Flashes of Fact and Fiction

Brilliant blue flashes of light and growling, rolling, ground-shaking concussions from cracks of thunder woke me from a dream. With no coverings over the windowpanes, every flash of lightning illuminated the room, filling it with an otherworldly fluorescent blue cast. The dream. I do not recall the dream, except that I woke shouting, in fear I was about the fall. From what? Into what? I do not know. I know only that my sense of fear—or the fierce cracks of thunder and blue light—was en0ugh to provoke a shout as I woke.

These ferocious thunderstorms augur a dramatic change in temperatures. So say the weather prognosticators. When I awoke this morning, the outdoor temperature was 68°F; only an hour and a quarter later, it is 59°F. Temperatures are expected to drop quickly, bringing the high for the rest of the day down to 52°F. Yesterday’s high—76°F in Little Rock and 74°F in Hot Springs Village—felt wonderful to me. Showers and 52°F, clearing a bit to partly-cloudy (but still 52°F) is not an appealing experience.


If I were a Finnish barber attempting to schedule a client’s next haircut, I might offer a specific date to the client and then say “Katso päivämäärä aikataulustasi,” which translates into English as “Look at the date on your schedule.” Fortunately for me, I am not a Finnish barber. Because if I were, I would be unable to utter those Finnish words. I probably would not have any clients, thanks to my inability to speak or understand their language.  (And my lack of tonsorial arts might present a problem.) As I contemplate the problems I would face with such simple communication, it occurs to me that refugees and immigrants who do not speak English but who wind up in the United States must have a terribly hard time adjusting. It is hard enough during one or two day (or week) visits to a place to be unable to communicate in the local language. Attempting to establish oneself for the long term would amplify the difficulty; I think it would be nothing less than excruciating.


A pair of Finnish police detectives—one of whom is an uncontrollable renegade and the other slightly more controllable—in the series we have been watching, Deadwind, regularly stop at the espresso machine while discussing a case. I rarely drink espresso, but when I have occasion to drink an especially dark, rich, flavorful demitasse of the stuff, the experience makes me think about getting another espresso machine. I used to own an espresso machine, a rather inexpensive one (by quality espresso machine standards). But I did not use it much; not because it produced a bad cup of espresso or was difficult to use or time consuming…none of those are true…but because I rarely had access to the right beans. And the grinder I used was incapable of grinding beans as finely as excellent espresso requires. On extremely rare occasion, I had the opportunity to lay my hands on a vacuum-sealed brick of an Italian brand of espresso-grind coffee. Even in my low-pressure little machine, the beans produced spectacular espresso. And when my source for the beans, an Italian guy who owned a premium, high-end espresso maker, used them in his machine, the resulting cups of espresso were marvelous. Incomparable. Energizing. Life-changing. Alas, I have lost touch with the guy. And I do not recall the name brand of the brick of espresso-grind beans. I doubt I could buy them, anyway. My source used to buy several bricks when he traveled to see family and friends in Toronto, where an importer friend of his supplied him with the stuff. My source shared only two bricks with me, I think, but they produced among the finest cups of espresso I have ever had—from my machine.


How’s this for a fantasy? New, highly charismatic leaders have emerged, almost simultaneously, in the U.S., China, Russia, and the two Koreas. Each of them are friendly with the leaders of several other major countries. The primary five leaders collectively have enormously persuasive political power. The five leaders convene a “world leaders” meeting, during which the assembled group concocts a bold plan: to merge once desperate enemies into an enormous single entity whose sole objective is to achieve equality and parity among the citizens of the planet. The single most difficult obstacle, they reason, is inefficient and ineffective communication. So, they set about creating a new global language. And a plan for all geographic areas to adopt the new language. And to require its citizens to become fluent in the new language, while maintaining their own (and teaching both languages to their children and other under-age dependents).

Though the plan is ludicrously ambitious, it is implemented and its requirements strictly enforced. The semi-autocratic cabal of world leaders gently but firmly insist on collective efforts to unify the citizens of the world and to ensure that the citizens can communicate across what once were borders. Over a period of several years—and several new generations of leaders who are carefully and closely coached by the original five—the plan for global unity is well on its way to being achieved. Suddenly, though, a threat to the planet challenges leaders to make decisions that will save almost half the planet’s population and sacrifice the others. An asteroid the size of Earth’s moon is heading toward the planet. It’s present trajectory will destroy all of North, Central, and South America, along with people on island nations near them. Technologies have been developed which could be used to divert the asteroid’s path just enough to change where it will strike Earth. The leaders must collectively decide who lives and who dies. Should the trajectory be left alone? Or should it be changed so the asteroid will instead destroy most of Asia and/or Africa? Once they decide, the leaders are obligated to inform the world’s population of their unanimous decision and the reasons for it.

And I am not really a fan of science fiction or disaster epics. But there you go.


Today is Thursday, the day a clot of UUVC men gather at a local breakfast gathering place (I would call it a coffee shop but that would be something of an insult to coffee) to check in with one another while breaking bread. Let me amplify; the coffee is not awful, but it is not especially good, either. Our group of men might be more closely acquainted if we had access to superb coffee, which would give all of us a common experience about which to converse. As it stands, I suspect the conversation today will veer into discussions about the Super Bowl. I know the Kansas City Chiefs won over the Philadelphia Eagles. I know because I just looked it up to verify that I was right. And I was. But I was not sure of the words that came after the city names. I got the score right, though; 38 to 35.  My conversation might take the path of “medical adventures of old men;” I could relay my experiences yesterday, when I had two MRIs: one of my right shoulder, one of my neck. The online portal that ostensibly keeps records of all of my medical interactions with the “clinic” has nothing new this morning; no results. I suppose I will have to wait until next week, when I return on Monday for a visit with the rheumatologist. I suspect she will tell me there is nothing of consequence I can do but to take pills to moderate the pain. If the pain remains as it is today, I can live with that. I do not like the idea of relying on yet another pill (that she already has prescribed and which seems to be working fairly well), but I am willing to accept reality.

But I slipped right off the path of telling about the men’s breakfast, didn’t I? I am wont to do that sort of thing. My mind wanders. Sometimes it wanders off without telling me and is gone for days at a time. When it returns, it leaves me cryptic clues about where it has been, but I try not to follow them for fear of encountering something inappropriate it did while traveling in search of adventure. Wait! It’s after 7, so I have to begin the slow, laborious process of changing from my morning leisurewear to my more socially acceptable jeans and sneakers and sweatshirt (the temperatures are falling, as I said). And it’s off to breakfast!

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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