plate. But the situation constantly changes, depending on the count, the score, whether men are on base, early or late in the game, the matchup between hitter and pitcher. Does the manager put on the hit and run, risk having the runner thrown out before his cleanup hitter can drive him home?”

“What’s a hit and run?”

“The manager puts the runner on first base in motion once the pitcher goes into his delivery, and the batter hits the ball to protect the runner.”

“Then isn’t it more accurate to call it a run and hit?”

“Yes, well, I suppose so. But baseball is filled with nuances like that. For instance, a walk isn’t considered an official at-bat, but a batter who walks with the bases full is scored with a RBI.”

“RBI?”

“Run batted in. He doesn’t actually bat him in, but baseball had to somehow allow for the scoring of the run.”

Prisco sighed. “It would seem this game isn’t as simple as you make it out.”

Reagan laughed. “The basics are very simple – pitch, hit, field and score more runs than your opponent. But the strategies are practically limitless. A manager’s decision to pinch hit in the ninth can make him look like a genius, while the same decision the next night can leave him looking like a goat.”

“A goat?”

“Don’t ask me to explain the origin of the phrase. It’s a derogatory euphemism.”

“You called it a kid’s game. I assume that is a reference to children and not the aforementioned Bovidae.”

“If by Bovidae you mean goat, you are correct.”

“But these are grown men.”

“Who as kids played baseball.”

“They are paid to play?”

“Very handsomely – too handsomely. Today’s players make millions. But there was a time, before the Players Association, when the owners took advantage of the players. If you consider how much revenue the owners take in the result of the gate, television contracts and advertising, it’s only right that they share more with the players, without whom they wouldn’t have a product to peddle.”

They went silent for a time, finishing their hotdogs and sipping their beers as the game entered the ninth inning, with Detroit holding a 2-1 edge over Boston. Tigers’ manager, Jim Leyland, pulled Verlander, whose pitch count was 105, and inserted his closer, Jose Valverde.

“They call Valverde ‘Papa Grande,’” Reagan said.

“Why, because he’s overweight?”

“Sort of. A teammate gave him that nickname when he played for Arizona. It was meant as a term of endearment, and the teammate thought it meant Big Daddy. But the actual translation is Big Potato.”

“Why would someone wish to be affiliated with a potato?”

Reagan laughed. “One wouldn’t. But a nickname is hard to shake. Shit!”

Valverde had just allowed the tying run to cross the plate on a Ryan Sweeney triple that scored Darnell McDonald.

“I had a feeling that was going to happen,” Reagan said.

“You had a premonition?”

“Just a feeling, Prisco. Valverde was a perfect forty-nine for forty-nine in save situations last year, and I knew he was bound to blow a save eventually. That’s why they play the games. I’d just hoped it wouldn’t be today.”

A few moments later, Cody Ross lined out to Jhonny Peralta at short to end the top of the ninth.

After Ryan Raburn flew out to right field to open the Tigers ninth, Peralta singled and the sellout home crowd was on its feet, urging the Tigers to rally.

Alex Avila followed with a single, so Bobby Valentine, Boston’s manager, pulled Mark Melancon for Alfredo Aceves, and Leyland inserted Danny Worth to pitch run for Peralta.

Aceves hit Ramon Santiago to load the bases, bringing Austin Jackson to the dish. Jackson had had a disappointing season a year ago, striking out far too often for a leadoff hitter. But this was a new season, and Jackson had had a good day, getting two hits in four trips, and scoring once.

After three pitches, the count two balls and a strike, Prisco asked, “Do you have a feeling for what’s going to happen?”

“No, but I’m pulling for a hit.”

A moment later, Jackson singled home the winning run to send the fans home happy.

Later, Reagan and Prisco sat sipping Summer Shandys at Miller’s Bar while they awaited the arrival of their cheeseburgers.

“What did you think of your first ballgame?” Reagan asked.

“It would seem the key to getting a batter out is to keep him guessing as to what type of pitch is coming.”

“Precisely!”

“But this Valverde seemed only to throw fastballs.”

“Which is what got him into trouble. Still, it’s his best pitch.”

“And the batter knows this, which gives him the advantage.”

“It didn’t last season. He didn’t blow a single save all season long, throwing mostly fastballs. Come Saturday, in a similar situation, the percentages will favor Valverde to save the win, at least on paper.”

“But they don’t play the game on paper.”

“Exactly. That’s why they have to play them. Hundreds of things influence the outcome of a game, including luck.”

“I don’t believe in luck.”

“Really? If not good fortune, how do you explain a batter getting enough wood on a fastball out of the strike zone to get a base hit?”

“Perhaps he anticipated the pitch, and his exceptional eye-hand coordination, along with his skill, allowed him to connect his bat with the ball.”

“How about a grounder with top spin resulting in the ball skipping under the shortstop’s glove?”

“That’s just physics and the inability of the fielder to anticipate the bounce.”

“Point taken,” Reagan said. “What about the guy who wins a lotto worth two million dollars? He almost never buys a ticket, but on a whim on his birthday, he purchases the winning ticket.”

“The odds are certainly against him winning, but someone has to win. Why not him?”

“Why not the guy who spends fifty dollars on lotto tickets every week?”

“His chances are increased; but his inability to win is not the result of luck. Poor luck is merely a term devised to deflect accountability in a poor choice, while good luck is used to define an unexpected windfall.”

When Reagan was unable to debate Prisco’s logic, Prisco continued.

“Bad luck can be no more attributed to a man getting hit by a car the result of his failure to look both ways, than to a man who slips and falls in the shower because he chose not to use a non-slip shower mat.”

“So you don’t believe in being in the right place at the right time any more than you believe in being in the wrong place at the wrong time?”

“Life is predicated on percentages. A man who never had an accident while driving, because he never sped and always obeyed the rules of the road, can still have an accident. In fact, his chances increase as he gets older because his eyesight becomes diminished and his reflexes slow. An accident in this case is not the result of bad luck.”

“I recall many years ago an entire college basketball team, save one, was killed in a plane crash. That one player remained home because of injury and wasn’t going to play. Two weeks later, he was killed in a car crash. Luck or destiny?”

“Neither.”

“Coincidence?”

Prisco shook his head. “Coincidence can also be defined as luck, a fluke, happenstance.”

“I get it.”

“I would ask what the road conditions were on the day of his death. Was he inebriated? Was he suffering survivor’s guilt?”

“Okay, Prisco, you win.”

“What did I win?”

“Our debate.”

“Oh,” Prisco said. “I did not intend to debate. I was merely expressing my opinion.”

“As was I, which is the basis for debate.”

“But I did not endeavor that you should lose. I merely wished to convince you of my perspective.”

“Which is to say my perspective is wrong.”

“If I convinced you of my perspective, do you not, in coming away with the correct perspective, win?”

Reagan laughed. “I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.”

Their cheeseburgers were served and the conversation changed to Reagan’s love life.

“I’m enjoying getting to know Cam,” Reagan said. “I think she could be the one.”

“With a world population in excess of seven billion, you would find numerous potential mates. In fact, I would estimate that –”

“Please don’t,” Reagan said. “I’m only interested in this one.”

“She lives in Alabama.”

“So what? It’s not like I’ve had good luck with Michigan women.”

“How can you determine, from nearly seven-hundred-fifty miles away, whether you wish to commit to her?”

“Well, the geography forces us to go slowly, get to know each other, become friends first, before we become lovers.”

“And then?”

“And then, what? Her parents and my parents are deceased. I have no family ties to Michigan. She has an adult daughter who lives in California.”

“Will she move to Michigan?”

“I haven’t asked her.”

“Why not?”

“It’s presumptuous and premature.”

“But it will come up. You complain of the heat and humidity now. It will be more uncomfortable for you in Alabama, which is much nearer to the equator.”

“I know where Alabama is,” Reagan said. “Are you trying to talk me out of this?”

“No. I merely wish to express to you the chances of a successful outcome are low.”

“Maybe they are. Doesn’t mean we can’t beat the odds. I only know I’m enjoying her company, even if it is only over the phone. I like her. I like how she makes me feel. I’ll worry about the logistics later.”

“That’s illogical.”

“Okay, Spock.” Reagan was beginning to feel perturbed.

“Why wouldn’t you wish to increase the odds of a successful outcome?”

“How? By dating someone closer to home? I’ve tried that. Contrary to your non-belief in luck, I still believe in it. Who are you to say I can’t increase my chances of finding love in another state?”

“Why are you angry?”

Reagan ignored Prisco’s question: “Two people can ride the same subway to work each morning in New York and never meet. While two others, on opposite sides of the planet, no power on earth can keep them from meeting.”

“Yet the two on the subway stand a greater chance of meeting, if they should leave themselves open to meeting. Perhaps she is intent on reading O and he, New York Times.”

“The chances of meeting someone on a subway –”

“Are no less than meeting someone on Facebook. One just needs to leave oneself open to the possibility.”

“I can’t dispute that any more than I can disprove your theory, Prisco.”

“It is not a theory. It is fact predicated on numerics. If you take into account competition, input into the equation that many men and women are addicted to dating – to meeting lots of potential mates without making a commitment – the chances of finding love while riding a subway are no less than while on a night out speed dating.”

“Too bad we don’t have a subway system in Ann Arbor.”

“You would put my theory to the test?”

“Maybe, if you’d asked me a week ago, before I met Cam.”

“Why should that make a difference?”

“Because I’m committed to seeing this through.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

A World Without Music—Chapter Two

Two

Caught in a love storm
Howlin’ like a newborn
Trying hard to stay warm
My cover-up is torn up and tattered

Addiction to Apocalypse
Looking for the big hit
Tending to take trips
The ship of love is beat up and battered

 – Robert Lamm

March 31, 2012

Cam

By the way (and yes, I ask a lot of questions …), why is a good-looking guy sitting at home alone on a Saturday night?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Same reason a beautiful woman like you is home alone on a Saturday night. I choose to be because I’d rather be alone alone than alone with the wrong woman.

March 31, 2012

Cam

YES!!! I can so relate to that. I’d rather live the rest of my life alone and happy than to be with someone that makes me miserable! Your profile says you’re a retired marine. Did you see action?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

I served in the first Gulf war. Don’t ask specifics. I don’t yet know you well enough to share more.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Sounds ominous. Are you divorced?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Well, yes, I’m divorced. I’m alone on a Saturday night, aren’t I? More than 15 years. One 3-year relationship that ended nearly four years ago and a couple shorter ones. What’s your battle story?

March 31, 2012

Cam

My hubby and I split 9 months ago. Really, 4 years ago … our marriage ended in 2007, and I finally moved out last year.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Ah, so recent. Sorry to read that. But, perhaps it was for the better, if you’re happier.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Oh, no need to be sorry. Like I said, it had been over for 4 years before I moved out. He’s a great guy, but it just didn’t work. I’m definitely happier. 🙂

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Well, he’s either a fool or gay. <g> He must not have known what he had in you.

March 31, 2012

Cam

To tell the truth, I really don’t know what happened. We went from having a great marriage to nothing. Literally. One day everything was normal and good … the next day he slept in the guestroom and never came back. He still hasn’t told me what happened. Oh well … onward and upward! What about you? Why a divorce after all those years?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Wow, and he never told you? That’s too bad.

I was married only five years. It’s a long story. Too long to go into here. Let’s just say she thought she was in love, wanted to be in love; but when the going got tough, she got going.

March 31, 2012

Cam

No, still hasn’t told me. The funny thing is, we have never so much as had an argument. Even to this day, we talk at least once a week. But he won’t talk about anything personal. He calls to check on me or to say “Hi,” but that’s it.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Gee, maybe he is gay?

March 31, 2012

Cam

LoL! I don’t know what his problem is. I don’t think he’s gay … but nowadays … who knows?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Ah, you do know how to put a smile on my face.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Smiles are a really good thing.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Speaking of smiles, you ever see Airplane!? Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker. With Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. An airplane crew takes ill. Surely the only person capable of landing the plane is an ex-fighter pilot turned cab driver now afraid to fly. His name is Ted Sriker, but don’t call him Shirley.

March 31, 2012

Cam

YES! I loved that movie!

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Have you seen Julie Hagerty lately? She was cute in those movies, although a little too skinny; but she looks, well, hagerty, I mean haggard.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Uh-oh! No, I haven’t … what’s too skinny?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Like, Shelly Duvall skinny?

March 31, 2012

Cam

Oh! That’s pretty damn skinny.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Yeah, Shelly Duvall. Remember her in The Shining, with Jack Nicholson? I kept rooting for Nicholson to ax her. She was just annoying in that movie.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Hah! I loved The Shining!

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Too bad I didn’t know you ten years ago, before I met my last girlfriend and before you got married. Somehow I think we’d be pretty good together. And yes, I loved The Shining, too, but only because of Nicholson. I didn’t like the ending, which differed from the book.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Why is that too bad? So 10 years passed by … that was then and this is now. You’re not planning on dropping off the face of the planet anytime soon, are you?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

No, not planning it; but hey, none of us is promised an unlimited number of tomorrows. Especially if you buy into that whole Mayan calendar spelling the end of the world thing.

You really are adorable and SO my type, and I haven’t met too many my types in my life. But you’re seven hundred miles away.

March 31, 2012

Cam

That’s interesting (what you wrote about a feeling we would be good together). I don’t meet many that are my type either. They’re very hard to find. Okay, I won’t lie … yesterday I was browsing your profile pics and thought, “damn … he’s a good looking man.”

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Ah, well, you really are sweet. Thank you. I don’t blush easily, but I am now.

March 31, 2012

Cam

I like it that you’re blushing 🙂 I think when we stop blushing we’re in trouble.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

How come we haven’t talked before?

March 31, 2012

Cam

That’s a good question … If you scroll to the top of this thread it looks like we said hello once in March of 2010!!! That was 2 years ago!

March 31, 2012

Reagan

I guess that’s when we became friends here on FB. I’m sorry I didn’t flirt with you before now.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Yeah, you’re kinda slow, huh? LoL! Just kidding!

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Hey, nothing wrong with slow, unless you prefer fast-movers!

March 31, 2012

Cam

No, I prefer slow. Nice and easy 🙂

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Yeah, nice and easy is how I prefer it, too. ;-P

March 31, 2012

Cam

Mmmm … another thing in common! Are you an only child?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Alas, I’m an only child; but I was never spoiled. The son of a retired marine who was not very nurturing to me. At least that’s what some shrink once told me. I think he told me that so that I could deny accountability with a clear conscience.

Can I ask you a question? It’s okay if you’d rather not answer.

March 31, 2012

Cam

I’m an open book. You can ask me anything. By the way … you really are a good looking man 🙂 Have I told you that yet?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Ah, we’ll see how you feel about that after I ask … and yes, you’ve told me that, maybe as often as I’ve told you how adorable you are. And thanks. Flattery will get you anywhere.

You know, for as much time as we’ve spent trading messages here, and I’ve loved every minute of it, we could’ve gotten to know each other in a third of the time with a phone call. Would you be up for that sometime? Too forward?

March 31, 2012

Cam

Pure sweetness! That’s what you are. ♥ I’d be more than happy to share my phone number. (205) 555-2424 (home) (205) 555-4698 (cell). I only turn on my cell if I’m not at home.
March 31, 2012

Reagan

Ah, thank you. I promise not to pester you (too much). Would you be up for a call tomorrow sometime? I’d love to hear your voice. Put a voice with the face. I’m free anytime after about one. Name a time.

Your wall says you’re from Hueytown, Alabama. That where Huey Lewis is from?

March 31, 2012

Cam

I was browsing the pics on your site (great music by the way) and laughed out loud reading the captions! Posing with a family, not my own?! Ha-ha.

Yes, give me a call tomorrow! I’ll be home all day. I don’t plan on going anywhere. Well, I need to go to the store, but I’ll do that early in the day. You’re an hour ahead of me.

No, Huey Lewis isn’t from Hueytown, but the Allison’s are. Davey, Bobby … and so is Neil Bonnet and Red Farmer. The Hueytown gang! I don’t know if you’re into NASCAR, but they’re all from here.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Actually, yes, I follow NASCAR. I was pulling for Tony Stewart all the way last year and was so happy he won the championship. And thank you, for your comments on my pictures. I had fun writing the caps.

Okay, I’ll give you a call early to mid-afternoon. That should give us plenty of time before bedtime to get better acquainted. Somehow I don’t think we’d ever be stuck for conversation. But you know, sometimes a lull in conversation is good. Better than filling it in with idle chatter. Sometimes it’s just nice to be in good company with someone.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Okay, I’ll be looking forward to your call. I like putting a voice with a face, too.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

You know the 10th anniversary of George Harrison’s death was this past week. Can’t believe it’s been 10 years already. But you’re probably too young to remember the Beatles. Ah, here’s another question for you: Beatles or Led Zeppelin?

March 31, 2012

Cam

Of course I remember the Beatles! Who doesn’t love John Lennon??? I prefer Led Zeppelin over the Beatles. I wasn’t a Beatles fan, but I was a fan of Lennon and McCartney as solo artists.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Well, I like them both; but a nod to the Beatles. I hear more McCartney in all the Lennon-McCartney tunes; but Lennon penned some great tunes, as both a Beatle and a soloist.

You like jazz music at all? I’ve seen Dave Brubeck perform in concert three times.

March 31, 2012

Cam

I like to listen to all genres. I’m one of those people that listens to absolutely everything. To prove this, I’ll give you a short list: I met Frank Sinatra and James Brown, and my father was friends with Elvis.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

I like pretty much all genres, too, save for hip hop and country. I met Brubeck and his wife and one of his sons at a Christmas party. Way cool. And I saw Elvis perform (the fat Elvis) a couple years before his death. And I saw James Brown, too. He put on a helluva good show. Wow, you met Sinatra? What a rush that must’ve been.

March 31, 2012

Cam

I don’t listen to rap, unless you consider Kid Rock rap … I love Kid Rock! If you’re not a fan, I will send you some of his stuff, and I promise, you’ll become one. Oh, poor Elvis … such a shame the way he went out. I’ll never forget the day my dad came home and told me.

Yes! I was 15 when I met Sinatra! He was extremely cool. I bet you were thrilled to meet Brubeck, huh?

Let’s switch topics … favorite author?

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Favorite author? That’s changed many times over the years. I grew up reading Samuel R. Delany, who writes science fiction. Black and gay, but oh, can he turn a phrase. First published at 20. Then I found Gene Wolfe, who also writes science fiction. Now I’m into Umberto Eco. I might change yet again. How about you?

March 31, 2012

Cam

My favorite authors … gosh, I have a few. I like Stephen King, some of James Patterson, and I was a huge fan of Nicholas Sparks, but he became a writing machine and his last few books have sucked. He’s cranking them out too fast so they can be turned into movies, and they’re just bad. It breaks my heart, really. I’ve met him 5 times (twice by accident), and now he’s just in it for the money.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Never cared for Sparks. Too syrupy. I read a lot of King in the eighties and nineties. Love his book on writing, although he had a lot of anger over the driver who hit him. I’ve never read Patterson. People either love him or hate him. I understand he no longer really writes his novels anymore. Pays someone else, then puts his mark on them, and presto, a new Patterson novel. You met Sparks?

March 31, 2012

Cam

Yep … that’s exactly what Patterson does now. There’s another big writer doing the same thing, but I can’t think of who it is right now. It’s a joke. Sparks had a lot of talent. He got sucked into the business and now writes crap. Yes, I met Sparks three times at book signings, once we bumped into each other at a mall, and another time we ran into each other at a restaurant. Still a nice guy though.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Well, it does my heart good to read you recognize formula fiction when you see it.

March 31, 2012

Cam

Oh, I’m pretty good at recognizing crap. I think it’s sad when talented people get caught up in the business of it. It drives me crazy that Patterson does commercials, and I get really irritated when money (and everyone with money can do it) gets people with no talent on major networks.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Huh, I wonder if there’s a limit to the number of messages we can send. Do you Skype?

March 31, 2012

Cam

I don’t Skype … I have a laptop and no web cam 😦

March 31, 2012

Reagan

No webcam? You need to get with it, girl!

March 31, 2012

Cam

LOL! I’m buying a new lap top early next year, so I’ll make sure it comes with all the bells and whistles!

March 31, 2012

Reagan

I think they all come with cams now, Cam. Hey, how about that? I’m a poet and don’t even know it!

Well, it’s late and I’m starting to fade, and my fingers are heavy. I’ve enjoyed this, very, very much, and I look forward to talking to you tomorrow. Don’t forget to sign my guestbook so I can get your email address.

March 31, 2012

Cam

You must work normal hours during the week, huh? Oh, I signed your guestbook an hour ago!!!

Okay, talk to you tomorrow 🙂 I enjoyed it as well! Sweet dreams 😉

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Rest well, too. I’m a night owl. You’re probably a morning. One thing we don’t have in common, eh?

March 31, 2012

Cam

I’m usually in bed by 11pm, and I’m up every morning at 6:30.

March 31, 2012

Reagan

You think we can make those hours work?

March 31, 2012

Cam

Won’t know unless we try. ♥

Nite!

March 31, 2012

Reagan

Goodnight.

March 31, 2012

Cam

xoxox

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Fiction

A World Without Music—Chapter One

One

“Classic music is th’ kind that we keep thinkin’ll turn into a tune.”
 – Frank McKinney


March 30, 2012

“Tell me about music,” Prisco said.

“Tell you about music?” Reagan took a sip from his glass of club soda, listening to the buzz of the other patrons around them. He glanced at his watch to confirm that he had a few minutes before the quartet had to start their second set. “You might as well ask me to explain the origin of the universe.”

“The cosmos began with a bang approximately thirteen point seven billion years ago, as you measure time. A fraction of a moment later, the universe was a formless soup of the most elementary particles, quarks and leptons.”

“Quark was a character in the television series Deep Space Nine. He was a Ferengi. I don’t even know what a lepton is.”

“A lepton is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. The best known of all leptons is the electron that governs nearly all of chemistry as it is found in atoms. It ties directly to all chemical properties.”

“Okay. You know, sometimes you really do sound like Mr. Spock.”

“Another fictitious character.”

“Only one of the most beloved sci-fi characters of our generation – you never watched Star Trek growing up in the sixties?”

“I did. But I found the special effects lacking, the storylines trite. Not to mention I found Captain Kirk an arrogant womanizer. What did women see in him?”

“Does it matter, Prisco? It was science fiction. I was seven. I had no interest in whether Kirk and Yeoman Rand were getting it on, or whether he scored with Yvonne Craig as the green-skinned Orion woman. It was only after I reached puberty that she became hot. All I cared about was going where no man had gone before. As for the special effects, sure they’ve come light years since then, but they were state of the art back then. What was important was what they made happen inside my head, how they stimulated my imagination, and gave me hope for the future, that man might one day put aside his differences, see beyond race and culture, to live in harmony. Besides, as far as violence and sex are con­cerned, we’ve been desensitized in this country. There was a time when we couldn’t see Rob and Laura Petrie in the same bed together.”

“Who are they?” Prisco took a sip of his ginger ale.

The Dick Van Dyke Show? A sitcom in the early sixties.”

“My parents did not get a television until 1967.”

“It never occurred to me to ask my parents where their son Richie came from, since his parents slept in separate beds.”

“I assume the way all children come into the world.”

“He wasn’t really their son, Prisco. He, too, was an actor. But TV back then was much simpler, and far less suggestive and graphic. When the bad guy got shot on Gunsmoke, we never saw any blood. He merely doubled over and died with a groan. Today we see all manner of soft porn in prime time, as well as autopsies in all their gruesome detail.”

“Do you think that has contributed to the decay of your society?”

Again Reagan thought Prisco sounded as if he were of another spe­cies, an outside observer gathering data on a dissertation of the fall of mankind.

“I’m convinced of it,” Reagan said.

“And you accept it.”

“What can I do to change it?” Reagan shrugged. “Adam and Eve chose knowledge. By doing so, they opened Pandora’s Box. You expect me, a nobody from Northville, to not only close the lid, but get every­thing back inside the box?”

Prisco shook his head. “Of course not.” Then he continued with his diatribe on the origin of the cosmos – he was good at that, finding his way back to his original subject.

“The universe expanded and cooled, and layers of structure devel­oped – neutrons and protons, atomic nuclei, atoms, stars, galaxies, clus­ters of galaxies, and super-clusters. The part of the universe that can be observed is composed of a hundred billion galaxies, each containing a hundred billion stars, and a number of planets at least equal in number. The universe continued, and continues to expand, at an accelerating pace, driven by dark energy, a form of energy whose gravitational force repels rather than attracts.”

“Okay, Prisco,” Reagan said. “You would know that, and thanks for the science lesson. But what caused the Big Bang?”

Prisco thought a moment. “It was not an explosion. It did not occur inside a laboratory. Assuming that neither time nor space existed before the bang, then we can conclude only that there was no cause.”

“Assuming? That’s not like you, Prisco, to make assumptions.”

“What could exist previous to that moment of creation?”

“That, I think, is for far greater minds than mine to determine.”

“The solution, the reason for creation, must therefore exist outside time and space.”

“God?”

“If I said, ‘yes,’ you would then ask from where does God come.” Prisco never ended a sentence with a preposition.

“Hasn’t he always existed?” Reagan took a swallow from his glass of club soda.

“To consider that presents a conundrum – a situation related to cau­sality no easier to explain than a universe born from nothing. A creator that has always existed is a being that, itself, or himself or herself, exists without a cause.”

“Perhaps that’s where faith comes in. Yet if God were to ever ask me what I thought Man’s greatest achievement was, I’d have to say, ‘Our ability to achieve new and more efficient ways of killing each other, the innocents especially.’ That we can kill so easily, without conscience, has led us to shirk our responsibility to the global community.”

Prisco raised his eyebrows. “The question is one of biology, or more pointedly, evolution. A century ago, your people couldn’t comprehend that the Milky Way was only one galaxy in a sea of galaxies numbering one hundred billion. Two centuries ago, you couldn’t imagine the stars were more distant than thirteen thousand light years. Five hundred years ago, you believed your planet was stationary to your sun. Around 300 BC, Aristotle went against the belief of a flat planet to put forth the notion that it was instead spherical-shaped.”

Reagan smiled. For as long as he’d known Prisco, which wasn’t long at all – not by age of the universe standards, or by standards of the aver­age life expectancy of the average man – only a few months, Prisco al­ways set himself apart from the rest of humanity, referring to his fellow men and women as “your people.” Reagan assumed it was nothing more than elitist behavior, despite the fact that Prisco sounded rather Spock-ish in his naiveté. But Spock was a fictional character from a fictional planet, figments of Gene Roddenberry’s imagination.

“The truth of the cosmos,” Prisco continued, “it would seem, is al­ways beyond what can be conceived.”

“Well, then, it’s only a matter of time before we learn the truth.”

“Hardly likely,” Prisco said. “With your proclivity for making war, your growing population, and the rate at which you use up your planet’s resources, you will become extinct before you learn the answer. However, to respond to your statement, the mind is finite. Its comprehension is limited. Suffice it to say that some questions will always be beyond under­standing.”

“Oh,” Reagan said.

“That is the fate of all civilizations – to perish before they can achieve total understanding.”

“And you know this, how? Wait, don’t tell me – it would seem, to you, to be ‘logical.’”

“It is logical.”

“Do you at least have a theory about the origin of the universe?”

“As is the case with all theories, there comes a time when it must be put to the test, outside the laboratory. I know only that the answer, what­ever it may be, will be strange, and likely beyond my experience.”

“On the other hand, maybe it’ll be so simple a child could understand it.”

“Highly unlikely,” Prisco said.

“Will all be made known to us after we die?”

“The essence of who we are never really dies. It merely transmutates into something else.”

“Something greater?”

“Greater is subjective.”

“Something spiritual then?”

Prisco ignored Reagan’s question: “You will see beyond the virtual reality of your corporeal existence. Yet it, too, will be limited.”

“And you know this how?”

“I –” Prisco thought better of his response. “That is beyond my knowledge and understanding.”

“What about your experience?” Reagan attempted to bait the hook he knew Prisco to be. At times Prisco seemed adolescent beyond … well, beyond the great beyond. But Reagan also found him to be wise beyond human measure. Beyond this virtual reality.

Prisco only steered the discussion elsewhere, leaving Reagan to won­der if he were perhaps incapable of telling an untruth, only able to with­hold it, a sort of Star Trek prime directive, Starfleet’s General Order num­ber one, which dictates no interference with the internal development of alien civilizations that have not yet achieved warp technology, and there­fore are unaware of the existence of other worlds in galaxies far, far away. Reagan knew that he was mixing pop culture icons, but withholding a truth, to Reagan, was the same as telling an untruth.

Reagan glanced at his watch; his break was nearly over.

“Tell me about music,” Prisco asked again.

Reagan sighed. “Music is a strange thing. I would almost say it is a miracle. For it stands halfway between thought and phenomenon, be­tween spirit and matter.”

“Heinrich Heine.”

“Who?”

“You quote Heinrich Heine, a nineteenth century German poet.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Yet you quoted him.”

Reagan laughed, and played to Prisco: “We humans are like that. We often know things without knowing how we know, or from whence we got the knowledge.”

“Doesn’t that infringe upon copyright laws?”

Reagan grinned. “Only if we use such knowledge for gain – usually monetary. I know the quote, read it somewhere. But who wrote it is un­important to me.”

“Why?”

“Why is it unimportant to me? I don’t know. I’m a wealth of knowledge of worthless trivia. The human condition maybe? I liked the quote, even if I can’t remember where I read it, and so I committed it to memory. Someone else may read it, find it unimportant to them, and so they will immediately forget both it and the man who wrote it.”

Prisco seemed to find that incomprehensible; Reagan continued.

“You want to know about music. I learned in my youth that music is mathematical, a statement I won’t pretend to understand, even though I play bass guitar in a jazz quartet.”

“Mathematics is the basis of sound,” Prisco said. “The musical as­pects of sound exhibit a remarkable array of numerical properties. Nature itself is mathematical. The Pythagoreans of ancient Greece studied the expression of musical scales in terms of numerical ratios, particularly those of small integers. They believed that all nature consists of harmony arising out of numbers.”

“You don’t say?”

“I did say.” One of those many moments Prisco betrayed his ingenu­ousness.

Reagan laughed. “I know nothing about Pythagoreans.”

“Yet you are of this planet.”

“That has nothing to do with my knowledge of the ancients. I love music. That I do doesn’t mean I have a desire to understand it in terms of ratios and numbers. In fact, if I understood music at that level, I’d likely be unable to play.”

“Why?”

“I’ve known a few mathematicians in my time, and computer geeks and IT types. Most are introverts, lacking much in the way of social skills.”

“As are many artists,” Prisco said. “Introverts lacking communal dexterity.”

“True. But geeks are outcasts. Musicians are cool, hep.”

“Hep?”

“An earlier version of ‘hip,’” Reagan said. “It got its start in the early days of jazz. If you got jazz, you were downtown, man; groovy, mod, now, trendy, turned-on, and with it.”

Prisco thought a moment before saying, “Au courant.”

“Yeah, that,” Reagan said, making a mental note to look up the term. “Back in Monk’s day, devotees referred to him as Theonliest, which was a play on his first name, Thelonious. To them, no one else existed in jazz. He was the onliest.”

Prisco only nodded and asked his question again: “Why would you be unable to play if your understanding of music included its mathematical aspects?”

“I knew a computer geek who played a musical instrument – guitar. He dug music – that is, he grooved on the blues.”

“He thought it was groovy?”

“Right. By day, Larry works for EDS, implementing computer hard­ware and software for clients. Extremely proficient at what he does. A few months ago, when I was considering adding a guitarist to Imbroglio, Larry auditioned for us.”

“He didn’t play well?” Prisco said.

“He played very well. That was the problem.”

Prisco looked confused.

“He was very precise. Played the notes as they were written. But we’re a jazz quartet, Pris. Jazz is about improvisation. Music is as much about playing the notes in the right key as it is about feeling the music, and putting feeling into the notes. In jazz, one must play not only what’s there, but what’s not there.”

Prisco only shook his head.

“Think about an author reading from his or her own book. He or she might write beautiful prose, lyrical. But if they stand there and read it in a dull monotone, with no inflection – no feeling – the end result will only bore the listener.”

Prisco sipped from his glass of ginger ale; Reagan continued:

“I dig music. It’s a universal language. It transcends gender, race and culture. It inspires. It can soothe the savage breast, incite a people to re­volt. It can bring two lonely hearts together.”

“But how does it do those things?”

Reagan shrugged. “I don’t know. Is the how really so important?”

“To exist is to seek understanding.”

Reagan shrugged again. “All creatures, great and small, have emo­tions. Somehow, music manages to touch those emotions, and it’s capable of amplifying them. Even my father, who disliked rock and roll in general, recognized quality musicianship. I came home one Saturday, after playing baseball, to find him listening to Chic Corea’s “Return to Forever,” which I’d bought the week before. I’d listened to it that morning, and had left it on my turntable. Although “Return to Forever” was more jazz-based than Corea’s later jazz-rock fusion albums, Dad told me he really enjoyed Chick’s keyboard playing, as well as Joe Farrell’s soprano sax. They touched Dad, and amplified his love of music.” Reagan smiled, and added: “Maybe our connection to music goes back to our time spent in the womb – the rhythm of our mother’s heartbeat. The rhythm of love. Beyond that, I can only say that some things, like what existed before ex­istence, are beyond understanding.”

Reagan saw his band mates taking the stage, so he finished his glass of club soda and told Prisco he’d see him after the final set.

As Reagan hoisted his bass, he looked out at the sparse Wednesday night crowd. LIVE had recently acquired new ownership and changed its name from Goodnite Gracie. On the corner of Huron and 1st Street in Ann Arbor, the weekly lineup included a live music showcase each Wednesday night, a Thursday grad night, a live music happy hour on Fri­day evenings, and a DJ on Friday and Saturday nights. Reagan much pre­ferred his Saturday night gigs at Gotham City, just down 1st Street a cou­ple blocks. The crowds were larger and far livelier, no doubt because of the weekend. But a gig was a gig, and he needed the money.

A few moments later, the Reagan Imbroglio Quartet – composed of keyboards, bass, drums and alto sax – launched into an instrumental jazz-rock fusion rendition of “Dixie Chicken.” From the Lowell George era of Little Feat, so named for the size of the feet of the band’s founding father, “Dixie Chicken” was the showcase piece of their live perfor­mances. George had once played with Frank Zappa; but their creativity clashed, and Zappa eventually told George that he needed to get his own band. “Dixie Chicken” was the tune after which Dixie Chicks had taken their name.

The piece lasted nearly twenty minutes, and allowed each band mem­ber to take extended improvisational rides. Near the end of the piece, Reagan heard the final verse in his head:

“Well, it’s been a year since she ran away – guess that guitar player sure could play. She always liked to sing along – she’s always handy with a song. Then one night in the lobby of the Commodore Hotel, I chanced to meet a bartender who said he knew her well. And as he handed me a drink, he began to hum a song. And all the boys there at the bar began to sing along … If you’ll be my Dixie Chicken, I’ll be your Tennessee Lamb. And we can walk together down in Dixieland … down in Dixieland.”

In Reagan’s life, it had been fifteen years since she ran away.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Fiction

A World Without Music

“Mercy, mercy, Mr. Percy,
there ain’t nothing back in Jersey
but a broken-down jalopy of a man I left behind
and the dream that I was chasing,
and a battle with booze.”
– Tom Waits

“Music is another planet.”
 – Alphonse Daudet


Prologue

1998

Reagan was on patrol in Kuwait, with five other marines fanned out to either side of him in a vee formation, when they came upon a tarp covering a body-sized object half-buried in the sand. The squad con­verged on the tarp and stood in a circle, fearing what – or who – they might find under the tarp. As squad leader, Reagan bent to pull back the tarp and …

Awoke with a start, drenched in perspiration. Rolling himself into a sitting position on the edge of his bed, he muttered, “Fuck.”

Reagan glanced at his clock radio – nearly half past six.

He made his way to the bathroom, where he splashed cold water onto his face; then he stood a moment to glance at his mirror’s image. Staring back at him, his eyes were as wide and filled with the mortification he recalled from Tom Wallach’s death stare.

He made his way back to the bedroom. Removing the Glock 21 from the top shelf of the closet, he padded, barefoot, to the liquor cabinet in the dining room to get his bottle of Bookers. Full the night before when he’d brought it home from the liquor store, it was now nearly half-empty. Dropping into a chair at the table, opposite the door wall to his deck, Reagan considered the drapes, drawn closed against the rising sun. They were blue. Not in the tone or shade of a John Lee Hooker tune, or in the term one might use to describe their disposition to their physician when seeking medication for depression, which is really no color at all but a mood. Not a navy or a midnight blue; not a Miles Davis “Kind of Blue.” Not the blue that accompanies the maize in the Univer­sity of Michigan school colors; not the blue eyes of a Siberian Husky or a sky blue; but a sapphire blue – neither annoyingly cheerful, nor that draws attention to itself and away from the other furnishings in the room – pleasant, soothing. They were a blue that complements both a morning cup of coffee or tea – although Reagan believed, as Oliver Wendell Holmes had written, that the morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it that the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce (Reagan had not been cheerful, not in the morning or any other time of day, for more years than he could recall) – as well as an early evening glass of bourbon. They were the color blue that invites one nearer, if only to draw them wider to admire the pan­oramic view on the other side of the glass or to let more Sunday morning light into the room, to chase away the previous night’s bête noire. The trouble was the beast could always be counted on to return the next night.

Reagan grunted. Since Sarah left, he’d been more and more prone to long and meaningless meanderings. He pulled the cork from the bottle of bourbon and took a long swallow of the honey-colored liquid, straight from the bottle. A moment later, he felt it warm his empty stomach. After taking a second hit, he turned his attention to the weapon on the table in front of him. Picking it up, he noted the coldness of its grip.

“You know, Tom,” he said to the emptiness of his morning, his enunciation slurred courtesy of last night’s Bookers. “I have you to thank for what my life has become. Sarah’s gone, and I’m drinking more.” To prove his point, he took another draw from the Bookers bottle. “All because you won’t let me sleep. I did the right thing. What any good marine would’ve done. I brought you out of the desert, made sure you got home, and this is the thanks I get. Eight years of torment. You know, it’s not my fault you never got to meet your baby daughter, or never again got to hold your wife, kiss her, make love to her.”

Reagan put the Glock into his mouth, surprising himself that he hadn’t given it any thought beforehand. As if not thinking about it would make it easier for him to pull the trigger.

Can a weapon taste cold? he thought. No, but it certainly feels cold.

Reagan much preferred the taste of Bookers to that of the Glock. Not that the Glock tasted of anything; it certainly didn’t remind him of pizza or steak, or the carrot cake at Brighton Bar and Grille. He imagined the aftertaste would be somewhat metallic. But at that point, he’d be be­yond caring.

Reagan didn’t pull the trigger. Not that morning, or any of the many previous mornings, afternoons, or evenings that he sat at his dining room table, Bookered up with his trusty Glock in his mouth. And he likely wouldn’t tomorrow or next week, or next month, or ever.

Am I courageous for not pulling the trigger, for keeping alive Wallach’s memory, for enduring his torment? Or am I simply a coward, fearing what might await me on the other side of the Great Divide, that such drastic action on my part might have neg­ative repercussions from the Big Guy?

“Don’t you know?” he heard God’s voice say. “I never give anyone more than they can handle.”

“Really?” Reagan whispered into the darkness. “I always thought that was something someone made up to help them peddle their religion. If it’s true, that you never give anyone more than they can handle, how come so many people commit suicide?”

Reagan sighed, stood, and strode past the blue drapes, through the door wall and onto his deck, where he and his bottle of Bookers could watch the sun rise on another cheerless day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Fiction

Politics and the Objectification of Women

“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” —Matthew 5:29-30


It’s been said that our eyes are bigger than our stomach, or as my father was fond of saying at the Thanksgiving table, “Take as much as you want, but eat all you take.”

Perhaps the same can be said about a man’s limp penis—that is, that it’s smaller than a man’s eyes. But a man’s eyes often deceive his penis.

I was young once, growing up in the 1960s, the decade of free love. Some of my earliest memories are of my body responding to girls, even though I had no idea about sex or from where babies came. I recall as teen sitting in my car waiting for the light to change and watching a pretty girl in cut-offs cross in front of me. My body responded. It did what it’s designed to do, before the impure thought crossed my mind.

In my twenties I once walked into a bar where young women danced naked on tables and runways; they wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have on a jacket and a tie. Today they call these establishments gentlemen’s clubs, which is a misnomer because a true gentleman would never patronize one.

As a single man in my thirties I saw a woman in a grocery store wearing a Harley Davidson t-shirt. I laughed and politely asked her if I could take her for a ride. She laughed, too. She understood the double entendre even as I doubted she understood the definition of a double entendre. Back then it was flirting, and it went no further: I left her in the produce section and moved on to the liquor aisle. Today it’s sexual assault.

Much has been said this campaign season about Donald Trump’s comments about and actions toward women, that he objectifies them, and therefore that makes him unpresidential and unelectable.

I have news for you, men and women of America, and the mainstream media, who seem intent on destroying Donald Trump’s run for the president: Men have long objectified women. It’s in our DNA. The world’s oldest profession dates back to biblical times.

In America we embrace objectification of women. From the Vargas pinup girls of the 1940s to today’s advertising campaigns that use sexy women to sell anything and everything from beer to automobiles. We’ve made a business of objectifying women, but oh man, don’t you dare make a sport out of women! These women who self-objectify themselves tell us it’s not okay to look. But secretly they want us to look, to turn our heads away from the competition. In the mean time, less attractive women would give anything to have someone look at them with admiration, perhaps even desire.beyonce-the-superbowl-and-the-fine-line-between-ownng-our-sexuality-and-exploiting-it_thumb11

In Corporate America how many women confuse dressing for success with using their sexuality to close the deal?

What would Jesus say about women expressing their sexuality because it makes them feel good about themselves? What would he say about bikinis and miniskirts? About Victoria’s Secret and beauty pageants? About twelve-year-olds experimenting with sex? About soft porn on prime time TV? In 2015, the porn industry in America made between ten and twelve million dollars; globally it’s a 97 billion dollar industry. Talk about misogynists.

I’m not defending Donald Trump, if what’s being said about him is true. But I do wish the mainstream media would instead focus on the important issues of this campaign season: Hillary Clinton’s inability to tell the truth about anything; her failed foreign policies and failure to keep state secrets; her, at best, mediocre term as a New York senator; the Clinton Foundation’s dubious donors; her proclamation to be a champion of sexually abused women—that they deserve to have a voice and be believed, unless you come forward with credible evidence against her husband of sexual improprieties. In those cases expect to be slandered, bullied, and threatened.

No, this campaign season is about Trump’s alleged words and alleged actions, not about Clinton corruption, deception, and lies. Nor is it about which candidate is best suited for the office, which one will best represent the will of We, the People, and not just the top ten percent wealthiest people, which one won’t dance at the end of the puppet strings of Wall Street and Corporate America. Which candidate will hold to the ideals of our Constitution, appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, work to end Washington gridlock, and put America first.

The mainstream media would have us believe that Hillary was a victim of her husband’s sexual addiction. Forget that she was an enabler. They say what happened with the Clintons twenty years ago is unimportant, that the voters don’t care about it; but what Trump did and said ten or fifteen years ago is meaningful today. The media paints Trump as a predator unfit to hold office.

If you’re a Democrat it’s okay that FDR died with his mistress at his bedside, that JFK was a womanizer, and that Bill Clinton is a sex addict. But Donald Trump is unfit!

According to the media, who openly colludes with the Clinton campaign, Trump is arrogant, racist, a misogynist. He’s divisive and plays upon the fears of Americans, never mind that those fears are anything but imagined. The Clinton campaign employs conspiracy theories to discredit Trump, while playing the right wing conspiracy trump card to protect their candidate.

Trump claims he doesn’t need the presidency. He’s running to “Make America great again.” Clinton does, and she’ll do anything, say anything, stoop to any low while professing to always take the high, moral ground (another lie) to win the Oval Office.

I’d rather see Trump hold the office than someone with loathing in their heart for those she outwardly embraces, who has no conscience; someone incapable of telling the truth and unable to apologize; someone who espouses empty promises she has no intention of fulfilling should she become president; someone in it only for themselves—for there is no greater evil than evil masquerading as good.

No doubt the final presidential debate will spend an inordinate amount of time on Trump’s alleged sexual assaults because they think that’s important to the American voters. How much time will they devote to the important issues of policy, transparency, and platforms?

Too little, I fear.

Leave a comment

Filed under Op-ed

A Dog’s Wisdom

Joe is sad today. He sits and taps with his fingers. He stops tapping for a moment and says something aloud, which I don’t comprehend – I understand maybe four hundred words, mostly commands. Sentences are outside my understanding. The concept of “opposable thumbs,” which he once told a friend is what leaves Man inferior to the lower life forms, is beyond me. When he asks me if I want to go for a walk, it’s “walk” I respond to. I look up from where I’m laying, at Joe’s feet, to see light flicker across his face as he goes back to tapping.dog_wisdom_quote_wood_wall_art-rbe31e22c49434b52b049d65342392213_zfgxb_324

Earlier, while it was still dark outside and before he started tapping, he stared into the light and said, “Another rejection letter. I’m a slave to the whims of others.” I don’t pretend to know what that means, but it made Joe pissy, as the woman who used to come around said. He sighed and put fire to one of those sticks he sucks on without ever eating. I don’t like them; they make me sneeze. He sipped from the cup on his desk – I can smell its bitter scent – sighed again, and began tapping. I find the sound pleasing because it brings Joe contentment. I can sense Joe’s moods as easily as I can detect my favorite smells – grass, bacon, and Joe’s scent. The woman who used to come around no longer does, and I sense from Joe sadness in her absence, but also ease. They often raised their voices at one another, which left all three of us unhappy.

Joe finds the smelly sticks soothing, and the steaming water in the cup leaves him alert. He calls them his muses. Still, there is an underlying sorrow to his mood this morning, despite the tapping, which usually leaves him feeling happy. He stops tapping to sip from the cup, and he puts the stick between his lips; I watch its end glow and smoke rises lazily from its end. I sneeze, and Joe leans over to scratch me between my ears and then goes back to tapping. A moment later he stops and, looking into the light, eyes moving from side to side, says something I don’t understand. Then he sighs and says, “Shit,” which is one of the commands I know. I cock my head because I’ve already been outside.

Joe gets up and takes his cup with him to the kitchen. I follow him and as he pours more water into his cup, black and bitter smelling, I sit salivating, staring at the door behind which he keeps my treats. A moment later, the door swings open and Joe reaches in to get me a Milk-Bone – another word I understand.

“Good girl,” he tells me, a sad smile on his lips. “You’re so easy to please.” I wag my tail: a dog’s response to a human’s smile. Then he scratches me between my ears before leaving for the den and more tapping.

I don’t know why Joe is so sad. I wish he could be more like me. I’m happy with my morning walk, a tummy scratch, fresh water in my bowl twice a day, and food in my dish, along with the occasional Milk-Bone and table scrap. I’m happiest when Joe takes me to the park and lets me run free among all the wonderful smells.

I wonder if Joe would be happier if he had four legs and could run free with me.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Flash Fiction

Election 2016: Epic But Perhaps for All the Wrong Reasons

Neither One 2016 (Because oh my god, WTF, nooooo)

Bumper sticker

The last candidate for whom I voted was Bush 41. Every candidate since I’ve voted against their opponent—against Clinton in 1996 I voted Bob Dole; against Al Gore in 2000 and against John Kerry in 2004 for Bush 43. And I voted against John McCain in 2008 because I couldn’t wrap my head around Sarah Palin as Commander in Chief should something happen to McCain. But fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on you: in 2012 I voted against Barack Obama.

But now it’s 2016: Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton.

A year ago very few gave Trump a chance to win the Republican nomination, while Hillary Clinton was supposed to have an easy walk to the Democratic nomination over Bernie Sanders.

Trump won easily, and Hillary, even with help from Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is now the former head of the Democratic National Committee because of her efforts to tip the scales in Clinton’s favor, struggled to put away Sanders.

During the first presidential debate, Clinton claimed that President Obama took the high moral road in not responding to Trump’s “birther” accusation. Maybe he did, but that’s not important. What’s important is that Hillary, being the guttersnipe she is, sank to new lows—how low can she sink only time will tell—by bringing up Trump’s 20-year-old comments about a former Miss Universe. Her campaign has thus far been based not on policy, other than to claim experience, but instead on bashing and baiting Trump.

Trump said little about the Miss Universe episode the night of the debate, perhaps surprised by the attack. But in the days afterward, he counterpunched by bringing up Clinton’s past attempts to silence the women who came forward to accuse her husband of sexual improprieties.

The mainstream media continues to downplay Clinton’s past, claiming Americans care little about it due to the passage of time. Clinton of course was the victim of Bill’s infidelity, never mind that she enabled his behavior and today asserts to be a champion of sexually abused women, claiming that every sexually abused woman deserves to be heard and believed. Unless of course you accuse her husband.

Yet this same mainstream media continues to ask the question whether the Trump-Machado incident will be a factor in his run for the White House. Do we need any more proof of mainstream media bias?

Here is more: The Democrats disclosed a list of donors right before the debate to hide the fact that Comcast, NBC’s parent company and debate moderator Lester Holt’s employer, donated $5.6 million to the Democrat Party during the convention in Philadelphia. And we’re to believe Holt was unbiased, interrupting Trump 41 times while interrupting Clinton only 19 times? Holt never brought up Benghazi or the Clinton email scandal, even as he wouldn’t let the birther issue go in his questions to Trump. Do Americans care about Obama’s birth certificate?

I can’t know what kind of president Trump would make. If you do, feel free to leave a comment and let me know.

I do believe Trump when he says he doesn’t need the presidency. I believe Hillary Clinton does: it’s the one role missing from her 40-year resume. She’ll stop at nothing to win the White House, stoop to any low, say anything to win the vote of minorities even while Democrats are largely to blame for their plight, and she will do little should she win the election to improve race relations other than spend more taxpayer dollars for social programs to maintain the minority status quo.

Her pundits claim she has the experience to make a good president. Hell, even Obama says she’s the best candidate for president, perhaps ever.

What I see is experience at failed foreign policy, failure to keep national security secure, failure to keep government and the Clinton Foundation separate, failure to make good her promises as a senator of New York, lies to Americans and Congress and corruption, and failure in her own marriage.

Trump, when he stays on script, puts forth a good message: American security, America jobs, the American economy. He wants to do right for America.

Clinton’s platform is to stay the course Obama has laid out. More of the same failed policies that have gotten us to where we are today: no government transparency—as evidenced by Obama sending billions of dollars to Iran without Congress’ approval—a weakened infrastructure, a Middle East that threatens to blow up at any moment, a once “JV” terrorist group that has expanded to 30 nations, unfair trade agreements that have cost American jobs, a weakened armed forces, and a leadership that refuses to call ISIS what it is and what its name professes it to be, Islamic terrorists, because it would shame all Muslims.

Really? To follow that line of reasoning doesn’t the label White Supremacists shame all Whites? Didn’t Hillary Clinton shame all Trump supporters by calling half of them deplorable and irredeemable?

Clinton will likely appoint Supreme Court justices who will rob Americans of more rights, as Obama is doing. Her open door immigration policy is a disaster, one which will put American security at risk. She will dance at the stings of of Wall Street and Corporate America, both of whom have financed her campaign.

Again, I can’t know what type of president Donald Trump would make. He’s not a perfect candidate, but there never has been. His opponent is perhaps the least perfect candidate ever to run for the office. Maybe Trump would hold the office for only one term.

Yet I do know what type of president Hillary Clinton would make, and it’s not one I envision as good for America.

Trump represents real change: change in foreign policy and change in government. Clinton will maintain the status quo: more failed foreign policies and more government gridlock. A forgotten middle class as she makes even more money, and empty campaign promises given to minorities, until the next campaign.

Peel away the layers of the onion, Clinton’s attempts to cloud the election with garrulous claptrap, and the choice is simple.

neitherone2016

Leave a comment

Filed under Op-ed

One of Clinton’s Deplorables Speaks Out

“It’s deplorable that Trump has built his campaign largely on prejudice and paranoia.” —Hillary Clinton

No, Hillary, he’s tapped into the real concerns of Americans.

You think America is great. Trump understands what’s troubling the average American, starting with career politicians who say anything, make any promise to get elected, and then go about the business of lining their pockets with money from special interest groups, Wall Street, and Corporate America. Why would I, or anyone in their right mind, believe that you would be a champion of the common man—oh, pardon me, person. Man is politically incorrect, isn’t it?

You understand, Hillary, the top 10% wealthiest Americans because you’re one of them. You have no real concern over the economic growth of the nation or the unemployment rate. You’re a multi-millionaire who is beholden to the super PACs who are funding your campaign. Why would they sink millions into your campaign and expect nothing in return? Bernie Sanders asked that question many times before the DNC cheated him out of the nomination. You never answered the question, only denied it.

Trump’s a billionaire who will turn over the running of his empire to his children and has said he will accept no salary for the presidency. How deplorable is that? You and your husband will no doubt raffle off overnight stays in the Lincoln bedroom like you did when Bill was in office: all about the almighty dollar, isn’t, Hillary? She who dies with the most toys wins, even though you can’t take any of it with you.

What’s deplorable is that all you do is attack Trump and say almost nothing about your own platform. Maybe because you know no one would vote for you if you put it out there: eight more years of the failed policies of your predecessor and mentor.

And what’s even more deplorable is your pathetic attempt at an apology. Hillary, if you’re reading this (which I know you’re not, because I’m one of the deplorable Americans you view with such disdain, at whom you look down your elitist nose), an apology with an explanation is no apology at all.

I’m tired of politics as usual—the thought of eight more years of Obama, the idea of eight more years of lies and corruption and cover-ups turns my stomach and keeps me up at night.

I’m sure it does many other deplorables as well.

hrccaricature

Photo courtesy of ingur.com 

Leave a comment

Filed under Op-ed

January Book Trailers

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

You Say You Want a Revolution

“But if you want money
For people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait.” —Lennon/McCartney

I believe a contributing factor to the seemingly rise in this type of violence is government. Not only this administration for its failure to defuse race tension, but for the government’s failure to repair our still ailing economy and jobs market, its failure to work together (Republicans and Democrats) to do what is right for America instead of dancing at the ends of the puppet strings of Wall Street and the top ten percent wealthiest Americans. Not to mention an inability, or unwillingness, to combat radical Islam. Does any American today feel safe, believe that another 9/11 type attack will never happen?

Toss into the mix Black Lives Matter, which promotes hatred by inciting blacks with anti-police rhetoric, and we have a recipe for this type of behavior.

Now we have a president who claims on the one hand that not all Muslims are violent, but on the other hand that all law abiding gun owners in America are responsible for the actions of a few and wants to disarm all of us. Well, let him try.

This election cycle has been a revolution of sorts, a revolution fought with votes for outsiders like Trump and Sanders. Voters are expressing their dissatisfaction with career politicians who don’t believe a word of their own campaign promises but understand they need only to convince the voters that they believe those promises; career politicians who make promises they don’t intend to keep once elected; career politicians who line their pockets with cash paid to them by special interest groups instead of doing what’s right for the country as a whole. Democracy in America is dead. Our republic is a thing of the past, replaced by an oligarchy: government by the wealthy for the wealthy.

Frankly, the establishment politicians should be pleased that thus far this revolution has been fought with votes and not more bullets. They’d best “get it” or this type of violence will continue to escalate into a full scale revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen for more than 200 years.

Che

Leave a comment

Filed under Op-ed

Hillary Clinton Must Be Stopped

So Hillary Clinton interviewed with the FBI this weekend, over her use of a private email server.

Mainstream media made a big deal over her “three-and-a-half-hour grilling.” As if after a year’s investigation costing several million dollars, and man-hours from more than 140 agents, a mere three-and-a-half hours was such an ordeal. Today the media all but proclaimed her innocent of any wrong-doing, and expect that, over the next several days, the FBI will certainly concur with their proclamation.

HillaryClintonteachingyounggirlshowtodeleteemails

Hillary Clinton showing young girls how to delete email

It really matters little what the FBI decides, despite the fact she lied about getting approval for her home server: no paper evidence exists that she ever sought approval, and no one on the receiving end of the approval process concurs that such approval was given. Truly, why would such approval be given? Most of the rest of us in Corporate America are advised not to use personal email for business. But she’s a Clinton. She’s entitled.

More important, what did she have to hide? She claims it was easier for her. In what ways? I guess it made it easier for her to select which emails to archive to the government server.

Me, I work in a healthcare-related industry. If I should erroneously send ePHI (electronic protected health information) unencrypted to the wrong party, I could get fired. Apparently, since I don’t deal with national security, protecting ePHI is far more important. I could get fired; but she gets a free pass, an oops moment: “I wish now I hadn’t done it.” How many drivers arrested as a DUI proclaim, after the fact, “I wish I hadn’t done it”? Yet they pay the price. Because they’re not a Clinton.

Clinton has also stated, several times, that she never received or sent “sensitive information.” Really? In all her time as Secretary of State, she never received or sent anything considered “sensitive”? Just what was she doing in her spare time as Secretary of State, when she wasn’t seeking donations for the Clinton Foundation?

Maybe it’s not a lie, that she never sent or received sensitive information, if she had her aides opening all her email and doing all the replying. Her husband once claimed he “never had sex with that woman,” making a distinction between intercourse and oral sex.

Even if such email wasn’t labeled classified until after the fact, she should have treated it as such, as any elected official with half a brain should know.

She claimed to have turned over to the FBI all her email; yet when she turned over her server it was discovered she’d deleted about 30,000 emails. Even if only one of those deleted emails was government related, she broke the law.

Hillary Clinton purports to be a champion for sexually abused women, unless they come forward with credible evidence of her husband’s sexual improprieties. Then they are chastised and bullied into silence.

She once got a child rapist off and laughed about it in the aftermath, knowing he was guilty.

She lied about events in Benghazi and proclaimed, “What difference does it make now?” It made, and still makes, a helluva lot of difference to the families who lost loved ones that morning.

She’s taken money for the Clinton Foundation from dubious foreign sources who treat women as possessions.

Clinton is a supporter of Planned Parenthood, an organization that is hardly pro-woman. Planned Parenthood provides far more abortions than healthcare. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards is on record stating that 86 percent of Planned Parenthood’s revenue comes from abortions. Planned Parenthood also admits to the sale of human tissue retrieved from aborted babies.

And women are supposed to vote for her simply because she’s a woman.

But all of this is meaningless, really, when one considers there was a time not long ago when a party, neither party, would never allow a candidate to represent them if they had what Hillary Clinton has hanging over her head.

So what’s it say about a party that allows a corrupt politician to represent them in a race for the presidency, that occupying the White House is more important than integrity?

If the media has their way, Hillary Rodham Clinton will never be held accountable—not for the things she’s done that are illegal or questionable. They apparently want to see history made: the first woman president, no matter her poor record as Secretary of State, the poor decisions she’s made, her lackluster record as a senator.

So it’s left to the voters to get some semblance of justice for the ruin she’s left in the wake of her quest for power.

We must make sure this woman never wins the presidency.

Leave a comment

Filed under Op-ed

The Greatest: What a Legacy

Last week we lost a legend, The Greatest.

Last night I watched CNN coverage of the life of Muhammad Ali, which included footage of him lighting the flame for the 1996 Olympics. I cried back then to see the man who once floated like a butterfly with the physique of a Greek god, stinging like a bee his opponents with quick jabs, shaking from his Parkinson’s, fighting to hold onto that torch, and again fought back tears as CNN replayed that footage.

They showed a clip of Ali’s personal gym, with Ali claiming he was planning a comeback. I laughed, but believed if anyone could come back, he could.

Say what you will about him. Call him a braggart and a draft dodger, but on the former, baseball legend Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it,” and Ali did pretty much everything he ever bragged of doing. As for the latter, he made an important statement about the war in Vietnam, and all wars.

I loved him as kid growing up, rooting for him in every fight. Yes, he was imperfect, just like the rest of humanity. Married four times, fathered children out of wedlock. I don’t judge him for that. I won’t judge him for that.

I base my opinion of him for what his daughters say about him today as a daddy—that he taught to them only love and acceptance of others—what they say about him as a human being and the life he led—that he wanted to help others. I base my opinion of him for what his opponents—those he left on their backs in the ring—said of him, decades later, that he was the greatest in the ring and a wonderful human being outside the ring.

Did Joe Frazier hold a grudge against Ali for his taunts during their fight years? Yes, but that was his choice. Ali apologized, but Frazier chided him for doing it through the media and not face-to-face. Ali only said, “If you see Frazier, you tell him he’s still a gorilla.” Vintage Ali.

At Frazier’s private funeral service in Philadelphia in 2011, the Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke. When Jackson asked those in attendance to stand and “show your love”, Ali stood with the other attendees, which no doubt took great effort given his advanced Parkinson’s, and applauded.

He was the greatest, not only in the ring but in life, using his celebrity to further more than one cause.

In my opinion, for what it’s worth, he was the most colorful sports figure of all time. He was a showman, to be sure, taunting his opponents in press conferences leading up to fights and predicting the round in which they would fall. Ali and Howard Cosell were like a comedy team akin to Abbot and Costello, with Cosell playing the straight man to Ali’s antics: calling Cosell “How-weird” and threatening to pull off his toupee during interviews. But according to one of Ali’s daughters, he loved Cosell like a brother.

Maya Angelo wrote that people will forget what you said, and they’ll forget what you did. But they’ll never forget how you made them feel. That may be true of the rest of us mortals. But I dare say people will never forget what Ali did and said, nor will they forget how he made them feel. I read that everywhere Ali went, not matter where in the world, people stopped and smiled at him. This thirty-five years after he left the fight game.

Today, I grieve the loss of The Greatest.

ali1

Courtesy of chicagonow.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Sports

Desire for Acceptance

I never met my wife’s father; but he left me a great gift. He knows that I promised, in my wedding vows, to always cherish his daughter Colleen’s heart as the treasure it is to me.

I was fifty-seven when I married for the second time, after a hiatus as a bachelor for nearly thirty years. After my divorce I figured to marry again, but at some point—and I can’t say when—it stopped being a priority.

I dated several women, had serious relationships with five. Four bloodied my heart. The greatest lesson they taught me was that the lessons I learned in those relationships didn’t always apply to the next one. The fifth taught me that I’d much rather someone inflict pain on me than to be the one inflicting pain on another. Flaws

I told Colleen shortly after we met that I wasn’t looking for someone to fix me, to which she replied that she wasn’t looking for someone who needed it. That’s not to say that each of us hasn’t accumulated some baggage along the way, the result of choices we made, paths down which we traveled that led to some nasty destinations, childhoods that left us handicapped. We accept that baggage, carry it together, and try to enhance each other’s lives.

There are days when I’m not very likeable; and yes, there are days when I don’t much like Colleen. But that doesn’t mean we love each other any less.

Also from my vows: “Some have told me that I’m an acquired taste. To them I say, ‘Acquire some taste.’”

I never was much of a follower, even in my youth. I never marched to the beat of a different drummer. I marched to the beat of my own drum, which hasn’t always been a good thing. Sinatra may have done it “my way”, but no one calls me “Chairman of the Board.” Some have called me a writer of no small talent, while others have said I’m a shitty writer. Hemingway had his detractors, as all writers surely do; but I can’t say it doesn’t hurt. Creative types are sensitive, perhaps more so than others.

I’ve ruffled some feathers along the way of my life, but I long ago gave up trying to please others in an effort to get them to like me. It doesn’t work. Accept me as I am, a man reaching to make his dreams come true—or what’s a life for?—who endeavors to enhance the lives of those his touches, who tries to do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do but sometimes falls short, who tries not to judge others but holds them accountable; or accept me through my affiliation through my wife, until I prove otherwise.

I’ll say it again: I’m not perfect. No one is, which is not an excuse. I haven’t always lived my life as if it were an open book, but Colleen makes me want to be a better person. Each day with her by my side is a new day, a chance to do better than yesterday, a day of discoveries—of myself as well as her. That she loves me and accepts me as I am should be enough.

To those who accept me I raise to you a glass of Booker’s (because sometimes I prefer a good bourbon to burn). Thank you.

To those who don’t and won’t even try, I’m sorry, but only because it’s your loss.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memoirs

I Miss You, Dad

I try to honor my father every day of my life, even as I acknowledge I fall short more often than I care to admit.

Dad has been gone from me for eighteen years, and he occupies my FtCusterPlaquethoughts this time of year more than at any other time because of Memorial Day—he served in the South Pacific during World War II—to be followed next month by Father’s Day.

Father’s Day is painful for me because I have no one in my life who ever called me “Dad” or “Daddy” or “Father.” So it’s natural, I guess, for me to focus on the dad who left me behind. It’s gotten easier as the years have flown by to accept that I’m orphaned, but that doesn’t mean I miss him any less.

I discovered the pleasure and medicinal benefits of cigar smoking two years too late. It’s a ritual I’m certain I would’ve enjoyed with Dad, over glasses of bourbon chased by bottles of beer as we listened to a ballgame on the radio. He liked Rolling Rock, maybe because he fancied himself as Sisyphus. Now there’s a question I wish I’d asked him.

I was forty-one when he passed away. I thought I’d been around long enough to know what questions to ask before he died; but I was wrong. In eighteen years I’ve amassed quite a long list of “I wish I’d thought to ask Dad that while he was still around” questions. Most of them aren’t easy questions. Not of the “But why?” category of my long ago lost wonderment of the world around me, a world that was much safer, and certainly less complicated. But I may be looking back over the years through a certain colored pair of spectacles.

I’m struck by how similar certain aspects of our lives match now that I’m a few months shy of commencing my seventh decade. I met and married a wonderful woman, but struggle with career and publishing. Dad married a wonderful woman late in life, too, although not nearly as late as I, and also struggled with jobs late in his life, finally taking a job on an assembly line, a job he joined the Marine Corps in his twenties to avoid.

Dad loved to read, naming me after his favorite author, but once asked me what I was doing wasting my time writing a novel—my first, January’s Paradigm. He never told me how proud of me he was after he read the second draft. But he showed me he was.

I once asked him, shortly before he left, if he had any regrets. A silly question, I know, but he humored me: he smiled and said, “Of course. No one gets out of life without a few.” I never pushed him for specifics. I don’t know if I was being polite or simply foolish, or maybe ignorant—not knowing the questions to ask.

I don’t know why, but it weighs heavily on me the older I get, possibly because I never fathered any children of my own (a minor regret easily parried by thoughts of my first wife and what might’ve been had she birthed a child or two), but if I could ask my dad one question as we sat smoking cigars and sipping bourbon and Rolling Rock on the back patio of the house in which I grew up while we listened to a Tigers game on the radio, it would be this—I ask only because I never knew him as a marine.

My mother told me that after eight years in service of our country his mother urged him to leave the Corps, find a job, get married and start a family, like his two brothers. Dad always struck me as a free spirit, and today I wonder if he felt we, my sister and I, held him back, tied him down.

“Dad: did you regret becoming a father?”

Leave a comment

Filed under Memoirs

The Past Amok

quantum-time-travel

“The innocent is the person who explains nothing.”
— Albert Camus

 

Feeling as if Alexander Giston were measuring him, looking for a weakness to exploit, Petronis Vanagas stared back and steeled himself.

You’re Lithuanian,” Giston said. The statement surprised Petronis, which seemed to please his guest.

Petronis nodded. “My parents moved from Vilnius here to Amesbury when I was but a boy.”

“I have traces of Lithuanian blood, on my mother’s side.”

Petronis waited patiently, but curious.

“You’re considering providing financial assistance to Thomas Savery, in support of one of his inventions.”

Taken aback by this sudden change in direction, as well as by Giston’s strange accent, which he couldn’t place, Petronis said, “How do you know this? No one knows of my intent to invest in his working model, not even Thomas himself, since I have yet to approach him.”

“But you will.”

Petronis frowned. “As you seem to know, Thomas is experimenting with a steam engine. He requires some financial aid.”

“I ask that you refrain from providing such aid.”

“But, why? Steam is the future of England, and of the world.”

Giston shook his head. “It’s dangerous. Should Savery succeed with his steam engine, many lives will be lost in the future.”

Petronis snorted. “You cannot know that.”

“I can, and I do.”

“Are you a prognosticator?”

Giston nodded. “Something like that.”

Petronis twice pursed his lips. “I do not believe in fortunetelling.”

“Neither do I.” Then Giston added, “More than a century from now, Napoleon Bonaparte will refer to Vilnius, the capitol city of Lithuania, as ‘the Jerusalem of the North’ because of its large Jewish population. A hundred-fifty years after Napoleon passes through, during the House Un-American Activities Committee proceedings in 1954, a countryman of yours, an actor by the name Karolis Bučinskis, will change his name at the suggestion of his agent, who feared that an Eastern European surname might damage his career. Bučinskis will become Charles Bronson—he will take the name from the Bronson Gate at Paramount Studios—and become a major box office draw after his appearance in The Magnificent Seven, a movie in which he will be cast as one of seven gunfighters, Bernardo O’Reilly, not because he looked at all like an Irishman.”

To Petronis, what Giston just told him, related in a tone of voice that Giston seemed to think Petronis should take at face value, sounded like mere fantasy. What Petronis said was, “What is a ‘movie’?”

Giston smiled. “Moving pictures. In my time, we can capture images on film and show them on a screen, through a projector. Like a play on a silver screen.”

“Why would anyone wish to do that?”

“Because we can,” Giston said, and then, “You have no idea.”

Petronis sneered at his guest. “If you are no prognosticator, then you must be a raconteur, or worse, a liar.”

“I’m neither a fortuneteller or a teller of stories, and what reason would I have to lie to you?”

Petronis looked uncertain how to respond.

“But trust me, I know,” Giston said.

“How?”

Giston sighed, pulled a piece of paper from the folder he held, then pushed it across the table, toward Petronis.

Petronis looked at the slip, and felt his features contort into a semblance of disbelief.

“What sorcery is this?” Petronis was about to accuse Giston of witchcraft.

“It’s no sorcery. That’s a copy of the patent for which Thomas Savery will apply, after you provide him with the funding necessary to complete his working model of a steam engine.”

“You speak strangely,” Petronis said. “What is ‘thats’?”

Giston laughed. “‘That’s’ is a contraction. Surely you’re familiar with those? Shakespeare used them: shan’t, ‘twere, ‘twon’t, ‘tis, ha’n’t, o’er, e’en, ta’en—”

“I know what a contraction is.”

“‘That’s’ is a contraction of ‘that is.’”

Petronis returned his attention to the paper in front of him. “How did you come by this?”

“It’s not important,” Giston said. “What’s — what is important is that you refrain from writing the draft that allows Savery to complete his work on his steam engine.”

Petronis only stared at Giston. A moment later, he watched Giston pull a second sheet of paper from his folder and push it across the table.

Petronis studied the document a moment before asking, “What is this?”

“You don’t recognize your own signature on your own draft?”

“I have writ no such draft.”

“But you will, on the date signified on that draft.”

Petronis looked at the paper again. “A week from today?”

“That’s the great thing about the future. We have records of past events, and ways of making copies of them. Once I discovered that Thomas Savery had created the first steam engine, it was child’s play to find a copy of his patent. It was slightly more troublesome to discover that it was you who contributed money to his efforts to create an archetype.”

Petronis studied Giston, trying to discern if he might be lying. Failing, he said, “You are mad!”

Giston nodded. “A little more than a century from now a man will be born in Boston—you know Boston, in Massachusetts? Edgar Allan Poe will be an American poet, author, and literary critic known for his tales of mystery and the macabre. He will write of madness: ‘Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence—whether much that is glorious—whether all that is profound—does not spring from disease of thought—from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.’” Giston nodded a second time. “I might indeed be mad, but my purpose is pure: to prevent Savery’s madness.”

“Thomas Savery wishes only to further man’s foray into the knowledge of things mechanical. He wishes to help mankind.”

Giston shook his head. “Savery is misguided. He will succeed only in creating pain and suffering.”

Petronis stared at Giston in horror. “You truly are mad.”

Giston smiled. “No, I’m a time traveler from your future—from the year 1966.”

“You lie!”

Giston shook his head and pushed a third piece of paper across the table.

Petronis read the slip of paper—it was a newspaper clipping dated Friday, October 21, 1966. A detailed account of an accident that took the lives of many people, it included an image of the scene in the immediate aftermath. An explosion was the result of a steam engine: the very technology that Petronis supported.

When he finished reading the account, he looked at Giston. “Surely this is apocryphal.”

“It’s the truth,” Giston said.

“And this image? How was it produced?”

“It’s called a photograph. It’s made through a similar process than that used to create moving pictures.”

Petronis assimilated all that he’d learned over the course of the last few minutes: the copies of the patent and his signed and dated draft, along with the newspaper clipping, and movies and photographs. He felt his previous disbelief turn into something else… not quite belief, but wanting to believe. Because if it were true, then…

A plan began to take shape in Petronis’s mind, and he felt the corner of his lip curl up.

He looked up to find Giston studying him, but Petronis was quick to cover up his treachery.

“I require,” Petronis said slowly, a look of curiosity on his face, “more proof.” He watched Giston take a moment to fully understand what he’d left unsaid.

“You wish to be shown the future?” Giston asked.

Petronis shook his head. “The past.”

“Why the past?” Giston seemed curious.

“There is someone I wish to meet. Someone who is now deceased.”

Petronis watched Giston consider his request. Would he find it unreasonable?

After a moment, Giston said, “If I show you the past, then you will honor my demand?”

Petronis nodded. “If what you show me is truly the past.”

–℘

From Petronis’s home in Amesbury, he and Giston rode by horseback to Stonehenge, which was less than a league west of the small town. After dismounting, Giston led Petronis to just inside the Stonehenge circle, where he removed a small silver box with several knobs and two buttons from a leather case. He pointed the device at the center of the circle and pushed a button.

A moment later, Petronis saw appear a black pyramid that he estimated was approximately a half a perch in height.

Petronis followed Giston to the pyramid, which seemed to be constructed of a material unknown to Petronis—it was cold and hard to his touch, but not metallic. As they neared the construct, he watched Giston turn a knob, and, without a sound, an opening appeared in one of its sides. He gestured that Petronis should enter.

Once Petronis was seated inside the pyramid, Giston climbed in and sat next to him; their shoulders touched within the tight confines of the structure. Turning the knob on the device in his hand, the door closed.

“To what month and year do you wish to travel?” Giston asked.

“May, 1668.” Petronis was unable to withhold a tone of disbelief from his reply. He twisted in his seat; he didn’t like that his shoulder touched Giston’s.

Giston twisted a knob and pushed one of the buttons. A moment later, the pyramid emitted a low hum and began to vibrate. The air seemed to crackle, and Petronis thought he detected the scent of burnt tobacco. The black walls faded to gray, then turned maroon… then to red…

Feeling the onset of vertigo, Petronis closed his eyes against impending nausea.

“I feel ill,” he said weakly; his afternoon meal threatened to rise from his stomach.

“That’s normal,” Giston said. “It will pass upon arrival at our destination.”

A few moments later, the vibration halted, the hum faded, eventually stopping, and Petronis felt his nausea begin to subside. He ventured to open his eyes.

Twisting the knob, the opening reappeared, and Giston led Petronis out of the pyramid.

Petronis looked around before pronouncing, “As I thought. You attempt a ruse. We have gone nowhere.”

Giston laughed. “Of course not. But we have traveled thirty years into your past. This circle of stones looks just as it does now in my time.”

Petronis was unconvinced.

“Where to?” Giston added.

“Back to Amesbury.” Petronis was certain that once they arrived he would easily be able to prove Giston’s folly.

Petronis led Giston through the streets of Amesbury, noting subtle changes to the town, mostly to the names of business establishments—his favorite pub, Ye Olde Speckled Hen, was now a smithy. Petronis felt his heartbeat quicken as he considered that perhaps Giston’s wild story was true, and that maybe he could carry out his plan.

After a few turns, they came to an address on Coltsfoot Close. After dismounting, Petronis positioned himself in front of the door and knocked; a moment later an attractive young woman appeared in the doorway.

“Yes?” she said.

“You are Trisha Collins?”

“Yes.” She looked confused. “Do I know you, sir?”

Petronis ignored her. “You are wed to John Collins?”

“Yes.”

“You will give birth to a daughter, whom you will name Jennifer, eight months from now.”

“Not to my knowledge am I with child.”

“Trust me, you are.” With that, he procured a single-shot flintlock side pistol from an inside pocket in his waistcoat and shot the woman, straight in the heart. The woman fell back, dead before she hit the floor.

“My god, what have you done?” Giston sounded horrified.

“I just shot my wife’s mother,” Petronis said, matter of fact, “who is carrying my wife to be.”

Giston noticed that the shot had drawn the attention of neighbors.

“We must go,” he said.

–℘

When they arrived back to Petronis’s home in 1698, Giston demanded to know why Petronis had brought a gun with him.

“In 1966, English citizens are forbidden by law to carry weapons.”

Petronis grinned. “The English Bill of Rights of 1689 guarantees the right of Protestants to own firearms, along with their Catholic brothers.”

“Had I known you carried a gun, I would’ve forbidden you to bring it with you.”

Petronis laughed. “You did not ask.”

“But why did you want your future mother-in-law dead?”

“My wife,” Petronis said, his previous good humor gone, “is a philanderer. I learned a week ago that she not only betrays me, she betrays me with another woman.” After a moment, he added, “I wonder to whom I might now be wed.”

Before more could be said, a knock sounded lightly on the door to Petronis’s den.

“Who is it?” Petronis called; he seemed anxious.

The door swung in and a voluptuously beautiful young woman entered.

“It is I,” the woman said sweetly. “Silly Petronis, who else but your dear wife, Charlotte? I did not hear you come in. Nor,” she added with a glance at Giston, “did I know you had company.”

Petronis was delighted as the woman stepped to him to place a kiss on his cheek, and he imagined the treasure that lay in wait for him beneath the bodice that restrained her ample bosom.

“Our evening meal will be ready shortly,” she added. “Will our guest be staying?”

“No,” Giston said before Petronis could reply. “I must be going.”

When Charlotte closed the door behind her, Giston said, modulating his voice carefully so that Charlotte wouldn’t overhear him, “You fool! You have no idea what you have done.”

“Obviously I killed my wife to be before she was born. I am now wed to a beautiful woman who clearly adores me.”

“But you have no idea what else you may have changed because of your thoughtless act.”

“What do I care?” Petronis said. “So long as Jennifer is no more.”

“You have no idea what you may have wreaked upon my present, by killing an innocent woman and her unborn child.”

“But is that not what you wished to accomplish—a change to history?”

“But for the good. For all I know, the death of your wife and her mother have resulted in…”

“What?” Petronis was excited by the prospect of learning something of the future.

“Never mind.” Giston said, adding, “A theory exists in my time, known as The Butterfly Effect. It suggests that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas.”

“What is Texas?”

“Never mind.” Giston seemed lost in some secret thought. “Fascinating,” he muttered, seemingly intrigued.

“What?”

“I must return to 1966 at once,” Giston said. Then he asked, “Do we have a deal? You will not assist Savery with his steam engine?”

Petronis shrugged. “Of course. I am a man of my word. But surely you must know that if Thomas does not succeed, someone else will, a year from now, or in ten.”

“Maybe. But even if he or someone else does, I’m hoping that this slight change to history will be enough to alter the events that led up to the catastrophe of October 21, 1966.” Then, in response to Petronis’s questioning gaze, he barked, “Never mind,” and bid a hasty departure.

–℘

Petronis opened the door to find a stranger standing there.

“Yes?” he asked.

“My name is Alexander Giston. It’s important that we talk.”

“Do I know you?”

“You could say we’re old friends,” Giston said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t recall me.”

Puzzled, Petronis stepped back to allow Giston entry. After closing the door, he led his guest down a short hallway, where an attractive woman, slight in build, approached from the opposite end.

“You have a guest,” she said, glancing at Giston. “Will he be staying for dinner?”

Petronis looked at Giston, who gave a shake of his head.

“No,” Petronis told the woman. “It will be you and I, Jennifer.” He was unable to hide his disdain for the woman.

“Why do you treat me with such disregard?” she asked.

Petronis rolled his eyes. He had not yet confronted Jennifer regarding the issue of her infidelity. He said only, “We will be in my den.” As he brushed past her, he heard her sigh.

Once they were seated, Giston said, “I’m here to break time.” After that cryptic prelude, he proceeded to relate an improbable story of time travel, providing evidence via several documents: a patent, a draft signed by Petronis, and a newspaper clipping depicting a horrible accident involving a steam engine—a much more sophisticated version of the model on which Thomas Savery was working, the very model in which Petronis was planning to invest.

Wanting to believe in the stranger’s claim, Petronis said, attempting to hide his intentions, “I require more proof. A visit thirty years into my past should suffice, I would think.”

“No,” Giston told him.

“As I thought,” Petronis said. “You attempt subterfuge.”

“No,” Giston said a second time. “This is my second visit to meet with you, although to you, it is our first meeting. Our first visit took place three days from today. You convinced me then to take you into your past. I consented, and you shot and killed your wife’s mother and her unborn child, your future wife, Jennifer.”

Petronis only stared at Giston, wanting to argue against the validity of his guest’s claim. But he couldn’t refute the stranger’s account: his plan was to return to the past to erase his wife’s existence.

“Your wife must survive,” Giston said, “because she is with child, conceived just prior to your discovery of her duplicity. Your son must live because he will create a family tree that will lead to my wife’s birth.”

With that, Giston pulled out a gun and shot Petronis, who slumped at his desk.

As Giston inspected the corpse to make certain it was devoid of life, the door burst in and Jennifer, seeing her husband dead, screamed, “You have killed my husband… murderer!”

“Yes,” Giston said. “You have no way of knowing, but you should thank me.” Then he added, “You will give birth to a son in little more than eight months. Care for him well—you and your lover—because the future depends on him.”

Then he rushed past Jennifer and out the door.


The gist of most time travel stories is changing some event in the past to alter the present—the past’s future, and The Past Amok is no different. But it is also a tale of revenge: Alexander Giston seeks retribution for the death of his family. The reader is led, throughout the narrative, down a path, but when they get to the bottom of the hill, they find a surprise destination awaits them.

Has your spouse ever cheated on you? How did you react? With rage, hurt? Were you tempted to even the score by having revenge sex with someone else? When Petronis discovers his wife’s infidelity and the opportunity presents itself, he retaliates by erasing his cheating spouse’s very existence. Did he overreact?

In short fiction, often what is left unsaid is as important as what the author spells out with words on a page. It is my hope that the reader here will consider Petronis’s response to his wife’s betrayal as having failed. Certainly, even with her gone from his life, the pain of her betrayal remains with him, while she, because she never existed, is none the wiser to his discovery of her infidelity. If none of us gets out of our life without a few regrets, will Petronis one day come to regret never having confronted her with her duplicity? Of course he is robbed of that opportunity by Giston’s action to rectify the past to save his present.

But should the reader not come away with these questions, it is my hope they at least found The Past Amok an entertaining read.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Short Stories

The Cobb Legacy: Life, Death, and Ty Cobb

“I used to think Romeo and Juliet was the greatest love story ever written. But now that I’m middle-aged, I know better. Oh, Romeo certainly thinks he loves his Juliet. Driven by hormones, he unquestionably lusts  (7)

Leave a comment

May 15, 2016 · 10:58 am

Autumn Love

Autumn Love

Leave a comment

May 15, 2016 · 10:51 am

Now Available—The Cobb Legacy

Cagney Nowak is writing a novel around the 1905 shooting death of baseball legend Ty Cobb’s father by his mother a week before Ty was called up by the Detroit Tigers. Although she was acquitted by an all-male jury on the grounds that the incident was accidental, the townspeople of Royston, Georgia, thought otherwise. When Cagney begins to relive the night of the shooting in his dreams, more than a century later and in the guise of Amanda Cobb, he is led to discover his father’s deepest secret.

More than a mystery, The Cobb Legacy is the story of a man’s efforts to connect with his dying father, a World War II veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and to come to terms with his obsession over the Cobb legacy as well as his own adulterous affair and impending divorce, while doubting that love with an old friend can be his.

Apex Reviews gave The Cobb Legacy its highest rating—five stars—calling it “an eye-opening tale of drama, scandal, and intrigue highlighting the living, breathing history of a fatally-flawed, intrepid folk hero.”

TCL Front Cover

Click to purchase

Leave a comment

Filed under Books