Temporary Address

Temporary Address

Monday, December 5, 2011

Temporary Address Chapter I

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Chapter One

The effects of the sedative were wearing off. At first the foggy sluggishness was too compelling and Johanna basked in the languorous calm of prescription medication, enjoying that she didn’t care how disturbed and unsettled everything was. The room was dark, and there were no sounds floating down the halls to her, so it was probably sometime between midnight and five in the morning. There was no telling the time any more accurately until first light crawled through the bars of the tiny window opposite her bed.

An hour or so later, some strength returned to her body, and Johanna stirred and tried to sit up, then fell back down against the pillow. Some kind of restraint was holding her, but Johanna was still too dazed to try to figure out exactly what it was and where the knots were tied. Suffice that she couldn’t get up, she had no idea where she was, it was still some time before dawn, and Johanna had to be in serious trouble.

After several hours had passed, a false dawn played the promise of light into her window. Through the darkness, Johanna could make out some shapes of objects around her—a couple of closed doors, something that looked like a bureau and some waist-high pieces of furniture that might have been chairs or a table. The room was small—bigger than a closet but not by much. And the air had a strong smell of disinfectant, the kind they use in hospitals and other institutions.

Johanna dozed and woke. She listened for sounds, but there were none—no one talking outside, no ticking clocks, not even a motor. She moved her foot along the bed, listening to the shushing sound it made rubbing along the sheet, loud against the backdrop of quiet.

She peered out at the darkness, trying to get her mind to come up with a plan for coping, a plan for escaping, a plan to make all of this go away. Except that she wasn’t even sure what all of “this” was in the first place.

She remembered hanging a sign—her feeble protest against the imminent invasion of Iraq. It had been written on a bed sheet with a felt tipped pen. Someone had displayed an American flag at the overpass to Highway Four, and she had hung her sign just below the flag, fastening it to the wire fence that safeguards pedestrians. She remembered the material flapping wildly in the wind as she struggled to attach it to the wire. She remembered how hard her heart had pounded, half with fear and half with excitement, as she secured the sign to the wire, making her message known to thousands of commuters. And she remembered telling God, “I sure hope that this is what you want.”

That memory at least was clear, but the rest—the rest was all noise and confusion. There was pain, a lot of pain, and shouting, and maybe policemen or federal agents or something, and then…then… well, there was no then. There just wasn’t anything until the bed and the fog and the restraints. It was as if her mind had stopped and started all over.

What else? She tried to pull some more information out of the sticky goo that was her memory. But she couldn’t think for more than a second or two before some singsong ditty popped into her head. “You can’t go to Heaven on roller skates, ‘cause you’ll roll right by those pearly gates.” The tune from childhood knocked her thoughts over the way an exuberant dog’s tail knocks over a project painstakingly put together, and Johanna was back like Alice in a medicated wonderland.

Dawn broke. Things happened. They let her use the bathroom. “They” were a hospital sort of “they”—white jackets or smocks and how-are-you-feeling-today smiles—the kind of smiles you could cut out of a magazine.

They fed her some mashed orange stuff, which they shoved into her mouth with a spoon. The taste was similar to sweet potato, only it had a gritty feel to it and was so sweet that she gagged on the second mouthful. Johanna considered not eating, but that would have taken more effort than she could muster.

After the meal, Johanna hung limp while they washed her face and dressed her in a gray pair of sweat pants and T-shirt. Then they left, and came back and took her temperature. They left, and came back and gave her juice. They asked her what day it was and who she was and where she was. Johanna could only answer the second question. Then they untied what seemed to be a vest, which had held her attached to the bed with two plaited straps. And, finally, they left her alone—for a while.

With the restraint gone, Johanna dragged herself up off of the bed and stumbled around the room. There wasn’t much there. Both doors were locked. The furniture, what there was of it, was bolted to the floor. Johanna made two full circles around her room, touching, probing, looking for something to come loose. Then she plopped back down on the bed and dozed, and woke, and dozed some more.

With a sound like a cricket makes, the door creaked open, and Johanna stirred awake. “How are you feeling today, Miss Johanna?” The woman who spoke wore a nurse’s uniform, and the words were startling after the quiet. She was young, barely old enough to have made it through nursing school, with black hair cut into a pageboy and light brown skin. “My name is Maria.” Her voice was calm and soothing, with a hint of a Filipino accent.

“Uh,” said Johanna.

“Come with me please. You’re going to see Dr. Heckleweit this morning.” She put a hand under Johanna’s arm to support her, and Johanna leaned against it. Maria’s touch was gentle, reassuring. And Maria was the first human in this institution who had told Johanna her name.

Johanna was still pretty groggy, but was able to stumble around with Maria holding on to her arm. They walked down a long hallway. To Johanna it seemed to go on and on with no end. Finally they reached an elevator, and Maria held up a plastic card to activate it. The elevator dropped a few floors, and they walked through a maze of corridors that culminated with a cherry-wood door, and a yellow smiley face. “You are welcome,” said the sign next to the smiley face. “Please come in and be seated.” Maria ushered Johanna inside and sat her down on a folding chair.

“Is… this Dr. Heck…is this… his office?” It was an effort to speak. Probably Maria didn’t understand her because she just nodded, smiled and said, “Yes, Honey.” Or maybe it was Dr. Heck’s office. Johanna looked around, scuffing her feet against the floor as a child would do. In fact, Johanna felt very much like a child—a miniature person in an adult world—and very much out of control.

After a time, a large, brisk man in a white doctor’s coat walked Johanna into an inner office and positioned her like a throw pillow onto a cream-colored overstuffed couch. Standing in front of his walnut desk, he towered menacingly over Johanna.

“Good morning, Johanna, I’m Dr. Heckleweit,” said the doctor-looking person. “How are you feeling today?”

“Okay.” The words were thick, muffled. They fell through her teeth like wilted lettuce. Her head nodded to the left and her thick black curls dangled matted, pulled back into a snarled tail behind her neck. Greasy wisps drooped sadly down around her ears.

Dr. Heckleweit smiled with his teeth, a professional smile. While his lips turned up in greeting, his steel-gray eyes examined Johanna, alert for any information that her body language might give away.

“So, my friend,” he said, “we’ll be meeting like this every day for a while. “Please feel free to tell me anything that’s on your mind. You’re safe here. You can say anything, anything at all, and know that whatever you say will not leave this room.”

Johanna looked up into his eyes. He was very tall. Johanna felt like she was staring up at a stone monument. Words buzzed inside her head like mosquitoes. Be not afraid. Be not afraid. “Okay,” she said out loud.

“So, my friend,” Dr. Heckleweit continued, “I’ll ask you some questions, and you answer. Easy questions. For example, tell me your name.” He touched some buttons to start up a tape recorder and a video camcorder; then he pulled up a chair from behind his desk, and sat down, a notepad and pencil poised in his hand.

“Johanna Jacobson,” she said.

“Good. Now tell me a little about yourself.”

The words came slowly, with large gaps of silence between them. “I work… for… the Up…start Gazette. Live in Berkeley... Forty-three years…old.” All the talking seemed frightening somehow after the silence of her room.

“Please go on,” said the doctor. “How do you feel right now?”

“Tired… Confused. I don’t…know.”

“You don’t know what?”

“What…Why I’m…here.”

“Tell me about your job.”

“Write a…column.” It was hard for Johanna to talk, but she put together a few phrases. “Nature…environment… stuff.” He let her ramble for a few minutes to give her a chance to feel comfortable, to drop her guard.

“Who told you that they torture prisoners at Guantanamo?” he asked casually, and his eyes searched Johanna for clues.

“No one,” said Johanna.

“You thought it up by yourself?” There was a sharpening in his voice.


The room was still for a second. Dr. Heckleweit waited and studied Johanna’s face. There had to be something important here, something Johanna was holding back.

“Tell me what your sign says.”

“Make me…a channel of…your peace.”

“Why did you put it up under the American flag? When your country is on the brink of war?”

Johanna shrugged like a little girl. She was too woozy to actually explain what she believed. Be not afraid. Be not afraid. The words kept on buzzing, and her brain ached with the effort of talking.

“Are you a member of Al Qaeda?” he asked.

“No,” she said.

“Are you a Moslem?”


“Are you a Christian?”


“Then why did you write that sign? Why? Why would you betray your country and your God? You said you’re a Christian. Do you fear hell?”

“Just hung …a sign.”

“Why…my friend?”

Johanna shrugged. Dr. Heckleweit watched her breathing and her eye movements. He looked for twitches, coughs and grunts, any movement that might indicate discomfort, but there was nothing conclusive.

“What do you know about anthrax?”

“Probably tied …to… White House.”

“Who told you this?”

“No one.” She was tired and upset.

“And the link between Al Qaeda and Sadaam Hussein?”

“Probably…made up.”

“Who told you this?”

“No one.”

“Sadaam’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction?”

“Made up.” It was very hard to talk, and Johanna felt heavy and sleepy.

“Who gave you this information?”

“No one.”

’ “Then why did you post it on the Internet?”


“But why? If you weren’t sure?”

“No reason.”

“There’s always a reason.”

Johanna sighed. She knew better than to tell the truth, but the words had to be said. Otherwise she’d be denying the most essential core of her being. She took a breath.


“God…told me to.”

Here Dr. Heckleweit wrote some notes on his pad.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Christmas Gremlins

Whenever a diaper fails, another gremlin gets his boots.

Only twelve days until Christmas. The gremlins were scurrying around like – well – like little gremlins. It’s their busiest time of the year, as everybody knows.

But Waldo wasn’t scurrying. He was marching ramrod straight - shoulders back, head high, and his feet blue with cold, carrying the garbage out to the compactor behind Gremlin Hall. No, he wasn’t an apprentice gremlin. He had earned boots eleventy-seven years ago. But they’d been stripped from his feet by the head gremlin, the Grand Exalted Gombah, because of the great soda debacle. He’d even been stripped of his socks. Every time Waldo looked down at his feet, he was once again reminded of the whole shameful incident.

It had all happened eight months ago. He was standing over the cola can assembly line adding extra fizz to the cans so that they’d shoot soda into your face when you pulled the tab. But he lost his balance and fell into one of the cans. Imagine Suzy Boonstople’s surprise when she pulled the tab and found a gremlin inside her Monster Cola can. “Never be spotted by a human” – that’s the first rule of being a gremlin, of course, and Waldo had definitely been spotted. But that wasn’t even the worst part. Monster Cola claimed that it was all a publicity stunt. “Find a monster in your Cola, and win a prize.” And the company gave Suzy and her parents an all-expenses-paid trip to Disneyland. And from then on, Monster Cola put a furry monster toy into every millionth can of Monster Cola. Well, I’m here to tell you - sales of Monster Cola shot through the roof. Suzy was happy, Monster Cola was happy, and customers, hoping to find a monster in their cola were happy. Everyone was happy. Except Waldo. He was brought up on charges before the Grand Gombah. Waldo received no mercy. “For conduct unbefitting a gremlin, for being seen by a human, for – shudder- helping, I hereby order you demoted to apprentice gremlin, bottom rank. Hand in your boots, and your socks.

You think Rudolph had it rough? That was nothing compared to the hazing that the other gremlins gave Waldo. They nicknamed him purple toes. They put tacks on the floor next to his bed. And while he was sleeping, they stuck chewing gum into his beautiful handlebar mustache. They never let poor Waldo join in any gremlin games.

But Waldo was determined to win back his boots. This Christmas would be his big chance. He’d show them all. He’d be the worst gremlin ever. Sitting by the garbage compacter in Gremlin Hall, he dreamed of fame and glory and beautiful warm boots decorated with gold braid and maybe a couple of stars symbolizing excellence.

So intent on his daydreaming was Waldo that he didn’t notice Dingus, junior gremlin second class, galloping at him and stumbling over his feet. Dingus had all the finesse of a Labrador puppy with a mouth full of hot dog. “Macafee wants to see us double quick in the conference room,” he said. “To hand out Christmas assignments, I suspect.” Macafee was the head honcho of gremlins. He’d risen to greatness because of his prowess with computers - viruses, worms, spam, phishes, etc. He was master of them all. His crowning achievement had been hacking into Stanford’s computer and flunking the entire senior class.

Waldo slicked down his hair, stuck out his chest, and goose-stepped towards the conference room, determined to excel on any assignment Macafee might give him. Dingus followed grinning like the crocodile after he’d spotted Captain Hook.

As gremlins filled the conference room, Macafee mounted his platform in the front of the room and paced back and forth with a self-important grimace playing on his face. Finally, he cleared his throat with a long harrumph, and began his speech. “Last year’s Christmas was a bitter disappointment,” he began.

The senior gremlins nodded their heads and murmured amongst themselves in agreement. Since Santa had computerized his workshop, Macafee and his staff, naturally, had set about hacking into it. Only, it seemed that Santa had equipped his system with every firewall, spam filter, anti-virus software and pop-up blocker known to man. (or elf). In spite of Macafee’s best efforts, Santa’s Christmas ride had gone off without a hitch.

“This year will be different,’ said Macafee. My ten most senior gremlins will be assigned to project N.P. I, of course, will be the project leader.

“The rest of you will report as follows:” Here, a long list ensued. Waldo stood at attention waiting for his name to be called. Finally, Macafee got to the bottom of the list. “Waldo – air conditioning.”

In his mind, Waldo began mapping out his strategy. He’d head south for hot weather – Hawaii, Rio, Acapulco. Waldo smiled thinking about thawing out his tootsies on sun drenched beaches. Eagerly, he looked up at Macafee, who glared back and continued. “Waldo, you are assigned to Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark." Macafee grinned – and a malevolent smirk of a grin it was – A little drool crept from the corner of his mouth as he watched Waldo’s face deflate like a stuck balloon. “And, Waldo, your partner is Dingus.”

Not Dingus! The air conditioning assignment was bad enough, but, with Dingus as a partner, Waldo didn’t stand a chance of earning back his boots.

“Oh boy, air conditioners, oh boy!” Dingus jumped up and down and clapped his hands in expectation. “Do we have a great assignment or what!”

And so the gremlins set to work. While Dingus and Waldo deactivated AC’s throughout Alaska, report of operation N.P. made up most of the coffee break gossip.

In a brilliant coup, Macafee had breached Santa’s firewall and planted an M-17 hula popper virus in Santa’s mainframe which immediately began disabling toy production. “By December 24th, there should be nothing but rust and sawdust to load onto Santa’s sleigh,” said Dermot, one of the senior gremlins.

Waldo’s toes were so cold, he feared that they’d break off. Nevertheless, he persevered – plowing though snow banks to disconnect AC cables, crawling through icy ducts carrying water in a thermos bottle to short out circuits. No one noticed. No one cared. The humans were too busy stringing pop corn and cranking up the heat to notice that their AC wasn’t working.

“W-w-what’s next boss?” Dingus’s teeth chattered so he could hardly speak. “That last one was a good one, huh! Rats chewing the wires. We’re geniuses. Let’s find some more rats.”

‘You adlepated twit,’ thought Waldo. “Right, geniuses,” he sighed and shook his head wallowing in the misery of it all.

Meanwhile, Macafee was creating links from Santa’s e-mail to every other computer on the face of the earth, including those not connected to the Internet. On Christmas Eve, everyone would get the following message:

“The woods are dark

And full of snow.

Santa’s retired,

Ho, ho, ho, ho!

No toys for you.

No, no, no.”

The senior gremlins were working double quick, daydreaming of promotions, million dollar bonuses, and other magnificent perks. They expected the rewards to be great.

It wasn’t fair. Waldo knew he was born to greatness. If only he’d jumped on to the computer craze earlier. Stupid computers!

“I’ve got it, boss,” Dingus danced a little jig of excitement.

Waldo sighed. Oh, joy, he thought. Another stupid idea from the Dingleberry. (his nick- name for Dingus.) “What’s your great idea this time?”

But Dingus didn’t even hear the sarcasm, only the words, ‘what’s your great idea?’ He rubbed his hands in anticipation. “Computers," he said.

Waldo groaned, and he actually pounded his head against an icicle in exasperation. There it was again, that horrible word, his nemesis - computers - the bane of his existence.

Dingus hugged himself in happy anticipation of explaining his very good idea. “The only place in all of our assigned territory where air conditioners are turned on – is the computer rooms. They have to be kept cool for the computers to work.”

Waldo almost smiled. In a fair world, he would have been the one to come up with the idea. He gave a last smack to the wires he was working on, and the two gremlins hurried to the nearest Starbucks to plan their strategy.

The news from the North Pole was nothing but bad – or good. The gremlins had finished ahead of schedule - five days before Christmas. The only toys coming off the assembly line were defective batteries and dolls without arms. And electronic e-mails were flying through the airwaves.

Santa’s elves were feverishly putting in overtime trying to debug the computers. Santa was contacting every news service on earth trying to do damage control - apologizing to the children, promising to make it up to them next year. “Have faith,” he said but in his heart he was scared. Santa had let all the children down. Somehow, some way, he’d screwed up. Maybe computers weren’t the way to go.

Macafee and the senior gremlins had all flown south (first class) to the Bahamas and were sipping margaritas and tanning their toes in the sun.

With only five days left, Waldo figured they should target the really important computers first. He looked down at Dingus, frowned and rubbed his beard. “Our first stop – the University of Oslo,” he said.

After several wrong turns, they noticed a humming sound emanating from a locked enclosure nestled between the cadaver room and the chemical storage locker. Waldo was the one who picked the lock. “Jackpot!” he said. Inside he saw row after row of computers. Waldo immediately went to work checking out the AC system while Dingus danced a cha cha across the face of the computers.

“Look at this,” said Dingus. "It’s Macafee’s message coming over the wires. Check it out. Macafee’s a genius.”

“Waldo pretended not to hear.”

“Too bad we can’t monkey with the computers,” Dingus complained. I’d give it an undo tweak - make it reverse everything. Like this,” said Dingus. And he poked and prodded the keys. “Change A’s to F’s turn 'off' to 'on'". He began to sing and jump along the keyboard. "Backwards is forwards, left is right."

“Leave it alone,” said Waldo. "Let’s just turn off the AC and get out of here.”

“We ought to be making the AC stick on instead of turning it off,” said Dingus.

Waldo smacked his forehead. “And you pick now to tell me this. We could have been jamming ACs to 'on' all this time instead of turning them off. Why didn’t you say something earlier?”

“You didn’t ask me.”

“From now on, just follow directions and don’t say anything. I’ll do the thinking for both of us.” Waldo threw back his shoulders and stroked his mustache as he gave the order.

But Dingus was so fascinated by the computers that he didn’t even hear Waldo. “Hey, get a load of this. Look at what I did. Now the computer’s sending a different e-mail from Santa. Listen to this: “The woods are dark and…”

“Shut up and get busy. Do I have to do all the work around here?”

“But look at what I did. Macafee’s message…”

“Macafee frosts my pancakes. I don’t want to hear about it. That’s all I’ve heard for the last month – Macafee did this. Macafee did that. Macafee’s the greatest gremlin that ever lived. I’ve had it up to here.”

While Waldo jammed up the AC, Dingus lovingly stroked the keyboards making the keys dance in time to the William Tell Overture. Things might have gone so differently if Waldo had listened. But then, Waldo never did understand computers, so it might not have made any difference anyway.

Mrs. Boonstople heard Santa’s apology on television. Santa told the children that he still loved them and to ignore any e-mails from him. Well, Mrs. B. didn’t want Suzy to be disappointed, so she checked her e-mail, planning to erase anything discouraging. But Santa’s e-mail was anything but discouraging.

“Christmas is coming

So is the snow.

You’ll all get your presents.

Ho ho ho ho!”

‘What a lovely gesture,’ thought Mrs. Boonstople. “Suzy, come see Santa’s e-mail.” Suzy giggled and squirmed. I hope he brings me a computer game,” she said.

On Christmas Eve, Santa readied his reindeer for their midnight ride, then walked to his workshop, head down, expecting the worst. But maybe there was something to salvage out of all the malfunction, something that the computers hadn’t destroyer. So imagine his surprise finding his workshop filled to the brim with his best toys yet. The elves loaded up Santa’s sleigh lickety split, and Santa took off with the heartiest “ho ho” he’d laughed in a long very time.

On December 26th, news of the Great Christmas Fiasco (as it was later known) was making its way through Gremlin Hall. Two Christmases in a row, Macafee had failed, failed, failed! Standing on the podium in front of all the gremlins, he was stripped of all decorations, and as a final blow his boots and socks were forcibly removed from his feet. A new head gremlin was to be appointed to take Macafee’s place. All the gremlins muttered and whispered among themselves, wondering who it could be.

Waldo wasn’t wondering. He was sure he’d be elected. Clearly he was the only gremlin who succeeded in his assignment. The University of Oslo was giving out diplomas in dog catching, sausage manufacturing, and on-line potty training – all thanks to him and Dingus.

Any second now, the voice of the Grand Gombah of gremlins would be broadcasted over the loud speakers announcing Macafee’s replacement. The gremlins were beside themselves in anticipation. “The new head gremlin is….” Here, a drum roll boomed throughout the building, rattling windows and shaking the chimney dust loose. “The new head gremlin is Dingus - for accomplishments of mayhem and confusion at the University of Oslo. With a special commendation to Waldo for his help in Operation Oslo.” Gremlin Hall shook with excitement. Along with the commendation, Waldo is hereby promoted to executive assistant to head gremlin Dingus.

Waldo looked about for an icicle to bang with his head.

All over the world, diapers were leaking – in joyous salute to Dingus.

Merry Christmas!

Elaine Glimme

Saturday, November 26, 2011

EEK - With Appologies to my Friends at Haz Mat

EEK - October's Post - With Appologies to my Friends in Haz Mat

I must dehaz the haz mat in the can

Before the fire and smoke can knock me down.

I get to use the gizmos in the van.

My friends are cheering from a far-off town.

"What is this haz mat's haz?" I ask aloud.

"Perhaps a dirty bomb that could explode,

And on exploding form a toxic cloud,

Or grow a third eye to a horny toad."

The bells on the detectors make me wary.

The gas tech's warning buzzer gives me fright.

I never meant to be a mine canary.

I plan to chug a cold one Friday night.

Before the yellow smoke can knock me down,

I'll activate my feet and leave this town.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Meg's Tale

Meg's Tale

The phone rang, and it was Mom’s caregiver, Stephanie. “You need to come now, Jenny. She’s asking for you and she’s looking fragile. I don’t think she’ll last the night.” Of course I’d been expecting this phone call for some time, and I thought I was ready for it, but apparently, you’re never ready for it.

Mom had been fragile for some time now. And I was used to it. I was used to her rambling conversations, and her hands shaking, and the times she couldn’t make it to the bathroom, and all the other losses one after another - the indignities that came as her body shut down, one function after the other.

When I got to her room, her hands were drumming on the coverlet, marching to a beat that only she could hear. And she shook her head hard against the pillows until she’d mashed her hair into a rat’s nest. And all the while, her eyes darted back and forth, glassy with panic. She was agitated, really agitated. I hadn’t seen her that bad in a long time.

“It’s okay, Meg,” Stephanie said, her voice steady and soothing. “I’ll get something to help you relax.” She prepared a syringe with morphine while I held Mom’s hand. “No morphine,” she said. “Not yet. I have to. See… they’ve been here and I must.. .oh, whatever it is. Where did I put it?”

I had gotten used to those words. She had to catch a bus or meet Pa – now dead for seven years, or return a library book or buy ice cream, or a hundred other things. I usually couldn’t tell what it was that she had to do. So I’d just nod and smile and say okay until it passed and there was something else she had to do.

“Bottom drawer. On the left. Important, see it’s the bottom. I left it there.”

“Okay Mom, I’ll get to it.”

“Right now. Get it.”

“Okay, just let me sit a minute.”

“No! Now!” She would have screamed, if she’d had the strength. Instead, she whispered a raspy, gurgling sound, and her eyes bulged like a Boston terrier’s.

“Okay, Mom. Please take it easy.”

I got up, hoping to find something in the drawer to stop her restlessness. Meanwhile Stephanie tried to ease the needle’s point under Mom’s skin. Mom screamed and threw her arms rigidly into the air, and I had to hold her as gently as I could, willing her struggling to subside, while Stephanie gave her the morphine.

“Get it now. And check for ants,” Mom said. After a few moments, she softened in my arms like a rag doll.

“I love you Mom.”

“You were only three years old.” Those were the last words she ever said. About an hour later, she died. And I cried. Like a baby, like someone who lost everything important. Because she was my life, my best friend, and my comforter.

And my brain wrapped itself in fog as I called the coroner, and then waited, and answered questions, and signed papers, and saw my mother’s body taken away. And finally, numb and trembling, I drove back to my house. I showered and climbed into bed, and stared at nothing, wishing Mom were back, and wishing I were asleep.

The next day, still in shock and very shaky, I did those things you have to do when your mother dies – call a priest, arrange for a funeral, write an obituary. I began the phone calls to friends and family. Mom had had lots of friends but she was ninety-two when she died, and most of her friends had gone before her, so the phone call list was pretty short. And then there was nothing to do. The air was thick, the walls seemed to close in, and there was just nothing to do.

For distraction, I turned on the TV, and got flooded with advertisements. My Mom had died, and all the TV could talk about was eyeliner, hamburgers, and designer fashions for cheap. And then, Meg Whitman ads hit the screen - three of them in the space of ten minutes. I bristled. She had my mother’s name, but nothing else about her was like my mother. She’d paid herself a hundred million dollars. Mom and Pa had struggled their whole lives.

She had my mother’s name. Meg. That was the name my grandmother used to call Mom when I was a little girl. And I loved it. Because the name spoke of home and of hearts as warm as the arms that hugged me tight.

Another ad. Can you buy a state with enough money? Meg Whitman blamed the unions and the little old guys drawing pensions, and the undocumented aliens for California’s woes. She stood for big business - rich, clever and good.

Mom would have flipped her finger at the TV. I could imagine her clear, low voice: “Tax cuts for the rich, the housing market crash, Enron, rolling blackouts, banking scams and million-dollar bonuses doled out to the very ones responsible for the mess. And now they hope we’ll elect them to run our state!” The words disappeared in a twinkling, replaced by ideas tumbling around inside my head.

Mom would have taken a stand. And I wanted to speak up, as a sort of tribute to her memory, but I couldn’t see it or express it or draw it or sing it or shout it, or even pray about it. The words hid themselves behind a shapeless wad that was feelings, all stuffed inside of me. Lukewarm, mush that’s been standing, that’s me, I thought. Absentmindedly, I rubbed my hand along my leg, feeling the bumps of a very old scar.

That night I dreamed about a wild little boy swinging a baseball bat. The principal said that the child was violent, and there wasn’t anything she could do.

He kept on swinging; only now he was swinging paddles instead of a bat. I came up behind him and got his arms pinned to his sides. So much I wanted to say. “You have power now with those paddles, but it’s only temporary. And you’re giving up so much for that power. Who’s going to trust you? You can’t play with the other kids, or have fun or get to go places or do things. You can’t be trusted. Who knows what you’ll do? And there are so many good things you could do. You could be a friend. You could make things better. As it stands, you’re good for nothing.” He struggled, but I held his arms pinned to his sides. And he was inside me.

I woke up with my hand clapped tightly over my mouth.

A couple of days later, Mom's landlady called with her condolences, and said that she’d give me some extra time to clear out the apartment, but she really needed it empty by the fifteenth of August.

So one particularly lousy Saturday, I let myself inside and went through her things. There were pitifully few of them. Most of her cherished knickknacks had been sold at the garage sale right before she’d given up her oh-so loved home and moved into the apartment. Independent living they called it.

I didn’t think Mom had made out a will, but it didn’t matter. She didn’t have much money, and, anyway, I was the only one left. Still, there might be some charity or some friend that she wanted to remember. And maybe that’s what she wanted me to know with her last words. I looked in that bottom left drawer, and in the very bottom I found a worn, yellowed manila envelope. From inside of it, I pulled out a spiral notebook, and I cried because the pages were filled out in Mom’s handwriting. The writing was faded and it was hard to make out some of the words. On the first page of the notebook, she’d added a Post-it, and the shakiness of the handwriting indicated that she’d added it recently. “This happened in 1939,” said the Post-it. “And I was too frightened to speak. But we can’t forget it, because if we do, it’ll happen again.”

I half expected Mom to sit down next to me and drape an arm across my shoulders. In fact, I imagined that she did exactly that, as I sat down on her chintz-covered couch and began to read the notebook.

The day James landed the job in the petroleum refinery, we celebrated with Gallo wine and Spam sandwiches. The money was nothing at first, barely enough to scrape by on, but everyone knew that, if you worked hard, you’d climb up the ladder and then they’d treat you good and you and your family, you’d be sitting easy. Only trouble was we never did know anyone who was sitting easy – least not any of us.

Well, the work was hard, but James, he never grumbled. But I worried. He came home every night smelling of sulfur and diesel, and the smell was on the clothes, and if they got mixed up with Jenny’s clothes, then her clothes smelled of diesel and sulfur too. And I noticed that James was coughing a lot and getting short of breath. Pay wasn’t much, but we didn’t want to get branded as trouble makers, so we weren’t complaining about it.

Maxfield Grossman used to show up outside of Gate 14 at 5:30 a.m. on the first Tuesday of every month. Every month he had a new flyer that he was trying to pass out. And he’d try to get the men to come to a union meeting. “How about it, James?” he’d say. And James would say, “I need this job, and I’m not about to risk losing it for a couple of extra dollars.”

But then there was the turnaround – when they had to shut down one of the plants for maintenance – and, during this particular turnaround, Harvey and Earl had to muck out the still bottoms. Near as I can figure, this is what happened. They had to crawl into the reaction tanks and clean out the tar which was stuck to everything.

There’s supposed to be someone on watch whenever anyone’s inside the tanks, and that was supposed to be Milton. Only Milton had been called down to the pier to help unload, so no one was watching Harvey and Earl. And Earl had asked KO, the foreman, if they could wait till Milton got back so that they could have someone on watch, but KO just said to be careful. And KO was all grumbling and mean because, while the plant was shut down, there was no product heading for market.

Turnarounds always took longer than they were supposed to, and everyone was grumpy on account of the long hours and the heavy work. And KO was grumpy because his boss kept on his back about when they’d get the plant up and running again. But mostly KO was grumpy because he was just plain mean. So he told Harvey and Earl to get their asses inside the tank and start mucking.

Well, Harvey and Earl, they hung a sign on a post or something saying that they were inside. All the equipment was already turned off on account of the turnaround, and then they dressed down to their skivvies and put on a rubber suite attached to a thick hose that supplied clean air for breathing, and climbed down a ladder into the tank and started the cleaning. Only trouble was there were still a few puddles of a soupy liquid in the bottom of the tank, and someone – they never did figure out who – turned on the pump while Harvey and Earl were still inside.

First the ladder got knocked over. The puddled liquid was strong acid and it started splashing, and it ate through the rubber suits in next to no time, and Harvey and Earl, they started hollering, only no one could hear their voices from inside the suits and over the roar of the pumps. Earl, he climbed out, but Harvey’s hose line got hung up on something.

Well, James, he was the first one to hear the ruckus and he slapped at the controls to stop the machinery. Earl had run over to the safety shower, but no water was coming out of it, and Earl must have been panicking, because he just kept yelling and pulling on the handle, and still no water came out.

So James grabbed at Earl’s arm and managed to steer him across the walkway to another safety shower, and he yanked at the handle and managed to get water out of it. He tore away at the pieces of suit that were still stuck to Earl’s body. They both stood under the shower just catching their breath, and James could feel the acid stinging him through his shirt. Meanwhile, some of the other guys got Harvey out of the tank, and everyone could tell then and there that he wasn’t going to make it. They got him on a stretcher, and by that time, he wasn’t screaming or crying or anything. Only his arms and his legs were twitching and shaking, and his eyes kept rolling back into his head.

KO said it was all Earl and Harvey’s fault for going into the tank without a watch, but James had heard the whole thing.

And they’d promised the men time and a half for working the turnaround, but it turned out that the work was badly behind schedule, so instead they docked the men for the extra down time. And the next time, Max showed up at Gate 14 with flyers announcing a union meeting, James said, ”count me in.”

And I said, “James, I’m going too. This union stuff scares me to Kingdom Come, and if you’re going to do something dumb, I want to know what it is.”

Mrs. McConnell next door was going to watch Jenny, but she couldn’t at the last minute, so we bundled her up in a nightgown and took her with us.

Well, seventeen of the men showed up that night, and they talked about money and safety. Jenny was almost asleep, and, truth be told, so was I, and that’s when some union busters crashed through the door and all hell broke loose.

James and Jenny and I were sitting near a back window, and James pushed us out through it. And for a while I thought we were safe, that we wouldn’t be discovered.

There were about thirty of them, each covered up in a sheet, and they started swinging at our guys with clubs.

The ghost men! I remembered it suddenly - like water spilling over the side of a dam, the memories all but drowned me. Ghost men! In my head, that’s what I called the bad men because of the sheets. I remembered it – remembered the night - crouching in some bushes behind a big old half-dead tree. Ma had told me to be quiet, but I screamed, and she put her hand over my mouth. They must have beat up Pa. I remembered the sounds – swishy, slapping sounds like when you work on a punching bag. And sharp, stinging sounds. I could recognize Pa’s voice trying not to scream but still some grunts and groans and swearing got out of him like bursts from a shotgun.

And I could hear the sounds as if they’d just happened, and they sent a shiver through me, a prickly frozen feeling, dull and prison gray - like walls of fear, keeping the screaming inside, not daring to let it loose.

With every inch of me, I wanted to throw the notebook away, never to touch the sensations associated with it. But I knew I had to finish reading it. I owed at least that much to my mother. And I had to do it right now, because this was a place in my mind that I didn’t want to have to visit again, ever. I turned the page.

Instead of Mom’s loopy writing, the next page had pictures attached by yellow, crinkled tape. The first one was of Pa with a swollen lip and dried blood around his nose and mouth. Next, there was a photo of his leg, all bruised purple and swollen. And a photo of his back criss-crossed with thick, bloody cuts and welts. And finally, there was a picture of a small child’s leg, my leg, with a bright red burn on it.

The picture of Pa’s back was the worst. It made me ache to look at it. Instinctively, I slapped my hand over my mouth to stifle the scream. My hand was clammy, and suddenly I was oh, so cold. And my chest was heavy, as if crushed by rocks.

I turned the page to find more of Mom’s journaling.

There we were crouched down in some sorry shrubbery. I tried to keep Jenny still, but she was only three and she was scared, and her screaming attracted the men’s attention. One of them grabbed me and another snatched Jenny. Just pulled her right out of my arms. They taped her mouth to still her screaming. And one guy lit a cigarette, and he brought it up to her face. I watched the dull orange ember and I saw the tail of ashes grow. Closer and closer, he brought it up to her face. I remember screaming “No!” and just crying and crying. And he dropped it into Jenny’s lap.

“Hey, let her be,” said the other one. “She’s just a kid.”

“Hell, she’s nothin’ but a red diaper baby.”I remember his words, the way he spit them at us, like we were dead sewer rats, stinking, disgusting. He played some more with us and with the cigarette, and then he put it out – on Jenny’s leg. She screamed, but the sound couldn’t get out on account of the tape. He put it out as if Jenny’s leg was an ashtray.

Then they raped me. They hurt me bad. I never did tell James. I don’t think he ever found out.

I can’t write any more about that.

Then they threw us all into the backs of a couple of pick-ups and they drove us out to the fields and left us there still tied and taped. Like buckets of hog slop. Some of the men finally managed to work their ropes loose and we began the long walk towards home.

I think James had a sprain or break or something and he limped like crazy, but he didn’t let on that it hurt ‘cause Jenny was so young and so spooked. I knew she was hungry and hurting but somehow, she knew not to cry – just stumble along. Pa and I carried her some, and some of the others did too, but we were all pretty messed up, and she ended up walking a far stretch of the way by herself.

My hand still covered my mouth, pressing hard to hold back the scream, because, if I could just hold it back, then that terrible night wouldn’t have happened. Pa’s back and Mom’s crying, they were all my fault. All my fault because of me screaming. But I’d never do that again. No matter what, I’d keep still. For the rest of my life, I would keep still.

Then everything would be all right.

But it had happened, and I remembered it, the explosion of pain, and the smell of my burned flesh. I could still smell that tobacco mingled with my burning flesh. That smell was to stay with me for the rest of my life, a crushing, stifling feeling. I never did try smoking. I was just about the only kid in my high school class who had never smoked.

I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, and I was cold through to the bone and shaking like I’d never stop. Fearful memories rushed through me like a typhoon, pressing hard against my chest. It felt like I was having a heart attack. I was about to die, and I’d die with Ma’s words hidden behind my hand. So I forced my hand from my mouth, and threw back my head, and screamed.

At first it was just a mewing sound barely strong enough to make it out of my mind, then a sick croak, and finally, a long wail and a full, scream – primitive, torn from my soul.

For a long time I rocked back and forth and cried like I’d never stop, and the rhythm and the tears were soothing like balm on a bad wound. And I just sat there rocking and crying my body’s rhythms back to normal. The crushing, icy dread subsided. I felt lighter, stronger, as if I’d just wakened from a nightmare, as if I’d killed Sauron. I looked back at the journal. There were only a few more paragraphs left.

It was the KKK that did it. Most people think that they only bothered blacks, but they also went after Jews and communists, and union organizers. And they surely went after us.

Looking back, it’s amazing that unions ever got on. It seems like they had everything stacked against them. The owners had money, respectability. They had the ear of the newspapers, and the use of the sheriff to keep us in line.

And yet the unions had to win. There were too many of us. And we didn’t have much to lose. When our kids went hungry or got sick and we couldn’t afford a doctor – well, then you’d do just about anything, and that includes organizing. But in the end we had to win. There were too many of us and we were too poor.

I looked down at my hands, now resting in my lap, and I knew I would speak and write, and shout and sing and pray my mother’s story - as if I’d ripped the tape off of my mouth. And as for Meg Whitman’s ads, well, they were a step backwards, a step towards the days when profit counted for more that human lives.

So I copied my mother’s journal, and published it in a blog on the internet. And at the bottom of the page, I added:




And I made up business cards and passed them around everywhere I could think of. They had the web address on them and the words “I love you, Mom.” I hoped that people would read the blog and know my mother, but at least I felt comforted knowing that I had done my best to tell her story to the world.

About a week after I’d given away the last business card, I saw a car with a bumper sticker on it FIX CALIFORNIA. TAX THE RICH. And the address for my blog was there in tiny letters. I felt like hiding. It wasn’t my style to be noticed. But this was about Mom. At least that’s what I told myself. So I made up a bumper sticker for myself as well. And I made up some posters and hammered them into the ground where motorists could see them.

The bumper stickers and signs multiplied into the thousands, until they were a common sight throughout California.

Then, a six-year-old kid walked into a clinic with a Tupperware container filled with pennies and nickels that he wanted to donate. His story made the news. After that, others donated to the clinics and the after-school programs. Welfare moms volunteered their time. People volunteered and donated in droves. Everyone wanted to help fix California.

And then the miracle happened. A billionaire gave away his bonus. Not to fund his political agenda – he just gave the money to three public schools, with no strings attached. Some of the others followed, giving their bonuses to hospitals and Head Start programs, and to Oakland’s police department, and to the cities and counties that had cut their budgets. Because it was the locals who, ultimately, had paid for the bonuses. WE were the ones who had paid for the bonuses.

It happened all over the country. “It’s only fair - the right thing to do,” someone said. I saw it on the news – the best news cast I’d ever seen.

I went to work on another poster with a song of thanks on my lips.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gremlins and gophers another bit for the story

Whiskered warrior
Toothy tiller
Backyard's uninvited guest.
Furry fuzball
Fussy furball
Rototilling rodent pest.

My daffodills, with butter faces,
By the war zone called my lawn.
Comes the tunnel-digging critter,
Just a flicker,
And they're gone.

Bucktoothed varmit,
Collie's plaything
Your dirty doorway caught her eyes,
She's out to get you.
Watch the dirt fly.
The hole is now three times it's former size.

You've given me a new perspective,
I want to shoot you through the mud,
In my mind, you're Bugs and Daffy,
And I'm the furious, Elmer Fudd.

(For those of you reading my blog in Russian, this is a poem. I hope it's still funny.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Whenever a diaper fails, another gremlin gets his boots.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Josia's Tale

On a deserted stretch in the mountains, Josiah lay flat on the ground, his face above a hole he’d just dug, and, staring into the hole, he screamed. Echoes bounced from the banks then died, and all was still. “I leave my guilt here,” he said. “It is done.”

Josiah had learned the trick from an Indian, oh, three, maybe four years ago. You dig a hole and fill it with shouting and tears, hate and sorrow. Then you cover the burdens with earth and walk away. Josiah acknowledged no God, neither his own people’s God nor the Great Spirit of the red man, but he understood the need to travel with a light pack and a light heart.

He dug the hole longer and deeper. Along with his conscience, Josiah had a man’s body to bury. The dead man was a prospector, old and whiskery, with clothing stained and smelling of spit, blood and tobacco. He’d left his claim to seek shelter in town before the first blizzard. A loner. He would not be missed. Josiah picked up the old man’s body. Light, whisper-thin, it hung like a sack stuffed with straw in Josiah’s large arms.

Just the evening before, they’d walked side by side in silence, and they’d pitched camp and built a fire before nightfall. Neither had spoken until Josiah pulled out a well-worn greasy hip flask and took a slow, warming swig.

“What you got in there?” the old man had asked. His head down towards the ground, he sneaked sideways glances at the flask.

“Whiskey… You thirsty?”

“A mite. Just to warm the chill from my bones.”

What’s it worth to you?”

For a moment the old man was silent, eyes shifting back and forth. He spit on the ground and wiped his mouth with his shirtsleeve. Then he fumbled inside his shirt and pulled out a stained leather pouch. After an anxious look over his shoulder, he took out a crinkled square of paper and folded into it a small pinch of yellow dust. “I got gold,” he said.

They sat by the fire passing the flask back and forth, staring at the fire. “Wish I’d set to prospecting instead of trapping,” Josiah said. He fingered the dirty piece of paper containing the gold and wondered exactly how much it was worth. “I’d dig up enough gold to set me living soft, then spend the rest of my days with fancy clothes and fancy women.”

The prospector yawned. “It don’t work that way. Gold’s funny. It’s pretty and it’s yours, and it shines and warms you, then it grows at you ‘till it owns you and it’s God.”

They kicked dirt on the fire, and while they slept, the stained pouch never stopped dancing behind Josiah’s closed lids.

For Josiah, the next morning was only disjointed sensations: the feel of his pistol, death-cold like the November air and the sharp thunderclap sound as it discharged; then the tingling odor of gunpowder, and the old man crumpling to the ground. These were the thoughts he was leaving behind in the hole. Josiah had killed foxes, bears, snakes, wolverines – all kinds of animals – for food and pelts, but he’d never killed a man before. He hadn't expect it to be any different.

Now, Josiah searched the body and pulled out the leather pouch. It lay heavy in his hand. Inside, were coins, and nuggets, and a fist full of dust and flakes – much more than Josiah had expected.

“Ashes to ashes; dust to dust,” he muttered. Josiah lay the old man’s body into the newly-dug grave. Its face grinned up at him as he began to fill the hole with dirt.

While he worked, Josiah jingled the pouch. He thought about Priscilla and the feel of her arm, so soft in his strong hands, and how she’d pulled away from him. “Pa’s waiting. I have to hurry home.” It seemed she was always hurrying away for something. These memories made him angry, but they were the thoughts savor, to hang on to. They were not feelings to leave behind in an earthen hole. He jingled the bag again wondering how many nuggets it would take to buy Priscilla’s body, and how many more to win her affection.

Like most women, Priscilla had shunned Josiah, and he kept trying to figure out why. He didn’t have a pretty-boy milky face. Years of sun, wind, and disappointment – all that time scraping through the Sierras trapping skins – had tanned his face leather-hard. He wasn’t rich either; women always wanted a man with money and land. He should have married long ago. But now he had gold! Now they’d come to him like trout to a hooked worm.

Josiah whistled, throwing the last clods of frost-hard dirt over the hole. Then he covered the mound with rocks, enough rocks to keep the dead silent. He turned his back to the grave and walked away.

As the first flakes of snow fell, Josiah shivered, pulling his jacket close around himself. He jammed a beaver-skin cap down tighter over his head. Too bad his horse and the old man’s mule had bolted, shying from the gunshot, but it wasn’t more than a few miles into town, and the main body of the storm was still several hours away. It would be a half-hour at most from the mountain down to the flats, and maybe another hour to the warmth of town. He jingled his pouch as he walked. Inside of it was gold enough for women, horses, hotel rooms, and hot baths – as many as he wanted.

The wind picked up, nudging hard at his back, and grumbling, crushing sounds broke through the trees behind him. Josiah turned, his hand on the butt of his pistol. Rocks and boulders, knocked loose by the gathering storm, were tumbling down the mountain’s steeper slopes. What about the rocks on the old man’s grave? Had any of them been knocked loose? Josiah looked up, squinting into the wind.

That’s stupid. Those rocks ain’t budging none. Anyway, that business with the hole was crazy, just superstition. It didn’t mean nothing. He stared up the mountain trying to find the spot where he’d dug the grave.

With an angry howl, the wind shifted, bringing with it more snow, and Josiah set his face against it, working his way towards the town. But then, in a copse to his right, Josiah saw movement – maybe the old dun mare, his only friend, or maybe just his mind tricking his eyes. Josiah turned towards the trees and listened. Hoof beats, he thought, peering through the branches and falling snow.

“Here Jezebel,” he whistled softly. “Come here old girl.” But there was no answering nicker. Josiah watched and followed, straining for a glimpse of his horse. He finally saw it, not the mare, but a four-pointed stag seeking lower ground and shelter from the oncoming storm.

Beast from Hell,” he muttered. He pulled his pistol out and fired at the stag. It reared, eyes wide with fright, then bolted zigzagging through brush and snow. Josiah turned to follow, a stubborn rage dogging his steps. He continued the chase well after the last trace of the animal had disappeared in white confusion.

In defeat, Josiah pushed against the wind once more, heading downhill. Snow fell in large wet clumps now, and the wind whistled furiously, stinging his face. The sky turned from white to gray. Josiah quickened his steps down the mountain. The storm had come faster than he’d reckoned. He’d have to be careful.

Ice was settling on Josiah’s face, no longer melting. Josiah paused to wipe the crystals from his beard and mustache. Deep in thought, he rubbed his hands across his face as he scanned the territory ahead for pathways and landmarks, mechanically circling his eyes, nose and mouth. The habitual motion comforted him.

The wind whistled and Josiah felt as though someone were behind him. He almost sensed breathing, but it was probably just the wind. He whipped around suddenly but saw nothing. Just nerves, he thought. Just nerves. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was not alone, and then he knew why. Tobacco! Ever so faintly, he smelled tobacco. Like the morning after the evening in a whorehouse, the smell was everywhere and nowhere. He turned around shouting into the trees. “Who’s there? Show yourself.” There was no answering shout. Saplings bent; branches waved in eerie patters of light and dark. He peered through the falling snow searching for a different kind of movement.

The wind shrieked. It was hard to find the path now in the deepening snow. And still the odor of tobacco haunted him. “Where are you? What do you want?” Josiah trudged on, wary like stalked prey. He spun on his heels, peering into the murky gloom, perspiring in spite of the biting wind. It had to be just mind tricks. He’d left the old man with his tobacco stink behind him up the hill. He pulled out his pistol and fired four shots – one in each direction. The wind and snow muffled the sound.

He stared at the pistol; then he stared at his hands. Of course! He’d gotten the tobacco smell on his hands when he’d buried the body. That’s all it was. Mind tricks, like he’d known all along. The swirling white snow, the howl of the wind – they could do that to a man. But that was all it was - just mind tricks. He pulled needles off a nearby sapling and rolled them around in his hands, then rubbed the needles on his clothes and his face. “Go away old man,” he shouted into the wind. “Rest in Hell where you belong. You’re dead and I’m not, and there ain’t nothing you can do about it.”

An hour later, he‘d made his way down to the flats. The town was a shimmering mound, all but hidden by the falling snow. He looked carefully, got his bearings and began walking towards it.

White snow burned his eyes. The wind whistled steadily, “Siah, siah, siah, siah,” nibbling around the edges of his mind like a rat. Josiah pushed his cap down low around his ears to muffle the sound.

The wind shifted; the afternoon sky grew dark. Josiah took care to keep walking straight, as the town and the mountains were now invisible in the swirling snow. A sharp crashing noise broke behind him. Just the wind, thought Josiah. All the same, he turned towards the sound in reflex.

“Don’t spook now,” he told himself. “You left all that buried in a hole.”

“Siah, siah, Josiah, siah, siah, siah.” Just the wind playing tricks.

Snow swirled, dirty gray-white like the old prospector’s beard. He searched the horizon for a sign of the settlement, but there was only biting wind, now blowing in circles and sheet after sheet of snow. Without a landmark for bearings, he could only pray his way back to the village, but prayer stuck dry in his throat like rocks in a summer’s gulch. Josiah made his best guess at the direction of the town and bent his face into the wind toward the hope of warmth.

“Siah, siah, Josiah, siah, slayer, siah, siah.” And the wind blew, whistling an elegy clear through to his soul.

A wolf howled in the distance. Another answered. “Atone, atone.”

The white stung his eyes and the wind hissed steadily. “Siah, siah, siah, Josiah siah, siah repent.” The words rasped in his head. His heart and gut twisted like old, gnarled tree roots. His face turned hard. His mouth set, grimaced. He saw the old man’s face, an apparition in the icy air. “Your fault, you ghoul, you dog! You let me see your gold. No man is such a fool. You planned to take my life all along, my life and my soul, you demon.”

“Siah, siah, repent, repent, siah.”

“You were old, old man. Your life was nothing more than dust, tobacco, gold and whiskey. It was a kindness to kill you. The fox whose head I twisted in pity was more worthy of life than you.”

“Siah, siah, what have you done, Josiah?”

The white glare half-blinded him. After-images appeared riding on the snow – visions of the old prospector, head bent low with the weight of toil and loneliness. He reached his hand forward. The apparition seemed so real. Josiah felt an urge to put his hand on the prospector’s shoulder. “Old man, fellow traveler, our burdens are much the same. You’ve poured your life into a sack of gold, and I’ve taken it all, your gold, your life, and every chance you had left to you.” As Josiah knelt in the snow, his tears froze on his cheeks.

The buzzing in his head quieted. The wind died, and a sliver of moon shone low on the horizon against a coal-black sky. Lights! Josiah saw them waving at him, dancing a ways to the right of the path he’d been walking. He corrected his bearings and his feet marched in strong, purposeful steps through the silent snow.

“Siah, siah, siah,” sand the wind to him, a lullaby, a chant, a mantra. “Siah, siah, siah, leave the gold, Josiah, siah, siah.” But this couldn’t be real. Just his mind. “Siah, siah, leave the gold. It isn’t your to keep.”

“It owns you, and it’s God.” That’s what the old prospector had said about gold. Give up the gold? When he was so close to town? “My head’s gone crazy. That’s all. It’s just that the wind and the cold, they’re making me crazy.” He fingered the pouch under his jacket. He pulled it out to look at …

“Siah, siah. Leave the gold. Empty the pouch. Throw it out, nugget by nugget, flake by flake. Throw each piece strong, with your back and shoulders hard behind the throw. Then fling the dust as far as you can, and turn the pouch inside out, and rub it clean in the s now.”

Josiah stared at the lights of town and knew he could walk the distance. It was no more than half a mile away. He put the pouch back under his shirt, and his muscles twisted with pain because of the load he carried.

In the following spring before the snow had completely melted, two ranchers found him – at least they found his body. He was holding an empty leather pouch, turned inside out and rubbed clean. “He sure do look peaceful,” said one. “Hell, I ain’t never seen him smile like that when was alive.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Gremlins of Mt. Olympus

Whenever a diaper fails, another gremlin gets his boots.

It was a depressing gathering of gophers assembled under the Lindsdorf's front lawn. They'd rototilled a good third of the lush grass into granola-sized dirt clods and were ready to move on to the Snodgrass's petunias. They should have been happy. a job well done. A project accomplished. The head gremlin Macaffee should be proud. The young gremlins should be awarded their boots. For yes, these gophers were, in truth, gremlins in disguise. And what better disguise than the lowly gopher tunneling around and about the family home, unnoticed until - until it's all too late. But the Lindsdorfs planned to tear up the lawn and replace it with a rock garden featuring drought tolerant plants - a more eco-friendly landscape design. They thanked the gophers - the best rototillers ever, and they worked for free. Macaffee was not amused. The gremlins remained barefooted.

Gunther and Theobold thought they had a good one. They'd snuck into the supermarket late one night, and rearranged all the merchandise so that no one could find anything. Proudly, the submitted the results of their hard work to Macaffee, the head gremlin. Surely they'd merit boots for that act of mayhem. But Macaffee merely snorted. It seems that Safeway had been doing the very same thing for years. It seems that when customers can’t easily find what they want, they end up walking up and down the aisles and end up buying more stuff.

Gerome and Kinswaldt had relocated a family of skunks to the Kensler's pantry, causing the family to leave their home for a week of defumigating. That had to be good enough (bad enough) for boots. But no - Macafee pointed out that Bank of America had done the same thing but on a larger and more permanent scale - more stink, more families. And the smell of skunk eventually goes away, but foreclosure is forever.

In short,the bar had been raised this year, standards set higher. Bigger, bolder, dirtier acts of mischief (dirtier than dirt????) were required of the young gremlins. Because this year, they had to compete against the mayhem caused by the leaders of Wall Street.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Great Expectation - the end

I hate to post this.  It's the ending. I hope you've read the rest of the book, and you're not just going to read the last two pages.  Anyway, for good or bad, here it is.

To read from the beginning, click the photos on the right.

The end.

Alex put the paper down. His face flushed at the thought of thousands of people reading his confession – and the number could swell to millions when other papers ran the story. Poor old Abraham Franklin would be sputtering geysers when he found out about Alex’s piece. The funny thing was – Alex didn’t feel scared, even though he knew he’d have to pay for what he did with years in jail, and a lifetime of shame. It was as if he were being carried through it all by a God who loved him. “I’m very disappointed with you, son,” his father’s words sounded inside his head, but the words had lost their power over him. ‘Maybe you’re disappointed, Dad,’ he thought, ‘but I’m pleased and proud.’ For the first time in his adult life, Alex felt truly free.

He re-read the article twice more. The powers in Washington would call him a traitor, but Alex knew he’d finally earned the right to call himself honest. Then he documented as much evidence against himself as he could remember. He implicated Pomerleau, Snavey, Efendi, the Weasel, and all the rest whose approval he’d courted so doggedly – was it really only a couple of years ago? And he made copies of all the evidence – two hundred and sixty eight copies to be exact, and he sent them to two hundred and sixty eight different law enforcement agencies, newspapers and television stations– just in case the United States attorney general failed to prosecute him and his cronies.

The Upstart Gazette fired Lester Jenkins and Lissa Caldwell, figuring they were probably in on it. Most of the staff walked out the same day. The Gazette hired scabs and tried to put out an edition, but no one could get the presses to work. Probably Lester’s doing, but they weren’t sure. The following day, a few other newspapers all across the country ran the Upstart Gazette’s infamous front page article. Slowly, more newspapers followed suit.

Ivan Buncheski had put aside a sizeable nest egg. With the help of his former staff and a good credit reputation at his bank, Ivan was able to borrow enough money to launch “The New Upstart”. He hired back all his former employees.

In preparation for her trip, Johanna bought a backpack, a toothbrush, a couple of changes of clothing and underwear, and a one-way Amtrak ticket to Vancouver.

The train trip was soothing. She stared out the window at the pleasantly changing scenes. Desert, city, mountains, forest, more cities, small towns. She read and worked crossword puzzles, and sometimes just rocked back and forth with the motion of the train. She ate nutrition bars and apples and packets of juice. There was only one nightmare during the whole trip, and she told the passenger next to her that her skin had somehow gotten pinched in the zipper of her backpack and that was why she had screamed. Panic attacks happened as well, but she managed to stifle the urge to shout.

Johanna got off the bus in Vancouver, bought a map, and, fingers crossed, she navigated the city hoping to find Sandy Pumpkin’s house.

She hesitated a moment, then knocked at the door of 247 Elm Street, a modest, beige stucco cottage, surrounded by huge terra cotta pots sporting splashes of bright red geraniums. The man who opened the door was slightly stooped with silver hair pulled behind his ears into a ponytail. His face was lined, and his skin was the shade of sawdust. First Nation, thought Johanna, maybe Cree. He was in his sixties or seventies, or maybe older. It was hard to tell. In fact, the old man reminded Johanna of a tree, gnarled and stately, someone who had stood silently and observed much of the world.

Johanna cleared her throat, not knowing how to explain. There was no guarantee that the address Sandy Pumpkin had given her was the correct one. She was too trusting, too quick to believe. But maybe he lived in this house with the old man. Johanna suddenly felt scared and foolish. “My name is Jody, and I’ve been exchanging e-mails with someone at this address.” She hoped the old man wouldn’t be shocked.

“Oh, my dear girl,” he said. And tears threatened to overcome him. “I am Sandy Pumpkin!” He wrapped his arms around her and brought her inside, and his touch was light and tender, as if carrying a wounded bird in his arms.

The End

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Great Expectations Chapter XLII

To read from the beginning, click the photos on the right.

Chapter Forty ─ Two

They never did figure out who put together the front page of the Upstart Gazette that day. Lester Jenkins who ran the presses had to be involved as did Pamela Mason. She was the one who shredded documents, and she was probably the one who had rescued the letter that appeared on the front page on December 17th. Lissa Caldwell had been Ivan Buncheski's personal secretary for fourteen years. She had opened his mail, and now provided the same service for Gerald Vance. She was probably in on it too.

The Upstart Gazette

Evil wins when good men and women sit silent.

A hundred thousand people died to keep me rich. My country paid me billions for doing worse than nothing. But if you met me, you’d probably like me. You see, I’m a liar, and a very good one. I can make you believe anything. I can feed you vomit on a stick, and you’ll swallow it and ask for more. It’s a gift that I have, or maybe it’s really a curse.

And I work in the White House.

America, you need to wise up. We’re a country that focuses too much on P. R. – on appearance – and overlooks substance. And meanwhile, democracy in America is dying. You’re giving up your freedom, your goods, and even your safety in the name of national security.

The world’s best hackers work for Homeland Security. We’re bugging everyone, not just terrorists or even suspected terrorists, but senators, congressmen, and anyone who questions what we do. Just watch – senators and congressmen who stick their necks out usually get caught on the wrong end of a scandal. It’s what Nixon tried to do when his men were caught breaking into the Watergate hotel. It’s how we passed the Patriot Act.

Hitler said that the memories of the masses are short. That’s what I was banking on – that you wouldn’t remember enough to compare yesterday’s statements with today’s news. And it’s safer and more comfortable to forget. But you must remember and use the brains God gave you.

For example, consider the Iraq war. Dictators have used war as a diversion for centuries. And they’ve gotten rich by attacking weaker nations. We invaded Iraq on a lie. Remember the speeches before Iraq’s invasion? Remember the threats of a mushroom cloud?

After 9/11, we rounded up hundreds of suspected terrorists, and we just held them for two years. The United States doesn’t do that. Americans have rights. And if these people can be imprisoned without due process so can all of us. Are they guilty of terrorism? Or are they political opponents? But that’s not all. They’re not just being interrogated – they’re being tortured. Tortured!!! Since when has our country condoned torture?

I am responsible for many dirty tricks. I am responsible for the anthrax letters, and, with them, I tried to assassinate Senators Thomas Daschel and Pat Leahy.

I created phony scientific societies to convince Americans that global warming is only a myth.

I had voting machines rigged to produce the biggest election frauds in history.

And probably my worst dirty trick of all – I manipulated your news. I made you hate and I made you fear. I fed you the emotions opposite of all that’s good and holy on this earth.

Remember the long fight for the rights of all minorities−the marches and the protests. Some died defending human rights. Fifty years of progress could disappear in the wag of a camel’s tail. Prejudice against one minority sets a precedent for discrimination against any minority.

When you fly the American flag, remember what it stands for: human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of worship. When you say “God Bless America,” pray for our nation – for justice, for peace, for freedom.

Because of my dirty tricks, and deep tax cuts, and financial manipulations, and because of the wars, American economy has taken a huge hit. (You see a few hundred dollars from the tax cuts. We see billions, and we’re using them to buy elections.) Our bad real estate management will have millions facing foreclosure. In a few years, the whole thing will come crashing down around us. Someone else will deal with the consequences. Don’t blame him for the mess.

And don’t give up on democracy. It’s the best defense against the likes of me. In a dictatorship, everything I’ve done would be considered normal.

By Alexander Lidecker

Friday, October 14, 2011

Great Expectations Chapter XL

The officer hesitated. He called over his partner. Then he began the words of the Miranda Rights. “You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right…”

Alex knew this was coming. They cuffed his hands behind him, ducked his head under the doorframe, and sat him down in the back of the patrol car. Alex wondered if he would regret his honesty after the liquor had worn off the next morning.

They took him back to one of the police stations on Martha’s Vineyard, and he found himself in a small gray room with the only door locked. Alex had the disoriented sensation of not knowing exactly where he was. He stared at his hands. It all seemed so strange. Funny, Alex thought, he should be terrified, but he wasn’t. In a dazed sort of way, he felt like he’d just come home. Maybe it was the liquor, because Alex didn’t believe that it could be God.

Two sergeants walked in – officers Maxwell and Dugan according to their name tags.

“So how did all of this happen?” asked the one called Maxwell. He had pepper gray hair and a slightly darker mustache.

“You’ll forgive me if I talk slowly,” Alex said. “I’m used to lying, so it’ll take some doing to come up with the truth.”

‘Got to be the liquor,’ thought the officer.

“And I need a lawyer, but first, let me tell you about tonight. And, listen, can you let me know when you find my wife.” Alex told his story slowly, and the sergeant caught it all on tape. The easiest interrogation he’d had in months.

A third policeman walked in. “Your wife is in Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.”

“Is she going to be all right?”

“There’s concussion and some swelling, and she’s still unconscious,” he said. “That’s all they know right now.”

When he thought about Vivian, all he could remember were the manipulation and the anger. Surely there were good times too. Why couldn’t he remember them? “She really is the best part of me,” said Alex to himself. “And I really treated her like a heel.” His head throbbed and his mind bounced around as if on springs. But one thought kept surfacing, and he said it out loud. “If she dies, I’ll be charged with manslaughter, won’t I?” He looked at the officer.

“Not necessarily. Cooperate. Tell them everything.”

Alex smiled wryly. “If I tell them everything, I’ll never get out of prison.”

To read from the beginning, click the photos on the right.

Chapter XXXIX pgs. 270-271

‘It’s got to be the liquor,’ thought the officer.

The next day dawned amid iron and concrete for Alex. A pale yellowish light illuminated a sink and toilet in the left corner of the cell. Not even that is private, he thought.

Alex took a deep breath. His head ached, and it made his other senses more acute. Somewhere off to the right, metal clanged against metal, reverberating harshly off the hard surfaces with no rugs or curtains or pillows to soften the sound. It was so strange, having no control over himself or his surroundings. A mysterious “they” determined where Alex would be and what he would do.

Alex sat on his bunk staring at the blanket. He set about removing all the lint bumps with his fingers. There was precious little to occupy his time. He had no watch, and no way to know how long before something would happen – breakfast, lunch, exercise – any break from the monotony would be welcome.

“Visitor, Lidecker.” Even the guard’s voice was harsh, and the unexpected sound jerked Alex to his feet. Nothing seemed real. It was as though his mind were in some pathetic movie. Head throbbing, he stood waiting for his body to be processed by a uniformed jailer. No one appeared quite human in here.

The visitor was Abraham Franklin, “the best lawyer money could buy” if you could believe his business card. Weasel had made the arrangements. Alex had never needed a criminal lawyer before. Alex eyed the business card through a thick plate of glass.