Tag Archives: Humor

Stop Me If You’ve Seen This Before by Chuck Thurston

I have a friend who has done a lot of writing in various media. And I’m talking Hollywood and TV network prime time script writing stuff, etc. This background will tend to lower the objectivity bar for many of you, and so, to establish his credentials as honest and grounded in reality, I have to point out that he left the glamor of this life and now does considerable technical and business writing.

Now that he’s earning an honest living, he can look back on his earlier efforts with a critical eye. He told me some time ago that TV programming was suffering because of a lack of good writing these days. I am not sure if this is coincident with his leaving that business, but he went on to say this accounts for the rise of the – now ubiquitous – TV Reality Shows. It is far easier for TV producers to get some interesting folks, put them in unusual situations, give them a few instructions on what is wanted – and record the results.

The characters are chosen because of their good looks, nice bodies, quirkiness, wiseassery, likelihood of drawing sympathy, etc.  In other words, most of the traits that would get them selected for traditional TV acting roles – if there were good writers producing these shows now! The resultant work can’t be entirely without direction, however. The producers are smart enough to know what sells and what doesn’t, and if don’t know what the big draw is, you haven’t watched much TV. Dancing with the stars is as much about dancing as bull fighting is about animal control.

The advertisements for these shows are designed to entice the viewer in much the same way that ads for traditional shows did – emphasizing the excitement, adventure and titillating possibilities to be expected. And you can bag the excitement and adventure if it dampens the titillating.

My wife showed me an ad for The Bachelor in Paradise show that read, ‘Ashley takes Jared to a hotel!’ “What could possibly be her motive for that?” she asked. I sensed a tongue-in-cheek behind that remark.

“Don’t read too much into it,” I said. “That hotel has the best breakfast buffet in town!”

She snorted. “Oh sure!

“Look,” I said. “Before I watch that show – if I thought for a minute there was some hanky panky going on – I’d ask my doctor if my heart was healthy enough for viewing!”

 

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Ellie and the Hoyas by Chuck Thurston

The oldest cliché in human relationships is that of the contentious mother-in-law. I luckily escaped that dynamic. I truly loved my wife’s mother, and we had wonderful times together. She lived in Denmark, so getting together wasn’t a matter of a neighborhood visit or a short road trip. Consequently, when she came to see us, it was usually a stay of a couple of months. She was an easy houseguest, and one we thoroughly enjoyed.

She didn’t like the hot southern summers, so her visits were invariably in the spring or fall. During one such stay, I introduced her to “March Madness.” In the mid 1980’s, the Georgetown Hoyas had a run of good seasons, and were routinely in the NCAA’s championship tournament. Elinor – Ellie – knew nothing of basketball, adopted them as her team. She was in fact, a soccer fan in Europe, so perhaps the spectacle of men in shorts chasing around a round ball resonated in some way. Maybe it was the blue and grey uniforms, which dated back to the civil war and signified the union of north and south – although she didn’t know much about that conflict, either. Ellie’s adoption of the Hoyas ran counter to popular sentiment. The team was often – perhaps because of its success and the swagger that goes with it – the one that everyone liked to dislike.

Georgetown’s coach, John Thompson –a giant of a man – captured her admiration. Perhaps his display of passion for the game and for his team appealed to her. He prowled the sideline during games with an ever-present towel over his shoulder.

john thompson

In the spring of 1984, the Hoyas took it all. They polished off the Houston Cougars, and Ellie and I watched every game, usually with a beer or two. I didn’t make many attempts to explain the intricacies of the game. I’m not an expert in any case, and the athleticism and competitiveness of the contests spoke for themselves. When the final whistle sounded on the final game of the tournament, we both felt satisfied, but somehow incomplete – there would not be another round of basketball to look forward to. It would have to wait until the next year and the next March Madness. In those days, it was almost a given that Ellie’s Hoyas would be back – and Ellie would be back to cheer them on.

PS – in 1985, the Hoyas were back, and lost in the final game, a 62-64 nail-biter to Villanova.

Chuck Thurston is currently absorbed in the March Madness of 2017. We lost Ellie a few years ago, and the Hoyas are not the powerhouse they once were, but I believe we would have found a suitable replacement.  

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Feeding the Hungry by Chuck Thurston

 

Primitive men and women were hunter-gatherers. Eating was catch as catch can. Sharing was essential. If one of them ran across a nut tree in the forest, he or she didn’t keep it to himself or herself. Survival of their tribe demanded that they run and tell the rest.   They stored very little, but ate whatever could be consumed on the spot — and hunted for another source.

Some would say that the behavior of teenagers in the food court of a large mall indicates that this human instinct is still strong.

But in every age and in every way, humans periodically drop whatever else they are doing and hunt for chow.

My farm mother had five sons and a husband to deal with. We did grace on special occasions – large family gatherings, church holidays, etc., but my dad’s everyday injunction, once the vittles were on the table, was to “grab and growl!” Nothing was wasted. Leftover mashed potatoes became potato croquettes later. Left over baked beans were slathered on sandwiches with a sliced onion and packed in school lunches.

Anything that survived this feeding frenzy went into the slop bucket for the hogs. It is for certain that every now and then these critters dined on the remains of one of their comrades who had made the supreme sacrifice before them. Were they sentient, they might have found temporary solace in Von Braun’s assertion that “Nature does not know extinction. It only knows transformation.” Temporary, I say — that transformation was destined to be next winter’s bacon.

There was a sign over the mess hall of one military installation I spent some time at. It read, “Eat all you want, but eat all you take.” I knew of a few guys who took this to heart. They would gobble down their first tray of food in a mad rush so they could get back in line for another go at it.

At one base, I was invited by one of the storekeepers to accompany him on a truck trip to a large depot that warehoused food meant for military installations in that particular section of the east coast. I was off duty and figured I would enjoy the ride. The SK had been given a list of items he was to pick up for our unit. They would be waiting to be loaded for him.

As he checked off his sheet, one of the warehouse workers informed him that there had been a run on the more popular ice cream flavors. All he had to give us was pistachio. We ate pistachio ice cream for the next several weeks. Look, most folks can breeze through a month with only chocolate or vanilla as their options. But pistachio? I have not touched it since.

My new wife could not cook – came from a long line of women, in fact, who could not cook. I did not know this in advance. Actually she didn’t either until she questioned her mother about her mother. And aunts, and various cousins… “Did you know that your great Aunt Agnette hated to cook?”

I knew a little and was willing to experiment. I had to, really, for self-preservation. I became so familiar with Lipton’s chicken noodle soup that I could tell when they made subtle changes to the formula. “Lipton’s has done it again,” I would say.

Early on she mastered eggs — boiled and scrambled, although an omelet escaped her – and does to this day.

When my wife and I raised a family of our own, we rediscovered what generations of parents before us had already found out.

Our boys had a garage rock band and the house was for some time a teen hangout. Rehearsals took place in our cellar game room. Other parents pointed out that we, at least, knew where they were. Oh, did we know. Every nail in the house was loose. On one occasion, rehearsal coincided with our dinnertime, and we had made a nice casserole. It wouldn’t have fed them anyway, and a Matthew 14 loaves and fishes multiplication was beyond us. As the latest rock riffs billowed up from the basement and filled the rest of the house, we called friends across town. Could we come to their place for dinner? We’d bring it! We put our casserole in the car and headed out.

No need for fine dining or niceties. Invariably these pals would be kids from the swim or wrestling teams of the local HS. They were always in training. You have not lived until you have fed wrestlers who are moving up to a bigger weight class for a coming meet. We cooked spaghetti by the tub-full.

I used to do backpacking trips with my sons and an occasional buddy. On one such trip, we all packed one of the big chocolate mega bars…designed for a week’s survival, I would guess. On the trail, I took mine out at occasional rest stops and nibbled a bite or two before putting it back in my pack. About two hours into the hike, the boys were eying my stash and confessed that they had polished their own bars off.

This particular trail bordered a vineyard in the New York grape country. It was no effort at all to hop off the trail a step or two and grab a bunch of grapes in passing. I am sure the vineyard owner planned on losing a few bunches to the occasional hikers. Luckily for him, the boys’ plunder was limited to what they could carry in their hands without breaking stride on the hike. We grabbed an afternoon snack and trekked on.

That night we pulled into a family campground that was not far off our hiking trail. I set up the tent, stowed the packs, lit a campfire, started the little gas stove to heat up some water – then relaxed while our freeze-dried food rehydrated for cooking. After we had eaten, the boys wondered if we might also finish off the breakfast stuff we had brought. And go hungry for breakfast? I couldn’t believe this.

I pointed out that this was a family campground and there were probably lots of folks there with teenagers – likely a few girls, too. I assured them they weren’t the worst looking boys in the state. Why not cruise the grounds, and casually, strike up a conversation here and there to see if a hotdog or burger invitation might be forthcoming? Off they went. Hunters and – hopeful – gatherers.

For many years Jimmy Anderson ran a popular restaurant in Charlotte near the Presbyterian hospital. Jimmy was a genuine Greek – his son, Gary, told me his untranslated name would be Demostanis Anageros Andritsanos. I ate at Anderson’s several times over the years, and never met Jimmy personally, but heard he was a genial and generous soul.  He passed on in 1988, and Charlotte was saddened by its loss.

sssd-jimmy-anderson

The restaurant picked up a lot of hospital traffic — patients and visitors coming and going. Some perhaps having a final restaurant meal before a hospital stay, or ones coming off a stay and back in the world of mashed potatoes, meatloaf, “The World’s Best Pecan Pie,” as Jimmy called it — and the other sturdy dishes that Jimmy served. It was not uncommon to see people with canes and crutches and bandages coming and going on the arm of caregivers. Uniformed nurses, doctors and local businessmen often complimented the crowd.

One time a woman with a small infant walked in — perhaps in the neighborhood because of some hospital business. She asked Jimmy to give her a rear booth with a little privacy because she had to breast feed her baby.  Jimmy graciously complied.

Although she was as discreet as she could make it, an observable customer noticed and complained to Jimmy.  Jimmy replied, “Hey — everybody’s gotta eat!”

Right on Jimmy. RIP.

“Feeding the Hungry” is from Chuck Thurston’s “Senior Scribbles Second Dose” – available from Indigo Sea Press and Amazon. He is working on a third book, pausing only a few times a week to refuel at the dinner table. 

 

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The Sleep of Reason by Chuck Thurston

 

Many of us believe things to be true that have been proved not – e.g., President Obama is Muslim or Kenyan-born. Many of us do not believe in things that have been demonstrated to be true – climate change is one of the most pervasive non-beliefs.

These positions are part of our personal belief systems. If we disagree with the president’s policies, believing that he has strong ties to a particular religion or country allows us to rationalize behaviors of his we see as suspicious. It confirms our fear, and we tell our acquaintances, “See! I told you so!”

If we don’t believe in climate change, then the dire predictions of what the long term consequences are likely to be won’t worry us.

 

In either case, our beliefs are driven by fear. Franklin Roosevelt took the office of the presidency during the depths of the depression – with turmoil in Europe and the Far East. He quickly realized that many public fears were irrational or unfounded and were keeping the nation from moving toward solutions. He was probably familiar with Mark Twain’s famous quote: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened!”

FDR early on told people “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”

I recently discovered the science fiction of Alice Mary Norton, who wrote under the pen name of Andre Norton. Female sci fi writers were rarer than hen’s teeth and had very little cred amongst fantasy and sci fi readers in the 50’s and 60’s. I won’t go into a long critique of her work – which I am enjoying – but a particular passage in one of her works stuck with me. Here’s the scene:

A group of space travelers from earth land on a strange planet – almost paradisiac in its beauty, climate and inhabitants – a gentle, handsome Polynesian-type race with extraordinary ESP skills. They can, for instance, communicate with dolphins. In the course of events, the earthmen are following a native girl, guiding them through some very old, dark tunnels toward an old structure that may be frequented by an ancient evil that frightens the natives. At one point the girl says that their “old gods” inhabit these tunnels – they have hundreds – and to disturb them is very dangerous. The girl is terrified and is ready to abandon the expedition.

One of the earthmen attempts to calm her fears. He says, “But they are not our gods! There is no power where there is no belief!” Another adds, “No being without belief!” The girl eventually concludes that she must be safe if she is in the company of those who simply do not believe – and therefore cause the evaporation of the old deities which so frighten her. The troop continues on.

pantheon of the gods

So Norton’s characters are saying that if you don’t believe in these whatevers, they cease to exist. Is it this easy? Over the course of millennia, humans have taken up, worshipped, and eventually discarded – thousands of gods. Most of us don’t believe that Thor or Jupiter have any power to give us strength to meet a particular challenge. We aren’t moved to offer up prayers to Venus or Aphrodite in exchange for help with our love life. Is there going to be an eventual discarding of whatever is left?

Should we consider bringing back a few specialists to handle modern complexities – or does boiling it down to one streamline the process and make it more efficient for the digital age?

Chuck Thurston’s collected columns and essays are available in his Senior Scribbles collections on Amazon. He is currently working on a full length mystery thriller. He is not sure which god he should petition for help.

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Secret Lives by John E. Stack

Children always seem excited when they see their teachers in a different environment outside of school.  They often wonder if teachers do anything other than teach and grade papers.  They always ask teachers what they do in their off-time, because in the student’s mind the teacher lives at the school.  Even though it really seems that some do, most of us lead exciting lives, married, raise kids, and work other jobs (is writing another job?). 

What if teachers did do more than teach?  What if the middle schoolers we worked with were actually alien rather than just acting as if they were from another planet? What if….?

The above is the proposed forward to my latest submission, Secret Lives (of Middle School Teachers).  Secret Lives is my first attempt at something like a novel or rather a story other than a picture book.  We are always told to write about something you know or you are interested in.  So I did.

Let’s see, I have spent ten months a year for the last eighteen years teaching in the same middle school.  With that, I have worked around a lot of the same teachers and many new teachers that rotate through our school.  Some of the personalities are unique.  Sometimes the faces change, but the personalities stay the same.

I’ve taught close to two thousand students.  I would try to describe the normal student, but who is to say what is normal.  I have had parents ask “What happened to the sweet, little girl I used to have?  It’s like some alien sucked her brains out and didn’t give them all back.”  Or, they wonder why their sons stopped taking showers and why hygiene now means nothing.

So, I took a handful of experience (eight four-day trips to Washington, DC with four bus loads of eighth graders gives some experience), several teacher personalities, and a fascination with astronomy mixed them all together with a little humor and came out with something like a story.

God gave me a little leeway and allowed me to create a planet system around a known star.  In that system is a planet named after an Englishman named Nigel that I go to church with.  I got to determine what the people looked like and the environment in which they lived.  I also got to develop worm-hole technology.

My aliens are called Nigelians (Nigel) and they are very humanoid.  The only differences are their lack of noses and ears.  While on Earth they wear assimilation suits to disguise their differences.  They also have tufts of hair rather than a full covering.  There are other differences, but maybe you can read about them later this summer.

If you have ever been to Washington, DC, you may have passed by the Old Post Office.  I have been to the building once and even took a group of students up into the clock tower.  Most of the story takes place in DC, but the Old Post Office became the home for our school and was the center for a lot of the action in the book.

I also tried something that I haven’t really attempted since I was a boy (and that was a long time ago) — free-hand drawing.  In the military, I was trained as a architectural draftsman.  I learned straight lines and right angles.  This was something different.  I did sketches, perspectives and some doodling.  Eventually, I completed all the drawings except for one, which was submitted by a student.  I did make some changes, but gave her the credit.

I have to admit that completing this book was a lot more fun than the picture books I’ve been doing.  There was more freedom in writing, in the ideas, and my thought process felt more alive.  I also got to learn a lot about DC.

When we continue to try something new we continue to grow in our art.  And, as long as we enjoy what we do it is not a job. Keep an eye out for my new adventure.  Read, write and enjoy.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.  He is also the author of the upcoming books Cody and the Great Zoo Escape and  Secret Lives (of Middle School Teachers).

 

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A Sermon For The Mellow by Chuck Thurston

I took a couple of English courses in college requiring I write poems, and I wrote quite a few. An instructor remarked at the time: “Your poetry is very personal.” This was not a compliment. He explained that my efforts were poems with little meaning to anyone but me. They were sound in structure, but narrow in expression. It represented a view of my personal life and conflicts, but not in a way that illuminated it for anyone else. I was doing little more than writing irate, self-aggrandizing editorials with a rhythm and rhyme scheme.

I was then a young married father, with all of the associated struggles. I had a good job, but knew I would find my level in it sooner or later, and it wouldn’t be all that high. The war in Vietnam was turning into the horror many had feared. The Peace Movement was burgeoning. The skirmishes for civil rights had begun. Smoke was in the air and it wasn’t all gunpowder or tobacco. I was an angry young man. Worse, I bought with unquestioned agreement, into almost every extreme pronouncement that complimented my own resentments. I had become what can easily turn into that most dangerous of humans – The True Believer.

Believers of one stripe or another have been around as long as humankind. That’s a good thing. Belief precedes experiment, which precedes verification, and well – it’s the only way we ever gather the facts on anything. Scientists call it a hypothesis. Copernicus woke up one morning and said to himself, “Gee, I believe the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around!” He was, as it happened, a great mathematician and developed a heliocentric model that made sense. Let me extemporize on that a bit. Copernicus couldn’t prove his belief – but no other mathematical model made sense to him. Those who believed otherwise went to great lengths to construct models that were torturous in their description of how things worked. These models did, however, jibe with the religious dogma of the time. Although Copernicus got away with it, Galileo, born almost a hundred years later, took most of the heat for this hypothesis – almost literally; he was threatened with death at the stake if he didn’t recant. This threat came from – you guessed it – True Believers.

Now there is nothing wrong with true belief on its face. And there is nothing wrong with an enthusiastic and impassioned defense of it. In their time, humans have given unquestioned obeisance to Paleolithic superstitions, Bronze Age myths and legends, Hebrew tribal laws, prophets, shamans and cultists, medieval alchemists, mystics, psychics and self-proclaimed wizards. All of these authorities have vestigial form today, and we have upped the ante with media-fueled baloney by the megaton. You are free to believe any of this you want. Be my guest.

If it were left at that, people could go merrily on their way chasing Bigfoot or hunting down the Appalachian Devil Monkeys. But a lot of True Believers don’t want to leave it at that. True Believers have harassed and taunted women and gays; True Believers have killed, with routine nonchalance, young people who made romantic attachments their families didn’t approve of; True Believers have flown airplanes into skyscrapers; True Believers have concocted bogus evidence to justify inciting wars. Like the old geocentric model makers, True Believers have warped new insights or observable evidence to match their convictions. “If you don’t like the diagnosis,” said the quack surgeon, “we’ll retouch the X-rays!”

I once attended a religious ceremony where a man officiating told me that I was cursed if I did not believe as he believed. I would, he assured me, roast in perpetual torment after I died, unless I adopted his particular beliefs. He did not actually say that he had placed a curse on me, but it wouldn’t be putting too fine a point on it to interpret it that way, if you ask me.

Well, I didn’t believe that for a minute, and would have told him so, but held to manners I had learned at mother’s knee – a lack of which apparently did not trouble him. His position, to be sure, was met with murmurs of approval from a sizeable part of those in attendance – troubling in itself. The rest sat on their hands along with me and accepted their damnation with polite demeanor. He graciously invited anyone troubled by his pronouncements to meet with him after the service, where we would be set straight. I demurred.

The world has become infected by TBs. Countries are torn apart by factions settling scores for perceived slights perpetuated centuries ago. Politicians embrace their way or no way. The Age of Chivalry is dead and the Age of Civility is evaporating. Statesmanship is moribund. Progress is deadlocked because negotiation and collaboration are dirty words.

My cafeteria lunch mates and I used to have heated discussions on the day’s hot topics, and great philosophical issues. There were always a couple of TBs in these groups. I represented a puzzling anomaly to them. I confessed to a profound curiosity about our whereabouts in the hereafter, but no real ideas on whatever might take place or whoever might be going wherever.

“But Thurston, you have to believe in something!” I was told.

Note: TBs often express things this way; to which I say “Why?”

 “It isn’t just a belief,” I told them. “I know for absolute certainty what happens to us when we die!” This always made them hoot. “We will all be recycled,” I said.

Now you can’t argue with that – and they couldn’t. I’m not talking about that spiritual component. I let the TBs work that part out, and keep it to themselves when they do; but – if every atom in our bodies isn’t sentient, then certainly some critical mass of them must be. We’ll find out one way or another in eight billion years or so when the Sun runs out of fuel and that big fusion bomb implodes and gobbles up its planetary children. Think of that. Assuming we ourselves haven’t incinerated everything by then, our urns or caskets will be atomized and the contents will be off on another adventure. I believe, with no evidence to back it up – Jeez, I’m not a TB, after all – that those contents will accrete again, gravity being what it is, and who knows? Not me, not you, not even Stephen Hawking – who has his own views on it, but is smart enough not to advance them as gospel.

I like the way Richard Feynman put it, “I am a universe of atoms, and an atom in the universe.”

Frankly, there is more empirical evidence to support my scenario than there is the fiery pit described by the proselytizer mentioned earlier.

I eventually returned to poetry after I got over the idea that I had to write angry stuff. I couldn’t begin to match up with Sassoon, anyway: “He’s young; he hated war; how should he die/ when cruel old campaigners win safe through?/ But death replied: ‘I choose him.’ So he went,/ And there was silence in the summer night.”

Whooo! No competing with that! I had to set my sights much lower and settled on doggerel. In fact, I discovered that I didn’t have to knock much polish off of my serious stuff to drop down into this stratum. I whacked out a few lines and thought myself pretty good at it! This would be my poetic niche!

The Lightning Bug

 The lightning bug with logic smug,

Lights up the summer skies,

To find a mate and procreate;

Those clever little guys!

 

The logic here is very clear,

To all who empathize.

So, don’t be coy, dear girl and boy;

It pays to advertise!

Now look – my light verse does not mean that I am glib about the woes of the world. I know full well there is suffering and hunger. Humans can rationalize anything, and a lot of TBs have rationalized cruel responses to ideas they can’t make themselves believe. Don’t join that crowd. One amazing feature of our great gift of free will is the ability to hold several opposing views in our brains at one time without going nuts. Hang out with me for a while.

Here is my belief for this day: It is beautiful outside. I believe I will get a good cigar out of my humidor, give myself a healthy pour of something red, sit out on my deck for an hour or so and ponder all of this. You’re welcome to come over and join me. You can pass on the stogie and choose the booze if you want; or maybe light up a cheroot and pass on the vino. You can bag them both and bring your own iced tea. I don’t believe you’ll be cursed any way you go.

Postscript: The air quality code was green, so my wife joined me on the deck. I didn’t get in an hour of private ponder, but she sat upwind of me, had a glass of wine and the company was welcome. Oh, and later that evening, I came across an article by scientists who have lowered the sun’s time to extinction from 8 billion to around 5.8 billion years. We don’t have as much time left as we thought.

Post-postscript – “A Sermon For The Mellow” will be in Chuck Thurston’s next Senior Scribble – “The Bathroom Reader (Your Results May Vary)”. Look for it later this year – if wine and an occasional cigar don’t get him first.

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Never Doubt I Love

Sad blue eyes and a fine even smile, his build bragged of gym dues and vegetables. A friend of a friend, that’s usually how these things start, he said he was recently divorced, forty years void of love. I believed him. If any man seemed starved for affection it was he and if anyone’s self-esteem had been ruthlessly damaged, it was his.

hugBoth over sixty, an odd age for a summer love but astounding beauty like his was a gift. Was my judgment clouded by perfection, my sight blurred by superb? I wanted him and I wanted him to know that I wanted him, and the tastes of his kisses were pastries of sensory delight. I savored each one, found joy in his touch. I devoured this man from each graceful finger to his strong lovely legs, gave him the tenderness he had learned to live without. Freely, without shame I admit to loving this man with all my might.

I guarded him jealously because I knew he would not be mine for long. As soon as he understood what a commodity he was in a world full of women, he’d be gone. Someone younger and prettier would get him that is exactly how it happened.

I got to love that man for only six months before he found her and it was painful as hell when he left. For three full months I cried, spent sleepless nights writing bad poetry, I even considered Prozac till I began to recognize a small spark of joy between each tear. I could be pleased for him because I knew that if anyone deserved happiness it was he. If anyone deserved to be appreciated, if anyone ever deserved to be loved it was this man.

Maybe Rumi was right when he said, The wound is the place where Light enters you.” Or maybe Bob Marley when he said, “Truth is everybody is going to hurt you. You just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” But I clung to one thought, maybe she deserved him.

I am impressed with my heart. It’s still open, still willing to endure injury in order to love. I’m proud that this weird world hasn’t jaded me and no barriers protect from deep feeling. I’m only slightly crazy, I don’t drink… and I’d give all the Prozac in Walgreen’s to have a chance like that again, to help a deserving man grow in confidence and realize he is worthy of love. This was life affirming and there is no experience more existential than skin to skin, heart to heart, face to face contact and sharing vital breath with someone you love.

Then I did the math. Six months of bliss minus three months of melancholy, I’m ahead by three months. Net positive, bliss, hell, ya, I’d do it again. It beat the heck out of crocheting shawls by lamp light.

If you must lose in love, lose to a woman half your age with long gorgeous legs and a doctorate. A large house on acres of land is a plus, an heiress maybe with a sports car or two for good measure. Or to a kind, sincere, loving soul who rescues animals, volunteers with the elderly and keeps a vegetable garden.

I saw them in the analgesic section of Walgreens. I peered through the endcap gaping. She had a fake set of boobs like two fishbowls, her hem was crooked and her eyelashes came from a box. I wished them well (him more so than her). Perhaps he has found the woman of his dreams or an adolescent-like crush on a cheap shiny piece or maybe, just maybe she recues kittens between hair appointments. So goodbye to my handsome, make your life happy… and love… love willingly, love passionately, love with everything you’ve got.

But, damnation, if I had lived forty years of neglect and had a body like his, I’d keep looking. In truth, I’d probably be messing around like Tiger Woods on hell fire.

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End Times The Hard Way

 

 

Some years ago a California radio preacher predicted that the world would end on May 21, 2011. When that didn’t come off on schedule, he said that he had made a slight miscalculation, and moved the cosmic deadline up to October 21 of that year. Don’t you know he was let down again? He recovered by saying that his prediction was, in fact, a “spiritual event”. Kind of a “virtual tribulation”, I guess you could say.

This preacher is 90 years old, bless him, and has had a stroke. His world is probably going to end before too long in any case, but he will have no end of successors. The most recent of these put the calamity at May 27th, 2012. That has come and gone too.

If you are reading this after some projected future date, either it didn’t come off, or you took a break from the Apocalypse to buy this newspaper. In that latter case, I appreciate your taking the time to read my column amidst what must be some terrible turmoil. I couldn’t ask for a more loyal reader. I also admire your spunk in wanting to keep up with events in your newspaper while the world falls apart. I myself would be in my wine cellar eyeing a 1991 pinot noir I have been saving for a special event. The end of the world would certainly qualify.

On a similar note, I saw the movie “2012” recently. It was loosely based on doomsday predictions in the ancient Mayan calendar that pegged the big event for December 12, 2012. The Mayans blew that one, too.

Both the preachers and the Mayans envision real cataclysms — earthquakes, horrendous storms, solar flares and other such calamities that will wipe us out in a matter of hours. That is probably a bad-news, good-news scenario. Ok, so the planet disintegrates – but you won’t be stuck in misery for years.

I don’t think we are going to get off that easy. For the abuse we have visited upon our earthly habitat, a much harsher penance is called for — and, as a matter of fact, it is already underway in the minds of some of the world’s leading experts.

In 1988, James Hansen, NASA’s chief climate scientist gave testimony before the U.S. Senate – telling them that man-made global warming had already begun. Most serious scientists (who aren’t on the payroll of a large oil company) have few doubts about it today. Most of them also believe that we still have a choice, but at this late start it is between “pain and disaster” as Michael Oppenheimer – one of the world’s foremost climate scientists puts it.

We cling to a strong belief in some eleventh hour technical breakthrough that will miraculously rescue us – the magic pill, so to speak — although it is hard to believe that the same politicians who ridiculed the science behind global warming would be smart enough to embrace the science needed to mitigate its effects.

And politicians don’t really act unless we pressure them to do so. Even if – on some level — we believe that global warming is a reality, most of us just won’t be bothered. If we can’t be put out by the discomfort of driving less, adjusting our thermostats or recycling, there won’t be much support for the pain of gas rationing, mass transit expenditures or a carbon tax.

That being the case, we should at least make some decisions on how we want to squander the last of our dwindling resources as the disaster approaches. I have designed the following multiple-choice test to help you set your priorities:

  • The last gallon of fuel should be used by: A) a tractor trailer idling in a rest area parking lot while the driver takes a nap. B) a NASCAR race winner cutting donuts in the winner’s circle after winning a 500 miler. C) a teenager chopping up the environment in an ATV.
  • I’d like to see the last few watts of electricity used: A) by a television station to air the 21,738th rerun of “The Andy Griffith Show.” B) by a homeowner leaving his 42” flat screen TV set on (after watching Andy Griffith) to entertain the dog while the owner goes to the store. C) an electronic billboard to advertise the product described in 3C (below).
  • I support using the last quart of fresh water: A) on the 11th green of a country club golf course. B) by a suburban homeowner to power wash his driveway. C) in a bottling plant that will add chemicals, sugar, color and fizz and market it.

Now – that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Since you are still hanging around and locomoting, you know that the preachers’ end days prophesies haven’t worked out so far. Don’t despair though. They – and others — will go back to their references to work out another timeline. Meanwhile, the rest of us continue to chug along. Here’s a recent news release:

After a decline in CO2 emissions in 2009 of 1%, global emissions jumped by more than 5% in 2010 — unprecedented in the last two decades. Global consumption of coal and natural gas (responsible for about 40% and 20% of total CO2 emissions, respectively) both grew in 2010 by 7%.

Mother Nature is watching – and she is ticked off.

 

“End Times The Hard Way” was first published in Chuck Thurston’s “Senior Scribbles Unearthed” – available from Indigo Sea Press and Amazon.  He is currently working on a third book in this series.  Look for “Senior Scribbles Bathroom Reader” in late 2016.SSU Book Cover Pencil

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Strange Times and Weird Holidays

 

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Billy Pilgrim came for Thanksgiving then swiftly became unstuck in time. He travelled onward… or back.

Those of you who remember Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five know that when time came unstuck for Billy, he could spring forward to a happier place or he could fall back to appalling happenstance, like the bombing of Dresden during World War II. Billy had no say when it came to the matter of time. We, however, have a modicum of control over ours.

We even time travel- to an extent, not physically like Billy, but we can remember… relive what that shiny red bike looked like on that best Christmas ever, recall what it felt like to hold a newborn. We think ahead, hope for better, and manifest our dreams. The Pilgrim within gets to choose where we travel. We don’t have to visit any of the ugly stuff, past present or future if we don’t want to.

In one of my favorite parts of Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy’s fiancé flashed her diamond ring at Mr. Rosewater, “Billy got it in the war,” she beamed. Did she know that the gem came from rubble which once was Dresden; the rock was a spoil of war? To her it was a symbol of love, her dream of upcoming happiness, her time travel forward.

Mr. Rosewater’s reply could not have been challenged, “That’s the wonderful thing about war. Everybody gets something.” I get it, Mr. Rosewater. Some people get diamonds and others get dead.

Without understating the sufferings of war by comparing them to holidays, I have to admit that similarities do exist… especially this particular Holiday Season.

And as I travel back to our family holidays, they were like a series of tiny Napoleonic battles. We shouted, pounded on tables, about politics, social issues… religion, we dug up past resentments… said hurtful words. There is no doubt that we loved each other, we loved each other like mad, but with the collective holiday anger of my crazy family? Unite us, add one case of brandy, a few bottles of Ouzo and we could have invaded Canada.

That’s the thing about holidays, everybody gets something. Some get arguments and some get loved, some get the Lexus and some stand in line for a meal. Some children get a bike and others get shot.

So as the month of gratitude gives way to peppermint truffles and decadence I will live my moments more deliberately, select my thoughts carefully, choose the kindest words possible when speaking about our world as it is. And with my memories, I guess, I’ll be selective. After all, those impetuous relatives are sorely missed now. So it goes.

I look forward with hopefulness, to a time when peace on planet earth is achievable. I’ll dream that everyone everywhere has food, clothing and shelter. I’ll imagine that it’s so. And I will accept what I get this year (thank you very much for the lovely brown socks) with grace.

I hope for patience and tolerance from all of the people I love. No gifts for me this year, there’s nothing I need, except one favor from all. I need an advance on forgiveness, like a caveat, a hall pass or a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Those will do very well for me, please. Because I, like Billy Pilgrim, have a history… and probably even a genetic pre-disposition to becoming unstuck… just a little.

Happy Holidays to everyone.

Enjoy Christmas present.

Take time for love!

Slaughterhousefive

And maybe re-read an old favorite,

 

Jonna

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The Last Taxpayer

By Jay Duret

The Last Taxpayer

The two men were in the locker room. The tall one was stripping down after a sweaty workout. The short bearded one sat on a stool, slowly and tiredly pulling off his work socks, getting ready for his session in the gym.

The tall one said, “Rodge, I never see you. How long you in for?”

“Came in yesterday, leaving tomorrow.”

“Three days. In and out. That’s a quick trip.”

“And that’s all I am gonna be doing. Gotta be careful.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s quick but I get a lot done. Tues to Thursday, that’s most of the week. And it only counts as three days.”

“How many can you have?”

“There is no bright line. That’s why I have to be careful.”

“I thought 183 was the bright line.”

“Yeah 183 and you are definitely screwed. But you can be screwed with a lot less. The only thing you can actually count on is that less than 45 days is okay.”

“Really?”

“But anything beyond 45 and, well, you just don’t know.”

“Seems harsh.”

“You really have to be careful.”

“I guess.”

Rodge said, “Trust me. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the line, wherever it gets drawn. We are talking beaucoup dollars.”

“Yeah, I bet.”

Beaucoup. If it weren’t so much, I wouldn’t worry. I love San Francisco.  Mostly. I’d be here all the time, but it is just impossible. Can’t take that kind of a risk.”

“Well at least you can get to the gym. You keep your membership?”

“Yeah, they let me. But I have been working so hard with the travel and everything I don’t feel that much like working out.”

“Dude, don’t say that. You used to be fanatic #1.”

“Gotta be realistic. I fly in and I’m going to a meeting straight from the airport and then they are all stacked up for 3 straight days. I hardly get any downtime, even at night. Dinner meetings every night and then back to the airport. It’s wearing me down, frankly.”

“Dude you gotta manage your life better. Gotta take care of yourself.”

“I know. I know. But when?”

“What about when you are home?”

“That’s just as bad cause I have all the follow-up when I get back and as soon as that’s done I have to start preparing for the next trip – I am coming at least twice a month.”

“That’s gonna get you way over 45 days, Dude. Three days a week, twice a month? That’s more than seventy days.”

“I know. I know. It’s stressing me out. Some days I get palpitations when I think about it. I have to figure out how to cut back.”

“You ever think about coming in disguise?”

Disguise?”

“Yeah I was seeing this program about Robert Durst and he was worried people were following him so he rented an apartment dressed up as a woman. You should do that.”

“You are saying I should come to San Francisco in drag?”

“It is San Francisco. Nobody’d give a damn.”

“Claudia might.”

“What does she think about you being away so much?”

“She misses the city. She wants to come. She keeps saying that I have got her in a Bedouin prison.”

“Bedouin prison?”

“Cause we live in the desert I guess. I mean I wonder what she wants. We have sun 365 and she has golf with her friends whenever she feels like it.”

“You guys are crazy. You are city people. You should just throw in the towel and buy a house here and pay taxes out the wazoo like everyone else.”

You are crazy. You know how much that will cost me?”

“Beaucoup?”

“Ha Ha. I am not frickkin’ kidding.”

“But it’s for a good purpose. It goes to the schools. You used to be all over the schools. Didn’t you donate big bucks to the children’s scholarship deal?”

“Still do.”

“So pay some more taxes and do the same thing.”

“You are turning into a socialist. I am not giving to the bureaucracy so it can waste 90% of the money before it gets to the kids. I don’t want to give my money to the Teacher’s Union so they can continue to educate kids who can’t read at their grade level. I’ll give my money where it can make a difference.”

“Apparently you feel strongly.”

“You know in Korea on the day they have the big exams for college placement the government stops all the planes in the country from flying while the test is going on. They stop all the planes! For hours! Can you imagine us doing that?”

“Actually no. It’s over the top don’t you think?

“But Bo, that’s the competition! If we don’t keep up we are going to be run under. And it’s happening.”

“The sky is falling is it?”

“This is no Chicken Little business. I am telling you I see it every day. People are living in the past. You should see what is happening in Singapore and Shanghai and Mumbai. They are hungry there. Their workers work hard. They are eating our lunch.”

“I forgot they invented the Mac in Mumbai.”

‘You laugh but you won’t be when your job is being is being done in Malaysia.”

“Malaysia’s getting big in brand management?”

“You’ll see.”

“But how are you fixing that by hiding like outlaws in the Nevada desert and skipping out on your California taxes?” Bo launched into a snatch of Friend of the Devil: “’I lit out from Reno I was trailed by twenty hounds..’ God, I love that song.”

“Very funny. I am doing what we all should be doing. Doesn’t help anyone to feed the Beast. We should starve it. If government was half the size it’d do twice as much.”

“You actually believe that?”

“I do. And you should.”

“Jesus. You’ve become a Republican.”

“I am a Libertarian.”

“You sound like a Republican. What does Claudia think about that? She used to be a flamer.”

“Oh she still is.”

“But she is going along with you on this?”

“She’s not crazy about it but yeah. It’s her money too.”

“How long has she been locked up in the desert with the money?”

“Not funny.”

“Lighten up, Rodge. How long?”

“Four months maybe.”

“That’s all? And she is already climbing the walls?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Reading between the lines, bro.”

“She’ll get used to it. And once the ski season gets here she’ll be in heaven.”

“If we ever have any snow again.”

“Oh come on Bo, don’t start with the climate business. We had more snow in Reno last year than in a decade.”

“Rodge, Rodge, Rodge. Don’t tell me you’ve become a Denier too?”

“Trust me, as soon as the politicians get us to believe that there is climate change they will tell us they have to raise our taxes to pay for it. And it won’t be China and Singapore and Korea who are paying; it’ll be you and me.”

“Actually just me cause you’ll be hiding out in the desert.”

“You’ll be hiding with me when you see what the tax bill looks like. People like you just don’t want to face up what’s going on all around us. You just wait.”

“When did you get this dour? You used to be fun. Well not a lot of fun. But at least mildly entertaining. Now you are all doom and gloom. No wonder Claudia is losing her mind.”

“Women and children can be careless. A man has got to be serious.”

‘Jesus, that’s right out of The Godfather. That’s what Brando says to Michael when he says he doesn’t want to be a puppet for someone else pulling the strings.” Bo stooped, cocked his face to the left and launched a poor imitation of Brando’s scratchy voice, “’Whoever comes to you with this Barzini meeting, he’s the traitor. Don’t forget that.’ God I love that movie.”

“I am serious.”

“You said that. I just don’t see that running out on your taxes is the sign of a serious man.”

“You’ll see. Remember when we used to do that deal in the restaurant in college? We’d get everybody except one poor guy in on it and then when the check came we’d all bolt at the same time and the one guy who didn’t know would be sitting there with a WTF on his face and he’d have to pay for everybody. Remember?”

“God, that was bad. I can’t believe we ever did that. What little shits we were. Jesus.”

“Hate to tell you this, Bo, but we are still doing it. We never stopped. It’s just not a check at a restaurant anymore. And now you are the last guy. You are that guy.”

“Thanks a lot.”

Rodge got up and stuffed his socks into his gym satchel. He smiled. “And by the way, when you pay the tax bill, leave a little tip. Don’t want them thinking we are cheap at our table.”

“Ha Ha.”

Rodge smiled wide, clearly energized by the exchange. He slapped his locker closed, extracted the key and headed down to the gym for his workout. As he left he sang a bar of the old Janis Joplin song, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” He looked back over his shoulder, “God I love that song. Love it.”

***

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator who blogs at www.jayduret.com. His first novel, Nine Digits, is published by Indigo Sea Press

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