Friday, May 27, 2022

2 Minutes. Go!

I love fishing. If fishing rods killed a bunch of fourth graders, I'd gladly give mine up. I'm tired. That's the thing. Bone tired of excuses and political chicanery. I'm putting myself in Texas shoes, and I don't like the way they fit. 

It's amazing how ignorant folks can be. How defensive. How willing to think only of themselves.

There is so much sadness in this whole scenario. Broken kids. Broken parents. And I'm panicking every time I see one of the kids' pictures because they look just like my youngest. She's so ready for summer, but so determined to attend every day until then. I think about the parents who argued with their kid that morning. 

Just put on your damn shoes, and go to school. 

And then...horror.

It's hard to believe that we keep letting this happen. And it's terrifying to know that it will happen again because folks can't put aside their differences, think with their hearts, and realize that this is a problem we have to face. We have to look in the mirror. Doesn't matter how much we hate the person looking back.

It's called reflecting.


  1. [[[[all the hugs in the world]]]

    1. As an Englishman, it's hard to know what to say. We say we're repressed and hard done to in this country but at least we can feel safe from things like this happening to us in most instances. I don't know what the answer is, the right to bear arms is such a sensitive issue, so many people feeling powerless without a weapon to hand. I think there's much more to it than people admit, people needing the power a loaded gun gives them and not caring what it costs.

  2. (I can't handle writing anything about reality right now, so I'm going back in time.)

    You sit behind Pop’s desk in the back room of the construction office the day after his funeral. The desk never seemed so big before. Even when you were smaller. Maybe the sudden emptiness, or the twist in your stomach at the job you deep down don’t know if you can handle. Everybody says you’ll do fine. Moishe, Herschel…but they’re your guys, and your own guys never tell you you’re less than golden. And Lola. Lola has nothing but faith in you. Says you’ll be great, and gives you that certain smile and pulls you into her soft, perfumed arms. But you still can’t make the thought stick. Pop would tell you to stop sniveling and step up. Like he told you umpteen times when you were younger, although never in so many words. More like Pop showed you. Had you tag along on jobs, and when a deal was sealed he’d put his arm around your shoulders and say, “See? That’s how your old man gets stuff done.” Sometimes you weren’t even sure that a deal was sealed, even when it happened right in front of your face. A couple words or numbers got exchanged, then a look, then it was over. You wanted to ask in the car on the way home how it happened, like, exactly what happened, but you knew he wouldn’t answer. “Eh, what’s done is done,” he’d say, and he’d go silent like a rock.

    Myrna, Pop’s secretary, taps on the door real gentle-like, as if you’re a little bunny or something. Asks if she can get you coffee, or maybe lunch. You shake your head. Even if it was sitting in front of you, even if it were a corned beef on rye, you don’t think you could eat. Might even make you sick. But she stays put, with the grandma eyes on you. Funny, you think. Even your mom couldn’t make Pop do the things Myrna can. “Sure,” you tell her. “Whatever’s easiest.”

    Soon lunch is on that big desk, and Myrna is doing the filing, and you can’t stand to see her lifting big boxes of folders, so you take over, hushing her away. The physical work feels good, like you’re doing something. You weren’t really sure what you was supposed to do next anyway, so at least this feels like progress. But she stays in the back office, opening the condolence cards. Most of them contain money. You’ve learned not to let it surprise you, to accept the fact of cash changing hands as part of the everyday…but still, you can’t stop staring. Myrna collects up the bills and puts them in a big envelope. “You make sure your mother gets some of this, nu?” she says, tossing the now full envelope onto the desk.

    “It’s a mitzvah,” you say. Because Pop used to say it. Then silence fills the room. You want to direct her somehow. Be the boss. Tell her to write letters. Answer the phone. But all you really want to do is cry. You want to be a little kid again and play stickball and chase the neighborhood girls around. You don’t want all this on your shoulders. The business. The other business. All those guys with their hands out. All those other guys itching for a cut at any price.

    You sink into a chair, shoulders slumped, head in your hands. You can feel Myrna’s eyes on you. There’s a rustling of paper, and the clump of her orthopedic shoes as she shuffles across the room. She sits in a nearby chair. There’s stationer’s box in her lap, a bunch of thank-you cards she wants you to sign. You take each one and scrawl your name as she watches until the stack is complete. Still, she doesn’t leave. Doesn’t even move. “Okay,” she says then, with the same authority in her voice as when she made Pop to go to the doctor for his heart. That first time, anyway. “You and me, we need to go over a few things. First. Eddie, the guy from Yonkers, comes down on Monday afternoons. He’s a steady earner so don’t take any guff from him like business is bad. And know that the cigars he’ll try to give you ain’t Cuban. Then Tuesday—” She stops, glares. “You oughta be payin’ attention, cause I ain’t writin’ this stuff down.”

    You start paying attention. It's a mitzvah.

    1. This is a distillation of a family. I'm a European heathen, so there's so much I'll be missing, but what I do read into this feels so authentic and true. And that's what I always get when I read your writing. Verisimilitude ought to be your middle name.

    2. Another vivid scene. Good rhythms.

  3. Hugs to you and to every parent and child in the world.

  4. Infringed - A Second Amendment Short Story

    I went down to my local gun shop yesterday. Been a while since I’d been there, and I had a very specific weapon in mind that I feel I need, that I must have.

    I walked the aisles, looking at what was available. But what I was searching for wasn’t on any of the shelves.

    “Can I help you?” the hirsute and well-tattooed attendant asked me.

    “Yes. I’m looking for something out of the ordinary. Something that will show how much I believe in the Second Amendment more than anything else.

    “Ah, we have some new rifles…”

    “No, no. That will never do. I want,” here I took a deep breath. “I want a nuclear bomb.”

    He stared at me incredulously. “You know that’s illegal, right?”

    I shrugged. “The right to bear arms shall not be infringed,” I read from the poster behind the cash register.

    He took a step back from me.

    “Constitution doesn’t say anything about nuclear or non-nuclear, am I right?”

    I saw him reaching for the phone in his pocket. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

    “You won’t sell me one, then? What about a machine gun?”

    He removed his hand from his pocket. “Well, that’s in the realm of possibility. There’s lots of paperwork. Investigations. Tax stamps. And as a civilian, you can only buy them if they’re manufactured before 1986.”

    “But that sounds like infringement,” I objected.

    He shrugged. “I can get you into a nice AR-15 for…”

    “No, that won’t work. Everybody has those. I want something significant.”

    “Sorry, bud.”

    I left the store disappointed. I guess the Second Amendment isn’t absolute. I guess some things are prohibited, some things are legal. I guess legislation and regulations determine where the line is drawn. Who knew?

    Now I’m gonna go look for some illegal books and see if I have better luck there. See, I know this bookseller…

    1. Leland! Nice to see you here! I read this on FB before. This is perfect. Now, maybe I'll go out and see about getting a cannon for my lawn.

    2. Thanks! And yeah, cannons are much tidier than A-bombs.

    3. I dunno, even some books bring their own kind of fall out.

      This is such a witty, tongue in cheek response to current events. And it's so good to see you posting here again, Leland. You've been much missed.

    4. Leland! You came back. This is a dark piece of satire. Very Twain in 2022.

  5. I find it hard to believe this still happens in Texas, the wild west state where everyone carries a gun.

    Oh wait, that's everyone in Texas with white skin. These were brown skinned kids with brown skinned teachers who likely never tried to acquire a firearm for protection.

  6. The Story of How I Became a Gun Owner

    I'm formerly a supporter of gun control. 43 years. The city I grew up in had a lot of gun crime. Most of the guns were acquired illegally because criminals don't go to a licensed firearms dealer to buy weapons. They buy on the black market—which no existing or future law can prevent. I've lost a lot of liberal friends based on my embrace of the Second Amendment.

    Legal purchasers of firearms are SUPPOSED to undergo a background check but this law fails because the NICS department tasked with checking is understaffed & underfunded. NICS has 72 hours to respond to a background check application. No response in the time limit? Application is automatically approved. In 2016 over 4,000 sales were automatically approved that SHOULD have been denied. Yearly gun sales have doubled, perhaps tripled since 2016. How many more skated through with automatically approved since then? They can pass all the gun control laws they want but if those same politicians that pass the laws don't also approve the money to enforce the laws, it's a feel-good law. Worthless.

    After I moved to a 2A supporting State, I was introduced to target shooting. Lots of guns here, lots of ranges. And damn it, I had fun. Pistols, rifles, shotguns, ancient black powder guns, and archery were my introduction to the wonderful world of game hunting at an NRA sponsored Women's Event. EVERYONE here lives to hunt. I now own several firearms; every purchase was legal, and I had to wait for approval to purchase. I'm all in favor of fully funding the current background checks law and even lengthening the allotted completion time. I train and practice monthly with my weapons in order to be a safe, proficient shooter. I do not believe there should be limits on the type of firearms I can purchase. If there's a weapon on the street that can be used on me, I should be able to defend myself with a like weapon.

    I did not buy my weapons because I'm afraid of an out of control government or subscribe to any conspiracy theories. I bought my guns for several reasons, primarily self defense. I'm a member of a minority frequently targeted with violence. I work in some very rural areas where quick police response is an unreasonable expectation. I am my own first responder. The hazards of my job are pet & farm animal predators, I need to be able to stop them. Surprisingly, rural homes are also a popular target for burglars. Big take, low risk. If I'm confronted by a criminal with a gun, my only advantage is to have one of my own. Doesn't mean I'll live, just means I have an edge.

    And as I said earlier, shooting is fun. Once a month a group of us ladies has a day at the range. We bring a potluck lunch. We trade weapons on the firing line and the RSO and other people on the line always have tips to make us better shooters. Sometimes there's an unusual weapon that makes the rounds of the line.

    Amazing how much fun you can have once you learn about firearms, get educated on their use, and lose your fear.

    While Mass Shootings might lead you to believe we have a "gun" problem, we have a bigger "mental health" problem. No one who commits one can possibly in their right mind.

    1. It's interesting to read your thoughts, your story. Thanks. I'm not against hunting or self-defense or target shooting (I live in the sticks, with hunters and target shooters in the neighborhood and a gun range a mile down the road, and I've had some wonderful venison courtesy of neighbors who hunt.) But I'm thinking we have both a "gun" and a "mental health" problem in America. That is, it's far too easy for people who mean harm to get very lethal guns very quickly.

    2. It's so difficult. I can empathise with you. I'd be another who'd want to buy a gun if it was more socially acceptable. I'm someone who'd embrace it as a sport while still feeling a little more secure for having one, and I feel a little ashamed at myself for feeling that way. It's so easy to choose to buy a gun to use as a last resort and I can understand why people continue to do that in the US. But there'll always be people who'll just shoot because they feel wronged and I don't see how anyone can stop that here and now. I don't think there'll ever be an answer that will work.

    3. I grew up around guns. They don't frighten me. But I've lost people I love to them, too.

  7. The Dark Tower

    The bottle acts as a totem, drawing my eye, promising comfort. It stands like a tower, its shade a calming interlude, the stresses of my week a welcome excuse to partake of its bliss, my troubled moth-mind seeking a flame to feed itself into.

    We’ve a complicated relationship, my bottle and I.

    In my home, I have many bottles. Bottles of pills, bottles of ketchup, bottles of cleaning fluids. The bleach is emptied as an afterthought; a man needs to clean up behind him once in a while. I remember the morning afters: the disarray in my home, the regurgitated takeaways expressing themselves, splashes of colour and texture found underfoot and on furniture, surprises jogging memories of hours lost to me while I’ve been away with my muse.

    My muse. My excuse and a reason to destroy myself.

    I used to have a talent, a problem - a need to express myself. I readily spewed words on demand, streams of eloquent babblings produced at the drop of a hat. I was a precocious child, used to the attention his wit and cleverness brought. I was the cool kid in the corner, protected by his ephemeral circle of friends.

    Bullies stay away; there’s easier meat to be found.

    And then I was a man. New worlds opened to me. I got a job; make-work made into a career, removing dirt from machinery, drilling holes, chipping waste products created by welding from metal-to-metal joints. I took instruction from other men - older men - men content to spend their days hunched over a bench-vice creating filings, dressed in a uniform jumpsuit made of beige. Away from the light, their eyes hardened as they squinted in the unnatural gloom of the workshop, servants of a society that didn’t care what they did. Men who were happy to drop where they stood, their only ambition a plot of land where they could plant their cabbages.

    And then I was back at school. That was the joke that continued. I was directed to another town, a town with a college for people in a similar situation as mine. I was to be trained in the skills and techniques of the mole-men. I had fallen into the trap that I’d sought.

    Back then, I’d been blinded by the opportunities people had put before me. I could rise to the top of the mound where the others worked, using my wit and ingenuity to draw on a piece of paper on a drawing board and create. Or I could remain and work in the dark and wait for death. The choice was mine. That’s what I was told.

    But there were other distractions. Crossroads on that route. Diversions offering to lead me away from the promised land.

    1. Wow. Powerful writing, Mark. I'd love to read more. Love this line: "We’ve a complicated relationship, my bottle and I."

    2. I really liked that line, too. This one bleeds.

  8. Her tea was cold. How long had she been sitting here — at the kitchen table staring off into space. Santiago had made her morning tea in an effort to normalize the day. She couldn’t remember his ever making tea before.
    More astounding than that he’d made it the exact way she’d have done it. Black tea with a dash of almond milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon on top. She’d thought she was the only one who even knew about the almond milk. She kept it in the lowest shelf of their overcrowded fridge. Out of the way of the kids and him, partially so they wouldn’t make fun of Mama’s quirky tastes but also to have a secret.
    When you live with others day in, day out it’s hard to keep secrets. Things, just for you. Almond milk was hardly a passion diary or a stash of ill-gotten cash but it was hers, alone.
    She knew he’d hear her. Of late he was always close by. Not lurking. Not hovering. But near enough that she could call softly and he’d answer. This time he’d been out on the porch. That was new too. Normally he’d be at work right now. And she’d…be driving home from…
    "Is your tea cold? Should I heat it up for you?"
    Seeing his large hand on her delicate tea cup brought her back from yet another dense and distracting fog. Raising her weighted head took effort but finally she met his eyes.
    “How did you know?”
    “Know what?”
    His brows crinkled when he was confused. Their son Teodoro, could mimic it perfectly and make them all laugh. It helped that he was a perfect replica of his father. Such a gift. A mirror of Santi as a child.
    Their daughter looked like her mother. A reminder too of her own childhood and Yaya, the woman who raised her so tenderly.
    “The milk Santi. How did you know how I make my tea?”
    She sounded angry to her own ears. That wasn’t how she meant for the question to come out. She seemed incapable of tempering anything that came out of her. Her words. Her thoughts. Even breathing felt foreign.
    “I watch you Mama. When you’re making breakfast. I watch how you do everything.”
    Her eyes flooded suddenly and with such force it felt like a storm rising in her head.
    “Don’t call me that. I’m no one’s mama. Not anymore.”
    Stricken, her husband nodded. Then kneeling he put his arms around her waist and his head in her lap. He held fast for a time, but she barely felt a thing.

    1. OMG, the power here. Lily, this is riveting, heartbreaking.

    2. There's so much to unpick from this, but the lines "I'm no one's Mama. Not any more," cement it. Simply awesome and so very powerful.

    3. I agree. There is a weight to this one, and there is so much to unpack. Really strong scene.

  9. The Press Release

    Meanwhile in the press office of a certain Senator…

    “Shit. Another one.”
    “How many this time?”
    “Seventeen. A Sunday school class.”
    “How old?”
    “Doesn’t say. No, wait. Second grade.”
    “Let’s use press release number 127 as our starting template.”
    “The one about the nuns?”
    “No, the one about the people in Walmart.”
    “Oh. That’s actually number 147.”
    “We are deeply saddened…”
    “Change that to horrified.”
    “We are horrified by the children murdered…”
    “No. Murdered is too harsh. We are horrified by the senseless act of violence…”
    “Oh, that’s good. ‘Senseless act of violence.’ No blame there. Kinda like a hurricane got ‘em. Anything about the killer? Sorry, I mean the suspect.”
    “CNN is saying he’s white, 19, and dammit, his father is one of our biggest contributors.”
    “Okay, we need something about him being disturbed. Maybe bullied. No wait! He’s been indoctrinated by CRT!”
    “Okay, now we need a smokescreen of action to take.”
    “Better doors?”
    “We used that last time.”
    “More funding for police?”
    “Ruined by those yahoos who waited an hour to go in and had 40% of the city’s budget.”
    “How about putting God back in the…”
    “It was in a church basement.”
    “Hmmm. Junk food! We haven’t used the Twinkie defense in years!”
    “Okay, good so far. Now we need a good close.”
    “Thoughts and prayers?”
    “Sounds too flippant. And it’s a cliché.”
    “Please join us in fervent prayer as we lift up…”
    “Oh, that’s good. Okay polish that up. I’ve got a meeting—NRA bigwigs.”

    Later that day:

    Heidi and I are horrified by the senseless act of violence against the young people of the —— church.
    Please join us in fervent prayer as we lift up the whole community and offer free NRA-themed coffins to the bereaved.
    The suspect, egged on by the Democrats’ relentless CRT programming, had dozens of doughnuts in his backpack. Experts tell us that so much sugar may have exacerbated the violent tendencies he may have already had.
    I intend to call for hearings into why safe, petroleum-derived artificial sweeteners are not used in doughnuts. We must hold the liberal Leftist sugar industry accountable!

    1. Beautiful & horrifying, Leland.

    2. Oh. Exactly. Horrifying. And on point.

    3. Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes again. This is so very credible and on point. But that's what Laurie already said, so it must be true.

      What can I say? I'm just a Brit who can only look on and feel shocked.

    4. This one reads a little Vonnegut to me. Dark, scary shit we have going on right now.

  10. This is very much in progress.

    Anya doesn’t remember much about her parents, and with each passing year, even those early memories began to fade into gossamer threads and dissolve. Occasionally she gets flashes—a sturdy black umbrella, acrid hair dye in the sink, conversations hushed when Anya came into the room. Her mother’s sturdy heels clip-clopping ahead of her when she walked Anya to school. Warnings to be quiet in public, and never to interrupt her father when he was talking. He was a big important man in the government. This was about all she’d known about him.

    Then one day he didn’t come home. Mama hid the newspapers. Scolded her when she found one and looked for news of her father.

    “Where is Papa?” she asked one day, screwing up her courage. The explanations wavered, but always had the same conclusion: he is an important man selected by the president to do important work far away, and it would be unpatriotic to question why. That Anya was a lucky girl to have such a father; that as a girl she herself was not so lucky. She didn’t have a father at all.

    Eventually Anya stopped asking after Papa. Mainly because it would often make her mother cry. But she still had questions. They swirled unasked in her mind. Where did he go? What is he doing? If it’s so important and patriotic, why can’t we know?

    Later Anya would piece the clues together—but not until she was living in America, and both of her parents were gone. Until there was nothing left of them but a medal in a red velvet box and a cold letter from the government about “service” and “patriotism” and “honor.”

    “It is all bullshit,” Bubbe said. One thunderstormy summer day while they shared tea at Anya’s kitchen table, not too long after they’d found each other. “Do you want to know what really happened?”

    Anya wasn’t sure she wanted to know. Part of her wanted the fairy-tale history she’d crafted for herself to be smashed underfoot. Part of her wanted to cling to it like the lost child she sometimes felt herself to be. She thought of Gloria Steinam, whom she’d studied in her History of Feminism class. Ms. Steinam had said, “The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off.”

    Maybe she was ready for the anger. Ready for that arrow of truth to find a target other than the tender heart she’d been protecting. She turned to look at her grandmother. Bubbe pressed a cool, bony hand over hers and met her gaze. Bubbe’s dark brown eyes, surrounded by crinkles, were often tough to read. But not now. Now there was pain. Anya withdrew her hand, busied herself with cutting the banana bread. “You don’t have to tell me.” Before she knew it, Anya had sliced up the entire loaf.

    “It is your parents, it is your choice,” Bubbe finally said, with a little mouth-shrug at the end. She took up a slice of banana bread and nibbled. “Is good,” she said. “Whoever decided to put walnut and banana together was a genius.”

    1. Part 2:

      “Most of those good things started out as a mistake,” Anya said, thinking of something she’d learned in a different class. But then the deeper meaning of what she’d said sliced through her—“I was not so lucky.”

      “Bubbe…I didn’t mean—”

      “Meh. What’s done is done and we make do. We are lucky to be here. Putin khuylo.”

      The first time she’d heard the words, she’d been horrified. From her brief time in Russia, she remembered the pictures of the president everywhere. And the people who worshipped him—or at least pretended that they did. A long-forgotten overheard argument came back to her. Papa’s scolding words, Mama crying. Saying through her tears that he could be arrested for what he was doing.

      But what was he doing?

      “Tell me,” Anya said.

      “You are sure?”

      “No,” she whispered. “Yes. Please.”

      Bubbe sat back in her chair. “Well. Your mother”—she almost spat the word—“was a good and obedient Russian girl.”

      Anya knew that. Very often Bubbe would talk about “your Russian mother” as if “Russian” was a curse. But to Bubbe, it must have felt that way, after what Russia did to Ukraine. “And my father?”

      “Obedient—at first. In fact, he was one of the most loyal dogs at that bastard’s table.”

      Anya’s brows rose. “At first?”

      “Until he wasn’t.”

      Anya gulped, said in a small voice, “And then they killed him.”

      Bubbe let out a long breath. “You lie down with dogs such as those, you should stay away from open windows.”

    2. You make this look so easy, Laurie. You're writing history from a family perspective using subtlety and a deep understanding of how families work and how the people within them react. There's such truth in these lines and it's all to easy to think you're eavesdropping on these people, witnessing their secrets and mundane day-to-day lives unfolding, although everything seems relevant and to the point. You're an awesome writer; I'll never say anything different. I wish I had half your talent.

  11. The queue inched forward. The Voice crackled through the grille. I couldn’t comprehend its words, but their tone was harsh and forbidding. My view to the front was impeded by the back of the man immediately ahead. The corridor was narrowing, now too tight for us to pass.

    The line moved again. Again, I heard the Voice. I shuffled forward twelve inches, my feet moving more heavily now. The man behind me overstepped, his angular knee jabbing my thigh. I cursed and choked back an oath, suddenly afraid.

    Advancing again. Slowly dragging my feet. The Voice was cold and metallic, matching the mesh of the grille. I thought I heard it say four words, five at the most.

    Forward once more. The man behind overstepping yet again. This time, I took an elbow in my back. I released a low moan and tried to sag away, resisting the pressing of the barriers to both sides. I felt confused, anxiety banding my chest, crushing my throat. The man ahead stubbornly stalled, making us crash into one another. I tried to croak out an apology but now had nothing, my own voice barely a whisper.

    Then it was me. “Freedom, fire or body bank,” the Voice barked, the shackles at my feet engaging the metal rail, its single-track then immediately splitting into a three-way. I could feel the flames of the way ahead and saw darkness to the right.

    So I chose the arena: the only chance I might ever be freed.

    1. Man, I want to see what happens in the Arena! Cool set up.


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