When people you value ignore things important to you, you begin to wonder how important you are to the people you think matter. You start to withdraw into your shell and you question the depth of others’ investment in your happiness, just as you begin to question the merit of your investment in theirs. When it reaches that point, you reach for the switch and you turn it off. As nakedly self-serving as it sounds, you cannot afford to invest your emotions in people who don’t reciprocate. Happiness is not a commodity readily available on the open market. It is a rare thing, requiring nurture and tenderness. You may think a quid pro quo is an ugly, commercial element unsuited to friendship. You may think it, but you’d be naive. We all want to be the personification of altruism, but we’re not suited to the task.

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Famine is to Family as Murder is to Mother

Allen Sherman loved his mother. Her maiden name was Achtung. She was of Prussian ancestry, though she was loathe to admit it. She preferred to tell lies, claiming Scottish lineage on her mother’s side, with a direct line to nobility that predated the Viking invasions. No one believed her, of course, not even Allen Sherman. But he never confronted  Jameestaqueezia Sherman with his doubts about her heritage because there was no reason to do so. Not until rumors of a new cleansing started to circulate. But by then, Jameestaqueezia had manufactured enough fake genealogical evidence of her ancestry to make its denial highly suspect.

Allen tried to persuade her to stop the charade, even before the authorities began their inquiries. “Mother, something’s afoot. I’m afraid this anti-Scottish sentiment is getting out of hand. I’m concerned your assertions about your Scottish ancestry will get you in trouble.”

“Assertions? They’re not assertions. They’re statements of fact! And, anyway, this anti-Scottish nonsense will pass quickly. These things always do.”

“Not always, Mother. Look at what happened to the Argentinians. They rounded them up and put them in camps and deported them. It was just like World War II and the Japanese. Except it was worse. There’s not a soul of Argentinian ancestry in this entire country now.”

“Well, that was different. Scottish ancestry is not like Argentinian ancestry. With the likes of Perón and Videla in that country, it’s a wonder they didn’t deport them all much earlier.”

“Mother, that is such a bigoted attitude! And I’m serious about talking about your Scottish ancestry. If you keep up with your proclamations about how proud you are to have pre-Viking Scottish ancestors, they’re going to show up at the door one day and cart you off!”

Jameestaqueezia Sherman, nee Achtung, was having none of Allen’s fear-mongering. She continued to proudly announce her noble lineage to anyone who would listen. But two weeks after Allen’s entreaty, she responded to a knock at the door.

A tall uniformed man, his face dull and emotionless, stood at the door. “Are you Jameestaqueezia Sherman?”

“I am. Who wants to know?”

“I am Captain Enrique Squalor with the U.S. Genealogical Cleansing Service. I’m here to escort you to the deportation barge.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“We have evidence that you are of Scottish ancestry and, furthermore, that you have expressed pride in your scurrilous connection to that land whose only claim to fame is the Highland Potato Famine of the middle nineteenth century. You’re being taken to the Scottish deportation barge, which will be escorted to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and released.”

“There must be a mistake. My maiden name is Achtung. Actually, I am of Prussian stock.”

“That’s not what you’ve been telling your neighbors, Mrs. Sherman. And that’s not what the documents you’ve filed with the Orleans Parish Genealogical Authority say. Come with me.”

The Scottish deportation barge was a large, flat, open-air vessel with no railings. Sixty-four hundred eye-hooks, thick and  eighteen inches apart, were affixed to the deck. Jameestaqueezia and sixty-three hundred and ninety-nine other Scottish deportees, rounded up from as far away as Port Arthur, Texas and Springfield, Missouri, were chained to the eye-hooks. When the barge was fully loaded with its human cargo, an enormous tugboat pushed it away from dockside and steered it down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. Once in the open Gulf, the tug pulled around the front of the barge. Captain Enrique Squalor, aided by his newly-hired Lieutenant, Allen Sherman, attached thick cables to the barge. When the cables were firmly affixed, the Captain steered the monstrous tug southeast.

As the pair of vessels slipped around the southern coast of Florida a day and a half later, the coastline was visible in the distance. It was the last time the deportees would see land. Four days later, drenched with salt water and burned by the sun, the deportees watched Captain Squalor and his Lieutenant disconnect the cables.

“You’re just going to leave us out here?!” Jameestaqueezia, shouting at her son, shook her fist in his direction.

Allen Sherman stared at her and nodded.

“It takes guts, boy, to do your duty when it’s family.” Captain Squalor put his hand on Allen’s shoulder.

“If only she’d have stopped the charade of Scottish ancestry long ago, Captain, this whole thing could have been avoided.”

“Yeah, son, this could have been a much brighter day. But she made her bed. The lot of them did.”

Ten years later, almost to the day, both the Argentinian and the Scottish deportations were ruled unconstitutional. And a year after that, Captain Enrique Squalor and Lieutenant Allen Sherman were hanged after being convicted of sixty-four hundred counts of the crime of mass murder by neglect. The U.S. Attorney General had opted not to pursue charges against them for their subsequent involvement in the Peruvian and French deportations.

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More World of Wine

Tonight was the fifth (I think…France, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Australia…were there more?) “World of Wine” dinner and wine tasting we’ve attended at Coronado Center. Tonight’s meal and wine assortment were Australian. Upon entering, we were given a glass of Andove Zibibbo Sparkling Moscato. If I never drink the wine again it will be too soon; far too sweet and syrupy for my taste. The meal began with a truly tasty Australian meat pie, which was paired with a 19 Crimes Red blend. The wine was pretty good. Next up, the second meal course was Australian “Rack of Lamb” chop (Lollipop Chop) with red wine sauce. I think it was to have been paired with with Greg Normal Cabernet/Merlot, but the wine was delivered early. The lamb was good, though it’s hard to keep such a dish warm with banquet service. The wine was pretty good, as well, but very tannic (which I like). Next up was Sticky Toffee Date Pudding, paired with Jacobs Creek Dry Reisling; I liked both, though Janine was not fond of the wine. I bought a bottle of the wine, only $9 with tax. The final course was a cheese and fruit plate, paired with D’Arenberg Stump Jump Chardonnay.

We ended up taking home another bottle of wine, in addition to the dry reisling, thanks to my commitment to the venue manager to sponsor him in the upcoming BikeMS ride from Little Rock to Hot Springs Village and back. The wine that came as part of that commitment is one he made; it should age until at least December (and not much longer). He enjoys making wine and was the driving force behind the wine-making class we attended (and in which he participated as a teacher) a month or two (or three) ago.

The next two World of Wine events will feature Argentina (in September) and Chile (in October). Unless our plans change, we’ll attend those events, too. I really can’t say either the wine or the food is particularly appealing, but the events are interesting. It’s hard to say just why I enjoy them; perhaps it’s the company and the entertainment value of the environment.  And maybe it’s because I enjoy seeing the efforts of a creative guy turn in to something that engenders support from throughout the Village. I’m glad we attend. It’s an enjoyable evening.

To top it off, our table-mates offers suggestions of good, cheap wines: Crane Lake and Foxbrook wines, said to be alternatively-branded “Two Buck Chuck” wines and “Big Smooth,” said to be cheap and quite appealing. We suggested Slate Dry Reisling, a South African wine, to another table-mate who’s into reislings.

And there you have it.


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In Favor of Cheese

We have the very good fortune to have some very generous neighbors. A woman with whom Janine plays cards one night a week most weeks gave us three cheeses earlier this week. Because I want to remember them for future reference (if I can find them—these were sent to her by distant progeny), I am writing about them here.

Abondance: A semi-hard raw milk cheese made in France. It is aged for a minimum of ninety days on specially produced spruce boards. According to “It has a strong smell and an intensely fruity, buttery and hazelnut flavour, with balance of acidity and sweetness, followed by a lingering aftertaste. Unearth an aroma of nutty vegetation as you slice the cheese. However, remember the crust including the gray layer beneath, should be removed before eating.”  Though I agree with the description, I did not remove the crust; I like the crust as much as the cheese.

Cabra la Prudenciana: This Spanish cheese is a stronger, more powerful cheese than the Abondance, but I like it as much. Janine is not as fond of it as I; this is good, as I get to eat the rest of it. According to Zuercher Cheese on Tumblr, “Cabra La Prudenciana has a compact paste with tiny eye formation. Although slightly granular at first, it warms up nicely on the palate. Unexpectedly buttery for a goat’s milk cheese, Cabra La Prudenciana reminds one of its sheepy cousins. We are especially delighted that this cheese remains unpasteurized. The flavor begins with a fresh, tangy, salty bite, then lingers and mellows into a goaty, herbal finish.”

Shepherd’s Blend: This cheese, from Carr Valley Cheese Company in Wisconsin, is a sheep, goat and cow milk cheese cured for 10 weeks, so says the Carr Valley Cheese website. They go on to say “it has a soft body and a subtle, complex flavor. Excellent melting cheese and great in any recipe!”

I had samples of each this afternoon, along with a few large green olives stuffed with garlic and jalapeño. It was the appropriate snack for the day, for me, and for this century. It just worked.

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In Twenty-Five Years, Give or Take a Year, I’ll Be Canadian

Twenty-five years ago, I had no assurances I would live to reach sixty-three years of age. Nor did I have such assurances five years ago or even one year ago. The absence of assurances notwithstanding, I had expectations. And they’ve been met, albeit with some adjustments and difficulties. I have no assurances I’ll reach sixty-four, though if I’m alive come the end of October, that expectation will have been met.

A lot can change in twenty-five years.  George H.W. Bush was President in 1992. Bill Clinton was running for the job. In the years since, Clinton won the election and then repeated his victory. And he was impeached, thanks to his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky and lying about it. George W. Bush stumbled into office, twice, and then Barrack Obama twice won the office. The twin towers fell to terrorism. Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris. O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, then was found guilty of, among other things, armed robbery. Terry Nichols bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and paid for his crime with his life. North Korea tested its first nuclear device. NASA revealed evidence of water on Mars. The American Episcopal Church became the first church to approve a rite for blessing gay marriages. One hundred ninety-five nations signed the Paris Agreement on climate change. I took a short sabbatical that turned into a longer sabbatical that turned into retirement. The last original “Peanuts” cartoon appeared in newspapers after the death of the creator, Charles Schultz. China ended its one-child policy. The Columbine high school massacre took place. The first smartphone was sold. Saturn Corporation sold its last car and went out of business. Oldsmobile went out of business. Corporations, granted personhood by the Supreme Court, stole elections.

Now, I consider whether, twenty-five years hence, I will be in a position to write about my lack of assurances and my expectations. In twenty-five years, I would be approaching my eighty-ninth birthday. Considering that my father died at eighty-one and my mother died at seventy-eight, the odds are not in my favor. But if I were to be alive then, in 2042, I would have witnessed the discovery of intelligent life on multiple planets in nearby galaxies. I would have seen the creation of new forms of collectivism, in which large groups of people opt out of society as we know it today in favor of self-rule without the encumbrances of structured society. Cars would have long-since been abandoned in favor of transportation cyborgs, hybrids between horses and gyroscopes with comfortable seating. Chiggers would have been eradicated, replaced in the insect food chain by harmless creatures whose only desire and only purpose is to be food. Euthanasia, adopted worldwide as the only means of human death following the advent of drugs that induce self-healing of all injuries and ailments, would be mandatory. Crime would have been eliminated by making almost all behaviors legal; without the prohibitions on behaviors we deem criminal today, the incentive to break the rules would have disappeared, thereby reducing such behaviors to negligible levels. Cutting in line in grocery stores would be the only criminal act, punishable by permanent paralysis and periodic public floggings. Certain sea creatures—including dolphins, starfish, and shrimp—would have evolved to the extent that they live on land.

A few years short of 2042, on my eighty-sixth birthday, I will share a bottle of New Zealand wine with two dolphins and a shrimp; this gathering will take place in The Canadian Brewhouse in Timberlea, Alberta (incredibly, it will still be there), a suburb of Fort McMurray. We will, of course, enjoy an order of Montreal smoked meat poutine with our wine. Because bigotry has no expiration date, a burly tourist from the lower forty-eight, a guy named Scud Portman, will shout to my companions, “Hey, get out of here and go back where you came from! I don’t want no seafood where I eat my steak!” With one quick slip of her tail, Swoop Westerman (she’s the female of the dolphin pair) will send Scud Portman to his early demise (he didn’t take the self-healing drug). His corpse will be disposed of with the rest of the refuse from the kitchen and we will continue enjoying our repast. An African eel, watching the engagement from a corner booth, will approach us. “Hello, I’m Slither Cone and I just wanted to say I was impressed with the way you handled that jerk. Can I buy your dinner?” We will decline, of course, but will invite her to join us, which she will. The bartender, a retired lumberjack named Brandon Sawman, will send over another bottle of wine with a note attached; it will say ‘This bottle of wine is on me. Here’s to brotherly love.’ Soon, the entire place will be alive with joyous expressions of decency and kindness, wine and hard liquor serving as the lubricants to said environment. Suddenly, a Royal Canadian Mounty, Dutch Boyle, will run into the place and yell, “There’s a party on the highway! Everyone’s invited!” Naturally, the place will empty quickly as we jump on our transportation cyborgs and head for the highway. A week later, upon returning to  The Canadian Brewhouse, I will be asked to settle the bill that I inadvertently walked the week before. And I will. Because it was never my intent to steal from the owners of such a happy place. Of course, this entire scenario depends on my survival . It sounds like so much fun I feel I have an added incentive to live to see it.

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Another vignette that may find its way into something I write.

Surely you remember those kisses. Those hundreds upon hundreds of kisses. We were shy, at least I was, but we shattered that obstacle somehow. We broke every rule. Yet rules seemed so utterly empty to us, didn’t they? Rules were simply the articulation of fears, fears that human nature, unchecked by onerous boundaries, would explode into chaotic expressions of lust or hatred or love or, perhaps, innocence. We knew the rules but we broke them anyway. We crossed those lines, stepping from strident fidelity into minefields littered with erogenous zones. Your marriage had collapsed. Mine hadn’t begun. It was in that miasma of anger and anticipation that something blossomed, albeit briefly, that brought us together in a fire that burned too bright, too fast. It was so impossibly short that it could not have hoped to satisfy our cravings. And then it was over. Except for the longing and the questions over all these years. “What if?” “What might have happened if fear hadn’t intervened?” And still, today, when I see you, I wonder whether the universe would have spun a little sweeter, a little faster, with a little more energy, if I hadn’t been so immature, so young, and so damned afraid.

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The Way to Riches

The switch that controls the left rear burner on our KitchenAid Architect Series II electric range costs $131.69. I know this because I managed to break said switch last night. I carelessly grabbed for a heavy wood cutting board, swinging it at just the right speed and arc of movement so that it hit the knob with sufficient force to snap the end of the switch off inside the knob. After much online effort, I found the part necessary to repair the range. I did not, though, find information about how to remove and replace the broken part. I suppose I’ll just have to monkey with the range, taking it apart bit by bit until I can remove the front panel so I can get behind the switch. Two screws hidden behind the knob suggest it will be easy to remove the switch, but first I must be able to get behind the panel. Alternatively, I could hire someone else to do the exploratory work. But I figure my $131.69 mistake should be enough of an investment, without paying someone $80 an hour to learn the workings of my range.

While searching for the replacement part, I discovered all sorts of other replacement parts for the range. Though I did no calculations, my guess is that I could replace all replaceable parts of the range and the oven below it at a cost of roughly $231,000. That being the case, I think we got an incredibly good deal when we bought this house. Most of the purchase price went toward buying the range. The rest of the house was thrown in for just a few thousand dollars more. So, it occurs to me that, once I’ve repaired the range, I might just sell it at a significantly discounted price—say $130,000—and buy a replacement range for considerably less. Even if I went upscale, I doubt I’d need to spend more than $5,000. So, I’d put $125,000 in my pocket. Considering the selling price of comparable homes in the area, I could then offer the house for sale at a price that would guarantee multiple offers. I’d come out ahead by well over $100,000, which we could use to purchase a smaller home here and another one in a friendlier summer climate.

Now that I know the secret to house prices, I think I’ll start flipping houses nearby. I’ll just break the knobs off their stoves, repair them, sell the ranges at a staggering profit, buy replacements, then sell the houses at steep discounts. In no time, I’ll be awash in money with which to buy seasonal homes worldwide. With the flood of money, I’ll easily be able to buy first class airline tickets to visit my homes in Croatia, Italy, France, Bolivia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and other such places. I’ll have ample cash to spend time at my summer homes in Nova Scotia and British Columbia. Once I’ve proven the concept, I’ll offer free, limited-seating seminars in cities worldwide, describing in overview style what I’ve done. For specific details of how the process works, seminar participants can buy sure-fire money-making kits with step-by-step instructions for the low, low price of $5,000 per kit. Hundreds of thousands of people will line up to buy my remarkable kits (cash only, please, no checks or credit cards). After I’ve sold 1,000,000 kits, I’ll retire in luxury. But, because I will not want to be called greedy, I will become a philanthropist, donating 75% of my money toward peace and ending world hunger. Who knew one simple, careless motion with a heavy cutting board could lead to such a fairy tale ending?

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Two years ago today, I read an article entitled The Art of the Mistake, by Alice Driver. The article moved me to tears. I doubt others would be moved to tears the way I was. But the ideas offered in the article—ideas that suggested to me the immeasurable value of viewing the world from a peculiar but utterly wonderful perspective—struck a chord so deep within me that I could not help myself. I sobbed. I remember thinking: There must be something wrong with me; this article should not summon such a powerful emotional response. But it did. And, today, as I read the article again for the first time in two years, it had the same effect. As I mull over the strange reaction I have to the article, I am slowly beginning to conclude that the Wabi-sabi world view is a powerful framework upon which emotions may be strung like lights on a Christmas tree.  And that concept is one I need to explore. Not for knowledge, but for enlightenment.

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July 2017 Oklahoma/Kansas Road Trip

July 12, 2017

We left the house around 8:15 a.m., bound first to Hot Springs to visit a friend in the hospital.  When we arrived, she was talking with a surgeon; when we opened the door to her room, he said, “give us a few minutes.” We waited for about fifteen minutes and decided to leave, inasmuch as we were bound for Tulsa and planned to go back roads, which would take us some time. Two hours later, we stopped in Mena, Arkansas to buy some bottled water. We also checked text and voice mail messages, discovering messages from another friend, saying our hospitalized friend won’t need surgery, after all; just stents and medication for now. Good news! We called and spoke to both of them for a bit, before hitting the road again.

By the time we reached Poteau, Oklahoma, we decided we were hungry. But Poteau wasn’t just a hunger-inducer; the place is littered with colorful sculptures of cows. After a little research, we discovered that the cows were the brainchildren of some community leaders who were looking for After stopping at a place we thought was a diner but was, actually, a coffee cafe, we settled on Maria’s Mexican Restaurant. Both before and after lunch, we passed a number of convenience stores that were unfamiliar to us: Tote-a-Poke. And after lunch, near Panama, Oklahoma, we spotted a loose black and white cow on the roadside, enjoying his/her freedom (we only got a glimpse) and fresh grass.

As we neared Tulsa, Oklahoma, the scenery began to look like suburban America. Bixby, Oklahoma could be mistaken for Plano, Texas or Frisco, Texas or any number of other suburbs driven by consumerism, greed, and capitalism gone awry. As we made our way to the motel where we’d made reservations while having lunch in Poteau, I questioned why I’d decided to visit a good-sized city with plenty of traffic jams.

We found out motel, checked in, and quickly learned it has a miserable wifi system. It drives me approximately crazy to be kicked off a very slow internet connection every three to five minutes. Crazy, I say.  After losing my temper any number of times, we headed out to dinner. We ate at Molcajete, a truly wonderful little Mexican spot. We were the only gringos in the place. At one point, the waitress forgot to speak English to us and ask us in Spanish, instead, how we liked out meal. Good food! Good atmosphere! Thanks to the motel clerk for recommending it to us.

After dinner, we went back to the room, where Janine worked crosswords and read the paper, I read the paper and tried to surf the web, and half-watched the film, Con-Air.

When we went to bed, I found I could not go to sleep. By 3:00 a.m., I had been awake for hours. At some stage during pre-daylight hours, I finally slept, but only barely. The motel, a Best Western near the airport, does not deserve your business. It is a dump.

July 13, 2017

When I got up, I showered, shaved, and went down for breakfast. Janine had awakened in the middle of the night while I was still awake and had a hard time going back to sleep. Finally, she did, and she slept late. Once she got up and had breakfast, we talked about what to do during the day. I had planned to visit the Woody Guthrie Museum and the Gilcrease Museum, but the thought of fighting traffic bothered me. So we opted to hit the road: the day’s destination would be Manhattan, Kansas. With Janine as the guide, we wandered the back roads of Oklahoma and Kansas, rarely encountering much traffic. The roads were in good condition, the scenery got increasingly better, and my stress level (though ratcheted up for reasons I won’t go into here) finally declined.

On the way to Manhattan, we stopped to explore Emporia, Kansas for a bit. My primary goal was to visit Radius Brewing Company, but I had to do lunch first. We ate at BobbyD’s Merchant Street BBQ, which was decent but not exceptional. I was stunned and horrified when I learned that did not have any jalapeños available. After lunch, we crossed the street to Radium Brewing, only to find that it did not appear to be a tap room but, instead, a restaurant. I got the impression after peeking inside that one would feel out of place asking for a single beer; so, we left. I will go back one day, perhaps.

It felt good to be traversing rolling green hills beneath the enormity of the sky, a massive collection of high grey, roiling clouds from horizon to horizon and pole to pole. We got to Manhattan around 4:00 p.m. and immediately found our motel. After unloading our gear, we went for a drive, getting acquainted with the area. Before dinner, I wrote an email to the two managers of the TRIGA Mark II nuclear facility on the KSU campus, asking them some questions, the answers to which would be quite helpful as I write my novel. I hope to get a response.

When it was time for dinner, we went to the Little Apple Brewery and restaurant. Food was good, my ale was adequate. But the place seemed like a monument to greed and wishful thinking. We returned to the motel (after a visit to a liquor store near the brew-pub) with a to-go box, which I finished off a bit later. At the liquor store, we bought their remaining for bottles of Babich Sauvignon Blanc for my sister-in-law and a couple of bottles of cheap but drinkable wine for me, for later.  Back at the motel, we lazed and went to bed early, though neither of us slept particularly well.

July 14, 2017

I awoke late, about 6:45 a.m. I took a shower, slipped on some clothes, and went downstairs for a breakfast of sausage, biscuits and gravy, and coffee. When I returned, Janine was up and had showered and was ready for her breakfast. We returned to the dining area, where she ate a healthier breakfast and I added some cherry flavored Greek yogurt to the meal. During breakfast, we decided to stay in Manhattan at the same motel for another night, versus going up the road to another place where we could have earned a $20 travel bonus; just not worth the effort. With that decision, the day became more relaxed almost instantly.

Our first exploration of the day began with a visit to the Manhattan Zoo. Typically, we are not people who seek out zoos, but the idea of a zoo in a community of fewer than 53,000 people was intriguing. So we visited. It is an interesting place. Not a monstrous zoo by any means, the place has greater variety than we would have expected. Tigers, leopards, anteaters, Asian wild peccaries, peacocks, all manner of exotic birds, otters, cheetahs, monkeys, gibbons, and on and on. As one would expect, the place was awash in children, but the screeching, in general, kept to tolerable levels.

From there, we visited the Flint Hills Discovery Center, which offered an extraordinary education in the history of the Flint Hills region, beginning with the VERY beginning millions of years ago and zipping right on up through the present. The first experience inside the very modern building was a “4-D” movie. The film was shown on an extremely wide screen and was augmented by smoke, wind, snow, odors, and an incredible sound system. I was impressed. And I thought it interesting that many of the words used in the narration echoed the words of a post I made the night before, in which I described the enormity of the sky and said “I have decided parts of Kansas are beautiful; parts of the state are emotionally draining, they are so beautiful.”

We decided to have lunch at the Tallgrass Tap Room, the food and beer establishment run by Tallgrass Brewing. I had a burger and a flight of five Tallgrass offerings, plus one other: 1863 Wheat; Eleanor; Carhop; Thunderclap; and Midwest Berry Crunch, and a non-Tallgrass offering, a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. After lunch, we slipped back to the motel for a bit, then headed out to Kansas State University, where we visited the KState Insect Zoo. In addition to an incredibly large collection of live insects (literally dozens of tarantulas of all sorts, plus monstrous beetles, flies, scorpions, etc.), the place has an exquisite exterior garden area, mostly native plants, I think.

The next stop was the Call Hall Dairy Bar, where we both had double scoops of ice cream. A huge group of students—an extraordinarily diverse group, ethnically speaking—was in front of us, making for slow going to get our orders in. No worries, though, as I found them interesting. I suspect they were from a class that had just let out. We sat and ate our ice cream while we learned, by Janine’s reading signs, that we could buy eggs and all manner of meats in the little store, which is run under the auspices of the Animal Sciences and Industry department of the university.

On the way back to the motel, we stopped at Walmart to buy odds and ends we’d been intending to buy, thence to the hotel. I planned to wash clothes in the single guest washer, but it was hogged by a woman who left her load in the machine for well over an hour after it finished; she also left a load in the dryer. I tried and tried to see if the machines were empty, but the evil, lazy woman left her clothes in the washer and in the dryer. I hope she was forced to iron all the clothes in the dryer in order to make them wearable. We ordered pizza for delivery to the motel; just too tired to go out again. After eating a monstrous amount of pizza and putting the remainder in the refrigerator, we talked about what we would do the next day. We reached a decision, as outlined in the following paragraphs.

July 15, 2017

After breakfast, we drove to Abilene, Kansas, where we took a two-hour ride on an excursion train, the Abilene and Smoky Valley line.  The train is powered by an old diesel locomotive, which pulls an enclosed car (with windows that open and close, thankfully), as well as two open-air (but with canvas covers) gondola cars that have picnic style tables for seating.  The train goes from downtown Abilene (across from the Eisenhower Presidential Library) east, through farmland devoted to soy beans, corn, wheat, and the like. We saw mostly corn and soy; the wheat crop had been harvested near the end of June. The train crossed the Smoky Hill River immediately before arriving at its stop in the town of Enterprise. Along the way, we saw enormous irrigation systems alongside the railroad tracks. I’ve seen them in fields as I’ve driven by in a car, but never quite as close as these were to the train. They are far larger than I thought, and I’ve always thought they were quite large. In Enterprise, the stop is at the Hoffman Grist Mill, a huge red barn of a building in which the owners mill grain and make baked goods and related “stuff” available to the tourists on the train. We did not buy any, so I cannot attest to its flavor or quality. We were told the engine would separate from the passenger cars in Enterprise, move along a siding, and reconnect on the other end, so it could pull the cars back to Abilene. Not long after we got to Enterprise, I saw three guys trying to move a switch that would allow the engine to switch tracks; the tried, then stood up with their hands on their hips, staring down at the switch. I concluded something was amiss. Sure enough, there was track damage, so the engine had to push us back to Abilene, rather than pull.  When we got back to Abilene, we crossed the side street on the west side of the depot to have lunch at the Hitching Post restaurant. Afterward, we visited the Eisenhower Presidential Museum and Library, which was considerably more interesting than I had expected, and a much larger and more modern building that I had anticipated it would be. The museum’s films and displays were, in my estimation, easily on par with the Clinton library in Little Rock and considerably more impressive than the George H.W. Bush library in Bryan, Texas.

From Abilene, we drove the short twenty-plus miles to Salina, Kansas. Once we checked in to our motel, we went out looking for the brewery/restaurant I had read about, Blue Skye Brewery and Eats. I asked whether they had flights; the waitress said “no, but we let you have six-ounce glasses of each of four beers for $6.” Hmm, sounds a little like a flight to me, I thought, so I picked four of Blue Skye’s brews: Fire Engine Red; Muglers IPA; Jalapeño Cream Ale; and 6th Street Wheat. Janine broke the doctor’s rules and ordered a house specialty, The Beach, which was a cucumber-jalapeño margarita. All of them were quite good. We opted for an early dinner at Heart of Dixie restaurant, a Cajun place just across the street from the brewery. Eat there if you must; I was unimpressed, but it wasn’t horrible and I wasn’t poisoned. So what if the service was slow and inept?

July 16, 2017

The next morning, Janine allowed that her sore throat, which had been bugging her for two days, was getting worse. She suggested we head for home. So, after the motel’s breakfast, I filled the car with gas and hit the road. We opted to take the fastest way home, unlike our meandering trip thus far (we opted for back roads for much of the way from Hot Springs to Tulsa to Emporia to Manhattan). Once on the road, Janine spied a sign that intrigued her; it promoted a Swedish village in Kansas, a place called Lindsborg. We took a brief detour to drive around the town and discovered that, indeed, the place was awash in things Swedish, like architecture, Dala Horse figures all over town, and signs everywhere saying, “Välkommen to Lindsborg.”  After our short diversion, we hit the road again and took the Kansas Turnpike and various Oklahoma Turnpikes. Somewhere along the way, we stopped at a Dairy Queen (which was one of several physically connected businesses at a turnpike concession. Though I usually avoid fast food like the plague, I was hungry; our burgers turned out to be rather tasty and much better than the chemical swill I’ve had from most fast-food burger joints. Janine had something I think was called a frosty, which was ice cream with chocolate and fudge mixed with semi-soft ice cream. It was in a dish that could be turned upside down without any of the sweet treat spilling. Another store in the turnpike concession, a place that looked like a convenience store from the outside, was called (according to the sign above its entrance) EZ-Go. I told Janine I assumed that must have been the turnpike’s laxative concessionaire. How she could fail to see the humor in that is beyond me.  We intersected with I-40 several miles west of the Arkansas border, then drove to Arkansas Highway 7 and on home. The trip home began around 8:30 p.m. and we got to the house around 5:45 p.m. Because neither of us were in the mood to figure out what to prepare for dinner, we went to Last Chance Lakeside Café, where the woman who finally seated us got into a very loud shouting match with one of the waitstaff. I asked our waiter to see the manager, who was off doing an errand. When he came back, I explained to him what we’d seen and heard and told him I thought he ought to be aware of it. He apologized and thanked us. I wonder if he actually addressed the issue with the parties involved? I don’t know. And so ends my blow-by-blow of our abbreviated trip. The photos below are from the trip, but I’m insufficiently motivated to go to the trouble of labeling them individually.

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All Things in Moderation

The purposes of our trip to Oklahoma and Kansas were twofold: 1) take a long-delayed road trip, with the intent of “chilling” a bit; and 2) gather material from and become familiar with Kansas—Manhattan in particular—as a resource for a novel I’m writing in which Manhattan is one of several settings. I did not expect nor plan to explore my prejudices with respect to conservatism, nor did I anticipate I would come to understand (at least part of) the genesis of conservatism and ways in which liberals/progressives might work toward reaching consensus with conservatives.  But I did both. I came face-to-face with my prejudices about conservatives and conservatism and I think I’ve learned how to begin the task of solving social and political problems in bipartisan fashion.

We (I guess I’m using the royal ‘we’) attack the use of pesticides, drilling for oil, corporate farming, planting cash crops instead of food crops, etc., etc. What we fail to understand, I think, is that the people on the receiving end of our criticism perceive our attacks through two lenses: 1) we are attacking them, personally, because of what they do and the way they live; and 2) we offer no suitable alternatives to enable them to live decent lives if they were to sacrifice the livelihoods we so readily condemn. In addition, our non-religious holier-than-thou attitudes are just as ruffling to them as their religious holier-than-thou are ruffling to us. We’re creating the perfect storm for absolute rejection of anything we suggest. Our arrogance is breeding distrust, opposition, and hatred. With our constant barrage of verbal attacks on their intelligence, their decency, and indeed their humanity, why are we surprised that they respond in kind? We have become Pavlovs and they have become the subjects of Pavlovian experiments; we’ve trained conservatives to respond to our every word with venomous responses, regardless of what we’ve said. We’ve trained them to assume that, each time we open our mouths, we are attacking their way of life.

All right, perhaps we’re not the Pavlovs. Perhaps we are the experimental subjects. Maybe we’ve been trained to respond with loathing to every utterance. But does it really matter who is the trainer and who is the trainee? Doesn’t it make sense to shed the automatic biases against every assertion and attempt, instead, to understand a different point of view? I get the impression from both staunch conservatives and resolute liberals that any willingness to even listen to the other side is traitorous. People who fall into either steadfast, unwavering position, in my opinion, admit to their fears that the “other” might be capable—through some magical mental elixir—of brainwashing us to see some semblance of value in the other perspective. And that fear is born of ignorance and intolerance and bigotry. I’m calling both of you out, conservatives and liberals. You’re both guilty of closing your minds so as not to put your precious chauvinism at risk.

Back to my trip and the genesis of my understanding of conservatism. One’s environment plays a central role in one’s attitude about reality and righteousness. If I had grown up on a farm where a good corn or wheat or soybean crop were absolutely requisite to paying my bills, I might be rather protective of the pesticides I had learned were required to produce a good crop. Without them, I probably learned, the crops would not be as productive and could, in fact, fail. If the first inkling I had that pesticides were controversial came from people who said pesticides were causing wildlife to die in alarming numbers and, moreover, the people who use pesticides are personally responsible for the decimation of wildlife and for birth defects, I might get my back up. If, on the heels of those assertions, came accusations that I both knew the consequences of my use of pesticides and ignored them because my motive was unadulterated greed, I might get defensive. If my accusers then claimed I did not care who or what was hurt today or for generations to come by my recklessness, I might get downright angry.

Now, I did not hear these ideas or anything like them on my trip. But as I watched farmers work their fields, I imagined how they must have responded to liberals who attacked their way of life. For most of my life, the approaches I have heard from the left have been confrontational and angry. They assume everyone has heard or read all the information they have heard about pesticides (and the environment in general, militarism, religion, etc., etc., etc.); and anyone who does not share their zeal and enthusiasm for their positions must be willfully stupid, greedy, slow in the head, backward, nasty, monstrous, and deserving of any number of other negative descriptors. I give equal credit to the right, who without giving it a second thought instantly dismiss anything expressed by a liberal as dangerous, treasonous, communistic, and utterly poisonous.

It’s gotten to the point that attempts on either side, liberal or conservative, to engage in reasoned arguments are rebuffed out of hand by the opposition. There’s no room for discussion; both sides have staked their positions; they’ve drawn their lines in the sand and are unwilling to even consider that there’s a shred of truth in the positions taken by their adversaries. I am not writing this to show how I am somehow above this irrationality; I am in the thick of it. All of us who are not actively attempting to reach out to people whose views directly oppose our own are guilty of perpetuating this madness. Leaving aside his positions on anything (if he has any positions that can be nailed down), conservatives’ embrace of Trump is a shining example of where things have gone. Conservatives do not necessarily like Trump, though many say they do. They embrace Trump because he opposes the rest of us, the people who do not embrace conservatism. To use a well-worn phrase, conservatives embrace Trump because “the enemy of mine enemy is my friend.” Liberals do the same thing. We (or at least many of us) cling to every word of liberal mouthpieces like Rachel Maddow, Michael Moore, Bill Maher, et al. For conservatives, when Trump lambastes these same people and all who think like them, he is their friend. And when Maddow and Moore and Maher attack conservative positions, regardless of any irrationality or other annoying characteristics they may bring to the table, they are liberals’ friends.

This is madness. We, the collective we, have manipulated ourselves into positions in which what matters to us is not so much the positions a person takes but the enemies we share. The more common enemies, the closer our bond, regardless of the fact that our positions on specific issues may be diametrically opposed to one another.  While visiting the Eisenhower museum in Abilene, Kansas, I was reminded of many things Eisenhower did, did not do, or stood for that would be rejected by either liberals and conservatives today: the massive Federal spending for the interstate highway system; his negotiated settlement of the Korean war; his failure to get the government out of agriculture; his failure to moderate the Republican Party. Yet his Presidency accomplished something virtually no presidency since has done: he kept the country at peace, albeit a strained peace. Eisenhower, perhaps as well as any other president, worked collaboratively with his supporters and opponents to achieve consensus where it was achievable. His lessons seem to have been lost on both the Republican and the Democratic parties and their adherents. I cannot speak as a conservative to this loss. But as a proud liberal, I am embarrassed that otherwise intelligent people today seem to have lost their ability to see the decency in compromise. Instead, they view compromise as a moral failing; they see consensus-building as abandonment of their core principles. I think that’s true of conservatives, as well; but I can say with some degree of certainty it’s true of many if not most liberals.

I don’t know who started us down the road to condemnatory politics, but if liberals have half a brain they will stop engaging in their Pavlovian reactive rage and will begin to actually listen to their conservative peers. They will try to understand their opponents’ positions and, instead of attacking their premises as nakedly aggressive and uncaring and unprincipled, will try to moderate their own positions in an effort to give conservatives a carrot to moderate theirs.

This has been a socio-political rant.  You may now feel free to go about your lives, provided you attempt to step back from the inflexible positions you (or I) take about all things social and political.

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Today’s adventures involved a drive from Manhattan to Abilene, Kansas, a round-trip train ride in open cars, lunch in a diner adjacent to the train tracks, a visit to the Eisenhower museum, homestead, and library, a drive from Abilene to Salina, a visit to a brew-pub (where I sampled four brews), dinner at a Cajun restaurant, and finding four more bottles of my favorite sauvignon blanc (which, unfortunately, will not stay with us but will, instead, find their way to my sister-in-law). Much more could be said about the day and, when the right time comes, will be done.

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Depending on Strangers

We’re in for the night and haven’t bothered turning on the television because, well, there’s usually no point. Instead, I’ve been wandering the internet in search of answers to questions I’ve never quite posed, but which have always waited patiently to be asked. One of those questions—one I never knew was there until this evening—is this: if I found myself alone in a place I knew no one, who would I turn to for help if I needed it? One answer, I was surprised to finally respond, would be this: I’d probably try to find out whether the community had a Unitarian Universalist church and, if so, I’d seek out a leader or member. As one who’s always—and I mean always—eschewed church in all its loathsome forms, the very idea that I’d turn to a representative of a church stunned me. What in the name of all that’s holy or not would cause me to seek out a “church-person?” Well, I’ve decided people who attend UU churches are more likely than the average person on the street to be willing to help a stranger in need. At least I think so. I hope so. Maybe I think a UU member/friend would respond more favorably to someone else who claims UU affiliation. Regardless, I think people who attend UU churches would make good first contacts when seeking help. This attitude is quite a stretch; my only exposure to UU people is recent and has been limited to people from one church. But the concepts I hear espoused from the UU on a broader plane suggest to me that giving aid is a core principle that guides people to attend. They do not have to believe in a god, a dogma, a prescribed theology; they just have to believe in the dignity of other people. That, to me, translates into the kind of people I think I might be able to depend on in a pinch.

As I wandered the interwebs tonight, I discovered decent-sized UU congregations in Manhattan, Kansas and even in other small Kansas towns: Salina and Abilene. Then I looked to see whether Arkansas and Louisiana and Texas have appreciable numbers; there are not huge numbers, but enough to make me believe liberalism is alive and may, with some assistance, continue to breathe in even the reddest of red states.

I wonder whether a UU church would allow my wife and me to show up, unannounced, on Sunday, dressed way, way down? I doubt we’ll find out, but we may.

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Postprandial Ruminations

The Little Apple Brewing Company was a bit of a disappointment. The food was fine, but the single beer (the Riley’s Red Ale) was just adequate. And the atmosphere was most definitely not the sort I’m used to experiencing in brew pubs; it struck me as a large, purely profit-driven establishment that caters to people who want flash more than they want flavor and familiarity. The establishment is no Third Place; Ray Oldenburg would find none of the attributes of a third place there, nor did I. Perhaps I’ll try again tomorrow at the Tallgrass Tap House. If that’s not it, there’s bound to be a contender for the title on the KSU campus, too. It will just take some digging. The structure and complexity of my novel—the working title of which is First, We Take Manhattan—is maturing. I’ve been concerned that it has not carried the same emotional gravitas nor depth of character development on which I pride myself. The more I learn of Manhattan, Kansas, and the characters themselves, the happier I’m becoming with it. Not necessarily what I’ve written thus far, but what I feel sure will emerge from expanding what I’ve written and augmenting it by incorporating the sense of place I’m developing by wandering through Oklahoma and Kansas. I expect some of the interactions I’ve had in Emporia and Manhattan will find their way into interactions and character expressions in both existing and new chapters. Tomorrow, we will visit the KSU insect zoo. If time permits, I will try to find my way to KSU Rathbone Hall, where I might get lucky and meet the guys I contacted via email.

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Whisking Through the Middle

We went to Tulsa. I hated the traffic. We spent the night. We left. We drove through parts of Oklahoma and Kansas. I have decided parts of Kansas are beautiful; parts of the state are emotionally draining, they are so beautiful. Tonight, we sleep in Manhattan. I’m getting a lay of the land for my novel. I have tried to contact two managers of the TRIGA Mark II nuclear facility, in the hope they will answer questions. I may decide not to do to Manhattan in my novel what I have already done; I may revise it. I can’t save it entirely, but it’s got too much going for it to write it off entirely. Tonight, maybe a brewpub is in order. I like university towns.

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Road Tripping in the K States and Going Global

The morning is warm and humid. A short walk to the neighbors’ house to one side of us, to pick up their newspaper, resulted in sweaty skin and a shortness of breath indicative of inadequate exercise. I’ve been promising myself that I will return to morning walks, but a corn on my left foot makes that prospect unattractive. At some point, I’ll accept that I really do need to see a podiatrist for relief. Until then, I’ll complain about my foot and buy Dr. Scholl’s corn pads in quantity in a fruitless attempt to relieve the pain by cushioning the corn.

In a short while, I’ll get in my rental car and drive to Texarkana, where I’ll retrieve my pickup truck from the mechanic. The owner of the shop generously offered to have someone pick me up from Texarkana Regional Airport, where I rented the car from Avis. Less than two hours later, I’ll be back home. And then I’ll wash clothes in anticipation of beginning a road trip of unknown duration. We’ve talked about going to Kansas City, Manhattan, Topeka, Tulsa, and various points in other directions. We probably won’t decide where we’re heading until we get in the car. I like that. We used to do that with some frequency; it felt like freedom.

It occurred to me, as I was writing this, that some of the states to which we are going and the state from which we will depart include the letter K in their names (Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma). Unless I missed something in my cursory review, only four states’ names include the letter. So, on this trip, we expect to drive within the borders of seventy-five percent of the states whose names include the letter K. The only other K state, Kentucky, is not on our itinerary. That triviality provides fodder for my rambling this morning.

Yesterday, we talked about flying to Mexico in the not-too-distant-future to visit my brother and his wife. If we plan far enough ahead and don’t wait too long, we have sufficient air miles to cover our tickets. Otherwise, the cost of the trip would be prohibitive. For the purposes of this stream-of-consciousness-ramble, I’ll consider that Mexico has the K sound. Phonetically, I say the English pronunciation is meksiko. If I were to use the presence of a K sound in country names as a requisite for visiting other countries, I wonder where I’d go? Let’s see:

  • Burkina Faso;
  • Cambodia
  • Cameroon
  • Canada
  • Cabo Verde
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Chile
  • China
  • Colombia
  • Comoros
  • Costa Rica
  • Cote d’Ivoire
  • Croatia
  • Cuba
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo,
  • Iraq;
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kenya
  • Kiribati
  • Kosovo
  • Kuwait
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Liechtenstein;
  • Micronesia;
  • Mozambique;
  • Nicaragua;
  • North Korea;
  • South Korea;
  • Pakistan; Qatar;
  • Republic of the Congo;
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis;
  • Slovakia;
  • South Africa;
  • Sri Lanka;
  • Tajikistan;
  • Turkey;
  • Turkmenistan;
  • Ukraine; and
  • Uzbekistan.

Did I miss any?


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Vehicular Wisdom

You would think a mechanic, asked to check the road-worthiness of a vehicle in advance of a trip, would consider all major systems of a vehicle. At least I would have that expectation. Among the “systems” I would expect the mechanic to inspect and address, without being specifically asked, would be steering/front end, transmission, engine, and tire condition, among others. This issue is on my mind because, yesterday, I experienced what could have been the fatal results of the mechanic’s incompetence. To be clear, I cannot be certain the mechanic is to blame; perhaps circumstance and coincidence conspired. Perhaps the placement of blame on the mechanic is misplaced. But I don’t think so. I assign full blame to the mechanic who, I believe, was simply too lazy to explore all aspects of the vehicle that should have been examined or too greedy to do so within an agreed “road-worthiness” evaluation.

Back to the events. I had flown to Dallas last Friday with the express purpose of purchasing back from a friend the truck I sold to him a few years ago. He was ready to get rid of it; I was ready to have it back and put it to use. It has some sentimental value, too; I ‘inherited’ it from my sister on her death several years ago. It’s an old clunker of a truck. It was misused and abused before I inherited it; dents, torn or missing pin stripes, scrapes, scratches, and nicks attested not to a lack of care, but a lack of kid glove treatment. At any rate, I found a crazy discount airfare to Dallas from Hot Springs, so I grabbed it. My friend picked me up at DFW in Dallas, at the corporate aviation building. We made a quick detour for breakfast tacos (among the best I’ve ever eaten, even my own). And then we went home to begin the process:

1) sign paperwork for truck re-homing; 2) decide what we would need for the brisket smoking fest the following day; 3) visit Costco to procure needed ingredients; 4) explore the flavor and decency of specific beers; 5) enjoy dinner together with another long-time friend over superior dishes;  6) drink more; 7) attend the birthday party of an acquaintance; 8) relax in friends’ pool; 9) smoke a brisket; 10) sample yet more beers; 11) etc.

On Sunday morning, I awoke before 6:00, crept out of the house, started up the old truck, and headed for home. A few minutes before 9:00 a.m., I stopped in Texarkana to fill up the gas tank and to take a look around the vehicle; its ride had been rough and the steering a bit wonky. The tread on the front tires looked more worn than I recalled from looking the day before, but I decided it was just my imagination. Once filled with gas, I got back on I-30 heading east. Soon after getting on the road, the ride got considerably worse. At that point, only one lane of I-30 is open; a concrete wall barricades the right hand lane and a narrow gravel shoulder, not meant to be used for traffic, is on the left. I decided, quickly, that I needed to get off the highway as soon as possible. I slowed a bit, but the semi behind me was on my tail, so I increased the speed to around sixty to keep it at bay. Suddenly, I felt the front left side of the car dip. The steering wheel pulled sharply to the left. I simultaneously heard a loud grating, scraping, groaning sound. I worked hard to maintain control of the car as it veered onto the left shoulder, aimed for the deep ditch that was the median. The truck stopped just short of running into the ditch; if it had gone a few feet further, it would have flipped upside down in the median. As it was, its left side was a good three feet lower than the right. But I was fine. My only serious concern at that point was that a vehicle on the road might drift left onto the shoulder and crash into me. I didn’t like where I was, but there was no place else to go and no way to get there.

I climbed out of the truck into tall weeds, and made my way to the front tire. It was a mass of torn rubber, with the steel from the steel belts inside twisted and torn into a chaotic web.

I called AAA. The woman with whom I spoke was very nice, very reassuring, but clearly unable to understand what I told her. I told her I was a few miles east of Texarkana, heading east toward Little Rock. She asked if I could see a mile marker. No, I said, the only sign I could see was on the west-bound side of the freeway, advertising a business at an exit number fifteen miles west of me. I learned later that she told the tow truck driver I was at that exit number, in Texas, heading westbound.

Long before the tow truck arrived, a Road Patrol truck stopped to ask whether I needed assistance. I told the driver I had called AAA, which should have dispatched someone. He said he’d circle back around after a while to see if the tow truck arrived. As he left, I made my way around the right side of the truck to look at the front right tire. It was nearly bald. None of the tread I had seen earlier was visible.

A tow truck driver called my cell phone. He said, “where do you want me to take you?”

“Anyplace that can check out the car and fix it and get me some new tires. The woman with AAA told me there were several Pep Boys nearby that are open on Sunday.”

“Pep Boys! There ain’t no Pep Boys around here. I don’t know of no place open on Sunday.”

“Well, the AAA lady said I was good for a one hundred mile tow; I’m less than a hundred miles from home, so I guess I could just get towed there.”

Shortly thereafter, an Arkansas State Trooper pulled in behind me. He stayed until the tow truck finally arrived. In the interim, he offered to let me sit in the air-conditioned comfort of the back seat of his patrol car. Then he asked to see my license and asked if I was James, the owner of the vehicle shown on his computer screen. I explained that I had just bought the truck back from a friend. While we waited, the tow truck driver called me; he could not find me. I told him I was west of Texarkana, several miles. I told him an Arkansas State Trooper was behind my truck. He asked to speak to the trooper, who said we were near mile marker twelve.  The tow truck driver was more than fifteen miles away, heading in the other direction.

Finally, the tow truck arrived and, after much gnashing of teeth and twisting of cables, pulled the truck onto the bed of the truck. I got in the passenger seat and the driver said he had found a place in Texarkana that could take a look at my car. “I forgot they were open. I’ve towed people to them on Sundays before.”

After arriving at EN Auto, the guys got my car up on a wrack. “At the very least, you’re gonna need two new tires,” the owner said. “If you want, you can got buy them at Walmart and bring them back here. You can use my car. Normally, we’d do it, but it will save time if you want to do it.”

I agreed to go to Walmart. They did not have the size tires I needed. I drove back to the shop. “Did you ask them to check with the other Walmart?”  I told him I did not know there was another Walmart. He called the other one. They, too, said they did not have them. I suggested I leave the vehicle with them so they could get tires; I would rent a car and drive home, returning Monday to get the vehicle.  While we were talking tires, the mechanic was checking out the vehicle. The front end was a mess. It needs new inner and outer tie rods ends, new front shocks, and a new steering gear. In addition, the brake pads and rotor on one side was metal-to-metal and in need of replacement. I told the guys I’d definitely go for the two tires but would have to think about the rest of the stuff overnight. They were fine with that.

I called a cab to give me a ride to the Avis counter at the airport. They advised me it would be 45 minutes to an hour before I could get picked up. I reluctantly said, “fine,” and prepared to wait. The owner of the store went out to the shop and came back in to say his mechanic would give me a ride. As we were heading to the airport, the mechanic told me the front end was in poor condition and really needed work.

“Does it seem to drift all over the road when you’re driving? The condition the front end and especially the steering gear is in make me think the steering would feel real loose. It’s dangerous to drive when the steering is like that.”

I told him he described perfectly the way the vehicle feels when I drive it. “If we fix it for you, it will be tight. You won’t have any more of that. I suspect the blow-out and the other front tire’s damage were caused by the steering problems. That, and the tires have dry rot. They get that if the car sits in the same spot for a long time.  The tires get out of round and they’re susceptible to wearing bad real fast.”

That last bit is good to know; I’ll need to drive it more frequently that I had planned to keep the tires in working order. Who knew? I should have.

He also said the shocks, while not completely shot, were up for grabs. He hadn’t recommended them, he said, because he knew I was getting hit hard with all the expenses associated with the front end problems.

He let me off at the airport and I rented a car, a Kia Soul. After an uneventful ride home, I decided I’d bit the bullet and spend what I need to spend to get the front end and steering problems fixed, including the shocks. The final bill will be just north of $1500. If I had a way to force the Dallas area mechanic who inspected the truck for road-worthiness to pay the bill, I would. He’s the same mechanic who said the loose steering and drifting behavior of the truck was “just normal—it’s an old truck.” That’s what he told my friend and that’s what he told me when I inquired about it when I first took it to him. So the problem that (I hope) will be fixed has been around a long time.

Today, I’m going to sit back and do my normal Monday routine, including the Garland Library critique group. I’ll go back tomorrow to return the rental and get the truck. Here’s hoping the drive over and back and uneventful.

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Almost Died

I am alive and uninjured. It could have ended up differently. A blow-out at 60 miles per hour in a construction zone with only one lane of traffic is no fun. A two-hour wait for assistance adds insult to injury. But I’m alive. I thought, for a few frightening moments, I would not be. And those were the saddest moments of my life to date.

Today’s experience still resonates with me. It bothers me in ways I don’t quite understand. My friend paid an ostensibly competent mechanic to examine the vehicle for safety issues. Blatant problems were identified as normal. I’m angry and grateful and filled with loathing at the moment. Forgiveness, huh? It’s the best policy.

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There’s nothing to be done. You are at the mercy of the universe. That may seem overwhelming, but it’s not. Not when you consider that you are the universe. You are decency and compassion. You are understanding and appreciation. You are the fibers that bind us together. You and I. We are the matter that makes it all worthwhile. Shortly, I will wander to a little airport, board a little plane, take a little flight, and land in a big city. For a time, I will absorb the pleasures of big city life with friends. But then I will drive a little truck back home, back to the center of the universe. I will return to my wonderful wife and my normal life and will be grateful for the decency and compassion and extraordinary mercy I find here, at home. Some days—and here ‘some’ means ‘all’—are gifts from the universe. This is one such gift. And tomorrow is another. And on and on, ad infinitum, until we all merge with the stars.

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Speaking of Change

“Carvings. Wood carvings. That’s what they are. For a moment, I thought they were paintings. From a distance, it’s hard to see that the pieces are three dimensional. Have you ever done any wood carving? I used to, when I was a kid, but that’s obviously been years ago. I’m afraid I’d slice my hand off if I tried it today.” Alabaster Peal grinned and looked up, as if he were remembering a particular time when he nearly cut his hand off.

Both Alabaster Peal and Speck Masters kept up the pace of walking while they—mostly Albaster—talked, passing by shops and galleries at a rapid clip.

Speck could barely contain his annoyance with his sidewalk companion’s constant banter. His eyebrows worked up and down in parallel with the repeating sneer of his upper lip.  You didn’t even pause long enough to breathe after asking me a question and then moved on without waiting for an answer.

“Hey, Peal, you up for a beer? There’s a nice little beer cellar middle of the block ahead.” Speck managed to slip in the sentence when Alabaster had to stop long enough to breathe. Both of them kept up the pace of walking while they talked, passing by shops and galleries at a rapid clip.

“Lord, no. Didn’t I tell you the doctor said I need to lose a good thirty pounds? Beer’s how I got this damnable pot belly. I used to drink three or four a day, but no longer. I’m on an exercise regimen, too. I have to credit Nancy for keeping me honest about it, too, as she’s always kept up with me as far as the beer drinking goes. But she doesn’t gain an ounce. But she’s agreed to stop with the beer, too, as long as doc says I need to lay off it. Speaking of weight, looks to me like you could stand to use a few pounds, Speck.”

By the time Alabaster finished his response, they were in front of the Sixth Estate Tavern and Speck had heard quite enough from his friend of forty years, whom he had not seen in ten. Speck did not bother responding, nor saying a word to his friend. He simply veered left, opened the door to the Sixth Estate, walked inside.


Alabaster, whose declining peripheral vision had worsened in the past year, did not notice Speck’s absence until he realized he’d not gotten a response from Speck. Alabaster stopped, turned around, and stared in the direction from which he came. He slowly retraced his steps and stopped in front of the Sixth Estate Tavern. Peering in the front door, he saw Speck sitting at the bar, a glass of brown liquid in front of him.

Alabaster stood in the doorway and called out to his friend.”Speck, didn’t you hear me say I didn’t want a beer?”

“I heard you. I heard you too damn much. I needed a break from you running your damn mouth.”

“Well goddamn, Speck! Aren’t you the diplomat?! If you were so damn tired of me running my mouth, why didn’t you just say so?”

“Peal, I haven’t seen you in ten years and one of the first things you say to me is to tell me I’m fat?”

“Well, which is it, Speck? Are you upset with me running my mouth or are your feelings hurt because I stated the obvious?”

“Why don’t you just go for your speed-walk? Get rid of those thirty pounds of beer-fueled fat while I enjoy some peace and quiet and an oatmeal stout. I’ll see you back at the house when I’m good and ready.”

The bartender, who had been watching and listening to the exchange between the two men, entered the fray. “Gents, do you mind having your conversation either inside or outside?”

Looking toward Alabaster, the bartender said, “You’re blocking the way for paying customers trying to get in to buy a little winter padding.”

“All right, then,” Alabaster said, “I’ll leave you here to drink yourself happy, pal. Maybe Nancy and I ought to find another place to stay for the night. Obviously, you find the two of us hard to swallow. If you’d said that from the start we would have just got a motel. We thought you’d want to see us after ten years. After all those years of being friends, I thought we’d hit it off like we’d never missed a beat. But I guess I’m the—”

The bartender cut him off. “Sir, can you please move out of the doorway? I’ve got to pay the bills.”

Alabaster, his face flushed and sweat beading on his brow, stomped his left foot. “All right, goddamn it! I’m leaving. Speck, I’ll leave you a hundred on the bed for last night’s lodging!”

Alabaster stormed out the door.

The bartender shuffled toward Speck. “Listen, pal, I’m sorry if I offended you or your friend, but—”

“No apology needed. He’s been this way for forty years. I could tolerate it for the first thirty and I’ve not seen him for ten. But I can’t tolerate it any longer.”

Speck pulled his cell phone from his pocket. He punched an image on the screen and the phone lit up and began making tones. The audible ring of the phone was interrupted with ‘Hello?’

“Honey, I just had a little flare up with Alabaster. He’s on his way home to get Nancy. They’re going to leave; he’ll find a motel for the night.”

“Thank god.  If I had to spent another night listening to Nancy drone on about Alabaster’s quest to lose thirty pounds, I think I’d strangle her.”

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Yesterday was Independence Day, the fourth of July. We spent the day at home, mostly, though I went for a drive in the afternoon. Last night, we watched a few bursts of fireworks from the deck and heard the concussive blasts of many more we could not see.

I woke early this morning to darkness, but the stars were clearly visible in the crisp morning air. The thermometer registered fifty-eight degrees, a little cooler than normal for early July but not unheard of. As daylight began to illuminate the sky, I noticed something most definitely unusual: the trees behind the house were coated in a thick layer of snow, or maybe it was ice. They looked like postcard scenes of white Christmases. Seeing such an utterly baffling scene confused me. I ran to look out the front of the house. When I opened the blinds in the kitchen, I saw another stunning scene. Thick molten lava crept along the street in front of the house in a southeasterly direction.  The smoking wreckage of two cars, a good quarter mile apart, floated on top of the stream of liquid rock.  I looked beyond the street and saw the remains of houses north of ours; smoldering embers.  Only smoking stumps remained of the forests that had surrounded the houses. The water tower up the street was a melted hulk of broken steel. Oddly, there was not a speck of smoke in the air. The smoke rising from the burned out houses and trees rose and disappeared into the crystal clear blue sky.

The departure from normal got my day off to an odd start. Instead of my usual breakfast routine, I decided to restructure time and space, reversing their poles, as it were. The effect of that decision was that I began to experience the passage of time as if seconds and minutes and hours were physical things with weight and dimension. Space and everything in it, on the other hand, became comprehensible only through a mental adjustment impossible to explain with words. I could describe the sensation in mathematical expressions, but they would be far too complex to write on this tiny little screen. The oddest aspects of this transmogrification relate to the experience of colors as equations and the sense that the smallest components of time were like vapors, while larger elements such as minutes and hours were dense and heavy like steel beams or massive boulders had once been. But now, of course, those beams and boulders behaved as time did before the transition.

My restructuring had an interesting impact on what I saw outside my windows. In place of the ice-coated trees, I saw a time inversion an order of magnitude greater than anything I had seen before. And instead of flowing lava and burned out cars and houses and trees, I saw the mathematical equivalent of circular distance, encapsulated in a clear globe so transparent it was invisible, as was everything in it.

The gears inside my head, if that’s what they are, began to grind against one another and slow to a crawl as the corrosive effects of dimensional polarity took their toll. The problem, I decided, was that “slow” is a time-based concept, but the restructuring had made time a physical thing, thus causing all manner of dissonance in my brain. My thoughts had begun to “rust” away. I had to reverse the restructuring before it was too late, I decided. So, summoning every ounce of emotional gravity and mental  externality I could muster, I flipped time and space on their respective axes. To my surprise, the ice was gone and the lava had disappeared. In place of a brilliantly sun-lit day, I saw thick clouds and rain. The growl of distant thunder thrilled my ears. The temperature had warmed nicely, to the low seventies.  Still, evidence of the early rebellion remained, but I’ve agreed to keep it all in my head for now, where rebellion can safely stay until its time comes again.

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Birthday Girl

Today is my wife’s birthday. Normally, we’d go out to dinner or I’d prepare a special dinner at home. She asked me for scallops. But then our neighbors invited us out to lunch, followed by a few hours touring Lake Balboa on their boat. Janine opted for the boat. It was a marvelous way to while away a few hours. It reminded me that I wish I had a boat. The next two nights won’t do for dinner, either. “Stuff” on the agenda. But maybe Saturday or Sunday I can make scallops with risotto and wilted spinach for her.

For dinner, we went to Sonic. We used a coupon that allowed one free cheeseburger with one paid. See, I was a sucker for the kid in the Walmart parking lot, who was selling coupon cards for $5 to find his baseball team’s trip. I bought one. Tonight’s freebie hamburger recouped $4.19. Another trip to Sonic and I’ll be miles ahead. Would that my investments had such returns.

I’m trying to be “up” tonight but failing miserably for some reason. I will plug away.

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The Strange Story of Selena

Selena was a raccoon aficionado. She collected raccoons the way some people collect cigars. And like people who collect cigars, she periodically smoked some of the raccoons she collected, though not like people smoke cigars. She kept most of her raccoons in cages, which was the only way she could keep them from wreaking havoc on her house, a truly spectacular mansion in the hills outside of Oakland, California.

Selena began keeping the raccoons in cages after one especially boisterous mother raccoon and her kits shredded an original Monet painting she hung in the kitchen. The painting had collected quite a lot of grease during its several years hanging near the stove where Selena cooked bacon. One day, after the maid had cleaned the kitchen so it was spotless, the mother raccoon and her kits entered the kitchen to find no food of any kind and no scraps left over from Selena’s cooking, a rarity. So they climbed the counter and licked the grease off the painting. And then they shredded it as they looked for more, assuming I suppose that there must have been more grease behind the canvas.

But I have digressed from my intended story about Selena smoking raccoons. When one of her many, many raccoons behaved in a way she found particularly annoying, Selena set the beast’s cage in a heavy-duty sealed rubberized bag connected to the cold smoker she kept behind the garage. Then, she’d start pumping smoke into the bag. In a matter of minutes, the raccoon either suffocated or otherwise succumbed to smoke inhalation.

Gladys, who had been Selena’s neighbor for going on twenty years is the one who turned her in. Peering from her second story window, she spied Selena removing the animal’s corpse from the cage she had just removed from the rubberized bag. Selena put the animal in a plastic trash bag which she then set inside a metal garbage container that she hauled to the street in front of her house. Gladys watched this in horror, she told the animal control authorities when she called them. Animal control officers, back up by four Alameda County sheriff’s deputies, came calling shortly thereafter. A search of the property, probably conducted illegally, revealed twenty-four raccoons in fourteen cages. Selena was arrested and taken to the Santa Rita jail in Dublin. The raccoons were taken to the East County Animal Shelter, less than a mile away.

The morning after her arrest, Selena overpowered a deputy and took his gun and his car keys.  She drove to the East County Animal Shelter, which was not yet open for business (it opens at 11:30; Selena arrived around 8:45 ). She broke into the shelter building and found her caged raccoons. She took  the fourteen cages outside, where she carjacked a Penske box truck that was heading toward a nearby homeless shelter to deliver mattresses.

Four days later, Selena arrived at her destination. She managed to raise the door of your garage. She released all twenty-four raccoons from the cages into your garage. She put the cages back in the box truck and drove away, leaving a little surprise for you when you open the door between your kitchen and the garage. Those raccoons are hungry. And they know where you live. And Selena is long gone. Why did she leave those raccoons in your garage? Only Selena can answer that question, and she’s on her way back to California, where she intends to pay Gladys a visit. Did I mention she still has the deputy’s gun?

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Death by Bully

I read an obituary this morning. A fifteen-year-old girl in Bedford, Texas committed suicide by hanging herself. Bullying took its toll on her.  Whoever wrote the obituary put the blame squarely on the bully(ies); I hope those responsible read it. They will have to live with what they did. Unless they can no longer live with who they are.

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Swedish Designs

Lina Lindström’s career in criminal forensics exposed her to what can arise from bungling, blind rage. At the same time, though, she witnessed outcomes created through careful planning and precise execution. Though both approaches led to murder, she often was impressed with the creativity behind the latter.  It was one such creative homicide—one she finally “solved” but the solution for which was impossible to prove—that sparked Lina’s interest in telekinetics and, in particular, telekinetic physicality.

A wealthy and seemingly well-adjusted Swedish high-tech entrepreneur died when his car suddenly veered into the guard rails of the Svinesund Bridge, ultimately diving into the Svinesund Sound below. The bridge crosses the Idde Fjord, separating the Swedish municipality of Strömstad from the Norwegian municipality of Halden. Data from the car’s computers revealed that the car’s accelerator was pressed to the floor shortly after the vehicle passed through the customs and toll stations on the Swedish side. About mid-way across the bridge, the car’s steering wheel turned sharply to the right, thrusting the car into the guard rails. The vehicle did not immediately cross over the rails but, rather, it climbed part way up and continued heading toward the Norwegian side for several hundred feet before it finally went over the top of the railing and plunged into the sound below, killing the driver instantly. The man behind the wheel, Christian von Karlsson, was driving his new Koenigsegg Regera, a “hypercar” made in Swedish by Koenigsegg Automotive AB. During Lina Lindström’s investigation into von Karlsson’s death, she discovered that the man had paid nearly $2 million in cash for the car just a week before he died. An extensive investigation into the car itself—early suspicions centered on the idea that vehicle malfunctions were responsible for the tragedy—revealed no mechanical failures that could have caused the accident. Attention then turned to the driver’s state of mind. Again, the investigation came up empty-handed. Christian von Karlsson was rich, successful, happy, intelligent, good-looking, athletic, compassionate, and a philanthropist, to boot. The authorities, though, could not find it in themselves to say his death was simply an unfortunately accident. They decided, without any supporting evidence, that von Karlsson’s death could be nothing other than an unexpected and utterly unpredictable suicide. When her superior told her the Swedish Accident Investigation Authority decided to close the investigation and say the man took his own life, Lina Lindström was outraged.

“What bit of evidence did they find that could possibly support such a conclusion? There is absolutely nothing to suggest the man killed himself! I will not accept this! It’s just a bungling bureaucracy’s idiotic way of saying ‘we don’t know what happened.’ Rather than admit it, they lay blame on the poor man for his own death.”

Lars Eklund probably knew it was pointless to try to calm her down, but he tried, nonetheless. “Lina, we have no control over their decisions. We simply conduct the investigation at their request. All we can do is to conduct our forensic assessments and give them the results. It’s up to them to decide how to interpret what we tell them.”

“Well, then, they need find some new interpreters! Obviously, they don’t know what they’re doing over there. Okay. I know I’m off the investigation, officially. But I am sure you will not mind if I continue to explore it on my own time, right?”

“Lina, I know I could not stop you if I tried. But you must understand any efforts you make will be strictly on your own time. Not a minute while you’re on duty. And if you find anything of consequence, you are to bring it only to me and no one else. Are we clear?”

Lina nodded. She knew Lars needed to believe he was in charge.

Lina learned that von Karlsson’s new wife of six months, Elizabeth Broden, stood to inherit his entire quite considerable estate. Broden, an American woman who had lived with von Karlsson for three years before their marriage, had become a Swedish citizen just two months before her husband’s death. The woman, a celebrity in her own right, played a part in the Swedish television series Modus. Five weeks after von Karlsson’s death, on a Saturday morning, Lina called Elizabeth Broden.

“Ms. Broden. I’m Lina Lindström. You may know that I was involved in the investigation of your husband’s tragic death. Though the investigation is officially closed, I’d like to ask you a few questions about your husband. Would you be willing to meet with me this morning, if you have time?”

Lina waited for Broden’s response. It seemed to Lina that the pause was a little too long, but she waited.

“Uh, sure, I’m willing to meet you. I have a lunch appointment, but I will be here until just before noon. I assume you have my address?”

“That would be great. Yes, I know where you are. I can be there in a hour, if that’s all right.”

“I’ll be here. See you in an hour.”

Lina couldn’t tell from the front of the house that someone very rich lived in the nondescript, modest-looking house. It looked plain, ordinary. Just another middle-income-earner house on a plain, middle-income street. She strode up the walkway to the front porch, slipped off her shoes, and rang the doorbell.  It swung open almost immediately.

“You must be Ms. Lindström. I’m Elizabeth Broden. Come in.”

“Thanks for allowing me to take a few minutes of your time this morning, Ms. Broden.  I promise I’ll be brief.”

Broden waved her arm, inviting Lina to come in. Lina entered, then let Broden lead the way from the foyer to a large room directly in front of the entry. Though the floors looked like polished wood, the clicking sounds of Lina’s heels revealed they were wood-look ceramic. Expensive, Lina mused.

“We can sit there,” Broden said, motioning to a large teak table, sleek and clean-lined, surrounded by eight teak chairs. The upholstery, vibrant abstract red and green splashes, paired well with the chairs’ polished wood frames, giving the ensemble an air of rich sophistication. The wall of glass on the other side of the table, Lina observed, was not a solid wall but a set of doors that could be folded, opening the room to the stone and wood deck and lush garden beyond.

“You have a lovely home,” Lina said, glancing around the room at a half-dozen large abstract paintings. “I love the artwork.”

“Thank you. I dabble in oils and acrylics.”

“They’re yours? Such talent! And such excellent taste! Just like mine.” Lina smiled broadly. There was a time she would have covered her smile with her hand to hide the very large diastema between her two front teeth; she now considered it part of her trademark beauty. She was no longer unable to admit she was very attractive.

“You’re too kind. Though I’m glad to know someone else shares my taste. Now, what can I do for you?”

“First, let me express my condolences on the death of your husband, Ms. Broden. It’s tragic to lose someone so talented and so generous, especially so young.”

“Thank you. It still hasn’t completely sunk in. You said you had questions even though the investigation is closed. I think you—or is it they?—got it wrong. I don’t believe for a minute my husband committed suicide. He was too happy, too focused on the future, too—” She  stopped, as if searching for the right word.

“Yes, my questions have to do with the conclusions of the investigation. I question its outcome, as well. That’s why I’d like to ask a few questions.”


“Well, first, tell me about him. Tell me what kind of man he was.”

Broden sighed and leaned forward. She put her elbows on the table and clasped her hands together.

“He was driven. Passionate. He thought he was making progress toward technological solutions to world hunger. Water shortages. He was convinced technology would make war obsolete. And he thought technology would finally relieve the world of its dependence on religion for ‘salvation.’ God, I could go on and on about how utterly sure he was that technology, his technology, was the lifeblood of the future.”

Lina nodded as Broden spoke. When Broden paused, Lina forced herself to remain silent. She had learned that silence was not an empty space to be filled, but a lode of rich ore to be mined.



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Strange Dream

This  morning, just before I woke (late, by the way), I was having a bizarre dream. I’ll try to document all I can remember.

I was attending a large daytime party, mostly outdoors. Only three people I knew were there, including a gay couple and a woman, all of whom had been in a business in which I was involved a few years ago. As the party was dying down, one of the men asked me if I would attend an event that evening. He would give me instructions on where to go and he would give me materials to distribute at the event. I understood, but I’m not sure how, that it was a cross-dressing event and I should plan to “fit in” by wearing flamboyant clothes and over-the-top makeup.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be seen only as a supporter,” the requester said to me.

Against my better judgment and with grave trepidation, I agreed. The two men walked with me to their pickup truck, a black vehicle with a huge television screen in front of the driver’s seat. One of the men reached in to the truck and pushed a button; a metal lid that covered the bed of the truck lifted up. The bed of the truck was stuffed with blankets and large bags with indistinguishable writing on them. And two long guns that looked like a combination of rifle and machine-gun. The guns surprised me; these guys were not gun “types.” One of the guys lifted a large bag of what I decided must have been dry dog food and said I needed to put it in my truck.

“We have an assigned booth number. Just find it and lay out the stuff in the kits we’re giving you,” the man with the sack said.

As I was making my way to my car (which was the old blue Toyota Avalon I traded in 2009), the woman I mentioned earlier came up to me and put her arm around my waist.

“You’ll do fine,” she said, squeezing me. “I’ll be there, too, so if you need any help, count on me. But you will be fine on your own.” She then hugged me, quite intentionally thrusting her breasts into my chest.

The next thing I remember the event they had asked me to attend was winding down and I decided I needed to go find my car. But I had absolutely no idea where I had parked. The event was in a downtown area with limited parking. I had no idea where to look for my car. I did not remember even arriving at the event and I did not remember anything about the event; I just knew it was ending and I needed to go home. I joined the clot of people who were leaving the event, walking down a dirty street with buildings very close to the street. We passed several alleyways, where I looked to see if my car could be parked. Rats were everywhere along the alleyways. And then, on occasion, swarms of rats would scurry back and forth in the street in front of us; I jumped over masses of rats. At some point, I realized I was being pushed up over the rats by someone behind me. Every time I jumped, the person pushed me up and forward; I leaped far higher and further than I could have done on my own.

Finally, at some point near an intersection, I saw a group of people congregating at a parking lot. I stopped and waited with them.

A woman approached me and said, “Your car is parked in here. What kind of car is it again, a Honda Civic?”

“No, a Honda Avalon. Blue.”

As I watched cars pour out of the lot, I saw that only a few remained and mine was not one of them. “I don’t see it. Oh, and it’s a Toyota, not a Honda.”

The woman conferred with some people who appeared to be running the parking lot.

“It appears everything you don’t see here has either been claimed or sold. I’ll see if we can find who has your car. If we can get to them before they leave the area, we can get it back for you.”

“What if you can’t?”

The woman shrugged, as if to say “I don’t know. Beats me.”

And then I awoke.

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