Thursday, September 20, 2012

Top 10 - Romney vs Obama

I don't normally do this, preferring to sit back quietly whilst our way of life is eroded away like, a mansion on the Santa Monica shoreline. However, I've run out of ideas for Chapter 6 of my badly misspelled novel - Combustion so I am taking a break and thought I would give you this, free of charge, of course.

This is my top 10 list which, for the first time in my life, will divulge who I am voting for in this year's November elections.

                Romney                                                                              Obama

10) Can't stand to hear him speak                                       Can listen to him day long
9) Believes Garden of Eden is in southern MO                          Pretty sure its not
8) Pissed off England - N Korea next?                        Hilary will go down as best Sec of State ever
7) That condescending look                                                       Air of confidence
6) Plays the dozens like Archie Bunker                          Plays the dozens like George Jefferson
5) Singing voice?  No                                                               I'm So In Love With You
4) No Poor People                                                                    Knows Poor People
3) Romney's 14%                                                                          My 33%
2)  J. Jonah Jameson sideburns                                                 No A-holeishness              
1) Questions make him nervous                                              Dude's on Letterman for gosh sakes

I've decided that I am going to vote for whomever is not Romney.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


A self proclaimed expert on attitudes, during a leadership conference, said this:

"70% of what one worries about never happens- 20% of what one worries about turns out better than one expects-10% happens just as you thought it would or worse.So identify and worry only about that 10%."

I would like to add something this motivational speaker failed to mention. The source of frustration and worry does not really come from the details contained within the 10%. The worry and frustration emanate from the FACT that this 10% happens over and over again and is usually caused by the same people over and over again.

I have realized that I am become, have become, or always have been an frustrated old fart. Maybe I was even born an FOF. I guess that could happen.

Sometimes life is a boiled egg that won't peel. You know what its like to peel an egg like this. The shell just breaks off in little sharp pointy egg-shell triangles, usually taking a good part of the egg white with it. So you find yourself leaning over the sink chipping away trying hard not to break through the membrane that is cemented to the edible part of the egg. And don't you just hate it when the egg somehow gets stood on one end in the pot and the yolk settles to the bottom so when you peel it the shell rips away the thin egg white exposing the yolk? No deviled eggs after all.

My recent eye doctor appoint was like peeling an egg. A recent trip to a market specializing in 'world furniture, pottery, and foods' that they don't actually have in stock - they were an unpeelable egg.

Maybe its because I have that rare combination of inborn traits - like I am in constant fear of disappointing my boss and losing my job, coupled with a profession in the service industry- that makes me so intolerant of those in the service industry who fail to provide good service.

Maybe. Maybe I fear the world is in trouble because I see those around me who are much more patient than me.Can they not see commerce and social functioning grinding to a halt? How can they be so tolerant when it comes to waiting in line, discourteous sales staff, ludicrous customer service processes like special discount cards you have to have with you or you get a marked up price. Really? Because I visit your store without my special discount card butter is really $4.98 a box. Really?

How about those business who refuse to do business with you unless you give them your telephone number and address. I'm not giving you that. I don't care. Like, Do you want my money or not?

How about a doctor's office that requires 8 pages of New Patient forms to be filled out which includes questions like : Emergency Contact Not Residing in the Your Home____________________. Tell me doc, what good is it going to do you or me, if I start to die in your office, for you to call my brother 600 miles away? You just gonna tell him I died? I get it. You want collateral in case I don't pay my bill! This isn't a new patient information form, this is a gawl-danged credit application!

Another thing that really bothers me - maybe I've come to expect too much too fast and this is all my fault - is when a store displays something for sale but never has it in stock and they won't sell you the floor model. Really? Another rain check. Thank you no. If you ain't got it, don't waste my time and your floor space displaying something doesn't exist. I recently tried to explain to the manager at this store that if they do not keep things in stock, they are losing sales. She didn't care. I won't go back.

Another box electronics store, saw my last dollar when Patt and I approached the "Help Desk". This desk was inappropriately labelled. It was really the "I won't Help Desk". We needed a new battery for the laptop I am typing this post on. We took the battery to the store and before I laid it on the "Help Desk", the GEEK behind the counter said, and I quote,

"Nope. Can't help you."

Okay. "Nope. I'm not giving you any more of my money. I hope YOU enjoy standing in the soup line when your company crashes and burns!"

Here's another one. What about those mega stores with 20 checkout lanes, 10 of which are close, 8 are self check outs, and 1 is the express lane? I think it is admirable that these stores hire people with special needs but do they really have to have them man the express lane? Really? It's not fair to the shopper and it's certainly not fair to special needs cashier! And why, when the one normal lane has a line that stretches back to the electronics section, is the manager standing there by the ATM machine, looking like a middle aged batman with their radio and all sorts of survival gear on their belt? Why don't they do something like, I don't know, open up another frickin' lane?! And don't get me started on the self check out. Now, not only do I have to bag my own groceries because the special needs cashier will invariably leave out the one thing I really needed and I won't realize it until I get home, but I have to act as your cashier free of charge! I think they ought to give you a discount equal to the mark up you have to pay for forgetting your discount card, just for doing their work for them.

And don't get me started on the coffee shops where you have to stand in line surrounded by yuppie larvae while their mother orders a double tall, low fat latte, with half skim milk, half water, sweet and low at precisely 140 degrees. Just order a dang hot water for pete's sake!

 And I could go on for hours describing my frustration at the dry cleaners that no longer actually clean your clothes on site, but send your wardrobe lord knows where, the banks and government offices that are only open when people with jobs are at work, the auto parts stores and the grease monkeys put in positions where they have to speak with the customer - really, it is difficult to find one of these gear heads that can put a cohesive sentence together, and you can just tell - I mean, you just know - that they don't give a grinding 2nd gear whether your car is over heating or not.

I'll give you one more before my head explodes:

The frickin' Dali Llama is visiting Syracuse New York on the same weekend that Patt and I need to go to Syracuse. Because life is like a boiled egg that doesn't peel, we are having to drive to St. Louis MO first, spend two nights in a hotel there, and then drive back past our home to NY. What was he thinking planning a trip when we've got this going on? Sheesh! Talk about inconsiderate. Never the thought he would be like that. Any way, my real argument is with the hotel rooms who, taking advantage, to the extreme, of the law of supply and demand, have raised, in some cases, doubled their rates! Who in their right mind would pay $208 for a room at the Hotel 5 - I don't care how long they keep the light on for me. Frickin' Dali Llama.

You know, I'm glad Andy Rooney is dead. I mean, for his sake. Can you imagine what would happen if he were alive in the middle of this bee-hive of dysfunction? Why, it would kill him! Wait! Oh my goodness! I am Andy Rooney...

If you don't know who Mr. Rooney is - get on that internet deal and google Utube. I am sure at least one of his classic rants is posted there.

Combustible- Chapter 5- Clara

Donny  dreamed about her. Most of his recent day, the argument over the straws, the walk over the Charlestown bridge, the heavy weight of his pack played no part in his mind. It was rare that the past entered into his thinking at all. In fact, most would swear that Donny didn't think. He was just the weird guy wearing a bow tie, carrying a knapsack, talking to himself. But tonight he dreamed of his dear Clara who he would see no more.  He dreamed of a time when he was a graduate student at Louisiana State University and Clara was a cheerleader for the football team. Their brief engagement and then quickly following marriage had people confused. She was a beauty; he was a dump. When asked how she ended up with the bookish, frumpy physics major, she would say things like "Don't believe all the fairytales. Eventually the smart cheerleaders end up with the geniuses most of the time."

Sometimes, without even knowing why we do it, we make preparations. It could be something as simple as mindlessly tossing a little used map into the glove box. Then when lost, pulling it out and telling yourself, "I sure am glad I put this map in the car." We may even get ourselves a little too much credit, "I sure am glad I was so smart as to put this map in the car." Sometimes its for big things and sometimes a lot of thought is put into the preparation. If the advanced planning is needed there is a sigh of relief; if not there is no big loss and we can take comfort just in knowing we were prepared.

Clara made such preparations months, even years, before her illness. She, the cheerleader, the socialite, had married a genius, it is true. But he was a genius not without his flaws. And in some ways, she was much more intelligent when it came to the things of real life. Clara knew she was ill, she wrote in a diary, 3 years before she was finally diagnosed with a rare form of lukemia. Alas, she did not tell her husband. He, who relied on her for everything - clothes to wear, paying the bills, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even pointing him in the right direction as he left for his walk to work everyday. She had set up a trust fund using the value of a life insurance policy her parents had bought for her when she was born. She had created a will that provided for basic care for Donny in the event of her death. A salaried caretaker was thus hired; bills were set up to auto pay. The local grocer's delivered Donny's groceries every week and the care taker prepared the food for him, boxed him up lunches, provided him his allowance of cash, and through the trust fund, provided healthcare, clothing, transportation - if needed - all of Donny's cares were taken care of. When Clara died, Donny understood the physics of it. Her cells stopped working. Something had infected the Sodium-Potassium pump and lowered its efficiency. The cells could not longer fight infection and slowly, agonizingly, he watched the love of his life literally waste away.

Somehow she knew that Donny would collapse without her so she made the preparations. And even still, you see what he has become - somewhat oblivious, socially awkward, withdrawn, forgetful like he always has something on his mind.

The slamming of the door caused Donny to open his eyes. "That must be Ms. Davis", he thought to himself. "Time to get up." Donny dressed in the wrinkled shirt and slacks, put on fresh socks and proceeded with his ritual of forcing his feet into still tied shoes. He tightened his bow tie, said hello to the slightly built, slightly greying, slightly wrinkled spinster who was busily unloading a grocery sack into the refrigerator.

"Mr. Mackey," she asked in mock derision, "are you just now getting up?"

"Ms. Davis", he nodded, "had a late night."

"You want breakfast? I'll whip one right up!" She did not wait for Donny to respond. In a blue/gray tornado of activity and the constant sound of rattling dishes and the hum of a gas burner she prepared what she called her Hobbit Breakfast Special. Within minutes a plate of two hard cooked Marin eggs - James Bond's favorite eggs, dark brown, almost chocolate shells and deep yellow yolks - link sausage, grilled cherry tomatoes and mushrooms coated in a buttery sauce, a thick slice of French bread, a small chunk of Cotswold Cheddar cheese were set before him with a cup of coffee - black - and a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

Donny sat down to eat. He appreciated everything the housekeeper did for him though he did not always express this to her. They had grown used to the silence and in some way she worried what would happen to the gentle but excitable professor when she could no longer perform her weekly tasks. "Well eventually, he's going to have to take care of himself." she would think. Perhaps he would.

Clara's death had done something to Donny. He was never quite the socialite his wife had been. He was shy but given to fits of temper, which, when caught fire, usually ended up at the end of an awkward situation, with Clara apologizing, taking his hand, and leading him away from those he had offended. Especially toward the end, when Donny could see something was wrong with her, but Clara just said she was fine. When his research hit a brick wall and funding dried up; when his crack-pot ideas, the words of dean of the physics school, had stung him and he had been removed from the classroom. The happy, fairytale beginning for Clara and Donny, ended up, not in New Orleans, with him shaping young minds, but in Boston, because he had no where else to go. A small consortium of scientists invited him to join their research partnership, privately funded by a philanthropist millionaire who had lost his son in mysterious circumstances. Donny's prior research at Tulane, which was inspired by the death of his wife, consisted of trying to explain the causes behind cell mutations that caused, or were at least, marked by diseases as far ranging as Cystic Fibrosis, Lukemia, Sickle-Cell Anemia, and others. His research also studied the condition of cells, the function of the sodium-potassium pump and how its performance decayed to the point of ceasing to function at all and the subsequent death of the body. What, you may ask, is a physicist doing on a research project concerning the biological and chemical processes of the human body?

Donny believed in the unified answer that has been alluding all philosophers throughout the history of such thoughts. He truly believed, when everything was okay, when he was on top of the world, that there was a reason for everything. He decided to start, and received funding through the Tulane University Research Review Board for, a project that would investigate the entropy, that caused the human cell to eventually shut down. This was true mechanical engineering applied to bioscience and it fascinated him to be able to explore this world. The questions he asked his students, 'What is the answer to 2+2=4?', was much more of a philosophical questions than even the philosophy major had realized. In the physical world there are phenomena that are reproducible. Mankind knows it works. Mankind, also, attempts to explain the phenomena with equations, theories, and pictures. But, Donny believed, those are only representations of the way things are - not explanations for why or how they work. When he asked his students that simple math question he had something deeper in mind. Something, that had become an obsession for him; something that he had devoted his life and research to. This question brought him to Boston. This question of a unified answer, a purpose for everything, and answer for why the world works as it does, kept him alive. It was then, in the midst of one of the happiest times in his life, Clara's death shook his belief in a unified answer at its very foundation. He became dysfunctional to extreme degrees and were it not for Ms. Davis, who was now cleaning up the dishes in the kitchen, he would have starved to death under a stack of newspapers.

"You going to church with my tomorrow Mr. Mackey? It's been a while..."

Donny always declined her weekly invitation but since Ms. Davis could see that Donny had not yet dealt with his new lonely life and that he was struggling with the answer of why Clara had passed, she kept asking.

"I don't think so, Ms. Davis. I'll be heading back to the office tomorrow as usual."

Donny, every morning, made the walk back across the Charlestown Bridge into downtown Boston, to his small studio/office. He made the walk, expectantly, as if something important would be waiting for him there. Many years ago he had subscribed to at least 50 newspapers - it was a part of his research he would say - and every morning he always had at least a dozen waiting for him. Some inside the drop box built into the large painted oak door - grey, and then when the postman couldn't fit any more inside, he dropped them haphazardly onto the cracked side walk just beneath the awning. What he was looking for in the papers was a mystery to the few people who knew him and tolerated his idiosyncrasies.

This Sunday started, for Donny, as every Sunday since becoming a widower, losing faith in reason, and being asked to leave the university. He awoke, put on his wrinkled out fit, forced his feet into his laced up shoes. He loaded his pack with yesterday's newspapers and began his trek. The stop at the coffee shop was uneventful, the straw actually worked this time, and as he made his way through the highrises of north Boston, dodging early morning tourists, hurriedly trying to get to their planned attractions, taxi cabs, buses, and the homeless, he made his way the whole 7 miles to Copley Square. His office was on the second floor of an old, and now out of place, brownstone building nestled between two massive hotels at one end of the convention center. The apartment, now office, had been purchased many years ago and in spite of pressure from developers, had not been sold. It was Donny's retreat. He approached the door and pulled his key ring out of his pocket.

"Grey key - Grey Door" he recited to himself. He turned the bronze door knob to the left and with no little effort pushed the heavy door open which, in turn, pushed away the pile of newly delivered newspapers that had fallen out of the box onto the floor, sweeping the dust away like the wing of a snow angel.

He closed the door behind him, turned to view his empire. The office was one room with an adjoining restroom that is shared with the office next door, and small telemarketing firm. The room held that particular form of stasis between clutter and organization. An outsider would, at once, see the clutter, but with a second look, would see at least a resemblance of a filing system. The large, solid wood, book cases, stained a deep walnut, reached from the floor to the ceiling and encircled the room. A ladder, like those in old libraries, rested at an angle on a single track that also encircled the room. A narrow path of the circumference of which was kept clear to allow access to any shelf at any height. His desk was situated in the middle of the room and facing a large bay window, that, like the whole building itself, was out of place, surrounded as it was by the oversized, perfectly flat glass fronting the skyscrapers to either side. It had been many years since the natural light of the sun shone directly through this window. Now only the intensified reflections from the buildings across the street made their way into the room. The heat was intolerable at times, but the light kept the direct billed electric rates low. His chair was of leather, dark, well worn, custom fit to his body after years of use, and comfortable, not like those inadequate chairs where he gets his coffee. The desk was stacked with papers, some yellowed, some crinkled because the awning had not protected them from a recent rain. The blotter pad in the middle of the desk was clear and ready for him to write or read or to stare at. Across the room, behind the desk was stretched a woven clothes line upon which other papers, recently soaked by the elements, were hung to dry. There is no phone, no computer, just Donny and his books and newspapers and journals in which contained years of cryptic notes only he could understand, written in the left handed scrawl, thin, wiry, and somehow elegant, of a genius with nothing better to do.

The hard wood floors, where they could be seen, were in need of a good sweeping and refinishing, as his foot prints were easily recognizable in the dust that covered them like flour on breadmaker's table. Just over the door, from which Donny entered, and subsequently, the only open wall space in the entire room, hung a needlepoint framed in a black plastic frame, also dusty, the words from his non-annotated Cambridge edition, King James Version of the Bible:

"And he is before all things, and by him all things consist." - Collossians 1:17

Clara had made this for him using dark blue lettering on a sterling white back ground that had, over time, turned a dull grey. This served Donny, in his early research days, as a reminder of his purpose, his unified answer. And though that reminder was still strong, it did not retain the fire in him as in the past. Somehow, now, it served him as a reminder that if all things do consist in this god, that he made a very poor job of it, especially where Clara was concerned.   Donny unloaded his pack onto the cleared blotter pad on the desk and retrieved the newly delivered papers from the pile at the door. He must remember to leave a thank you to the poor postman who must carry these burdens up a flight of steps every morning. Donny, as is probably little surprise to you, never remembered to say thank you at all. Every morning Donny's real world was lost in perusing the multitude of periodicals he collected in search of clues, that no one, not even the Google, whatever that was, could provide him. . He arranged the papers in order of their state of origin and laid them out as closely as he could geographically, as if the map of the United States was imprinted on the desk. The Oregonian, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, the Billings Gazette to the Northwest; The Santa Fe Times, The San Antonio Express to the Southwest; The Oklahoma Constitution, The Columbus Dispatch and others through the Midwest, Ohio Valley, Southeast and Eastern seaboards, one by one, "Look at the title, look at the date, arrange where it belongs, then we read", Donny thought to himself. Donny was looking for answers, for clues, for hope in the columns of what strangers wrote ostensibly to provide unbiased facts for their readers. For no reason at all, Donny would confess later, he picked up the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi. He started on the front page and read every word of every article, even those with continuing pages designated when the editor ran out of room. The side bars were noted in a journal. Nothing yet. He turned page after page, reading every word, searching for key words that would spark his interest. He would then, in these rare cases, make a note in a journal, catalogued as to the date, the edition, the paper, and the subject. Funny pages, sports pages, ads, and inserts were all the subject of Donny's investigative eye. In section F of the Gazette, Business and Agriculture, a small column caught his eye. He laid the paper down without reading it. Something similar to excitement filled his breast, the feeling of his last quickening pulse was a life time ago. He took a deep breath, picked up the paper and resumed reading once again.  

"Unusual Circumstances Surround Organic Farmer
October 11, 2002
by Dave Cordis

Perryville AR- Mystery surrounds the sudden death of a local Perryville organic farmer. Just hours after arriving home from a local market, remains of Robert "Sy" _________ was found on his property in the Antioch Community, after neighbors reported hearing a small explosion and witnessing a "floating ball of light". One witness who first arrived at the scene says there was an aroma he described as ozone similar to that following a lightning strike. Authorities have ruled out the possibility of a lightning as the cause, as the sky was clear when the incident occurred. Positive identification was made by the Perry County coroner's office from the shoes, ash, and extremities of the victim found at the scene. One theory is that of spontaneous human combustion and the incident, says an Arkansas State Crime Lab spokesman is "very similar to another reported three months ago in Louisville KY. Human Combustion is rare and cases where this is the only explanation are usually closed with no cause of death. It is just a theory with no basis in science." No cause of death, in this incident or the one in Louisville, has been determined as of the date of this printing."

Donny was stunned. After years of searching, he finally had a report of a phenomenon he had been researching since the early nineties - spontaneous human combustion. His research into the mechanics of human cells had led him into this "slippery slope" of science, the basis of which is reasoned thus. If human cells, cardiac, muscle, blood or otherwise, really are "closed" packages as they are depicted in the vernacular of the scientific community, then the application of Charles/Boyles law of Pressures in a closed system should apply. If, the cell is a self contained package as observations show us, then if the pressure within the cell increases, the temperature will also increase. Likewise, if the temperature within the cell increased, the pressure will increase proportionately. This logical path brought Donny face to face with two problems. The first is, in the right circumstance and under the right conditions, can a cell destroy itself based on this law of pressures? If they can not immediately implode or explode due to an increase in pressure or temperature, can they, over time, cause the entropy that has been identified in cases of natural death. Can this be the cause of illness or disease? In other words, perhaps smoking and eating biscuits and gravy are not the cause of heart stoppage due to artery blockage and nicotine poisoning. Perhaps, over time, wide swings in cell pressure and temperature simply weakens and eventually wears out the functioning of what is known in the scientific community as the sodium-potassium pump.  The second problem Donny faced was the acceptance, or lack thereof, of this theory which really sought to challenge long held theories of disease and its treatment, developed by the medico-scientific community since the Marlboro Man had been banned from television ads. Needless to say, Donny's research had not been accepted, he had become the pariah of the scientific community, labelled a crack pot, and black-listed from any funding provided by the government or private pharmaceutical companies with a vested interested in keeping people sick. The final straw was Donny's request for a research grant to look into the phenomenon of Spontaneous Human Combustion, the natural extension of his theory surrounding cell temperatures and pressures. His theory, simple in its construction, was that this human combustion might be caused by an intensive change in the temperature of the cells of the human body, in such concentration throughout the body, that the very material, liquids, fats, muscle, etc. simply caught fire and burned, quickly from inside the body out. It was the stuff of dreams, science-fiction, or a maniacal mind. Then Clara died and Donny's world with her.

But now, as he sat at his desk, reading and re-reading the account of Sy in Perryville Arkansas, he felt a resurgence of a passion he had long since forgotten. He set the Arkansas Democrat Gazette aside, picked up his journal and recorded the entry, with the only particulars that were contained in the article. At the end of his entry, immaculately recorded in his aforementioned scrawl, he wrote: "See Louisville Courier-Journal - August 2002. Setting the journal down as he stood up, he scanned the walls of his office, quickly found the newspaper shelf for 2002, located the cardboard magazine file, in which the papers from August were stored, and pulled them out of their tightly packed position. He found the paper he was looking for. He opened it where he stood and read every word until he found a small entry in an the personal interest section.

"...Occupy Louisville....Summer ________...hands and feet, loud flash, and then a hovering white light...cause of death unknown..."

Donny turned around, stupefied. "Two in three months after 10 years of nothing, statistically significant, what do I do next? Clara what do I do?"  He fell into one of those wide-awake stupors we sometimes find ourselves in, as if he were waiting for Clara to answer. When he came out of it he was staring at the needle point hung above the door. "In Him all things consist. We'll see", he said as he closed up the office and headed back north to his home, somehow, with a renewed curiosity about the elusive, unified answer to everything..."

*    *    *

The day after Thanksgiving, 2002 - Little Rock Arkansas - War Memorial Stadium, Markham Street - The Miracle On Markham.

The overcast sky did not do the grand old structure of the stadium justice. The rain had stopped, the seats were still covered in drops that the more austere attendees wiped clean with souvenir towels or pocket handkerchiefs. The less austere simply sat down figuring they were going to get wet at sometime during the game so might as well start now. Flags upon poles, one for each state, one for the nation, and to some, just as importantly, one for each school in the conference, flapped in the wind along the top circumference of War Memorial. The pregame festivities were just concluded and the home team band began the all too familiar march to form the 'A' the football team would run through to start the game. With the exception of the band playing their march into formation the stadium was quiet in anticipation as, from the south, a squadron of A-10 Tank Busters from the National Guard Base in Ft. Smith grumbled their way directly overhead. A little over a year after the 9/11 attacks on America, the crowd rose to its feet in a deafening roar. God Bless America, God Bless Arkansas, God Bless the Razorbacks! God Bless the Southeastern Conference! The dark grey camouflage of the jets made them barely visible against the dark grey sky. Fifty seven thousand stood to their feet as if they were all connected by a single muscle as the Fighting Razorbacks exited the tunnel and ran through the uprights of the 'A' formed by the marching band.

Though their opponent on this blustery day was the powerhouse, LSU Tigers, the crowd expected a big day from their home town college, which, by some quirk of state government, was actually located three hours to the Northwest in Fayetteville Arkansas. Two games a year were played in this home away from home, ostensibly to keep the money-fans happy in the central and southern parts of the state content.

The Razorbacks are the Chicago Cubs of the college football. They always seem to beat a team they should not; they always lose to a team they should not; and periodically they rise to the precipice of greatness, only to choke an almost certain victory into an agonizing defeat. The year, 2002, culminating in this annual rivalry game against LSU was no different. And now, the only way for the Razorbacks to make it to the championship game was to beat the ruthless, fast, and mean LSU Tigers.

This regional game had come to have national significance mostly because it was the last potential stumbling block for the Tigers, who had just run onto the field accompanied by a chorus of boo-s from the delusion Razorback faithful. Donny was watching in Boston, from his dark, melancholy study, on a TV with a Cathode Ray Tube and no remote. He had to get up and turn the big knob on the front of the set if he wanted to change the channel. As you may remember, Clara was a former LSU cheerleader and she forced Donny to watch this Thanksgiving game every year  - back then, he feigned discomfort at such a waste of time, but now, he missed the tradition. Somehow watching the game provided him some comfort after all. If he truly believed Clara was somewhere, he figured she would be watching. So he did too.

Donny turned the volume down to barely audible as the talking heads on the broadcast gave him a headache. He always thought it funny that pencil necked geeks who had never played football somehow became experts. And he always laughed when they tried to make up words like "Trickeration", "Joggernut" as in, "This team has proven to be quite the Joggernut as they've made their way through conference play". The camera scanned the crowd and then finally came into focus on the hot shot Razorbacks quarterback. He was seated at the end of the bench waiting for the opening kickoff, his legs sprawled, helmet off, a grin on his face. His arms were outstretched and perched upon the back of the bench as if he was cuddling a cute, but invisible, cheerleader to either side. To look at him, one would think he was a California surfer dude, but Alma Arkansas, is not California, though they do produce passable local wines. The sideline reporter described him as "cooler than the other side of the pillow" in his opening analysis. The talking continued until finally, mercifully, the teams kicked off and received and the game began.

Neither team did well. The game, by all accounts, was excruciating to watch. Donny lost interest, napped a bit, made a microwave pizza. Somehow, two and a half hours later, LSU had a 21-7 lead, despite playing as sloppily as their opponent. In this case, to call the lack of offensive productivity simply the result of excellent defense on the part of both teams would be silly. The wet, dark conditions, perhaps the teams had too much Turkey and Dressing the night before, at any rate it was agonizingly slow. To put it in perspective, the Razorbacks had a paltry 90 yards of total offense with no completed passes in the first half. The hot shot quarterback was laying an egg. The crowd knew it but none of them left. Somehow, he could always pull it out in the end. "Not this time" a naysayer spoke up, "We're screwed. It's the Liberty Bowl again."

Donny woke up from a game-induced nap mid way through the 3rd quarter and nothing had changed. Both teams looked inept. Neither had scored. Neither had completed a pass. Neither wanted to take control of the game. The 3rd quarter ended, the commercial breaks ensued, and then, in much the same way the last quarter of the game, apparently in an effort to kill the viewers, began. The first incomplete pass by the Razorback's quarter back opened the flood gate of fair weather fans, who soaked, cold, and tired of the ineptitude, headed for the exits to find their cars parked up to two miles away or on the golf course next door. This exodus continued for several more minutes as many finally gave up hope for a miracle.

The radio commentators in the home team booth high above the field in their special dove-cote of a box were trying new comedy material because they had run out of positive things to say early on, had given up on the negative things because they too were getting depressed. The game was all but over, they said, unless the Hogs can get something going here with less than a minute thirty to go.

A pause here, may be sufficient, to describe for the reader, especially those in the northern climes, what college football means to the southerner. I hope you excuse my indulgence into this peculiar study of this peculiar segment of American culture - perhaps if I were to promise you that the conclusion of this chapter really does have an integral part to play in Donny's life and the rest of our story - would that help? We'll see.

There is a particular religion through out the Bible Belt. Sweeping from West Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida, the fanatical followers of this religion really find one thing sacred - that is, the liturgy of Saturday afternoons. And for a religion which days of worship are one day a week and only from September to November, it has taken a foothold on America that surpasses the impact of the Great Awakening. There is no hyperbole here. Camping trips, shopping, yard work, eating, sleeping, showering, dog walking, any number of activities are minutely scheduled around their worship services on Saturday afternoons.

"Honey can you take out the garbage, change the light bulb in the basement, and mow the yard today?" says the wife.

With microprocessor like calculations, the parishioner of this peculiar church, determines the validity and achievability of this request, and accurately determines his response.

"I can take out the garbage now..." is what he says. Brain function speeds up as he determines the number of minutes to the opening kick off, and then "I'll do the basement light at half time." His brain goes into overdrive, because, I think he really wants to please his wife, and he calculates the probability of his mowing a 5,000 square foot lawn with a push mower between the final buzzer of the 1st game of a double header weekend, and the beginning of the night cap. "I'll do the yard tomorrow after church and before Sunday Night Football."

This conversation happens throughout the south every weekend as grills are loaded with charcoal, watches are frequently checked, radios are turned on in vehicles so not a moment of the game festivities is lost. Really, they must be obsessed turn on a radio so they can hear the pre-game call-in shows,

"Hello, this is the CornDog, Roll Tide!", the caller says, "Huh, I have a question and a comment. I thank are one'y chaince at beatin' da Gater's t'day is if are awffense outscores'em. What you guys thank?"

I digress. Pickup trucks, cars, and RVs, adorned with streamers, magnetic decals, and flags all in their school colors make their way down interstates across the south, to set up in parking lots, front lawns, golf courses, and groves of trees to partake in the ritual called "Tailgating". Night games in the college football south are hell, pure hell, for the visiting team and their fans, as the home town crowd gets adequately medicated starting early in the morning and through out the day, only to let loose in some quite undignified behaviour once the game actually starts. The games themselves are episodes of drama, elation, disappointment, pride, shame, smiles, and tears. Emotions all as diverse as the rituals, chants, and cheers that provide additional color to their "church" meetings. The Gator chops of Florida, The War Eagle flying into the stadium at Auburn, The Hotty Toddy in Oxford, Bulldogs, Hedges surrounding the field within the stadium at Athens Georgia, Mike the LSU Tiger, Tusk the Razorback Russian Boar, and many others are the rituals practiced every weekend. The religious fervor comes to its point at the kick off to open the game as the respective rally cries from the faithful are lifted into the air, in one voice, as incense is lifted in praise of their glorious god.

It was just such a cheer that woke Donny from his nap. There was a minute fourteen left in the game and the Razorbacks had just gotten the ball back deep in their end of the field. With 72 yards to go, down 20 to 14, after a dismal 3 and a half hours of football idiocy, the cocky, shot gun quarterback took the field. Something happened - no one knows what. At least a few of the home crowd left in the stands on this cold Friday afternoon would swear it was Divine Intervention, others would say that the coach got a "Wild Hair" and "Lit A Fire Under'em" but the crowd, again, stood as one and began one of the most iconic cheers in all of college football - They started "Calling the Hogs". As one body they slowly raised both arms in time to the long preamble "Whoooooooooo", which, according to standards set by the University of Arkansas should last at least 7 seconds. With arms fully extended above their heads, both hands flapping back and forth on the vertical axis (kind of like the Queen of England waves), both arms are then brought down sharply and held close to their rib cages, hands balled up in a fist, as they shout "PIG!", and then a sharp extension of the arms again, this time angled slightly forward, as if to punch the other team from across the field, with another shout "Sooie!" Another flex of the arms, "Razorbacks!" The magic formula for a come-behind win, after stinking it up all day, against one of the top teams in the country, on a cold and windy day, is to repeat this mantra at least three times in succession. At the end of the 3rd round of the Hog Call, the hot shot quarterback took the snap and retreated into the pocket formed by the offensive line. The cheers from the crowd became deafening, and it got Donny's attention. Suddenly the protection from the line broke through and Hot Shot was in trouble. Known for his elusiveness and staying cool under pressure, he skipped, skedaddled, and with a twist, turned to his right and rolled out toward the sidelines. It all happened so quickly, no one would dare to suggest that they just "knew"- they just "knew" in their hearts and souls something unbelievable was taking place. As Hot Shot approached the sideline he lofted what is commonly referred to as a "wounded duck" up into the air. If this play were reenacted for a Hollywood movie, time would stand still; the hero and the heroine would hold a conversation, kiss, and plan the rest of their lives. The crowd would hold its breath for an impossibly long time without turning blue or passing out, the music would intensify as the real-world sounds would silence themselves. It did, in retrospect, seem like an eternity before this wobbly, Billy Kilmer-esqe pass dropped like a stone out of the sky, and not to the ground like the previous 14 passes had done that day, but right into the open arms of a Razorback wide receiver, who by divine mercy, a defensive lapse in technique, or pure luck, at the LSU 23 yard line.

Another Hog Call filled the air as the clock was stopped momentarily while the officials spotted the ball, now miraculously deep in the opponent's territory. Now with less than a minute left in the game, Hot Shot trailed his team as they raced against the clock to line up for the next play. Donny sat up on the edge of his sofa. He was not a football fan and he tried to root for LSU, but despite is best efforts, he was focused on this kid from Alma Arkansas, who apparently oblivious to the situation, calmly jogged up the field as time wound down. The rest of the team and the LSU defensive group were lined up and ready to go. 26...25...24 seconds to go. Hot Shot eventually made it up to the line. They did not huddle...23...22...21...20. He called the signals and there was a pause to make sure everyone was set. A penalty at this point would stop the clock but lose them valuable field position...19...18...

Keep in mind, reader, that this player had not completed a pass all day, until the previous play. Many of the local fans had left for home. There was no reason for this all coming to pass. It's just a game. But somehow, and Donny had recognized it, a massive surge of energy infused the stands, the field, the air, the living rooms and bars where it was being watched on television. Even in Donny's home there was a palpable pressure, pulses beat faster, blood pressures rose, cheeks on cute little cheerleaders flushed, old men tried to stay composed, old women tried to act like they were disinterested, the radio commentators tried to stay focused...but something was happening.

17...16...15 seconds and the clock still running. Hot Shot took the snap, evaded a would be tackle that would have ended the game...14...13...Hot Shot lofted another "wounded duck" into the right-back corner of the endzone where, with a catch that will forever live in the minds of Razorback nation, and live in infamy to those from Baton Rouge....Number 22 caught Hot Shot's second completed pass of the day with 12 seconds left.

"Touchdown! Razorbacks! Oh My!", said the legendary commentator on local radio.

"Can you believe this?" said the not-so-legendary broadcast partner in the booth with him that day.

The score was tied. All the Razorbacks needed was to kick the ball through the uprights for the extra point. The snap...the place...the was good. Arkansas 21, LSU 20.

This game, now called, the Miracle on Markham, will forever be remembered by those who saw it and those who didn't will lie and say they did. But it was not without its tragedy.

Kenny Dumas was one of those Razorback fans that left the game at half time. He was born and raised in Little Rock but most of his family was from Abita Springs Louisiana. He dreaded family reunions because as an avowed Hog fan he was subject to all sorts of abuse from his LSU loyal family. The abuse was much like some in the American Christian Church heap on others within their religion. Baptist Churches get mad at each other and start new churches. Honestly, would any one go to a 3rd Baptist Church anyway? When Episcopalians get made at each other they start another denomination. It is the same with the new religion of the south. When attacked from the outside by a team from another conference, they all come together in support of their unity. In stadium across the southeast one can hear, at least once "SEC!SEC!" during the day. But bring a brother into town, well then, the fight is on!

Kenny did not drive home. He was sad. Not because of the game necessarily, but because of life. He had no one to share it with, a job he hated. He had bought season tickets, though he couldn't really afford it. This new church he found gave him peace, for as long, and as often as he could watch the game. His old church, ostensibly unified in Christ, rejected him, because he didn't tithe. When it was found out that he dropped $575 on football tickets, he was made the subject of a sermon. His name wasn't used but everyone knew who the minister was talking about. He had hoped, at least, for a good game this weekend. It would make next week just a little bit better for him.

Kenny did not leave the stadium parking lot. He sat in his truck, smoking cigarettes he could not afford, and listened to the rest of the game on the radio. When that first pass of the game was completed, he found hope infuse his body, even as the hot ember of his smoke fell to his lap, burning a hole in his jeans. When the second pass was caught and he heard the roar of the crowd from the stadium, and then the roar on the radio after the 5 second delay, a big smile crossed his face, and then:

A loud pop, like a large firecracker, smoke, ash, and a hovering white light behind the wheel. When it was discovered, the stadium security team documented, a pair of boots, snake skin motorcycle boots,  on the floor board; the lower extremities of the legs standing upright in them as if an invisible person was still attached and sitting there. One hand was outside the truck on the pavement, apparently burnt off, still squeezed between the fore and middle fingers the now extinguished cigarette butt, Marlboro Red 100. Back inside the car, a right hand grasping the floor mounted gear shift. In the seat, scorched but not burnt was a pile of ashes. Nothing else except the still visible foot print of what officials think is a small bird.

Friday, September 14, 2012


I feel okay. Like a lonely drifter, slogging through a rainsoaked night, covered only in a threadbare coat, cresting the hill, mud upon his shoes, rain has just stopped its pelting beat upon sand, and rock, and leaf, Lo the sun awakens, or he has awakened it by walking towards it, and its deep red emergence slowly turns to orange and then yellow warmth, and he becomes dry and new hope infuses the spaces between his eyes, tumbles down his throat, and warms his extremities.

But what saith the scriptures?

For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. Psalm 30:5

Oh for a morning, waking me, expectantly, excited to face the challenges of the day! Sprining from bed, I would, I know I would, conquer the world on such a morning!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I feel low. Like a million souls just cried out in agony and then were silenced. Like a dog, who loving his master unconditionally, runs to him tongue a scatter, tail a wagging, and without a thought of what he's done wrong, receives a kick on the nose. Like a viral melancholoy infecting, the constipated souls of  a troupe of clowns, who having performed the same schtick over and again and are out of jokes, and the jokes weren't ever really funny anyway.  The acrobats are grounded, suddenly succumbing to an oppressive gravity; the animals, once allowed to run free, then run in the ring, are now standing still in their stifling confinements; the circus, once a buzz, once exciting, once a long looked for celebration is all packed up and headed out through the bad part of town; the open field where it once stood is still littered with popcorn, cotton candy, paper, and spent ticket stubs. Holes remain where once, the mighty tent poles stood. The big top is folded haphazardly into a lump like the fresh carcass of the once mighty dead.

Like something happened and you are caught up in the flying and twirling and in the setting of rings on fire and then, abruptly, it ends. And you only find that there is really no show beyond the stage and the final curtain. And the show you just saw was simply-
 an illusion.

The Haagen Dazs Parallax Explained

In the story entitled "Interlude" posted on this blog this weekend past, I introduced the concept of the Haagen Dazs Parallax. I used this definition of Parallax in the text:

Parallax is a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight.

The main characters in this story had happened upon a situation which, much like those optical illusions one sees in photographs, offered at least two differing perspectives of the situation depending on the participant's point of view. This principle of perspective is how the illusions are acheived. The young girl holding up the Eiffel Tower in the palm of her hand, for instance. In this story of an imperfect man, who tries hard but rarely gets it right, and his idea of his wife and how they came to be man and wife, there are three perspectives employed. The first is that of the man and wife, who, through circumstances and choices, wound up living with his parents; and the second, that of the man's sister, who through circumstances and choices, still lived with her mother as well.   To the sister in the story, her sister-in law's purchase of the Haagen Dazs ice cream was an aggregious attack on propriety; a symbol of selfishness; ungrateful and inconsiderate. Words this character may have used come to mind, if I were rewriting the dialogue for some reason; words like "How could you waste money on this frivoloty when you are mooching off your husband's parents." Or this, "You have your priorities messed up if you are spending your money on this instead of ". This certainly is a point of view. From the position of the sister, right or wrong, this is the opinion she chose to make out of what she thought she really saw when the wife walked in with the ice cream. To the sister, the ice cream was a really big thing.   To the husband, the perspective was much different. What he saw in the ice cream was his wife enjoying herself for the first time in a year. He had the benefit, perhaps, of dealing with the end-of-the-pay period blues; of seeing his wife sacrifice everything to buy diapers, milk, and pay the bills. To the husband the ice cream was really the only way to physically show his wife that he understood - he couldn't offer her anything else. And an attack on his wife over a tub of ice cream really set the stage for the big family meeting to come. At that point, when the ice cream came into view, that was all he had to give. But as you read in the story, he soon found something bigger to give - committment. To the husband, the ice cream was really small.  
I don't pretend to know how women think. So I left alot of the perspective of the female characters unwritten. But since I am the mystical overlord of the universes I try to create in print, I will do my best.  To the wife, the ice cream was a harmless indulgence, that perhaps gave her some hope. How many of us do not take a few minutes to sit in the tub or eat a double dessert or turn the radio up really loud from time to time, just because life has become so difficult and complex. How many of us, after perhaps months or years of not buying anything for ourselves would limit our "break loose" extravaganzas to a $4.00 tub of ice cream? To the wife, the ice cream was everything.  

It is difficult, I know, when reading something to try to read one's self into the story. We try very hard, by human natutre, to identify with some character or some event. It is precisely this, that causes the parallax in the first place. We all have our own perspective. I am sure, at some point, someone will read this and Interlude, and try to do just this. They will try, whether they think they are or not, to read themselves into the story. And they may completely disagree with the perspectives I put my characters into. All I can say is this. This is a story from a man to his wife in anticipation of his anniversary, which he always forgets. In those instances where you the reader "read yourself" into a sympathetic character, you are welcome. In those instances where you find yourselves offended that I placed a character into an unflattering perspective - everything will be okay.

Friday, September 7, 2012


I thought I would take a break from "Combustible" - while I am figuring out what we are going to hear from Donny over the next few chapters. I am almost sure there will be some surprises, some far-fetched "Forrest Gump-like" insertions of Donny into history, some touching moments, and at least one more explosion...Nonetheless, I will now share with you another story you may enjoy.

He frequently thinks back to the first words he said to his wife after officially tying  the knot. Officially meaning, the state of Texas, on paper said he and his new bride were legally married. It only cost them $15.00 for the license and the Justice of the Peace, a thin scraggily middle aged man, he remembers, made the pronouncement in front of a witness, a stranger without a name, he could not remember.

He and his soon to be wife were nauseous as they approached the JP in his courtroom. The feeling did not subside as they exited the courthouse and climbed into the 1980 Chevy Malibu. She was a little beat up, the car; not the wife, white with a blue soft-top coating the sheetmetal top, that was the fashion at that point in history. She had a 305 cubic inch V8 with a four barrel Rochester carbeurator, the car; not the wife. The carbeurator required a rebuild every six months or so. The car needed new tires, it frequently over heated, and it looked like it had been through the people's revolution in some eastern bloc country. It was, however, the first vehicle he ever paid cash for, on his own, with money he made working at a boat yard in south central San Antonio.

"We ain't getting a divorce.", he said resolutely as he glanced at his new bride sitting in the passenger seat.

The drive back to Sheppard Air Force Base in Witchita Falls Texas must have been accomplished in silence. He doesn't remember anything else being said. But then, his memory for things in the past are not as complete as she would like some times. And as he looks back on his life, as he is wont to do sometimes, he thinks, "How did we get here?". He is not complaining, not at all, he merely is awestruck at how things have changed; how he has changed, and he truly believes that he does not deserve such a woman to share his life.

It was 1987, November-ish, the twenty first or twenty third, he never can remember because they were married the Monday after Thanksgiving that year, and Thanksgiving, like a precocious child plays a harmless, but frustrating, prank on him by changing its date every year. Some years he remembers the anniversary because Thanksgiving happens to land on the same date as that of  1987. But a majority of the time he misses it, not because he doesn't care but because that damn holiday keeps moving.

He was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas. This was his father's doing, unbeknownst to him. While in technical training at Sheppard he had received orders to Hahn West Germany, had prepared himself to go, had put a for sale sign up in the Malibu, had gotten rid of the junk he would no longer need or be able to take with him. He remembers the day he parked his car at the far end of the base exchange parking lot in hopes someone needing a beater car would pay the $800 asking price. He had washed it, vacuumed it, and coated it in wax and after locking the doors he walked two blocks to the East to the outprocessing center to finalize his paperwork for relocation to Europe.

He entered the government office, painted door - government brown, painted walls - governement egg shell white, and approached the government front desk, metal, painted government grey, and introduced himself to the government employee, a civil servant, who not quite happy to be there, went through her motions, to work out the time needed for a full pension.

"You are not going to Hahn West Germany. I don't care what those orders say." she refused to look at the paper work he had to show, she just kept referring to the large cathode-ray-tube, colored government cream, green text on a black background.

"Then where am I going. I've finished school and I have orders to Germany." he said.

"Looks like you're going to Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland Air Base."

He, dejectedly, turned from the government automaton, and exited the building, painted government cream and brown. He walked the two blocks back to his car, removed the For Sale sign, and drove back to his dorm, now devoid of all posessions. He sat in his freshly cleaned and emptied room.

There was a knock on his door; he answered it. A call was waiting for him at the CQ desk. He went to the phone and in this very public setting took the call from his father. He can't remember the conversation, he only remembers that his father took great pride in pulling strings to get stationed at the "largest military hospital in the world." He was still at that point in his life where his parents directed him and he acquiesced, the same trait that has made him successful in his current business was a flaw in his character which kept him subservient to them.

Then something happened that, perhaps, gave him some reason for this sudden change in direction. What he considered interference from his father, somehow, over night, became something he would later call Providence. He met her.

To this day he can't remember their initial conversation, though it probably had something to do with Jim Morrison and witches. He can't remember much about their first date, or is it an amalgamation of several days in sequence that have blended into one? He remembers that it involved a somewhat embarrasing (for her) situation in the mall in front of the Nut Shack, a visit to the local cemetary under a full moon, and a Dairy Queen chili-dog and a pineapple shake.

A week later - again he can't remember exactly - after devouring a Pizza Hut Priazzo- do you remember those? The deep dish pan pizza with a layer of dough across the top, there is a website dedicated to this culinary feat- they sat in the Malibu. For some reason, he remembers her at the wheel, and he in the passenger seat. He's probably got that wrong. She hated that car. It was quiet, the left over pizza was in a to-go box, she looked at him.

He remembers now, the first girl he was sweet on in elementary school. He found himself at a table with his sack lunch and the twenty-five cent carton of milk, surrounded by her and all her giggling friends. He was a sixth grader who, quiet, vulnerable, did everything he could to fit in. While nervous on the inside he attempted to emulate some amount of suave sophistication as he raised the carton to his mouth to take a big manly swig. But instead of pulling off the masculine and, to be hones, fairly simple task of taking a drink of milk, he missed and the white liquid poured down his chin onto his shirt and his jeans. The gaggle of young hens giggled and he felt his head was to explode in flame. That's how he felt in that car, in front of that Pizza Hut, on that night, when she asked,

"So, you want to get married?"

He is pretty sure he said yes. I mean afterall, six weeks later, after he had moved to San Antonio, she called and told him that she was being stationed in Utah unless made the 8 hour drive north on I35 and marry her on Monday. He made the drive; they stayed in a hotel; they got married; they sat in the car; he said those words "We ain't getting a divorce" and then he dropped her off at her dorm and he started the drive south to San Antonio. He almost made it back before the Malibu overheated. He pulled into the circular drive of the Hilton in Austin Texas. Took the bucket from the trunk and refilled the radiator with water from the hotel's impressive front fountain and continued on his way.

What he meant by those words and what she though he meant were probably two different things. He has the suspicion, that she thought he meant, "You are trapped- I am not letting you go." Fearful words for a newly wed to hear. He meant, though he may not have been able to express it so, at the time, "I am going to spend the rest of my life with you. I probably need to change and you probably will need to change. I am dedicated to being patient with you if you will be patient with me."

And change he did. A redneck by birth and raising - and not the good kind of redneck, the I'm going fishin' and drinkin' with my buddies, little lady, have supper ready for me when I get back so I can eat in front of the game kind of redneck- he found himself changing day by day and it made him very uncomforable. She got frustrated at times or most of the time. He realizes that these are the kinds of secrets it's okay to keep from one's spouse.

Two years later, still married, though not always happily it now seems to him, their first child came along. Then a year and a day later, their second. And then, by surprise their third son was  born a year and a half later still. In spite of the benefits received by both of them being in the military, they were poor. They met with their first sergeant on several occasions to get help with their financial troubles. He was impressed by the fact they actually had a budget and were trying to follow it - a rarity it seems among those in their generation. That was her doing. He didn't have a clue.

He separated from the military under the delusional promise from his father that high paying jobs were there for the picking when he got out. They ended up in Little Rock staying with his parents while he looked for work. It was during this time he began to realize his new wife and kids were not only a nuisance to his parents but were treated like an invasion into their ideal fantasy of what their family should be.

"These beggars are of very high descent and swollen with the most baseless vanity; they have lived for some generations in a growing isolation, drawing away on either hand, from the rich who had now become too high for them, and from the poor, whom they still regarded as too low; and even today, when poverty forces them to unlock their doors to a guest, they cannot do so without a most ungracious stipulation. Your are to remain, they say, a stranger; they will give you attendance, but they refuse from the first, the idea of the smallest intimacy" R.L. Stevenson in Olalla.

They were poor. His parents were not. Against his better judgement he took a job back in Texas, Corsicana The Armpit of the LoneStar State. He's sure that was the motto on the Welcome to Corsicana sign when they moved. He was so glad to be heading away from Little Rock, from them, after that night when they made it clear his wife was not a part of them. Facing another relocation, with a dog, three little boys in diapers, and bills yet to be paid his mother and father called him into the kitchen/dining area to discuss how he was going to get his family to his new job. She tried to follow her husband to the meeting but his mother told her, "In our family the wife does not discuss money. You'll have to wait here." He did not know this had happened. He, still under his parent's thumb, just acquiesced. His mother had emptied out her large change jar onto the kitchen table. They sat at the table, counting pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters, rolling them up, tallying them all on the back of an opened envelope. His mother raised her left eyebrow, emphasized her already perpetually carved frown, and repeated the mantra, "I can't believe we're doing this. You need to be more responsible."

They left. Ten hours and speeding ticket later - he always got speeding tickets, he just looked like he drove guilty, she never got tickets, even when she deserved it - they pulled into Corsicana and drama insued. Drama, consisting of a broken airconditioner in their rental house, vacant streets, in a neighborhood where all the houses look the same and sit close together, and where no one is ever seen. His new job, making $35,000 per year, gave them more money than they had ever had, but the hospital he worked at as a place of eerie darkness. The CEO of the hospital taught Sunday School at the Big Baptist Church in town and, in retrospect, seemed the perfect example of Satan Appearing As An Angel of Light. The six months they lived in this home of the Fruit Cake and the KKK was and still is a fuzzy period of murky darkness.

They left. He quit his job and somehow, they found their way back to Little Rock. They lived, in the winter of 1993 with his parents again, but this time in their new much larger home. His parents did not belong there. It was in an upper middle class subdivision, a massive home with a wrap around front porch and a large back yard, flat, imminently manicured, surrounded by a privacy fence that bordered a horse farm. The Clampets had moved to North Little Rock's version of Beverly Hills. It was during this time, while he and his wife were working, she as a telemarketer, he at his father's lumber wholesaler business, that their children were introduced into the amazing world of TV - his mother's vision of what it means to be a babysitting grandma. The stay was becoming more and more uncomfortable with each passing day. One Saturday after hard manual labor all week, he descended the stairs at around 9AM, groggy, hair all a mess, unshaven which was always a source of ridicule from his family. Apparently he did not greet everyone with a cheerful, "Good Morning!" This set off a chain of events that to this day are very difficult to explain.

Is it rare that simple things become so blown out of porportion so as to take on a life of their own? He used to think so. But then again, in retrospect, he came to understand that, there are reasons why colloquiallisms like "Making a Mountain out of a Molehill", "The tail wagging the dog." "And having a cow" exist. In a particularly religious period of his life, he wondered if this what Jesus referred to when he said, I am paraphrasing, "we swallow camels and choke on gnats." Perhaps these instances, and the one I am about to describe for you, are not so rare after all.

They came to know it as "The Haagen Dazs Parallax."

The Saturday of the infamous "Good Morning!" incident for which he was soundly rebuked - "If you are going to stay in my home, eat my food, and use my electricity, you had better well say good morning while I am making your breakfast!" - she left went to work at the telemarketing agency. The stress was getting to both of them. He had offered to load the dishwasher after lunch, which, much to his surprise was incorrectly done, because, "mom and dad were not young any more and to place the steak knives with the sharp pointy end up could cause them injury. How could you be so selfish?" His sister, who oddly enough was 22 and still living at home, seemed put off by the fact big brother was back.

Parallax is a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight.

This physical phenomena of the universe had soaked through the warp and woof of that household, so that it was dripping onto the floor, soaking through the floorboards and into the foundation. The mold growing there has caused permanent brain damage to the occupants of the house on Falcon Drive - luckily for she and him, they got out soon after.

She finished her shift of calling people at dinner time to try to sell them things they didn't really need and took her own sweet time getting back to the house. He, to this day does not really know the specifics of what she was thinking everynight at she made her way home. Another one of those secrets wives keep from their husbands, perhaps, the planned death of in-laws without at all making them a suspect in any murder investigation. This fateful day, though, as if by design, she stopped and bought a quart of Haagen Dazs ice cream and took it home and ate it in plain view of his sister.

The furor this caused can not be overstated. It was obvious to him that he would need to decide, there, once and for all, which he would choose. It pained him that he was even in that position. The resulting family meeting, for which, strangely enough, she was invited was a venomous, vituperative, and vile proceeding worthy of alliteration. Accusations of wastefulness because how can you dare to enjoy yourself with expensive ice-cream when you are living with mom and dad? abounded mostly from his sister, who we recall was living with her parents at the time as well. The air was thick, hatred abounded. It was passed from person to person around that living room like the old childhood game Hot Potato. No one sat on the plastic wrapped furniture; they all took positions in the safest corner of the room they could find, his mother, father, and sister on one end by the kitchen island, him and his wife on the other next to the gawdy blue and white tiled hearth surrounding the fireplace that was never used. When he realized that reason would not prevail, in a fateful moment that would forever change the course of his life, he made the decision. And for the first time, his father, mother, and sister should have seen a man emerge as he stood up to them, defended his wife against them, and told them how it would be if they wanted to continue to have a relationship with them. Instead, they only saw an arrogant, self-righteous, ungrateful, prodigal son and that has been the relationship between he and his parents since.

Shortly thereafter, God smiled on them, and he found work in New Orleans. The weekend before he was supposed to leave, his father drove him to the bank. His father always liked to trap his children in a moving vehicle while he preached at them about how they neglected their mother, were heathens because the entertained evolution as a viable alternative to the creation story, how they were irresponsible, or how they were democrats, or how they failed to meet his salary expectations for them all. This was no different. He didn't know where his father was taking him until they pulled into the bank parking lot and stopped at the teller windor. His father withdrew $750.00 to give to his son. His son said "No Thank you Dad." His father looked at him with his icy blue eyes, slightly tinged with a glaucoma that will eventually take his sight, and thumped his pudgy middle finger into his son's chest and said, "You ain't getting another penny from me. I'm doing this because your mom told me to."

There is so much more to tell. Perhaps the adventure that starts when they arrive in New Orleans will appear in a later edition. For the next 15 years they did not speak to his parents. They made the occasional trip back to Little Rock to visit, but it was done with care and not too often. When they did visit, it was only to sleep, as they always planned a full weekend and usually took the kids with them on their tours. Asking grandma to watch babies she did not love was too much to ask.

I mentioned that this young husband had changed. He did. She changed him. Like beauty from ashes, he went from Redneck to Renaissance man. He began to read and listen to music from bands with names that were spelled correctly, he began to pray, he read the Bible as history first, and then found himself on fire. He met real people, as much as it bothered him.  She humors him when he gets a stupid idea. He has learned not to embarrass her in public, most of the time. At least he has resigned himself to the idea that serenading her in the food court to , Olivia Newton John's "I Honestly Love You" is not the best way to tell her. A little of the Redneck comes out in him from time to time. She's allowed for that. She knows he's going to chip in around the house in exchange for one football game on Saturday.

She's followed him around the southeast without complaint. She's made him a home, homeschooled the three boys, knows when he gets paid and how much he makes - something he doesn't know himself. She put up with my crazy parents and had faith in him when he had to make those decisions to "Leave and Cleave" as told in the scriptures. She is a gourmet cook, she supported him with her talents in the kitchen, and became something of a phenomenon, when he went insane and quite work. She loves her children more than she or he can express.

The story started in 1987 and a quarter of a century later he wants to make sure she knows something. He's being very serious when he says this.

She asked what he would do if she passed away before he did. I am not sure she believed me when I said, "I would pay off the debt. Quit work, load a pack on my back and walk until I died too. Because life would be meaningless without you."

I've not always been the husband I should be...but I want you to know that you have always been the woman I've wanted. I can't think of anyone else I would rather struggle through this life with. And, after 26 years, I think we've realized it's just going to be a struggle. And, I really haven't given life without you much thought.

Chances are, I am going to miss our anniversary again this November. That damn holiday keeps moving on me. So I am sending this to you now.

I am proud to call you my wife. I am proud to introduce you to the people I know. I brag on you at work - you truly are somewhat of a legend in the minds of my acquaintences - they can't wait to meet you. And you still make me feel like a schoolboy spilling milk down my chin...and for good measure:

We still ain't getting a divorce- translation- I wouldn't know what to do with myself.

Patt, the next 25 years are yours. Do as you please and know that I want nothing more than to provide you that. Afterall, you've been supporting, encouraging, and loving me all this time.


I will now confirm the worst kept secret in the universe. Men are born stupid and unless their trajectories are intercepted by Divine or Wifely intervention, they remain so. But, if you find a man who tries hard...keep hold of him. Sheer effort, I hope, compensates for much...

Monday, September 3, 2012

Combustible Chapter 4- Donny

The Grande Iced Americano sat in the middle of the too small table. The chair, comfy in some other circumstance perhaps, leaned too far back. So far back that its occupant, after pulling it up as close as its clunky legs would allow, still had to sit forward with the back of his thighs digging into the unpadded portion of the frame. The coffee, the table, the chair, and its scruffy occupant were positioned in the middle of the cafe surrounded by fitness freaks rewarding themselves, after their morning runs, with a frozen Venti Mocha something or other, aspiring writers with earbuds in place and laptops open and humming, the odd mother who gratefully dropped off their brats at school, and the middle aged empty nester suffering from their hot flashes, cramps, and headaches. They all settled down to their own too-small tables and uncomfortable chairs for a little Me Time.

But in the middle of the room, in the middle of keys typing, music-listeners humming, housewives talking, and hot-flashers flashing, there in the middle of his table, piled high next to his coffee is a mountain of straw wrappers and bent, unused straws. Donny attempts to unsheath yet another straw to finally jab through the criss-cross slits in the lid, to finally take his first long suctioned bolus of chilled espresso and water. He taps the end of the straw on the tiny table, lightly holding the straw in his right hand in an attempt to cause the straw to break through the end of the wrapper prior to his sliding it down its length with his left hand. The straw however, bends sharply about three inches up from the table without breaking through the wrapper. Frustrated, Donny, tears at the end of the paper and pulls strips of it off until enough of the straw is visible that he can grasp it and set it free. He discards the wrapper, the last of dozens, drops the straw onto another pile that has started to look like a game of clear plastic pick-up-sticks, and in true despair, struggles to get up out of the chair to retrieve another straw.

"Can I help you sir?" asked the barrista, who in the middle of the chaos of an early morning coffee shop, has noticed Donny's piles of straws and wrappers, and his untouched iced coffee.

"Sure," Donny replies, "how about making straws that are sturdier than their wrappers; straws that pop out of the end of the paper when you tap them on the table like they used to do. How about providing your customers straws that do not bend three inches from the end when this is attempted? Do you know what happens when the flimsy straws you provide bend in the middle? Do you young lady?" Donny does not give the startled young girl an opportunity to answer. "Well, I'll tell you what happens. The straw gets a little pin hole in the side. You know what they call a straw with a pin hole in the side? Do you? Well, I don't know what they call it. I call it useless. Ever try to suck fluid through a straw with a pin hole in the side? Straws are supposed to have two holes - one at either end, this allows suction to build up within the walls of the straw as it is immersed in the fluid one is trying to slurp. Your straws, due to their poor design frequently end up with three holes in them. It's physics! But I guess you don't know anything about physics do you? I should think not. A hole, even the smallest hole, in a location on the straw that is not at either end, eliminates the principle of vacuum from the entire equation. Suction is impossible, slurping is impossible, drinking my iced coffee is rendered utterly and completely impossible!"

Donny stopped, his tirade over. He stared at her, for what she did not know. Perhaps, maybe, he needed another straw. She had come to that place that we all do from time to time where one just needs to take a stab in the dark. She took the leap of faith.

"I'm sorry sir. The straws are located at the cream and sugar station over there," she pointed, "by the bulletin board.

"Young lady, the reason I am here at the register, shouting over the sound of the steam creating your cappucinos in this wonderful creation of modern science, the cappucino machine, which, by the way, operates on much the same principles of physics with which your inadequate straws are supposed to operate, is because I have exhausted the supply of straws that were formerly located at the cream and sugar station located over there," Donny pointed, "by the bulletin board. I was hoping you would deduce the problems I am having with your poorly constructed instruments of suction, and produce another from your supply behind the counter. And, if you would be so kind, tenderly remove the top half, half mind you, of the wrapper, and without touching the straw itself, hand it to me, so that I may finish, no, start to finish the iced coffee for which I just paid you $3.25."

The barrista did as Donny asked with a smile on her face, a forced smile, lips trembling in her effort to hold back the tear that had formed in her left eye.

"Thank you." said Donny, simply and as it seemed, completely out of context, as he slumpily walked back to the center of the room. He did not notice his fellow customers, typing, hot-flashing, humming, and talking because they had all stopped what they were doing to observe the drama that had just played out before them. Donny also did not notice the silence and the stares. He sat down in the overstuffed arm chair which, by design, threw him back into a reclining position. He sighed and with a sequence of wiggles and jostles, resumed his forward leaning position perched on the very front of the cushion, elbows firmly planted on the table to provide the traction he would need to stay there and finally reach for his coffee. He did so, dragging it forward, completing the slalom of wrapper mountain and straw pick-up-sticks. Confidently, he jabbed the exposed end of the straw into the cross-hair hole manufactured in the lid. And just as he expected it to plunge deep into the caffeinated concoction, just as he hoped to finally get his day started, in what he called, "The Right Way", the straw collided with a large clump of ice cubes that had melted together into an ice berg floating just beneath the surface of the coffee. The straw bent where it entered the cup, producing another pin hole and ruining his suction.

Donny finally left the coffee house, much to the delight of the staff and their customers, after using his physicist's brain to deduce that if he really wanted the coffee inside of him some time in the foreseeable future, that he may need to remove the lid from the plastic cup, and drink his now lukewarm coffee, like millions of people have drunk their drinks for centuries, by bringing the rim of the cup to his lips, and using the principles of vacuum in a closed container, allowed by the anatomy of the lower jaw.

The barrista, who did successfully hold back her tears, left work at the end of her shift, with more compliments from those she served than she had ever gotten in one day and $37.12 in tips. Just because aspiring writers, hot-flashing cougars, yuppie larvae moms, and fitness freaks can be annoying, it doesn't mean they aren't human and lack compassion.

Donny is human too. Just an odd one. He wore suspenders to hold up his khaki's and much to the chagrin of his once living wife, a belt for good measure. His light blue, long sleeved shirt was pressed and starched on the front and topped off with a bow-tie that he never quite learned to tie himself so he just loosened it enough to slide it off over his head every evening when he got home. The rest of his shirt was wrinkled at the elbows and in horizontal creases down the length of its back because he could never figure out how to iron the sleeves and that little rectangular bump the manufacturers sewed into the shirt just between the shoulders. His shoes were sharply pointed and shined to a high gloss on the toes, but dust had collected around the edges of the soles and under the laces, which had long since lost the plastic coating on the ends to keep them from fraying. Donny preferred lace-ups eventhough he never untied them to take them off. Instead, he grabbed, in order, the left heel with the toe of his right shoe and pried it off his foot, and then the same with the right, grabbing the heel and prying it off with his exposed left big toe. To put them on in the morning he would work each foot, in order, left first into the shoe, bending the back of the shoe down and then wiggling his foot forwards and back to raise the back of the shoe into its original position. Then the same with his right.

It has been said you can tell alot about a man by looking at his shoes. If that is true, then it is clear to those endowed with the gift of shoe-divination, to see, from the outside, that Donny's life is a mess, though Donny does not give his life enough serious thought to discover this himself. He doesn't drive. Living in Boston, a car is superfluous. He walks where ever he needs to go. He leaves his apartment and hoofs it along the same route across the Charlestown Bridge north past all the Italian, French, Irish, and other restaurants, past Bunker Hill to his office, adjacent to the main hub of town, Copely Square. The walking has worn down his heels and soles. The heels, because of the camber of his tired and neglected feet are worn at severe angles and the nails are exposed much like the threads securing his soles. He can feel every irregularity, every stone, and can detect the grit of every sidewalke as he lopes, slumped over from too many hours behind his desk and from the excessive weight of the world which, he believes, has invaded his life and taken what is most dear from him.

Donny, and his toe-shined glossy black shoes, wrinkled shirt, and catawampus bowtie, burdened down by a runner's back pack, are heading home. He had spent the night in his office south of the river doing research for which he was not getting paid, research for himself, because no one since 2002 has asked. The books, newspapers, most yellowed with age and constant reading, and notepads, written upon with the thin flowing script of a former student who struggled through penmanship, weighed him down even more now than his life had done, but these contents of his pack, most likely, have kept him alive these past 17 years since his wife passed. Now as he passes the Bunker Hill monument, climbing the steep grade to his long time residence, Donny doesn't remember much. He doesn't remember Clara distinctly, just pictures, snapshots. He doesn't remember getting his coffee just minutes ago. He doesn't remember. He pulls the keyring from his pocket, which is secured by a string tied to his belt loop. He looks at the color coded keys, both of them. "Red door, red key" he recites to himself. "Grey door. Grey key". He selects the red key because he is standing in front of a red door. He slides it in the lock and with a turn it pops open. He enters. He does not realize, until he closes the door behind him and surveys his new surroundings for more than a few moments that he is finally back home.

The pack is dropped to the right of the door as he made his way across the dark, aged hardwood floors of his north Boston flat. Once in the bedroom he performed his "coming home" ritual. Left shoe, right shoe. Suspenders shrugged from shoulders, belt unclasped, bow tie loosened, shirt unbuttoned. He hung the trousers with belt and suspenders attached on a hook in his closet, his shirt, bow tie still hanging loose around the collar is hung the same way. He looked at both, the trousers and the shirt, and made his decision, "These still have a couple of more days in them" he thinks to himself. He pulled back the comforter on the immaculately made bed, laid down, snuggled his scraggy reddish beared streaked with grey into his overstuffed fluffy pillow, flopped over to face the empty space where Clara used to lie, and instantly fell to sleep.

* * *

It is probably time for us to take a break from describing the current Donald Mackey, PhD in Physics and offer some insight to my reader, concerning the path he took to get this way. I found the story interesting when this was relayed to me by those who knew him and his wife Clara. More importantly, it plays a large part, as our past does in most all our lives, into where he is going...

"Tell me this. What is the answer to 2+2=4?"

Clara sighed. "Here he goes again. I told you not to go there!" Then she giggled. Clara liked to argue. It was a pastime for her. She enjoyed it. Donny, on the other hand, detested the conflict and would, when possible, concede the argument just to maintain the peace. This time, however, was one of those times when the passion boiled up in him so fiercely, that holding his tongue was a physical impossibility.

The group of Donny's students and assorted friends did their best.

"The answer is four!"

"No" Donny replied.

"There is no answer!" a Philosophy major shouted.

Their professor, a newly crowned PhD in Physics, rolled his eyes and explained.

"2+2=4 is just a formula. It is not the answer. You might as well say THIS +THAT = SOMETHING, and we've all just agreed that SOMETHING equals four. The formula is not the answer; its simply an observation. Now if any of you can tell me why 2+2=4 then please don't keep it to yourself. I've been trying to figure that out myself."

The group had been meeting regularly since the beginning of the semester to play games, watch a movie, have dinner, and just to talk. Donny had a passion for teaching and the group offered him one more opportunity to do just that. They had just finished a wonderful dinner prepared by Clara, a roasted duck breast with asparagus and purple new potatoes, and moved into the sunken family room of their St. Charles Street home in New Orleans. A professor now at Tulane University, Donny had realized all of his dreams at the relatively young age of 34; he married a beautiful wife, lived in a city he loved, mixed in circles of the intelligentsia, and excelled at a job, teaching, he felt he was built for. New Orleans of 1995 was an awesome spectacle. When Donny left his boyhood home of St. Louis Missouri, newly wed, he boarded a plane for his final interview with Tulane University Physics department. Upon disembarking at the New Orleans International Airport, he breathe in a deep draught of the thick June humidified air. It seemed to him that he had left the United States and entered a different country, a different world really. He immediately fell in love with the Crescent City. He had toured the city after his interview, which went "very well" he told Clara by a pay phone from the corner of Jackson Square amid the street performers and crowds of tourists.

They looked all over town for a place to live. They dreamed big. St. Charles Street was the center of their attention. However, affording a house in this area of New Orleans on Donny's starting salary as an associate professor was, in the words of the physicist, "a physical improbability." They widened their search within the Crescent City until one Saturday afternoon they decided to take drive across Lake Ponchartrain into St. Tammany Parish. The Highway 11 bridge, potholed, and rusty was a marvel to Donny, though Clara, a Baton-Rouge native, three-quarter cajun queen, had seen it all before. She laughed at the wide-eyed wonder in her new husband's eyes and the excitement in his voice. They crossed into Slidell and wound their way through town and found themselves on Bayou Liberty road. They came to a stop in the middle of traffic on this small winding two lane throroughfare and after about 10 minutes of sitting still in the humid air of south Louisiana they began to wonder what was causing the delay. Once traffic started moving again they came to an inlet from the lake - Bayou Liberty, they later found out. The delay in traffic was caused by a swinging bridge the spanned the bayou. From time to time, from the gate house perched atop the small tower on one corner of the bridge, the operator would pull a lever and the large motor would lurch into motion swinging the floating bridge out on its large iron hinge into the bayou to allow boats to pass. Donny and Clara loved it. They eventually found  a rental house on Pelican Street, not the upscale mansion they dreamed about , like the ones on St. Charles, but it would do for a start. 

Donny soon made his mark on Tulane University and with it payraises, government research grants and finally a tenured professorship. They left Bayou Liberty and that small green house which was owned by the crazy old lady at the end of the street. No longer would they be the recipients of her left-over government food - powdered milk, powdered eggs, cheese, and milk. Donny and Clara had made it to the big time and if either had stopped to think, they would have realized that it was their ambition that made them oblivious to the discomfort they would feel in the coming years. The discomfort that comes from not being accepted by the class below you and being shunned by that which is above.

In their living room, after the games and the excellent dinner, after all the students and friends had left for the evening, though, the young couple felt content. Donny sat sprawled on the sofa reading under low light. Before the turntable, Clara drew the needle to the first groove and adjusted the volume of Beethoven's Moonlight Serenade. She slinked across the room and snuggled into the sofa up close to her husband. She giggled.

"What's wrong?" Donny asked, looking up from his book.

"2+2=4, I don't care what you say." She sighed, and drifted off to sleep.