Tag Archives: stories

Leitzen 2018 – Bullies

I’m a big guy. Always have been, always will be. Even though I was a year younger than most of the kids in my classes, I was bigger than most of them. I can remember from an early age, first grade or thereabouts, my mother telling me that because I was such a big fella, it came with certain responsibilities. One of them included making sure I didn’t use my size to take advantage of other kids. So even when they picked on me, when they called me fat or a nerd or a fat nerd or whatever six-year-olds said to make other six-year-olds cry in the early 90s, I wouldn’t fight back. I was told they would get their comeuppance, and I needed to keep my nose clean or I’d wind up some sort of delinquent.

The last time I really got into a fight was in second grade, 1992. I still remember it: Nate was getting a little too full of himself during a blacktop football game, and when he turned his cockiness on me, I snapped. From an early age, I saw things pretty simply: there are rules, and you’re supposed to follow them. There are things you should and shouldn’t do, and if you do something you shouldn’t, you get punished. You shouldn’t brag, you shouldn’t boast, and most of all… you shouldn’t bully.

Nate was a big kid: one of the few in the class bigger than I was. I got in a few shots, and so did he, but we were second graders; we didn’t know what we were doing. We scuffled for what felt like all of two seconds before one of the outside supervisors separated us, and I got my first referral from Principal Craig. After that, of course, I realized I had done something wrong, and my mother’s voice kept ringing back into my ears: fight with your words, you’re stronger than you think, be careful, you don’t want to hurt anyone.I adopted an approach of near complete appeasement: I refused to fight back in any way, instead convincing myself that if I took the high road, eventually it would all work out well for me. So in 5th grade, when Robert socked me in the jaw during a football game, I walked away. In 7th grade, when other kids were roughing up my friends, I let them try to take me down instead (they couldn’t). In 12th grade, when someone showed me a picture of my younger sister at 13 and told me, grinning, that he’d like to have sex with her… I did nothing.

I still regret that last one. I’m sorry, Boog.

There was supposed to be a reward, remember. If I kept my nose clean, went to school, worked hard, made friends instead of enemies, it was all waiting for me. Now, I look around at 31 years old and see a world where corrupt, negligent, ignorant men who make a career out of making enemies and weaseling out of debt are given some of the highest seats of power in this country. In short, the bullies have won, and I can only wonder if it’s because too many kids like me were told to take the high road.

But in looking back to that drizzly day on the blacktop again, I realized something: big Nate never really came after me again. Sure, he’d join in to mock me when it was safe in a group of five or six or seven, but after that day in 1992 until the day I moved away in 1999, I don’t remember him ever antagonizing me directly ever again. Maybe, sometimes, when things just get too bad, all that’s needed is to stand up to the bully, and maybe get in a few awkward punches, and that will be enough to make him cave. Most bullies, after all, are weak on the inside and fear someone challenging their power.

Maybe that’s what we need right now. I’m not saying to punch, or do worse, to the bullies that are currently making life unbearable for so many in the world. But as I found out with big Nate, all it took was someone finally challenging them. Even though no blood was drawn, no bruises were raised, standing up to them sent a message.

So I’m sick of trying to take the high road, but I’m not going to wallow in the mud either. It may be tougher to go through the grass, but if you come through the grass with determination in your eyes, that bully in the mud will start running. I’m not going to let myself get punched, and I won’t do the punching, but I’ll  have enough sense to duck. The bullies who killed our small towns with their tax cuts, who crippled our schools with their demands for more and more of our money, who are poisoning our air and water because they need to make just one more red cent… it’s time for someone, a whole lotta someones, to say we’re not going to take it anymore. We’re not going to give the bullies a bloody nose, and we’re not going to hurt them like they hurt us… we’ll do one better. We’ll let them know just how badly we could hurt them, and the fear of that is enough to fill the pants of any bully from sea to shining sea.

The Secret of Dragons

Long, long ago, when the land was young, dragons roamed free: they flew through the skies of Europe, the snaked through the mountains of Asia, and they ran free in Africa. Dragons live for many, many years, and as humans started to make towns, and cities, and castles, and countries, the dragons found that their freedom was shrinking. Humans fought them and tried to kill them in Europe, where they were considered monsters. In Asia, humans considered them gods and constantly bothered them, asking for guidance and wisdom. In Africa, the great serpents were foretold to destroy the world, and so people lived both in fear and in awe of them.

But a dragon does not want a human to fear them, or love them, or fight them. A dragon wants to be left alone.

They needed to find a place where they would not be disturbed, and it needed to be a place where humans did not want to go. Now, unlike dragons, humans are not very good climbers. A human would rather live on top of a hill or underneath one, and the bigger the hill, the less a human would want to live on it. There were mountains, yes, but a mountain has no trees, and without the trees the dragons would be seen, and all of their problems would start again. And so a Grand Council of Dragons was called and it was decided: dragons would live their lives secretly in the big, big hills where lots of trees would protect them.

But dragons breathe fire, and anyplace that has lots of trees will have lots of rain to keep those trees alive. And so, when it is wet in the early morning, or after the rain has passed, you can still see the steam rising from the dragons’ mouths and noses, up through the trees, and all through the hills. But remember, a dragon wants nothing more than to be left alone, so when you see that steam in the hills, close your eyes and promise to keep the secret of the dragons.

Why? Because dragons protect their homes. Where there are many hills and many trees, you don’t see a lot of big buildings or loud cities. The air is cleaner, the people are kinder, the world more beautiful out in the country, and all because of the dragons. So be sure to keep their secret, and be sure to say “thank you” when you see the dragon-steam in the hills. Even if you say it very quietly, the dragons will hear you, and they will keep their home, and your home, beautiful and safe.

Brevity: On Wicked

Let me talk to you a second about WICKED: The Musical.
It came out when I was in college. When it hit, it was inescapable. Everyone was telling me how great it was, everyone was telling me how it changed their lives… everyone was telling me it was the greatest thing to ever happen ever forever. After a while, I began to suffer what TV Tropes calls “Hype Aversion.” The more I heard people gush about it, the less I wanted to see it. The more people told me I JUST HAD TO SEE IT, the more I said I never will. The more I was told it was beyond reproach, I felt more and more need to reproach it to Gehenna and back.
Hey! Gehenna is in the spellcheck!
Anyway, I remember every musical theatre major, minor, fan or even casual fan losing their blasted minds over this show, and the endless bombardment caused eyerolls, grunts, and eventually outright distaste. Sometimes, fans can just be too much, y’know?
But overall, I still was convinced it was a good show. Or at least one that didn’t stink out loud. I mean, that many fans wouldn’t like something that was completely reprehensible; I’m sure it has its good parts. The few clips I was forced to see or listen to seemed competent enough, even if some folks said it was better many years ago as a book and not a musical. Underneath all the annoyance with the fans, the over-saturation and the cloying amount of love it was getting, I felt convinced that there was at least something decent at the core that allowed it to deserve accolade… and then it lost the Tony to a foul-mouthed show featuring orange puppets talking about their dicks.

I can’t help but feel like all of the concerted effort to force everyone to admit Wicked was the best show evarrr worked against it in the end. In fact this year, 13 years after it premiered and I entered college, I caught two of the songs on an old mix CD my wife left in her car.
And they’re amazing.
They really are great.
It really is as good as they said. But, unfortunately, too many people said too fast how good it was and it turned me off. I know now I missed out on the fun in 2003 getting on the hype train (because, let’s face it, Wicked is probably going to be a landmark show in Broadway history) but coming to it later after everything dies down made it so much more effective and enjoyable of an experience. Going into it fresh, without all the baggage, allowed me to appreciate it for what it was, not what everyone told me it could or should or would be.
If you take away anything from this little nugget of the internet, I hope it will be this: you may like something, and think it’s the best thing in the world, but the more you try to evangelize it and convince someone like me that I have to like it, not that I might like it, will only lead to no one being satisfied for years. Give me some time to discover it on my own, and you’d be surprised at how we might end up in the same fandom… but you’ve got to give it time. Let it breathe… but don’t Let It Go. I’m so sick of hearing about that overexposed song.

“When was the last time I had meat?”

So the 4th of July is coming up, and Americans everywhere will be throwing chunks of cow, pig, chicken, and otherwise on the grill before lighting off the fireworks and, if there’s time, thinking about what the day symbolizes. But before you tuck in to burgers and brats, I’d like to share with you a little anecdote.

Because this a low-risk, low-return, stagnant economy, I work part-time. I have Thursdays off and I use them to tidy up around my house. As I was scrubbing the bathroom, I started to get a little hungry and started thinking about what I might have for lunch. I ran down what leftovers were in the fridge, what was in the cabinet, and so on, and I found myself asking the question, “when was the last time I had meat?”

And then I stopped, and had to think about it. And then I started thinking about exactly why I had to think about it. It wasn’t necessarily a choice, to be healthier or to protest labor conditions or anything like that, but it was a decision I’ve made because, often, I have no choice.

I just can’t afford to eat meat every day.

I’m college educated: I hold several different certifications and training in everything from forklifts to food preparation to pumping toilets to teaching. And yet, even while turning in six or seven W2’s every year at part-time gigs across a 50 mile radius, I still don’t make enough to get by, especially in the summer when substitute teaching is almost nonexistent.

So you start cutting things. Years ago, it was cable TV. Then the clothing budget. Then car trips. Then grocery trips. Then trips out to eat. Finally, you start to cut into what groceries you do allow yourself to get, and you start to realize you can get by without meat. You don’t want to, of course, but you have to. After a while, with everything getting more expensive and wages refusing to keep up, it just has to be done. According to the most recent statistics, My family is considered “middle class.”

So now, being middle class in America means you can’t afford meat.

Oddsborough Farm – Shaymus

All of the animals who came to Oddsborough Farm came there because they were different. Sometimes, this could cause problems. One day, Mary Mu-Kau and Sue R. Rat went to visit a new arrival from all the way over in Ireland.

“He’s a Galway ram,” Mary said, looking up at Sue who was riding between her two short horns, “Galway is on the western side of Ireland. There are many claims that these sheep are the only breed to come out of Ireland, but there is a lot of discussion on the topic.”

“Very interesting,” Sue replied, “Do you think he’ll speak with an Irish brogue?”

“I don’t doubt it,” Mary smiled her little cow smile as the truck pulled up. That smile soon disappeared, however, when Shaymus Woolworthy stepped out.

“Oh my…” Sue gasped.

Galway sheep are almost always white, but Shaymus wasn’t, not at all. Shaymus had dyed his wool bright blue, and both of his spotted ears were full of piercings. He had dark circles under his eyes, a scowl on his muzzle, and he looked at everyone like they had just said something very nasty about him.

“Which one of you is in charge?” he said in a deep and very gruff voice.

“Well, we both are,” Mary tried her best to be cheerful, “and we’d both like to welcome to Oddsborough Farm, Shaymus!”

“Huh, I guess.”

He started walking away, and both Mary and Sue tried to keep up.

“Aren’t you going to say something?” Mary whispered to Sue.

“I don’t know what to say, Mary!” Sue whispered back.

“This place… Huh. Not much to look at, is it?” Shaymus said as they approached one of the barns, “kinda small, a little dirty…”

“Well, um… we think it’s very nice,” Mary said.

“Huh.”

Mary and Sue tried showing Shaymus the cafeteria, the beds, and even the performance space where the animals would sing and dance and tell jokes on Saturday nights, but all Shaymus would say was:

“Huh.”

Finally, Sue found the courage to say something.

“Shaymus?”

“Yeah?”

“Can I say something?”

“Aren’t you already?”

“Oh, um… well, are you unhappy?”

“I’m not really anything.”

“You sound unhappy.”

“Everyone says you should be happy, but I don’t get it. I’d rather just be… me.”

“Oh, I know how that goes,” Sue replied with a squeaky laugh, “If you can believe it, I own this farm, and–”

“I know all about you,” Shaymus said tiredly, “You’re a sewer rat from the city who owns a business.”

“Why, yes!” Sue puffed up a little with pride, “I see you’ve heard of my unique situation!”

“It’s not that unique,” Shaymus shot back, “Lots of rats live out in the fields, or forests, and make their own way without scavenging. It’s nothing different, what you, really.”

Sue deflated like a balloon someone had sat on.

“I, uh… I need to go check on my remittances.”

And with that, she scampered down Mary’s front leg and shot off for the farmhouse like a bullet. Mary took an uneasy breath as Shaymus spoke again.

“I know I can upset people, but I just have to say what I’m feeling.  I don’t ever let anything stand in the way of being myself.”

“Well, this is definitely the place for that to happen!” Mary piped up. Maybe this is my chance, she thought to show him how great this place is!

It didn’t go well.

“This is Percy. He’s our team lead for farm labor projects.”

“Nice to meet you, Shaymus!” Percy smiled a big, horsey smile.

“Percy is actually quite unique for a Percheron stallion,” Mary said proudly, “He’s an accomplished dancer and dressage performer!”

“It’s true!” Percy said, showing off a few moves for the new arrival.

“Huh,” Shaymus replied, “A dancing horse isn’t all that different. You’re just bigger.”

Percy could only stand there, flat-hooved, as Mary lead Shaymus away quickly, and quite embarrassed. But, she was determined to find something to impress the cantankerous ram.

“This is Henny,” Mary tried again, “Unlike our other chickens, Henny is very shy and quiet. She’s coming into her own as a poet, though!”

“I’ve seen shy chickens before,” Shaymus muttered, “What makes you so special?”

Henny could only stammer quietly in response.

“Huh,” Shaymus scoffed, and began to walk away. Mary apologized furiously to Henny, and then struggled to keep up.

“So!” she began, “you sure like to tell it like it is, huh?”

“I’m truly different,” Shaymus said with a small amount of pride, “Most of the time, when someone says they’re being different, it’s just for show. They don’t have what it takes to be like me. I don’t care if that upsets people, that’s just the way it is.”

He stopped in his tracks and caught Mary by surprise. Then, he stared her down with his intense, dark eyes.

“Have you ever seen other sheep? All white and fluffy, and they’ll do anything anyone tells them to do. Us Galways, we’re expected to be the best of the best, but I don’t follow along with the crowd. I got sent here because no farm in Ireland could handle me… and I bet this one can’t, either.”

“Hmmm,” Mary thought for a moment, “well, what if I could introduce you to an animal that really was different, as you say? Would that convince you Oddsborough is the place for you”

“That’d be pretty tough,” Shaymus snorted, “I’m a realist.”

He sure likes to talk about himself, Mary thought, but I bet I can prove something to him with Patience!

“Oh. A skinny pig. Well, yeah… are you a mixed breed, then?”

“Yes I am!” Patience was stunned, “How did you know that?”

“You’re probably mixed with a non-commercial breed. It makes you smaller. That’s all. No big deal.”

Patience wrinkled her snout at the comment.

“Well,” she said, “I wouldn’t say being classified by the ALBC as ‘critically rare’ is no big deal…”

“But that’s only part of you, right?”

“Well, yes, but…”

“So I’m 100% Galway ram, Ireland’s only recognized native sheep. You’re just mixed. You’re not so special.”

“Okay!” Mary interrupted quickly, “let’s go see if your room is set up, Shaymus!”

She knew she had to get him out of there, and fast. Patience looked like she wanted to make a bright blue sweater out of him.

“Huh,” Shaymus sighed, “Whatever.”

By the end of the day, Mary was so frustrated she was ready to pickle her own tongue. She met with Sue at the farmhouse that night for two big mugs of apple cider.

“I can’t do it, Sue!” Mary wailed, “He’s going to drive us all batty!”

She turned to one of the bats perched on the windowsill outside.

“No offense, Clarence.”

“None taken,” said the bat.

“I don’t know how you did it, Mary,” Sue said with a sigh, “after five minutes with him, I couldn’t tell if I wanted to run away and cry or stew him into mutton. It reminds me of how rude those rats used to be to me back in the city.”

“But we made a promise, didn’t we Sue?” Mary asked, “No matter who, any animal who didn’t fit in was welcome here at Oddsborough Farm. I can’t give up on Shaymus, even if he is annoying every other beast and bird out there.”

“Yeah, did you hear what he said to the other sheep? He said his wool was better because Galways are usually bred for meat, but his wool is still good enough to be woven, so that makes his even more unique. Can you believe it?”

“There’s got to be a reason, Sue,” Mary said in a tone that surprised her, “I’m not ready to get tipped yet.”

Mary stayed up all night trying to think of some way to help Shaymus. She looked through every book in both her and Sue’s collection (and that was a lot!) until she finally found one called “Reverse Psychology.” Mary remembered how the other cows back in Warroad got angry at her for being so smart, and maybe if…

“That’s it!” Mary shouted triumphantly. Unfortunately, she shouted a little too loud scared Clarence right off his windowsill.

The next morning, Mary came by after breakfast to see how Shaymus was doing. Shaymus, of course, decided not to eat breakfast with everyone else.

“How was your night, Shaymus?”

“Huh.”

“You know what? You’re absolutely right. Turns out the barometric pressure was a little off last night, so it did feel a little strange. You’re so smart to recognize that!”

Shaymus blinked and, for the first time, was speechless.

“Uh… okay.”

And all through the day, Mary persisted, being as nice to Shaymus as she possibly could, even when he didn’t deserve it… which was often. Mary was a smart little heifer and knew all sorts of fascinating facts for each thing Shaymus said or did, it seemed. Strangely enough, the more Mary was nice, the more it made Shaymus upset. Finally, while Mary was congratulating him on choosing broccoli for dinner, Shaymus blew up.

“WHAT?!” he bellowed, staring at Mary. This time, his eyes weren’t dark and intense, but wild and confused.

“I don’t believe I said anything,” Mary said with a sweet smile.

“Why do you keep saying I’m right all the time?”

“Because you are.”

“No, I’m not!” Shaymus shouted, his voice starting to squeak, “I’m rude! I’m mean! I’m a jerk! I say things that make people mad! Nobody likes me!”

“I think you’re just wonderful, Shaymus.”

“NO YOU DON’T!”

“You have a very strong voice, Shaymus,” Mary smiled her little cow smile, “You must be very proud of it.”

“Stop saying good things about me! I’m supposed to be a bad guy!”

As soon as he said supposed, Mary knew she had him.

“Why?” she asked.

“BECAUSE….!”

Shaymus stopped dead in his tracks, his broccoli completely forgotten. He knew he couldn’t say what came into his head: about how he was so scared of being a mindless sheep that did whatever he was told, he went out of his way to upset things to prove he was unique. He knew it he started, he’d get upset, and he might even cry, and he might say something about how nice Mary was being, and people aren’t usually nice to him, and, and…

And just like that, Shaymus took off like a shot for his room. Mary settled into her dinner (and Shaymus’ broccoli) knowing that this would only be the first time they would lock horns. She knew Shaymus would come back tomorrow, even more determined to be the black sheep, and she would have to be ready for it with even more kindness.

Eventually she knew, just like all the animals at Oddsborough knew, that kindness would win the day.

Sunflower Story UPDATE!

Hey, remember that story about a Sunflower I wrote a few months ago? Well, a very talented artist friend of mine thinks the little Girasole has legs (no pun intended if you’ve read it) and has been posting a story treatment for it on his Facebook.

robin

girasole

And he’s even got page one all set up. It’s GORGEOUS!

I have never felt closer to an actual author than I do now. Incredible.

Oddsborough Farm: A New Concept

Susan Regina Rat never felt completely at home in the big city sewer. Most nights, she would lie awake looking up at the moon, lamenting that she couldn’t see the stars for all the streetlamps. She’d see pictures of farms on discarded butter boxes or yogurt labels and yearn for green fields, lush orchards, and bright, endless blue skies. It didn’t matter that her family often made fun of her, she knew in her tiny little ratty heart that someday she’d find a way to a farm of her very own.

Then, one day, a lottery ticket found its way through a storm drain by accident, and suddenly the biggest winner in the multi-state PowerPool history was a very eloquent little rat from the lower east side. Even more surprising than that, people would later remark, was that Susan kept herself very clean, and was always careful to wash her paws before shaking hands. She even spoke so well, they always said, for a rat, anyway.

And so, with her winnings, Regina found a farm upstate that had belonged to a Mr. Dodd. He had had no children, and didn’t want to sell to the big farm next door, so he decided to take a chance on something new. A few weeks later, and with the removal of a “D,” Susan Regina Rat took over officially as the owner of Oddsborough Farm.

Oddsborough Farm is a children’s show aimed to use a variety of characters, episodes, and conflicts toward a simple goal: some people (or animals) are different, but that shouldn’t mean they aren’t deserving of dignity. There is no shortage of unique animals and unique lessons to learn every week, as Oddsborough Farm becomes a sort of mecca for odd animals that just don’t fit in at the other farms, including:

A sow that hates to be dirty
A sheepdog with actual OCD (as opposed to the “fun” version we      often see on television)
A shy young hen
A lovesick praying mantis
A Percheron stallion who wishes to be a Lipizzaner, and
A goose that self-identifies as a duck

The show centers around Mary Mu-Kau (her mother was a Mongolian breed brought in for a state university study and her father a champion Holstein) a hyper-organized and hyper-competent young cow who gets sent to Oddsborough after she proves unprofitable at the farm she had been sold to. While the other cows were content to chew the cud and stare blissfully into the middle distance, Mary was thinking up possible new feed formulations or thinking of a new, clean energy source for the tractors. The show follows Mary as she becomes the de facto manager of the farm, solving issues and problems to make the farm run smoothly.

Oddsborough Farm will sport a simplified art style in the vein of Lauren Faust’s run on My Little Pony, with simple shapes and design for the characters and setting. The core of the show, and the farm itself, is that there is a place for animals that would elsewhere be considered useless,  which will be a solace to children who might feel different or ostracized for having unique interests. There will be the conflicts not only of running the farm, but of managing many different personalities and making sure the farm can compete in its own way with the massive operation next door.

At no point will the issues be discussed be exploited for cheap jokes. The idea is to make a fun, accepting show that finds humor in classic slapstick and wacky situations rather than the lowest common denominator, all while never losing its core and ethos of a farm for the animals who would normally be cast aside. The time has come for a show for children that will explore these issues from an early age and in a simplified way, properly exposing them and communicating to them concepts that will need to be developed further as they grow up in a more accepting society than the one their parents knew.

With any luck, we might get some parents watching along and learning lessons, too.

About Carly

Carly Fiorina, for those of you who don’t know, is the current holder of the Herman Cain Traveling Trophy of Republican Electoral Sweetheart. She’ll be able to redeem the trophy in three to six weeks, when the genuinely awful media has moved on to another bonkers candidate, for a free slice of Godfather’s pizza.

But something about Mrs. Fiorina, and the new darling media attention she’s getting, struck me oddly. In a recent profile from that conservative bastion, NPR, I heard this:

Just outside Washington, at the University of Maryland, a plaque outside a classroom in the business school reads “given by the Carly and Frank Fiorina Family Fund.” Fiorina got an M.B.A. at Maryland, though she had to talk her way in.

Fiorina got an M.B.A. at the school after talking her way in through the dean.

Brian Naylor/NPR

Rudolph “Rudy” Lamone, the former dean of The Robert H. Smith School of Business, remembers that “when she applied here she was turned down.”

Fiorina, then Carly Bartlem, had been living in Italy with her first husband, and her application arrived too late. But Lamone said that didn’t stop her. “She came right here to Washington to the business school and said, ‘I want to talk to the dean.’ ” That sort of determination, Lamone says, “really identified the Carly that we know today.”

Impressed with her drive, Lamone not only reversed the admissions office and admitted her but made Fiorina his graduate assistant.

Now, why does this upset me? Well, many reasons in the Hobbesian nightmare created by Reaganomics, but particularly because of the following:

When I was a little sprite, I fell in love with Boston College. The History of Boston, the national profile, the sweet red-and-gold uniforms… something told me I really wanted to go to college in Boston. And so, when I was old enough to apply, I did.

But, I sent it in a little late. It’s very possible that, by the time it finally got from Minnesota to Massachusetts, I had missed the application deadline. I never heard back from BC, and part of me still regrets not getting that rather expensive ($50 application fee!) app in the mail a little earlier. But, I thought, fair is fair, rules are rules, and if I missed it, then that’s that.

If only I had known that, in today’s world of Ayn Rand’s dreams, people can just bully their way into getting what they want. I should have driven out to Boston and belabored the head of their schools, and maybe I’d be sitting pretty like the multi-millionaire Mrs. Fiorina, too.

The American Society, it seems, no longer rewards following the rules. Seeing as how Mrs. Fiorina did all of this five years before I was even born, it seems like they’ve stopped caring about being good people over thirty years ago.

Looking around, I sure wish someone would have told all of us that the world had changed while we weren’t looking.

To Brown Eyes

They call it “Gordy’s” now,
It’s had many names and many faces
Since it opened early in Century #20
But last night I saw a face
As I walked out of that door
Groceries in hand
And that face has haunted me
Ever since
Not because of what I saw in it
But what it showed to me

The little boy was scared
And I get that, I’m a big guy
You see me coming round the corner
It’s like a rhino on the loose
And those big, brown eyes
The cutest goddamn eyes
Looked up at me with fear
So I smiled
And I nodded
And I went on my way

But I realized
As I got in the car and headed home
Home to my wife
Home to my baby
Sooner rather than later
I realized in that baby’s eyes a fear
That was more than the fear of a rhino
Coming around the corner
Because that was a black little boy
And I was a big, white man

Gordy’s is on
What we call
The North Side
A part of town that wants to keep out
“those people”
when you read it in the news
Because apparently
There’s something
wrong
with them

And I wondered to myself
What was that boy really afraid of?
Was he afraid of me
Or afraid of what I stood for?
Has he been taught
By his Dad that held him by the hand
Or has he learned
Through terrible life lessons
To fear
A big, white man like me?

Was this little boy
A conscientious objector
To a war he didn’t want
And we didn’t need?
Has he been taught
since birth
Things about people like me
Things about people “in power”
Like the police
How deep did his terror go?

I grew up in the country
I could count the number of black people I knew
If I got six of my fingers blown off
I went to college on the outskirts
Of the Great American Rust Belt
And I taught in classes
With bullet holes in the windows
And gang fights in the library
But I never did, and never will
Know that world that cried out to me in that child’s eyes

Maybe it’s nothing
Maybe it’s just white guilt
Or my bleeding heart gone wild
But when you have a choice
To be oversensitive
Or to be part of the problem
When your choices are Dick Cheney
Or Flower Power
Isn’t it better to die as a wimp
Than live as a monster?

My feet smell

For those of you that know me, you probably know I take terrible care of my feet. I hate wearing shoes, or socks, and one glance at the shoes I wear on a daily basis would make both the health conscious and the fashion conscious cringe. I bought a pair of $20 boots for my work in the bakery last year, and 5-6 months later when I quit I had blown out the side of the right shoe to the point where a small chipmunk could have burrowed in there and been safe from winter’s fury, warm and nestled up against my intrinsic muscles.

But I still wore them.

Yep, I wear shoes til they just can’t shoe no more. I finally dumped those boots when my wife saw the hole and, to be completely fair, they had begun to smell a bit like an old, wet, and possibly decaying dog. Between all the mop water and melted snow and rain I’d slogged through filling the delivery van, and all the sweat and toil and flour dust and the occasional dollop of poppyseed filling or garlic butter, they had absorbed such a cocktail of horror that I felt no pain in chucking them in the bin. But in that case, I could write off the smell as a result of the situations, the conditions, so I didn’t think it was something I was actually doing.

Until yesterday.

You see, the rest of my shoes aren’t doing so well, either. The newest pair I currently have are a pair of $9 Walmart specials I bought in desperation to help my sister move a few years back. After that, I bought a pair in desperation one day back in 2006 or 2007 when I had a singing gig and no black dress shoes to wear because I’d forgotten my old ones 300 miles away. Perhaps you’re seeing a theme in my shoe buying, mainly being that of desperation. I don’t like buying new shoes because A) It’s money I’d rather save to support a family or for that rainy day when a hospital bill or emergency causes both myself and my college-educated wife to scrape the barrel to avoid vagrancy, and B) because I grew up in a family where it was a point of pride to have a t shirt that lasted through three sons, or to superglue the sole of your Avias back on because it flapped and lolled like a dog’s tongue when you ran. When you don’t have much, you make it work for you rather than against.

All but one of my shoes (the aforementioned $9 pair) have been worn to the point of leaking when wet. And, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s been a rather wet winter. Whether it’s tromping around a playground on monitor duty as a substitute teacher or slogging down a sidewalk to another part time job, my feet are now like a pair of liquid-cooled engines, propelling me forward with each resolute step in each 15 hour day I choose to undertake. In another effort to wring as much money as possible from the clothes I wear, I’ve started doubling up days on my socks if they haven’t gotten too heinous the day before. Less laundry is less money, after all. However, I’ve noticed that as I wear my socks more often, and as my shoes get considerably holier, that an odd set of circumstances has arisen in that my feet smell. Well, obviously they will in this situation, but it’s most particular in how they smell.

They smell like my Dad’s used to smell.

Yes, I have many horribly fond memories of my Dad’s feet in those dark socks and that foreboding odor. They say smell is the sense closest tied to memory, and I believe it. It was a running joke in my family’s house that remains to this day, where we shake our heads in shocked amazement as my mother’s cat will playfully romp around my Dad’s shoes, no doubt half-intoxicated and half-asphyxiated by the smell. But as I peeled off my busted shoes last night and caught a whiff of the past, it made me think: did my Dad work through so many thankless hours in shoes that leaked, like mine do? Did he double up days on his socks, like I did? And if so… why? I like to think that he did it for much the same reasons I do it now: saving money, providing for the family, and personal pride. After all, what kind of man is going to complain that his widdle tootsies are getting cold and wet? Pas une!  So now a decades-old joke in my family has a new undertone, that of a man who possibly endured a rather uncomfortable situation as he slogged through muddy fields in spring, half-thawed cowyards in winter, and the soft, hot dirt of summer, not to mention the already decaying loam of fall, in shoes that probably felt horrible… but it meant we had enough to eat, and good winter coats, and at least for myself, we never felt as poor as we were growing up.

At least, that’s the story I’d like to believe about my Dad.

Milgram’s Progress

I was subbing a Psychology class once, and I had them watch a video on the Milgram Experiment. Here’s the video:

And here’s a brief rundown:

“The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologistStanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.”

After watching the video, it was about time for class to be over. In what has become the style of the time, high school students have taken it upon themselves to line up at the door as either A) elementary students would or B)cattle would before being loaded onto the truck. This is a curious phenomenon that has only started to appear recently. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if the teacher is still teaching “to the bell,” the students will begin massing at the door.

Curiously, however, one of the students (by virtue of their smartphone) decided that the time had already passed for the class to be over, and good golly gosh, he or she wasn’t going to spend one more nanosecond in the classroom than he or she absolutely had to.

“Isn’t it time to go?” I heard from out of the melee.

“The bell hasn’t rung yet,” I answered simply, logically.

The student didn’t seem to think that was a good enough answer, and I heard the door open and the crush of people at the threshold, one by one, began to disperse. A few even looked back at me, just to see if there was going to be any consequence, but eventually all but two in the classroom left before the bell had indeed rung. And yes, the bell rung one minute late by the time on my phone… but what are you going to do.

Please note the curious irony here. The Milgram experiment, originally devised in the dawn after World War II, attempted to see if people would do possibly sadistic, possibly malicious things if they were just “following orders.” This came to mind after the war crimes trials of several prominent Nazis. It is meant to see just what people will do, or what they will risk, in the face of authority or expressed obedience.

Through no action of my own, and completely through their own means, the students had just recreated a Milgram Experiment in their own classroom, not ten minutes after watching the effects on a television program.

This is particularly ironic, as several of them had scoffed and said, in the usual teenage fashion, that they wouldn’t have gone along with such a thing, no doubt considering themselves independent thinkers. Most of those were following others out the door.

So, to recap: after watching a video where people were told to do something through an implied sense of authority, often doing things that were against their own moral codes… they went and did something against school codes because of an implied sense of authority, this time of the mob.

Makes you wonder who has the real authority in the classroom anymore.

Better Be

I wrote this column for a local newspaper last month, and I intended for there to be a sequel. However, the sequel met with a little resistance from my Brain Trust (and rightly so) and it wasn’t deemed proper for a newspaper. So, I’ll post it here instead:

 

Better Be

My wife and I have been discussing more and more, as many in our age group have had to do in these troubled times, the idea of whether or not it would be feasible (both logistically and financially) to bring a child into this world. If we were to do so, or if blind fortune would smile down upon us and suddenly grant us the means to do so, it has occurred to me that I would suddenly be responsible for the life, prosperity, and overall wellbeing of a human being, particularly if the child in question turned out to be male. When last we met, I spoke about how we as a country need to “Be Better,” and this time, as the main male role model of a hypothetical person’s life, I will be talking about everything the future John Leitzen III had “Better Be.”

First and foremost, John, you had better be strong. It’s a rough world out there, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to get any smoother for us, or our country, or our world, and so you will need some significant fortitude to make it through to a successful adulthood. You will need the strength to be honest, generous, kind, and loyal… but most importantly you will need to be strong enough to turn around and immediately plunge a knife into the living heart of each of those aspects when the need should arrive. It’s not a dog-eat-dog world anymore, it’s a dog-eat-dog-and-bone-and-skin-and-fur-and-consumes-the-very-soul-and-essence-of-dog world… and you had better be strong enough to not only be good, but to know just when exactly to be a little bit evil, or you will not survive.

Second, my son, you had better be smart… and I don’t mean smart in a conjugating verbs, quadratics in your head, knowing the name of Robert E. Lee’s horse kind of smart. I don’t care if you dig ditches or perform heart transplants, but whatever you do, you had darn well better be smart at it. This is a world where you can’t even mow lawns without some sort of certificate or degree, so Jack will have to leave All Trades at home and focus on being a Master of One, the smartest possible ditch-digger/heart surgeon that walks on the surface of the scalded Earth. What’s more, John, and what is crucial, is that you had better be smart enough to know exactly when to shut up and fly right, even in the face of obvious incompetence, or you will find yourself marginalized in an overpriced rental for the rest of your days.

Lastly, young Johann, you had better be just plain better. It doesn’t matter what you do, why you do it, or how you choose to, but you had better make sure that you are the best, and if you are not, then you’d best be the best at making sure everyone else at least thinks you’re the best. Forget the steak, focus on sizzle. Bewitch them with words and paint yourself as the reincarnated spirit of Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie with, of course, a firm grasp of social media. However, if you happen to be the best or better than your competition, son, you’ll need to learn to only be better, not best. Best will get you fired, will leave you alone in the break room, or see your chances at advancement dissolve. You’ll need to lie that you are the best, but take care to make sure you actually are not the best. It will be difficult, my son, and that is why I am telling you this now. If you don’t learn these lessons early, it will be too late.

I will have to push you. I will have to challenge you. I will have to make sure that you simply are better, because Johnny, I don’t want you sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon at twenty-eight years of age thinking that your professional career has already peaked by way of a part-time position you held two years ago, and it’s all downhill from there. You may have heard people talk about the Chinese “Tiger Parents,” to which I will only scoff and tell you to keep practicing your Mandarin. I will not be a tiger; I will be a Chimera. A Manticore. I’ll be a Which-What-Who, because I see what problems can come when you get soft, John. When you think it will be easy so you slack off a little in college, or you take it easy as early as high school. I know what havoc that will wreak on you, and your partner, further along in the future… and knowing that now I cannot bear to put my own son through that.
So, sleep well, Jacky-Boy. Tomorrow, you’ll start Kindergarten, and I will make doubly sure that you are the smartest child in that class. Or, at least, you better be.

WILD CARD – Kyri the Steampunk Valkyrie

As a note, you’re going to want to play this, as it was my inspiration for this opening scene. Just a warning, though, that it is a song from a (as described by Wikipedia) “Russian Pagan Metal” band. Now, onto the show!

(We open with a burnt, orange landscape, dusty and desolate, nothing to be seen for miles but a basin of dry rocks and parched, cracked clay. As we get our first establishing shots, hearing nothing but the howling of a hot wind, we see a heavy, booted foot step down in the foreground, looking like a massive gray, steely mountain was dropped before our eyes. The camera tracks up as the wind continues to howl, past the steely, fur-topped boot which ends halfway to the knee. we see a shapely, but muscular pale leg emerge from the boot, up to about mid-thigh where we see the hem of a gray, fur-trimmed skirt, heavily studded with metal and rivets like the boot. The skirt gives way to what can only be described as either a “battle bustier” or a “war corset” all leather and steel with fur accents. The arms, strong and wiry, are clad in heavy gauntlets to the elbow, and the right hand holds Tordenoks, the immense “Thunder Axe” passed down through generations. The camera finally pans up to her long, flowing, redder than red, that blows in the hot breeze over piercing blue eyes, Scandinavian facial structure and set, resolute jaw of a perpetually young woman. She is at once beautiful and terrible, violent and fair, soft and brutal. She appears to feel no adverse effects from the heat, despite her heavy garb, but her thin upper lip curls into a sneer as the wind suddenly rushes away from her to the far end of the plain, where a suddenly ball of white light appears and, with a crack not unlike thunder, another being is standing where the light had flashed. He is your typical “evil sorcerer” type, in a long black robe, nasty facial hair, wicked, crooked staff, and so on. This is a duel, and the two combatants stare each other down, waiting for the first move. It comes as the song begins. In the first whistle line, we see the warlock prepare, getting into a battle stance and starting his conjurations. When the guitar kicks in, we see our Valkyrie dig in her boots and push off, trying to close the gap between her and her enemy. As the accordion hits, the warlock begins to conjure up spires or orange rock to slow her down, forcing her to jump and leap to avoid impalement. After about four bars, the warlock, undaunted, begins throwing rocks at her, some sharp, some simply boulders. Again, she dodges effortlessly in some amazing art or animation, all the while dragging that massive axe behind her like it weighs nothing at all. As we see her finally set upon her quarry as the lyrics begin.)

Во святу чреду, в Лелину седмицу
Кружит духов пляс голову девицам
Во Русальи Дни, во лесных хоромах
Славу воздаем Яриле младому
(She brings the massive axe down on what she wanted to be the wizard’s head, but he teleports away just in time. During this first verse, she tries a few more times, missing each time. We see in her eyes the adaptation under fire, and as the verse comes to an end she is able to anticipate his movements and strike him slightly with a backswing following his teleportation. This draws a small amount of blood from his  cheek under one eye, and during the musical interlude between verses we see him react in shock and her, down to one knee in a fighter’s stance, plan her next move with a wolfish grin. He knows he can’t teleport again, or she may get better at guessing… and destroy him.
Ой, да, Ярило! Ярило, Ярило!
Небо хмурое вновь тебя явило
Гой, ты, младой бог!
Гой, к тебе взываем!
В сердце цветня
Песню воспеваем
(As the growling vocals launch forth, our Valkyrie launches herself at the sorcerer with a face made frighteningly ugly with rage. She swings the massive club easily at him over and over, mimicking the pounding drumbeats as it is barely all the warlock can do to throw up a desperate forcefield to deflect the blows. After four bars of the song, the sorcerer switches to throwing pillars of rock between him and the Valkyrie, which she smashes easily with her massive axe. We get a slow-mo pan, during the small interlude that sounds kinda like “horta vorta vorta vorrr!” of his panicked face, teeth gritted, brow furrowed in concentration as another pillar is smashed, rocky shrapnel flying everywhere. We also pan to her face in a similar situation, except the is frozen in mid-leap, her axe buried in what was once a pillar, a brilliant and psychotic smile framed by red hair cutting through the chunks of jagged rock and pulverized stone.)
В сердце цветня
Песню воспеваем
(Fearing the battle is too great, the warlock takes to his heels, riding a wave of bucking and flowing earth at a fantastic speed, trying to outrun his superior opponent.)
Покатися, покатися
По небу, по светлому
Да гони ты хмуры тучи
Да к Семи Холмам, хэй!
Да к Семи Холмам могучим
Что стоят во тьме веков
Поверни ты Время – Коло
По своим следам!
(The music rolls as the earth rolls, and the sorcerer hopes it will speed him away. The Valkyrie gives chase, however, bouncing from rock outcropping to outcropping, plateau to plateau, her feet heavy and powerful yet moving lightly and nimbly over the dusty ground. On the long, sustained note, she hurls the enormous axe at the ground directly in front of the warlock, who effectively trips over it, a tidal wave of clay sending him flying forward on his face. As the music calms back down to the simple repeating string melody, we see the Valkyrie walk proudly to wear the sorcerer lies prone, retrieving her axe and going for the kill. Right before the lyrics begin, the warlock throws a handful of dirt and grit into her eyes, and feebly tries to scrabble away on foot.)
Ой, да, Ярило! Ярило, Ярило!
Небо хмурое вновь тебя явило
Гой, ты, младой бог!
Гой, к тебе взываем!
В сердце цветня
Песню воспеваем
(She quickly recovers and pursues WITHOUT running, with her strong and furious steps seeming to catch up to him at a dead sprint, miraculously.)
Ой, ты, гой еси! Гой еси, Ярило!
Время Коло вспять поворотило
Ты катись, катись до Зари-Зарницы
Только не забудь к утру воротиться!
(The black metal growl returns again as the Valkyrie, her teeth stained a horrid orange-red with the dust, grit hard, her face a mask of ugly and righteous fury as she levels Herculean blow after blow down on the sorcerer with her axe. He holds his staff out in front of him feebly, his forcefield getting weaker with each concussive strike. Finally, as that last prolonged note is sung, his staff shattered and he lies there, at her mercy. She lifts up her huge weapon to finish him off as the last few notes sound, but the song comes to an abrupt end and so does the fight, as a gigantic, rusted, spidery metal foot drops down from  out of the sky and crushes the warlock easily. Four more feet drop in the basin, each attached to a large, cobbled together Steampunk airship of sorts, putting down guidelines for a landing. The Valkyrie, who previously had been so malicious in her expression, suddenly adopts the face of a curious kitten, baffled at the sudden change of events. She pokes and prods at the iron and steel crudely, as if afraid it might bite her. Her face, with the war drained from it, is once again beautiful and almost cute in its timidity at seeing the highly advance technology. The cuteness is only magnified as a bright yellow light shines down on her, and begins to raise her, outside of her own power, off the ground in a tractor beam. She is completely caught off guard by this, and more than a little bit unhappy that her sudden weightlessness is causing her skirt to billow uncomfortably. Suddenly, the voice of a chummy Liverpudlian comes over a loudspeaker… but to the Valkyrie she is suddenly poleaxed by what seems to be the voice of God… or maybe Odin?)

“Right then, dearie. Just you hold tight, we’ll have you up here in a jiffy!”
She’s pulled up into the stomach of the metal spider and, after a flash of light, the entire ship blinks out of existence… for this dimension, anyway. The next thing she knows, our Valkyrie is in the massive hold of the metal beast, crouching in an attack stance, afraid and cornered like a wild beast. On the far end of the hold, double doors slide open with a whoosh of steam power, and out walk two curious creatures. At one point, they may have been men, but now they are made mostly of mechanical parts. One is clad in mostly orange-brown metal, burnt sienna, and the other in a dull, silvery gray. They clank and hiss a bit when they walk, but what is left of their faces look round, ruddy, and friendly.
“Cor, blimey, Link! Lookarrer, then!”
“Aye, she’s quite a sight, awright.”
The two took a few steps forward before the one called “Link” was obliterated by the Valkyrie’s flying axe. His friend didn’t seem to mind much, which confused the female warrior, until a few errant bits of what looked like steam started to coalesce and then, as if by magic, all the orangey bits and pieces of metal snapped back into place into the form of Link again.
“Oh ay…” the silvery one frowned, “That weren’t too nice now, was it, luv?”
“Yeh,” Link said, readjusting a few of his valves, “Th’ gel’s fair off ‘er bonce, disintegratin’ a feller like that. Got a fair cob on, eh?”
“Aye, that she does,” the other said, “Must not like the look of your face, Vergie.”
“Har har,” the one named Vergie pulled a scowl, “Look who’s talkin’, steelbeak!”
The one named Link did indeed have a metal nose.
“Now, now, Vergie. Let’s not fight in front of our new guest, eh?”
Link took a step foward, extending a human hand that was supported by a mechanical wrist.
“All right, luv?” He asked, a smile of real teeth shining beneath the metal nose.
She regarded him heavily. All her life, she had been taught two things: to destroy those that are evil, and to be wary of any who believed themselves to be good. She spoke then in a voice she was not accustomed to using, a speaking voice, a voice that had no place on the battlefield.
“Why do you not die when I strike you?” she said, flatly and plainly. Her voice was cultured, with the accent of someone who learned a language, not lived it.
“Oh ay, I bet you’re popular with the lads, sayin’ a hello like that,” Vergie rolled both his eyes, one of them making a strange whirring noise.
“Don’t be a nob!” Link shouted back at his partner, still extending his hand to the Valkyrie, “Sorry bout him, luv… he’s got a drip pan where his heart ought to be.”
“You are strange,” she spoke again, rising to her feet without taking his hand. At her full height, she was towered over by the spindly cyborgs, causing both of them to look down in wonder.
“Fuck me!” Vergie whispered, “an’ she puts so much power in them thick little legs!”
“Easy, Vergie,” Link said with a small chuckle, “we’ve seen what she can do with that bloody church steeple she’s swinging… best not to go gawking straight away.”
“Where am I?” the valkyrie asked, looking around the massive, riveted-steel cargo hold.
“This is the good ship Rachne, luv,” Link said with pride, “Our home and livelihood. Vergie and I built it ourselves, back when we were both still living and flesh.”
She turned suddenly, aghast.
“What was that?”
“Well, technically speakin’, Miss,” Vergie took a walk forward, making awkward motions with his metal hands, “we’ve both been dead for years. Decades, really.”
“But you still are flesh.”
“Mostly, yeah,” Link nodded, “But the important stuff was gone a long time ago. We keep it going with this and that, spare bits and such, with a ghost of us holding it all together.”
“You are made of metal,” she said slowly, reaching out slowly to touch Link’s shoulder, “it is most strange.”
“Given what our scanners told us of this world, we figured as much,” he replied, “you’re living in a completely post-industrial dimension, looks like.”
“Your words are as strange as your bodies,” she said slowly, uncomfortably, her brow furrowed. This was the most she had conversed in years.
“I suppose it would be, coming from a different world,’ Vergie offered with a metallic shrug.
“A different world?”
“Now you’ve gone and done it, Vergie,” Link sighed heavily, “That’s too much for her right now, we’ve got to introduce it slowly, over time, let her get used to us little by little.”
“Why would I do that?” She asked, her fingers still tracing the bolts and rivets of Link’s implants curiously.
“Well, we crushed that guy you were fighting… who was that puff, anyway?”
“A powerful geomancer,” she said softly, still marveling at his body, “My strongest of foes. With him gone, my world is at peace–”
“OoooOOOOhhhhh….”
Her hands had strayed from Link’s mechanical parts to one of the remaining human bits, causing a pleasurable sensation to suddenly rocket through his nerves and circuits. She immediately removed her hand.
“My apologies,” her blue eyes were wide, “are you well?”
“Oh, yes…” The organic parts of Link’s face went scarlet, “I just haven’t been touched like that by a woman in some time… you’ll have to forgive me.”
“You’ll need a right oil change after that’n, eh Link?”
“Piss off!” Link shot back at Vergie, before turning back to the Valkyrie, “Anyways, luv… we took out that bugger so you’d have, well, a hole in your schedule, so to speak. We traveled from our… world into yours by means of this ship, and we need you to come along with us back to our world, because we need someone of your power to help us.”
“There’s a powerful man in our world,” Vergie continued, walking forward, “More powerful than we could ever dream, but we’ve seen you fight, we saw you today… and we know you could bring peace to our world as well.”
“Please…” Link’s eyes, both of them still organic, held a deep well of soulfulness as he begged her, “will you help us?”
He reached out to put a comradely hand upon her shoulder, and out of instinct she tore it off savagely. Amid cries of “Bloody fuckin’ Hell!” Link set about trying to use his spiritual energy to reattach the arm before his hand began to rot.
“My apologies,” she offered again, “I am very confused.”
“We understand that, gel,” Vergie said with a small smile, “and we’re sorry about the nature of this meetin’… but we do need your help.”
She took a moment then to look them over hard. Finally, she said slowly.
“I have been a defender of the weak for all of my days. When I see your eyes, I see the weak who need my help. I will do all I can for you and for the peace of your land, but be warned… those who have made to fool me in the past have regretted it.
“I don’t doubt it, luv,” Link said with a sarcastic snort, finally reattaching his arm, “and as you can see, we certainly are weak. Without our machines, we’re fucked, ain’t we Vergie?”
“Oh yeh,” Vergie nodded hydraulically, “proper fucked.”
“Perhaps I will use your…” she turns the word around a bit in her head before trying it, “machines myself, so I may be even stronger. You defeated my foe so easily, I am at the mercy of your machine power.”
“We’d be happy to obliged, luv,” Link said with a grin, “and pleased as punch to have you aboard. I’m Linkoln, and this here’s me mate Vergenbor. Might we have your name then, miss?”
She looked at them strangely. She had never known a name.
“I am a Valkyrie. It is what I am called, but there are many like me.”
“Try having a name like ‘Link,’ luv. There’s half a billion of us,” Linkoln gave another grin, “So it’s Kyri then, eh?”
He extended his arm again. This time she took his forearm in her hand in a traditional warrior’s greeting, taking care not to dislodge the arm again.
“In a way, yes.”
“Well then, Kyri,” Vergenbor stepped forward, extending an arm himself, which Kyri also took, “Welcome aboard.”

INSPIRATION TIME

How about a sequel to the Tony-award winning musical, Avenue Q, titled “Q2.” Whereas the first show, which first ran in 2004, dealt with a cautiously optimistic group of young adults believing that their world will eventually yield results, Q2 would focus on the same characters in a post-crash world: still unemployed, or saw their business ventures go up in smoke, still unhappy, and still unfulfilled.

I picture it opening up on the funeral for former superintendent Gary Coleman, with the character Nicky claiming that he just can’t laugh at others misfortune any more. It’ll start with a minor version of the original opening “the rain is falling and the skies are gray” replacing “the sun is shining, it’s a lovely day” and so on. As the show moves on, we find out that the “Monsterssori” school is in financial straits due to bad investments and a risky building loan. Kate Monster is stuck trying to keep the place afloat, and deciding whether or not to cut the internet connection to the school due to a pornography scandal and a new song entitled “The Internet Is Watching You.”

After being chastised by the “Newcomer” from the original show, mocked because his Business degree has him making three times what he used to, Princeton is back living with his parents. The new venture capital firm has closed down their apartment building after Gary’s death plan for the building to be replaced with… oh, I don’t know, something stupid. We start off with P singing “What do you do with a Master’s in English” bemoaning that he went back to school, went further in debt, and there’s still no jobs. He and Kate are estranged, they couldn’t quite take it “one day at a time.” He’s still looking for his purpose, because he can’t even get a job flipping burgers. He and Kate come back together towards the end with a searing song entitled “Fuck Our Parents.” You can guess what it’s about. When asked why he went back to get his master’s, he says something about two bears saying it was a good idea, featuring the “Bad Idea Bears” from the first show. Mrs. Thistletwat, Kate Monster’s old boss from when she worked in the public school, has mounted a push to put in a charter school to drive Kate’s school out of business, singing a song called “School for Sale” about for-profit education.

Conversely, Trekkie Monster and Lucy the Slut have managed to turn their lives around: Trekkie made out like a bandit, selling before the crash, and is flush with cash despite never working a day in his life. He manages to still collect welfare, as he isn’t posting any actual income. Lucy the Slut has moved on to become a famous televangelist and, as the play dawns, she’s mounting a career for the House of Representatives. Of course, she accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior “for about two seconds” before realizing that her story could make her embarrassing amounts of money instead. The two of them (Trekkie and Lucy) sing a duet called “Who’s Screwed Now/Who’s Screwing Themselves” a jazzy number where they wonder with smiles how they manage to be doing much better than the college educated, rule-abiding crowd.

Rod and Nicky no longer live together. Rod got married in New York (as it’s legal now) and lives with his husband. Nicky, homeless again, finds his life oddly enjoyable without real responsibilities. He sings a song about how if he’d known life could be this easy, he wouldn’t have tried so hard. He’s arrested by mistake when a movement to “Occupy Zuchinni Park” invades his home and incites police action. This renders him a felon and unable to cast the deciding vote keeping the corrupt Lucy out of office. Rod sings about how much he’s enjoying being out, but how he wishes he could still be a Republican in a song called “The Elephant Forgot.”

I don’t know what to do with Brian and Christmas Eve. I figure we could either go the horrible route, with Brian committing suicide after failed job after failed job, or perhaps they are divorced now. Or, we could go with the uplifting bit at the end where, despite all the trouble and hardship and hard living, they are still happy to have each other and be together. They could have a kid at the end whom they teach that huggy-muggy Barney the dinosaur self-esteem malarkey is basically bullshit and we can go all Tiger Mom, giving some hope for the future as the failures of the past will not be repeated in the future. I think I like the barely hopeful tone better.

I figure we can end on a song entitled “What Now?” instead of “For Now” from the original.

-Princeton’s still living with his parents, but it seems like he and Kate are on the mend… is he ready for marriage?

-Kate’s school is shut down, and her and Princeton are going to try and make it.

-Trekkie seems annoyed with people always asking him for money.

-Lucy realizes that a job in politics is 90% fundraising. Oddly, she’s a prostitute again. The Bad Idea Bears follow her, in awe of Congress.

-Rod and Ricky are picketed by anti-gay protesters. They lock themselves inside a gay bar with others.

-Nicky, a felon now, sees his options greatly limited.

-Brian and Christmas Eve sing about the world their child will inherit

And maybe they all wind up back at Gary’s grave, asking the headstone “What Now?”

Styx, Inc.

The Bells of Hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me:
For me the angels sing-a-ling-a-ling,
They’ve got the goods for me.
Oh! Death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling?
Oh! Grave, thy victory?
The Bells of Hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me.

Death has been defeated… but it’s not what you think.
It was all quite simple, really. A happy accident, you might say. It was discovered, not long ago, that death wasn’t always what we thought it was… although in many ways, it is.
It turns out that, as we always thought, people pass on to another plane of existence when they expire in this world. Unfortunately, it was always assumed that it would be a “higher” plane of existence.
When humanity finally discovered Heaven… it ruined a lot of expectations. It turns out Heaven is really quite boring. That light you see when you have a near death experience? It’s just a glimpse of the pan-dimensional portal aperture. How about when your life flashes before your eyes? Simply a compression of your life as quantum data, which is a periodic way of preparing you for the trip, so to speak. How about when you thought you saw something, just out of the corner of your eye, seemingly there but not? Just a ripple in the fabric between concurrent dimensions. Nature, as it’s often said, abhors a vacuum, and the previously held notions of death were fairly vacuous. Why create something only to wipe it out a scant century later?
And so, there was a solution. Xenotransport, as it came to be called: moving out of one dimension and into another. The ceasing of humanity to be human and to become… something more. Now granted, this isn’t what people wanted most of the time: Buddhists were cheapened out of Nirvana, Christians out of Heaven. But on the other hand, damnation suddenly became… quaint. It was simply another step in life: another place to live, another place to exist as a being of different matter, specialized matter. Another move to life eternal, even if eternal life didn’t turn out to be paradise. It didn’t turn out to be Hell, either… so it’s sort of a trade-off.
With death cheapened, the debate was almost immediately ignited: what do we do about it? More importantly, how do we continue life as we once knew it during this new landscape? And, as a distant corollary… is there any way to make money off of it? After all, you can take it with you, now. Naturally, the discovery was kept secret from the public until a necessary framework and coping strategy could be created. Needless to say, the religious community and the psychological groups stood to make a killing. But what of people that used to make their trade in the line of death? Undertakers, funeral homes, embalmers… their jobs seemed quaint now, outdated. However, most of them possessed a unique skill in the handling and acceptance of death, which made them perfect for a new line of work.
That’s how I came to be here: a former funeral home stooge who became one of the first trained for a new multinational outreach organization: Strategic Trandsimensional Yoking and Xenotransport, Incorporated. Someone was paid good money to come up with that one, I bet… but the term “yoking” wasn’t all that awkward as it may seem. In the early days of the discovery, most of the people vying for an optional Xenotransport (as opposed to waiting out the clock in this dimension) were widows and widowers, following the old biblical notion of being “unequally yoked.” Soon, however, using STYX as a way to get a fresh start in life became almost trendy, almost… desirable.
And for people like me who supervised the entire process, Boatmen of a new iteration, it became the ordinary grind of everyday work to cross dimensions regularly, ferrying people back and forth, making sure their journey was as uneventful and incident-free as possible. We even have one of those “this many days since our last accident” posters in the office. The only downside is, due to my frequent travel, I’m very sensitive to the boundaries between dimensions. Imagine that feeling you get when you feel like someone’s there, only to convince yourself they aren’t… only you have that feeling constantly… and people actually ARE there.
Still, it beats doing hair and makeup on the deceased… but it does allow for the odd experience of a previously departed criticizing you for the handling of their own funeral. You never really can get used to that one.

GenEx for your Home!

I’ve finally gotten around to putting some of the finished stories down in omnibus format, so you don’t have to do that arduous searching and reading piecemeal. With any hope, it means I won’t be changing these stories much anymore:

Henry VIII

Steve Waterhouse

Ashley & Will

We Are Golden: The Boy Who Knew Too Much

Rogues’ Gallery – Book One
Book Two & Christmas Special out soon!

Spud Russell – Parts 1&2
Parts 3&4 in pre-production

Welcome to the Space Marina

Feel free to add them to your eReaders, but let me know if you want to host them somewhere else.

Year’s End

Restless Desperation of a Rudderless Vessel
Lashing out with oars, but at what?

We have taken their direction,
For their safety, crippled them.

They splash about feebly, begging assistance
As rescue from their safety.

None will come,
they are safe.
None will come,
they are lost.
None will come,
they are gone.

Why I love my wife

So, as some of you know, I’m currently living 300 miles away from my darling wife for reasons of employment. Before I left for the first time, back in October, Luv decided to pack me all the stuff I’ll need, including toiletries like cologne and deodorant.

Fast forward 35 days.

It’s getting into winter, and it’s getting dry. My lips are beginning to resemble salt pork in the worst possible way. Any more of this and they might crack open and bleed. I’m on my way downstairs to see if I can covertly nick some of my mother’s carmex from the downstairs bathroom (currently living with my parents to get financials and living arrangements in order for when Luv moves out with me in a few months), and before I go downstairs I decide to check my toiletry bag… just on the off chance.

My chapstick is in there. I didn’t need it when I left, there was no telling if I would need it, but just to be prepared, she tossed it in there on the off-chance. She sees things I never will, her mind does everything mine doesn’t. That’s why I love her so much. She is my perfect compliment, she truly cares for me (as I for her), and she will always put my welfare ahead of hers.

I love my wife because she packs me chapstick, and for everything else that really means.