Thoughts between the storms of life

Life takes up all my time. Even weekends. That’s why I’m often reduced to dumping collected thoughts into posts just to meet my arbitrary weekly deadlines. Thus, here are some dead lines for this deadline:

Why isn’t postcocious a word, the opposite of precocious? It would apply to those who demonstrate an immaturity beyond (before?) their years. No one I know fits that description… outside of that guy in the mirror.

Whenever I watch a movie on DVD, I have to endure the declaration that “Piracy isn’t a victimless crime”. Tell me about it. I just wasted 10 seconds staring at the message.

I love my library. And I love my librarians. Still, I have to ask, how scientific is “library science”?

How lame is it when the news anchors blame the weather forecaster for bad weather? They don’t blame sportscasters when their teams lose. I hope one day to see the weather guy turn it around. (“Hey, Jim, when are you going to stop this rain and send us some sunshine?” “As soon as you stop all those mass shootings, Mary.”)

There are 2 kinds of people in the world: those who separate people into two groups and those who don’t.

Some say there are 10 kinds of people: those who understand binary and those who don’t.

I wish I had a nickel for every empty bottle or can I see thrown on the side of the road. Wait…

Most house fans I’ve owned turn on at the highest speed. Dumb. That’s like a radio with an on/off dial that starts at the highest volume.

Remember when we worried about privacy? We’ve sacrificed it on the altar of social media. As Keith Lowell Jensen wisely observed, “What Orwell failed to predict [in his book “1984”] was that we’d buy the cameras ourselves, and that our biggest fear would be that nobody was watching.”

I was at a food truck event not long ago and took this picture:

When I blow that picture up (below) you can barely make out a disturbing sight in the background: Yes, that’s a bloodmobile. Evidently, they were expecting vampires at this event.

What’s with all the moving graphics?? Watch news or sports on TV and count the number of moving graphical objects on the screen. My ADD nature causes me to watch them obsessively and miss whatever is going on in the program. One more reason I don’t miss “news” broadcasts.

If You Give a Man a Cell Phone

[With apologies to Laura Numeroff and her whimsical “If you give a <something> to a <something else>” series of children’s books.]

If you give a man a cell phone…

He’ll want a case, a screen protector, a charger, extra cables, SD cards, a bluetooth headset and external speaker, and a pile of other accessories.

With all those accessories, he’ll ask you to give him a man-purse to carry them all.

The man-purse will leaving him questioning his sexuality. In his insecurity, you’ll have to buy him a huge, 4-wheel drive pickup truck with a hemi and a deliberately crippled muffler.

He might find that a large, loud truck isn’t sufficient to compensate for his lack of masculinity, in which case he’ll put a gun rack in the back window of the truck.

If he’s going to have that gun rack, he’ll need a rifle to feel truly macho.

He’ll ask himself, “Why do I have rifle if I’m not going to use it?” and he’ll ask you to take him hunting.

You’re too smart to accompany him, so he’ll go alone to spite you.

When he goes hunting, chances are his rifle will misfire causing him to accidentally shoot himself in the foot.

Alone and bleeding profusely, he’ll crawl back to the truck and try to drive for help.

Loss of blood will cause him to go into shock so he’ll pass out and drive into a tree.

Hitting the tree will trigger the airbag, which will concuss him.

He’ll spend a comatose month in a hospital in a town where no one knows him.

By the time he recovers and returns to his old life, everyone will believe he was dead so he’ll discover…
he lost his job,
his apartment was sub-let,
and his girlfriend has moved in with his former best friend.

The stress of all that loss will drive him to drugs and alcohol. It won’t be pretty.

When you finally get him to admit his addictions, you’ll have to check him into a rehab in northern California.

He’ll fall in love with his nurse who thinks his man-purse is cool.

To support his new laid-back lifestyle, they’ll move to a ranch in rural Montana…

which won’t have cell coverage…

so he’ll need a new cell service…

You’ll have to give him a new cell phone.

[Now all I need is adorable illustrations and I’ll be ready for a copyright infringement suit.]

The New Colossus of Fear

Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus”, which adorns the now-obsolete Statue of Liberty has to be replaced. It currently features the following lovely but oh-so-naive sentiment:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

As a replacement, I humbly offer the more appropriate “New Colossus of Fear”:

Not like the wimpy statue that’s so lame,
That oversized chick draped in a green sheet;
Here to protect the cash on Wall Street
A macho man with a gun, whose aim
Will waste the bad hombres, and his name
Tyrant of Fear. From his weapon-hand
Shoots world-wide warning; we’re taking a stand
We’ll blow you back to hell whence you came.
“Keep to yourselves, you strangers all!” barks he
With bared teeth. “I’m tired of your lazy poor,
Your stinking masses with skin not like me,
If you’re here, will throw you out the door.
And to keep you foreigners out, you’ll see,
We’ll build a wall that you’ll pay for!”

It won’t make anyone forget Longfellow (or even Ogden Nash) but you must admit, it accurately captures the new, heinous “normal”.

God have mercy…

HTML for real life

When the technical and business worlds collide with real life, the results can be entertaining and instructive, giving insights into both. A couple of very clever guys, Tripp and Tyler, have leveraged this intersection to create (at least) two hysterical videos: A Conference Call in Real Life and Email in Real Life.

Why not push this into other areas? Back in the day when I was a software engineer, I dabbled in HTML. (Just enough to get myself in trouble.) In its simplest form, HTML involves a directive, i.e. an HTML command, that applies to all following text until an end marker, in the form of a slash and the same command, is encountered. For example, I can put text in italics by using the following syntax:

<i>This is in italics.</i>

…would appear on the screen as:

This is in italics.

It’s time to incorporate basic HTML notation in real life. That way, we can tell how to treat certain language and behaviors. Not only would this make intentions obvious to everyone, thus allowing us all to be prepared for what’s coming, it would be a boon for those of us who have trouble picking up both verbal and non-verbal cues.

Here’s a sampling of ideas that would improve our quality of life immediately, were they to be implemented across the board:

  • <whine>They don’t make good movies anymore.</whine>
  • <sarcasm>Oh, yeah, that’s a great idea.</sarcasm>
  • <throwaway>I’m fine. How are you?</throwaway>
  • <lie>No one respects women more than me.</lie> (In reality, no need for an end marker for this guy.)
  • <defensive>As a matter of fact, yes, I am a vegan.</defensive>
  • <flirt>Here, let me fix that strap for you.</flirt>
  • <insult>Your words are like water to a drowning man.</insult>
  • <braindamaged>I have a gun in my house to keep my family safe.</braindamaged>
  • <gossip>It was probably someone else with that woman, but it sure looked like Jim.</gossip>
  • <delusional>Steven Spielberg said he’d read my screenplay.</delusional>
  • <selfpromotion>I wouldn’t say so myself, but some people call me a genius.</selfpromotion>
  • <insincere>Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.</insincere>

You get the idea. Wouldn’t discourse be easier to follow if this notation were used? Which syntax would you like to see implemented?

YALMP

This is YALMP: Yet Another Lazy Man’s Post. Sometimes, you do what you must to meet deadlines, even self-imposed ones. Case in point, this post.

First, a funny email header I saw:

clown

Hard to believe there’s room for any more clowns in corporate America.


Second, this being a writing blog, here’s a short story I wrote several years ago. I already published it in my other blog, Limping in the Light, before this blog was begun. Rather than copy it into this space, here are three links, each to a part of the story.

6 Hours

Part one

Part two

Part three

Enjoy! And Merry Christmas!

The Shoeshine (Part 3)

[The conclusion of a Haitian shoeshine’s story, begun here and continued in the previous post. Based on a minor character introduced in my book, A Slippery Land.]

The long line of customers at the mission was a mixed blessing. He was running so late, he decided to skip his usual next stop, Toussaint L’Ouverture Airport. No one would miss him there, where mobs swarmed the arriving passengers, grabbing luggage and asking for payment in return, offering rides on tap-taps, or simply begging for American dollars from any blans emerging from the sweltering terminal. Having been at this most of their lives, they knew the blans were probably charity workers already in a giving spirit. The shoeshine usually had to battle those beggars for position. He didn’t hold them a grudge knowing he was only one shoeshine box away from joining them. He didn’t need the reminder.

Cité Soleil

Cité Soleil

Proceeding to his next stop, he made sure to cut a wide swath around his old neighborhood of Cité Soleil. Although he’d arrived at an uneasy peace in his own heart regarding his old life there, he knew of others in that slum who would not be inclined to extend the same grace to him. He wasn’t proud of the life he’d led there or the things he’d done, some of which would follow him to his grave. While he was embroiled in those transgressions, he’d rationalized away his misdeeds, telling himself that he only did what he needed to do to survive and get out of the slum. He did get out of the slum, to be sure, but Cité Soleil was never completely out of him.

His next stop was part of his penance. A home had been established for a group of elderly men and women who had somehow survived the ravages of life in Haiti—the storms, the violence, and the final insult: the earthquake. His own actions had prevented some young men from ever having the chance to reach that age. Any of the residents who brought shoes to him would have them shined at no charge.

The old men whose shoes he shined knew that what he did was not free. A price had already been paid. They sensed in him the same turmoil they recognized in themselves. They had been young, too. A few had served as enforcers for the Duvaliers. Some younger residents were former activists in Fanmi Lavalas. On the streets years ago, they might have battled one another to the death. Age had allayed the differences weapons could not. The ideals of youth died long before their own bodies did.

The shoeshine had no political affiliations or inclinations. With the disappearance of his family, he’d become a one-man party with no representation in government he was aware of. He’d seen enough elections to prevent him putting any faith in that process.

The last shoe buffed to a sheen rarely seen on any other object in Haiti, he bade ovwa to the old men.

His last hope for customers was outside the church. A few harried congregants always neglected to shine their shoes. Seeing the gleam of other’s footwear would drive them to the shoeshine in a desperate attempt to prepare their outfits for an appearance before God, even if their souls still harbored pain and guilt. Something could be done about the shoes, at least.

The man wasn’t comfortable around the church. He kept as great a distance from the building as possible without endangering his business. He still believed in God, but his regard for His servants crumbled when his wife fell under the seductive power of the pastor. Other than tending the shoes of the people entering the building, he’d had nothing to do with the church since then.

A cemetery in the Haitian countryside.

          A cemetery in the Haitian countryside.

A stop at the church was always emotionally draining for him. He needed to rest before he returned home. On the way was a cemetery where he knew he could find quiet. He settled on a stone, hoping it didn’t mark the finally resting place of some poor soul. In his box he found the little treats the kids at the mission house had left him. He took one out and examined it. The colors on the packaging alone mesmerized him. What kind of country had these colorful goods in such quantity that mere children were giving them away? America was a dream. He knew distant relatives who had moved there. He tried to imagine their lives in a place where food was so abundant and opportunity lurked everywhere. How much better his life might be in such an environment, he couldn’t even begin to imagine.

To distract himself from such dreams, which tended to induce more despair than hope, he scanned the area where he sat. Each time he encountered the large, impressive monuments in the cemetery, he was amazed. Ornate wrought iron designs adorned intricately poured concrete structures. Many dwarfed his own home. It made him laugh to himself to think he might have to die to improve his living conditions.

Nothing was new under the Haitian sun. After consuming half the gritty, bland American bar, he wrapped the rest up and stuffed it back into his box. He rose and turned his back on the cemetery, ready to make his way home. In his imagination, his wife and son awaited him.

The author in Cité Soleil.

The author in Cité Soleil.

The Shoeshine (Part 2)

[A Haitian shoeshines story, continued from the previous post.]

shoes

His first stop after roaming along his own street was the orphanage, not because it was a likely spot to find customers, but simply because it was the nearest large building. Occasionally, the people who owned the orphanage would be there. Clean shoes lent them an air of credibility, or so they felt.

The shoeshine had come to know many of the children in the orphanage over the years. He’d even met some of their parents, whose inability to feed and house them had forced them to turn their little ones over to the care of this institution. The children were fed and housed, but whether they were truly cared for was another question, the answer to which saddened him.

He wondered how he would have handled the situation if his son had survived the quake but the boy’s mother had still perished. Could he have given up the only child he would ever have? Against his will, he had anyway. The memory of the little boy was so vivid, he swore he felt the child’s breath whenever a stealth breeze caught him by surprise. The man had never shed a tear for the boy since he died, although he remembered crying over him constantly while he was still with him. He cried as the boy slept, when he played, and when he sat on the roof of their home staring over the city, never knowing what thoughts passed through the child’s mind. Were they the same as his own? Where were those thoughts now?

No customers emerged from the orphanage so the shoeshine moved on.

His hopes for a good return from the mission house were high. He’d seen evidence of a team of young people from the US staying there. The Americans always carried plenty of cash. While he only charged his fellow Haitians a few gourdes, he could easily ask an American dollar for each pair of shoes from the blans. It was rare that their shoes actually needed cleaning, packed away as they had been in luggage few Haitians could afford. It was an unspoken agreement of a metaphysical transaction. They would give up what to them was worthless to clean not their footwear but their consciences.

His English was limited to the few expressions required to accomplish the deal. “One dollar.” “Two shoes.” “Thank you.” Few of the team members made an effort to expand communications, so he appreciated all that much more the ones who did. They would approach him with smiles and ask in their American accents, “Konben?” A few would actually try to bargain with him. While he went along with the game and didn’t begrudge them their amusement, it annoyed him all the same.

The teens had come to help build a school. He appreciated the Americans’ misguided attempts at assistance, but he’d known more than one construction worker who had lost their jobs to visiting American kids. Despite the fact that one Haitian worker could accomplish as much in an hour as a team of American youths could do in a day, they kept coming like some invading force, taking opportunity captive.

The house was alive with activity. Through the screened windows, the shoeshine saw the teens scurrying back and forth, exhibiting the same degree of purpose as that shown by the ants that crisscrossed the walls of the building with no apparent goal.

One white face glanced out from a hole in a wall and saw him. A young girl who couldn’t have been more than fifteen approached him. She held out a bag in her hand. With a shining smile, she told him, “Kado.” A conflict of fear and gratitude contorted his face as he took the gift. Looking inside, he saw a brand new tin of black polish. His smile of more gaps than teeth was sincere, but he couldn’t help thinking of the man he usually bought his polish from. This was one less bit of income his friend would receive. He felt bad, but wasn’t about to turn down this meager windfall.

Most of the kids just left their shoes on the steps with a dollar in one of them. A couple had bits of food, strange, colorfully wrapped bars of nuts and grains flecked with bits of chocolate. He would make the most of those scraps. One bar could be made to last for two meals if money or food were scarce, as they often were. There was no telling when the next team might arrive carrying more free goods.

To be continued…

The Shoeshine (Part 1)

[Two events brought about the timing and content of this week’s post. First, I missed last week’s deadline for this blog. This is a Limping in the Light week but the next LITL post will have to slip out a week. Second, someone (a fan?!?) was expressing an opinion about my book, A Slippery Land. She said she wanted to hear the stories behind some of the minor characters in the book. Luckily, I’ve already started one such story, so I present it here. I hope you enjoy this first part of the shoeshine’s story.]

shoeshine

The Shoeshine

Dawn announced its arrival on the concrete walls long before the shoeshine ever saw the sun. The light bounded between the decrepit structures that surrounded his decrepit house, crept up the alleys, and drew long vectors of light that gradually linked the tumbledown buildings as if his neighborhood were a giant connect-the-dots puzzle.

His eyes opened as slowly as the sun rose. Not even the slightest breeze had infiltrated the room all night. The air he woke up in was the same air in which he’d fallen asleep. The heavy, dust-filled air enveloped him like a vaporous cocoon. His face was drenched with sweat, as it always was, his eyes were bloodshot, and his nose runny. He reached over and picked up a shirt balled up on the floor at the side of his mattress and wiped his face clean. He had another shirt he could wear.

Instinctively, he swung his eyes around the room. It was unchanged from the day before and in fact unchanged from the day he moved in the week after the 2010 earthquake. The day after his home was destroyed by one of the many tremors following the initial shock, he’d found this abandoned tiny concrete box. He’d slept outside it for several days before he felt it was safe from collapse. He found a mattress, dragged it in, and his new house was furnished. After a year, he correctly assumed no one would return to it to claim ownership.

As quickly as his arthritic knees would allow—not quickly by any means—he gathered the tools of his trade along with his will. If he didn’t catch people before church, there would be few customers. Sunday was no day of rest for him. Most everything he needed was still in the mildewed wooden box sitting by the door where he’d left it the day before. He took stock of its contents: A brush, most of its bristles worn down to the wooden base. He’d need a new one soon, but had no idea where it would come from. Two rags, vestiges of shirts he’d picked up here and there, one still stained with the blood of the man he’d ripped it off after the quake. Black polish, a new can he’d bought with last Sunday’s earnings. White polish. He didn’t often use the white polish. White shoes, the style little girls only wore to weddings, became so scuffed up in the rugged streets of Port-au-Prince, shining them was a futile exercise. A couple of badly tarnished gourde coins rattled around at the bottom of the box.

An enormous dump truck, one that towered over most of the dwellings on the street, rumbled by carrying a load of charcoal, carcasses of felled trees that would never be replaced. As the truck shook the ground, his heart raced. He was immediately transported to the moment his life changed forever. The resilience that had carried him this far calmed him by the time the truck passed.

The outlook for breakfast was not good. Perhaps, he thought, a customer would offer him a piece of toast or a sample of Sunday’s squash soup. Hunger had long since ceased to be an impediment to his schedule. It was as much a part of his routine as breathing.

He picked up his little bell, the one that announced his presence with its feeble, tinny sound. He glanced around his home as if there were more to see. All that remained was a trip around the back to relieve himself before he began his rounds. The stain he made on the cement wall didn’t last long in the sun and heat, but the streaks of red drawn by the blood in his urine worried him. He had no idea what it portended but, having never seen it before last month, he assumed it was a bad sign.

To be continued…

Bill Gates for President!

GatesHello, I’m Bill Gates. It’s late in the game but nevertheless I’ve decided to “throw my hat into the ring” for the 2016 presidential election. How, you may ask, do I have the temerity to pursue such a goal when I haven’t the slightest experience whatsoever in the fields of politics or statesmanship or public service or governance?

Where have you been for the past year?

It’s been demonstrated that any idiot can achieve the highest office in the nation if he can scrape together a few bucks. I’ve got a lot more than a few bucks.

Hell, if that weasel Donald Trump can run, why can’t I? After all, he’s running on nothing beyond his ability to make money. He’s worth a measly four and a half billion and I’m worth 76 billion.

76 BILLION! Read it and weep, combover clown.

For people who equate intelligence with net worth, that makes me a mega-genius and Mr. Schlump a moron. How appropriate.

I eat impoverished punks like Trump for breakfast and fart them out at lunch. There are 120 people in this country worth more than him, people like Rupert Murdoch, Ralph Lauren and every Tom-Dick-and-Mary in the Walton family. Maybe I’ll put them all in my cabinet. George Lucas (also richer) can run NASA. (Anything to keep him from making more movies.)

That bozo Trump doesn’t know jack about making real money and he wants to run the country? He started out with the fortune daddy-kins gave him and he  managed to make a slightly bigger fortune. Big friggin’ deal. You can do that by putting the money in a savings account. Oh yeah, Trump only had to declare bankruptcy FOUR TIMES on the way to accumulating his pittance.

And the guy calls himself a winner? I think wiener is more like it. What has he won? A handful of Republican primaries over a splintered field of posers and almost never getting a majority until everyone else quit? How’s about Robert Kraft? Four time Super Bowl champ! And richer than loser Schlump! Kraft can be my Surgeon General. He can put warning labels on football helmets.

To sweeten the pot, I’m picking Warren Buffet as Vice President. Between us, we’re worth more than 30 times what Trump is. If a measly 4.5 billion qualifies someone to run for president, we should be emperors of the solar system.

But we’ll settle for making Trump look like the paltry jackass he is.

Vote for me!

In praise of the sea

[For a while, I was a regular contributor to a blog for a resort on Martha’s Vineyard. In order to save some time – and in the spirit of recycling – please accept this repurposed post from that blog.]

DSCN0189

The ocean is a marvelous place. It is literally a place of marvels. People travel from deep in the interior sections of a continent just to spend a few days in its proximity. As they near it, their hearts – if not their voices – resonate with that of William Clark who cried at his first sight of the Pacific, “Ocian in view! O! The joy!” We are willing to spend a massive premium for the privilege of an ocean vista, disregarding the dangers it poses.

DSCN0194It only takes a few minutes at the beach to realize that there is more to it than sand and water. Peter Kreeft, prolific author and professor of philosophy at Boston College, has caught this vision. He says that by God’s design, “the ocean is a perfect toy: always there, always willing to play with you, just dangerous enough to be exciting, never needing replacement, unbreakable, never boring, and you don’t even have to put it away when you’re finished playing with it. Watch how little kids treat it; they know what it’s for.”

DSCN0192Indeed, no one seems to appreciate the beach like a child. The little girl has no need of a “beach book” or a radio to pass the time. Her younger brother isn’t concerned with making a fashion statement or getting the perfect tan. The sand, shells, waves, sun, and breeze all provide more than enough distraction for the most innocent among us. And if they have the proper tools, who knows what imaginative creations they may construct in the sand?

DSCN0191My preferred portion of coastline is on Martha’s Vineyard. In spite of its often overbearing crowds, South Beach is where I head for my ocean fix. The power of the surf there is humbling, more than once leaving me tumbling in its foamy aftermath. The shoreline goes on almost to the vanishing point in either direction. One can stroll its shifting sands in peace for hours.

DSCN0190You never know what wonder you will encounter along that stretch of shoreline. There is a seemingly endless variety of birds to watch – some skittering in the shallow surf, some repeatedly diving headlong into the waves foraging for a meal. While lacking an abundance of shells, there are yet some prizes to be found for the diligent. Patience and a keen eye may also reward you with a rare seal or dolphin sighting.

DSCN0186Those who lug their laptops, cell phones and iPods to the beach will have their reward, I suppose. I prefer to follow the lead of the little ones. When it comes to the ocean, they know the magic it holds better than “adults”.