jimagain

Rants & ramblings of the disaffected

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Good Night, Bob!

So much for normal…

Another night at the office working late. Twilight is falling, the sun is tottering on the horizon as if it were precariously perched on the brink of nothingness. Azure beams of sunlight stab between the blinds before surreptitiously fading into oblivion ten minutes later. I’m alone. As usual. The other career underachievers that share my office have long given up the appearance of effort, retiring for the day. It should come as no surprise as most my co-workers have opted to abandon productivity for a ride on the corporate welfare bandwagon all the way into retirement.

For them, work has become a vestigial appendage cast aside on the trek of corporate evolution.

Alan is always the first out the door and the last in. Counting down the minutes at the office from the moment he pulled out of his driveway this morning; his entire day was spent terrrorizing productive employees with random acts of unsolicited socialization. His arsenal includes personal matters, mundane questions, or any other pursuits of a trivial distraction not related to work that he can pursue; buzzing from cubicle to cubicle pollinating every conversation with his well-honed repertoire of irrelevant pander.

‘Eeyore’ has left as well; that’s what I call him. Don is the office gloom-monger-er. Parked beneath a perpetual black cloud, he patiently waits for something to go wrong. From there he typically launches into an extended tirade against technology before digressing into what’s wrong with society and politics and the rest of the world in general.

Two hours earlier you would have heard a spontaneous outburst erupt across the office, a shrill, high-pitched laugh that could only be described as a cackle. That would be the receptionist flirting with the deliveryman. This time next week, he will have been discarded as emotional flotsam for the next available fling. Not that we keep count but we’re already on no. 37 this season. Refer to the chart behind the door in the break area, the one with the stake through the heart.

Last to go was, Cynthia. I’m not sure I can explain how a ninety-eight pound female in heels can make such a clatter? Coming down the hall, she sounds like a Clydesdale on a cobblestone street; clop, clop, clop. She’s the overpaid Human Resources guru whose job it is to redefine success to an increasingly lower state of expectation thereby boosting morale. She cheerily spouts sporadic bits of pop-psychobabble like a jack-in-the-box wound too tightly and regurgitates them to employees at meetings or splashes them across bulletin boards.

It turns out we’re a random collection of dysfunctional misfits that researchers studying abnormal psychology dream about.

Welcome to my world.

I’m a draftsman pretending to be an engineer and this is our dysfunctional corner of the galaxy. In our cubicle zoo, a dysfunctional Dilbert-esque psychology has long since seized the occupants of this office like a grievous murrain. Ours is a place in the corporate universe occupied by chronic underachievers where now we subsist in an incapacitating state of sub-par mediocrity. Once we had ascended those lofty peaks of corporate success before slowly lapsing into a collective employee stupor that dissolves neurons, leaving us the impaired assortment of office zombies we are today.

Forty minutes earlier, I had looked at my watch. “About that time,” I announced to myself. “Any moment now…” Alan suddenly ducks his head into my partition. “Anything I can do before I leave?” It may as well have been a prerecorded messaged played back. We both know he doesn’t mean it. It’s just his signature exit before he departs the building. I utter some rhetorically random retort involving sheer absurdity just to see if he will respond.

And then its silent.

Back to the present…under the garish glare of a flickering fluorescent light, the office is cast in a surreal ambiance of artificial light.

I digress for a moment to that troublesome light. Earlier this week…I complained we ought to get that thing fixed. “I think the ballast is going out.” “Put in a work order,” they said. The last time maintenance checked it out he said, “can’t find nothing wrong.” I argue there is. He dryly states, “turn in another work order if you want it checked out.” And they will, four to six weeks later. That’s how we play the work order game here; a perpetual version of procedural musical chairs; a cyclic chase-your-tail series of pushing papers from in-basket to out, generating forms and excuses. Solving the problem has no legitimate place in the work order game.

Where were we? Oh, yes. Back to the abandoned office where now I can get some work done.

I sit fuming about that light as I plod on under the luminescent glow of the monitor beneath the flickering light. The light worsens to a phosphorescent stroboscope, an oscillating mental metronome of rapidly flashing light pulses with the intent of brain-washing that lulls me into an unnatural rhythm. Soon I lapse into a lethargic stupor. And I sigh out loud.

And that’s when I hear that familiar sound.

From within the employee break area, I hear the sound of a refrigerator door slowly creak open. The faint glow of dim refrigerator light scintillesces from the darkened room, followed by the sound of a hollow metal door being sucked shut as it closed.

I hear it coming. Like a lumbering run-a-way amoeba, lumping along tediously across the tile floor.

I can only describe the visitor as a gelatinous mass exiting the fridge, an amorphous blob of stray cytoplasm that oozes and wobbles and slides across the room. Toward me. It’s a bit unnerving the first time I admit when I encountered this phenomenon but I’m not fearful of the bizarre occurrence. Running away from a gelatinous blob isn’t a major concern should it suddenly turn malevolent. I have real feet and a musculo-skeletal structure; the blob only has pseudo-pods. The primordial protoplasmic creature lumbering along has no teeth but I suppose if you were to lay motionless long enough, he might eventually be able to engulf you by the process of exocytosis.

“Hello Bob,” I say casually as I continue to work, not bothering to look up.

Maybe I should explain more, in case you’re still freaked out a bit. Bob is a spore spawned from leftovers that have been leftover again in the employee fridge. Lurking in the stale, musty air on the back shelf which he shares with the fuzzy blue macaroni.

I simply call him, Bob. What ‘Bob’ is is a matter of taxonomy; you may prefer to categorize him a mycelium or some mutated form of spontaneous generation, an example of punctuated equilibrium; but I prefer ‘Bob’. I will leave that question up to the zoologists and the philosophers.

Bob slowly, tediously pulls himself up into the chair beside me. And he sighs. “Man. You guys have really got to clean out that fridge. Its getting rank in there, even for me.”

He slurs his words slightly but for an amoebic creature with no larynx, I think he articulates well.

“I told the cleaning lady to take care of it”

Bob has one appendage, a tentacle like protrusion he uses for grasping and occasional gesticulation for emphasis when making a point. “Jim,” he wraps his tentacle over my shoulder, “I think it’s time we got rid of Myrtle.”

Maybe you don’t routinely take advice from gelatinous masses inhabiting your fridge, but Bob’s opinion carries a lot of weight with me.

“It’s not my call, Bob. Somebody else has to make that decision.”

“They should promote me to office manager. I’d fire some people around here if I ever get the position.”

This whole scene isn’t nearly as bizarre as you may think. And Bob is actually a pretty nice guy, once you get to know him, in spite of being a mutated form of leftovers. Must have been those additives; some synthetic chemical reaction or something…or some random case of evolution, spontaneously generated. After all, a refrigerator would make a perfect incubator for evolving life with it’s controlled environment and a plethora of nutrients, and an ample light source to initiate a photosynthetic jump-start of bio-synthetic processes. And despite having jello for brains: No, literally, he has gelatin for brains; for a discarded, mutated leftover, he’s very intelligent.

We have frequent conversations when I work late. Tonight is no exception. We discuss things for the next hour before Bob yawns and announces he’s retiring to the fridge. “I’m starting to thaw out.” And then he adds, “Jim? Go home. You look like crap.”

It’s hard to argue with logic like that. “I rub my eyes and hit the save button before shutting down my laptop. “I think you’re right, Bob. I’m outta’ here.”

“See you later”, he says as he plots a course toward his habitat. “Oh, and leave the TV on, will you. I’m trying to catch up on my current events.”

“You got it, Bob. Good night.”

“Hmmmmmph.” And with that I hear the sound of a hollow metal door being sucked shut as it’s closed.

“Good night, Bob,” I say affectionately.

The Elusive Weekend

That’s the thing I hate about week-ends. A three day weekend has drawn to a close and before I know it, it will be time to get up and go back to work. This week, Monday will be on Tuesday and Friday won’t get here until, well Friday!

It all started so wonderfully. It was Friday afternoon and the clock was ticking down. We were already starting to line up like the Kentucky Derby. I don’t know about where you work but here it’s not a good idea to get between the door and the other employees about quitting time. When the clock hit four-thirty, the parking lot looked like a scene from the ‘Running of the Bulls’  !

All the way home, I’m strategically planning my week- end itinerary of ‘what-ever-i-wanna-do’  . The glorious three days of leisure was about to commence. I was so giddy with anticipation that before I knew it, Friday night was gone. No need to panic, I still had Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to go!

Saturday morning, 6:30 A.M. Apparently nobody told the dog I had the day off. I awaken to find a nose, cold and wet, hovering over my head. It’s Cletus; six-foot tall, 120 pounds of Great Dane and he wants to play. Pulling the covers over my head fails to convince him of my desperate need to sleep in. So I put him outside. A few minutes later some sadistic soul lets him back in and he makes for my bed with all the finesse of a linebacker in a ballet recital. I hear him coming and the only thing I can do is to curl up in the fetal position and brace for impact.

Wham! He lands on me like a small jumbo jet. I can feel an over-sized paw on my temple and suddenly I think I know the last thing a cockroach feels when he gets stepped on.
Ok, Ok! I’m up!

Later that day I’m only halfway through my ‘honey-do’ chores and I find him sprawled out on the couch …sleeping. That’s so not fair! I suppose I should have cleared my itinerary through my wife before indulging in the delusion that I was the head of the house.

And before I know it, Saturday is just about gone with Sunday in the on-deck circle. The way I see it, Sunday doesn’t even count for a day off. I get a few moments of intense non-activity between the morning and evening services and suddenly Sunday is slipping away from my grasp.

And now it’s Monday morning. The inevitability of my impending return to work has begun to descend upon me like a cloud of gloom, much like the last day of summer. Monday doesn’t fare any better and by nightfall I have resigned myself to my fate.

It’s a glum scene the next morning, reminiscent of the first day of school. We’re a dreary bunch of serfs returning to the drudgery we call work. Not even the prospect of a jelly dough-nut can cheer me up. And in the back of my mind, I can see Cletus sprawled out across the couch …sleeping while I’m back at work.
Sigh!

And that’s what I hate about weekends!

The Wee Hours

I suppose I should know better by now. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I should know that the rules of the universe have been temporarily waived. Things that normally can’t happen within the realm of possibility often do in that nether region between those late night to early morning hours. Strange things happen in the wee hours.

Some things are best left untold. As to the state of my mind, you are free to draw your own conclusions. But these are the facts.

The last thing I recall that night was working away at my laptop in my study. It was late, already after twelve. I remember thinking I should be in bed. My friend, Cletus waited impatiently for me to finish. Finally in an expression of impatience he laid his huge head on the desk beside the laptop and looked up at me with those sad eyes, as if he knew what I refused to admit to myself. He does this easily with all four paws on the floor while looking pathetically depressed. Cletus is a Great Dane. He says so much without saying a word. I was groggily trudging along at my project and occasionally dozed at the keyboard. I got a loud sigh from my impatient friend but I pressed on wearily groping for that some particular thing I wanted to say, as if sheer determination may bridge the impasse I found myself at. Finally in exhaustion, I gave up, shut down the laptop, turned out the light, and trudged wearily to bed where my friend has already gone on to occupy the best spot. He took up almost the whole bed as usual and once again I had barely a corner left to curl up in.

Sleep; a deep trance-like state of narcoleptic respite descends upon me as my mind struggles to resist. Overwhelming sleep wafts me away on a journey into nothingness, drifting along on a current of unconscious bliss. And somehow, in my semi-catatonic state, I become aware that something is amiss. The harder I try to ignore the sensation, the more prevailing it became.  The ebb & flow of unconsciousness begins to recede as the tide, once again leaving me somewhere between awake and asleep.

I feel this sense of something amiss, a general state of foreboding yet lacking a specific, discrete cause for it.

I should just roll over and go back to sleep. I should but I don’t. I am awake, I’m not sleep-walking. If this were a dream, maybe I would once again find myself wandering along some nameless interstate in just my boxers to face an endless cavalcade of preposterous incongruities. I feel sure I’m not dreaming.  “What this time,” I groan?

Once again, I drag my weary self from a comfortable bed and stagger off with trepidation to investigate. I grope along the wall toward a room which I had left darkened but instead a sliver of light glimmers beneath the door. It’s coming from under the door to my study. Odd, I remember thinking to myself. I turned off the light in there before I retired to bed.

It’s happening again.

For a moment I pause to brace myself for the unexpected, and  give the reluctant door a shove.

Perhaps I’m too weary to be shocked but this is the wee hours of the morning. I find Cletus in my chair, sitting upright at my desk, typing at my laptop. My wife is sprawled out across the floor. She looks up at me, silent. I stumble in the room, take in the bizarre scene in disbelief, pause, then take another look. When I am satisfied I see what I’m seeing, I step over her to slump into the recliner beside my desk. Silent.
“You look awful,” he says to me. “Go back to bed”
Ok. So my dog is typing at my laptop, why shouldn’t he talk as well? And why should I hesitate to reply?

My mind gropes for an explanation, it must be playing tricks on me., weariness has caused a temporary departure from reality. May as well go along with the joke, “Something seems…odd.” I reply. What are you doing?”

He turns to me and pulls his glasses down at the bridge of his nose. “What’s it look like I’m doing?” “You know,” he pauses looking directly at me, “you know this is all kind of strange, don’t you?”

I yawn. “Yes it is.  I never knew you could type, let alone read.” On the surface I appear nonchalant but beneath the facade my mind desperately tries to reconcile the irreconcilable disparities I’m confronted with.

“No, I was talking about your story. It doesn’t transition well, and the plot seems a little too…contrived.”

“Contrived? I’m having a discussion with a dog while my wife lies on the floor. That is contrived. Besides,” pointing toward the laptop, “it’s a work in progress,” I protest.

“Just offering some constructive criticism.”

Cletus holds a treat over her head. “Sit,” he demands. She sits upright on her haunches for a moment for her treat, then scratches behind her ear with her foot before collapsing back onto the floor. “Good girl,” he praises her with a pat on her head. Then adds, “I think she needs out.”

Without thinking, I put her collar around her neck, lead her to the door and put her outside on a leash. And that’s when I thought I heard the voice from inside the pizza box. “It’s time to get up.” I peek inside the carton to see one lone anchovy on a slice of stale pizza lecturing me in a raspy voice. “Get up!”

“I am up,” I argue.

The next morning I wake up back in my corner of the bed and suspiciously cast an eye toward the reticent canine sprawled across the bed. “You never told me you can talk,” I taunted him. Cletus shifts his eyes toward me in a gesture of presumed innocence.

A twinge of guilt takes me. “I’m sorry if I was a little testy last night, Any time you want to give me your insight, I will listen.”

From the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of my incredulous wife as she walks by, cup of coffee in hand, house shoes scuffing across the carpet. She gives me her patented look of disdain before moving on.

“What got into her,” I wonder? No more pizza with anchovies before bed for me, I tell myself.

The Creaking Door

The Uninvited Come to Visit

Few sounds, so completely normal, sound so completely unnatural as a creaking door. Ominous. Foreboding. Eerie.

Here is the scenario; a man is working alone late at night when, for no apparent reason the door slowly creaks open. No one enters the room, there is no obvious physical cause that presents itself to explain how it happened. It just happened. I was that man and what happened afterward has forever blurred the distinction in my mind between the natural word and the unseen. A seemingly innocuous event would have not arrested my attention as this but this was no ordinary happening.

I suppose to a rational mind this would appear to be no conundrum, no dark sinister event but instead a simply explainable one. Before this night I thought myself to be such a person, not given to imagination or superstition but instead a possessor of a skeptical mind that investigated any apparent anomaly before flying off to a myriad of hasty conclusions. You see, I believe that in the physical universe every cause has effect, every action – reaction; but I have since learned that in the dimensionless realm of the non-physical, exist things which have no cause or explanation – only phenomenon.

I fancy myself to be a scientific man and logical. Surrounding myself with laws of physics which admittedly do not always function as I expect. I take refuge in the thoughts of men smarter than I. Tonight the theories and textbooks are no refuge. Hiding behind books and theories and a vocabulary of scientific terms, these primal fears still lurk under my bed or dwell in my closet. I thought I had evicted him a long time ago but beneath the facade of the rational, fear still resides as a tenant that refuse to leave, in some deep dark corner of my thoughts.

Only two hours before, all was bright. The world was a logical place. Then streaks of pastel hues slowly gave way to darkened skies. At first I watched as the twilight fell, the sun hung suspended between day and night. The sun locked in struggle between light and dark lay slowly dying. Struggling, it succumbed to the inevitable overwhelming, smothering blanket of night that soon will grip the planet under its cloak of blackness. Only slivers of light reflected off the moon’s surface prevent the entire earth from sinking into the empty black sea of night. The last stabs of light racing from 97 million miles away careen off the hemispherical horizon across a twilight canopy and then… darkness has fallen. Outside a dog barks in the distance. Leafless trees, like suspects apprehended in individual acts of felony; throw up their limbs as arms in surrender, against the spot light of the waning moon.

Of every sensation I’ve encountered, the sound of a door turning on un-oiled hinges as it slowly creaks open seems an invite, a portal into the unknown. I fear my door has become an unguarded passageway into the world of flesh and blood I inhabit, where visitors cross over to co-habitate my world.

Seemingly this coinciding of day and night has opened the door to a host of the dark domain to visit. Enter the denizens of the dark; under the canopy of inky blackness they are now free to flit about from shadow to shadow, stalking and lurking to their dark hearts content. These animate non-entities feed off fear, mocking the palisades of logic we hastily throw up in defense and then cower behind. Shapeless visitors roam and walk about at will. Tonight the world is their playground, we are their zoo as they stare and gawk and laugh. Most are mildly curious, content to be spectators watching, observing their pitiful counterparts of flesh and blood as we dawdle about. Some are a bit more mischievous; a thump or a bump in the night. Others unleash sheer moments of unbridled terror from random, unexplained events; knocking things over, objects falling, creaking steps, the clack of shutters banging, curtains flailing wildly from an open window. These are the physical entities they can control; the tools of their trade of terror. Outside I hear the wind moan and howl as gusts hurtle leaves wildly about as projectiles, dashing them against bricks or scraping them loudly against the concrete.

Working late at night, alone in a room with no one but a vivid imagination only elevates the feeling of dread that I am not alone; someone or something unseen has entered the room, is there with me. But who ..or what? And what is the intent of the visitor? Evil or malicious? Perhaps merely to frighten? My skin crawls, starting with a tingling up the back like a thousand tiny ants marching up my spine. Hair follicles stand at erect attention. Shallow heavy breaths flee my pounding chest… for a moment the entire universe freezes in suspense. pupils strain to see the invisible as my eyes dart rapidly back and forth… still nothing. But is it nothing …or some thing that light does not reflect? Fear grips my mind, The suspense of the unknown & the untouchable is palpable, akin to a thousand pin pricks prickling the skin, spreading from head to toe. As if an unseen visitor has entered the room; my heart stops, my ears lock-in to the faintest sound. my neck cranes, my head turns, and wide eyes stare to see …nothing. There is nothing there! Instead of providing relief, a pervading sense of indescribable fear replaces it, makes it seems all the more foreboding. A visible foe no matter how formidable is not nearly so fearful as one unseen. Has someone come to join me tonight?

I tell myself, this is not the case. Frantically, the rational mind searches for a rational answer. I too began searching but soon gave way to a desperate…groping; grasping at straws of logic. The obvious conclusion is the wind blew it open. Isn’t it? My conscious mind has a logical explanation for everything; yet my subconscious seems to perceive a different reality. On a level I am consciously unaware of, my subconscious knows a multi-faceted level of reality that my rational mind refuses to accept.

Inside my room, the opened door half ajar leaves a gaping hole of uncertainty. A long pregnant pause followed suddenly by a burst of noise; the sound of wildly flailing, thrashing, and banging erupt from inside the hallway! My heart races wildly beating in response before I recognize the sound of shutters and curtains driven by the wind. It is a long time before I return to a semblance of normality. I grin nervously, feeling infinitely foolish as I concede to myself that I’m a bit too skittish.

And then I see the intruder inside my office. How I had not noticed him sooner?!! There inside my room, a light burns but outside my reflection stops short at the window pane. A ghostly apparition that resemble my self stares back at me in dread; as if a soulless entity masquerading as me glares back at me like a sullen spectator. I stare at myself staring back at me. I cannot see out, whoever is out there can easily see inside. Perhaps even now is watching me as I slink in silent fear. Is it my reflection …or my uninvited guest?!!

What does this mean? Am I afraid of my self; a dark, inner existence of a baser, lower form of me that lurks within waiting to wrest free, as a modern day Mr. Hyde and overpower my conscious self? Or is it a fear of another creature that masquerades as me? Behind the facade of normalcy might be a malignant malovent being that maquerades much like a virus cloaks itself in the cells of it’s host? Who can tell?

I can only wait until the morning comes, when reason returns, and day prevails.

Ten-thousand Lives

It’s a grim scene, a young man to be excecuted by hanging, charged with espionage. Such is the senseless ravage of war that so often cuts short the young life in it’s prime. Facing the gallows with resignation, he spoke of giving “ten-thousand lives” if necessary. Could it be, before his life was taken, that a dying man’s regret somehow becomes fulfilled?

DNA: the strand of life; a pool of common genetic material from all of humanity has been drawn, connected across the generations. One life, one event reaches out across the span of history. Perhaps the young man was granted his dying wish?

An ancient text reads, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.” ( Deuteronomy 32:7 ). History is more than dates and insignificant trivia dredged up from days long past. To be appreciated, it must be viewed from the persepctive of those who lived it. History cries out, it tells a story to those who listen.

Pascifists and Rabble-rousers

These are the times that try men’s souls.” A young man writes with passion at a wooden desk, an oil lamp flickering in the background. He pauses to reflect, then continues. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” The scene progresses to a printer busy at work, reading the words out loud as his assistant sets the type. “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” Next we cut to two men standing on the street corner, one reading a pamphlet out loud to himself as the other listens intently. “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.” One or two gather to listen until others crane to hear. The man reads the words out loud to a raucous but uneasy crowd, lifting up his voice. “Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”

British soldiers march In the background, eying the boisterous gathering.

Two things there was no shortage of in the colonies in those days; pacifists & rabble-rousers, with the masses caught up in the middle. The climate darkens with the prospect of war. Whatever your opinion or side, the outcome seems inevitable.

The Pool of Human Experience

This thing we call, DNA: could it be more than random groups of complimentary base pairs connected by hydrogen bonds and wound about a double helix frame of phosphate and ribose? Perhaps we only arrogantly assume science knows all, that no mysteries remain to be solved or explained. How then do codons and indels and RNA primers work together to express that code? We understand the basic concept of the exchange of genetic material that takes place between parallel sets of chromosomes during meiosis, expressing unique physical traits and characteristics. But what about personalityand behavior? How little do we know? How much deeper does this current run beneath the surface in the course of humanity? Are experience and behavior, personality and pre-dispositions somehow simultaneously copied and transcribed and reproduced along with the physical traits; handed down from one generation to the next?

Into The Lair

A man sitting alone in the crowded tavern is a admission to the fact that he’s out of place, he doesn’t belong. In a place where men go to meet and share a drink, a man by himself attracts attention. This young man sits silent, listening. Under normal circumstances such an aberration would be politely ignored. but these times are anything but normal. The country is at war. a large force overseas is stationed in the city. This is a war of neighbor against neighbor, Whigs against the Tories and Loyalists, the pacifists and those clamoring for war. It is a civil war, a revolutionary war. This is a time of war and everyone is a suspect.

Background: New York falls to the British about mid-September, 1776 . As Howe draws the noose, Washington narrowly escapes. A young man volunteers to go behind enemy lines in order to spy on the British. He knows full well the risk should he be caught.

One man sits and watches. “Hello? What have we here,” he asks himself. “Sitting alone, is he? And why, pray tell does a man sit alone in a tavern unless… he’s not from here.” He takes a sip from his glass. Could he be a spy? A few ales later and some idle talk from some of the regulars, eager to talk at the prospect a free draft…

“He’s a quiet man, they say.” Only recently has he begun to frequent the establishment. They talk in hushed tones against a raucous din of noisy patrons spewing out ale along with the news of the day. “Mostly he just sits and listens as people talk. Says he’s a teacher of sorts. Just recently arrived. Not from here, he is.”

“That so?” Later on he joins the lone patron.” Mind if I join you,” he asks, then sits before he can consent …or object.

“Not a bit, Sir.”

He seems a bit nervous, the young man. His new found companion appears to be more than a bit tipsy. “So what’s a man like yourself here alone in a crowded tavern. Not a good place to be alone, I think.” He grins. He watches his manners and conduct. Obviously he’s well-educated but I think naive. He’s a spy alright but not a good one. Let’s see if he’ll take the bait.

He lowers his voice in the crowded tavern to voice his displeasure at the politics of the day. Feigning his allegiance to the American colonies, he seems bitter. “Lost my business to the King. Confiscated for lack of payment…” he leans in close “…taxes,” he says! “Thugs and robbers, the lot of them. I have information,” he offers. “…troop movements and the like. How’d I’d love to share it with those rebels after what they did…” The trap is set. He arranges a hasty meeting with his contact. Later that night the stranger is apprehended by the Queen’s Rangers. Interrogated by General Howe himself, he is charged as a spy.

The Substitute

The scene cuts to a school in New York. A young man enters a classroom. The substitute teacher has arrived. It’s cold outside. He wears a scarf wrapped tightly about his neck.

“Who are you,” the class demanded?

“Perhaps it is I who should be doing the asking. Who are you,” he countered? “For the next two days I will be your substitute teacher. I see by the lesson plan, we’re studying the Revolutionary War.” I’m going to jump in with an excert from a play by the name of, “CATO”, holding up his well-worn copy.

“A play, they ask? How boring is that? “Boring.” he replies?

“Have you read it?!!” Ignoring their protests he begins to read. His words rise to compete with his audience. Passion rings from his words as one by one they fall quiet, caught up in the fervor of the words.

How beautiful is death, when earn’d by virtue! Who would not be that youth? What pity is it That we can die but once to serve our country.

This play helped serve as an ideological inspiration to the American cause during the war. These words inspired General Washington during Valley Forge; besides him, we think also inspired Patrick Henry to utter, “Give me Liberty or give me death!’ And one other, an apparent reference from the remarks of Nathan Hale in his last words as he went to the gallows.

“How do you know so much about history?”

“Mostly from reading eye-witness accounts. That’s the answer I’m going with,” he smiles. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Two days later, the regular teacher returns to class and the myterious substitute slips away as quietly as he appeared.

At The Gallows

It’s a grim scene at the gallows to watch an execution. The young man conducts himself with resolute firmness and dignity. He is resigned to his sentence, unapologetic to the end. He makes his last remark, defiant. His is not the first young life lost to war. Lives lost, interrupted are a casulty of war. Cut short by a bullet or a bayonet or in this case… a hangman’s noose.

Before he dies, he utters words that still live on. He has a regret, not that he had been caught or he had been sentenced to death so young. His regret is of a different sort. As we listen to his words we get the sense that as unpleasant as his fate may be; given the choice he would do it again if need be. His regret is that he only has one life to give. Accounts vary but something to this effect. Should he have ten thousand lives to live, he declares that he would readily give them all. “Ten thousand lives,” he said. And then he is summarily executed. Spectators witness the grisly scene. Witnesses, gripped by what they saw that day record the event for posterity. This sacrifice, given once will be told again. Rehearsed, recounted, and perhaps even …re-lived?!!

The Dictates Of The Past

Who are you?

No, really. Who are you?

Surrounded by our modern environs, besieged by mind-numbing television in a culture satiated with entertainment; operating under the pretense that science can explain all the mysteries of life. I suppose it may be easy to convince yourself you are a mere random act of chance and not something deeper, a product more of design than chance. A healthy dose of skepticism should alert us that we may know so little of what we only assume. Perhaps your roots go deeper than you comprehend, perhaps you are more closely connected -wired- to the past than you suspect. Is it possible that memories may not be inherited from one generation to the next? Just maybe the thread of DNA that runs through our genetic flow, runs deeper than we realize. Maybe an exchange of genetic material gleaned from our past progenitors, an undercurrent in the gene pool carries you along in its tow. Perhaps it dictates more than the color of our eye or the complexion of our skin? Does your past still exert an influence over you, stronger than you understand? Maybe this explains why we’re so unique and yet so similar? Do we inherit more than physical expressions of our progenitors? Maybe history does indeed repeat itself, not a script we act out verbatim as mindless drones but predispositions that run deep within, exert more power than we realize..

At one time, simple blobs of protoplasm were sufficient an explanation to satisfy a man inclined to believe that life could be so simple, or so simply explained. Some say love is merely a combination of certain hormones and the physiological interaction of the sympathetic nervous system. Is it mere chemistry? Or is there more to it than neurotransmitters and biochemical reactions? Maybe what we call science is less than the perfect knowledge we assume it to be, is instead an oversimplification of more profound truth we have yet to comprehend?

Everyday Heroes

I see them everyday. soldiers. Just ordinary people whose lives have been interrupted, preparing to deploy overseas. Most come back. Some return but not the same as they left. Some do not at all.

“Here,” she says, handing him a letter. “This came for you today, looks official,” she says. “What is it?” He reads to himself in disbelief, lips moving silently. His heart drops, he pauses. Then with somber expression looks up. “Orders,” he replies. “These are my orders. My unit”, he pauses… “were being mobilized. Afghanistan.” Winded by the news. They embrace. “I’ve got to go,” he says. She nods but doesn’t let go.

Most return, some do not.

Inconclusive

A few days later the FBI show up at the school to investigate the recent substitute teacher. “We’re not at liberty to discuss the case.

A couple of agents confer in private. “Who was he? And why would he impersonate a teacher?”

The other agent replies,”Can’t say that we know just yet. Maybe he’s an idealogue of some kind. Maybe he had some agenda. We’ve got some background check information on him but not much more. The information we gathered so far indicates he was a veteran. Here’s his the file with an I.D. card. According to this, let’s see, last name…” pauses… “Hale …he was a captain,” Pausing again… “but that can’t be right?

“Why not?”

“Last year, about this time… he was killed in action in Afghanistan.”

The Man-code, Explained

What am I talking about? The unwritten Man-code  that resides within the male subconscious, it dictates our behavior and permeates our being.

The Man-code is why men behave like men. If it was disseminated in a course like other subjects at school, like math, we’d sit there and stare out the window. Fortunately for those of us of the male species, it is indelibly inscribed in the male psyche. If it had to be passed from generation to generation by cerebral effort, most of us on the male spectrum would be left without our inner male compass.

The Man-code has been hard-wired genetically into the DNA of the entire male species; of which membership is determined by whether or not the individual in question is unable to pee into a semicircular opening without randomly distributing bodily fluids all over the toilet seat. I suspect a teenage boy who can hit a three-point jumper with deadly accuracy from ranges greater than 30 foot, would suddenly be unable to hit the same shot if the basketball rim suddenly resembled a toilet seat. Think about it. All the shots would bounce of the rim or fall short of the intended target.

Simply stated, the man-code is the unwritten rule of conduct for the male species that governs how men react toward other men. It expressly forbids men to exhibit gushing or effusive displays of affection to members of the same species. This apparently confuses women greatly who become extremely agitated why men don’t sob and boo-hoo all over each other when we have those special moments. It also explains why men don’t pry into other men’s personal matters or really even care how other men ‘feel’.

Simulated conversation:

She: That’s so awful about his mother-in-law getting struck by that falling satellite. How’s Bob feeling?

Guy: What? I didn’t know Bob was married?

She: You remember. We ate out with them last night. She wore the yellow dress that was too short with too much mascara. You remember? The blonde with the dark roots? Her dress was too tight and she wore that  gaudy toenail polish. And those shoes…where in earth did she get those terrible shoes at? The  salvage store? I thought I’d gag over her perfume!

Guy: Bob is married?

She: rolls her eyes – So is Bob OK?

Guy: Is he in the hospital? Jail? Is there a missing person’s report out on him? Heart attack? Has he been abducted by aliens?

She: No….

Guy: Then he’s fine.

She: But…don’t you care how he feels?

Guy: I didn’t ask.

She: increasingly agitated – You’ve known Bob since first grade. He married your sister!!!

Guy: I thought she looked familiar!

She: You didn’t ask? (estrogen disconnect) Don’t you care what’s going on in his mind?

Guy: He didn’t mention it to me?

She: exasperated – Youre supposed to find out!!

Guy: You mean, pry into his personal life, meddle, extract information he doesn’t want to share? Use emotional extortion tactics. Force him to open up and share embarassing things about his intimate personal life?

She: Yes! Yes! Yes! You moron! That’s exactly what I meant. Sigh! I don’t understand men!

Guy: silence. Staring blankly at a TV screen, pretending she’s not there.

She: glaring – You’re not fooling me. That TV hasn’t worked in two years.

Sadly, most men have just had this discussion ten minutes ago or less with their wives.See why it is so difficult for men and women to communicate? We lack the technology to interpret the differences between male and female-speak. Same language, different channels. And we also know that any moment in the conversation they’re going to demand we take the trash out or ask questions, like, “Does this dress make my butt look huge?”

Note: The only men who pry into other’s men’s business fall under the category of either lawyers or journalists, neither of whom I suspect could successfully pee into the rim of a toilet seat (see definition above) which would technically disqualify them from actually being a subset of the male species.

Girls, I know you can’t decipher this so let me just point out this is precisely why most men refrain from getting into protracted discussions with those on other side of the gene pool. I see no need to encrypt this sensitive information. If a woman were to attempt to engage in counter-espionage, they could read my little blurb without understanding a word I said. Filtered through the female mind without the benefit of being deciphered via the man-code, it would sound and look something like this, “Blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah? Blah blah blah!!!” I call it the estrogen barrier; a veritable impenetrable wall that underscores the irreconcialiable differences between the two versions of our species. The estrogen barrier is why we can’t communicate with women. They filter everything we say, which is why things we say get turned around to have an alternate darker, sinister meaning. Throw out the dictionary, the words don’t mean the same thing once they percolate through the estrogen barrier.

Back to the man-code. This is why men don’t sit around in their underwear painting each other’s toes, and discussing the inherent failure to commit of the male psyche. It also explains why men have no use for jewelry, baubles, or other ornaments but spend hours silently perusing the same aisle of power tools we did last week; most of which we already have two or three of.

The man-code must be rigidly observed. For instance, you’re driving home from work and pass your best friend; his car is on the side of the road….burning. A 500 pound gorilla has him in a headlock, pummeling him senseless; a large crocodile with a nasty disposition is clamped around his leg: how should you react? If you’re a guy, you automatically know. The man-code forbids you to meddle or ask intrusive questions, like, “Need help?” or Should I call 9-1-1?” Instead the code dictates you pull up slowly beside him, observe a moment, roll down your window, then nonchalantly ask, “How you doin?” Do not point out the obvious. Do not offer assistance or advice. If he wants to tell you he needs help, he will explicitly say so. No subtle hints or innuendos. No deciphering obscure body languages or other gesticulations. And whatever you do, do not ask, “Bob, how are you feeling about all this?” Both the gorilla and the crocodile will leave Bob to assault you for violating the man-code. And Bob will probably join them.

Men eat, pass gas, or play sports; we don’t digest and regurgitate 100 page articles from Cosmopolitan about feelings. It’s why we watch two men in a ring pound each other into bloody stumps but would rather have our fingernails pulled out one by one than be forced to sit through one episode of Oprah.

So ladies, now you know why men stare blankly at the TV when you want to have a conversation. Except, you can’t understand anything I just said.

We’re not being difficult, it’s just the man-code.

Back To The Dark Ages!

Want to eliminate over-population, wipe out the high cost of healthcare, reduce unemployment, etc. ???

The answer is obvious. Shut down the hospitals. Fine doctors and nurses for prolonging the quality of our lives, ban health care altogether. Or….if you want to avoid the appearance of callousness, turn the entire health care industry over to gov’t regulation to ‘manage’ it and it will soon go the way of social security and public education. You can always blame whichever political party of your preference.

In short, we must go backward if we are to move forward!

Good grief, people! What’s wrong with us? Has humanity been reduced to a bunch of namby-pamby cry-babies? During the dark ages people were so miserable, they were lined up to die. They had to invent new and interesting diseases like the Black Death or the Bubonic Plauge. And wars?!! They couldn’t keep enough wars scheduled. War’s really weren’t the refined affairs we see today but were basically arranged like turkey shoots; where both sides lined up and politely took turns wiping out each other, one rank at a time. Think of a game of Red Rover…with guns! And the gov’t did its part by holding mass starvations…and if there were any stragglers, they routinely rounded up random groups of people for public executions (hint of sarcasm).

Is this too cheery a picture? Let’s listen in on the town crier in the ‘ye olde towne square’;

“Hear ye, hear ye: Today’s current events, we have mass starvation in the cities; Public executions to be held today in the town square, applicant’s now accepted, limit two per family; the forecast for next week is war, followed by rampant disease. Mass human suffering and misery now available to qualified applicants – offer may expire, void where prohibited; and Tuesday’s normally scheduled inquisition has been postponed to Thursday…and now a word from our sponsor…”

The French Revolution was a case in point; in the name of enlightenment, liberty, human rights and dignity, academic enrichment, and the unprecedent scientific advances made by mankind, we were able to execute large amounts of the population in extremely short periods of time (steeped in sarcasm). It was a Malthusian wet -dream.

Let me give out a big high five to technology; and Joseph Guillotine, who (obviously so) invented the device bearing his own name that ushered in a realm of terror and population control; previously we had to rely on hangings which were replaced by a kinder and gentler method of execation (more sarcasm).

To illustrate how conditions were, I will let you in on a little peek backwards into the past. Three guys are languishing in the dungeon, one painfully stretched out on a torutre rack, one suspended from the ceiling in a metal cage, the other in stocks with a large rat contentedly gnawing at his leg.

“It’s my pet,” he explained.

In walks the executioner. “Bad news. We’re almost out of rope, guys. and I’m only issued one bullet – apparently he was the genetic predecessor to Barney Fife – so only one of you lucky guys gets executed today.”

Simultaneously sighs in unison escape from the dejected crowd: “Oohhh”!

“But hey, cheer up guys. We can’t be all greedy…So, I’m making you pick. We can vote you out or draw straws, or we can play the shell game. You get to help me choose who gets it”.

“Me, me. My turn!”

“Don’t be so selfish”, the others chided.

See how it was then? I was able to meticulously and historically recreate the scene through 2000 year old forensic evidence, after watching only one episode of CSI. And this is what I was able to infer…with a little help for my over-active imagination.

Everything was going fine and the population was kept in check, until those pesky ‘do-gooders’ came along and ruined everything for the rest of us.

First this Alexander Fleming guy came along with the unmitigated goodwill to invent penicillin from moldy food. Next thing you know people aren’t dying like they used to. And that is why you had to pay too much for your prescription at the drug store.

Fortunately for humanity, we still had our Marie Antoinettes’ who ate cake while the masses died of starvation but there’s only so much one gal can do. Sigh!

Now all we can do is lament that things are so good no one gets excited about dying prematurely anymore. 30 or 40 used to be ‘old’, now we’ve turned the entire Florida peninsula into a retirement home for old fogies who impertinently refuse to kick the bucket.

So after further review, I have come to the conclusion that life is good despite a bad economy, expensive healthcare, and the constipated system of government we endure.

And I think I can live with that!

‘Stoopid’ & Stoopid-er!

How man fell off the evolutionary wagon.

The internet, like my brain, is a vast labyrinth of almost infintessimal series of connections and interconnections, forming circuits traversing and meandering along at a perpetual bifurcating path of diverging transmission trunk lines.

That’s why I can rarely put together enough of the neurons and synapses and dendrites in the right sequence to construct an intelligent thought, let alone a complete sentence, or…gasp…write a coherent paragraph.

Darn that evolution!

That’s the problem when you rely on random chance & chaos to design a brain out of a bunch of unrelated spare biological left-over parts. The brain looks like something purchased on a government contract; or another inferior product being pluggged on one of those interminable infomercials we’re constantly subjected to. Surfing through the channels: looking for good wholesome, uplifting content on TV like gory horror flicks or blood-n-gut action movies; and all you find is infomercials. It’s like running barefoot and blindfolded through a cow pasture; eventually you know you’re going to step in a cow pattie. It isn’t easy to find quality programming with real substance. Take American Idol. No. Literally. Please take it because I can’t stand to watch grown people make complete idiots out of themselves on national TV and being subjected to ridicule. It’s like re-living Junior High all over.

Watching a full episode of modern TV is like hooking a giant cerebreal vaccuum cleaner up to your left ear canal and turning that ‘sucker’ on! It’s worse than having a digital network enema. That’s not a remote control, you’re giving yourself a lobotomy in High Def. The sad part is that it’s all self-inflicted. Why don’t you just give yourself a mental wedgie, or something?!!

We went from occasional episodes of Gilligan’s Island and the Beverly Hillbillies, which you could only catch one night a week on a black and white TV screen the size of a shoe-box; now we got 24 hour cable TV on Flat-screen that could double for the old Drive-thru, minus the chesy little speakers and the 13 teenagers crammed inside the trunk. Is it any wonder why society is in a mess?

The more we watch TV, the ‘stoopid-er’ we get. That’s what happend to the Neanderthals. Evolution was going just fine, man was making great intellectual progress; then TV came along and the whole thing fell apart after that. Next thing you know those Neanderthals were going the wrong direction on the evolutionary interstate.

There’s a lesson here for all you civilized ‘goobers’ reading this, if you get stuck in front of the TV night after night. The same thing will happen to you as the Neanderthals. Before long, they were living in caves, dragging their women behind them by their hair, and staring dumbfounded at simple obects like ‘fire’ and the ‘wheel’. They’re watching the cro-magnons versus the missing links on reality TV episodes, chunking piles of solidified stegasaurus ‘poo’ at each other instead of doing their homework or going to the library. Then they have to resort to grunting and making wild exaggerated gesticulations trying to communicate while they watched the network news outlets.

Is that what you want?

No, you won’t see this episoide on the Discovery Channel.

Around The World In Eighty-eight Minutes

What does a French science-fiction writer have in common with a Russian girl and a cosmonaut? What event could reach across the span of nearly a century to give their lives continuity?

Let’s start with the writer. His name is as recognized today as the titles of his many books. He wrote several science fiction stories that seemed outlandish, even preposterous, in his day. When we consider the time in which he lived, and wrote, his work was remarkable. If for no other reason that they were presentient of things to come, almost prophetic. His fiction became our science. For instance, he wrote about submarines traveling under the water before they became a viable reality. He also wrote about an expedition to the moon long before the technology existed. He wrote about traveling around the world in a balloon at a rate unheard of in his time; this particular fictitious journey took place in only eighty days. If you haven’t already guessed, the writer was none other than Jules Verne.

But what about the others, I alluded to earlier, the cosmonaut and the Russian girl? How do they fit into all this? I mentioned three people at the beginning, we disclosed the first. What of the other two?
  
Pause here momentarily while we go to another period in time. It is June the 19th, the year is 1963. The cosmonaut, let’s abbreviate the middle name of this intrepid pioneer in space to “Vlad”. Vlad has been inside the cockpit of the Vostok VI for nearly three days orbiting the earth up to one hundred and thirty miles above the surface of the planet. Before the mission is completed, Vlad will have orbited the earth for seventy hours and fifty minutes, a total of eighty–eight times around the world. The cosmonaut, and the Russian girl, are the same. They are, or should I say, she is “Vlad’, her full name is Valentina Vladimirova Tereshkova.

What did Jules Verne have in common with this Russian girl born in 1937? Almost a century prior, in 1873, he wrote of a fictitious “Phineas Fogg” circumnavigating the globe in a hot-air balloon, the book was titled, “Around The World In Eighty Days.” Ninety years later, this 26 year-old Russian girl had obliterated his then incredible time of eighty days. What he wrote of, she surpassed literally going around the world at the rate of once every eighty-eight minutes. Valentina Vladimirova Tereshkova lived the sequel to the Jules Verne classic. Perhaps we could title her contribution to the race for space as, “Around The World In Eighty-eight Minutes.”

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