Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Another Sleepless Night

Although I had to teach classes in the morning, I went for a late night stroll along Silver Lake, a small reservoir located just north of downtown and a five-minute walk from my apartment.  I couldn’t sleep.  Perhaps the brisk air would work its magic on me.  I hadn’t been out to the lake since October when I was training for a half marathon.  That event put the kibosh on running for a while, as I injured my left foot.  Of course a winter wonderland has since replaced the orange-tinted trees that lined the lake and inspired my romantic soul a few months ago.  I can’t tell you whether my insomnia is a symptom of psychological issues or dietary habits.  The conscious purpose of my nocturnal perambulation was to tucker myself out and in the process get some exercise.  What I think I really desired in my heart of heart was some kind of epiphany.  I was hoping God, or the gods, would speak to me, give me some kind of guidance, a sign of some sort.  I suppose I’m always looking for some kind of sign.  However, the only thing I heard was my breath and the snow crunching under my shoes.

Part of the way was unlit, and for some reason the areas of darkness offered me a greater sense of comfort and security.  Anyway, I’m not exactly dressed for public consumption: I was sporting my baggy plaid “sleep pants.”  I didn’t particularly want to be seen, though I passed a couple of fellow night owls in the course of my walk.  I indeed keep a low profile in this small city of the Upper Midwest.  Apart from time in the classroom and meetings with students or faculty, I live a rather solitary existence during the four days or so that I reside here.  Well, that’s not completely true.  I usually say hello to the coffeehouse barista and the lifeguard at the YMCA.  Who knew I’m a social animal like other biped mammals?  But I’m a social animal who can’t seem to fall asleep at night.  Alas!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Road to Edgar (2/3)

The drive along Highway 29 was relatively tranquil and serene.  For a long stretch of the road one sees nothing but crimson barns and silver silos against a vast backdrop of snow-covered farm fields.  Honestly, I find the drive extremely boring and, industrious to a fault, try to get work done along the way.  I know it's not safe, but I had a stack of papers on the passenger seat and with pen in hand and one eye on the road I started to grade, or tried to grade, a paper or two.

When I unwittingly crossed into the fast lane and almost hit the center divider, I knew it was time to stop.  I wasn’t making much progress on the grades anyway.  So I let my mind wander, as is my wont, whenever I drive a bleak stretch of highway.

I kept thinking about a student’s comment in class this morning.  We had been discussing the themes of sin and guilt in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing.  To the student’s chagrin, I argued that guilt is a social construct, neither intrinsic to human nature nor rooted in a theological system.  I think the argument I was making was a bit too iconoclastic or defiant for her—my words, not hers.  I admit that I probably argued my position more forcefully than I should have as an educator, but on occasion I find it difficult to remain the dispassionate instructor trying to entertain everyone's viewpoint, particularly when students make such simplistic claims.

About an hour into the drive I saw three Mennonite women on bicycles sporting overcoats and multicolored petticoats.  This was quite a sight for January 19, and I naturally did a double-take.  If you're wondering, I didn't have a drop of alcohol until I got to the hotel

They had a look of determination on their homely faces, no doubt a determination to get back to the hearth.  What the hell were they doing out there?  This spectacle at least broke up the monotony of the drab, white scenery, and I killed a good ten minutes of the drive imagining what their names could be, finally settling on Rebecca, Sarah, and Grace. 

It was approaching twilight when the sound of the gas light coming on shook me from my reverie.  I had been watching migratory birds silhouetted bible black against a pinkish-orange sky.  The sign ahead read: Dark Falls 51 miles, Edgar 7 miles.  I wasn’t going to make it to Dark Falls, my destination, so I got off on exit 150 and pulled into a travel station to fuel up.

Everything seemed fine.  Though we are well into January in the Upper Midwest, the sun was shining and the sky was clear.  After gassing up, I entered the minimarket to use the restroom and grab a bag of chips.

As I stood before the snack shelf trying to make a decision, a tall  unshaven guy in a blue flannel shirt and a John Deere baseball cap sitting in the adjacent diner looked in my direction and got up from his seat.  Straight from central casting, this local yokel had a stupid grin on his face.  Something told me, however, that he was not just a simpleton.  He appeared evil and menacing.

I noticed him with my peripheral vision, but I presumed, or hoped, that this guy was going to the restroom that was in my direction.  Suddenly, he turned toward me with a monstrous scowl.

“Oh yeah, get some chips, huh?”  He uttered these mocking words so hatefully that I froze like a stunned prey in the lair of a predator.

“Excuse me?”

Excuse me?  Pardon me.”  He repeated my words in a tone of mockery, his effort at an English accent.

“Do you know me?” I asked.

“You fuckin’ faggot!  You’re a piece of shit!  What do you think of that?”

To be honest, I was scared.  Who is this guy?  Why is he accosting me like this?  I didn’t want to look at him, fearing further eye contact would set him off even more.

“Are you a faggot, riding around in your Camry?”

I just looked at this unkempt bumpkin in astonishment, not knowing what to say or do.

“Listen…” I started.

“You’re really going to pretend nothing happened.”  That was more a statement than a question.

As he said those words, I instantly remembered him, or his pickup truck rather.  When I was gazing at those damn birds, I momentarily didn’t pay attention to the road and almost ran into a pickup truck in the slow lane. I didn’t see him but I do remember a guy in a baseball cap.  Evidently I had the misfortune of almost running the town bully off the road.

“So this guy almost runs me off the fuckin' road and now he wants to piss in my town.  Well ain't you a class act!”

“Leave him alone, Dougie,” said a large woman in her fifties at the cash register.  “He’s just an asshole from the city.  Never mind it.”

I’ll admit that I was afraid.  Was this ruffian going to drag me outside and beat me to a pulp?  Fear alone, though, would not adequately characterize my emotional state.  I felt humiliated.  I felt anger.  Also, the experience is surreal.  I mean, have you ever been in a situation when you feel like everyone’s looking at you, mocking you.  When I was a college student, I once entered the wrong bus, a chartered bus.  Everyone was looking at me.  Finally, the bus driver came up to me and said he'd throw me off if I didn't leave.  I didn't even realize I was on the wrong bus!  That’s how I felt at the minimarket in the gas station of this whole-in-the-wall town of Edgar.

It’s as if I had entered a strange world of zombies.  The other people in the store seemed bemused, almost complicit.  What kind of town was this, I wondered?

“It was an accident I can assure you.  Please.  I don’t want…”

“I ought to beat your fuckin’ face.  Hey Carl!”  He motioned with his head toward the heavy-set man in the diner with whom he had been talking.  “You think this guy needs a lesson or what?  Something to remember his poor driving skills?”  He laughed.

“Ah, let it go, Dougie,” the man replied, less out of compassion for me than not wanting to deal with a situation.  “He ain’t worth the effort.”

“You think so, huh?”

“You don't want the sheriff in your face again, Dougie”

“I suppose you're right, Carl.”

The woman at the register weighed in again: “Or at least handle your business outside, off the premises.  You know?”

“Okay, then.  Get the fuck out of here before I change my mind.”

I left the minimarket in haste and got in my car.  Still stunned, and afraid, I just sat there in my car next to the pump.  For some reason I didn’t pull away.  Why?  Curiosity.  I saw the guy come out of the store with a six pack in hand.  He looked over at me, and menacingly pointed at me, his hand shaped like a pistol and the thumb mimicking a shot having been fired.  He drove off and this whole ordeal was over…or could have been over.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Women and Men, Apples and Oranges

I’ve come to the conclusion that women more than men, generally speaking, consider physical attractiveness when it comes to their appreciation of the arts and their view of political candidates, yet they seem indifferent to looks when it comes to courtship and marriage.  I’ve seen attractive women hook up with older, heavy-set and less-than-attractive men presumably for money, stability, or security.  I’m not exactly original in this observation, and yet my observation is probably controversial.  Some of my female readers might point out that, at best, men are no different.  Today I was discussing the Republican candidates with my family; we reviewed their speeches online after the results of the South Carolina primary.  My wife and daughters kept remarking on whether these politicians were handsome or not; similarly, I’ve seen female pundits talk about the physical attributes of male candidates.  Such reactions remind me of instances when I'd show a music video or concert footage to a female acquaintance or friend, only to become disappointed when they remark on the (male) musicians’ attractiveness or lack thereof.  I soon realized that for them physical appearance of the musicians affected  their appreciation of the music.  Eye candy was a prerequisite for ear candy.  (Had I played only the music without visuals of the band, perhaps I'd get a different response.)  It’s such a disappoint when you’re moved by a particular piece of music, but the person you’re playing the music for is focusing on the singer’s looks.  It goes beyond looks, though.  I'd be hard-pressed to find a female who enjoys one of my favorite genres of music, progressive metal.  They're few and far between.

Believe me, folks, I’m well aware that these differences are rooted in our evolutionary heritage.  I’m also aware of exceptions to the rule.  You certainly could argue that it cuts both ways when it comes to looks as a factor.  Men respond more positively to the feminine touch and social engineering is based on such primal instincts.  That’s why many news programs feature bosomed, bleach blonde gals and often the camera pans down toward their legs, which of course are on prominent display.  I’m offering no new revelations here.  I’m just reminding myself once again that I need to take into account the gender of my interlocutor, particularly in politics and art, so I know into which direction the conversation will likely steer.  There’s nothing wrong with apples and oranges.  Both can be bitter and acidic.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Another Goody from the Grievance Gallery

What’s with people who get on an escalator and park themselves there like a senescent tree, forcing everyone behind them to stop in their tracks?  Here’s a new rule (and you'll find it listed under the statute of Common Sense and Basic Decency): if you’re under sixty and have no physical impairment, you must move along, little doggie.  Is that asking too much?  And why not use the elevator to take your sorry ass to the next floor?  These lowlifes have consideration for nobody but the All-Consuming and All-Encompassing Self.  A bullet through their head is proper recompense, you say?  That’s a bit harsh, I suppose, but I appreciate your concern.  I for one am not taking the escalator as if it were some ride at Disneyland.  I’m going from point A to point B, and the shiny metal conveyor belt is a means to that end.  Am I missing an invisible sign or something?  One that reads: Once you set foot on the moving stairs, come to a complete halt, block traffic, and piss off those behind you who are moving with a purpose?  I guess I need new glasses.  Many a time have I been tempted to press on through, but of course by the time I would have squeezed past them—especially the obese ones—the escalator would be coming to an end.  It wouldn't be worth it.  I’d look foolish, like when someone speeds their car around you only to be stuck at the next traffic light with a sheepish grin.  Besides, I haven’t yet found a polite way to say, “Move your selfish ass, fucko, so I can get through!”  (It’s all in the intonation, I suppose.)  As George Carlin once remarked in one of his stand-up routines, “unenlightened self-interest does not impress me.”

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Raven Man

If I had to pick an author who exerted at least a modicum of influence on me as a youth, it would be Edgar Allan Poe.  I read his short stories and poems with wide-eyed wonder.  They captured my imagination like nothing else I read, the more prolific Nathaniel Hawthorne perhaps trailing in a distant second place.  True enough, his style is rather archaic by today's standard—elongated sentences dripping with exquisite verbiage—but I loved it and still do.  What I’m writing here is rather impressionistic, as I didn’t reread Poe lately or dig into any research.  I suppose his character C. Auguste Dupin and the detective stories planted a seed of interest in murder mysteries and true crime docudramas.  His poem “Annabel Lee” moved me even as a youth.  Of course his gothic horror stories of revenge, fear, hate, and the grotesque come most readily to mind when I (and just about everyone else) think of Poe.  Two other monumental figures were born in 1809: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.  No doubt they’ve shaped the world I now inhabit, an America without slavery and a scientific view that is slowly but surely supplanting earlier concepts of our species’ origins.  Still, the tragic mustachioed figure who mysteriously died in the streets of Baltimore is like a soul brother.  I share his romantic sensibility and melancholy disposition.  I’ve come to find over the years that his writing style and the content of his work have influenced me more than I had realized.

Road to Edgar (1/3)

I was startled, to say the least—frightened, really.  I heard strange noises coming from the  hotel room next to mine.  What sounded like a body writhing in excruciating pain, an injured animal banging up against the wall, gave me pause.  Whatever it was, and for whatever reason, the slight reverberations on the other side seemed to resonate loudly within the dimly lit caverns of my heart.

At first, only the lamp next to me began to tremble.  I tried to ignore the alarming din and the flickering light, for it was approaching midnight and I was determined to finish grading papers so I could return them to students the next morning.

Then it got worse.  I swear to you I could hear a man groaning, faintly but no less horrifically.  It was as if this person were already dead and he did not yet know it, or maybe his mind was still cognizant of his entrails being ripped out in the final moments of agonizing torture.  I turned up the TV in the hope that a news report about the nation’s economic woes or the primary election results would root me in the mundane and banish these morbid thoughts from my mind.  I enjoy quietude and privacy, especially in the calm hours of the night, but I had the uneasy feeling of being watched, that someone was breathing down my neck, and I couldn't shake it.  Fortunately, the banging stopped after a while and I could continue my work without interruption.

I’ve taught almost fifteen years now as an adjunct professor of American literature and English composition for Dupin College.  I’m an itinerant academic, if you will, roaming from one satellite campus to another throughout the northern half of the state.  I taught a four-hour course on the nineteenth-century novel this morning and drove across Trunk Highway 29 for my next class tomorrow.  I’m staying at a non-brand hotel for the night, one I've never checked into before, for I liked its remote location off the highway.

I’m a simple man, highly intelligent for my own good, but simple in my needs, someone who jealously guards his private time.  I have little use for organized religion, yet someone once accurately described me as monastic.  That's fair.  I live a rather abstemious life, and I’ve never married.

You might be wondering how I got into this profession, for it certainly doesn’t pay handsomely.  My brother makes nearly twice as much as I, and he never went to college.  You see, I love to read books.  Pure and simple.  My expertise is gothic literature of the Romantic era, but my interests range widely, from haiku of the Edo period to dystopian sci-fi novels of the 20th century.  I'm still working on a book of poems that I hope to publish with a university press.

I despise worthless students who don't know how to read or write, but every profession has its downside.  Grading mediocre papers is unfortunately part of the job description.  Most of my students, I've found over the years, have little appreciation for the literary arts and absolutely no understanding of passion.   I try to bridge the chasm that separates them from me in the classroom, for passion for art, not to mention a hunger for knowledge, is the force within that propels me forward.

And why do I travel about?  I admit there’s a story here.  I used to teach on the main campus of Dupin, had a nice office with a window, and students flocked to my classes—until about four years ago.  That’s when a student falsely accused me of harassment and filed a complaint with the administration.  The hateful young man alleged that I had ridiculed him in front of the class for his rural upbringing.  People are so sensitive nowadays.  It's as if they're looking for an insult, as if they're a ready-made victim awaiting even the slightest pretense, any pretext, for offense.  This student, I can assure you, was merely getting back at me for the generous “D” I gave him, even though the lout really had earned an “F”!  I had never seen such ingratitude and idiocy.  Moreover, the young man, clearly a peasant's son, had the nerve not only to charge me with derogatory statements about him in class; he even alluded to sexual inappropriateness, vaguely enough for anyone investigating to realize that he was lying.  I don't have a gay bone in my body.

Though the ethics board saw the light and eventually ruled in my favor, I confess that I still harbor bitterness toward some of the faculty members who looked at me askance throughout this terrible ordeal and who continued to treat me like a pariah long after my vindication.  The accusations and the initial investigation  of the board tarnished my reputation beyond repair.  The facts did not seem to matter.  I felt humiliated and still cannot forgive my persecutors—yes, there's no better way to describe them.  I could point out that they received their degrees at lesser universities than I did, but it really doesn’t matter.  I might mention some of the skeletons in their closets, secrets that I've had to make my business to know should I need them; but such damaging disclosure could appear petty on my part.

I considered leaving Dupin to teach elsewhere, a more prestigious university that befits my credentials and intellect, and preferably somewhere with a milder climate.  The problem is that I had invested too much in the institution, in terms of benefits and time.  Despite the cruelties I've had to bear at Dupin, and notwithstanding my reduced role as a faculty member, I found it difficult to leave.  The unknown frightens me.  I've read plenty of adventure stories, but I'm not adventurous, certainly not when it comes to my livelihood.  Besides, I couldn't land a comparable position anywhere, though I had sent a letter of interest and supporting documents to over thirty universities and colleges.  So I've learned to take things in stride and teach primarily—no, exclusively these days—for the college's adult education program, and this adjunct position has me driving all over the state.  Coffeehouses and my Camry serve as a de facto office and more often than not a place to sleep!

Still a bit distraught and worried that the pounding would resume, I stepped out for a bite at a nearby diner.  Perhaps I just needed to get some nourishment and clear my head.  Perhaps the nippy air outside and a cup of decaffeinated joe would restore some clarity of mind.  On my way through the lobby I was about to bring the disturbing sounds in Room 116 to the attention of the hotel clerk, until my resolve weakened when I saw at the desk the same haughty woman with whom I dealt a few hours prior.

When I checked in, I requested a room at the end of the hall, far removed from the pool area so I could get a good night's rest.  I didn't want to hear obnoxious teenagers splashing about or snot-nosed children running back and forth down the hall all night.  I have a tough enough time falling asleep without such disturbances.  The young woman at the front desk, sporting a nasty nose ring and a nastier attitude, dismissed my concerns with a frown, telling me not to let such things bother me.  Can you believe the audacity?  I had also asked if she happened to have a Band-Aid, as I had cut my finger earlier and could find only a piece of tape in the car to bandage it.  She gave me one, but not before gratuitously informing me I could have picked some up at the drugstore near the highway exit—as if I didn’t know that!  I grabbed the key card hastily from her hand and stormed off in a huff to show my disdain for her, but I could hear the bitch seamlessly resuming her cell phone conversation with her boyfriend;  I was merely an annoying interruption.

At the diner I ordered an omelet, hash browns, and orange juice, but I just stared at the plate of food.  I simply had no appetite.  I even waved off an offer of coffee, no small feat for a caffeine fiend.  I knew I was in for another night of sleeplessness.  Why make it worse?

The diner was almost empty, just a couple in the next booth—the picture postcard of loneliness and alienation, much like Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks.  The waitress’ name was Rose, and she wouldn’t let me forget it.  She was a bit flirtatious, which I found strange since she didn't know me from Adam.  How can she feel so comfortable around me?  I could be a rapist or murderer for all she knew, waiting in the shadows outside until she got off work.  Yes, I realized that her demeanor was more affectation than earnestness, just an effort to get a good tip.  Indeed, I rewarded her efforts nicely, perhaps less for her service than for the fact that she provided a welcome contrast to the hotel clerk.  Unfortunately, I’ve never had much luck with women: they don’t understand me and I don’t understand them.

I returned to the hotel an hour after I had left it, 10:34 pm to be exact, only to witness even stranger occurrences.  Once I entered my room, I could see my own breath, as if I were outside in the snow, but the room temperature was 70.  Perplexed and scared, I kept breathing heavily and simultaneously turning up the thermostat, thinking if not hoping I wouldn't see my breath.  I opened the door and walked down the hall, blowing frantically into the air.  Only when I reentered the room did I stop seeing my breath.  I'm not one given to flights of fancy, nor am I delusional; yet I have no scientific explanation for this phenomenon.

About ten minutes later, I heard a voice, or what I construed to be a voice, whispering in my ear when I was in the shower, as if someone were right up on my neck.  Was I imagining this voice?  What was it telling me?  Was I going mad?  The mind can play tricks when you’re alone in a hotel room and you’ve had a hectic day.  I tried to calm myself with such reasoning.

If that weren't enough, I begin to smell what I can only describe as burnt flesh.  I checked the dresser drawers, the coffee machine, the iron and ironing board—you name it.  I even walked through the hallway in search of the source of this foul smell.  Nothing.  Between the knocking on the wall, the voices, and the scent of death, I knew this would be another sleepless night.

I have a secret to tell you, and I only share it because it has relevance to my story, or at least I think it has relevance.  I keep a bottle of Chopin vodka in my car trunk.  I’m not an alcoholic, mind you, but I've found that a little fermented medicine does the trick in relaxing me after a grueling day of teaching and driving.  I need a little something to help me with dreadful insomnia. 

If you were a psychoanalyst with some knowledge of my family history, you might be tempted to say that my drinking of alcohol, however rare and measured, is either an act of defiance deep down or a textbook example of victim-turned-abuser.  My father drank heavily, mostly cheap whiskey, sometimes vodka, and invariably under the influence he beat and whipped my mother, brother, and me.  The household was intoxicated with violence, it would seem, for my mother severely boxed my ears even long after my father's death to remind and warn me, ironically, of the awful consequences of alcoholism (namely, becoming an abusive and violent person) should I ever decide to take up the bottle.  If our father's abuse wasn't enough, my poor brother Jared went through hell and back.  One autumn day a strange man claiming to be a friend of the family lured him to his van, tortured him, and left him for dead in the Copperhead River only two miles from our home.  Fortunately, police search teams found him before it was too late, but Jared has had to live with this scar of degradation and violation all his life.

Why am I mentioning my bottle of vodka?  Usually when I take a swig of the stuff I get to a happy place of oblivion and fall asleep with the TV on.  This time, however, the drinking did not ease my mind and lull me to sleep; rather, it brought me back to the events that had transpired earlier today.  Things indistinct only an hour ago are starting to come into focus.  I don't know why this lucid remembrance of the day's events is hitting me like a brick, but I'll put aside these papers for now and record for you my thoughts.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ludwig Viator

My cat’s a lucky dog.  I’ll be leaving everything to him in my will.  You see, I’m my father’s first-born son, as he was my grandfather’s first-born, and so on for as far back as we can trace the genealogy.  This venerable tradition has ended with me, I’m afraid, as I’ve produced no male heir.  I suspect wearing tight pants all my life has had something to do with it.  So I’m in the process of making my orange tabby, Ludwig, a sort of ersatz heir to my estate.  I am already speaking with lawyers about giving him my surname.  Once we work out all the legal details, he will get the Jacuzzi, the bar, the books, the guitar, the car, and some other undisclosed assets tucked away in a Swiss bank—in short, everything I own.  Should I die, my wife and daughters will get something much better: fond memories of my wit and charm.  Ludwig, however, will carry on the Viator name and get to live the life of a king, a role that befits his lion-like appearance and imperious attitude.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

George's Predicament

George found himself in a predicament at work today, something he had not experienced before, at least not in recent memory.  There’s really no way to whitewash or sugarcoat what I’m about to tell you, so I’ll just state it forthrightly: George shat his pants, and this accident of nature couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time.

The middle-aged life insurance sales representative—one of the company’s best—shat his pants on the one day he was not wearing underwear.  His wife Vera had inadvertently washed the bed sheets and blankets after their new puppy went to town on them; she left George’s bundle of clothing untouched in the corner of the basement.  Pressed for time in the morning, Vera convinced him that he could “wing it” for just one workday, so hubby went commando against his better judgment.  Believe me, I find these details unpleasant, but I must provide you with the proper context to understand George’s difficult situation.  To make matters worse, our protagonist in this scatological tragedy decided to sport his beige suit instead of the dark brown one he usually wore on Thursdays (which of course would have been ideal given the circumstances).

George was speaking with two clients in his office, a married couple, when he had his unfortunate and most certainly ill-timed bowel movement.  It had been a busy day at the branch.  Administrative assistants were scurrying about, shuttling cartloads of company documents from cubicle to cubicle; auditors were grilling the HR department and accountants in the main conference room; junior colleagues had been nervously asking George questions about the firm’s cutbacks; and two other clients sat just outside his office with appointments.  Meanwhile, his boss wanted him at the video conference within thirty minutes to present figures to the district managers.

George was not sick.  He didn’t have a weak bladder.  With all the hubbub at work he didn’t even have time for his usual cup of high-octane coffee this morning.  So why did an innocent effort to pass gas end up in such a disaster?  As it turns out, George had been adding bits of broccoli to his soup for lunch every day this week, as part of his New Year’s resolution to lose weight.  Later he would reflect on the diet being the culprit in loosening his bowels, but in the immediate situation, he was thinking about only one thing: an escape.

George developed a plan, and he knew he had to execute it posthaste.  The stench would reach the nostrils of his clients within seconds, if not microseconds.

“Oh my gosh!” he exclaimed, with a feigned look of alarm.  “I’m sorry, Bonnie and Joe.  I totally forgot about my son’s medication.”


“My son.  He’s a diabetic and needs his serum.”


“Yeah, insulin.”  Even as George was uttering this lie, he was tucking his pant legs into his socks behind the desk to catch any potential fallout.  “I was supposed to drop it off at his school.  I must leave.  I’m sorry.”  With these words he practically lunged for the coat hanger and threw on his overcoat before Bonnie and Joe could espy serious seepage in his beige trousers.  “I’ll need to lock up.”  So George escorted them out, locked his office, and apologized profusely (and hastily) to those waiting to speak with him.

He made a mad dash for the stairway, flew to the first floor, and entered a restroom far from the madding crowd.  Once he got into the stall, he was able to clean up.  His pants were so unsalvageable that he simply tossed them in the wastebasket.  George reached for his cell phone to call his wife and have her bring him a fresh supply of underwear and pants.   The phone call was indeed a key part of the plan.  Unfortunately, George, in his understandable haste out of the office, forgot to grab his cell phone off his desk.  Standing nude from the waist down in a puddle of mess, the sales representative found himself up shit creek without a paddle.  The look on his face was priceless.

I would love to be able to tell you that George learned from this experience.  If nothing else, hearing his wife and mother-in-law cackle uncontrollably whenever they recalled the story should have stiffened his resolve to avoid another scatalogical catastrophe.  Two years later George's diet of drinking a jug of apple cider every day led again to unintended consequences–this time during his speech at the rotary club.  Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Still Waiting

I am still waiting
Waiting for you
Are you waiting for me?
I am a fool
I am a wretch
Yet I wait
It’s getting light out
Landscape grey and brown
I stand
In the fields of resignation
Shall I despair?
Without you I’m alone
I know you’re there
On the other side
I am still waiting
Waiting for you
Are you waiting for me?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Vita Contemplativa

How I long to retire at the end of the day to a book or writing tablet and collect my thoughts!  Don't worry.  A monastery is not for me.  I’m not the monkish type, not completely.  True, I like quietude and a sparse setting.  The ascetic lifestyle has its drawbacks, however, one of them being hypocrisy: few are those who really stay the monastic course.  Anyway, the contemplative life is of little value without an active engagement in the world—without a vita activa.  What would I write about?  I observed the code of silence again today, gave Jacques a menacing look when I passed the bread bowl, and reflected on how my life royally sucks in this here cloister.

One should suffer the slings and arrows a bit, see the world a little, jump into the fray every now and then.  Like most melancholy souls whose career path requires leadership and social interaction, I look forward to quiet time whenever I can get it: just a book, a few cordials, and me.  We don’t seem to value the vita contemplativa anymore.  Things went downhill after the fifteenth century, as far as I’m concerned.  What with the constant bombardment of electronic technology, it’s hard to have time to contemplate life’s essential questions.  Geez, the only way I can communicate with my kids at the dinner table is to text them!  Jessi, you have ketchup on your chin.  LOL  By the way, how was school today?  I’m not asking for a lot here.  Okay, maybe I am.  I would love to spend hours and hours reading about the Ottoman Empire, inhaling apricot tea through a hookah pipe, and trying to resolve my existential crisis.  Sadly, such leisure time is a precious commodity when you’re running in the rat race.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Primal Instincts in the Guise of Religious Struggle

Those of us who know something about Islam, know about the distinction between “Greater Jihad” and “Lesser Jihad.”  The former refers to the individual Muslim’s struggle to submit to God, Allah, in spite of his wicked, selfish impulse to disobey.  Lesser Jihad, according to most Muslim expositors, has to do with the Muslim’s obligation to protect the faith against infidels.  I don’t want to get into the relevant Qur’anic passages, the debates about Islamist fundamentalism, and all the rest of it.  Moreover, I’m not addressing this issue with any scholarly precision but more as a reflection off the cuff.  I’ve written on this topic before.  I see myself as a wary friend of Islam, not a foe.  In fact, while my own religious faith has taken a dive in the past few years, I still empathize with earnest believers throughout the world.  Those of you who might be inclined to castigate Islam as a violent ideology and equate the religion with “jihadism” should be mindful of your myopic perspective.  If you see a worldview, or in this case a world religion, in largely black and white terms—a manifestation of evil, ignorance, or stupidity—then it’s likely you don’t really understand the worldview.  Like I wrote last week, if there are millions of people who espouse a view contrary to your own, don’t have the egocentric audacity to dismiss it out of hand!

Yet I have been rethinking my view of not only so-called Greater Jihad but also the similar Christian struggle with sin, as expressed throughout the New Testament.  To quote Jesus’s famous words in Gethsemane: the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  The challenge for the Christian pilgrim is to bridle one’s sinfulness, a naughty impulse bequeathed to us from Adam.  I’m increasingly inclined to think that these spiritual struggles are really sublimated forms of our hardwiring for violence, rather than inner conflicts of conscience pure and simple.  In Romans 7, Paul expresses frustration over this incessant battle: “I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”  If I’m right, this “spiritual” struggle  between the id and superego is just a way of making the male's aggressive and violent behavior more palatable to the dictates of civilization.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ushering in the Kingdom

2012 is supposed to mark the end of the world.  Yeah?  I don’t believe it.  I refuse to believe it.  Doomsayers and chiliasts, not to mention Nostradamists and Joachimites, would have us believe in a coming conflagration, an end of days, the Eschaton.  They’d have the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding roughshod over our dreams and aspirations.  Human existence on Earth, they affirm with conviction in their voice and fanatical eyes, shall cease.  Why do they prophesize such horrific scenarios?  Why such a dark end to our species?  It depends whom you ask, but wickedness “as in the days of Noah,” bad stewardship of Mother Earth, alignment of the planets, World War III’s nuclear holocaust, and alien seedpods come to mind.

Do you remember that Bible-thumping 88-year-old loon who predicted the Rapture would occur in May and the final destruction of the world in October?  I initially thought the Rapture did in fact occur when I came home and found my daughters’ clothes laying about the house—in the bathroom and their bedrooms.  “The Lord has snatched my children,” I said to myself, “and spared them the coming tribulation!”  Then I remembered that Erika, Jessika and Monika are just slobs who don’t pick up after themselves.

Perhaps you’re aware that the Mayan calendar supposedly predicts the end of the world in December of this year.  Some Mayan apologists are already trying to weasel out of the prediction by claiming 2012 marks not a cataclysmic end but a spiritual rebirth, just like those evangelical prophets à la Hal Lindsey and Pat Robertson who always have an “escape clause,” a revision of their forecast, to explain the anticipated tribulation of Second Coming not coming to pass.  (On a side note, would that we’d observe those passages in Deuteronomy which specifically instruct us to stone a false prophet!)

I have no use for such alleged prophesies.  Disregarding dark, dystopian depictions of the days ahead, I have decided to forge a better path for our future.  I simply refuse to accept the forecast of fire and brimstone.  True, I’ve already stockpiled weapons, food, water, a generator, a few more weapons, and oxygen tanks in my underground bunker should Armageddon arrive, but I’m too much of a positive person, someone who sees the glass half full, to let hateful prophets and doom-and-gloom merchants win.  So what am I going to do about it?  In short, I’m going to usher in the kingdom myself!

Here’s my plan.  First, it starts with a vision of the future.  I see a world in my mind’s eye that is full of laughing children, one in which equality and tolerance reign supreme.  When I’m finished implementing my plan, we’ll look at hate and violence as we look back at the dinosaurs: Did those fossils really have life in them in the distant past and dominate Earth for so long?

Next comes the aforementioned implementation.  First, I’d build a makeshift prison cell in the basement of my house and round up the wicked in my neighborhood.  I would detain them indefinitely, until I found a way to dispose of them without drawing attention.  Yeah, my neighborhood is not the world, but you have to start small and work your way up.  Once I take power in a coup, things will of course unfold on a grander scale.  That is, my team of clandestine operatives and paramilitary units will set up reeducation centers for those who have potential to contribute to the new utopia and “sleeping camps” for those who don’t.  The point is that to make the world a better place you must destroy evil and its practitioners.  I don’t want to belabor my plan for a future utopia of peace, justice and love.  Suffice to say, I’d avail myself of a secret police force, a network of informants, censorship of the press, a one-party system, massive propaganda, lots of posters of me, more detention camps, death squads, the targeting of certain groups, and the development of a new language that dehumanizes and vilifies the remaining minorities of bad people.

What I have set out to accomplish might seem a tall order.  My mother always told me to dream big.  I will usher in the kingdom, and when I do, people will sing my praises.  I do not seek gratitude, however, but merely the opportunity to serve my fellow man.  Eliminating the doomsayers is only a means to an end.  My ultimate aim is to ensure we not only have a future, but a better one.