Mass Shootings in America, Book Review – Oliver’s Antiques by Vincenza di Martino, Short Story – Concourse B Homecoming

Aaron Salter – Police officer for three decades

Massing Shootings in America

Mass Shootings in America

The country is still reeling from the latest mass casualty school shooting.  This one in Uvalde, TX.  At an elementary school.  Babies. 

Katherine Massey – Civil rights advocate and writer

According to an NPR article, it was the 27th school shooting of 2022. 

Before that tragedy, we were reeling from the May 14, 2022, mass shooting at the Tops grocery store in Buffalo, NY.  Older, peaceful people just doing their jobs, socializing or buying food. 

Ruth Whitfield – The glue that held her family together
Roberta Drury – Moved to Buffalo to help her brother

Again, according to NPR, for 2022, there were at least 200 mass shooting events in America as of 5/24/2022.  Included in this count are shootings where more than one person was wounded or killed by gunfire from guns brandished by citizens, not police.  As I write this, it’s the 160th day of 2022.  This number does not cover shootings with only one casualty.  That’s a topic for another day.

Celestine Chaney – Survived poverty as a single mother, breast cancer, and three brain aneurisms
Heyward Patterson – Church deacon who helped others get groceries

In the Buffalo shooting, people were murdered somewhere they felt safe all because some hate-filled loser thought it would make him a big man with other hate-filled losers to shoot defenseless people in the aisles of a supermarket.   Murderous racism and the deranged compulsion to seek fame for that lunacy was the motivation for the Buffalo shooting. 

The motivation for the Uvalde shooting, in my opinion, appears to be some loser angry about something who decided to take out his anger on someone and so, because he was a sniveling coward, decided a bunch of 10-year-old children were the perfect target, and because, again, he was a sniveling coward, he needed multiple guns to do it. 

Andre Mackneil – Loving father with 3 year od son would do anything for his family
Margus D. Morrison – School bus aid and loving man

The regularity of mass murder events in America is a unique disaster among developed countries.  This is a distinction for which we should be ashamed.  And, it’s a multi-pronged problem that requires a multi-pronged solution.  That’s right, there’s not just one magic answer to this problem, just as there’s not just one reason shooters go on murderous rages.  If anybody tells you they have THE solution, walk away because they’re at the very least delusional and will offer nothing workable.

Geraldine Talley – Helped others in need

I don’t claim to know the answer, but I think the solution package includes:

Pearly Young – Substitute teacher and pillar of the community
  • Figuring a way to make children safe to learn that does not reduce the teacher pool to just those people who get a boost from walking around with a gun strapped to their bodies.
  • Reforming mental health treatment/services, particularly for disturbed youth.  The options available to parents with children who have mental health issues are appalling.
  • Conflict resolution courses and programs.
  • Increased parental reinforcement that the glamour of violence in entertainment and music is not a model for living in a free society.
  • Stop making mass shooters famous.  Refer to them by a number, not by name. “Nothing to see here just Loser 200 for year 2022.”  On the other hand, the names of the murdered should be memorialized forever.
  • Consistent background checks and renewal of the ban on private ownership of assault rifles.
Layla Salazar – Loved to swim, dance and run
Nevaeh Bravo – Played softball and helped her parents

Yes, I said it.  Consistent background checks and a renewed ban on assault weapons.  I’ve been torn about assault weapons for several years.  A gun enthusiast I know told me years ago that these weapons represented advanced technology, and said that gun lovers and hunters should have access to the latest technology just like video game lovers or car lovers.  I could see the point. 

Makenna Lee Elrod -Smile that lit up a room
Jose Flores – Helper who wanted to be a police officer to protect others

However, I have also spoken with hunters who say they would never use an assault rifle to hunt – that it’s not sporting.  I very much see that point, too, and I’ve decided I agree with it. 

So then who are the civilians who demand to have guns capable of murdering 58 people and wounding 546 in 10 minutes, as happened in the slaughter that took place in Las Vegas in 2017?  Clearly, homicidal maniacs.  And drug dealers.  And conspiracy theorists.  And militias plotting sedition and other crimes, which most likely loops me back to conspiracy theorists.  But, and this is a really big but, also ordinary citizens who enjoy going to a range and putting a bunch of holes in a target.

Xavier Lopez – Honor roll student and artistic
Maranda Mathis – Fun, spunky and smart, loved nature
Tess Mata – Athletic and a cat lover
Eliahna “Ellie” Garcia – Planning her quinceañera dance
Rojelio Torres – Loved life, football, Pokemon, and video games
Eliahna Torres – Seeking spot on city all-star softball team
Annabelle Rodriguez – Honor roll student

I get that.  I wouldn’t mind going to a range myself and firing one of those guns just to feel the power and see the destruction.  So, maybe ranges can be licensed to provide semi-automatic guns so people can experience them  Or, maybe we license clubs where such enthusiasts can, as a community, enjoy the guns, with every member of the club held responsible if their compadres go berserk and shoot up a grocery store because they’re racist lunatics or blow the faces off babies because they’re mad at their life.  Okay, that’ group accountability thing may not be a workable idea.  I’m spitballing, and, yes, I’m sad, angry and frustrated.

Jackie Cazares – Full of life, would help anyone
Uziyah Garcia – Sweet boy who enjoyed passing football with his grandfather

There’s a lot of rational discussion needed to address this problem.  Rational discussion is not:

  • Screaming for a ban on all guns and  abolishment of the NRA
  • Threatening to pull a Waco if the government tries to take your guns
  • Demanding that anyone who’s ever been treated for depression, anxiety, etc., be denied purchase of a gun
  • Declaring that the answer is that all responsible citizens, especially teachers, also arm themselves

Rational discussion is looking at cause and effect and the greater good. 

Jayce Carmelo Luevanos – Made coffee for his grandparents every morning
Jailah Nicole Silguero – Loved dancing and being outdoors
Maite Rodriguez – Wanted to go to Texas A&M to be a marine biologist

Amerie Jo Garza – Protective of baby brother and dreamed of being an art teacher

Guess what?  The root cause of mass shootings is not guns.  So, although I, personally, do not believe that the general citizenry should have access to guns that inflict massive casualties in seconds, simply acting on the availability of assault weapons alone will only dent the number of piled bodies, and most likely will have no effect upon the number of shooting events.  Banning all guns is not realistic in today’s America, and, beyond that, will likely increase the number of enraged lunatics looking for a way to inflict harm.  Even if those statements were not fact, banning all guns does not address the root cause of so many people deciding to go on  murderous rampages.

Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio – Straight As, loved sports, wanted to be a lawyer to make a difference
Alithia Ramirez – Loved to draw and used her art to comfort others

So, in my opinion, the first part of our rational discussion is looking at causes.  Come to agreement on, say, ten factors that seem to have a strong propensity to lead to the murderous rampages.  Then discuss and come to agreement on actionable strategies for addressing each of those top ten causes.

In the course of looking at causes and strategies, we must also examine what freedom means to us as a society.  Is it metal detectors at school entrances and children locked up for eight hours each day with parents having to submit to identity verification and a  threat level assessment to let them in the school?   Outside of schools, is it armed escorts into grocery stores, theaters and concerts?   (I saw that in Guatemala and China.  I didn’t feel free or particularly safe, but maybe to others freedom can look that way.)  My point is that we have to weigh our definition of freedom with the action plans we develop.

Irma Linda Garcia – Taught for 23 years, left behind four children

Doesn’t sound easy, does it?  It’s decidedly not easy.

Eva Mireles – Taught for 17 years, left behind a daughter

Please look at the pictures of the peaceful people who lived good lives and the innocent children who had so much potential. Don’t we owe it to them and their grieving families to make the effort to protect others from the same fate?

In other news: 

Our buddy Elon Musk this week further threatened to pull out of his offer to buy Twitter.  His claimed reason is that Twitter hasn’t meaningfully responded to his requests to provide data regarding how they determine the level of fake and bot users.  Twitter’s competency in determining those numbers is important because advertisers ostensibly base their advertisement level on Twitter based on the reported “true” userbase.  Wall Street for the most part thinks Elon’s just trying to get out of the deal because Twitter’s stock price has tanked, and Elon’s stuck in a deal to buy it at $54 per share.  The State of Texas, however, thinks our boy Elon may be on to something and has launched an investigation into how the social media company computes its userbase.

Oliver’s Antiques: Witch’s Folly Book I by Vincenza di Martino

Just as Gemma is contemplating taking a DNA test to find her birth family, her adopted mother asks her to go antiquing with her.  Her adopted parents had divorced, and Gemma lived with her mother who had been blindsided by her husband leaving her.  So, although antiquing wasn’t what Gemma wanted to do, she went along.  Her life was forever changed by that jaunt when they entered a strange little shop named Oliver’s Antiques.

Over the next few days, Gemma learns that magic is real, there’s another world (Goblidet) where magic use and fantastical beings are commonplace, and that she herself is from that world!  Her maternal Aunt Orianna Oliver (proprietor of the antique shop) takes her to visit Goblidet, and for the first time in her life, she feels she belongs.

But, everything is not sparkles and unicorns in Goblidet.  There is a dark undercurrent of evil tied to the mystery surrounding the death of Gemma’s birth parents, and soon that evil is focused on Gemma.

This is an imaginative tale in need of significant editing – both in sentence structure/typos (e.g., ‘quite’ instead of ‘quiet,’ ‘than’ instead of ‘that,’  noun/verb tense mismatches, etc.) and in plot/characterization.  One example of a plot issue is that the main characters go to significant effort to set protection spells around their home, and then they go outside those shields to take a horse and wagon unprotected across the countryside to town, not once, but twice.  What was the point of the protections if they were just going to leave them?   In addition, point of view switches frequently, and at times it leads to a little confusion.

So, with those issues, why have I given the book four stars?   Put quite simply, it’s because the inventiveness of the tale hooked me quickly.  I had to know what happened  Then as I got toward the end of the book, the foreshadowing I perceived hooked me further —  I need to know who the mystery woman is (I have a guess).  I need to understand more of the power of  “kismet,”  and whose lives it saves in the future (again, I have a guess).

Technical issues aside, it’s an enjoyable story, and I recommend it. I look forward to the second book of Witch’s Folly!

Short Story: Concourse B Homecoming

Russ sat at a table in the semi-self-service restaurant across from gate B4.  He drank his Rolling Rock beer, a surprising choice for a burly, giant ginger of a man, but he didn’t give a hoot what people thought of his beverage choice.  Neither did he care what the woman seated across from him thought about his arms full of tattoos, which she was trying to surreptitiously study.  He would have cheerfully answered questions if she had them, and he considered for a brief moment, just saying to her, “Which one has you bothered?”  But, he couldn’t take the chance on getting involved in some brouhaha .   He didn’t intend to start a brouhaha today.  But, then he never intended to start them, but he seemed to do it more often than not when out in public.

So, he ignored her stares, drank his beer, and glanced anxiously out Gate B4’s windows, looking for flight 1257 to pull up to the gate.  He pulled his phone out of his pocket to check the time again.  Another 15 minutes before the plane would land.  As he was staring at the screen, a call came through from Anita.  He glanced at the old biddy across from him, and took the call, anyway.  Let her listen in if she wanted.

“Hey, babe.  Everything okay?” he said quietly.  His obvious Texas drawl was a sharp contrast to all the Philly accents around him. 

“Hey,” Anita replied.  “Just calling to see if you’ve had a come apart yet.” 

The laughter in her voice made him smile.  One of the things he loved about her was how she wasn’t hesitant to give him crap even when he was in an off mood.  He was running high on anxiety today and had needed some time to himself while he waited for the plane.  So, Anita was out in the cell phone lot waiting for him to tell her that the plane had landed.

“You’re a funny, funny lady,” he said to her.  “But, no I haven’t had a come apart yet, but damn, time is goin’ extra slow today.”

She chuckled softly and replied, “The waitin’s almost over.  And, he’s fine,  He’s gonna be just fine.”

“I won’t believe that until I got him in my arms, and he ain’t in my arms just yet.”

“I know, babe.”

More quietly, he said, “I need to figure out what to do about tomorrow.  I don’t want him to be by himself his first day here.  Maybe I should call in to work.”

“Russ,” she cautioned. “We’ve talked about this.  He won’t be by himself.  You can’t take tomorrow off, too.  We –.”

“I know, we need the money,” he finished for her. 

Just then his phone buzzed, and he looked at the screen.  He said, “Baby, that’s Jenny.  Let’s me get her real quick.”

He switched calls and said, “He ain’t here yet.”

“Well, hello to you, too!  Is that the kind of telephone manners they taught you down in Texas?” Jenny asked him good-naturedly.  She was his aunt on his mama’s side, the aunt who he was the spitting image of and who took him in when his life in Houston fell apart three years before. 

“No, ma’am,” he replied, smiling.  “I’m just anxious.”

“I know, buddy.  He’s gonna be fine.”

“I’ll tell you like I just tol ‘Nita. I won’t know that ‘il I got him in my arms.”

They chatted for several more minutes, Russ looking eagerly out the window for the entire conversation.  When he saw the plane taxiing, he said hurriedly, “I gotta go, Jenny.  His plane is here.”

He looked around, and the old biddy smiled at him.  For some reason he found himself saying to her, “My son’s flying in by himself.”

“I gathered that,” she said.  She shrugged, “Sometimes I just can’t stop myself listening to people.  So, you both flew into Philly to meet up?”

Russ was completely confused by her words, and it showed on his face when he said, “What?  No, I live here.  He’s coming in from Houston.”

It was her turn to look surprised.  She said, “They left you on the concourse without a ticket to meet his plane?”

He tapped his phone and said, “The flight information showin’ he’s an unaccompanied minor is all on here and they let me in with that.”

She smiled and said, “That’s cool that they let you do that!”

A man further down the table interrupted with, “You don’t have a ticket and you’re at the gate?  They’re not supposed to do that.   Anybody could say they have a kid on a plane.”

Before Russ could even respond, the old biddy snapped, “He just said he went through security with the credentials for his son’s flight.”

“I  don’t care,” the man responded, his voice rising.  “It’s a security issue.   We need to get TSA down here.”

Russ blurted out, “Screw that and screw you.  My son, who I haven’t seen in a year is getting off that plane any second now.  I followed all the rules, and I ain’t got time right now for any crap.  I’m gonna finish my beer, and then you and TSA can find me over at the gate.”

With that, he swallowed the last of his Rolling Rock, slammed the bottle down on the table,  and walked across the concourse.  He couldn’t believe it.  Josh wasn’t even off the plane, and already he was into it with some guy at an airport restaurant.  Maybe his ex was right.  Maybe he was too hotheaded to be a good father.  But, at this point, he didn’t have any choice but to grow up and make better choices. 

His ex, Sheila, had met a halibut fisherman on vacation in Zihuantanejo, and decided to run off to Alaska to be with him. She left Josh with her mother – not even bothering to let Russ know.  When her mother developed health issues,  she called Russ’ family, who called him. So now, three years after the court had allowed Sheila to take Josh from him after she exaggerated his temper and his minor brushes with the law, Josh was coming to live with him. His ex-mother-in-law couldn’t even wait for Russ to make arrangements to drive down and get him – she demanded Russ immediately buy an airline ticket and Russ complied, afraid that she’d change her mind and send Josh somewhere else.   His boy was coming to stay. For good.  The thought made him smile to himself.   He took a deep breath and approached the gate agent.

“Hey, man,” he said.  “My boy’s getting’ off this flight, and some guy over there is saying I can’t be here to greet him.  But, I have the flight information here, and I went through security.”

The gate agent said, “Russell Saunders?”

Surprised,  Russ said, “Yeah?”

The gate agent said, “You’re good.”  He tapped his computer monitor.  “Says right here to expect you.”

“Great, thanks.”

People started coming up the ramp from the airplane.  Russ paced back and forth searching for his son’s face.  He wondered whether he’d look different.  A year could mean a lot of changes in a child, would he look completely different at seven than he had at six when Russ had last driven down to spend a few precious hours with him?  Would Josh recognize him?  His hair was a lot shorter now, and he had started growing a beard.  

The stream of people coming off the plane ended.  No Josh.  Russ had paid an extra $200 to have a flight attendant personally escort Josh.  Did they lose him?  Beginning to panic, Russ looked around.  Had he gotten past him somehow?  He walked over to the railing to get a better look down the ramp.  No one.  He went back to the gate agent.

“Hey, man,” he said.  “Is everybody off the plane?”

The agent smiled at him again.  “Don’t worry, Dad,” he said.  “He’ll be coming up soon.”

A few more passengers came up the ramp, including a family with three young boys.  One of the boys was wearing a full Texas Ranger uniform – law enforcement, not baseball – from the ten gallon hat, to a replica badge on his chest, to the boots.  The boy’s tie-dye wearing brother bumped into him, sending the boy into Russ.  Russ smiled at him and said, “Whoa there, cowboy.”

“Pardon me, but I ain’t no cowboy: I’m a Ranger,” the boy said seriously.  Then he walked away in that slow deliberate, heal-to-toe walk most Rangers have.  Russ said to the boy’s father, “Quite a boy you got there.”  The man nodded his thanks.

Russ turned back toward the ramp, just in time to see Josh turn the corner at the bottom with the flight attendant.  He wanted to run down the ramp and sweep him up, but he knew that wouldn’t be acceptable, so he waited.  But, he couldn’t stop himself from waving at his boy with a big goofy grin on his face.  Josh was taller, more grown-up.  He didn’t return his dad’s goofy grin.  In fact, he looked tense and reluctant.

It seemed like it took forever for Josh to reach the top of the ramp.  Russ bent down to scoop up his son, but the boy stepped back, and so instead they embraced in an awkward half hug.  Russ’ heart sank.  This was not the reunion he’d hoped for.  But, he tried to make the most of things.  “Hey, buddy!” he exclaimed.  “You’re getting so tall.”

“Um-hmm,” was the boy’s only reply.

Russ told himself that Josh just needed to get acclimated, but he couldn’t help but feel apprehensive.  What if he and Josh never bonded?

“Okay, then,” he said.  “We’d better get going.  ‘Nita’s waiting for us.”  They started down the concourse, with Josh refusing to even look at Russ.  With every step he took, Russ was sadder and more concerned. 

He heard a woman yelling behind him, “Sir! Sir!”  It didn’t occur that she was yelling at him until she touched his arm.  He turned to find the old biddy from the restaurant.

She said, “We took up a collection back at the restaurant.”  She handed him a wad of bills.  “So that you can take off work tomorrow to spend with your son.”

Russ’ mouth dropped open.  Before he could recover, the woman turned to Josh.  “Hello, little man.   Welcome to Philly!  Your dad has so been looking forward to getting you here!  It’s all he could talk about!”

Josh looked up at his dad, his face all twisted up.  “What’s the matter, Josh?” Russ asked quickly.

Tears rolling down Josh’s face were his only response.  Instantly, Russ squatted down before his son, the woman forgotten.  “Buddy, what’s wrong?”

“I thought you didn’t want me,” Josh wailed.

“What?!  I’ve always wanted you.  I promise you there ain’t never been one minute of one day when I didn’t want you.”

“I thought…I thought….” Josh cried and paused.  Then he blurted out, “Nobody wants me, and I thought you didn’t want me neither.”

Russ grabbed his son, lifting him into his arms as he stood.  Hugging the boy tight, he whispered to him urgently, “Josh, I love you so much.  I have always loved you and wanted you.”

Josh cried into Russ’s shoulder, “Mama said you left us ‘cause you didn’t want to be my daddy, and then Mama left me.  Then Granny sent me away.  She said you had to take me whether you wanted to or not.”

“Oh, buddy,” Russ replied crying.  “Oh, buddy, I got into trouble and had to go away.  I have always been so glad to be your daddy!  Listen to me – I have ALWAYS wanted you!”

Finally, Russ felt his son’s arms wrap around his neck, and Russ hugged his boy harder.  They stood in the middle of Concourse B crying and hugging each other for several moments.  Then Russ’ phone rang.  “That’s probably ‘Nita wondering where we are.  You ready to go home?”

Josh wiped his eyes and said, “Yes.”  

Russ put his son down but kept a hold of his hand.  Then he looked around for the woman – he wanted to thank her for the money, but more importantly for triggering him and his boy connecting.  He didn’t see her anywhere.  He made a mental promise to pay it forward for someone else, and smiled down at his son, “Okay, let’s go home,” he said.  They walked away hand In hand.

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