Is the Novel Dead?

That nearly a half-million novels are published each seems to indicate the novel is not only alive, but thriving.

But the other side of the coin seems to indicate otherwise.

A couple years ago I read that in 2014 sixty percent of Americans admitted to not reading a novel. Additionally, forty percent of college graduates claimed to never crack another book after graduating. A former colleague of mine, a Millennial, backed that up by telling me he reads only non-fiction.

Oh, and that sixty percent, it was put forth, was only expected to grow.

Last holiday season I watched a roving reporter in Times Square polling shoppers what they were buying their kids for Christmas. When the reporter suggested to one mother, “How about a book?” she looked at him sideways and replied, “You’re kidding, right?”

So demand is dwindling while supply is increasing. So how can anyone not named James Patterson, Stephen King, or JK Rowling hope to compete with nearly a half-million new titles released every year, most poorly written, just as poorly edited (if at all), poorly packaged drivel?

Additionally, Internet shorthand, texting, and emojis seem to not only be destroying communication but the beauty of language as well. People no longer have to express their feelings with words; they simply click one of hundreds of emojis to relate what they’re feeling at any given moment.

It seems people no longer have the patience to read a novel. Many would rather wait for the book to be made into a movie, which is why the major publishers look only for manuscripts that can be sold to Hollywood to turn into next summer’s blockbuster movie.

Is the novel destined to become only a curiosity, something to be studied in school as an archaic art form?

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Fascism on the Left

The Left continues to call the Right fascists. But today the Left employs everything they define as fascism. They’re trying to silence the Right.

Who is protesting conservatives at our colleges and universities? The liberal Left.

Who thought about blowing up the White House? A liberal Leftist.

Who protested in the streets for weeks after the election, destroying property, and berating Trump supporters? The Liberal Left.

Frankly, fascism has more in common with socialism, an intrinsically left wing ideology, than conservatism.

Don’t call me fearful, xenophobic, racist and uneducated when you know nothing about me. That’s a typical Leftist tactic: someone disagrees with you, label them with one of a host of phobias, the more the merrier, because the Left has no platform. They tried to buy the election in Georgia as well as the White House last fall. Neither worked out well, did they?

The Democrats have no platform other than “no borders” and “support sanctuary cities”, and attack the Right: you’re backward if you’re pro-life (an attack against religion); you’re xenophobic if you believe in borders (employing the laws already on the books); you’re homophobic if you believe in men’s and women’s public restrooms. You’re evil if you don’t agree with the Left.

Because I believe in borders, because I believe in legal immigration, because I believe a nation without borders isn’t a nation doesn’t make me xenophobic; because I’m pro-life doesn’t make me backward; and because I believe in gender specific public restrooms doesn’t make me homophobic.

Go ahead and call the new militant Left Antifa (short for anti-fascism) if you want. They’re still employing the same tactics they accuse the White House of using but that I don’t see. What I see is the Left trying to silence the Right through violence.

Our colleges and universities won’t let anyone with even a hint of conservatism speak at their campuses. That is an affront to free thinking. What is that teaching our youth about opposing views, that out of debate often comes the best solutions?

Just because liberals cite the dictionary definition of fascism doesn’t mean the Left can’t employ the same tactics. They do, they are, and it’s all sleight of hand to blame the Right for being fascists even though they’ve done nothing to warrant that label.

We had eight years of failed Left wing policy and look what it got us: wage gains largely confined to the rich. A toppling of the Libyan regime that not only did not include Congress but failed. A line drawn in the Syrian sand that was crossed and ignored. Race tension the worst it’s been in forty years. A “stimulus” plan to help recover from a recession that resulted in the weakest economic growth of any post-recession period since World War II.

There’s a reason why some called Obama the Bubble President. He entered office thinking, They love me, so they’ll love everything I do! But he had no plan for what to do if Congress worked against him. Every president has to negotiate with Capitol Hill, but Obama thought wheeling and dealing, negotiating—politics—was beneath him. So he signed executive orders to further his agenda, certain his successor, Hillary Clinton, would continue his legacy but that today are being overturned.

The voters wanted a change and so they voted for one. All you boo-hooers need to grow up. Vote Trump out of office in four years if you still think he’s doing a poor job, but leave him to do the job he was voted into office to do. We all want a better, safer America. Let him sink or swim on his own. He doesn’t need your help to fail. If he fails he’ll do it on his own. But no president succeeds on their own.

There are a number of items on Trump’s agenda with which I don’t agree. But there have been a number of items on every president’s agenda with which I haven’t agreed. So what? All Americans vote based on the choices presented. Trump was not my first choice in the primaries, but when it came down to him or Clinton, he was, for me, the only choice.

Disagree with me if you must, tell me I’m wrong, but leave the personal attacks out of it. I’m not evil, I just want government to do what it’s supposed to do: represent We, the People, who elect them to office. There is enough bickering between the parties. They’re so caught up in their personal agendas they’ve forgotten us.

Consider that solidarity is a two-way street: We’re all tired of gridlock in Washington; that’s why Middle America voted into office someone to “drain the swamp.” Maybe, just maybe, if we all got together to support “45” government might work a little better.

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The Beauty of Words

Words are beautiful. They have meaning. Words have life. They can make one feel. They can make one laugh, or cry. They can incite people to anger, or bring two lonely hearts together. They make something happen inside one’s head by inspiring imagination. When ancient Man first uttered something that was understood, civilization was born. With language, Mankind set itself on the road to becoming the dominant species, became a force with which to be reckoned.

But words are dying, not a slow death, and that means imagination is not far behind.

Texting and Internet shorthand are conspiring to kill communication. My wife gets frustrated with me when I draw a conclusion from something she said she didn’t intend. She claims I take her too literally. “That’s not what I meant,” she tells me. To which I reply, “Then say what you mean.”

I work with a number of Millennials, and none of them read novels, or even crack a book. They’d rather wait for a novel to come to the silver screen because then they don’t have to use their imagination. They, too, despite all the connectivity that texting boasts, fail to understand communication, the beauty of words—the utter loveliness of connecting with another human being by conveying thoughts, ideas and feelings acoustically rather than over the Internet.

If words are dying, that means the novel, too, will soon die, destined to become a curiosity, something only studied in classrooms as an archaic art form.

Nearly 305,000 new books were published in the U.S. in 2013, most self-published. Just about all of them are poorly written, just as poorly edited (if at all), and poorly produced by wannabes who know nothing of craft and have no desire to learn craft let alone the best practices of writing, whether it be fiction or nonfiction.

Toss into the equation the growing number of Americans who admit to not reading novels and you end up with a growing supply of poor product and a decreasing demand.

I find all of this sad, and not only because I make my living from arranging words on a blank monitor.

We live in a society of divisiveness, of left and right, where communication is broken. No one listens; everyone seems to want to be heard.

A society in which no one listens is fated to fall.

Does anyone hear me?

words-have-power

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A Life In Retrospect

“Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? If so I can’t imagine why. We’ve all got time enough… to cry.” —Robert Lamm


Wise words written nearly fifty years ago by a man in his long ago youth.

Yet in preparing for death, and in preparing for the loss of a loved one, there is never enough time.

Funerals are strange affairs. People attend them for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most popular reason is to pay one’s respects. Unlike Rodney Dangerfield, who never got any respect, apparently some people feel the dearly departed is deserving of a whole heap of it. I’m not sure what that means, paying ones’ respects. Did they pay them respect while they were alive, when it truly mattered? That, to me, is one of life’s great mysteries: why we withhold telling those who mean the most to us what they mean to us until it’s too late. Maybe we assume they know. That’s a travesty.

Others attend funerals in support of the family left behind, and that’s a fine sentiment. When someone loses a family member it provides much comfort to know that others share your grief.

And speaking of grief, yes, funerals are in large part about grief, the sharing of it. A burden is more easily carried by a multitude than by an individual. But more important than grief, funerals are—or should be—about a celebration of a life shared.

A man’s life should never amount to a few hundred words spoken after he’s gone. If a man’s life is measured by what he left behind, then John’s life is a fortune of the greatest value. He left behind two fine children who in turn became fine parents, giving to their daddy a chance to be a fine granddaddy. What greater gift could they give in return?

He also left behind a wife who adores him. He was the true definition of a biblical husband. He cherished you, Joan, and took care of you. In fact, he took care of you so well you had to call your son a few weeks ago, after John was admitted to the hospital for the last time, because you had no idea how to turn on the air conditioner.

By the number of people here today, I know he touched the lives of many others as well, mine included.

John was a simple man who enjoyed the simple things in life. Polish beer, watching a Wings game, time spent with family. A good card game. Especially a good card game. He enjoyed laughing, and enjoyed even more making people laugh. He took at least as much pleasure in giving a gift as the recipient received in its receipt.

John got it: life’s meaning. That he was here to give and not to receive. John received in the giving. He understood it’s not what you gather throughout a lifetime, but what you scatter that make up a memorable biography.

It’s okay to grieve loss, to shed a tear or three; but that’s not what John would want. He would want us to remember him the way he was in life, the way he lived his life. He would want us to remember that boyish grin, that mischievous glint in his eyes, his laughter. So grieve, and weep if we must for a man taken too soon. But he’d be taken too soon had he lived another twenty years. But smile, too. That should be our everlasting gift to him in return for all he gave us.

Yes, we lost one of the good ones. One of a kind, sui generis. And so today we mourn our lost John. But lost isn’t the right word. Lost is what happens 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 it.

But take joy in that there surely must be much dancing on the other side of the Great Divide over John’s arrival. Indeed, in addition to his heart of gold, Heaven has received:

  • a mischief maker
  • a rascal
  • a rogue
  • a scalawag
  • and one of one the luckiest card players I’ve ever met.

Yes, John, our debate is over: you have to be lucky in order to be good. God, I suspect, has met His match at the euchre table.

Long life to you, John. The Red Solo Cup that contained your essence may have broken, but who you were in life, who you are, lives on. Just as you live on in the memories of your children and grandchildren, your Joan, and all who already miss you. We are all better for knowing you.

Thanks, John, for all the cherished memories. Keep a seat open at the euchre table for me, will you?

God keep you.

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Twenty Years a Fatherless Son

Dad: It’s been nearly twenty years since you went away, and this is my twentieth Father’s Day spent without you to share it. I sit this morning writing these words with a heavy heart, even as the chipmunks run, chasing each other around, going about their chipmunk lives. The cigar I wish I could share with you brings little comfort to me.

Today is a day to honor you, to share with you, and sadly this is the best I can do: a few words, not nearly enough—words I hope you care enough to read, looking over my shoulder to read them as I type them.

My memories of you are pleasant, yes, even the not so good ones. I’ve forgiven you for much, understanding you were handicapped in many ways, and that as a father, you did the best you could.

I, too, have done the best I can, handicapped in my own way, falling short often, always seeking, striving to find understanding, while failing to achieve my many dreams. At times I’ve considered giving them up, knowing my race is drawing to a close and losing my drive. If you’ve been following my life, I know I’ve disappointed you, perhaps more than many other sons.

Still, I’ve found a measure of happiness, marrying a wonderful woman, but pained that you never met her. I know you would love her. I continue to endeavor to make my final dream come true. I think you know what that dream is.

I’ve written nine novels, and aspects of you appear in nearly all of them. Not always did I depict you in a favorable light, but hey, it makes for good reading. Still, I always showed you with redeeming traits, a sympathetic character. In one of my books I wrote you as the father I always wished you could’ve been. I hope that doesn’t bring you pain.

Know on this day that you are missed, as you are every day. I feel no less an orphan than I did the day you left. My world has been much colder without you.

I hope these words bring you some measure of comfort, more than they bring me, because writing them reminds me how much I miss you. (By the way, I’ve kept your watch running since you left it to me. Wearing it brings me comfort.)

Happy Father’s Day, Dad, with love and understanding,

Your son, Joseph Conrad

babyjoey

Dad, with J. Conrad, circa 1957

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Imitation Not Sincerest Form of Flattery

Inspired by Kathy Griffin’s recent sick attempt at humor.

What Type of World

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Mother’s Day 2017

Mom: This is my 20th Mother’s Day without you. I still remember the first one as if it were last year. A family once five now three joined together, sadly for the last time, to celebrate the life of a cherished departed member.

Mother’s Day has gotten less painful over the years—did you ever imagine me this old?—even as I miss you more and more.

Many unanswered questions unanswered because they were unasked because I never thought to ask them at a time when you could answer them. Another of life’s mysteries. Wisdom, enlightenment, often (if not always) comes too late.

I can’t know where you are, Mom, whether you’re bound by time and space, but I choose to believe that you, some part of you, still exists. I’m happy today, as I was twenty years ago, that your suffering is at an end. I suspect you’ve found peace and, hopefully, reconciliation. That last, I know, was important to you.

I don’t know whether what goes on on this plane matters to you, or whether I even mean anything to you anymore. But know this: you still matter to me, and perhaps that’s more important than the obverse. The measure of any mother is what she means to her children after she’s gone.

I’ve fallen short so many times over the years, failed to achieve many of my dreams, and have often wanted to give up. But I haven’t, even as my race tires me as it draws to its end.

Dad told me shortly before he joined you that no man gets out of life without a few regrets. We don’t, to my knowledge, get to choose our parents. But if we did, I’d never regret choosing you.

I can only hope you don’t regret me.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, from your baby boy.

kitchen-sink-bath

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Yearning for Simpler Days

My first car was a 1965 Beetle that I purchased from my dad for $200 (he bought it new for $1,795). I was probably eighteen years old. Panama beige was the color. He’d purchased it, sans a radio (Dad tended to be miserly), and a summer or two later the family (Mom, Dad, my sister and I) drove from Michigan all the way down to D.C. for a Marine Corps reunion. Imagine the four of us—I was eleven or twelve and already five foot seven or taller, my sister thirteen or fourteen—baggage for all of us for three or four days, no radio, making that trip today.

A few years later, after I got my driver license, Dad taught me to drive the stick shift in the Bug. I was petrified, not by the clutch but by Dad, the retired marine who was more drill instructor to me in my youth than Dad. But it turned out well. I was a quick study and thereafter anytime I asked for the keys to the car Dad would make a point of asking me where I was heading and how far it was. Then he’d go out to the car to record the mileage on the odometer. A few years later, after I brought it up to him, he told me it was a father’s duty to distrust his children. Ouch.

So when I bought it from Dad the first thing I did was install a quad stereo radio/eight-track player in the dash. Then I added a Hurst short-throw shifter, replacing the knob with a Coors beer can. This was before Coors could be gotten east of the Mississippi. I knew a pilot who flew to Colorado on occasion and I often had him bring me back a case of the beverage. Strange today how I never purchase Coors and drink it only when family or friends have it at their homes.

A ten-inch three-spoke steering wheel and wooden dashboard ended my, in Han Solo’s words, “special modifications.”

By the time I took it off my dad’s hands the running boards had rusted off, as had the back bumper. On cold winter mornings when it wouldn’t start, Dad had to push me with this car, backward, down the street. I’d wave him off just before popping the clutch to jump start it.

Kissed a girl (not my first) in that car at a drive-in movie (can’t recall the title).

Some grand memories, although one or two might not have been so grand at the time.

I sold it three years later for maybe $75 to a kid with whom my dad worked and bought my first new car: a Datsun B210 for (if I recall) just over $3,000, and I thought nothing of that Beetle for many years.

But then I wrote about it for one of my novels—most of my novels contain biographical moments from my life. In A Retrospect In Death, my protagonist trades his Beetle in for a Toyota Celica, and as he drives his car off the lot he sees his old Bug in the lot and feels a certain remorse I didn’t when I’d been his age, as if he’d broken up with an old girlfriend for a prettier model, one with more baubles but little personality.

It’s been said we become old the moment we begin to look back, reflect more on the past than looking ahead to the future. Maybe that’s human nature. After all, I have far more years behind me than ahead of me, and I can only hope and pray my future won’t be laden with adverse health issues.

VDub

Just like my old friend, including the half-moon wheel covers

Anyway, I’m not sure this is worthy of taking up space on my blog, but there you have it.

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Doesn’t Seem Like Twenty Years

“It was twenty years ago today
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play
They’ve been going in and out of style
But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile
So may I introduce to you…”
—Lennon and McCartney


It was twenty years ago yesterday, Mom, that you departed this world for a safer, happier, healthier place, and my world became much colder. The last shred of my boyhood innocence was gone.

kitchen-sink-bath

A Happy Mother

So much has happened over those twenty years—some good, some not so good. But I still remember the night you went away as if it happened last Sunday and not a Sunday two decades removed.

You passed easily, deservedly so. No death’s rattle for you: you simply took one last breath, and never let it out.

I grieved your loss from me then, but was happy for you that your suffering was at last at an end. Nearly a score of years battling Parkinson’s disease, a relentless foe, a battle you could not win. But in my eyes you were valiant until the very end.

I’ve kept you alive in my fiction and non-fiction, perhaps seeking a reason for your affliction, an answer to your own question: “Why me?” Perhaps one day I’ll find it. Maybe, having become a writer, I already have.

It’s been said that our lives are made up of a series of rooms. If that’s so then I was blessed to share a room with you for a time far too short.

I miss you, Mom, and I will until my memory abandons me or I take my own final breath. I hope you’ll be waiting for me—your little boy.

Until then, to “she who bears the sweetest name, and adds a luster to the same; long life to her, for there’s no other who takes the place of my dear mother.”

destined-to-become-my-mother

Sweet Sixteen: Destined to Become My Mother

 

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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.

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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

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


Part One

“I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.”
Ronald Reagan


Chapter One

“I’m Marla. I’m almost four years old.”

“Good. And where do you live?”

“In Michigan.” I giggled. “It’s shaped like mitten. Daddy showed me a picture of it in a big book of maps that has all the states. There are 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.”

“Our address, honey. What’s our street address?”

I felt my smile turn into a frown.

“Come on, sweetie. You know this. It’s just four numbers.”

“I live at 6-5-4-3 Arcola in Garden City, Michigan.”

“That’s right. And what’s our phone number?”

I closed my eyes and tried to picture it. Mommy had written it down on a piece of paper. “Our phone number is Grafield—”

“Garfield.”

“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 happens 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 it.

“I just told you.”

“Why would I get lost?”

Mommy breathed deep. She did that when she got 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 looked at Mommy, unsure. Then I shrugged.

“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.

After she read Tubby Turtle to me it was time for my nap.

Floating, warm and safe and comforted by the rhythm of life, in a black hole of perpetual darkness. Not blinded by obscurity, uncaring of lack of sense of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Nothing exists in this crèche to delight or disenchant, save the bean.

Muffled sounds from nearby—voices, words mean nothing, not having mastered language—other times cadences of varying tempos, some canorous, soothing; others cacophonous, unsettling…

Accosted by upset, fear, anger: emotions not understood but eschewed, embracing, always seeking to commune with the constant rhythm of life. The voices intensify in volume—short, clipped words. Meaningless, they communicate more upset and anger and hurt…

The passage of time has no meaning, not hours, days or months to mark the growth of the bean—constant change, evolution, becoming, unquenchable thirst.

Stirred by sorrow followed by great distress. Sobbing, the darkness wracked by great waves of anguish, then dizziness and a feeling of sickness followed by euphoria. But the euphoria, too, sickens, alters. Turns perfection into something… less perfect.

More time passes and something changes. The rhythm of life distorts. Still floating, still warm, the previous tranquility gone, replaced at first by indifference, then a growing loathing, directed at the bean that has done nothing save only desire to grow, to become more, to seek meaning, find acceptance. To love and be loved…

In time, immeasurable, more words, filled with vitriol, spoken by a single voice, hurled at the bean. After the words comes acceptance, the anger gone, replaced by a singular purpose that frightens…

The seat of creation preemptively invaded. The fluid that sustains drains; air rushes past unformed ears, lungs sear, pressure exerts on limbs.

In that split second, as the pain grows to excruciating proportions but just before being torn asunder, an unlived life flashes before unseeing eyes…

“Shhh, honey, it’s okay. It’s okay.”

I was awake before I knew I was, wrapped by familiar arms. My scream died in my mouth, replaced by a whimpered, “Mommy?”

“Yes, sweetie, it’s me.”

I wriggled out of her hug. I needed to see the proof. Mommy wiped a tear from my cheek with her thumb. “The bad dream?” she asked me.

I nodded. “Uh-huh.”

“The monster?”

I shook my head.

“No?”

“Nuh-uh.”

Mommy moved my hair away from my face. “Want to tell me about it?”

“I—”

“What is it, honey? You can tell me.”

I shook my head again. “I can’t.” Because not yet four years old I was unable to explain what I did not understand.

“Well, you can tell me about it whenever you feel like it. Sometimes talking about something unpleasant can make it go away. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Now come on. You can help me fold the laundry and then help me get dinner ready.”

“Daddy!”

Daddy scooped me up into his arms. “Who’s this little girl?”

“Daddy’s little girl!”

“That’s right. Daddy’s little girl. But you’ve grown so big since I saw you this morning.”

I giggled as Daddy kissed my cheek. Then he rubbed his cheek against mine and I felt its roughness.

“You’re picky,” I said.

“Darn right I am. I picked you as my little girl, didn’t I?”

I giggled. “Silly, Daddy. Your face is picky.”

“Well, excuse me for not shaving before coming home.”

“You smoked a cigar, too, didn’t you? I can smell it.”

“No pulling one over on you, is there?”

“How come Mommy won’t let you smoke at home?”

“She does.”

“Outside doesn’t count. How come she doesn’t let you smoke in the house?”

“Not everyone cares for the smell of cigars, Marlie.”

“It’s not that,” Mommy called from the kitchen. “It leaves a film on everything—the cabinets, the furniture. Now come on. Dinner is on.”

After dinner Daddy put Glenn Miller on the record player and when “Kalamazoo” came on we danced. I stood on his feet as he twirled me around the living room. I sang the chorus: “K… A… L-A-M-A-Z-oh, oh, oh, I gotta gal in… Kala-ma-zoo…”

Then we went onto the patio. Daddy lit a cigar and I sat on a cushion between Mommy and Daddy and we watched two sparrows bathe in our bird bath next to the garage. After they flew off I asked, “Daddy, can we move to Kalamazoo?”

Daddy laughed. “Why would you want to move to Kalamazoo?”

“I want to be a girl in Kalamazoo.” I loved the melody of Glenn Miller’s song. It was playful. That’s what Daddy once said. But I also loved the word Kalamazoo, the way it made my mouth feel when I said it. The way it sounded in my ears. I saw it as a fun place. Otherworldly, like the land of Oz, which also had a “z” in it.

Mommy said, “Not satisfied to be a gal in Garden City?”

“There’s no song about Garden City.”

“Well then, why don’t you write one when you grow up?” Daddy said.

That surprised me. “You really think I could?”

“You can do anything you want, honey,” he said.

We went quiet then, as the sun set behind the house behind ours. Soon the crickets started chirping. I looked up at Daddy. The end of his cigar glowed cherry red as he drew on it. He saw me watching him.

“What am I doing?” he asked.

“Drawing,” I said. “Which isn’t the same thing as drawing a picture.”

“Good girl.” Then he added, “English is a funny language.”

I recalled our lesson from a few days ago. “‘There,’ ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ all sound the same.”

“But all are spelled differently and have different meanings.”

“There,” I said, pointing at an airplane passing over our house, “is an airplane. T-h-e-r-e.”

I heard our neighbor’s dog, Skippy, bark. “Skippy isn’t our dog. He’s their dog. T-h-e-i-r.”

“Right.”

“The Tigers lost fifteen of their first seventeen games this year, but they’re—‘they are’ with a, a…”

“An apostrophe.”

“A apostrophe.” I said the word slowly so I would remember it.

“‘An,”” Mommy said. “An apostrophe.”

I ignored her. Mommy was always correcting me. I didn’t like being corrected.“They’re playing better after firing their manager.”

“That they are,” Daddy said. “Although I don’t believe Norman’s replacement, Jimmy Dykes, is the answer.”

He was nearly finished smoking his cigar, which meant it would be time for me to go to bed. I shivered, although it wasn’t cold outside. I inhaled deeply. I loved the smell of cigars. It reminded me of Daddy. I couldn’t understand why Mommy didn’t like it. If she loved Daddy she should love cigar smoke.

But I had another reason for wanting to take the smell of Daddy’s cigar to bed with me: I hoped it would keep away the bad dreams.

The face, long and white and haggard, nearly hidden by long hair, greasy and unkempt, loomed above me. I reached for the face. Tiny arms with tiny fingers flexing fell woefully short. I wailed, wanting to be held.

The head shook once from side to side. A hand, large and heavily veined, pushed a smoking white stick between the lips on the face; its tip glowed red as the face breathed in deeply. A sigh accompanied by a thick cloud of smoke.

I wailed and reached.

Words mumbled, barely audible. They meant nothing to me, whose only means of communication was crying.

Hungry: cry.

Soiled: cry.

Hold me: cry.

The words registered no meaning; but the hostility with which they were spoken instilled great fear in me. But fear held as little meaning to me as did words. I only wanted, needed, to be held. To be coddled. To be loved.

The lips on the face parted to reveal yellowed teeth—nearly as yellowed as the hair that hung to either side of the face. The smile was not one of affection or meant to reassure. Cold, calculating eyes stared down at me, helpless and needy…

I wailed: Hold me.

The hand that held the smoking stick dropped. A moment later I felt a searing pain on the bottom of my foot. My wail turned to a scream…

I came awake, unsure whether the scream had passed my lips or was only in my dream. When neither Mommy or Daddy came into my room, I knew the scream had only been in my head.

I rolled over onto my tummy and turned my body to let my feet drop to the floor, then pushed myself away from my bed.

Barefoot, I walked past Mommy and Daddy’s room to the bathroom. The wood floor creaked and I hoped it wasn’t too loud. In the bathroom, after closing the door, I switched on the light. Then I hoisted myself onto the toilet seat to tinkle.

When I finished I got down and sat on the rug in front of the sink. Grabbing my right foot I leaned forward and turned my foot so I could see the bottom. There were several pink, puckered scars. But they didn’t hurt.

I got up and, standing on my toes, reached for the cold water tap. I let it run for a while to get good and cold, then half filled the cup that sat next to Daddy’s razor. I drank most of it, spilled the rest into the sink, turned off the light, and went back to my room.

As I passed Mommy and Daddy’s room Mommy said, “Are you okay, Marla?”

“Yes. I was thirsty.”

“Okay. I love you.”

“I love you, too,” I said.

A moment later I crawled back into my bed, confused.

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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.”

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Election 2016: Epic But Perhaps for All the Wrong Reasons

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

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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.

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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.

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Photo courtesy of ingur.com 

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January Book Trailers

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