Monday, December 30, 2013

Eight degrees of. . . well, actually just eight degrees.

It was cold, very cold, stupidly cold. The weatherman said it this morning, "It's unnecessarily cold." It's like 
childhood spanking 'chilly' gone way too far and jacked up to felonious child abuse cold.

Cold this cold makes no sense, it doesn't accomplish anything than couldn't be achieved twenty degrees less cold than this. The murmur changes from an annoyed and uncomfortable 'brrrrr' to an angry and impassioned 'enough already!'

I'm really glad I have an indoor job, unlike my dear wife. 
I've lived in more northern climes. Northern tier north, freezing temps and snow from September through May north.
I didn't like it, one bit. It never got as cold there as it has been today here though. But there in northern Japan, nestled twixt the ocean and the mountains, the weather came in and stayed, rolling over and over on itself, for days, even weeks at a time. Unrelenting low overcast, biting, slicing wet winds pushing the cold into your face and up your backside at the same time. Snow on the ground for five or six months each year, never fully melting, turning uglier and uglier, slicker and sloppier. Warmth eventually became a mere abstract concept, a desire, a wistful want, yet another unfulfilled fantasy.
But it wasn't this cold, ever. Single digits, wind chill leaning toward the obscene at the slightest hint of a breeze. Insanely cold. 
It can get colder here, in fact it probably will before this new season finally runs its course.
Even an hour after going indoors my body was still occasionally smacked with an outburst of stored or repressed shivers. My fingers still burned, the joints still clumsy.
The little car protested this morning as well. I turned the key and it groaned a distinct pair of 'Unh-Unhhh's !' before the engine parts finally found purchase. It's body and frame were as rigid as mine, solidly stiff in the bitter cold. Minor bumps and dips jarred our bones alike. Joints creaked, movements were stiff and unwelcome.The car's interior never really got warm. The only warmth to be found was in direct proximity to the puny vents. The engine wanted to keep all the heat for itself, unwilling to share it with the driver. I'd probably behave the same way though.
Later in the day the temp soared to nineteen degrees. I could tell the difference. It wasn't warm, it just wasn't as murderously cold.
Outer space is colder, a lot colder.
If it were not for our atmosphere our planet would be nearly as cold as space. The sun would only feel warm when and where it shined, the heat the ground soaked up would soar immediately into space. Freezing, temperature-less space. Our atmosphere is like fur on a mountain breed dog, trapping the stored heat in a thick blanket, holding it against the surface. 
I think we should probably make the effort to be more appreciative of our atmosphere, we're the only orb in our solar system that has one good enough to keep us from being the desperately cold and lifeless, spinning rocks that the others seem to be. 
I wonder if they shiver, the other planets and moons? I think I would.
I heard someone say something about getting used to it. 
Balderdash. I spent three long winters in Japan, there was no getting used to it. You tolerated it, fought it, some even sucked it up and accepted it, but cold is cold. You cannot zen-think your way to a warm spot whilst your extremities turn blue, your mustache ices over and your vision narrows. Cold isn't about perception, its about physics. I can think myself happier or sadder, sometimes, I cannot not mentally warm up a declining core temperature. Our bodies respond selfishly to bitter cold exposure, shutting down everything to protect the mighty brain. Everything else from that brain pan's narcissistic perspective becomes extraneous and expendable. Like closing off the unused rooms in an old house, they're on their own.
Well it does save something for last, the sex parts. The brain has a pretty high opinion of our naughty bits. When the body's core starts to succumb to low temperatures, the mighty brain looks around and pulls in those parts, tries to draw them nearer to the warm core. Not your ears, fingers, lips, legs, elbows or hair. In desperate straits you'd be left with nothing but a beating heart, a throbbing brain and a couple of functional genitals. Your eyeballs may turn to ice, your toes and fingers may snap off like shattered icicles, but the brain will try desperately to save Winky, until that too becomes simply too much a burden. That's a funny, dare I say impractical, design. Logic would dictate saving the hands and fingers first because they can build a fire, adjust a thermostat, crawl out of the snowbank, all kinds of useful things to mitigate the situation. If my car slips off the road into an icy abyss the last thing in the world I'm thinking about (with my more modern and sophisticated frontal lobe) for the next few days or hours would be reproducing. Maybe that's just me though. I certainly know that given that same desperate situation, talking any female I've ever known into getting it on at that moment would be a laughably futile endeavor, so what's the point in such complex mechanisms to save those bits?
The lower brain's prime directive is quite different from polite, contemporary society's.
Fashion model, thick lipped movie star or muscly Atlas, none of that matters at all to the brain when times turn bitterly cold and brutal.
Physics has no heart. Cold treats us all the same. Good, bad, jaded or optimistic, philanthropic or greedy, you simply can't win the ultimate battle of extreme low temperatures. 
Cold is cold. 
Today, it was cold.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


From: Mapquest
As another round of dire winter weather warnings headlined the day, I was pondering the current state of roadway maintenance in the area.
First, you've heard me talk, several times, about the forty mile (each way) daily commute, from my home in rural central Jefferson County to suburban central St. Louis county.
I do not consider myself a hapless victim of this situation, I chose to live where I live, knowing full well that the only reasonable employment opportunities would be as much as an hour away. It was a compromise. I really wanted to settle on a beach in Saint Martin in the Caribbean, but the commute would have been much, much longer and they talk funny there. So Hillsboro, Mo, it was, the obvious second choice.
So I'm not whining. I knew seven years ago that this would be a daily slog, simply part of the job.
The commute has two major components, twenty miles on Highway 21 in Jefferson County, sixteen on I-270. The rest is taken up by a couple of rural roads near my house and the industrial roads off of the Page Ave exit where my cubicle resides.
In good weather 21 is a breeze. Four lanes, interstate style exits, hardly ever jammed at any point, 65mph almost all the way. I can usually make it from my house to the 270 on-ramp in a half hour, occasionally less. There's a few stoplights once it gets into StLCo, but they are pretty well timed. No lights at all between my house and the county line.
I-270 is more iffy. There are good days and bad days, and some very, very bad days. At night, or the middle of the day, or a weekend, I can make the entire trip from work to home, in about 45-50 minutes. Of course, during the week, at the rush hours, that simply never happens. I leave work at 5 P.M., and usually, usually get home between 6:15 and 6:30.  It all depends on 270 though. I- 270 is the bypass, the best route there is, the alternatives are virtually non-existent. I've tried, Lord knows I've tried, to find a 'bad-day' route, but they all quickly clog up themselves as other people try exactly the same thing.
A local radio station reports on traffic conditions 'on the 10's' every day during drive time. By 5:10 I'm usually within a half mile of 270, so I do have an opportunity to divert, as if there were actually any better route.
No, I mostly just suck it up, mentally prepare myself when I hear 'brake lights are on all the way from Olive to Dougherty Ferry', which occurs a couple or more times per week. The road between those two exits makes up 75% of my 270-trek.
Heaven forbid there be a raindrop or snowflake spotted anywhere on that road. I find it absolutely confounding that any rain, any snow, will automatically translate to an 80% reduction in speed. It's rated and signed for 60MPH. On those slower days, in that bottleneck stretch, it's more like 10-20MPH, with frequent full stops.
So I just pick a lane, turn up the volume on NPR and go with the trickling flow.
You won't see me darting dangerously and unexpectedly from lane to lane, tapping the horn, flashing the lights, nor flipping off or cursing those that do. I just go Zen.
Winter weather, of course, is a major concern.
A couple of years ago a pretty good storm sneaked up on the area. County and state highway crews were completely unprepared. A few thick inches fell quickly on untreated roads, plows were late, as the storm swelled up and took an enormous dump right before the morning commute. By then the roads and shoulders were clogged and the plows rendered nearly immobile by the inability to get where they were needed. Ask anyone here, they all remember that one.
MoDoT (State Highway Maintenance) and County transportation departments caught hell for weeks, even months over that one event.
Since then, they'd rather juice up the roads ahead of time, even when there's only a slight chance, than be caught with their drawers on the floor again.
And it has been working.
Sure, a drive-time storm is still messy, but the roads are usually well prepared, and the melting starts quick, and usually by the end of day one of snow-mageddon, they're pretty clear.
Our storms usually march up I-44. That's not a coincidence. The highway was carved through the best path through the Ozarks from Joplin to St. Louis, the shorter hills, the wider valleys. The same route that prevailing winds happen to take. Sometimes a bit south of the road, sometimes a bit north, but most of the time the path is clear and predictable.
So on Thursday, as predictions for this second weekend storm in a row started being issued, I noticed that the roads had already been treated. Parallel lines of mystery-solvent (I'm sure it's environmentally friendly ;-) )  traced my entire route.
This weekend's storm was predicted to change from rain to ice/snow about 6 P.M. on Friday. Plow crews were assembling for roaming deployment instructions at 7 A.M. Friday. They were going to be all over this thing, like shame on a reformed prostitute.
I, among thousands of others, appreciate this. We really, really appreciate it.
Five or six years ago I was driving to work during an early December morning mist. The roads were wet, the temperature hovered around the freezing point, dropping slowly.
Spoiler Alert!: The moral of the following paragraph is "Bridges freeze before roadways."
I was tooling along, around 45 MPH, minding my own business, traffic was pretty light. There's a bridge on the southern part of Highway 21 that curves a bit and has a rougher than normal junction with the road. My little truck bounced a little over the bump, which reduced it's grip on the road and it settled back onto thickly glazed-over pavement. This confused my truck. It was so confused that its backside jumped ahead of the front to try to figure it out. This was a bad idea. The driver, that would be me, carefully tried to correct the truck, now sideways, but the truck had another brilliant idea. Dig into a thin strip of non-icy pavement instead. The truck flipped in protest of the sudden traction. It rolled, once, maybe twice, I wasn't counting. I was kind of busy working up a screaming, heaving panic. The truck ended up in the median, on its roof.
This was exactly the second time I'd ever found myself strapped into an upside down vehicle.
I know what you're asking. . . Yes, I did survive, the truck did not.
So I still get a bit twitchy when reports start predicting iffy drive times.
However, this time, the fact that I knew the roads had been treated and the crews were already warming up the plows, made me confident that delays would be minimized, life would resume.
When I say that the roads are usually clear within a day on my route, I mean all of them. Even poor little Klondike Road.
The Driveway.
When I was a kid, if a back road got plowed in good time, or at all, my dad would say: "There must be a politician on that road."
Maybe that's the case on my road as well, all I know is that whatever the reasons, I am quite happy with the hard work and diligence that the various county and state's crews display during these dark dreary, often bitterly, brutally cold days. It is really, really, really appreciated.
Now if they'd only do something about my four hundred foot long, sloping driveway.

So be careful out there! No one, and I mean no one, brags on their headstone about dying while bravely heading to work on a bad weather day.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Those bells! Those bells! The fires of hell must certainly be on the near horizon!

How was my Holiday, you ask? Well it started out just fine, over the river and through the woods fine. . . but  then things turned. . . 

Adam and I spent Thursday and Friday mostly driving. We drove down to Cerulean Ky. to have a big meal with my mother and her other, more inferior offspring.
Mom doesn’t currently live in her house. Since the mild stroke she’s been in an assisted living apartment called Barkley Plantation. (A very fine place, by the way.)
We feasted and then Steve left. I think I’d angered him. “Hey Steve I was looking at your ride. Do those Toyota minivans come in any  color other than ‘pathetic’?”  The rest of us took mom back to the plantation, and to her concerned cat, Miss Kitty. (The last three or four cats mom has had were all called Miss Kitty.)
Back in Cerulean Jeff left for his house down the block to tend to the wood stove and his herd of Chihuahuas. This left Kathy, Adam and I in the enormous house. We watched TV.
In the morning Kathy and I had breakfast, I made us a thanksgiving leftover concoction, based on an old family dish called mashed potato cakes. (Mmmmm.)
Onions, turkey, eggs, mashed potatoes, stuffing (used as a binder) “It tastes like Thanksgiving!” was the rave review from my unattractive and often boorish sister.
She left before we did. We turned down the heaters, shut off as much as we could. Jeff goes by the house a couple of times a day to adjust things.
We stopped by to visit mom and her cat again on the way out of town. Once on the interstate I recalled that we’d forgotten to grab the leftover pie and cookies like we said we would. I’d lose almost an hour doubling back so I didn’t. I was already road weary from the previous day’s four-plus hour trek and the car seat was already starting to poke, prod and hurt in all those familiar and awkward to massage places. I really wished I’d grabbed the pie though, it would last a couple of months at my house. I love apple pie. Dina, Jeff’s wonderful, saintly and slightly scary wife made the thing from a recipe called Martha Stewart's Mile High Apple Pie . It was delicious, it was also enormous. The recipe starts with: ‘5 ½ pounds of firm, tart apples.” In a standard nine inch pan! Yeah, it’s almost taller than it is wide. The equivalent to a standard pie slice would be only about 1/4 inch wide from this towering behemoth.
The cookies were home made too. Adam ate several, oatmeal, chocolate chip, sugar. . .
Oh well.
The road trip back took four hours and six minutes. I know this because every time I make this trip I try to break the four hour mark. Friday’s conditions were ideal, sunny, cool, full tank of gas, well fed, eager to get it over with. Had it not been for a shopping traffic slowdown in Perryville, our one pit stop at roughly the halfway point, and a fifteen mile per hour under the posted speed limit minivan on Highway A between Festus and Hillsboro, I might have made it. But no, four hours and six %^$!! minutes. This sort of set my mood toward going foul.
I was wasted the rest of the day since Angel had rolled out the full feast there. I took on more carbs in those two days than the previous three months combined. I felt stuffed, bloated, heart-burned and sluggish. I spent the evening drooling and making sad, guttural, grunting noises.
On Saturday I made a run to Desoto to pick up the week’s supplies and a prescription refill to replace the drugs that I had left behind in Cerulean.
I knew there would be trouble the moment I turned into the parking lot. I could see them. I could already hear them.
Bell ringers.
There are some noises that I cannot stand. They reverberate in my head like a torture device. Most noises don’t bother me at all. Dogs barking or howling in the basement doesn’t even wake me up. But some things, like my first wife’s voice, the crying of a baby, cartoons (high pitched shouting) and those bells. They enter my skull holes and start bouncing off the walls. I find them disorienting, shrill, percussive and angry. If noises were colors then this sound would be bright, very bright and rapidly strobing, blood red.
It’s not simply annoying, like the lady at work, (she knows who I’m talking about) I find the ringing enraging.
I decided to take a stand. I’d had enough already and the season was just getting underway, I hadn’t even parked the car.
I stepped out and the volume increased. I felt the urge to be violent, to let go of my long pent-up rage and let that taut rubber band finally snap. I’d grab whatever was handy, something heavy and blunt, I wanted bruises and shattered bones, I wanted crumpled heaps twitching on the sidewalk while I reduced those stupid, offensive, maddening bells  back to the base ore from whence they came. I’d melt them with acid, strap them to some train tracks and then take an acetylene torch to whatever was left. Then I’d put those ashes back into the ground.
I was sure they saw me, knew what I was planning. They started ringing louder and faster, louder and faster. This did not frighten me nor stifle my resolve. I marched forward, looking for a bludgeoning device, settled on the butt-tower (those tall plastic devices used for extinguishing and disposing of cigarettes that are at every doorway.)
It would be filled with sand or water or both at the bottom, heavy, with its own long handle. Perfect.
I approached, something in the landscape bothered me. I felt my brilliant plan going sour.
These weren’t the expected geriatric, arthritic senior citizens my plan had assumed. No these guys were younger, muscled, wide shouldered, mountainous men. They caught my eye, it was fight or flight for me, they’d stepped up to the challenge.
Time to crack open a myth.
You know in movies and TV shows where the fast little guy or the 98 pound, high heeled, stick-woman detective out-maneuvers and overpowers enormous, drug-fueled bad-ass bad guys?
That almost never happens. Being light, agile and trained in various martial arts is no compensation for being half as tall and half as wide as the bad guy. Physics, amigos, physics. In the real world, ninety-nine and a half times out of a hundred, the smaller person gets the entire bejesus beat out of them by the under-trained, ham fisted, sluggish, dim-witted, Neanderthal. In a hands-on free for all, it’s endurance, endurance, endurance, that wins. This is why guns were invented, to stop bigger, badder people from killing you before they can get close enough to whoop your scrawny torso. Weapons, stabbing and shooting weapons, are all about closing the distance, extending your lethal reach.
I sized these guys up, there were three of them. Those three together were bigger and heavier than my Chevy coupe.
I altered my plan. You see, I could be a champion, a real badass myself, if:
A. I knew anything about fighting.
B. Had ever actually been in a fight.
C. I hadn't usually found it much more satisfying to run away while victory was still theoretically possible rather than sticking around, flying into the foray and determining for certain that it wasn’t.
D. I’d not studied The Art of War. (Sun Tzu)
My enemy outnumbered me, outweighed me, and by all appearances had superior skills and experience. Plus, by virtue of their height, held the higher ground. Sun Tzu says in situations like this: “Run away! Run away from the stench and trenches! Run away!”(Or maybe that was Monty Python.)
 They wore leather vests, with patches, a biker club. Their reputation as an over-hyped stereotypically violent fraternity preceded them.
Plan B.
Avoid eye contact. Pretend that the bells don’t bother me. Stare at my shoes, pretend not to notice them. Try very hard to not look like a vicious, cocked and loaded, lethal weapon.
I made it. I swept past the snarling greeter, past the poorly dressed overweight people, past the snot nosed kids coating the toys with snot-borne mucus and germs. Deep inside the store I was able to suppress the rage, just enough, by diverting my attention instead to the overhead music in the peaceful sanctity of the men’s underwear aisle. Just as I was calming, a little, I listened closer. That music, hypnotic, catchy, jaunty and liltingDAMMIT it’s Christmas Music!!!
Also on the list of sounds that drive me nearer to insanity than where I typically waddle, is Christmas music. Every bit of it, all of it. Yes, even that song, and that one, yes, all of them, especially that one.
Hey, don’t let your chestnuts get all roasted by my blasphemy. Christmas music is vastly overplayed, simplistic and banal. It’s tailored to get a rise out of you, to alter your emotions. Well, with me it certainly does. Ire, anger and rage to name a few. Enough to make me want instead, to run out the front door, grab that ash can and go down swinging in a violent, screaming and certainly suicidal, bloodbath.
So I grabbed bananas, some soup, a couple of Christmas cards for my mom, and my pills. Not the right kind of pills though, not the soothing, mood calming, happy cloud drugs. No, to quash this hissing, boiling fury was going to take something stronger, more potent than mere prescription chemicals, it would take something purely savage and mighty, like, like apple pie.

What? Oh. . .Crap.

Editor's note: The author is not a violent person, at all. He lacks the requisite physical, mental, and emotional guts to ever physically attack anyone not causing him or his family imminent harm. He'd probably lose then too, but he might at least put up a token struggle.
His angry, bitter and threatening words herein are only indicative of his unfettered fantasy universe. As a writer of creative non-fiction, he has license, and the propensity, to exaggerate, embellish, and well, lets just call it what it is, lie, to animate an otherwise mundane story about going to the store to pick up a prescription.

Editor's note.(2)
The author has nothing against the charities involved in the collection of donations. He is sure they are perfectly noble causes. He, in fact, extends his humblest gratitude to those willing to volunteer their time and energy to help the less fortunate. He also has no dislike and wishes no ill will to members of motorcycle clubs, Walmart greeters, or the many delightful patrons of that particular discount chain. 

Author's note: I still hate those infernal bells. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Warrior

I'm actually not much of a hunter/killer. I've never even stalked deer or turkey, buffalo or elk, lion or bear. I have no mounted animal heads, I don't even have a stuffed fish. I have a laissez-faire attitude about wild animals in general. I see lots of deer at my home, turkeys too, I just let them be.
I have nothing against hunting, I just can't be bothered with the mess, the waiting and especially, the getting up so early. 
In my personal arsenal I have a few working firearms, none of which get fired very often. They are mostly plinkers and military antiques. I don't shoot much because it scares the dogs. Don't worry, I was trained by the military, I know what I'm doing.*
I also have a less-than-lethal weapon, a Daisy BB gun.
It's a cheap, lever action, spring-pump, Red Ryder model. Just like the one that annoying kid in that awful Christmas movie pined for. I've had it for years. Occasionally I'll plink at something while I'm waiting for the fire in the grill to settle.
It is not very accurate and it isn't really high velocity, so as an actual  weapon, it's pretty much worthless. Shoot anything of size with it and you are only likely to piss it off. Any injuries, because of the gross inaccuracy of the toy, are by statistical and ballistic definitions, accidental.
The BB gun popped into my head a few days ago, a specific purpose for which its many limitations would not be a significant handicap. 
    I live in the woods. My driveway is about 500 feet long. At the bottom near the house, it splits and circles around a few trees and a shady spot of land we call 'the island'.  When I get up in the morning and again later in the evening when I take the dogs out, I will either walk up and down the driveway's length or make five laps of the circle. Either will add a little more than a quarter mile to my otherwise lackluster exercise regimen. 
The last few days, as August settled into it's typical  hot and dry climax, the walks have been torturous, for myself as well as the dogs.
Some years are not so bad, this year has been terrible.
The Enemy: Genus Tabanus,  the horse fly.
We've had scores of them this summer, a lot more than usual, probably due to the very wet spring and early summer.  The last couple of weeks, they've been viciously aggressive. 
When they bite, they actually bite. Scissor-like mandibles tear through flesh, then the pest soaks up the blood in it's sponge-like mouth. This is what the females do, the males just dine on nectar and pollen. 
As blood suckers, these vile females are well known to spread diseases among animals. You name it, they spread it. Anthrax or Lyme disease anyone?
Photo: 2005 by Dennis Ray
These bites hurt like hell too. It's not a sting, it's a small, yet ripping, tearing gash, which hurts immediately and tremendously, then welts up and itches for weeks.
I'd tried swatting them. We have a tennis-racquet sized and shaped bug zapper that we use on indoor flies, it's fine for that. But outdoors, these bigger, more powerful, strong-fliers are almost impossible to smack down. They use the third dimension, up, to zoom away as soon as they see the swatter moving. In two evenings of my initial personal offensive against them, I was only able to swat down two, one survived. Because of all the dogs, we can't go chemical-mass-destruction on them either. (Nor did I utilize my brother's preferred tactic, a Bic lighter and a can of carburetor cleaner, an improvised flame thrower. I don't think I need to spell out the many, many reasons I didn't try that on my dry, wooded property.)
Then it occurred to me, based on observations of their behavior.
I'm not a scientist, nor even an amateur entomologist. But because of my frequent walking while trying to avoid them and my failed attempts to defeat them, I did notice several predictable things about the nasty critters.
The most important thing is that they will let you get stupidly close to them before they sense danger. I could spot them from a distance on my walks, my eye was learning to quickly discriminate between the big flies and the other natural detritus that routinely collects on the pavement. I could get within a foot or so of them before they took off. 
Secondly, the airborne brigade would hover in place, allowing you to get right under them.
The 'airborne brigade' is how I describe the group of flies that line themselves up, about nine feet off the pavement and about six feet apart, in almost single file, along the straighter uphill run of the driveway.
They basically just hover in place as you approach and then one at a time, dive down for the attack. This maneuver reminded me of Huey helicopters lined up over rice patties in Nam, buzzing in, dropping down one at a time to the LZ (landing zone) and disgorging small groups of unfortunate foot soldiers and marines. The low frequency, droning buzz of the inch-long insects was not unlike that of the Hueys on a smaller scale. You could actually hear them throttle up and bank in toward you.
Like the Hueys, they also had a weakness. 
As relatively big, slow to accelerate flying machines, it didn't take a massive hit to take the choppers out, you only needed to disable/destabilize the fragile and mostly unprotected flight control surfaces to take them out of the battle.
I formed a tactical plan. Well, not so much a plan as an experiment.
1. Load up the BB gun.
2. Walk up to a horsefly.
3. Shoot it.
4. Repeat.
A BB gun is smooth bore, meaning the metal pellet has the flight path of a frozen chicken. It is lousy inaccurate, only slightly better than a bottle rocket,  right out of the barrel.  But if I could get the barrel up close enough, even the rather timid velocity of the BB should be enough to damage the bugs. That's all I needed to do, damage  them, break something off. I didn't need a kill-for-certain head shot. Maim the mechanism, a wing , a couple of legs, crack the exoskeleton and  that's all it should take.
 I cocked the lever, spotted one standing still in a shady part of the pavement. I dropped down and nudged the barrel toward the nasty beast, closer, closer, pop!
A miss. She didn't even flinch. The pellet had whizzed by within a half inch of her ugly, bug-eyed, blood-sucking face but she hadn't perceived it as a threat. 
I cocked , slowly advanced, then fired again. 
This time the big bug took the BB square in the belly. I could hear the crack of its hard outer layer. The fly rolled to the side of the driveway, viciously buzzing and lashing about. It couldn't recover, couldn't even get itself upright, it was permanently out of the game.
It didn't take long for the bodies to start piling up. There were so many in the driveway that they had become complacent in their numbers
The fact that it might take a few rounds per pest didn't bother me. The cheap little toy rifle held several hundred rounds, I could keep this up all day.
For the next hour, it was a methodical massacre. The surviving flies got edgier, more nervous, more cautious. However, another thing I knew about these  flies is that they can't stay aloft for very long. That powerful buzzing burns up a lot of juice. If one took off I didn't even bother with it. There was no way this little rifle was going to take one out in full, frantic, dizzying flight. I was blowing through three, sometimes more pellets each just to get the ones walking around on the ground.
I walked the circle, fifteen times or more, patiently waiting for them to settle and rest. This simple tactic gave me most of my kills. 
I was now the one feeling cocky.
A couple of them were quite crafty and clever, or just really lucky. One of them stayed near my car, around it, under it, on it. Perfectly safe. A copper pellet can damage windows and paint, this one had found his Switzerland, his DMZ, his safe haven. 
Boonie Hat
 It was my goal to vanquish them from the property completely, but the reality of that was of course, impossible. I could cut their numbers though , a war of attrition. The few that remained alive would be the craftiest ones for sure, but they would be alone against their other predators, the bats and birds that I counted among my unwitting allies. I left the corpses where they fell, some still, some twitching, nutrition for my feathered comrades. I had the momentary primal urge to thread their broken bodies together and wear them around my neck, to tear the sleeves off my shirt, pull my boonie hat (yes, I have one) down tight on my head, rub some grease stain lines or mud on my face and show the sturdy survivors the savage face of raw, apocalyptic terror. 
No, I didn't need the trophy, eradicating the pests was my goal and my reward.
Stage two, the airborne menace.
Having all but wiped out the ground forces, I approached the corridor.  As predicted I could hear the droning, hovering just out of reach overhead. 
As predicted, and apparently unaware of the fate of their brethren, I was able to stand directly below them. I had to be careful, my copper rounds could leave the property here, nothing between me and the street other than a straight channel to the road. I certainly didn't want to start a shooting war with my neighbors or accidentally piss something off.  I decided to go for straight upward. 
I stood below the front guard. She was hanging motionless except for the infernal sonic hum of her wings. I raised the barrel directly beneath her. Unable to aim in this position I swag'd the angle. I moved the tip of the thin metal barrel slowly, higher and higher, a foot, then inch by inch. At about six she darted away toward the darkening woods. I'd lose them there in the shadowy twilight.
I stepped up to the next in line. At about seven inches, I squeezed the trigger. 
The bug disappeared. 
I listened for a second, for two, then heard it clearly, the sound just like that of an acorn hitting the pavement. One down.
There was no shock and awe from the rest, they didn't even appear to notice. I stepped up to the next one. Behind me the first one was darting back and forth trying to decide whether to risk a counterattack, but never committing. We would certainly meet again.
I took aim again, repeating the motions, slow and steady. No adrenaline rush, just the cold, steely calm of an industrial process, a dis-assembly line.
This one provided the imagery that replayed in my mind and later my dreams. This shot clipped off the lady's port-side wing. The wing itself shattered into a puff of dust. The sudden instability torqued the rest of the bug into a violent, swirling tailspin. The remaining wing was racing furiously to keep it airborne, while actually having the opposite effect, sending the damaged blood-sucker spiraling, careening, into the pavement. It went down like a war-movie Zero that had been ripped up by lucky Navy flack, spinning wildly, helplessly, into the dark, cold ocean. 
I didn't get them all before the growing shadows shut me down, the beasts favor the evening sun.  I was about to lose them in the darkness completely. I took aim at one more, a cruel, bloodthirsty smile on my face, raising the weapon with one hand, mentally projecting through the shot, tunnel visioned, mentally locked on to my target. I was aware, but only remotely, of my surroundings outside my line of fire. 
I didn't even notice the approaching lights.
I snapped out of my battle trance and blinked once, twice, shaking off the bloody battlefield mindset. The window on the car idling beside me slipped downward. The nicely dressed professional-looking lady in the expensive sedan looked me over but said nothing about the strange man, covered in sweat and dust, wielding a toy gun pointed at the sky. 
"I'm looking for the dog place?"  She said.
Oh yeah, I knew that. Angel had told me that a potential new client would be stopping by to check out the training and boarding facilities.
Good thing maybe that I'd not been wearing the war paint, boonie hat, torn shirt and necklace of carcasses.

I didn't record a body count. Recollection put it at over twenty confirmed kills that first evening. On the next night there was more hunting and waiting than killing. I had indeed significantly reduced their numbers. Those smart few that stayed around the car were still there. I waited them out, eventually there were five carcasses in between the cars.  One or two members of the airborne brigade still remained in the corridor, diving for and cowering in the trees whenever I approached.
The potential client has not called back.


* I should elaborate. I spent nine years in the Air Force. I was formally trained on and fired an M-16 in basic training, I failed to qualify. That was the last time I ever touched a weapon during my entire military career. I was a spark chaser, usually armed with nothing more dangerous than a soldering iron or an oscilloscope. (although those things were quite heavy and would really hurt if you got hit by one)
So even though my service was of the unarmed, nerdy, 'in the rear with the gear' variety, I did learn gun safety and how to properly shoot, I just wasn't ever very good at it.
They also wanted to train me to maintain missiles. Yeah, I didn't qualify to carry small arms, but I was qualified to mess around the launch control systems for ICBMs, go figure.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Eternal Bookshelf

I recently lost my father. After suffering from a pile of physical and mental failures that were getting progressively worse in his eighty-sixth year of life, he finally let go. We wept for our loss, but knew it also meant, regardless of what one may believe, that he suffered no more.
Of course this brought my family together rather hastily. My two brothers and my sister and some of our kids and grandkids showed up here and there throughout a four day period.
There was sadness, but more so than that there was joy in reunion. Old friends, acquaintances, many I did not know at all, others I hadn't seen in decades.
There were, rather awkwardly, ex spouses there as well, we handled it all very diplomatically, working tirelessly to avoid creating any new drama, constantly recalling the reason for our being together.
I got to see my eldest son for the first time in years, my daughter as well. We had time to sit together and share and catch up. Priceless.
From the start, while we shopped for a casket, flowers, were interviewed about services and songs, my oldest brother, Dr. Steve, expressed a desire to eulogize our dear father at the funeral. I knew this would be tough and had adamantly turned down the opportunity myself. I love my father dearly, and I have lots of ways to say it, but my forte is hardly speaking in public. It's far from Steve's venue of preference either. But due probably out of filial obligation as the eldest son, he felt a need to take on the task.
He worked long and hard on the speech, struggling with every word and sentence. He's by admission not a  frequent or especially gifted writer so it was a lot of work for him. 
On Saturday morning he looked nervous, and with a quiver in his voice as he took to the podium, he read.
" My Dad was a man who lived life to the fullest.
George Bush senior once said that the true Heroes in life are the men who just get up every day quietly and work hard to take care of their families. They love them and never really need to bring attention to themselves, they have no need to be in the limelight or to change the world."

So true. Sure, hardly anyone these days bothers to quote either of the Bush Presidents, but it was spot on.
At the next paragraph I slumped in my seat. Steve held up a familiar book.

"In the published book “My Dad is My Hero”  My brother Dennis wrote about our dad as being a man of demonstrable character, charm and humor and most of all modest . . . He never leaped over tall buildings but he always gave more to others than he ever received"
It's not like I had forgotten the essay in that book. It's just that I didn't recall every word. I wrote that several years ago and had not looked back at it in a very long time.
It is however, very accurate. I would not change a word of it. (That's actually an inside joke. Though my dad indeed never leaped over tall buildings, he did fall down through and off of, several buildings.)
Another story from that short essay came up from another eulogizer, about the time my dad got up during a rare Christmas dinner, one of the few times that all the adult siblings had been with them at the same time, to go to a neighbor's to help them with a washing machine emergency. None of us were shocked or insulted, it's just what he did. He took care of problems, answered every call. He lived only to serve others. We understood, we even chuckled about it at the time.
I was, of course, flushed with pride, touched that my silly little essay carried as much meaning to others as it did for me while I was writing it. I had struggled over that essay though not with writing it, that was easy. The tough part was deciding what not to write about, simply too many great stories for the measly word count allowed by that publisher.
So when Dr. Steve and Judge Redd passed on these things I'd written about, I was touched, truly and deeply touched. I was also a bit embarrassed, because that's my natural reaction to public mention, I never feel as though  I actually deserve it.
But objectively it all seemed right, accurate and true. I actually felt honored.
Steve and I don't talk often, and rarely very deeply. He's a psychologist and I always feel a little guarded talking to him. Not that he's given  me any actual reason to, but still, he's a psychologist and can certainly see through, if I say the wrong thing, the thin veneer that I present to people as opposed to the much darker and more damaged critter I see myself as actually being.
There was also, from very early on, the age difference. At our current ages it's really not that much, but when we were young, a six year difference was like two out of sync universes. Our orbits rarely intersected. We shared no friends, no interests, no common history or experiences. Then we both moved well apart and in different directions, to explore our own lives at our own pace.
Then he got up there and held that book up like a fiery pentecostal preacher would a worn and dog-eared Bible.
He read from it.
But that's not the whole thing. It's what happened right after the service that really grabbed my gut.
The service was concluded, the family lined up to accept the well wishes from over a hundred people in attendance. More socializing in fifteen minutes than I had done in the past five years combined. I'm not a people person.
As that was wrapping up I noticed Steve talking to his son, Stephen. (not a coincidence I don't think.)
I barely noticed, except that Dr. Steve handed Stephen the book and then the younger Stephen nodded his head.
He then took the book and walked over to my father's coffin. Not unusual, everyone was stopping at that shiny gray and chrome box that cost more than my car. (Dad would be furious that mom spent that much on him, that's just the way he was.)
But then Stephen, a decent and upright adult himself, merely a week away from having his second child, slipped the book into the casket, under dad's right arm.
It wasn't the first time I had choked up that week, nor would it be the last. But that purely symbolic gesture, and I mean that since dad was never much of a reader anyhow, that small gesture ripped up a place in me that hadn't been assaulted before.
Immediately the ramifications jumbled in my brain. An image of a distant future archaeologist coming across this strange and silly book inside of a man's gray and chrome coffin. Or the absurd notion of dad in some form of post-death consciousness awakens, is bored and finds reading material right there beside him, how handy!
Of course I knew that neither is remotely likely, but this I did figure. That copy of that little book will probably outlast all the thousands of others printed. A near as is possible permanent archive of the works of a couple of dozen writers just talking about their own dads.
Yeah, it scrambled my gut.
Of course, afterward I addressed the matter to Dr. Steve. "You know, if you just wanted to get rid of that book I could have resold it." I told him.
That's just the way we are.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Something your significant other does that makes you happy

My friend Kim wrote a blog entry this week called 'Five Years of Happy Things' In which she responds to a writer's exercise prompt: "Something your significant other does that makes you happy"
She did a very good job talking, for the first time I can recall, nicely, about her significant other. Kim's quite a decent sort. In her essays she's usually pretty hard on herself but I'm too much the gentleman to argue with her self analysis. Either she is all those negative things she says about herself, or she's a terrible judge of character. Who am I to question that?
I was moved by it and motivated to respond in kind. However, where Kim's is all blah, blah, he buys the groceries, blah, blah, I'll go for the jugular, straight to the truly important measures of a healthy relationship. I'm a terribly emotional guy, sensitive too. I can spit out romantic ramblings with the best of them. Besides, I don't go grocery shopping, I'm not even sure who does. Sometimes I come home and there are groceries. I've never felt the need to call out the detective squad to track it all down. It's a system that works for me though, so I just don't put any more thought to it. It may even be the same person(s) that makes the bed and  pushes that damnably noisy dust sucking machine around on the carpets every week, or month or however often it happens.. It's a working system and I'm not the nosy, busybody type. I'm mature enough to accept the way things are without pointing fingers.

Here's my response to the same writing exercise.
Something your significant other does that makes you happy:
1. She is indeed 'significant'. Angel is very important to me. I care what she thinks of me, I don't ever want to make her angry or sad. I really can't say that with as much conviction about anyone else.
2. She is certainly 'other'. I like the fact that she is not like me in many, many ways. I don't think I would like me very much if I weren't stuck with me, so her differences, I appreciate. What are her differences? First let me thank you for letting me pretend that you actually asked that excellent question.
     She's female. This may not seem like much to some people, but occasionally it just works out better. I can't help it, I was born this way.
     She's more organized, but not perfectly so. Sometimes her occasional bouts of forgetfulness serve to amuse us all greatly. The bill collectors, maybe not as much.
     She has no real interest in any of my hobbies. That means I am free to pursue them (or not) at my own pace. It's never a competition.
     She likes cartoons. I hate them, but she lets me turn the channel to something other than Sponge Bob if I'm in the room.
There's more, these are just what popped into my head. Back to the bigger list.

3. She makes me laugh.
4. She makes herself laugh.
5. She doesn't depend on me for construction projects. She's just as handy, and usually more motivated than me, with a circular saw, paint brush, bucket of grout, or a pile of lumber.
6. She doesn't nag me into 'enjoying' the same things as her, except for broccoli. What it is with her and broccoli I have no idea, the stuff is disgusting in every form.
7. She doesn't call me at work eleventy-seven times a day like my cube-neighbor's wife. In fact it's quite rare for her to call me at all. I wish she would call occasionally, she has a sultry and somewhat provocative phone voice. Sometimes I pretend she is someone else, a little more exotic and less familiar, someone secret.
8. She respects the fact that my job and the requisite long commute quite often wears me out completely.
9. She trusts me with the remote control, most of the time.
10. Her snoring does not keep me awake.
11. She does not expect me to be the sole source of her happiness. That I can make her laugh occasionally, or if she's happy to be around me is icing on the cake, not a need or demand.
12. She isn't really all that interested in what I'm thinking at most points in time. This makes it easier for me since most of the time my thoughts are banal, boring, completely misguided and usually about something else altogether.
13. Absence of conversation does not drive her nuts. She neither expects me to keep her constantly updated about every passing thought I have nor does she wear me down with trivial and minute details about what goes on in her adorably fluffy noggin. We can sit in a room for long periods of time together without saying a word. Those in fact, are some of our favorite moments.
14. And finally, the thing she does that makes me the happiest, is that she still, after twenty five roller coaster years, loves me. At least she says she does, which is good enough for me and which is more than a lot of people can say. We're often buddies, confidants, friends, co-conspirators, partners, able foils to the light-hearted, yet sometimes biting repartee of the other. We both respect and enjoy our personal time and space, we both realize that the others' tipping point is not the same as our own.
Oh yeah, she doesn't sweat the small stuff. Young'uns and ignorant romantics may not realize just how very important that last bit is. Sometimes the essence of happiness is merely the absence of unhappiness. Or as she put it once: "Happiness is overrated, I'm quite satisfied with being content."
That's another thing I like about her, rational and well-managed expectations, perfectly matching my famously lackluster (inept?) social  and domestic skills.
She makes it all very easy.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ode On An Early Spring Day.

It was a simple Sunday trip to the store to pick up some personal products, the task itself not unlike I perform almost every weekend for as long as I can remember. The store is about ten miles from the house, a journey now as familiar as my own driveway. Exiting the small town of Hillsboro, heading south almost into Desoto.  As the speed limit opened up I rolled down the little coupe’s window.
Seven days earlier I had watched outside my window at home as over seven inches of snow piled up. Today though, the snow was all gone, the sky was blue and pocked with a few big white speeding clouds. The temperature hovered just under seventy degrees. Not hot enough for the AC, so down the window went. I propped my elbow on the bottom of the opening and clutched the top in my left hand.
It’s not a convertible, it’s not a sports car, but for a few moments, as the wind blew in and tossed the debris in the back seat into swirls of activity,  my shirt, my bare arms and hair were brushed with wave after wave of fine spring air.
My body knew this wasn’t another sneaky, short, teasing, winter flirtation with springtime, this was the real thing.
Too early for buds on most trees, the sparse earliest buttercups the only blooms in sight. For the most part nature still slumbered, gray, faded, dormant, nearly lifeless. But there was life in that breeze that blew in on my face. I felt younger, lighter, freer than I had in two or three seasons, or maybe an eternity.
Up and down and around the rolling hills, the noise of the wind louder than all else. It felt like raw, naked flight. People were outside, some raking flower beds, some playing with kids or pets, some just standing there, nearly motionless in the warm sunshine, like human cell phones in their charging stations.
No wonder so many faiths celebrate something akin to rebirth this time of year. Our ancestors that wandered and settled so far north so long ago shared this common seasonal experience, where the cold, dormant, sleeping, dark days slid away into the past, replaced by the promise of new life, of fertility and hope for better, brighter days ahead.
Even if left entirely alone, even without sacred blood sacrifice or mechanical toil, the ground around us bursts anew with sustenance and life.
These few moments of fresh, clean air rushing past caused a smile. An end to the frigid cold and treacherous slippery roads, an end to hunkering down and closing up tight. An end to stale heated air and dark drives home.
At least for awhile.
Is it magical, miraculous? No, I don’t think so since it happens every year. But the feeling it causes inside is about as close to miraculous and magical as anything else I can imagine, save for love itself.
These few moments of bliss will stay with me for a while, the joy, the new lease on life itself will get me through some dark moments to be certain. I can close my eyes and feel the rushing wind even now cloistered as I am in the house’s dark interior.
Angel has opened a window. I can feel the breeze. Time to go outside for no other reason than that I can.

* Okay, this isn't exactly an 'ode' but it sounded like one in my head and I liked the title. Poetic license, we'll call  it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Trials: Part 2

My younger brother recently opted out of jury duty, to his disappointment, due to the financial hardship that it would certainly cause. The trial as it turns out was for one George Luna. It was actually a retrial, he'd already been convicted and had been serving time, but convinced enough authorities that the jury in the original trial had not given the case a fair shake. The trial was moved from its original venue in Marshall County Ky. to my home county, Trigg.
They called up over a hundred potential jurors to make sure they had plenty of choices. They narrowed the field down to thirty two, then started asking about financial hardships, which is where my brother had to do something he did not want to do, but had no choice.
The trial ran all week, going to the jury on that Friday. They deliberated only for a short while, and before the evening was out, returned an unsurprising guilty verdict. The prosecutor, not facing any new evidence or witnesses basically only had to repeat the original trial strategy and script. The defense as well had nothing new to work with, so it defended pretty much the same way it did years before.
According to the prosecutors case, Luna bludgeoned Debra Hendrickson to death then set fire to her mobile home with her body still inside. Luna then took Hendrickson's truck, drove off, and later returned to the conflagration and called 911. The tape of that call was one of the pieces of evidence in the case against Luna.
From WPSD : "The coroner said the body was so badly burned it was only able to be identified through a ring and the button of her favorite blue jeans found near the body."
Luna and Hendrickson had a domestic relationship for at least a month before the killing. According to Hendrickson's sister, it had been an abusive one.
Luna will spend the rest of his miserable life behind bars. I'm just fine with that.
What is it that motivates such a savage, brutal domestic murder? I have no stinkin' idea.
I know about violent and abusive relationships, not first-hand, but I've been around several women who were abused and a few of the men that caused it. (I know this sort of thing happens the other way, women abusing men, but not in any instance that I am personally familiar with.)
And yes, I personally know someone that took it to the fatal end.
I'll  refer to him as Greg.
I met him at Misawa Air Base, Japan in the early eighties. We were both there with our young families serving three year tours. I maintained communications equipment, he was one of the guys that operated it. I didn't know him really well, we only spoke of non-work related things a couple of times. Our kids knew his kids, he had two small boys, I had two boys and a girl about the same ages.
His wife and my wife belonged to a club of some kind, Greg was suspicious of that group and pulled me aside to talk about it one day. Various clubs were quite common among the wives that tagged along for the overseas duty. The base was very much like a small town, you ran into the same people many times and places, and gossip was also common.
I don't recall much of the conversation other than that it occurred and he was suspicious. It's the last time I ever talked to him and it would have probably slipped into forgotten-completely-land had it not bubbled up to the top several years later.
I don't recall what I was looking for at the time, but I was exploring new interwebs technologies and magical powers of internet searches. This would have been in the early 2000's. I came across his name in an article about a trial, a murder trial.
Greg had divorced, remarried, divorced again and remarried again, etc. in that time. His sons were, like my own kids by that time, entering young adulthood. Greg had a baby with his fourth wife in eastern Missouri. One of his sons, Kevin, lived in Brevard County, Florida, the other in Camden County, Mo, near Lake of the Ozarks.
This is coincidental, almost parallel to my own life. I'd divorced the mother of my kids, remarried, moved to Brevard county in Florida for a couple of years, left there and moved to Missouri, divorced and remarried, etc. and had a baby with my third wife. This was all eerily similar to Greg's life.
There's more coincidence to follow, I'll get to it later.
For whatever reason, unlike my third marriage, Greg's fourth wasn't going well for him. He somehow, in conversations I wouldn't even know how to start, convinced his sons to come to the lake and help him get rid of his wife.
And they did.
They met at a beach at the Lake of The Ozarks, played with the baby, went for a swim. Four adults went into the water, three came out. The men took the baby and went out for pizza before returning to the scene and calling 911 to report Greg's wife missing. She was found soon enough and Greg and his sons grieved.
They had held her under the water till she drowned. The party at the beach was in celebration of their third wedding anniversary.
An investigating officer, perhaps because of his training, perhaps because he had seen a few episodes of Law and Order, was suspicious of Greg from the get-go. However, initially there was no direct, conclusive evidence of foul play.
Kevin returned to Florida. A day or so later  he told his girlfriend about it. She recorded him and took the tape to the local Sheriff. Once arrested he confessed to his role in the sordid affair. Arrest warrants were issued in Jefferson County, Mo for Greg and in Camden County Mo. for Kevin's brother Kenneth.
More details of the case can be found here.
Greg was sentenced to life without parole, Kevin to life with possibility of parole, and Kenneth, who had shown at least some compassion during the drowning by taking the baby away from the scene of the crime, was sentenced to ten years.
Greg and Kevin at least, are still in prison, about an hour's drive from my home, in Potosi, Mo.
Is it just coincidence that I moved to the same county in Missouri where Greg lived with his fourth wife and baby?
Yeah, pretty much. It's still kind of creepy though.

So what led these men to do what they did? Like I said, I have no stinkin' idea.
I don't know about Luna, but I do know that with Greg it had nothing to do with lack of intelligence. I knew Greg to be a smart, articulate and capable equipment operator. He even held fairly high security clearances. In the time I knew him and even in the direct conversations we had I never got 'the willies' or anything like that. He didn't have dead, soulless eyes or a scary demeanor and he was not physically imposing at all.. He was just another one of the guys I worked with.
Yet he held his wife, the mother of his baby, under the water with the help of his sons until they were sure she was dead, on his anniversary.
No, there's no way my head will wrap around that. I know it happens, all too often, but I'm simply not wired that way. I hope you aren't either.
There's real moral to this story, no sage advice for getting the world to get along better and not kill each other.
Whether we think we do or not, average people tend to rate and measure heinous crimes.
In the city it is quite common for murders to occur in certain parts of town. Probably drug-trafficking or gang related. We tell ourselves that these are somehow un-alarming, almost expected among 'those people.'
The there's the occasional innocent kid killed in a drive-by. This alarms us more than two gang-bangers shooting it out. For the poor kid, vigils are held and TV cameras show up. Kid-murders are much, much more noteworthy than two tattooed and armed teenage boys in a violent, ultimately petty, territory battle.
Serial murders fascinate us. We remember, and even make movies about serial killers. We leave the theater knowing the murderers name, not so much the victims. Fortunately these sorts of things are quite rare in real life.
Assassinations are memorable as well. The difference between an assassination and a murder  is the prominence of the victim. Presidents, dictators and ambassadors are assassinated.
The drunken brawl. Two guys, usually liquored up, air grievances, make threats, one of them pulls a gun, a knife, a broken bottle. We don't seem to have a lot of sympathy for these either. Maybe because the victim might have at least had a fighting chance.
Mass murders, theater and school shootings, etc. drive us absolutely furious. These killers are nuts, dangerous nuts and not many people weep at the often sudden and violent demise of the killer. He had it coming.
And those people overseas in Whatever-stan or one of the many anarchy-ridden Republics in Africa who kill each other in droves? Well, it's just too hard and unfamiliar for us to wrap our heads around. In many cases we may hear about the numbers and the technique, but rarely, if ever anything much about the victims.
Then there' s the other kind of murder.
According to the FBI, in 2011 of all the women murdered that year, thirty six percent were killed by husbands or boyfriends.
Further FBI data:
"Of the murders for which the circumstance surrounding the murder was known, 42.9 percent of victims were murdered during arguments (including romantic triangles) in 2011.  Felony circumstances (rape, robbery, burglary, etc.) accounted for 23.1 percent of murders. . . . 24.8 percent of victims were slain by family members"

Yeah, domestic  murder is a HUGE problem. For all the headline-grabbing, gang-banging, serial killing, mass shootings and assassinations, most murders happen between people that are socially or family related.
Mostly because it is generally only the people we know, love, or have reason to hate personally and passionately that that will lead to an otherwise non-violent person angering up to want to harm them.
Strangers killing strangers is somewhat rare. Strangers we can generally dismiss or ignore, it just isn't necessary to waste passion on strangers.
Not often do you hear about some guy just walking up to a random woman and punching her. I'm sure it happens, but compared to husband/boyfriend against woman violence the numbers are miniscule.
In my mind it is this sort of thing that is about as sad as a really bad situation can get. In most cases the woman loves/loved the man, put up with his lazy, crazy crap, maybe even bore and takes care of his children. In most cases the man is bigger and stronger than the woman. There's rarely a fair fight, rarely an escape route, in many cases the woman puts up with a lot, and somehow still trusts the man to not kill her.
These men, according to their convictions, not only decided to kill the women, after they were done they plotted elaborate escape/subterfuge strategies.
Luna looked at the bloody, bludgeoned body on the  floor, and decided that simply wouldn't do. Either a ploy to mask the deed or further vengeance, I'm not sure which, but what he decided to do was to pour accelerant  on and around her, then set it ablaze. Then he stepped out to her truck and drove away for a while.
Greg talked his adult sons into helping him. Then, after the deed was done, which is not a quick process mind you, coolly and calmly went out for pizza, then returned to the scene and called the authorities.
That kind of scheming, planning, on top of the grotesque physical act they'd performed, mark these men as people I certainly do not want walking around freely among us. They both have proven the ability and willingness to commit the vilest of acts and then try to cover it up to save their own hides from prosecution.
Normal people just don't do this. Sane societies do not, can not tolerate this. Regardless of how many years these men lived without murdering someone, no matter what otherwise good works and deeds they may have performed before or afterwords, the ability to murder, in cold blood, those that loved them and trusted them, has rightfully earned them their permanent spots locked away from civil society.
I guess the only advice I can offer is to people that think there's no other alternative to offing their spouse/partner; Forget it. You're not as clever as you think you are, you will not evade justice.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


“I screwed up.” He said when I answered the phone, though he didn’t exactly say “screwed up.” His actual words were a bit more graphic.
My younger brother lives near my parents in a very small town in rural southwestern Kentucky. He spent the winter working for my aging and increasingly frail folks. In season though he works on a blueberry farm. He’s an expert in irrigation systems and has worked many well-known golf courses. He is also listed by the Commonwealth's largest university as a Master Gardener. He has worked outdoors in lousy weather doing heavy manual labor his entire adult life. It’s starting to wear on him but he’d still rather sweat and ache from the toil than sit in a cube or stand behind a counter.
He doesn’t get paid enough, never has. The kind of work he does best is not exactly the stuff of wealth.
When he said what he did, that he'd screwed up, in a tone that reeked with angst, depression and maybe even despair, I assume that there was more bad news about my parents’ health. There’s been a lot of that lately.
“I got called back to work.” He sighed. I figured there was much more to his present crisis than this, but he likes to weave a story.
“And that’s a bad thing?” I asked. I have to ask, Jeff’s stories are deliberately interactive.
“I start back tomorrow, I need the money, I’m about a week from having my phone shut off.”
This was not alarming, he and his lovely wife both have careers that are grossly undervalued. She’s a nurse’s aid in a mental hospital, a near-lateral move from her previous work in a nursing home. They’ve always lived precious paycheck to precious paycheck, usually without significant benefits or other perks. Their home is humble, old and drafty, heated by a wood stove using wood that Jeff finds and chops himself.
“So going back to work is not your problem.” I said, once again pushing the story along as I am expected to do. I don’t mind this at all, I’m not much of a phone conversationalist and I actually appreciate the cues to participate.
“You know I got called for jury duty.” He added after a pause, changing the subject, or maybe not.
“No, I don’t think I knew that.”
“Yeah, I had to report this morning.”
“And they didn’t pick you?”
We’d discussed this sort of thing before, a few weeks back, why someone would or would not participate in the jury process. He kept asking me what he should do, I kept telling him that I try to avoid using the word ‘should’ when talking to people since it implies that my morals and ethics are well thought out or some sort of lofty standard that others should aspire to. We debated that for several minutes before he’d reduced it to an answerable “What would you do?”
I told him that barring some dire need to do otherwise, that I’d actually jump at the chance to participate in the justice process, as a learning exercise, and as a potential opportunity to  write a good story about the experience or the trial.
“They picked you?” I asked, somewhat surprised.
“Yeah, and that was pretty cool.”
He paused again.
“How’d that go?” I participated.
“It was the strangest thing. They gave us each a number when we signed in, then the County Clerk pulled numbered chips out of a box.”
“They still do that?” I puzzled, I would have figured that somewhere since the invention of electricity and crude tabulating devices that there would be a somewhat more elaborate system involved in the selection process.
“Yeah they still do it that way, and this time I was the sixth number they drew out of thirty two.”
“So where did you screw up?” I actually used the words ‘screw up’.
He sighed again and mentally mapped out the next paragraph before letting it loose.
“They picked me, then I had to go through the interview, like on TV.” Another pause.
“The lawyers questioned you?”
“Yeah, the prosecutor, the defense lawyer and the judge, right there in front of the defendant.”
“Awesome!” I was envious.
“Yeah it was.” Another pause.
“So they kicked you out because of the interview?”
This was an unfair assumption of mine. My brother is a man of certain strong opinions and not at all shy about them. On TV they usually don't pick strong stereo types for a jury. Some might read him as a hang’em high gun-clinging ultra-conservative, though I know there’s a lot more complexity to him than that. I do forget this sometimes though especially if he’s just said something about  swiftly converting sand covered countries or regions into shiny glass.
“No, they accepted me.”
“Really?” I was still assuming.
“After they had their choices the judge asked us if a long trial would be a financial hardship.”
“And you have a phone bill due.” I was beginning to understand the dilemma.
“That and a few others.”
“So that thing you screwed up. . .”
“Yeah, I raised my hand.”
I felt bad for him. He saw this as a unique opportunity, as a social obligation and as an intellectual as well as civic exercise. Once again petty and annoying day to day finances rather than desire dictated his life’s course.
“I would have been a good juror.” He said. I was pining for something reassuring to say.
“Well these things are usually only about disputed insurance claims or something petty like that.” I finally offered, thinking we were at the end of his story. I was wrong.
“They usually are, I served in El Paso on a couple of those.”  This was a leading comment. I didn’t recall that he had served before, but it was the framing of the comment that led me to believe there was more to the tale.
“This wasn’t one of those?” I asked, as he wanted me to.
“It was a murder trial, a change of venue from another county.”
“You’re kidding!” He now had my complete attention, which Pip, my small and precious pit bull in my lap picked up on, she responded to my sudden increased adrenalin by licking my face. With the murder angle, the whole conversation had turned, squealing and smoking like a hot rod racing on an abandoned runway.
“A rural murder trial! No way!” I yelled, tasting dog tongue as it lapped even more vigorously.
My brother knows me well. He knew he had just jammed me into full journalist mode.
“I thought that might wake you up.” He said with a grin. I could sense the grin even though we were hundreds of miles apart.
My mind raced. I’d heard nothing about a murder trial in the area, I barely knew anything at all about the other rural Kentucky county. I told him as much.
“I didn’t know a thing about it either, that’s why they accepted me for the jury.”
Just like on TV, the best jurors come in with no actual prior knowledge of the crime or the participants.
“What would you have done?” He asked.
“Well, that’s easy, assuming I didn’t have a bunch of bill collectors at the door, I would have jumped at it. There’s like a dozen stories just in what I know so far!”
“So write it.”
“It’s not my story, it’s yours.”
“Well, that may be true, but I’m giving it to you, I don’t have the way with words you do.”
He says this a lot. I can’t deny the truth of it. I do write, find pleasure and confidence writing, but I just don’t have a lot of actual interesting stories in me. He on the other hand has many, many stories, wonderful stories but he’s completely in foreign territory at a keyboard. We’re okay with this disparity, we’ve discussed it a lot. He’s admitted jealousy as well as respect for my ability to slap words together on paper. I on the other hand admire his connection with nature, machinery and survival skills.
I’ve got a couple of college degrees, the knowledge and experience to maintain corporate computer systems, and the ability to articulate thoughts. He on the other hand can change out engine parts, grow a decent tomato, cook the best pizza in the world and can also lift more than ten pounds without having a paramedic standing by.
In the upcoming apocalypse and inevitable zombie attacks, one would be very, very wise to follow him rather than me. In fact, even in less catastrophic times, storms, blizzards, regional famine or local pestilence, he’s your man. He finds and chops his own wood for Pete’s sake. (Recently he told me from memory how to make gunpowder from wood stove ashes and crystallized urine.) I have hundreds of trees and they simply laugh at me and my tiny, un-start-able and therefore rarely used chainsaw.
“Rural murder trials are commonly very complex, layered, long-standing family rivalries, clannish disputes, deep, long-simmering hatreds suddenly manifesting in fits of violent savagery. . .” My mind was reeling with potential, and yet saddened by the missed opportunity, I felt his pain.
“I screwed up.” He said again, still not actually saying ‘screwed up’.
I came back to earth. “You did what you had to do, there’s no error or shame in that.”
“I should have stayed.”
“There you go saying ‘should’ again, you know I won’t speak to that.”
“Look Jeff, you and I both inherited this tragically overwhelming sense of responsibility. It’s dad’s fault, not yours. We, like him, will almost always do what we know needs to be done, generously sacrificing many or most of our own personal interests and desires along the way. We can’t help it. We might as well dream of breathing fire or being physically attractive. Our own set of physics and DNA just won’t allow any other way than what we are. Any time any of us have put self-interest over responsibility it has turned into a monsoon of trouble, hurt and life-long regrets. We both have the many ex-wives and estranged kids to show for it.”
“I hate that though, the regrets.” He shrugged
“That’s just part of the affliction.”
Like my brother, I don’t at this time have any knowledge of the case whatsoever. I am sure it is fraught with tragedy and sadness, it wouldn’t be considered such a heinous crime if it weren’t. But right now, in our complete ignorance of the specifics, we could speak of it freely in impersonal and detached ways.
“The defendant was there, he looked kind of hinky.” He said.
“You haven’t pre-judged him have you?”
“Oh no, no, I know lots of hinky looking people that never killed anyone, I’m just saying.”
“I know you haven’t, just pulling your chain.”
“I could have sat there and listened to the facts of the case for days then decided whether he was guilty or not, no matter what he looked like.”
“I know that about you brother, you’d probably start from a position of ‘prove it to me Mr. Prosecutor’.”
“Exactly, show me your case! I’ll decide if you brought it or not!”
And he would. My little brother is suspicious, analytical, a thinker, a listener, a ‘willing to change his mind if the facts change’ kind of guy. He would be right at home here in the Show-Me State. This trial, any fair trial would appreciate him for that. He and I share this trait as well, we’d both make great jurors, maybe we could even take the show on the road, professional yet completely impartial, wandering jurors.
Not because we want the limelight, not because we’re better than anyone else, just because of another innate, immutable need we share, the need to be part of something important.
Not necessarily world-changing, not even the need to be the leader. Just to be an integral part of something big, something that matters. I think this trait comes from our mother.
My brother and I were brought up around the time of America’s so-called Camelot. The rise of and promise of the young John Kennedy. Not the man himself, but the era, the prevailing attitude of promise and optimism. The age that saw the birth of the Peace Corps and desegregation, civil activism breaking through the old social machines. Individuals could make a real and lasting difference if they only believed it possible, worked hard and dared to dream.
I don’t recall ever actually being told as much but I always felt that I would do something important. Not for fame or wealth, but simply to help make the planet a better, more just, peaceful and verdant place.
Somewhere along the parade of years and decades since though, the cold and emotionless face of reality and average-ness overcame the smiling, wide-eyed certainty and promise of youth. Doing something important fell well behind the need to do just what was immediately required.
Opportunities missed, ignored, or wasted.
“I just don’t seem to have an edge anymore.” My brother said. I added that I didn’t either. We spoke more of other times we missed out, deliberately, by mere stupidity, negligence or perhaps just by fate. We each have pretty long lists. And now here we are in middle age, two old guys whining about what could have been if we’d just tried a little harder, looked a little closer, put ourselves out there just a little farther.
Serving on a criminal trial, as a fair and impartial juror would certainly fit the definition of doing something important for either of us. Once again, not for selfish purposes, but simply to be the right person at the right place and time for a serious task. Yeah, I’d like to write about something like that, it’s my calling, but the participation would still be the greater personal reward.
But in the end, it’s about doing what you have to do, even if it’s a small thing, like paying the bills. It often sucks, and it certainly often feels less than important. Maybe in the end, the sum total of our sacrifice and work will in itself prove important.
Then again, maybe sharing time and thoughts and baring your soul with a brother who you love, respect and admire is important as well. Maybe not capital-I Important, but that’s okay. I wouldn’t trade my time on the phone with Jeff for a front seat at the latest crime of the century.
Jeff, You didn’t f#$! up at all, you just did what you needed to do, it’s our curse.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Un-Friending

There are about a thousand big, important things; worries, fears, responsibilities, obligations and debts going on in my life. This story is about none of those.
I’m not sure why this thing has bothered me so much, but it pretty much consumed my thoughts during my daily commute a few days ago.. I’m writing this now to try to understand, through verbalizing it, why it weighed so heavily. True, the long daily commute is usually boring and my mind typically wanders aimlessly, pointlessly and sometimes obsessively, but it’s usually about movies, work, books, a family situation, or women’s beach volleyball.
The other night I saw a status update on a popular social networking site that I’ll refer to only as FB, since I certainly don’t want to piss those people off. The post was from a lady, a FB ‘friend’ from my original hometown, I’ll refer to her as ‘J’. I haven’t actually spoken to her, face to face, since grade school or junior high. I typically accept/send friend requests from people there I barely know just to reconnect with them and hear the voices (metaphorically) I grew up with. I hadn’t even chatted with her on FB very often.
Whether or not I ever had a childhood crush on J is completely irrelevant. That’s because I had childhood crushes on lots of girls back in my hometown in my pure, innocent and handsome youth. However, hardly any of them were aware of it since I never actually worked up the courage to approach them. I had a couple of girlfriends, sure, but only if they approached me first. I never, ever made initial contact that I can recall. You can ask Angel about this comically odd quirk in my character, she’s intimately familiar with it. It’s frankly quite confounding how I ever ended up getting married at all, much less three times. Just dumb luck I suppose. I have always expressed my romantic interest in someone by completely avoiding them and never, ever talking to them unless they expressed an interest first. This, I have since learned, is not exactly a brilliant or highly effective dating strategy. Anyway I’m not going to confirm or deny that a childhood crush on J ever actually occurred, it’s just not important for this story.
J posted a photo of a young girl and an adult lady playing together. J commented that this lady was the child’s “favorite lawyer”.
I found that amusing, and was pretty sure that’s how it was intended, so I commented:
 “I’m struggling with the notion of a favorite lawyer. You know, a cheap poke at the legal profession.
Later she commented back:
lol! . . . Well Dennis I'm engaged to a lawyer. . .”    (Please take note of the ‘lol’)
An hour or so later I commented back, in the spirit of what I then assumed to be light-hearted repartee:
“Engaged to a lawyer? Well, desperation is a very strong emotion.”
I think this is about the point where it started going wrong. Though at the time I simply felt it was a continuation of the ‘lol’ banter. My intended meaning was that the only reason that anyone would actually want to date a lawyer (snake, shark, shylock) would be sheer desperation, a complete lack of options, implying that lawyers are really, really terrible people, you know, like Mark Twain and Will Rogers, et al used to joke about.

My sweatshirt, see explanation below.
Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.” - Will Rogers –

"Lawyers are like other people--fools on the average; but it is easier for an ass to succeed in that trade than any other." - Mark Twain –

“Lawyers spend a great deal of their time shoveling smoke.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.-

“The trouble with law is lawyers.” - Clarence Darrow -

“A countryman between 2 Lawyers, is like a fish between two cats.” - Benjamin Franklin –

See? I’m not alone in published disdain of the profession, in fact, I’m in company with some of the greatest minds in the country (and some lawyers).
So this is what I was going for, that’s all. I did not fear insulting any lawyers, J’s fiance especially, since lawyer jokes are quite prevalent even, and maybe especially, amongst lawyers themselves. They’re benign, like husband/wife jokes. Or IT guy jokes.

Then J wrote back:
“"desperation? Oh i'm not desperate."

I’m not seeing a problem here, is it just me?
Then a strange thing happened, another lady from my hometown, I’ll call her ‘K’ (deliberately Kafkaesque), again one that I may or may not have had a grade school crush on but have not seen or spoken to in several decades, posted this:
 "Ok, this sista doesn't like that "desperation" remark! Not all attorneys are dirty dealers Dennis, especially this one. He is a great guy and if you knew Jeannie you would know there is nothing "desperate" about her."

I optimistically took that as a snarky remark, on the same level as my original comments. Was I wrong?
J added: "Well thx sista! You have my back!!"
Still not seeing a real problem, but just in case, I added: “Where’s that sarcasm emoticon when you need one?”  Indicating that I wasn’t really being serious, or so I thought.

K apparently didn’t care much for that:
"Sarcasm doesn't fit the situation J is going thru right now w/her dad and decisions she is having to make. You may have been trying to be funny but it didn't work. The only thing she is desperate about right now is praying she doesn't lose her dad."

Somehow this had gone from a to b to c to ATTACK WITH FIRE!!!!
I had to think about this for a few minutes. It wasn’t like I was sitting in front of the computer all evening anyhow, I was just walking through and checking it occasionally.

So later, after  I’d thought about it, wondered how it had gotten so out of hand, I decided to start clarifying and possibly offering apologies. In situations like this, where I really don’t have a clue as to what the actual problem is, especially with women, I tend to just assume there’s something I need to apologize for. That’s just the way I was raised.
But I couldn’t. I was unable to locate the thread again. I trembled, knowing what this likely meant, so I confirmed it. I had been un-friended by J.
I’ve been un-friended before. Usually it’s because I made a reasonable but slightly snarky (though not personal) comment about someone’s partisan political statements and usually only if they’re one of these people that paste/link dozens of dubious and trite talking points, ad nauseum. You know these people. In my mind if that’s all they do, regurgitate the pundits, then they have no actual friendship value, especially if one little rebuttal comment from me makes them dive for the un-friend button. I’ve never felt bad about any of those lost ‘friends’.
But this particular event hit me sideways.
I knew that J had been through some rough times with family lately, as has K, as has just about everyone in our age group, including myself. I was simply not sure what that had to do with this particular conversation.
Certainly my wisecracks were not the wittiest lawyer jokes ever told, (feel free to object) but I’ve never claimed to be a professional comedian. So maybe they weren’t especially funny, okay, but geez, why the vitriol?
So in an unabashed third-grade-style, irrational and hyper-sensitive tantrum (hissy-fit) I immediately un-friended K.  Nyah, nyah, nyah! (blows raspberries)
I quickly felt foolish about that, succumbing to that juvenile level of behavior, but I was actually a little upset.
I don’t claim to be to everyone’s liking. There are plenty of people that seem to want nothing at all to do with me, and that’s just in my own family. (that’s a joke, I simply can’t help myself, it's like a disease.) I know not everyone gets me or my dark, snarky sense of humor. But that’s usually straightened out after a while, once the relationship gets flushed out. I know I’ve offended people in the past, though rarely deliberately, so I do try to edit myself, but  the process is of course not 100% effective.
It's been a few days now, I've had other issues and events come and go in my life adding some much-needed perspective to the whole tawdry affair. (not that I ever wanted to have tawdry affairs with either J or K, it's just a figure of speech, I swear.) I've done nothing about it except to write this thing out, and that's probably all I will ever do.
I will miss these 'friends' a little, for a while. I enjoyed following their regular chatter about their families and triumphs and trials. Not that I could do much about them, nor was I in any small way a part of them, but it was part of the storyline, the backdrop, the forest beyond the trees in my own life.
I've actually learned very little from this whole episode, perhaps there's a lesson there somewhere, but the only one I seem to be able to figure out is that some people have incredibly short fuses and given the choice between victorious righteous indignation and giving someone they barely know the slightest benefit of the doubt, they boldly choose the former. Maybe I don't want them as 'friends' anyhow, too risky, too fragile.
  There, I've vented. Bonus: There's a bunch of ladies in my hometown that are now aware that I may or may not have had a crush on them a long time ago. I imagine them now, seeing this, wondering... what might have been, what dreams  could have been realized, had they only been a little bolder.
* The sweatshirt (photo)
A true, living, breathing friend had this pink sweatshirt made for me back in 2007. The quote on it was taken from an instant message conversation we were having in response to something she had said that I'd subsequently made fun of.
"I am a clown, I seek the laughter and I'm willing to insult, infuriate and injure anything and anyone to succeed"
I thought of this shirt/quote as I was writing this piece. Partially to point out the long term nature of my disease, and partially to prove that some people do actually  appreciate my humor.