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.”