7 Rules of Twitter Bios, In other news…, Book Review – The Memories of Eskar Wilde by E.H. Wilde, Short Story – The Moonlight Sonata Challenge Part I

Seven Rules for a Great Twitter Bio?

I’ve been active on Twitter now for a year.  My handle is older than that – I joined in January 2015 to read something referenced on Facebook and couldn’t find my way around.  So, I quickly bailed, thinking it was shit for the birds.   (No, I’m not a dad.  Yes, I’m here all night.)  Luckily, Twitter held my account, just waiting for me to try again.  Twitter’s very altruistic like that.  Yes, Sheldon, that’s sarcasm.   

Anyway, in my year on Twitter, I’ve learned a lot of things.  Some of it is even useful.  Some…not so much.  But I’m not here to preach Twitter lessons – at least not my Twitter lessons. 

I can hear someone saying, “They’re not called Tweeters.”  Indeed, they are, Gretchen.  In fact, according to Reuters, I qualify as a “heavy Tweeter.” For those of you who just made a comment on my weight, shame on you, have you no imagination?  THAT’s the best you can do? Anyway, a “heavy Tweeter” is someone who logs on six or seven days a week and tweets about three or four times a week.   Well, actually, I tweet more than four times a week.  Perhaps that makes me a “Neutron Star Tweeter.”  (Don’t bother googling it.  It’s not a thing.  Yet.  Maybe, though, you should google “neutron star” – it’s fairly interesting…)

If that doesn’t convince you, Gretchen, that Twitter users are called Tweeters, google “Are Twitter users called Tweeters?”  The immediate answer:  “A person who Tweets can be called a Tweeter.”  I’m not sure it’s legit to capitalize the verb “tweets,” but I’m not wearing my Grammar Police hat at the moment

But, I digress (one of those phrases I try to use as often as I can).  So, anyways. . .where was I?  Oh, yes, the seven ingredients.  Wait before we get to them, please keep in mind a Twitter bio is limited to 160 characters. Okay, here goes:

 It’s accurate.  Tell what you really do or are.

I got this one.  It would be hard to fail since it’s pretty self-explanatory.  And, yet, there are these gems:

Proud thinker.    I’m not sure, but I think someone set the bar too low.

Orhtopedic/ medical doctor.        The typo is not mine.  It was made by the Tweeter.  The tweets do not authenticate the bio…

Entrepreneur. Gamer. Coffee maven. Bacon trailblazer. Travel evangelist. Music lover. Zombie nerd. Food specialist.   Soooo many people on Twitter are bacon and beer trailblazers.  What exactly does it take to blaze a trail with bacon? 

Journalist Union Chairman. Amnesty International Human Rights Defender & 4-Awarded United Nations Staff.  The little known secret about the Twitterverse: there are thousands of people who are high-ranking United Nations officials within it.  Unlike this guy, they’re usually humanitarian doctors.  Or international surgeons. Actually, it’s not such a secret – if you’re on Twitter for a week, you run into many of the United Nations crowd.  Remarkably, every United Nations doctor, surgeon, and chairman who follows me is middle-aged or a little older and male. 

I am seeking for imperfect gentle woman.  I think there’s a malfunction in the communicator device.  Quick, someone perform a level 3 diagnostic!

Board Certified Nato Neurosurgeon & Functional Neurosurgeon and Coordinator of the Microsurgical A Dad Eat healthy Fitness A Traveler.  NATO doctors are all the rage, too, as are naval admirals and 4-star generals.  I don’t know why I don’t just go ahead and grab one of these incredible catches. 

It’s exciting. Make it sound cool. Because it is.

My bio is not exciting. There.  Is that the first step to fixing it?   Perhaps…but I do think it sounds cooler than some…

Never look down on anyone, because you don’t know tomorrow, and believe in yourself okay.  Moving on.

Businessman.  So very many businessmen.   Nothing more to them than that they’re businessmen.  That is until you’re stupid enough to follow back.  Then the DMs with sweet, badly-spelled nothings begin.

It’s targeted. Attract people like yourself.

I started to say I nailed this one because a lot of fellow writers follow me.  But, so do bots, cryptocurrency evangelists, one lady selling nail services in Paraguay, generals, admirals, people devoted to creating a blue wave, people devoted to promoting a red wave, six different
Keanu Reeves and bacon trailblazers. 

Let’s be happy with what we have Life is simple, it’s the world that complicates it.    I don’t even know what to say, other than I guess the Tweeter wasn’t targeting people like me.

Hello.  In the normal world, a bio of “Hello” would not seem to be targeted. In fact, it would seem to be general to the point of being vague.   In the Twitterverse, however, it seems to signal porn. Lots and lots of porn. Similarly, “Looking to meet new friends” can also mean porn, but not always. It’s kinda tricky.  It can also mean foreign men trying to find an American sugar mama.   

<Nationality> who can care about anything in life hope you live well.  Calling out a whole nationality of people seems to me to both be targeted and not targeted.  The message itself is baffling.

It’s flattering. Tell about your accomplishments.

I guess I failed this one.  But, again I’m not alone…

Always hate will find a way.   Uhm…

Passionate.   Okay, well, congratulations on that.

Talk about magic!  Well, there’s no conceit in this guy’s family ‘cause he got it all.  (Oh, Gretchen, do I have to explain everything to you?  He got all the conceit.  <sigh>)

Sparkling!   Uhm, same guy two different Twitter handles, perhaps?

I’m nobody.  I made the mistake once of trying to be nice to a person whose bio said “I’m nobody” after he followed me and said hello. Oh, he was somebody.  Somebody trying to play upon other Tweeter’s heartstrings with his hangdog bio so that later he could attempt to play upon her pursestrings.  Go ahead and be nobody. 

It’s humanizing. Prove that you’re legit.

For the record, I am legit.  I promise I am not a bot, or a United Nations, 4-star General humanitarian surgeon.

We deserve happiness.   I’ve seen this multiple times.  Always on protected accounts with American in the names.  I’m thinking it’s one of two things:  1) a bot waiting to inundate my inbox with bullshit; or 2)  a secret code for some Q-anon subversion.  Either way, not biting.

I’m a bot.  Well, not humanizing, but definitely legit – legitly a bot.  I appreciate when they self-identify,

It’s intriguing. Invite people to follow you.

Again, I failed.  Well, except I think the “…yet” at the end of my bio (before the DM warning) might be a little intriguing. Yes?  Okay, maybe not.  Apparently, it’s hard to be intriguing, which might explain all the bacon and beer trailblazers.

Single.  Amazingly enough, a lot of people share this same bio.  The mind boggles.

A joy it will be one day, perhaps to remember even this.    Maybe this should be an example of how to meet this rule because I have to admit I want to know what the hell “this” is.  Yes, yes, Gretchen, I know it’s a quote from The Aeneid.  But, how does it apply to their bios – oh, did I mention there are multiple people with this quote as their bios?  And, what about their lives is so epic to be boiled down to a haunting line from The Aeneid?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Loving Nature.  So, uhm, does it mean he’s a nature lover, or he has a loving nature.  Or, he likes to do his loving out in nature.  Perhaps intriguing, but I’m not asking. 

It’s connected. Use hashtags, @s, or links.

I threw in a hashtag and the link to my webpage.  Yay me!

I prefer serious relationship.  #proudsingle #lookingforman. The article doesn’t say this, because who would really think it necessary, but, perhaps you should make sure your hashtags go together when you put them in your bio.  I’m looking for something serious.  I’m proud to be single.  I’m looking for a man.  Maybe better get your personalities together before writing your bio, Sybil.

I think I got 2.5 out of the seven.  Maybe I’ll rewrite my bio.  I hate writing bios.  Maybe it’s good enough.  Or, maybe, just maybe, I’ll say I’m a bacon trailblazer.  If you have ideas, let me know.

In other news…

Well, Elon’s in charge now.  Word on Wall Street is that, at this point, Twitter’s only worth half of what he paid for it.  Consequently, he may no longer be the world’s richest man. Are you feeling sorry for him?  I remain a little disappointed that he made such a poor deal to begin with, but I’m optimistic that he will turn a turd into a gem…or at least a toadstool.

Some advertisers have departed – not necessarily due to Elon – and he’s said he’s looking for ways to make up the revenue, including charging high-profile people for their blue check marks.  He floated charging $20/month for the checkmark.  Then after Stephen King called him Tom Sawyer (on Twitter, of course), he dropped the price to $8.  Unfortunately, blue check marks don’t mean much as Valerie Bertinelli proved to the world when she changed the public name of her verified account to “Elon Musk” and gently trolled him with it.  Brilliant!    I love her!

He’s only been in a short time but some changes are readily evident.  Hate speech is up, mostly because our boy fired just about everybody who was monitoring those kinds of things.

Looks like maybe the restrictions on following too many people too quickly may be looser, too.  That’s a strange result given Elon’s fit over the number of bots in the Twitterverse.  Perhaps it’s because the Tesla engineers he put to sniffing Twitter’s code have a more technically advanced method of detecting bots.  Or, perhaps, like the hate speech increase, it’s because our boy eliminated too many people from the payroll without a plan for covering their duties.

Another event that occurred shortly after Elon took over:  Amber Heard deleted her account.  I don’t know if his takeover has a causal relationship to her departure, and I don’t much care.  I simply say, good riddance.

The ride is just beginning – I only hope it’s not on Tesla autopilot…

Book Review:  The Memories of Eskar Wilde by E.H. Wilde

If you can suspend your disbelief at some fantastical aspects of this story (and, I suggest that you do so), you will enjoy a marvelously told tale full of intrigue in The Memories of Eskar Wilde. 

Eskar is the narrator, and at the time he’s telling the tale, he’s just turned eighteen.  His story, however, starts much earlier – going back to his earliest memories with his parents Gabriel and Sascha.  It’s when he reaches his twelfth year that the action truly begins.  While on a business trip to France, Gabriel is killed in a hit-and-run accident (or is it?) in Paris.  Eskar and his mother immediately fly from their home in Australia to France to see to his father’s affairs there.

Included in those affairs is the recent purchase of a “fixer-upper”  estate in the south of France.  Once Eskar and Sascha arrive at the estate, Clos des Seps, they decide to delay their return home.  Eskar becomes driven to learn the secrets of his father’s life, and his best friends aid him in unraveling the mystery of his father’s attachment to France.

Here’s where we get to the fantastical aspects of the story.   One of Eskar’s best friends is a cat that may or may not be the reincarnation of his father.  Eskar and others ask the cat’s opinions – no, the cat doesn’t actually speak, but he makes his opinions known.  The cat goes everywhere with Eskar and is accepted in fine dining establishments throughout Paris.

 In addition to the cat, for a period of time, Eskar reports seeing and conversing with his father’s ghost.  Everyone takes that in stride when he tells them about it.

But the most fantastical aspect of all is Eskar, himself. At twelve years old, he’s not heretofore had the presence of mind to understand that his father’s profession would not require travel to France and has not noticed the family bodyguard who’s apparently been around his whole life, but he’s an expert on wine and French cooking and is a prodigy on the piano.  He runs around Paris, making reservations for himself and his thirteen-year-old friend, at fine restaurants, making small talk smoothly in French with people he encounters along the way.  In my opinion, this is all highly questionable for a boy of twelve.   I enjoyed the education I received on wine and food pairings and Paris, but it would have been more believable from someone older.

But, as I suggested at the top of this review, I suspended my disbelief because the tale itself is outstanding and is so masterfully told.  Against that reality is overrated.  E.H. Wilde, if indeed that is his name, is a virtuoso of the written word, but even more impressive, he’s a magical weaver of intrigue.  There are numerous twists and turns, and he keeps them all on track, closing the loop on every single thread.   And, he chose (wisely) not to tie everything up in a happily-ever-after bow at the end.  He lays hints that perhaps, over time, everyone may get their hearts’ desires, but he doesn’t force it.  Eskar, after all, is only eighteen, and his father’s only been gone six years.  It’s not time yet for any happily ever afters.

I heartily recommend this book for readers of all ages! 

Short Story:  The Moonlight Sonata Challenge – Part I

Backstage, Lily felt the old familiar butterflies as she heard the orchestra begin to tune.  As she always did before a performance, she said quietly to herself, “I am Lily Gabriela Machera-Davies,” and thought back to her first recital almost 20 years before.

* * *

When her instructor, Mrs. Reddy, introduced her, Lily froze.  Her legs wouldn’t have taken her out onto the stage if she wanted them to, and she definitely did not want them to.   Mrs. Reddy said her name again, expectantly; Lily did not move. Mrs. Reddy repeated her name a third time.  Robbie whispered loudly behind her, “Get out there!”  Suddenly unfrozen, Lily bolted down the stage steps and out the door into the hallway.  Moments later her father found her there in her beautiful purple and black recital dress, sitting on the floor against the wall, her knees drawn to her chest. 

“Lily,” he said, the concern evident in his voice.  “What’s the matter? Are you all right?  Are you sick?”

Lily left her head against her knees. 

“Well, something must be the matter,” her dad said gently.  “You’re hiding out here in the hall instead of playing your song for your great-grandmother Maria who came all this way to hear you.”

He squatted in front of her and reached out to pull her face up from her knees, saying, “Look at me, sweetpea.”

Her normally porcelain face was crimson in his hand, and she whispered, “I just couldn’t go on.   I couldn’t!”

“Why, honey?” he asked.

She said in a small voice, “I was too scared.” 

He looked at her lovingly and said, “Okay.   We all get scared sometimes.   Let’s just go out and watch the rest of the recital.”  With that, he took her hand and tried to pull her up from the floor.

She pulled her hand from his, and, her face flame-red again, said, “I can’t go out there with everybody  I just want to go home!  Please, just take me home!”

“Okay, let’s just go and get everyone…“

“No!” she cried.  “Please, daddy, I can’t see them right now!”   Tears began silently sliding down her face.

He pulled out his phone and sent a text.  Seconds later, a tone from his phone indicated he’d received a reply.

“Okay,” he said.  “Mom and Angela will ride with your uncle Michael.   Mom will get your things.  Let’s go.”

Later, at home, Lily went straight to bed after hanging up her beautiful recital dress.  Her mom stopped in to say goodnight.  Sitting beside Lily on the bed, she favored Lily with a loving gaze and said, “It will all seem better in the morning, Lily-bug.   I love you, and I’m so proud of you.”

Lily pulled the covers to her chin as she blushed to the roots of her hair.  She thought, “How can you be proud?   I ran off like a baby!”  But, she said nothing as her mother kissed her forehead.

There was a knock at the door, and her mom went out into the hallway.   Then, she came back to Lily’s bedside and said, “Nonna Sophia brought Bisnonna Maria to talk with you.”

Lily’s eyes got big, and she shook her head emphatically.  Her mother patted her cheek and said, “It’ll be all right.”  She moved out of the way as Nonna Sophia brought in a dining room chair and sat it beside Lily’s bed.  Then both women left the room, and Bisnonna Maria came in, closed the door softly, walked over, and sat in the chair.

She was a thin woman in her late seventies, with perfect posture and her white hair pulled back into a simple bun.  She wore a beautiful silk dress in various shades of teal and purple swirled together with black velvet low-heeled shoes.  Both arms were loaded with gold bracelets, and almost every one of her perfectly lacquered fingers wore gold rings.  Her face was flawlessly made up, and she looked much younger than her age.  She favored Lily with a small smile on her fuchsia lips.

“So, you chose not to perform this evening,” she said in perfect, Italian-accented, English.

Lily nodded.

“And why did you make this decision?”

Lily shrugged.

“Hmm,” Bisnonna Maria said.  “I heard you play your piece yesterday.  It lacked the feeling that Beethoven should invoke, but you played it technically well.   Why did you not play it, tonight?”

Her dark eyes bored into Lily’s, and Lily said meekly, “I was afraid.”

“Afraid of a monster?”

Lily shook her head.

“Then afraid that someone would bring you harm?”

Lily shook her head.

“So, then, afraid of what?”

In her meek voice, Lily answered, “That I would mess up in front of everybody.”

Bisnonna Maria scoffed.  “And, so what if you messed up?”

“I would be embarrassed.”

“And, yet, you were embarrassed anyway, were you not?”

“Yeah, but, people would laugh at me…and…”  Her voice trailed off.

“And, what?” Bisnonna Maria asked

Lily answered with her eyes downcast, “Well…you were a concert pianist, and I’m not that good….”

“Of course, you’re not ‘that good.’  You’re nine years old.  Do you think I was a concert pianist at nine years old?”

Lily shrugged.

“No, I was not.   I didn’t expect you to play like a concert pianist.  I expected you to play like you – although, truthfully, with a little more fire than I heard yesterday.  But, that will come when you feel the music.”

Bisnonna Maria pursed her lips and said, “I don’t think you were afraid.  I think you just lacked confidence.  Was that because you didn’t know your piece – because you hadn’t practiced enough?”

“No, I know it, and I practice all the time!”

“Well, then was it because you thought the piano would break?”

“No,” Lily said with a hint of laughter.

“Then, it must’ve been that you just didn’t believe you could do it.”

Lily shrugged.

“Hmmm,” said Bisnonna Maria.  “So, why do you not have confidence in yourself?”

“I don’t know,” Lily replied.  “I don’t know how to have confidence.   How do you get it?”

“Well, one way is to keep practicing.   But, that’s not all of it.  Let me tell you about some people who have great self-confidence.   Self-confidence looks different for each person, and each person finds their way.   Perhaps you will hear something that will lead you to your own.”

Next time: Bisnonna tells three stories of her family and her friend.

Second Chances:  A Fine Line Between Forgiveness and Stupidity?, Book Review – I Should’ve Worn a Curtain, Short Story – A Sweaty Man’s Gym Sock

Second Chances:  A Fine Line Between Forgiveness and Stupidity?

“To err is human; to forgive divine.” I’ve heard people credit Shakespeare with that quote, but it was coined by English satirical poet Alexander Pope (May 21, 1688 – May 30, 1744).  It’s from his 1711 poem An Essay on Criticism.  Interestingly, that same poem also gave us “A little learning is a dang’rous thing,” and “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” both of which also relate to my subject here.

We all like to be granted second chances, and we all promise to make the most of them.  Some of us do make good on our promises; others do not.

So, how do you, as the potential granter of a second chance determine which erring humans are deserving of our little divine boons?  How do you navigate the line between “a little learning” shutting down any possibilities and rushing in like a fool?  Nietzsche said (in so many words) that people tend more to ask for forgiveness than to give forgiveness to their offenders.  Some students of human behavior credit that with a need to control, but, I think it’s more a self-protection instinct.  I trusted Person X before, and they hurt me.  I can’t give Person X the opportunity to do that again.

A friend of mine was married for the majority of their life when they found out their spouse was cheating.  After some time apart, the spouse came begging for forgiveness, said they’d never cheat again, agreed to go to marriage counseling, the whole nine yards.  This was a person, a good person, my friend had known all their life.  So, my friend agreed to take back their cheating spouse.  Six months later, they caught their spouse still cheating with the same person.  My friend, of course, was shattered, but worse than the hurt was their feeling that they’d been stupid.  The spouse was the one that behaved badly, but my friend was the one feeling ashamed because they’d let the cheater back in.

My friend was not foolish, and their act of forgiveness was nothing of which to be ashamed.  I admire them for what they did.  Now, when the spouse comes up in conversation, I roll my eyes.  Never would I have thought that would be the case – I had always seen them as admirable – not someone who could behave so hurtfully.  But the fact of the matter is that people do change, and sometimes they do not change for the better.

What if the offender doesn’t apologize?  Whether it’s through their narcissist belief that they have a right to do whatever they want and that they alone can dictate what can be considered offensive, or because they were “just telling the truth” (as they alone see it), they just don’t or won’t apologize?   Can forgiveness be granted if the offender is not repentant?  What if the offender makes insincere apologies, such as those followed by “but” – “but I was justified in doing it because…” or “but it’s YOUR fault because you…”?  Should forgiveness be granted then, or are you just stupidly enabling their future bad behavior?

It’s difficult sometimes when it’s your loved one granting the second chance.  You want the best for them; you want them to make good decisions and to be happy. 

Another friend is beside themselves because their loved one is granting a cheating partner a second chance.  My friend insists that this person is a serial cheater and is just a bad person, in general.  Is my friend right?  They certainly think they are and cannot stop themselves from harping on the subject.  To everyone.  At every opportunity.

So where is that magical boundary between forgiveness and stupidity? Is it clearly marked with flashing warning signs? Will I know it when I see it?

I think that every circumstance is different.  There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to any of the situations where you hold someone else’s second chance in your hands.  You pays your money, you takes you chances. So, rush on in fool with your little bit of learning.

But there is a universal truth in regard to your loved one’s second chance decisions:  you cannot make that decision for them.  You can’t force them to see things from your perspective.   I think that as a friend/loved one, you absolutely have a responsibility to give your counsel.  But, after you’ve had your say, shut the fuck up unless asked. 

These are the kinds of things I think about on rainy weekends.

In other news:

I have two more short stories that will be published soon! More on those when they come out.


There were rumors that our boy Elon and Twitter may have been having settlement discussions ahead of the trial slated to start later this month.  Said rumors appear to have been nothing more than farts in the wind given that Elon announced he was reinstating his purchase offer. Twitter appears poised to accept it.

Analysts on these kinds of litigation say that the jockeying

going on between lawyers on both sides over what information could be subpoenaed seemed to be going more Twitter’s way. Given that, the inevitability of the outcome may be what turned Elon around again.  Then there’s the fact that Twitter’s stock price has recently come out of the basement, and at the time of Elon’s announcement was trading at about $52 per share. Money talks; bullshit walks.

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This may just be a stalling tactic. The court has declared Elon has until October 28 to complete the deal. If that deadline is missed, the trial will move forward next month.

Meanwhile, the fallout is still occurring from Elon’s decision to weigh in via Twitter on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He pissed off a whole nation with that move.  Our boy’s always about making friends and influencing people…


Winter is coming.  Have I mentioned that I hate winter?

Book Review: I Should’ve Worn a Curtain by Samyra Alexander

Had I read this novella’s description or reviews on Amazon, I probably wouldn’t have read the story  — not because the description or the reviews were poor, but because I wouldn’t have thought the subject matter something I’d find interesting.

Thank goodness I just went with the intrigue of the title because I would’ve missed out on a great read!

Shaena has an eating disorder, a disorder she tries to hide from everyone, even from herself.  The reasons for her food issues and her denial of them are rooted in her childhood.  They begin to emerge as the story unfolds, but Shaena still resists coming clean with her loved ones regarding her struggle.  This resistance results in her lying to everyone to hide her binging.  It’s the lying that destroys her relationship with Mike, her quasi-boyfriend. But, following that break-up, at the end of the story, Shaena finally admits to Ava (her sponsor from Overeaters Anonymous)  her binging and bulimia, her guilt over those issues, and her remorse for being untruthful.  The story ends with Shaena on the cusp of healing (admitting you have a problem is the first step).

The particulars of the story are about having an eating disorder, but the theme of the story is truly about how we cope with the stressors in our lives and how to seek help to better deal with them.  

Ms. Alexander is a wordsmith.  By that, I don’t mean she uses big words or flowery language.  Her language is simple and flows wonderfully – her story emerges cleanly without the words themselves detracting from it.

I’ll admit I was a little dissatisfied with the ending – I wanted to know more about Shaena’s relationship with her mother and if Mike truly did just walk away.  But, I was ready to accept that the point of the novella was that Shaena got to the watershed moment that would allow her to heal. 

Then I saw there was a sequel, Curtain 2, and I immediately stuck it in my Kindle list!

Short Story: A Sweaty Man’s Gym Sock

I remember when first we met.  Your appreciation for me shone in your eyes, and in your presence, I felt free, released from all that confined me, able to relax, stretch out, just be me. 

Those early days were a whirlwind.  I experienced so much I otherwise would not have; It was life-changing.  I was grateful to have you in my life and wore myself ragged supporting you, bolstering you, sopping up the emotional baggage that sometimes spewed from you with the force of a waterfall.

Things changed.  Suddenly, your light no longer shone on me.  For days, weeks at a time, I was in the darkness, drenched from the last waterfall, alone and feeling unworthy, unclean, while you gave your light to others and excluded me.

Without warning, like the roof had been ripped off, your light shone again, and I unwound myself from the miserable ball I’d cowered into, tentatively straightening in your light, and then I was bright, and I smelled like the air after a fresh rain.  But, although the light was there, its purpose was now to expose my inadequacies and highlight the ways in which I was imperfect, aged, worn.

Then, I was taking the pounding of your emotions, again absorbing it all, doing my best to support you as I felt myself beaten down and drenched. 

And, of course, the darkness came again, and parts of me withered and molded.

The cycles came faster and faster, and with each ride on your emotional rollercoaster, I was less and less bright, became dingy and threadbare, threatening to fall apart.  Your light could no longer make me feel free.  It just made me dread the darkness.  Still, I supported you.  Still, I sopped up your emotional garbage.

But there was a spot within me, a spot that refused to be completely sullied and pummelled by your manipulative workout.

That indomitable core pulled me out of the trash heap on which you eventually tossed me, as uncaring as you’d truly been all along.  That tiny spot of internal sunshine scrubbed me clean, refreshed me.  Over time, I became free, truly free, and able to turn a bright face again to the world, feeling a little worn for your use, but worthy and able to live life without considering what you would think. 

Now, you see me refreshed, so you try to shine your false light on me.  Oh no, I know that your light offers only darkness.   I will never again let you, or anyone, treat me like a sweaty man’s gym sock.

New Published Story, Why are We So Murderous, Book Review –Bottled Lightning, New Short Story — Sunset Cruise

Newly Published Short Story!

I have a few more stories floating out there right now.  Hopefully, one or two of them find homes before the end of the year

Why are We So Murderous?

I recently read an article that said there were 750 homicides in all of Canada in 2020, which at that time had a population of about 38 million people.  The U.S. has about nine times as many citizens as Canada, and so the expectation might be that we would’ve had about 6750 homicides in 2020.  Oh nay nay, not even close.  Different sources give different specific numbers, but in general, all agree that there were approximately 21,000 homicides in the U.S. in 2020.  As you consider that difference in the murder rate, consider, also, that for most of that year we were on lockdown. 

This sparked me to look into worldwide homicide statistics in comparison to the U.S.  The first thing I learned was that if the reporting in the U.S. is inconsistent, it’s flat-out random in much of the rest of the world.  The United Nations took a shot at compiling data from 2014 through 2020.  Of course, not all countries are covered, and some countries that are covered don’t even specify the genders of the citizens killed.  (Gender for this conversation being defined as indicated by the victims’ genitals at time of death.)

I reviewed some of the numbers, and here are some general stats I gleaned:

  • Globally, in countries that report the victim’s gender, you’re almost four times (4x) more likely to be murdered if you’re a man.
  • In the U.S., you’re only three times (3x) more likely to be murdered if you’re a man.
  • In the U.S. approximately 7% of murdered men for the time period were murdered by a significant other or other family member compared to 33% of murdered women being murdered by their significant other or a family member

These factoids reminded me of various articles I’ve read that say murder is the top cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S.  Studies differ, but at the very least the rate for murder as a cause of death is equal to the rate of ALL  pregnancy-related mortality issues combined for pregnant women in the U.S.  Pregnant women, or those whose pregnancy ended within a year, are murdered 16% more often than women, in general.  If you’re a black woman, being pregnant is even more dangerous:  Black pregnant women have three times (3x) the risk of being murdered (per a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, October 2021).

A 2019 study published by the National Library of Medicine found that the elevated rate of homicide for pregnant women is a global phenomenon. But in that study, the rate of such homicides in developed nations is highest in the United States. 

Why are we so murderous?

I don’t know the answer but it’s getting worse.  There was a steady climb in the U.S. murder rate from 2015 – 2020, with 2020 having 5000+ more homicides than 2015.

Of course, the goto reason for a lot of people will be the ready availability of guns.  And if you look through a tunnel at just the relationship between the homicide rate and the number of guns owned by private citizens, there does appear to be a correlation. 

There are 1.1 million registered handguns in Canada, and approximately 6 million in the U.S. It’s estimated that Canada has 11 million unregistered guns in the hands of its citizens. In the U.S., it’s estimated to be 393 million.  We are said to be the only country with more civilian-owned guns than people.  And many of them are handguns (i.e., not hunting guns).  Pew Research found that among the U.S. citizens who own only one gun, for 62% of them it’s a handgun.  And overwhelmingly, for the citizens who own multiple guns, a least one of them is a handgun.

These are eye-opening factoids.  But, unless guns have some inherent overpowering evilness to them – some species of gun-metal dwelling demons inhabiting them that compels people to murder, the relationship between the numbers can’t be causal.  Guns were used in only 62% of the homicides in 2020.  That leaves another almost 8000 murders committed by other means.  Eight thousand murders by means other than guns in one year.  A year in which Canada’s homicides totaled 750. A year for which we were mostly locked down.

So, we can’t blame guns for the fact that we’re so wont to kill each other off. (I am, however, guessing that whatever the reason is that we’re so murderous, it is part of the reason we have so many guns).

The next “usual suspect” is the media.  There may be the tiniest kernel of truth here because we’ve all seen the stories of spree killers who murder to achieve fame.  (This tendency is exactly why we should never call school killers by their names – instead labeling them Loser #1, etc.)  Then there’s the whole true crime television industry – almost all of the shows featuring murders.  Anyone who knows me knows they’re my goto vegging choice.  But I sometimes wonder as I’m flipping channels looking for one I haven’t already watched, are their producers out trying to drum up murders to keep the franchises going?  (Now there’s a premise for a future murder mystery novel!)

Maybe a role for the media, but I just don’t feel that’s the root cause. 

Could it be that as a nation we never truly came out of our wild west days?  Maybe we’re still young – we’re only 246 years old, after all – so much younger than our European allies.  Maybe we just haven’t matured yet.   That excuse dies an ugly death when I again look north to Canada.  Sigh.

Clearly, as usual, I don’t have the answers; I just ask the questions.

In other news. . .

  • Great Britain lost Queen Elizabeth II this past week.  Actually, the world lost Queen Elizabeth.  She was a steadfast leader who hearkened back to days when diplomacy was civil.  I am sad for her passing and offer my condolences to her peoples.
  • My favorite neighbor boys came to visit the other day.  The visit started out as it often does with them asking if my dog Chico is still blind, and when I say yes, with earnest advice to give him carrots.  Then, as usual, I made them lemonade and a snack (this time cupcakes I had just baked).  After that, they played a few rounds of hide and seek, and this is where things took an unusual turn.  Suddenly, the seeker announced he was the Coronavirus and began chasing the other little boy.  When the Coronavirus touched the other boy, then they switched roles.  After a couple of rounds, then the Coronavirus only had to get close enough to breathe on the other boy (I put the kabash on spitting).  A few rounds later, with the original Coronavirus reinstated, he declared himself Delta and said he had mutated to be able to shoot out coronavirus rays.  They had to go home before I learned what mutant superpowers Omicron had…
  • Elon’s feeling a little bolstered because former Disney exec Bob Iger said that Disney found before it nixed a 2016 deal to buy Twitter that a significant portion of Twitter’s users were bots.  Our boy probably shouldn’t get too excited.  Disney had factored their findings into what was shaping up to be a rather cheap purchase price – they didn’t jump in whole hog with a mammoth offer and then question things.  And the truly deciding factor in Disney ultimately walking away from Twitter was the platform’s  high-level of hate speech. Iger’s reminiscing aside, the trial is still set for 10/17, so apparently, neither Twitter nor Elon are backing down.

Book Review:  Bottled Lightening by L. Mark Weeks

Tornait “Torn” Masao Sagara, managing partner of the Tokyo office of a global law firm, has almost more going on than he can handle.  He’s juggling two girlfriends, one of whom’s borderline personality issues make her a little dangerous, a not-quite-ex alcoholic wife, two college-aged kids who are not happy about his marital situation, and some shady clients who have a potentially conflicting interest in the client who has the majority of Torn’s attention:  the beautiful, vibrant and brilliant Saya Brooks who has created a technology that may single-handedly solve the climate crisis.

Torn is considering breaking his rule about getting involved personally with clients when Saya asks him to give her a ride on his motorcycle.  Before the ride ends, they are shot at by unknown pursuers in a Mercedes and chased by flail-wielding thugs on motorcycles.  Torn kills one of the thugs in self-defense, and by illegally riding tandem on Tokyo’s inner city circuit, catches the police’s attention, escaping the other thug.

The police appear doubtful of Torn’s story, putting him on the offensive to determine if he or Saya is the intended target of the would-be assassins.  When Saya is nearly killed by explosives planted at her company’s office, it’s clear that someone must be trying to stop her from commercializing her invention, which generates lightning on command and efficiently stores the inherent energy discharge.  But, Torn receives threats that promise that as long as he’s associated with Saya’s business, he and his family are in danger, too.  This is a significant issue for Torn, because at the point Saya became incapacitated by her injuries, Torn was notified that She had left him in charge of everything.  Oh, and she also left him a message that she’s in love with him. 

The story is written in a style that keeps the adrenaline pumping and provides amazing detail that in no way bogs down the action.  I felt like I was along for the motorcycle ride, and I learned geography and subtle cultural details of life in Tokyo.  The book was magnificently edited, with only two detracting issues, in my opinion, that kept me from giving it that fifth star.

The first detractor was that point of view was inconsistent.  I get it – it was the most expedient way to get important plot details moved forward, but it seemed strange to me to see the story through Saya’s eyes for brief passages.  Contrary to what other reviewers say, Saya was not truly a co-protagonist in the story, and, in fact, was off in a coma in the United States for much of the action. 

The second detractor was that the dialogue between most characters was awkward, in my opinion.  In particular, the discussions with his children didn’t seem authentic at all.  Perhaps this was a way of reflecting that Torn is pretty much disingenuous, if not flat-out dishonest, with everyone.  If so, that intent didn’t come through clearly.  At times, the conversations seemed like subtitles with context lost in translation.  Luckily action and description carried the day in Bottled Lightning.

I was worried that the end the story was going to “neatly” wrap up with Torn walking into the sunset with the woman he most truly loved.  That would’ve been completely ridiculous because, although Torn is a protagonist you pull for, as a man, he’s a mess.  The ending acknowledged that fact.  Perhaps there will be future books where Torn evolves? 

Great book, and I heartily recommend it!

Short Story: Sunset Cruise

Joe and Ellen boarded the excursion boat behind their son Scotty and his family.  Joe was, truth be told, none too pleased to be going on this sunset excursion into the Delaware Bay, and his face showed it.  His expression soured even further when the kids (grandkids Lucia and Damien) demanded to go upstairs to the upper deck, and their daughter-in-law Mia said, “Okay.”

 “It’s not like I’m injured or anything,” he grumbled to himself.  But, up the short flight of stairs he limped.

The only seats available were in the first two rows of assorted plastic patio chairs assembled on the port side of the vessel.  Scott and his family took the front row, leaving the elder Mastersons to join a lone female passenger in the second row. 

“’Evenin’!” the woman said cheerily.

“Hi,” Ellen responded shyly, while Joe just grunted.

No sooner had his grandkids’ butts hit their seats than they were up running amuck.  Joe grunted his disapproval but said nothing.  Mia had made it very clear that Joe was not to in any way try to discipline her children.  He also disapproved of all the other undisciplined children running around like they were on a playground instead of what he had been promised would be a calm and relaxing cruise.  He especially disapproved of the teenager, whose head was apparently permanently tilted to the side to keep his overgrown mop of hair from falling into his eyes.  The kid had on what Joe was sure was a pair of boxers —  white, for crying out loud — along with an equally white wifebeater.  His hair and posture were bad enough, but his mother let him come out in public in his underwear? 

But Joe’s attention was immediately drawn away from Underwear Boy when Simon marched onto the upper deck.  Joe knew his name was Simon because his mother started yelling “Simon!” almost from the moment they stepped aboard the boat. 

Simon was about four and appeared to be made of pure energy from the thin static-charged flyaway hair on his head to the perpetual motion feet in his worn-out sneakers.  Joe could see Simon’s little blue eyes darting around looking for trouble to get into.  He longed to tell the mother, “Get your child under control, madam,” but didn’t see how he could do that when his grandson was currently beating like some crazed heathen on the high tension wires that served at a fence to keep unruly children from falling off the boat.

Scotty interrupted Joe’s silent exasperation when he reached a hand back to tap Joe’s knee and said with a chuckle, “Should we find something more exciting to do – maybe rip out another toenail, Dad?”

Ellen laughed, but Joe didn’t find the maiming of his big toe funny, so he just grunted in reply.

The woman sitting in their row laughed and said, “Now that’s an offer you don’t get just every day!”

Joe started to snap back at her, but Scotty interceded with, “We were on a banana boat yesterday, and Dad somehow got his foot in the tow line – snatched his big toenail off completely!”

“Yikes!” the woman exclaimed, grimacing.

Just then, someone yelled that there were dolphins “on the right” and everyone ran to that side of the boat, except Joe and Ellen.  “Everyone” included the woman in their row who nearly stepped on his injured toe on her way through. 

“They’ll probably all tip the boat over,” Joe remarked to Ellen.

“Shhh,” was all she said in reply.  After a moment she said, “I hope the clouds clear enough for us to see the sunset.”

“I told you all that it’s too overcast to get a decent sunset.  $160 to sit in plastic chairs and watch brats run wild for two hours.”

“Shhh,” she said again.

Scotty came toward them and yelled, “Mom, Dad, come get a picture in front of the red lighthouse!”

Obediently, they both got up to cross to the other side of the boat, Joe grumbling as he did so.  As he crossed the open area between the port and starboard seating sections, Simon whizzed by him with another little boy on his heels.  Joe spun about trying to avoid colliding with either boy and stubbed his nailless toe on the canopy’s supporting pole. 

“Goddamn it,” he snarled through clenched teeth.

Simon’s mother said, “I’m so sorry!  Are you all right?”

“No!” Joe shot back.  He would’ve said more, but instantly Ellen was there telling the woman he would be fine.

He stomped back to his seat, and almost immediately here came that woman with the camera again.  As she narrowly missed his foot getting to her own seat, she said, “There’s starting to be a glow to the west – I think we may get a sunset yet!”

Joe just grunted in reply and pushed his chair further back.  Ellen hurried over and seeing the position of Joe’s chair pushed hers back, too.

Suddenly, someone yelled from the stern, “The sun’s coming out!”

Instantly their row mate was on her feet again, and she along with everyone else rushed off to get pictures. With everyone occupied with sunset pictures, Simon and two other little boys escaped their keepers and were involved in some game that involved them alternately hiding in impossible spaces (such as under folding chairs) and standing on top of the chairs.  Whatever the game was, it involved a lot of running and whooping and hollering.

“Somebody’s gonna get hurt,” Joe grumbled to Ellen.

Looking at the boys’ antics, Ellen didn’t shush him this time.

The boat turned so that the Harbor of Refuge lighthouse was positioned in front of the sunset on the port side of the boat.  Here came the woman back again, hurrying to get the shot.  Joe shook his head disapprovingly as she stepped in front of him  She turned to him and Ellen and said, “Would you like me to take your picture in front of the lighthouse?”  Ellen politely declined, and Joe grunted.

“Where’s Scotty and Mia?” he asked Ellen.

Ellen looked around and then said, “Maybe they went downstairs to the bar.”

“Harumph.  They could’ve asked if we wanted to go!”

“Joe, “ Ellen began in a tone that she rarely took with him.  “You’ve done nothing but gripe since we left the hotel.  I’m about to go to the bar without you, too.”

At just that moment, Simon who had been spinning around the canopy pole, came flying off of it, and with Joe’s chair two feet back from where it had been, crashed into Joe.  What remained of the berry punch in the pouch in his hand spilled into the crotch of Joe’s khaki shorts.

Joe came straight out of his chair, yelling, “Goddammit!  Where is your mother?”

Immediately, Simon began to cry, and his mother came running up.  Joe made a production out of pointing at his stained crotch.  He was expecting her to apologize for his shorts being ruined, and was completely taken aback when she said, “What in the hell is the matter with you?  He’s a child.  I don’t think him running into you warrants you cursing at him or making rude gestures to me!”

Joe sputtered, but before he could explain himself, she scooped Simon up and went to the back of the boat. Joe started to go after her, but Ellen grabbed his arm and told him to let it go.

“What the hell is she talking about?  I didn’t make any rude gestures at her!”

From behind him, Underwear Boy said, “Dude, you basically gave the universal sign for ‘suck it.’” 

“Wh-What?” Joe stammered.

Underwear boy’s friend stepped up and said, “I’ve already gotten five likes on the video!”

“Video?” Ellen murmured.  “Oh, dear God.”

Scotty, back from the bar asked, “What’s going on?”

“Your father’s crotchetiness just landed him in a viral video motioning for Simon’s mom to ‘suck it.’” Ellen replied.

“I didn’t motion at anyone to suck it!  I was showing her the juice stain in my crotch!”

Scotty, confused, asked slowly, “Why would you show anyone your stained crotch?”

“Exactly,” said the mother of the two boys Simon had been playing with earlier as she herded her children away from Joe and his family.

“Excuse me,” said the ship’s first mate.  “I understand there’s been a bit of a dust-up involving your party.  I’m going to have to ask all of you to take your seats until we dock. 

“But, I didn’t…”

“Just sit down, Dad,” Scotty commanded wearily.

Mia arrived from downstairs with the kids in tow.  She took a look at everyone’s faces and said to Scotty, “What did Joe do?”

Scotty replied, “I’m not exactly sure, but it’s something to do with his crotch being stained and him making obscene gestures at some kid’s mom.  And, apparently, it’s now a viral video.”

Joe didn’t even try to explain.  Instead, he just said, “When we get off this damn boat, I’m never stepping on another one.”

Ellen replied quietly, “We’re booked on the ferry to Cape May tomorrow.”

Backstory to Relative Secrets, Miracles/Tragedies, Our Boy Elon, Book Review: 2697 Pages, Short Story: Nutty Time Capsule

Backstory to “Relative Secrets”

I’m proud and happy to report my short story “Relative Secrets” has been published at online magazine Close to the Bone!  You can read it at


While you’re there, check out the many other imaginative and gritty stories!

The spark of inspiration for this story was ignited more than 20 years ago when I was on a flight from Chicago to Denver.  The guy I sat next to kept up a constant line of chatter, even though all I wanted to do was sleep.  The only thing I remember from all that chatter was that he owned an abandoned gold mine up somewhere not too far from Denver, and he tried hard to get me to visit his goldmine.

I thought he was a weirdo.  Nice enough, but definitely strange. 

I don’t remember how I shot him down or how he reacted.  I didn’t feel threatened, until sometime later when I told a friend about the experience, just kinda laughing about it, and she immediately asked, “Do you think he’s a serial killer?”  I hadn’t yet developed my true-crime-TV obsession, so I told her, “Nah, he was just your garden variety weirdo.”

It was years, and after many, many episodes of Dateline, Snapped, True Crime and all the rest, that I decided that I probably avoided a bad outcome because I don’t like caves (including mines), never have, and because I thought it was just weird for someone to invite me to a mine.  Since deciding that the guy probably intended something awful, I’ve thought periodically about whether he ever successfully lured someone to the mine. 

Often, in the backstories of serial killers, they have less than optimal childhoods.  Although, I understand that that can shape a person, it annoys the hell out of me when it’s used as a defense for torturing serial murderers.  Lots of people have bad childhoods, lots of people are bullied.  Most don’t go on to commit such vile acts. 

I wanted to show that dichotomy of choices and to show it in a way where it was a whining killer who’s consistently complaining about his past mistreatments, while the hero also has a disturbing backstory that she doesn’t offer as an excuse for anything.  The only hint of Suzanne’s backstory is her reaction to the killer’s assumption about her “whte bread” life.  Then at the end…

My friend Christine said she thinks I should do a series on Special Agent Suzanne Jetzer.  I hadn’t thought about it before she suggested it.  I can definitely see the potential.  But…I have a couple other projects ahead of that so I can’t go all in just yet!

Miracles and Tragedies

I recently had reason to ponder miracles.  To be just a bit more specific, I had reason to ponder, “Why this miracle and not that miracle?”  Even more specifically, I was asked, “Why would God grant that person continued life contrary to the indications of every test performed, and not save the kids at Uvalde?”

Of course, I had no logical, comforting, or remotely satisfying answer to give. 

In contemplation of miracles, it may help to define what a miracle is.  I found three definitions:

  • a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and, therefore, is considered to be the work of a divine agency
  • A highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences
  • an amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something

The third definition refers primarily to technology, which is constantly expanding our knowledge of scientific laws.  So, such amazing products are not, therefore truly miracles, because they are explained by our expanding knowledge.  That would seem to indicate, that an event is a miracle simply because it Is surprising and welcome, and we don’t yet know how or why it happened. 

Will we ever know why one family gets a miracle while others get profound grief? 

Well, perhaps we’ll someday be able to explain the miracle. For instance, in the case of a patient who’s given no chance of living through their injuries yet does, we may later have more advanced knowledge regarding how the human body heals itself than what we currently understand (i.e., we may later be able to explain the miracle through natural law). 

Of course, that in no way explains the question of “if there is a God, why did He let those children die In terror?”

Anyone who tells you they have the be all end all answer to that question is either a liar or seriously delusional.  There are lots of pat answers given when a grieving loved one cries out “Why?”  They range from “it’s proof there is no God” to “it was their destiny” to “Jesus called them home” to “do not question the will of God” to “the universe is just a series of random events.”  Often these responses (except for “there is no God”) are murmured just to end the uncomfortable conversation.  It’s hard when faced with someone’s grief to tell them, “I don’t know.”

The simple fact is that we cannot conclusively answer questions like “Why did God let X happen?”  We won’t know the answer in this life.  I’m sorry, the only truthful answer to the question is “I don’t know.” We can offer no divine answers because we cannot presume to know the will of God, but we can provide support to the family members and take action to prevent the event from happening again. 

So,, sometimes we don’t know why bad things happen to good people or why some families are granted miracles.

I think the answer for both is to stop questioning the divine why of it, and, instead, be grateful.  For the miracle, instead of questioning how, just be grateful. After the immense grief of a tragedy fades to a constant dull ache, send up a little prayer or thought of gratitude for the loved one you had for however short a time.  Perhaps too pat an answer, but it’s all I have to offer after “I don’t know.”

Our Boy Elon

Twitter’s lawsuit against Elon for breach of contract goes to trial October 17.  I’m not an attorney, but I think our boy has screwed himself, unless Twitter gets to feeling generous and cuts or deal, or  unless he truly finds some sort of violation on Twitter’s part. 

Why do I think he’s screwed?  Because the deal he agreed to pretty much tied up the judge’s (Kathleen McCormick’s) recourse if she does not find that Twitter somehow committed fraud:  She will rule, not that Elon has to pay the $1B termination fee, but that he has to follow-through on buying Twitter for $44B. Twitter’s lawsuit, plus the countersuit Elon filed on 7/29, will eat up millions, and it’s questionable as to whether the loans Elon had lined up originally to finance the merger will hold after all this brouhaha.  So, $44B could be pretty catastrophic for him. 

Our boy’s a genius, so maybe he has something else up his sleeve…

In other news:

For those of you in the Delaware beaches area, there’s a sweet little used book store just off Rt. 26 (across from Lord Baltimore Elementary School) called Turning Pages Book Lounge.  If you like coffee, it’s tied in with Drifting Grounds coffee shop, and apparently welcomes your pooches.  Well, at least there was one puppy there when I stopped in…

Book Review:  2697 Pages by Heidi Dischler

The protagonist of this story is Penny, a teenager just finishing her junior year of high school. Penny lives with her father who calls her “Lincoln” and who has been very successful in real estate in their coastal Connecticut town. 

Although she can’t remember her mother, she’s never gotten over being abandoned by her. She’s fixated on that abandonment and convinced that everything in her life would be better if she could just reconnect with her mom.  Her obsession with that belief is not helped by her father’s refusal to talk about her mother or even share pictures of her.

This is where the title of the book comes in.  Penny has kept a scrapbook (actually, scrapbooks)  of almost every day of her life since she was a young child.  That way she can look back and see the connections, complete with pictures, to the people in her life.  There are…you guessed it…2697 pages by the end of the book.

Other side effects of her abandonment issues:  Penny can be a little controlling, manipulative and judgmental  And when someone seriously hurts her, she tends not to forgive. Enter Tyler. He and Penny were best friends in childhood, and then as an adolescent, he declared his love and kissed her.  Penny was ecstatic until shortly later when she saw her lifelong nemesis kiss him. To Penny, it was the ultimate betrayal, and she shunned him from that moment forward…that is, until the day he defended her in a school hallway. 

Shortly after that hallway dust-up, she determined that Tyler had the skills to help her find her mother.  So, they spend the summer traveling Connecticut searching for Penny’s mom. In the course of their adventures, they fall in love, and Penny learns many lessons about herself and those around her.

The book is well written, and Ms. Dischler has a very smooth writing style. The situation with Penny’s mother was anticlimactic, and I felt it could have been more completely explored.  I’d say the same for other serious topics brushed over quickly in the book, such as Tyler’s abuse at the hands of his father.  However, were I in the book’s obvious target audience (young adult), I might feel differently.  Even with those subjective detractions, I believe this book highly deserving of a four-star recommendation.

Short Story: Nutty Time Capsule

Gunner hadn’t expected to be alive when the town’s time capsule was opened.  He hadn’t really thought about that day at all.  When the time capsule was sealed, he had no vision of the future – not even his own future.  His whole existence was devoted to keeping his spot on the football team and the social perks it gave him in Smalltown USA, AKA Henderson, Oklahoma.  

In early 1985, the Henderson Town Council had commissioned the time capsule to be sealed in the new City/County building’s cornerstone that autumn.  Everyone had said the capsule wouldn’t be opened for at least one hundred years. 

The town council hadn’t banked on climate change or the resulting super tornado that ripped through Henderson on May 28, 2022. 

If Gunner hadn’t banked on being alive when the time capsule was opened, he certainly hadn’t banked on his father being alive when it happened, and would never have dreamed in 1985 that he’d have so much to lose.  See, Gunner had married a woman who stoked the ambition that had lain dormant in him throughout his high school and college years. Through her support (well, if support were a scripted march through life with a drill sergeant by your side) and the guidance of his father (if guidance was “Well, that’s not the way that I or anyone else with sense would do it, but you always gotta do things backward,” counts as guidance), Gunner was now a state senator and had just announced his bid for U.S. Congress. 

Now, it may sound like Gunner has led a rough life with his wife driving him and his father belittling him.  But, the truth was without those two forces pushing him, Gunner would most likely have spent his life still riding shotgun in Danny Pearson’s suped up Chevelle, getting caught up in whatever fool thing Danny brewed up. 

No, Gunner Erikkson’s life was good, and this time capsule business was likely to ruin it all.

Back in ’85, Gunner’s father, Gunther, had been on the town council, so he was responsible for collecting items from his constituents for the time capsule.  Gunther had accumulated hundreds of donated artifacts and had laid them out in his home office to best consider which should make the cut for inclusion.  He took his responsibility seriously and wanted to make sure that what he selected admirably represented his community. 

Gunner and his football buddies had been goofing off at Gunner’s house after school one September afternoon when they had come across all the competing artifacts in Gunther’s office.  The proffered items ranged from CDs of music popular in Henderson, such as the most recent album by Reba McEntire (who was born and raised in Oklahoma), to maps of the city and county, to pictures of what seemed to be every person and half the chickens living in the county, to hand-written notes about citizens’ day-to-day lives.  Some farseeing soul had even contributed a soil core sample in case by the time the capsule was opened, the soil composition was changed.  Unfortunately, Gunther had not seen fit to “include dirt” in his capsule package. 

Gunner and his buddies had laughed at the things their fellow citizens had thought important enough to put in a time capsule. In the disdain that teenagers have for anything history-related — well, for anything not youth-related — the idea of a time capsule from 1985 struck them as ridiculous.  It hadn’t taken long that fateful day for them to decide, that to show their complete contempt for the project, they would contribute something completely irreverent. 

“I know,” Robbie had cried.  “We can photocopy pictures of our asses at the library.  I know Linda will give us a little private time with the photocopier.”

“That’s so ‘been there, done that’,” Dale countered. 

They bantered about other ideas all centered around their asses, when suddenly, Danny said, “How about we take a Polaroid of all of us with a nut hanging out our fly?  My cousin did that at the family reunion last year, and no one noticed it until my Aunt Marion sent out copies of the pictures.  All the old people had a cow over it!”

In their group, whatever Danny said went, and that went double with Gunner.  Danny was everything Gunner aspired to be: naturally athletic, funny, popular with the girls.  So, no sooner were the words outta Danny’s mouth than Gunner had “borrowed” his mother’s Polaroid camera.  But, then they ran into a snag:  they all wanted to be in the photo, but someone had to take the photo.  Gunner quickly shot down the idea of his younger brother Anders taking the picture – he’d rat them out for sure.  So, they called their friend Aaron and asked if he’d come over and act as photographer.  Immediately, he wanted in the picture, too, and the same thing happened with Jack and Keith.  Finally, when they called Allen, he said he’d take the picture.

So, it was that seven boys lined up in two rows – three kneeling and four standing – each with one of their testicles protruding from the flies of their jeans. 

When they looked at the result, Jack grabbed the picture, tore it up, and said, “I’m out.  I look like a pervert on my knees with Keith above me with his nut pokin’ out.”

After a bit of discussion, the boys all agreed that the kneeling part was a bit too much even if nobody would see it for a hundred years.  Finally, they settled upon striking various poses around Gunther’s pool table, each of them with one of Gunther’s cigars in their mouths – figuring that made them all seem macho.

They whooped and hollered and high-fived each other when the picture developed.  As Danny put it, this was the ultimate prank on the whole town. Still, they shied away from putting their names on the back, and instead, they opted to put their football jersey numbers.  Even Allen put his jersey number next to “Taken by” on the back of the Polaroid.

Then it was up to Gunner to somehow sneak it into his dad’s time capsule pouch.  In the end, it wasn’t as hard as he’d thought it might be.  His dad’s system of selection was to take each item as he decided it should be included and put it in the pouch. His plan was that when he ran out of room, he’d be done.  One afternoon, Gunner inserted the Polaroid in the middle of pictures that were already in the pouch, and the deed was done.

Now, five weeks after the City/County Building had been leveled, the time capsule was set to be opened in a ceremony everyone hoped would bring a moment of celebration to a town that had seen terrible destruction in the supercell tornado that had flattened fully one-half its buildings.  Luckily, there was only one confirmed death, and that was of Mayor Gerald Haney’s prize-winning stud bulldog, Maurice.  Maurice had panicked during the storm and had run headlong into it.  His body was later found on top of the Methodist church, which otherwise was seemingly untouched by the storm.  In part as a celebration of the church’s good fortune, the congregation allowed the mayor to hold a visitation for Maurice in the church hall.  It was followed by a potluck luncheon put on by the ladies of the church.  The mayor lamented that Maurice would’ve dearly loved to have had a bit of Miz Turner’s famous Yankee pot roast one last time.

As Gunther was the only member of the 1985 town council still alive and in Henderson, he was charged with the honor of opening the time capsule and presenting each of the artifacts within it.  Consequently, immediately upon hearing the time capsule was going to be opened, Aaron (current town council member) and Keith (deacon in the Baptist church) both called Gunner and told him he needed to get that photo pronto.  Danny, who ran a used car lot on the edge of town, called him, too.  Danny’s take was a little different:  “Hot damn, Gunner, did you ever think we’d get to see their faces when they get a load of our picture?”  Gunner didn’t bother trying to explain to Danny the impacts of their thirty-seven-year-old prank.

He set off trying to figure out how to get the photo.  It turned out, however, that sneaking the picture in, was much easier than trying to snatch something from the sealed time capsule. The mayor had the time capsule locked up “at a secret location,” which everyone assumed to be his greenhouse. In an age of technology when Mayor Haney guarded his prize-winning begonias with state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, Gunther didn’t have a chance of breaking into the capsule without getting caught.

His only choice was to confess to his dad what he’d done and ask him to pull the picture without announcement.  This was the reason why he’d invited his eighty-two-year-old dad to dinner this evening and asked his wife, Becky. to fix Gunther’s favorite meal:  Southern fried chicken with mashed potatoes and angel biscuits.  He lied to Becky about the purpose of the dinner – said his dad seemed a little down, and he thought a little father-son time might fix him right up.  He wasn’t sure Becky believed him, but he’d face that particular pickle later. After dinner, Gunner and Gunther retired to Gunner’s office to sip bourbon and smoke cigars.

As they sat in the comfortable leather chairs, puffing cigars, Gunner was still trying to drum up the courage to tell his father about the photo, when Gunther demanded, “Out with it.”

Stunned, Gunner shot back, “What do you mean?”

Gunther put his cigar out in the ashtray on the chairside table. “The only way Becky lets us smoke in the house is if you’re about to ask me for something big.  How much and for what?”

Momentarily annoyed, Gunned snapped, “I don’t need your money, Dad.”

“Well, if it’s not money, what is it?”

Gunner put out his cigar, took a deep breath, and said, “Back in 1985, I snuck something into the time capsule.  It will be very bad if anyone sees it.  Bad enough to ruin me, and several other men.”

“Mmm-hmm,” Gunther responded.  “What is it, and how did it get in the capsule?”

“Well,” Gunner said, trying to buy time. “I snuck it inside the package you were putting together.”

Gunther sipped his bourbon, then swirled what remained in his glass.  Finally, he said, “So, you rifled through the artifacts in my office — disrespecting both me and my position as a city council member — and stuck something disreputable into my pouch?”

“Yes,” Gunner answered without looking at his father.  “I was seventeen.”

“Mmm-hmm,” Gunther said again.  “Seventeen and doing some fool thing Danny Pearson got you into.  What is it?”

Gunner gulped what was left of his bourbon before he answered.  Pulling at his neckline he said, “It’s a Polaroid of some guys from the football team.”

“Boy, are you gonna make me pull this from you like teeth?”

Gunner rolled his eyes, but was smart enough to close them before he did so, and sighed audibly.  “Dad, it doesn’t matter.  Can you pull the pic or not?”

Gunther crossed his legs and replied, “That’s a pretty belligerent tone for someone asking for a favor.  It’s no skin off my butt if you get embarrassed when your little joke sees the light of day.”

“Okay.  It’s a pic of a bunch of us posing around your pool table with what the kids these days call ‘sneaky nuts.’”

Gunther’s face was expressionless when he said, “’Sneaky nuts?’”

Exasperated, Gunner blurted, “One of our testicles sticking outside our pants.”

Both men were silent for a moment, and then Gunther got up and went over to the credenza to pour himself more bourbon.  With his back to Gunner, he said in a choked voice.  “You and your football buddies went down in the basement, exposed your genitals to each other, and thought it a good idea to commemorate the event with a photo.  A photo that you thought exemplified everything Henderson was in 1985.  You boys never did have the sense God gave a goose.” 

“No, it wasn’t like that!” Gunner cried.  “It wasn’t supposed to be opened for a hundred years, and we just thought…we weren’t exposing our genitals to each other…geez, dad, it was just a stupid joke!”

“Just a joke. After disrespecting yourself, you then disrespected me by putting it in my pouch for the time capsule. Not something I or anybody with any sense would do, but sometimes you just can’t get out of your own way.”

“Dad,” Gunner said wearily. “Will you help me, or not?” 

Gunther turned and leaned against the credenza, his newly-filled glass in hand.

“Let’s see, my choices in this scenario are either I abuse my position of honor to abscond with a time capsule artifact that legitimately and historically belongs to the town, or I stand in front of the town, display a picture of my son and his friends’ ‘coming out party’ so to speak—”

“For the love of God, Dad! We were not coming out—”

“Well, your genitals certainly were!”

“It wasn’t our genitals. It was just…one nut..”

“Last I checked, testicles were included in genitals, and as such, you don’t put them on public display!”

“Dad,” Gunner growled. “Just tell me what you’re gonna do.”

Gunther swirled his drink for a moment and then said in a much calmer voice, “By rights, the only honorable thing for me to do is display the photo, not mention the tiny unmentionables on display in the photo, and read off the jersey numbers on the back. Unfortunately for you, as your first statehouse campaign prominantly featured your jersey number from the 1985 State Championship, everybody’s gonna know which tiny unmentionable is yours.”

Gunner said in a resolute tone, “I’ll be damned if I can understand how that’s the honorable thing, but you always do whatever you’re going to do.  If you’ll excuse me, right now I need to tell Becky how I’ve ruined our lives.”  He got up and walked toward the door, then abruptly turned back to his father.

“No,” he said.  “I am not going to tell her I’ve ruined our lives, because I haven’t.  It was an innocent prank pulled by a bunch of adolescent boys thirty-seven years ago.”

He smiled broadly and continued.  “And, you know what, Dad?  It was funny then, and it’s funny now.  When you read off my jersey number, I’m…when you read…wait just a minute.  How do you know about the jersey numbers on the back?”

Now it was Gunther’s turn to smile.  “Oh, I found your little ‘prank’ thirty-seven years ago.  I went back through everything in the pouch before I turned it in.  At first, I was just pissed that all you little peckerwoods had my cigars in your mouths. Then I saw Danny Pearson’s foot up on the chair, finger pointing at his crotch – not too subtle that one.”

“So, this whole time you’ve been busting my chops for what? Fun?”

“Pretty much,” Gunther admitted with a grin and a shrug.

Holy crap,” Gunner said.

“Holy crap is right.  Seven dern fools exposing themselves in a photo.  I was ready to take you to the woodshed, as my daddy would say, but your dear mother stopped me.  God love her, she thought it was hilarious.  ‘Gunther,’ she said. ‘Look at their serious faces, and then look…it’s hysterical!’ God love her, she had me laughing about it, too.”

Wistfully, Gunner said, “I miss her so much.”

“Me, too, boy, me, too.”

After being silent a second, Gunner asked, “So, you threw it away?  Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

Gunther smiled a sad little smile.  “Your mother.  She said she imagined that you boys were all so excited thinking you’d pulled such a trick on the future townfolk.  She said we should let you think the photo was in the time capsule.  Oh, she got such a kick watching you boys at the sealing ceremony.  She took Polaroids of the bunch of you.”

Gunner frowned,  “I don’t remember any pictures of us from the sealing ceremony.”

Gunther laughed.  “Of course, you don’t, because we put those away with your – what did you call it before – ‘sneaky nut’ photo.”

“You still have it?” Gunner asked incredulously.  “Why?”

“Your mother,” Gunther said, again.  “She thought we should leave it and the other photos to you upon our passing.  Because it was so damn funny to her, but also as one last reminder of our parental protection – saving your grandkids potential embarrassment.  Not everyone would find that photo funny coming out of the time capsule!” He laughed and then continued, “I’m glad the time capsule unsealing is happening while I’m alive to see it — don’t get me wrong, I’m sorry half the town was destroyed – but it’s given me the opportunity to see, again, what kind of man you are.”

“One that puts his ‘tiny unmentionables on display’?”

Gunther chuckled, “Well, I was thinking more about how you completely took responsibility for your actions earlier this evening and faced me like a man.  I’m proud of you.  Of course, I’m assuming you haven’t made a habit out of sneaking your nuts into pictures.”

Gunner, looking sheepish, replied, “Well, there was one wedding shortly after college…”

“For the love of God, son.  I take it all back.  You don’t have the sense God gave a goose.”

Published Flash Fiction, Gun Control Legislation, Elon, Book Review-Arnetta and the Mirror of Destiny, New Short Story – Something in the Air

Flash Fiction Published in FromOneLine Vol 3 Anthology

@FromOneLine publishes poetry and flash fiction prompted by suggested first lines.  I selected the line “Well, it’s done now,” and I’m very happy to report that my piece was accepted for inclusion in FromOneLine Vol. 3, available on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/FromOneLine-3-Meghan-Dargue/dp/1914949110/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2BTBWYNV2602M&keywords=fromoneline&qid=1657495600&sprefix=fromoneline%2Caps%2C80&sr=8-1.

First Significant Gun Control Legislation in 30 Years Passed

On June 25, President Joe Biden signed into law the first significant gun control legislation in 30 years.  Remarkably, the underlying bill was a bipartisan effort.    Major components of the legislation include:

  • More scrutiny on buyers younger than 21.
  • $15B in federal funding for mental health programs and school security upgrades.
  • $750M in federal funding available to states that enact “red flag” laws to remove firearms from people a court with jurisdiction deems a threat.  The money is intended to help enforce those laws and fund crisis intervention programs.
  • A ban against ALL those convicted of domestic abuse from owning a gun.  (Previous laws applied this restriction only to married abusers.  This provision closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole.”)
  • Requirements for more gun sellers to register as Federally Licensed Firearm Dealers
  • Creation of new statutes against gun trafficking.  The intention is to go after people who buy guns for people who can’t legally buy them.

It doesn’t have the ban against assault rifles I was hoping for, but it did hit several of the wishlist items in my June 11 blog.  It’s a good start, but it’s just a start.  There’s a lot of work to be done.

Here’s hoping that for the Fourth of July 2023 the bangs won’t be as much from guns as they were on the Fourth in 2022.

Elon, Elon, Elon

Well, it’s been coming for a while, and today (07/11/2022) Elon stopped beating around the bush and withdrew his offer to buy Twitter for $44B+.

It is highly unlikely that he will walk away from this financial shitshow without forking over at least $1B.  I say “at least” because it is possible that the court will order Elon to go forward with the purchase at the offered price. 

Elon’s been hinting at withdrawal since Twitter’s price took a nosedive along with a lot of other stocks. He’s said his hesitancy was due to Twitter not being able to substantiate its claimed 5% fake account rate. I, personally, think he’s right that the 5% claim is a gross understatement.  However, Twitter has put enough wishy-washy language around that estimate that I don’t think Elon will prevail on that point.  In addition, in articles I’ve read, experts on such acquisitions say that in this particular contract there will be language significantly limiting the circumstances under which either party can back out.

Twitter has vowed they’ll sue to enforce the sale as offered and accepted.  Prior to today, they might have caved and just gone for the $!B termination fee to save the legal costs of a lawsuit.  But, after Elon’s withdrawal announcement, Twitter’s stock price dropped another 30%.  In my opinion, that loss may spur them on to try to get that $54/share price that Elon offered three months ago. 

Of course, it’s also possible that either or both sides may be inspired to renegotiate the deal.  If I were Twitter, I wouldn’t go that route because Elon hasn’t proven to be an aboveboard suitor. 

Stay tuned.

Book Review: Arnetta and the Mirror of Destiny by Jeannie Chambers

Meet Arnetta, a sixteen-year-old orphan in 1985 who has lived with her maternal grandparents for the last eight years after her parents, her brother and her paternal grandparents (the ‘fun ones’) were all killed in a fluke car accident.  Named for her father’s love of Gunsmoke’s Marshall Dillon and her mother’s love of Etta James, Arnetta feels like she doesn’t belong and finds her grandparents unloving, stuck in hopeless routine, and overly-restrictive. 

In the books opening, she’s flashing back to the notification of her family’s accident as she looks desperately for shelter from a violent storm.  She finally finds that shelter in What’s New, a secondhand shop.  She meets the shop’s owner, Little Mann.  (A little person, his name was a bit of cruelty inflicted on him by his mother.)  While in the shop, she picks up an antique mirror and within it witnesses a car accident in front of the store.  The driver, a girl about Arnetta’s age,  looks directly at her in the mirror as it happens.  Only, there was no accident – at least not that day. 

Several days later, she comes along the street and sees the accident actually happen, just as it had in the mirror, only her perspective of it is different.  She sees the medics take the driver to the hospital, and becomes obsessed with talking with her.  When she finally does, the driver, Brinda, reveals that when she had her wreck she saw Arnetta in the shop – as she had been when holding the mirror, but not when she witnessed the actual accident.

Finally, Little Man tells both girls that the mirror allows gifted people to see glimpses of the future.  Then the three of them take turns looking into the mirror.  Arnetta sees herself going to the school dance in a beautiful dress with her crush, Brinda sees her mother happy and successful, Little Man sees the Challenger explosion and becomes so upset he has a heart attack.  The girls end up on a road trip to try to stop the Challenger disaster and along the way Arnetta, perhaps, learns some things about life in general and her life in particular.

I say “perhaps” learns because it’s not abundantly clear that she has learned anything.  See, Arnetta comes across as self-absorbed, and repeatedly in the story she uses her friends and lies to get what she wants.  I had hoped after her trip she would realize how good she really has it and vow to be a better granddaughter and friend, but all she gives is a weak “she was home.”  She really doesn’t come off as a very good person.

There were other things I hoped for in this book but didn’t get, such as a revelation of exactly what gift the three mirror gazers have in common and an explanation of the mirror’s powers and history.   Perhaps more will be revealed in future books ‘Mirror’ books?

Jeannie Chambers’ writing style is free-flowing and has a good cadence.  The story’s premise is good, and the image of President Ronald Reagan granting a single-use favor made me smile.  Overall, it’s a good story – it could just be more.

Short Story: Something in the Air

My cover story is that I’m here to assess station KZZA in a competition to rank local television stations servicing mid-size markets across the country.  The station manager, Bob, looking for the edge that will propel his career to the broadcasting big leagues, questioned nothing about my story and pretty much gave me free roaming privs.  Oh, I have a handler assigned to me, but he’s easily intimidated, and I can be…shall we say…compellingly intimidating.

It’s an overused cinematic quote, but I am a man with a particular set of skills.  I’ve honed those skills performing various…investigative…services for a selective clientele.  If I give you additional detail, I will, as they say, have to kill you.

Okay, that’s bullshit.  But, I’ve always wanted to say it.  In actuality, I’m a successful and very much in-demand private investigator.  I’m exceedingly good at what I do.  But, I’m not here on a gig; I’m here for family.  Three weeks ago, my cousin Brian – we grew up as brothers sharing a bedroom through most of our childhood – called and told me his youngest sister, Amelia, had gone missing, and the cops seemed to be doing nothing.  Amelia is a meteorologist at, you guessed it, KZZA, and she’s like my kid sister.

In my line of work, I end up knowing a lot of things I’d rather not know.  If something bad had happened to Amelia, I’d rather not know the details.  But if something bad hadn’t yet happened to her, I’d never be able to live with having not tried to save her.   I was on the next plane.

Since then, I’ve ruled out her disappearance having anything to do with her private life.  Brian said that when he’d tried to talk with Amelia’s boss, programming director Carroll Cecil Lombard (yes, his parents thought it funny to name him Carroll Lombard – he goes by C.C.) about Amelia’s last day at work, he was “twitchy and evasive.”  I’d decided then not to approach the station directly. 

Today, I let Bob set me up with an intern who gave me a presentation on the History of KZZA.  The alternate title of the presentation could easily be How Bob Mendelsohn Made Everything Better.  I wonder if the pretty little thing presenting was as annoyed giving it as I was sitting through it.  Still, it did give me an opening. 

When she trogged through the improvements Bob made to the meteorology department, I interrupted to ask, “Who’s your head meteorologist?”

“Sloan Missick is the acting head.”

“Acting?  Did the former head meteorologist leave for a different station?”  I furrowed my brow to convey that this was a serious consideration for ranking purposes.

“Oh, no,” she said quickly, then gulped and continued, “I mean I…I don’t know.”

“Is the former head still with the station then?”

She replied, “No…well, maybe…I don’t know if she’s actually been terminated.” 

I opened my mouth to ask what that meant, when she blurted, “I’m not supposed to talk about it.”

I looked over at my handler, Kent, who sat up straighter in his chair and ran his hand through his almost black mop of hair.  “Amelia McKenzie was the head meteorologist until about a month ago. Then one day she didn’t show up for work.”  He shrugged, but his eyes looked sad – sad and something else.  I couldn’t tell if the something else was fear or quickly masked anger. Did my handler know something, or did he do something?

Slowly, I said, “Are you telling me she just walked off the job? ‘Cause I gotta say if conditions here cause—”

“No,” he interjected.  Then, “I mean she appears to have walked away from her whole life.”

“She’s missing?” I asked incredulously. “As I think you know, our group has been reviewing KZZA’s broadcasts for quite some time.  No one has said anything to me about a story about a missing team member, particularly the head meteorologist.”

The intern nervously looked at Kent.  Kent squirmed and finally said, “The cops asked us not to make a big deal about it.”

“Not the police,” the intern offered.  “The feds.”

“The FBI’s involved, and the station hasn’t run the story?”

The intern, looking  again at Kent for help, said slowly, “I’m not sure it was the FBI.”

I sat back and said, “I gotta say guys, you’re both acting squirrelly about this—what’s her name, again?”

“Amelia McKenzie,” they said in unison.

“Yeah, Amelia McKenzie.  You’re acting squirrelly, and it gives me pause.  But for now, let’s just go ahead with the presentation.”

The intern finished her presentation, with me peppering her with questions intermittently, so it wouldn’t appear that I was unduly concentrated on Amelia. After the presentation, I asked Kent to join me for lunch.  I could tell he didn’t want to have lunch with me, but he agreed to go, anyway.  We went to a local diner, and we both had the club sandwich special – me with chips, him with fries.

I asked him a few questions about the activities planned for that afternoon – interviews with a few department heads and a behind-the-scenes audience to the 5:00 p.m. news.  Then, I took my shot.

I swallowed a bite of sandwich, and while Kent’s mouth was full I said, “So, I could be wrong, but it seemed to me that you looked very sad when we were talking about Amelia McKenzie’s disappearance.  Did you know her well?”

Kent stopped midchew to stare at me.  He’d been pent up since we sat down, so I think he’d been expecting me to come around to questions about Amelia, but he’d perhaps gotten a little relaxed as I’d talked about everything else throughout most of lunch.  Now, he chewed fast and swallowed visibly.    Then he took a drink of water – I think he was buying time to figure out what to say.  For my part, I just continued to look him in the eye unwaveringly.

After wiping his mouth, Kent finally said, “Yeah, we’re friends.”

“Friends friends, or the benefits kind?” I asked.

“Friends,” he repeated displaying just a hint of annoyance.

“What do you think happened to her?”

“I don’t know,” he replied with even more displayed annoyance.

I held his eyes.  “I know you don’t know.  I’m asking what you suspect happened.”

He was silent for just a moment.  Then he said evenly, “I think somebody grabbed her.”

“Grabbed her?”

“Kidnapped her.”

“Hmm,” I said.  “For what purpose?”

He sat back, dropping his napkin on the table.  “I wish I knew,” he said.

“Did the feds truly tell CC to keep things bottled up?”

He nodded.


“Maybe you should ask him.”

I leaned forward and lowered my head so that I had to look up from under my brows at him.  Then I put my fists on the table.  Overkill, perhaps, at this point, but I was barely keeping control of myself.  I knew this skinny guy knew something.

The words came tumbling out of his mouth. “It has to be her focus on the fine particulate matter hanging over the desert Southwest.”

I thought he might say a lot of things, but that was nowhere in my inventory of possibilities. I didn’t realize I was sitting with my mouth open until he said, “I KNOW,  It sounds like a crazy thing for the feds to want to bottle up, but if it’s not that, why did they confiscate all the tapes of her last broadcasts, her computer and one of our servers?”

“They took everything?” I asked.

He hesitated, and then said, “Yes.”

In a split second, I decided to take a chance on Kent.  “Kent,” I said.  “I/m not really here to rank KZZA in any competition.  I’m investigating Amelia’s disappearance.”

He just looked at me, so I continued. “I’m a private investigator brought in by the family who is frantic to find her.”

Immediately, Kent said, “I have copies of some of her broadcasts, and I have prints of some of the analysis she’d performed.”

Turns out Kent was concerned enough for Amelia that he was willing to trust the first person who came forward to try and find her.  Luckily, I was that person.  We quickly made plans for me to go to his house to look at the files he had and for him to help me understand what Amelia had been on to.  I impressed upon Kent that, at the station, we must both act like my assessment was still ongoing. 

When I went to Kent’s house that evening, I learned that he had more than just Amelia’s files and broadcasts; he had security cam footage of the federal agents who visited the station.  Some of that footage was from prior to Amelia’s disappearance.  We isolated photos of each man, and I sent the photos to my tech guy Arnie to run them against photos from the fed employee databases.

Then I turned my attention to what Amelia had been working on.  She had been tracking smoke from a wildfire in Colorado – tracking it through meteorological computer programs that measure fine particles in the air. She’d noticed that the smoke seemed to have split in two directions – northeast and south to New Mexico.  This was highly unusual, and she was excited to find whatever phenomena caused it.  Part of her analysis was to contact fellow meteorologists in New Mexico and in Nebraska.  Nebraska reported the skies were hazy, and air quality was poor.  But, New Mexico reported perfect visibility and normal air quality.

So, Amelia doubled down on analyzing the data, and found a pattern in the particulate matter over New Mexico. She hadn’t yet worked out all that the pattern indicated, but she knew that a pattern meant that the particles were not naturally occurring.  She contacted the National Weather Service, and the next day, the mysterious feds visited KZZA. The following morning, Amelia was gone.

I didn’t know whether to hope they truly had been feds or that they hadn’t. If it were feds and they wanted her to help them with something, she’d probably turn up.  If they were feds and they wanted to shut her up, she might not ever be seen again.   I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but my mind was spinning every evil government plot I’d ever seen at the movies. 

Arnie didn’t get back to me on the facial rec until the next afternoon.  Pentagon.  He couldn’t find exactly what division, which he said was very strange. I didn’t have time to worry about that.   I instructed him to get me a phone number for the highest-ranking agent, and then I canceled my next station interview and went out to buy a burner phone.  Or, more specifically I went out to pay some kid to buy me a burner phone.

After I got back to my hotel room with the burner phone, I sent all of Amelia’s files to Arnie to secure them, meaning multiple back-ups in multiple locations.  Then he and I discussed how he should start laying eggs throughout conspiracy sites and social media.  Just enough to hint that the feds were involved in Amelia’s disappearance.  Depending on how my phone call went, we’d start dropping specific names and info about the pattern Amelia had found in particulate matter over New Mexico.

At almost midnight, I heard my phone ping.  Arnie.  The highest-ranking of the feds we’d been able to identify was Terrence Hachey, and I had his desk phone and personal cell phone number.  Now, how much shit to stir?  Apparently, I was in a shit-stirring mood because my fingers were punching the number into the burner phone a little 14-year-old extortionist had charged me $50 to purchase.


“Hello, Terrence,” I replied menacingly.

“Hey, man, what’s up?” Not quite menacingly enough, apparently. Oh, well, let’s just go along for a minute.

“Not much.  You?”

“Oh, nothing much OTHER THAN TRYING TO SLEEP!”

Well, either Hachey was alone, or he didn’t give a rat’s ass about anyone else sleeping.

Calmly, and still trying to sound menacing, I replied, “Well then, let me get to the point.  You need to return Amelia McKenzie to her home forthwith, or there will be hell to pay.”

Silence,  So, I repeated, “Forthwith.”  I try to use the word ‘forthwith’ at every opportunity.  

Still, he said nothing.  I figured he was trying to get a trace without alerting me to that fact, so I knew to keep it short.

“Terrence, we’ve already put it out into the ether that feds from the Pentagon snatched her.  If you don’t return her tomorrow, we’ll attach your name to that information, and we’ll also reveal the fact that there’s something going on in the air over the Southwest.  Yeah.  Your secret’s not secret.  I’ll call you again in three hours.”

I didn’t wait three hours.  I was hoping they’d think they’d have three hours and be trying to set up all sorts of confabs, only to have me call Hachey before they were set up. Yeah, sometimes I overthink things.

I dialed him again an hour and 20 minutes later.   I didn’t even let him get his greeting out.  “Have Amelia at the door to her apartment by 8:00 a.m. tomorrow – uhm, I guess it’s today — or, your name and what you’ve been up to goes out on the internet.”

“That’s impossible,” he blurted before I could hang up.

“Why?” I asked quickly, hoping that the simplicity of it would catch him off guard and he’d just tell me.  You’d be surprised how often it works.

“Because I’m not the master of time, space and dimension,” he snarked.

Instantly, I was both shocked and furious.  In a tone that sounded frightening even to myself, I said,  “Are you telling me she’s dead?  If you killed her, the internet is the least of your problems.”

“No, no,” he replied, much less cocky.  “There’s just no way I can have her in Indiana in six hours.”

Okay, so she’s alive.  Maybe I could get him to let me know where she was.

“Okay, Terrence.  Here’s what you can do.  Get over to wherever she is, and have her ready to talk when I call back in 30 minutes.”

“I’ll need more like an hour.”

“You got 45 minutes.  Better get a move-on.”  Then, I hung up.

That tiny voice in my head warned that I might be a little overly self-confident, but my gut told me that Amelia was alive and that Hachey was going to make sure that I spoke to her in 45 minutes.  I wasn’t sure where we’d go from there, but I’d figure that out when I heard her voice.

I gave Hachey five extra minutes before I called back this time.  I figured it wouldn’t make a difference on them setting up the trace, and it might save me from having to call back.  The phone rang twice and then a quiet female voice said, “Hello?”

I couldn’t tell if it was Amelia or not.  In a gruff tone I said, “Put Amelia McKenzie on.”

“This is she.”

Still couldn’t tell.

I demanded, “Tell me something about yourself only your oldest brother would know.”

She countered with, “How about something only my oldest brother and our cousin Virgil would know?   I don’t think I have anything only Brian would know.”

I suppressed a laugh.  My name is Victor Steven Samuelson.  I go by Steven.  Once, Amelia had asked what my first name was, and I refused to tell her.  She, knowing that it started with the letter V, decided the only thing it could be was Virgil.  She called me that for a solid month one summer before I finally broke down and told her.  Still, I couldn’t give myself away by accepting that clue.

“Whatever,” I growled.  “What’s the fact?”

“Well, my brother and my cousin convinced me I could change my eye color with food coloring, and when Mom saw the mess on my face, she made them do theirs, too.”

“Hold on.”

I put them on hold both to act like I was verifying facts and to laugh outloud.  It was Amelia all right.  Once she got over her nerves, her voice sounded right.  For the record, we didn’t have her put food coloring directly in her eyes.  It was colored water.  Her dad read all of us, including my Aunt Clara, the riot act when he got home  “All of our effing kids could’ve been blinded, Clara!”  He does not find the story the least bit funny to this day.

I got back on the phone.  “Checks out,” I said.  “Have you been harmed, Miss McKenzie?  Are you being held against your will?”

“I’m unharmed,” she said.  “The other question is a little complicated.”

“Tell Hachey he’s got eight hours to get you back to your apartment.”

“Well, eight hours might be a little tight.  We have to get to ABQ, then ORD, then IND, and then the  drive…”

In the background I heard Hachey hiss, “I told you not to tell him where we were!”

Responding to him, she said in her sweetest playing dumb voice, “I didn’t – I just told him airports.”

I did laugh out loud at this point.  Then I said, “Tell Hachey not to worry about it – I can reach out and touch him any time I want.”

She declined to relay that message. 

“Okay, “ I said.  “But tell him you have to call your brother from your cell phone in two hours with your full itinerary.”

She passed on that demand.  I couldn’t hear what Hachey said, but he must’ve agreed cause she told me she’d call Brian within two hours.”

Kent and I were sitting outside her apartment building when a black SUV dropped her off.  We waited for it to leave the complex before we went to her door.  She didn’t immediately open the door.  Instead, she yelled, “Who is it?”

Simultaneously, Kent yelled his full name while I said with a wry grin, “Virgil.”

She had the safety latch and the deadbolt engaged;  I guess some lessons were learned.  When she got the door open, she threw her arms around Kent first – I suspect their “friendship” is headed in a bit of a different direction.  Then she bear-hugged me around the middle.  When she finally let me go, we went inside to get the details on where she’d been the past month.

Seems somehow the feds had not detected the anomaly until Amelia started talking about it in her broadcasts.  They had just identified a pattern when she called the National Weather Service with her more detailed information on it.  The feds convinced her to help them study it, and through both manipulation and then downright coercion, further convinced her to leave with them without notice to anyone.  Stupid move on their part.  Had they taken time for a cover story, I wouldn’t have been on their tail.

They were adamant that the anomaly was better studied at a specific location and that the whole thing be kept hush-hush.  “Why?” I asked.  Remember me saying that in my line of work I learn a lot of things I’d rather not know? This turned out to be one of those times.

She summed up the answer to my question and the question of what Pentagon division Hachey worked for in three words: Roswell, New Mexico.  

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.

The Probable End to Nationwide Abortion Rights, Book Review — The Missed Kiss by Nicola Lowe, Short Story — Invasive Hitchhiker

The Probable End to Nationwide Abortion Rights

Let me say upfront, I am not pro-abortion.  I pray that every woman facing an unplanned pregnancy will choose to bear the child. 

I am, however, very much in favor of a woman having the right to choose what to do with her body in the weeks before a fertilized egg becomes a viable baby.  I also believe that a woman has the right to also make a tough decision in later stages of pregnancy when continuing the pregnancy endangers her life. 

I firmly believe that many anti-choice proponents truly are coming from a place of caring in their views.  Most of those caring anti-choice advocates are women.  Unfortunately, most of the political white men pushing to regulate women are not coming from a place of caring.  They come in with the goal of controlling women.   If that weren’t the case, why would these politicians push to create laws that punish women for getting abortions OUTSIDE of their states?  Why else would Marco Rubio go after Tesla and other companies whose insurance programs pay for out-of-state procedures not allowed in their employees’ state of residence? It’s one thing to say, “We will not allow abortions in our state.”  It’s a whole other level of authoritarian overstepping to say, “We will find out about your medical information and where you’ve been, and we will punish you for being pregnant, going to another state, and coming back not pregnant.”

I am particularly appalled by states that do not allow exceptions for babies conceived of rape, particularly rape of underage girls by men abusing positions of trust.  The girl/woman is already unforgivably traumatized by the rape, and then she has to endure nine months bearing the child of a rapist.  Don’t get me wrong – there are some strong women who gladly bear and raise the child.  And that’s a remarkable and commendable choice.  Other women do not have that fortitude, and to force them through a pregnancy resulting from the most traumatic event of their lives is beyond cruel.

I see this invigorated attack on abortion rights to be part of the white male backlash for no longer being the unquestioned dominators of American life.  No longer are people fettered with their rules on what a family is, what love is or who can marry.  No longer can they sexually harass women with guaranteed immunity.  No longer can they attempt to intimidate women, people of different sexual orientations, or people of color with guaranteed immunity.  They’re frustrated and angry over their diminished power over everyone.  What was the seminal event that changed their station in American life?  Well, I’d say probably the civil rights movement; however, they can’t rail against that directly because out and out saying you want a return to the days when you could openly deny the rights of a person based on race or gender doesn’t play well in the court of public opinion.  But baby killing?  Baby killing is BAD, and so abolishing the decision that made undeniable women’s right to make decisions for themselves – regardless of where they live in the U.S.— became the target.  

Yes, yes, I know that Alito’s draft decision states the reason for overturning Roe is that it overstepped states’ rights and so was unconstitutional.  And maybe, just maybe, Alito truly is looking at the topic purely through a jurisprudence lens.  I cannot extend the same open-mindedness to some of the other justices because I question their ethics.  The recent conservative additions went through intense questioning on Roe v. Wade and not one of them said “I believe it is unconstitutional.”  They couldn’t do that and end up appointed to that most lofty of judicial benches. They cared more about being immortalized in history as one of the few Supreme Court Justices than they cared about truth.  Someone needs to go back through their confirmation testimony with a fine-tooth comb to determine if they out and out lied.  If any did, they should be removed from the bench and prosecuted for lying to Congress and by extension, the American people.  If they didn’t out and out lie, well congratulations to them on their careful deceit; let them go down in history as people of low honor and high moral turpitude.  And let us learn from their deceit: the confirmation process needs to be less about political grandstanding and more about forcing absolute answers.

I’ve heard numerous uneducated and backward people say on television, “She made her choice when she had sex.”  There are different judgmental flavors to this refrain.  Sometimes it’s “pre-marital sex.”  Sometimes it’s “promiscuous sex.”  Beyond the obvious question of what choice did she have when raped, these judgments are at their heart misogynistic.  The man chose to have sex, too.  He can’t be made to suffer all the physical changes and symptoms that accompany pregnancy.  But, he can be made to suffer the same financial changes and lifestyle changes. 

Do not give me any crap about child support.  I’ve worked with the child support program for most of my adult life.  For every father truly wronged by the system, there are 500 women and thousands of children wronged by the father. That said, I’m talking beyond child support.   For instance:

  • Fathers should have to pay half of the pre-birth medical costs, and if the mother cannot work due to the pregnancy, for the mother’s living costs.
  • If the mother’s body is irreparably harmed by the pregnancy, the father should have to pay for half of the resulting medical costs, including whatever it takes to put her back to having her pre-pregnancy body.
  • If the mother loses a scholarship or otherwise cannot attend college because of the pregnancy, the father’s life plans should also be put on hold.
  • Fathers whose children receive state assistance should be labeled as “Welfare Dads” and have that stigma show up in background checks the same way that mothers endure it.
  • If mothers get arrested for leaving their children unattended in order to go to work, the father should be arrested, too.

What’s the long-term answer?  Legislation, of course.  How will legislation happen?  By electing people who will get the job done.  That doesn’t mean electing polarizing, extremist people.  If we continue down this “our crazies against your crazies” path, nothing meaningful is going to get done.   Another part of the answer is creativity – a little out-of-the-box thinking.  Maybe we don’t keep trying to introduce legislation to codify Roe.  Maybe, instead, we first target striking down state laws that involve the State tracking its citizens’ movements across state lines and prying into their medical records.  Maybe we initiate laws that say if a State denies a raped child an abortion, and that raped child dies as a result of the pregnancy, the State is on the hook for billions in penalties for a preventable death.  Pro-life, yes?

In other news: 

Well, Elon’s backpedaling on buying Twitter.  He says it’s because the percentage of users who are bots is out of control  However, he knew this before – it was one of the problems he wanted to fix.  It’s more likely the dip in Tesla’s stock price, which changed the terms of his financing/reduced his ability to finance, that has him rethinking the purchase.  After a week of looking at the results of Twitter’s bizarre feed algorithms, I’m a little disappointed.  I was hoping he’d fix some of that. 

Book Review: The Missed Kiss by Nicola Lowe

If you like the romance trope of a love triangle where all the main characters are flawlessly beautiful and the sexual tension seesaws until there’s finally a sweet explosion, you should give this book a try.  It’s a bit like the old Harlequin romances, where the beautiful female protagonist is a secretary, and the love interest is a beautiful, successful professional who’s going to whisk her away to a better life filled with passionate love.  It’s a formula that works.  The kicker in this story is that the main character, Lily, sets up situations where there’s extreme sexual tension with two different men, even though she claims she would never cheat because of having been cheated on in a previous relationship. 

The other kicker:  although the story ends with Lily being with one guy (the incredibly gorgeous dark-haired guy with brown eyes so like her own), at the end she’s still pining for the other guy (the incredibly gorgeous lighter-haired guy with bright blue eyes that amaze her), too.  Oh, and there’s a sequel, so, yes, the ending turns out to be a cliffhanger. 

The story is well written, and the author knows how to write sex scenes for readers looking for romance with heat rather than graphic descriptions of body parts.  The story moves quickly and it makes you hang on to see how the triangle is finally resolved.  If you’re looking for a light read in the romance genre, pick up this book!

Short Story:  Invasive Hitchhiker

I was tooling down Route 1 earlier, the needle somewhere north of the speed limit, when the Black Keys’ “Wild Child” came on Alt Nation.  I cranked it as high as I could stand it in the tiny space of my car, and I’m jammin’, when my right eye’s peripheral vision catches a glimpse of something hovering beside me.  I mean literally beside me, as in the car with me.

Quietly, I growl, “Shit, shit, SHIT!!”   I’m sure it’s a spider because I’ve lived that particular nightmare before.  Luckily, I learned a few things from my previous spider hitchhiker experience.  Top of that Lessons Learned list is to make no sudden moves.  See, what happened last time is that I turned to see exactly what was riding with me and where exactly it was, and, in turning, I disturbed his thread, and he instantly dropped on me.

I screamed like a banshee and immediately started beating myself with my right hand, looking down to see where he was.  He ducked inside the neckline of my shirt, and then I really came unglued, trying to beat my chest and simultaneously remove my clothes at 40 miles per hour (I had taken my foot off the gas when I began beating myself).  As people passed me blaring their horns, they saw a deranged woman behind the wheel of a Ford Explorer that had seen better days.  They really should’ve realized something was wrong when I swerved and hit a guard rail, but nobody stopped to check on me.  They had all passed me when I jumped from the vehicle, shed my shirt and attempted to shake out my bra.  The spider dropped a thread from my bra, and I’m not proud to say, I smashed him against the backdoor of my Explorer.  I went on my way with another small dent in the Explorer, and nobody but the spider worse off for the experience. 

Well, that’s not true.  I have nightmares about spiders landing on me – specifically, I have nightmares where one, evilly intelligent spider lands on me.  I’m never sure exactly what his nefarious plan is, but in the dream I know he has one, and he outsmarts me at every turn until I wake up sitting straight up in bed with my hands in my hair.  Damn spider.  I’d smash him again if given the chance.

So, anyway, I was not going to end up with a spider in my bra again, so I was cutting my eyes to the right to try to see how close the evil eight-legged bastard was when he started floating forward.  Not a spider – it was either a dirt dobber or a wasp.  My first thought was, “Do not be one of those crazy people who wreck their car because there’s a ‘bee’ in it.”  My next thought came straight out of my mouth, “Please God, please God, please God, let it be a dirt dobber!”  (I was told as a child that wasps sting and dobbers do not.)

No such luck.  He landed in the middle of the dashboard.  Definitely a wasp.  A small, speckled wasp.

I started to quickly consider my options when I noticed the wasp was acting weird.  He was doing some kind of dance where he rubbed each of his furthest back legs against his butt and then wiggled it.  There was something about his movements that made me think the wasp was a she instead of a he.  I drove on darting my eyes between the road and the wasp because Route 1 was too busy to risk getting hit trying to exit my vehicle on the shoulder.

I rolled down the window, hoping she’d be blown out.  She kept dancing on the dashboard.  So, I rolled down the passenger side window, too.  Immediately, my long brown hair started whipping in front of my face.  This is what went through my head at that moment:

OMG, I’m gonna get stopped for erratic driving, and then Imma try to explain to the cops that there was a wasp dancing to the Black Keys on my dashboard and I tried to blow her out of the car not realizing my hair was loose and so then I was trying to control my hair while watching the wasp to make sure she doesn’t decide to do her little butt wiggle dance on me and of course the wasp is not going to be anywhere in sight when the cops look and so the cops are going to give me a roadside sobriety test and I’ll be one of those people who fails those when they haven’t been drinking and my car will be on the side of the road while I go to jail and the wasp is going to hatch out a bunch of babies and I will have to douse it in gasoline and burn it.

When it comes to worrying about events that have yet to happen, I can go from 0 to 250 in the space of three seconds. 

When I calmed my mind enough to take a good look at the wasp, she’d hunkered down on the dashboard to avoid the wind tunnel.  I closed the passenger window so that I could quit pointlessly fighting my hair.  My winged companion stood up straight and resumed her little dance.

“Fuckity, fuck, fuck!’ I yelled out loud, then cringed for fear that the noise, or perhaps the vulgarity (just because she’s a rocker doesn’t mean she appreciates creative F-bomb accents) would send her flying at me.  But, with the Black Keys so loud and the open driver side window, she probably didn’t even hear me.  That’s when it hit me:  turn down the freaking music.  Using the steering wheel control, so as not to startle her, I lowered the volume. 

Immediately, she took off in that floaty way wasps have with her legs hanging like streamers.  Before I could even summon a scream, she floated toward my face and then ran into a strand of my hair flying from the left side of my head. I unleashed the screams I’d been holding in as she tried to navigate around my flying hair. She headed for the windshield and then turned back toward me.  Still screaming, with my left hand, I swatted her out the open window.

That would’ve been the end of my ordeal, except that I had the misfortune to be in the driver side backseat as a teenager when my brother, who was driving, hocked a loogie and spit it out his open window.  Yep, I got a snot ball right between the eyes.  There was a lot of screaming in the car that day, too. So, I knew there was a better than average chance my stinger-bearing hitchhiker was behind me. 

I took the next exit, all my skin tingling, anticipating the angry sting of my Black Keys loving nemesis.  I pulled into the nearest parking lot, got out and opened every door and the back hatch.  I looked for her for about five minutes.  Finally satisfied that she was gone, I got on my way again.

An hour later. I cranked up Jackson Brown’s “Doctor My Eyes” and was singing along when I thought I saw something to my right again. I turned my head (totally an acceptable move with wasps – just not with spiders).  Nothing was there.  I laughed at myself and sang at the top of my lungs. 

Thirty minutes later, I make the final turn before reaching my destination.  Maneskin’s “Supermodel” comes on, and I crank it up.  From out of nowhere that freaking wasp floats up to the dashboard and starts her weird little dance.  I just kept the music cranked and let her get her groove on until I parked in the driveway, turned off the car and bolted out the door. 

As I looked around wild-eyed for something with which to kill her, she floated out the door I’d left open, and flew away, ninety miles south of where she started.  

And, that my friends, is how invasive insects spread so quickly across the continent.

Well, Looks Like Musk is Taking Over Twitter, Book Review – The Life and Times of Angie Bardot, Short Story – False Friend

Well, Looks Like Musk is Taking Over Twitter

In my last blog in which I recounted my experience of being “limited” by Twitter, and Twitter not being able to explain why, I suggested maybe the possibility of Elon Musk taking over Twitter wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  At the time, I didn’t really think it would happen.  Twitter’s Board was resisting the takeover and had, in fact, issued a shareholder rights plan, AKA a poison pill, to try to avert Musk’s purchase of any greater stake in the company.

Then, suddenly, it was announced that they had accepted Musk’s offer of $44 billion.  Reading between the lines (i.e., looking at multiple online sources), it appears that the Board looked at potential options for selling Twitter and none came anywhere near Musk’s offer, and so they decided to take it.   Why?  Because more than 76% of Twitter stock is owned by “institutional investors” who wanted a payday on their investment.  After approximately 10 years of Twitter failing to earn a profit, those investors apparently pushed to accept Musk’s offer.  So, in another case of corporate greed (it is rampant in the U.S.), without any consideration of Twitter’s more than 200 million users or the employees who have given the Twitter culture a 4.2 (out of 5) rating on Glassdoor, they agreed to sell to Musk who has made no secret of the fact that he intends to take the company private, close the San Francisco headquarters, fire the board (or pay them $0) and tighten up spending.

When the board announced acceptance of Musk’s offer, a good portion of the Twitterverse lost their minds.  Some said Musk intended to make everyone pay to use Twitter in order to remove ads.  Some said he bought Twitter because he’s a Trumper, and he intends to reinstate Trump and make Twitter primarily a stage for Trump.  Some said that Twitter will now become a maelstrom of misinformation.  Many of these people predict the downfall and entire destruction of Twitter.

There’s no two ways about it:  Elon Musk is seven different flavors of wackadoodle.  I mean, he:

  • Named one of his eight (EIGHT!) children X Æ A-XII
  • Accused a rescuer of the soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand of being a “pedo guy” and allegedly hired a private detective to dig up dirt on the rescuer because the man said Musk’s idea of a submarine rescue wouldn’t work
  • Illegally threatened workers trying to unionize
  • Ran afoul of the FTC by tweeting that he had funding (not true) to take Tesla private
  • Added a fart noise feature to Teslas
  • Has tweeted multiple times about farts and farting
  • Sold flamethrowers to raise funds for one of his companies and promoted those sales through a tweet about the zombie apocalypse
  • Smoked pot on camera on a Joe Rogan podcast
  • Sent a Tesla roadster into space

Wacky as he is, he loves Twitter.  Consequently, it is highly unlikely that he’s going to do anything that would out and out destroy it. IMHO, he will reinstate Trump, not necessarily because he’s a Trumper, but because he is a staunch advocate for freedom of speech.  Furthermore, Musk has publicly stated that he doesn’t agree with the tactics of either extreme rightwingers or leftwingers, and has said he’s not much interested in politics. 

Musk has given mixed messages about whether he will move Twitter to a completely subscription model.  In one announcement, he seemed to indicate he would promote the Twitter Blue subscription that already exists, and would give those subscribers: the verified blue check mark currently provided only to celebrity accounts; features not available to non-subscribing users; and an ad-free experience.  In another conversation he mused that a subscription model would allow Twitter to not be so influenced by corporations.  Reportedly, he told banks that he might charge companies for embedding or quote tweeting posts by verified users.   It’s hard to say at this time whether he’ll go to a totally subscription model, but I doubt it.  Like I said, he clearly loves Twitter, and I don’t think he wants the exodus that such an act would trigger.

He’s definitely talked about laying off employees and changing corporate culture.  I think that probably Twitter employees — particularly executives — are right to view the Musk takeover with trepidation.  Unfortunately, that’s always the case when a company is sold.

Another fact the Twitterverse folks running around with their hair on fire should consider:  Musk hasn’t yet fully proven he has the funds to complete the purchase.  He’s cashed in 5% ($8.5 billion) of his Tesla stock and secured almost $26 billion in loans.  He still needs about $10 billion more in cash, but it’s not clear at this point where that cash will come from.  He may be the world’s richest man, but much of his fortune is tied up in his companies. 

So, everybody needs to cool their jets and unbunch their panties — for now.

In other news:

Publication of my short story “Miss Luna’s Visit,” which was pushed back from April 1 to May 1 is apparently pushed back to an unspecified date.  <sigh> Patience is a virtue.

Another short story has been picked up for a July release!  More on that later.

Book Review: The Life and Times of Angie Bardot by Angela Bardot

In “The Life and Times of Angie Bardot,” the author shares her journey after finding out shortly before a major milestone birthday (The Big Six O) that her husband of 36 years is cheating on her.  She tells it in first person – almost a stream of consciousness flow at times – and so the reader is intimately privy not only to the events of Angie’s life for the next few years, but also to her emotions and the changing ways in which she views those events and herself. 

This is not a formulaic get-back-at-the-ex-by-living-your-best-life-and-find-your-true-love story.  I mean, Angie does sort of start out with that intention, but real life and some questionable choices (some made me literally laugh out loud, and others made me cringe for Angie) take it somewhere much more authentic, if, at times, just a touch overly self-indulgent.

Angie’s escapades prove that age ain’t nothin’ but a number and that it’s never too late to pursue what makes you feel fulfilled.  I thoroughly recommend this book!

Short Story: False Friend

Lena was loading the dishwasher when her phone vibrated against the granite countertop.  She glanced at the display and saw it was her friend Laurie calling, so she picked up the phone and swiped to take the call.

“Hey, Laurie, what’s up?” she said.

Laurie answered solemnly, “Hi, Lena.  Are you at home?”

Instantly, Lena was on alert.  “What’s wrong?”

Laurie said in the same tone, “I guess you haven’t heard.”

“Haven’t heard what?  What’s going on?”

“Brett’s been in an accident.  They’re not sure he’s going to make it.  If he does, he may be paralyzed.”

Lena’s heart skipped a beat, and all thought was knocked out of her head.  For the space of about five seconds, she was physically stunned.

“Are you there?” she heard Laurie ask.

“Yeah,” she replied.

Laurie said quickly, “I just thought you would want to know.”

“No, no, I appreciate you calling to tell me.  What happened?”

Laurie told her that Brett was on the interstate the night before when a semi-truck blew a tire and lost control.  The semi slammed into his pickup, sending it into the median where it flipped and continued flipping into oncoming traffic.  Luckily, no further collisions occurred.  There was one person riding with Brett who was also in critical condition.

“Tamara?” Lena asked in a small voice.

“No.  I haven’t heard yet who it was,” Laurie replied.

“Okay, thanks for letting me know.  Would you please keep me updated on how he is?”

“Sure, honey.  Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine – just momentarily shocked.  Really, I’m fine.  Thanks for calling.  I’ll talk with ya later.”

“Okay, honey. ‘Bye.”


Lena was fine, but after she thought more about Brett, she reeled from the fact that she had little emotion about his possible death. She felt nothing more about his potential death than she would feel about a casual acquaintance’s death.  Brett was not a casual acquaintance.

Less than eight years earlier, Lena had been sure that he was ‘The One.’  That illusion was shattered when Brett’s ex-girlfriend Cassie sent her photos via Facebook Messenger with the accompanying message, “Payback’s a Biatch!”  The pics were of Brett out dancing with Lena’s best friend, Tamara.  Lena had been visiting family back east at the time and had gotten the message while playing cards.  She’d finished the game at hand and then excused herself to go to bed.  Once alone, she’d immediately dialed Brett’s number.  He didn’t pick up.  So, she’d dialed Tamara’s number. 

“Hey, girl!” Tamara’d greeted her.  Lena could hear music and a partying crowd in the background.

She had worked hard to keep her voice even.  “Hey, have you seen Brett out and about tonight? He’s not answering his phone.”

Tamara had immediately replied, “No, no I haven’t seen him.  He’s probably home asleep.”

Her voice dripping sarcasm, Lena said, “Home asleep?  Then why do I have pictures of him with his hands all over your ass?”

The line immediately went dead.  For the rest of the weekend, they both ignored Lena’s calls and texts.  By the time she had gotten home Sunday evening, Brett had left all of her belongings from his apartment in her living room, along with her dog, Barry, who he had been supposed to be taking care of.  He left her house key on the coffee table without a note.  By then, both Brett and Tamara had blocked her calls and had blocked her on all social media.

She’d tried to convince herself to just accept that she’d been dumped without Brett ever saying a word and to accept that her best friend threw her away without so much as an “I didn’t mean for it to happen.”  She’d decided at that point not to humiliate herself by further attempting to confront them for an explanation.  She’d lost her resolve one night at 2:00 AM and had driven to Tamara’s apartment and banged on the door.

Brett had opened it.  Somehow she hadn’t expected that.   Her mouth had dropped open as she looked up into his hard brown eyes.  “For fuck’s sake, Lena,“ he’d whisper-shouted at her.  “Are we going to have to take out a restraining order? It’s the fucking middle of the fucking night.”

She’d started crying, tears silently running down her face.  He’d rolled his eyes.  Then Tamara had stepped under his arm.  When she’d seen it was Lena, she too had rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, God.”

The sight of Tamara leaning up against Brett wearing his t-shirt as a nightgown had loosened Lena’s tongue.  She’d looked Tamara in the eye and asked, “Why, T?  How could you?”

Tamara had rolled her eyes again.  She’d said coldly, “No answer I give is gonna make anything any different.  It is what it is, and you need to stop embarrassing yourself.”

Brett had followed that up with, “I’m gonna shut the door now. If you knock again we’re calling the cops.”

Tamara had stepped away without even looking at Lena, and Brett had shut the door quietly in her face.

She’d not spoken to either of them after that. Laurie’s husband Rob remained friends with Brett.  And for the first year after Brett dumped her, Lena had put her friend in an untenable position by pumping her for information on Brett and Tamara’s lives.  Part of what Laurie imparted to her was that Brett and Tamara painted her to all their mutual friends as being a psycho.  Lena had been instantly furious, and exclaimed to Laurie (who already knew the whole story), “That’s a lie!  I went to Tamara’s apartment one time – I wasn’t a psycho like. . .Cassie…”

As she finished the sentence her ire evaporated as realization dawned on her that Brett was running the same game on her that he’d apparently run on Cassie.   That night she’d sent a note to Cassie on Messenger apologizing for her part in painting her as a psycho when she and Brett had first gotten together.  Cassie had responded by blocking her.  Lena hadn’t expected anything different – they’d never been friends.  She just had felt compelled to apologize.

When Laurie told her Brett and Tamara were getting married, Lena had cried for two days – not over Brett, but because she and Tamara had always said they’d be each other’s maids of honor.  On the day of their wedding, Lena had sent a prayer up that her former friend would be happy and had vowed not to give either of them any more of her thoughts.

That was six years ago, and she’d mostly kept that vow.  She thought about how Tamara must feel as her husband clung to life.  She also thought about his mother , a sweet woman Lena had liked very much.  She could only imagine his mother’s torment.  She sent up a prayer for Brett’s recovery and for comfort for his mother and her former friend.

Two weeks later, at lunch, Laurie told Lena that Brett had regained consciousness, and doctors expected him to recover.  They’d even told the family that he’d regain limited use of his legs.

Lena was legitimately happy at the news.  “That’s great news. Tamara and his family must be over the moon!”

Laurie’s face took on a strange look.  Then she said, “I didn’t tell you this.  It turned out that the other person in Brett’s truck was a woman he was having an affair with.”

Lena shrugged.  “I can’t say I’m surprised.”

Laurie nodded and replied, “Yeah, I guess not.  Well, when it looked like Brett might never wake up, Tamara said the other woman didn’t matter.  Put on a big show of grief, saying all that mattered was that he lived.”

Lena asked, “And when he woke up?”

“When the doctor said he would recover, she walked out of the hospital.  Turns out she’d already cleaned out the house and the bank accounts.  Apparently, she’d only been hanging around in the hope of money from a GoFundMe account his sister had set up.”

“Wow,” Lena said, stunned.  “I don’t even know what to say.  I accepted a long time ago that they’re not the people I thought they were, but to pretend to be grief-stricken to get a little more money…Wow.”

Their conversation turned to other subjects, and Lena didn’t give Brett or Tamara another thought. Their struggles had no place in her life.

A few days later, she was at Costco when she heard a familiar voice behind her say, “Lena?”

She turned to find Tamara standing there.

The women looked at each for a moment, and then Lena said, “Tamara.”

“How are you?” Tamara asked.

“Fine, thanks.  I’ve got to get home, so…”  Lena turned away.

“Okay,” Tamara said, and Lena walked off.

That evening as Lena was preparing for bed, the doorbell rang. She turned on the porch light and looked through the sidelight.  Tamara stood there looking nervous.

“Oh, my God,” Lena said to herself, but she opened the door.

Immediately, Tamara said, “I’m sorry for just showing up, but after running into you today—”

“What do you want?” Lena interjected.

Tamara’s words came out in a rush. “I want us to be friends again.  I’m sorry about what happened.  But you have to understand – Brett is so manipulative.  He had me all turned around.  He made me —”

Lena rolled her eyes. “You do not have to tell me how manipulative he is.”

Tamara chuckled quietly.  “No, I guess not. But, he made me feel like I was the most important person in the world, and I didn’t want to lose that. I’m sorry that—”

“You’re sorry that you didn’t have the decency to stay away from your best friend’s boyfriend?  You’re sorry that you told everyone I was a psycho?  You’re sorry that you threw me away like trash after eight years of friendship?”

“You don’t understand!” Tamara exclaimed.  “He had me all turned around.  He told me that you looked down on me, that you made fun of me!”

Again, Lena rolled her eyes.  She could not believe that this woman, who she had once called her bestie, did not see how her actions – not Brett’s – had forever severed their friendship.  “You’d known me for eight years and him for, what, two?  But, instead of coming to me and telling me what was going on, you snuck around, until I found out, and then you cut me dead.”

“And, I’m sorry.  But, he—”

Lena didn’t wait for Tamara to again blame her decisions and her cold treatment of Lena on Brett. She interrupted her with. “But he dumped you for another woman – go figure. Then, after you cleaned him out while he’s in the hospital, you don’t have a whole lotta friends left, so you thought you’d see if I hated him enough to give you a pass on what you did to me.”

Tamara snapped, “I have plenty of friends.  I was trying to reach out to you to do the right thing.”

Lena smiled disingenuously and said in a tone filled with insincerity, “Oh, okay. Well, now you’ve done that.  So, thank you so very much!  Thanks for stopping by!” 

With that, she started to close the door, but Tamara grabbed it and stopped her.

“So, that’s the way it’s gonna be?  Why are you being like this?”

Immediately, Lena shot back, “It is what it is, and if you’re not able to see why, me spelling it out for you won’t make you ever get it either.”

She shut the door.

Twitter Limitation, Book Review – Bandun Gate, Flash Fiction

Twitter Limitation

This past week, World’s Richest Man Elon Musk announced his bid to take over Twitter.  He indicated he intends to take the company private to increase free speech and expose its algorithms that determine what content is seen in feeds. 

Also in the same week, Twitter out-of-the blue announced in a pop-up that it was limiting my actions for three days because I ran afoul of its rules. 

Are these actions related?  I doubt it, but my resulting experience has me wondering if Elon might be on to something in that Twitter is too controlling and arbitrary.

Here’s how my Twitter limitation went down.  Early Monday morning, I was reviewing the list of people who had followed me overnight.  I followed back one, no issue.  I followed back the next, and that’s when the tiny pop-up appeared telling me my actions were being limited for the next three days for possible rules violations.  Those weren’t the exact words, but it definitely made it seem my violation was not fully determined.

I barely finished reading it when it disappeared.  I went to my messages, because, surely, Twitter would give me a full explanation for what horrendous crime I’d committed.  Right? Nope, no message. 

I checked my numbers:  Followers higher than those I follow.  That’s what someone told me I needed to maintain to prevent being “limited.” I’m careful to not tweet anything controversial because I’m using Twitter to promote my writing, so I’m not looking to put anyone off. Consequently, I knew content wasn’t the problem.  I told myself maybe it was a glitch and that’s why the pop-up disappeared so quickly.

I followed back the same person, again.  The action went through without issue.  I followed back a third person, and BOOM I’m told I cannot follow anyone at this time.  “At all?” I wondered.  I start searching the rules to find out what land mine I’ve inadvertently detonated.

And that is when I became enlightened as to the nefarious side of Twitter from which Elon Musk is trying to liberate us.

Twitter uses undefined parameters to declare account activity suspicious.  I’m not exactly sure what they’re trying to prevent or why, although it seems they do want to thwart bot accounts.  I would think one surefire way to do that would be to suspend accounts that out and out label themselves as bots, but that’s just me.  At least three such accounts have followed me (along with three guys named Keanu Reeves, five or six admirals, generals and diplomats).

They reference multiple places mysterious ratios that trigger them to take limiting actions.  Seems there’s no set ratio, it changes as your account changes.  It’s kinda like being in a relationship with a non-violent but very controlling narcissist who constantly changes the rules while telling you it’s you who’s inconsistent. 

I recognized that, but, still, I thought I’d try to find out exactly what I’d done to be “Limited.”  So, I sent a note through the Contact Us feature.  In my note, I asked them to tell me what rule I had broken.  I received in response a form email signed “Twitter” that said they’d received my appeal.  I quickly replied that I wasn’t appealing – I just wanted to know what I’d done wrong.

A few hours later I received what I’m sure was a form email but was signed by “Ollie.”  After saying he was sorry to hear I was limited, he pointed me to the rules I’d already researched to no avail  So, I sent Ollie a response stating that the rules documentation did not help me, and asking again for him to just tell me outright what my crime was.

I didn’t really expect him to respond, but he did.  This time he apologized for the inconvenience, and said the limitation would eventually end.  Then he told me the message I’d received when the limitation first went into effect told me what I’d done.  My reply:

Ollie, the message I received did NOT tell me what I did wrong.  YOU have not told me what I did wrong.  Do you not know?  To punish someone without explanation is arbitrary and capricious.  Is that what Twitter is?

Again, I didn’t expect him to reply, but again he did:

For most accounts, this is a temporary outcome, and if no further negative behavior occurs, the account will eventually be restored to full access. 

Please let us know if you need help with anything else! Be sure to follow us @TwitterSupport for all the latest updates on Twitter.

My response was not quite the same tone:

Ollie, Ollie, Ollie, you’re not hearing me. I’m not protesting the action.  I’m asking for an explanation of WHY, so that I don’t engage in the unacceptable behavior again.  I’m a rule follower.  But, I have no idea what rule I violated.   Is the answer that Twitter doesn’t know either?  Is this some artificial intelligence gone wrong scenario?   Should we alert the authorities that Twitter’s algorithms are plotting world domination?

I was almost giddy awaiting Ollie’s reply to that.  Disappointingly, with his response, I realized that Ollie is a bot:

Thank you for your patience! We have more information for you. 

You may encounter a message that states, “You are unable to follow more people at this time.” We may lock an account if appears to be compromised or if it is in violation of the Twitter Rules or Terms of Service, including due to aggressive follow behavior. Accounts in a locked state are limited in actions they can perform, including following. Read more about locked and limited accounts.

Be sure to follow us @TwitterSupport for all the latest updates on Twitter.

I didn’t bother responding again. A few hours later my penalty expired.  Well, at least the penalty I knew about expired.  My tweets don’t appear to be getting the views they were previously.  And that brings me back to Elon Musk.  Maybe he really will make the feed algorithms more transparent and more user-controlled.  And, maybe Elon would bring real people to respond to Twitter Support inquiries. Or, maybe Elon plans to use Twitter’s AI algorithms to achieve his own world domination.  You pays your money, you takes your chances.

In other news, here’s my redbud tree.

Book Review:  Bandun Gate by Miriam Van Scott

Have you ever been warned to eschew Ouija boards, seances and Tarot cards because you don’t want to attract the attention of dark beings? In her book, Bandun Gate, author Miriam Van Scott imagines the terrifying impacts of attracting that unwanted attention.

It starts with her fascination with a haunting structure called Bandun Gate. She’s warned by a member of the Gullah community to stay away, but she ignores the warning and takes her daughter Abby to see it. Inadvertently during that visit, Abby invites a haint (a malevolent spirit) to come with her. From there the terror begins.

If you are looking for a simple ghost story, do not read Bandun Gate! This is horror on a deeper level, involving occult subjects.

If you’re looking for occult horror, this is the book for you! It is expertly written; the descriptions within it are vivid and stick with you – both the descriptions of Charleston and the surrounding low country and horror aspects of the tale. I could not read it at night for fear of nightmares! Miriam Van Scott is a master at her craft!

Flash Fiction

I didn’t have time to craft a short story for this week’s blog.  Instead, I offer several flash fiction pieces from the daily Twitter writer’s prompt I follow.

Remember the Night

She’d always remember that night -the summer night she last saw him, last felt his arms around her. The air was warm, the frogs were serenading the bright moon, and his lips were soft on hers. Murmured promises, and then he was gone, never to return.

On Raven’s Wings

Sophia said, “Bad news flies on raven’s wings, while good news floats with butterflies.” Joni pondered her words and then said, “Incoming raven: Your butterfly arrived too late to secure this wedding venue.”

That Story You Told

The child said to his PaPa,”I was thinkin’ ‘bout that story you told ‘bout walkin’ to school. Dad said he can’t hop from post to post, & my teacher said it’d take all day to walk back & forth 10 miles. I think maybe your pants are gonna catch on fire.”

The Here and Now

“Ha,” the being scoffed. “You puny humans, living for the here and now when a million other universes exist along the time continuum!” The cop replied, “Yeah, yeah, move it along, buddy-you can’t camp here-not now & not later.”

When I Fall Down

“My secret to life?” She said, “When I fall down, and boy have I, I pull myself up-maybe with help, but I don’t just lie there waiting for someone else to lift me. We all fall. The secret is to not live your life like a medical alert commercial.”

Float Back to Earth

The child gently blew and watched the cloud of fluff rise on the breeze and then float back to earth. The old man snapped, “I’ll thank you not to help the dandelions spread!” Innocently, the child replied, “Maybe you should look for their beauty.”

Have I Resolved Your Inquiry, Book Review – Thank God for Mississippi, Short Story – Mom Knows All

Have I Resolved Your Inquiry?

Back in the 80s, when I was in college, I had a marketing professor who said the worst thing that ever happened to customer service was the phrase “the customer is always right.”  He explained that retail folks who were trained that the customer was always right daily encountered people who were clearly not right.  He said, faced with those competing “facts,” the retail workers were forced to conclude that since the person before them was clearly wrong, they couldn’t be a customer; therefore, the retail worker could treat said wrong person any way they liked.  

He decidedly had an insulting view of retail workers, but I got his point, and it’s stuck with me ever since:  realistic and achievable standards and expectations need to be set for customer service.  I wonder sometimes what he’d think of the state of customer service today, where everyone is driven to check off your issue as being resolved regardless of whether it is, in fact, resolved or even properly considered.

The event that has me thinking about customer service was an issue with Amazon. 

Let me say this upfront:  I love Amazon.  I’m probably on Amazon.com at least once every day.  I compare almost everything I’m thinking about buying against what Amazon offers. My dogs are on a first-name basis with all the delivery drivers.  Why?  Amazon has almost everything, and with Prime, I get free delivery on most purchases. And, returns are super easy.  In fact, I think the partnership Amazon has with Kohls for returns is ingenious.  With their partnership, Amazon provides a hassle-free method for returns, and Kohls, I’m sure,  gets a lot of impulse buys — see, there’s a reason Kohls places the Amazon refund station at the back of the store and lines the path through with all sorts of enticing bargains.

So, what’s my complaint with my best friend Amazon? 

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I include book reviews.  I read the books on the Kindle app or Kindle Unlimited, and I upload the reviews to Amazon to help out the authors.  Usually, Amazon accepts my reviews within hours – overnight at the latest.  But my most recent review (below) ran into some unknown snag. 

Three days after I’d submitted my review, I’d received no confirmation from Amazon.  After I verified it didn’t show on the website, I searched for a customer service number on the site to call.  Of course, they don’t want you to call.  Calls cost too much.  And, I suspect that if it’s hard to find a number, they hope most people just give up.   So, I went through the Help function, and it forced me to search help topics before it excepted my response that there was nothing that addressed my issue.  (Okay, maybe forced is too strong a word, but it provided damn few alternatives to following the path laid out.)

I’m then similarly forced down the online chat route.  But not with a human.  There was the implicit promise of a human, but no human showed up to chat with me. The bot ran me down the same list of help topics.  It was a very persistent bot – persistent in trying to get me to say it had addressed my problem.  I don’t know how many rounds of “does that answer,” “no,” we went through before the bot gave up and asked if I wanted to chat with an actual human.  Yes, please.  A few minutes later, I explain the whole situation again.  The human asks me for my order number.  I explain again that it’s not about an order, there are no order numbers associated with my review.  He’s gone awhile, and then comes back and tells me that he can’t help, but he’ll send a communication to another customer service unit, and they’ll send me an email in 24 hours.

Then he asks me if he’s satisfactorily resolved my issue.  My simple response is, “No.”  He asks what else he can help me with.  I say, “Apparently nothing.”  He tries a couple more times to get me to say he’s successfully helped me.  I ended up closing the chat window. 

Twenty-four hours later, I get a form email telling me that reviews aren’t posted until they’ve been approved.  I’ve done something like thirteen book reviews.  I’m very well aware that reviews aren’t posted until approved.  If the email had also said, “We received your review, and it’s being processed,” I would’ve been done.  But it didn’t.  So, I took a hydration break and then returned to continue tangoing with Amazon customer service.

At the bottom of the email was, of course, a prominent link to indicate my problem was resolved.  (I guess even a form email needs to keep up its resolution stats.) Much less prominently, there was also a link to say my issue wasn’t resolved.  I, of course, selected the less prominent link.

Immediately, a window popped up asking me to select a reason why.  I chose something indicating the email was nonresponsive.  I’m taken down a trail that I’m sure is going to lead back to the chatbot.  I close it out, and, instead, type a scathing reply to the email I’d received.  Scathing in that I likened Amazon’s customer service to Comcast’s, which, in my mind anyway, is the worst insult I can lob at a business.  Comcast is the devil.  But, that’s a story for another day.

Sometime later, I get another email expressing regret for my dissatisfaction.  This time I’m given the option to send an email to customer service to explain what I need.  I click that link, and immediately I’m sliding down the chute toward the chatbot.  I don’t know what I clicked, but suddenly I’m given the option to have someone call me.  I accept and wait to be asked if my issue has been resolved.  I guess whatever logic pathway I’d stumbled upon does not care about its resolution stats because no resolution query appeared.

Twenty minutes later Amazon calls me.  I explain the initial problem and how communication efforts over the past two days indicate that no one has understood, let alone acted upon my inquiry.  She asked me for my order number. I tell her there is no order number. I tell her I’m trying to get someone to find my submitted review and tell me it’s being reviewed because it has never before taken anywhere near four days.  Predictably, she tells me she’ll be right back.

When she returned, she told me that she needed to give me another number to call.  Then she said actually she’d have to give me a link because neither she nor I could call the group to whom my matter needed to be directed.  I said, “Okay.”

“So, have I satisfactorily resolved your issue, today?” she asked.

“No. No, you have not resolved my issue today.”

“I’ve sent the link.”

I thanked her for that and explained to her that that does not resolve my issue; it just kicks the can down the road.

“What else can I help you with?”

I’ll admit, I became a little snarky at this point, “You could find out the status of the review I asked about originally.”

“I sent you the link for that.”

“That does not resolve the issue.  It means you could not resolve the issue, and you’re making me contact someone else to see if they can resolve it.”

I can’t remember exactly what she said, but she tried again to get me to say she’d resolved my issue.  I told her the bottom line was that I was not going to agree. She put me on hold.

She must’ve discussed things with someone, and they decided that I was not a customer because I didn’t have an order number and I was wrong not to agree she’d resolved my issue. She came back on the line and thanked me for calling Amazon.  I didn’t point out that Amazon called me.

I opened the email she’d sent and clicked the magical link.  Immediately, I was hurtling again to the chatbot.  I conceded defeat.

Four hours later, I received notification that my review was accepted.  I checked it and found they had corrected a typo I’d noticed too late in the headline.  I can only assume that fixing ‘hte’ to ‘the’ took four and a half days.

Book Review:  Thank God for Mississippi, by Tara Cowan

The title of this book immediately grabbed me because I have friends from West Virginia and South Carolina who I have heard utter this phrase!  Although there is reference to it used in the manner my friends use it, it is more directly aimed at the main character and story narrator,  Miss Mississippi Whitson of Hammondsville, Tennessee.  (No, Mississippi does not thank God for herself! You’ll have to read the book to understand the title, and I very much recommend you read the book!)

Mississippi abandoned her pursuit of a career in fashion design when her father died and she had to leave school to help her mother. She landed a job as the personal assistant to district attorney Henry Cane, and over time, she lost sight of the things she used to care about – she essentially put her ambitions…well, and basically her whole life, on hold.  Then, Henry Cane dies, and the town leadership finagles things to give the job to his grandson from New York City. 

Said grandson, Joseph Cane-Steinem, rides into town in his Jeep Wrangler with all eyes on him – including Mississippi’s.  (Queue the sparks.)  Mississippi’s game plan at this point is to go wait tables in a gulf coast resort town to make quick money to go back to school.  Joseph talks her into staying around to help him navigate the cultural divide between his big city life experience and how things are done in the small-town South.

Throw in a murder, comic relief in the form of two over-protective German shepherds and matchmaking relatives, small-town gossip, and Mississippi’s reawakening to her true self, and you have a light, entertaining read that pushes all the buttons!

Short Story:  Mom Knows All

First thing Saturday morning, Maureen was at the paint store trying to decide upon paint colors and wallpaper to redo her guest bedroom.  She was the only customer in the store, and the young man at the register left her alone after greeting her.  She was flipping through the wallpaper idea book when she heard someone else at the register.

“Hey, dude, thanks for covering for me.”

“No worries.  You look like shit.”

“Open crib at my boy Jimmy’s.  I think I’m still buzzed.”

Both guys laughed, and Maureen smiled to herself remembering similar work mornings from her youth.  She continued with her browsing, trying to decide between blues and something bolder, and for the most part, didn’t hear the rest of the boys’ conversation.

Then, she heard the buzzed one say, “Remember that guy was with me when you bought us beer that one time?”

The other guy replied slowly, “Yeah. . .Dirk. ..”

“Yeah.  Well, he brought this kid from his travel team.  Thomas, but we called him Tommy Boy all night.  That kid was turnt!  We talked him into doing a keg stand – he couldn’t even walk, but he goes up to the keg, grabs a hold like this.  Then he starts yelling, ‘I got it, I got it, give me the beer!’ He’d like stick one leg in the air.  We just soaked him in beer.  It was funny AF!”

The guys laughed and talked about how good they were at keg stands, and then the buzzed one said, “When I woke up this morning, Tommy Boy was passed out on the deck – no shirt, with some chick’s bra wrapped around his head. Can’t wait to hear the story on that!”

Maureen took her paint swatches and headed for the door, turning to wave the swatches at the two young men before leaving. 

Later, she and her husband Mike were sitting in the kitchen when their oldest child came quietly through the back door.  He stopped in the doorway when he saw his parents sitting at the kitchen table.

Mike said, “Good afternoon, son.  Have a seat.”

“I’m wiped, Dad.   We were up all night –“

Maureen interrupted him, “I bet you were.  Have a seat.”

The boy pulled a chair about three feet from the table and sat down. 

Mike turned to Maureen and said, “He doesn’t smell too bad.”

She nodded and replied, “Yeah, he’s showered, and those are not his beer-soaked clothes.  Those are definitely not the $150 shoes we bought him last month.”

Mike turned to the boy and asked, “Where are your shoes, son?”

The kid smiled nervously and said, “I didn’t want to get them dirty while we were camping, and so I borrowed an old pair of Dirk’s.”

Maureen nodded and said nonchalantly, “Quick thinking.  Where’s your bra?”

“My what?  You’re losing it, Mom!” he replied laughing.

Mike smiled and said, “Your bra.  The prize you won for. . .something. . .last night. Tommy Boy.  Wanna tell us how you won that prize?”

Thomas froze, his mouth open.

Mike prompted, “Go ahead and tell us what the prize was for, Tommy Boy.”

“Well,” Maureen said.  “We know it wasn’t for keg stands.  Hopefully, there’s no video of that epic fail.”

“Listen,” Thomas began in a pleading tone.

“Keys,” barked his father.  Thomas dug his car keys out of his pocket and handed them to his father.

“Phone,” his mother said more calmly.

“C’mon,” Thomas said.  “I need my phone.”

“Don’t worry,” Maureen said cheerfully.  “You’ll get it back for emergency use when you’re not at home.”

“Which won’t be for much for the next two weeks,” Mike added. 

“Well,” Maureen said. “It would be two weeks – for getting ‘turnt.’  But, there’s the little matter of lying to us about where you were going last night, Tommy Boy.”

“Oh, yeah, thanks for reminding me, honey,” Mike said.  “Three weeks.”

“Three weeks?” Thomas yelled.

In unison, his parents said, “Wanna make it four?”

Thomas quickly shook his head.  “Can I go now?” he asked sullenly.

Mike said, “No, Tommy Boy, you can’t.  There’s still the matter of the $150 sneakers you ruined last night.  You’ll be working those off, starting right now.”

Maureen suddenly said, “Don’t you roll your eyes!”

“I didn’t roll my eyes!”

“You were going to.  You just don’t get it yet, do you?  We know all.  Everything you’ve done, and everything you’re going to do.  You think you’re so smart saying you’re going camplng overnight with Dirk?   I invented ‘staying overnight at a friend’s house.’  Anything you think you’re going to sneak off and do, your father and I have done it and done it better than you could ever even imagine.  You think you’re going to get over on us? Think again.  We know all.”

“Well,” Mike said smiling.  “Your mother knows all, and she clues me in.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, honey,” she replied.  “You were the school keg stand champion two years running!”

“That’s right,” Mike said proudly.  “And you, Tommy Boy, besmirched my good name last night with your lame antics at the keg.  We’ll talk about that another time.  For now, go put on some work clothes, ‘cause you’re digging up that old stump out back.”

Thomas made a belligerent face, but before he could speak, Maureen said, “Or, we could talk about your prize and how you won it.  Your father and I have a little experience in that, too, don’t we, honey bunny?”

“Indeed, we do, sugartits.   C’mon, Tommy Boy, you tell us about yours and we’ll tell you about ours!”

“Okay,” Thomas yelled.  “I’m gonna go dig up the stump!”

His parents laughed as he walked away.  Then they high-fived, and Mike said, “We’ve got this parenting thing down to a science.”

“Yes, we do,” Maureen agreed.  “’Sugartits’ may’ve been a bit much, though.”