Saturday, March 30, 2019

In The Year 2617.....

The year was 2617 but no one was counting. The earth had been through hell and high water for 200 years, or more, with most of its population gone. Gone literally. Turned into slime under the submerged ground or dissolved in the salt waters. There were millions upon millions of dead bodies still floating, washing up on the shores.

The interiors of continents fared the best or better. Higher lands survived. Denver was high. Moscow. And Mexico City. But not New York, L.A., Frisco, Miami, Tokyo, Rio, London, Bangladesh. All gone. 

The rest, high plains, upland pastures, steppes escaped the flood, still alive with some crops. Intact infrastructure. The bigger cities have survived but relied on the countryside to supplement city parks for food. The countryside relied on the cities for protection against marauding bands of killers. Populations overwhelmed the cities, suffocating the safer ones of any size. The resulting panics and breakdown of societies made the smaller cities fall to the armies of wanton killers. The smallest villages and towns were long ago wiped out. There seemed to be a line, a radius, from the large cities that could be protected and anyone beyond that line was doomed. By 2617 most of what could have been killed or slaughtered or subjugated had been consumed and the bands fought each other but sometimes they consolidated and attacked previously too-powerful strongholds.

Institutions all changed. Government,learning, healthcare, military, all morphed from one form to another. Learning came and went as was needed for survival. The cities, singly, with a population to choose from held sway over the armament technologies forging alliances between collections of brains and production. The marauders formed significant units that could fight well. This did not produce a standoff but rather some uneven back and forth of gains and losses destroying and re-destroying land and people.

Continents shrank and consolidated. Some survived. Some became fortresses of stone walls and moats. Some were doomed.

In this craziness each side was uncovering new sights and things in the fought-over territories. One such discovery happened when an armed patrol from one of the big inland cities, high and dry, well fed, and watered sufficiently, found an underground cavern system complete with its own power and disposal plants. The thing went on for miles and they found in it a water source, greenhouses, and working robots tending the greenhouses and the water supply as if they were assisting something living.

Exploring further the scouting crew found something living: primates. Maybe 1,000 or more. All healthy, all active, all being fed continuously, and playing games on keyboards. The primates looked young. The scouts watched, avoided the robots, and began to notice that some robots labored in another part of the cavern system and followed these to find an incinerator, in full working condition, into which the robots fed dead primates. The scouts were stunned. It was as if this automated system, apparently giving life, feeding, and then tending to the dead, along with power and light and water and waste removal, all planned and executed centuries ago, was still in full operation.

And no one knew about it.

Further inspection led the scouts to determine than some kind of old-fashioned computer was monitoring the output of the primates through their keyboard strokes and every time it recognized a word it stored that output. The machine’s ability to read the words was correctly functioning but the words in context made no sense.

The scouts, and subsequently the intelligence services, had no notion of what to think of it.

You are an astronaut

Describe your perfect day.

A lot of people seem to think that when you’re an astronaut you spend your time with these glorious sunrises and sunsets. Well, yes, those are nothing short of spectacular. If you ever get a chance to see the sun either rising or setting against the backdrop of the curve of the earth, take it! Nothing, and I mean nothing, on earth, compares.

But, my perfect day?

We don’t have much spare time up here. There are too many experiments going and a lot of maintenance to be done. We have some equipment that just seems to not want to work right. One centrifuge in the soil density test works about half the time. It is a commercial centrifuge and I keep saying we should send it back down and get a refund, but can you imagine the paperwork? FedEx doesn’t deliver here yet, but they will someday. Won’t that be cool? We threaten to fix it with blunt force trauma delivered by a hammer but we can’t get a good swing at it because, as Newton’s law of motion reminds us, we’re up here in gravity-free space.

We do generally have time set aside to read (I love to read) or play cards although we have a game of Parcheesi going playing against a Google app. It doesn’t win nearly as often as you’d think. Sometimes I sense the game is rigged to let me win once in a while.

One thing that keeps life interesting up here is that we play background music via Siri that doubles as the intra-station communication device. We recognize that Siri also listens in on our conversations without our permission and the folks back home might be listening, as well. We get three songs each at a time but we can put as many songs as we like on the playlist. I think the playlist right now is about seventy songs long! My kids keep sending up songs for me to listen to and I put ‘em on the playlist but, heck, I’m old, I don’t know these bands.

Ultimately this is just like a day at work except without the commute! I miss my coffee. We had a coffee pot in the office at Houston and our secretary, Martina Higgins, a great person, could blend and make a perfect cup of coffee. We talked the other day when she called us about our W-2s, some things you can’t escape, and I asked if they could send up a thermos of her coffee. Of course, they couldn’t, it would explode en route but I was really eager for a cup of her coffee. My wife, Julia, figured out how to send up a big serving of lasagna that we can reheat in the low-power microwave. Talk about delicious! Now all we have to do is figure up a way to send up Julia and the kids! That would be perfect!

So, long answer to a short question. The perfect day? The perfect day will be when I get back home to my family.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Winter Travels

I have mentioned several times about my thinking that famous places, of course, do not choose to be famous places. We make something happen there, perhaps memorable at the time, but monumental as time passes. In recent years I would add Shanksville, Penn., in that category. For times passed, perhaps, Appomattox Court House, Custer Battlefield, Matewan, W.Va., and Rhea County Courthouse, Dayton, Tenn.

I was recently down to visit the sandhill crane gathering at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge and took a side trip into Dayton. Both of these are about 40 miles north of Chattanooga.

Dayton, county seat for Rhea County, Tenn., was the sight in 1925 of the famous “Scopes Trial” which placed a spot light on the evolution arguments sweeping the nation and the impending duel featuring William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow.

What I like about the Scopes Trial museum, in the basement of the courthouse, is its evenhandedness of the combatants and the circus that swept through the town as if the town was not even there. We have, of course, numerous press releases from 1925 kept in archives around the country. Most noted are pieces by  H.L. Mencken who was not nice to either Jennings Bryan or Dayton.

But, like many historic places in the US, a person needs to go there and see if the walls speak. If you are lucky, at the Rhea County courthouse you can visit the second-floor courtroom that was the combat zone.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Frankenstein writing to Shelley

Somewhere below the icepack of the Arctic Circle, 15-degrees West Longitude

Madame Shelley,

I take pen in hand to write a thoughtful note yo you thanking you for telling the story to the world of my creation. Your faithful account of this event will, I hope, despoil so many of the thoughtless rumors that abound and defame both my creature and myself, although I fully accept any accusations as I am a grown adult.

I can only wish the entire world knew the truth of my creation and its warning to all of us. I have thoughts of how awful it and I must seem to those who do not understand the roles of man and God in our world, and our very being, but only think in terms of the drivel espoused to them by non-seekers of the truth. I love my creation as any father or mother would love their child. I borne it into life and I must now also follow it into death. I do this with a love few people would understand but which you will so thoughtfully and elegantly inform your readers.

I am pleased that you allowed me to read this first, early text, because tomorrow I will leave for the northern ice cap in pursuit of my creation in order to bring him home, God willing. I only wish my story ends as well as you have predicted. If not you may of course rewrite the ending as you see fit as I will not be in a position to disagree.

Your obedient servant,

V. Frankenstein

Sunday, September 16, 2018

exercise: describe someone who you saw, perhaps, at the grocery store:

She could only be described as, but with a sense of appreciation, a proverbial older lady. I was in my car, getting ready to leave the parking lot of the store when I saw her moving about at the automatic doorway. It was more than a quick glance. She had been standing by the doors until the bus pulled up and then she walked her buggy back to the door, took her two bags of groceries, and headed toward the bus. And then she was gone.

I don’t know why I was intrigued. She really made no difference to me but out of curiosity the next time I was at the store I wandered over to the portico where the bus had stopped. I was wondering when the bus came and how short of time did she have to shop and where would the bus go next. There was no timetable sign that I could find.

In a flash, what I saw:
-glowing white hair, nicely cut, thin, straight posture, an alive face that would smile a lot

-chino slacks, white, long-sleeve, high-collar shirt that looked ironed, tread hiking shoes, belt, relatively good stuff not worn out leftover clothes

-sun hat (not straw) $25 at Cabela's or $60 at Mahoney’s

-light weight knapsack holding her purse

-two bags of groceries

-walked with determination w/o obvious age affects

describe a scene that begins: “It was the first time I killed a man”

It was the first time I killed a man, and the only time, of course, when I blasted that SOB with his own shotgun.

I did it in a fit of rage, of revenge, of collecting a bill long overdue, plus accrued interest. “Accrued interest” is one of those fancy lawyerly legal phrases. Some of us aren’t as dumb as you’d think. But, I was the collection agency. I was the bank. I was the biased judicial system. I was the judge and I was the executioner. And proud of it. I’d do it again.

But at the same time I feel empty.

His name was Donald Larson and he was the chairman and CEO of a very successful bank in our town. They had four remote locations, owned a slew of strip malls, those sort of bland four-plexes that seem to pop up like weeds along the four-lane. Larson was the major owner, according to the obit, a family man, Christian, loved his family, and loved his work.

What a load of crap!

He loved money and he loved what money got him: status, friends, women. His widow, not just your ordinary trophy wife either, who apparently did love him more than he loved her, contested his will which gave about everything to his mistress. The widow got the house and a bit of a stipend for support along with a huge outstanding loan. The mistress got the beach house, most of the money, and even got the Corvette although the widow got a pound of revenge using a ball bat as best as she could on the ‘Vette. Apparently she didn’t know about the mistress. Good for her, the widow that is! I wanted to meet her and hold her and make her feel a little better but I’m not allowed to do that any more. Besides it probably not be good manners for the widow and her husband’s murderer to hug and share coffee. Not likely to happen with me now in prison. But, we girls got to stick together!

He was bossy. Rude. Unrewarding. I’d heard it was wise to keep out of arm’s length, too. He’d pinch your butt and then laugh. It was a wonder that anyone could work for him. But, in this economy you need the money so you do the time. I think he felt put upon that people would leave his employment for better wages and better benefits and better atmosphere. Like he just could not see that he was a class-A jerk. You had to wonder just how rotten he was and just how many other people were happy to see him dead and gone.

It only took a moment, too. Have you ever shot a 12-gauge? Kicks like a mule and the noise about broke my eardrums. Tears a right big hole in a man’s chest. The buckshot that missed ripped up a lot of wall and the hutch behind him. The post-mortem said the SOB was dead before he hit the ground. I don’t know if that’s possible but it sure sounds good.

Never mind that our son had more gunshot residue on him, than me, he standing off to the side. Never mind that there was only two distinct prints on the gun--my son’s and mine. But also, what I never quite realized was why Wilson kept a loaded shotgun in the broom closet next to the kitchen. It was too convenient I thought for a place to hide it from their son, too easy for someone like me to find it when his wife mentioned it one day.

I wasn’t happy that I killed him. It satisfied my need for revenge that the courts could not achieve. After he’d ruined my husband to the point of suicide, he wanted to shake hands and hug as if to sympathize and make things right. I refused. I tired to spit in his face but he realized what was about to happen and made his retreat.

But, the law is on the side of the rich. My husband was not rich. I’m not rich. The employees are not rich. Most of us feel fortunate to have income and a car and food and nice place to live. We don’t want to rock the boat, much. But he ruined my husband’s health. He killed my husband’s drive and spirit. He killed my husband. Donnie Larson could intimidate anyone: his wife, my husband, me, our boy, his boy!

Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. I fine with that. In this case, I think I just hurried the process along.

Monday, August 20, 2018

(writing exercise) Kill Fee

 “Enrique is a problem, I’ve heard.”

“You would be doing me a favor. Doing the association a favor. Any more of his craziness and the rest of us are out of business. You’re out of business, too. The cops’ll be sticking close to him. He’s gotten to be too much of a problem and they’re getting ready to take him.”

“It’ll have to be soon.”

They sat in a corner of a not-in-their-neighborhood neighborhood coffee house. The place was noisy with customers, the drive up window when it opened, the air-powered door bell at the drive up, and the expresso machine all going at once. The sun was bright in the windows and people ignored these two, facing each other, one on the sofa and the other across from the first, in a straight-back chair, or three of them if you noticed and counted the other man sitting at the other end of the sofa seemingly interested in his tea. This man, at the end of the sofa by himself, was slender looking but sat upright, alert, confident, and dangerous. The man at the other end, his boss, was moderately aged and sized, white shirt, tie, nice shoes, all the makings of a profitable business man. He was that, of course. The man sitting across from him, in the chair, was on the short, stocky side. Casual sport coat look. Cropped hair. No ex-military bearing at first glance. Cold eyes at second glance. Younger than either of the other two by fifteen years. His hands sat quietly in his lap. The boss spoke.

“I hear we have a couple of days, at most. In fact, I know we have only a couple of days. It’ll have to be quick. The cops are collecting everything for one hard push. Take down Enrique and have enough to keep him in jail until trial. Once they get the okay they’ll move within hours. There won’t be much warning.”

“He would run,” said the young man, Marco. “If anyone would panic and run, he would. I don’t see Enrique going down with the ship. His or anyone else’s.”

“He already has a plan. I know that much but I don’t know any details. Whether he gets bail or not, and I’m betting he will, he’s got a plan. The word is he’s already bought one of the judges. The cops even have his plane watched. I didn’t even know he had a plane. I don’t have a plane. How is it he’s got a plane? He’ll have to drive like hell to get anywhere from here. Or go to ground. But the after-effect will be that we --me and the rest of our friends-- will take on more accumulated heat. Time is important.”

It wasn’t important to add how he knew this. It was only important to emphasize he knew and express the right amount of urgency. Too much pleading and the price for the job would go up. Too little and he would be wasting a lot of money.

“He’ll be on his guard,” said Marco.

“Count on it. I suppose I don’t have to remind you to be professional. You always are. We want this retired cleanly. You’re the only one I can trust to do it. Let me amend that, you’re the only one I can trust to do it right. You’re the best because you’re good at it and you’re good at it ‘cause you stay calm and apart.”

Marco sat quietly and spoke quietly, when he spoke, as it wasn’t really necessary to say anything, almost as if he were disinterested. He was not not interested but entirely professional. Now, he looked out the window as a car approaching the drive-up window passed their window. It was good to know he was the association’s only hope. He wasn’t greedy but he wasn’t stupid either. This endeavor would take a mighty dose of courage and planning including an exit plan. A good plan, though, helped allay need for further courage. There really wasn’t a question about his kill fee. It would be whatever he said. Nor would it be too high or too low. The money would be nice. Marco had a stash for that future date when he, too, would have to run. It was the job. Done right, he would be used again and each time he would collect a handsome fee.

“Forty,” said Marco.

The boss’s eyebrows jumped up ever so slightly at that figure.

“I’m the one who takes the heat,” said Marco. “So far the cops don’t even know that I’m in town but once they do I won’t be able to spit without getting harassed. That’s even before the job. Afterwards, if they don’t know I’m here I can get out and away. If they find out I’m here I’ll have to go under myself.” He tapped his front teeth with a finger nail, thinking out loud.

The boss smiled, sipped his coffee as if to take his time about making a decision. The price had been less than what he collected from his business associates to do the job. Why not make a little on the side? As an administrative fee? A kill fee of his own?

“You, my friend, are worth the price.” He paused again, sipped his coffee again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

[writing exercise] “Before the Kill Fee”

The real problem was Enrique Donaldson’s continuing to cause trouble for the more comfortable and successful members of the business alliance. But the on-rushing Enrique had to keep pushing all this “new” product stuff and “up market” lingo until of course his profile began to enlarge and be noticed by the cops, at the irritation of the alliance. The boss sold off one of his distribution lines just to avoid a future confrontation with Enrique. But the boss was still the biggest operator in the city and the biggest target. A target for the cops and the impatient know-it-alls like Enrique. Enrique would have to go.

The problem, for the alliance, was “good” hit men did not grow on trees. Good meant reliable. Quiet. Professional. Knew when to not make the shot. There were plenty of trigger-happy wannabes. They were young, ex-military (they said), dishonorable discharges more likely, government drop outs, quick to show they could shoot and prove they possessed cojones but slow to show they had brains. Some couldn’t follow orders if they were drawn in crayon.

One of the newest guns, Billy-something-or-other, whacked a lower-level dealer who was holding back. It was as if Billy wanted to quickly show the upper management he could to the job. Billy did the job, okay, if wiping out the dealer was the only criteria, but got caught about two hours later and then pleaded guilty, which kept him out of a trial and away from the chair. Seeing him in court on the evenings news showed a stupid kid who thought he was a tough hombre slowly realizing he was going to spend the rest of his natural born life in prison.

Business all across town had taken a hit as well as did the dealers who ducked for cover while users scavenged for product. 

There hadn’t been a hit for another two years but it had taken two years for business to settle down and make money. Then, Enrique.

Not concerned that he was about to rip the business alliance apart, for he was never sure just how well he was a part of the alliance, Enrique Donaldson, a mid-level dealer with a good system and good supply, making more money then he had enough sense to know and appreciate, caught, he said, one of his bottom-level dealers skimming. How much and was it worth the wrath of the cops if this lower level part of the structure were erased were questions barely spoken aloud and of course not answered. The more higher-up suppliers never completely trusted the dealership and some internal leakage was expected. Too much and it had to be dealt with, usually with a stern talking to, following by a usually more effective visit from the muscle.

Enrique had gone right to the dealer, a poor kid, black, living at home with his invalid mom, a story ready made for the hearts and minds of all other poor people, and in front of the kid’s mom pulled the trigger, as if thinking maybe by word of mouth his potency would be enhanced. The old woman was under some heavy sedation and not much use to the cops but the neighbors had been more than helpful and cops pretty much knew who pulled trigger except of course Enrique’s driver, a skinny, stupid ex-crack addict by the name of Reynolds Something or Something Reynolds was in the apartment, too, which made knowing who exactly shot the kid a tough call to make.

Either way, Enrique would have to go.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Diners and Dinners

One Year’s Eating Out Adventures (totally unscripted). If they’re on this list they’re worth checking out. But, not being on this list is not important. There is only so much time and so much food a person can eat! Most are within the vicinity of Johnson City. No national chains. Those without a date are from the original posting.

Moe’s BBQ (located in JOCY and Asheville)
Pilot Hill General Store, (Limestone, Tenn.)
Firehouse BBQ (on Walnut Street towards downtown from campus)
Phil’s Dream Pit (at the Eastern Star exit off I-26 between JOCY and Kingsport)
Carolina Barbeque (Newland, N.C.)
Heartwood Visitor's Center (Abingdon, Va. updated 6/14/18)
Bob's Dairyland (Roan Mtn., Tenn. updated 6/14/18)

Hot Dogs:
JC Cardinal Park
Joe O'Brien Stadium (Elizabethton Twins)

Burger / General Fare places:
Burger Bar (at the Hilton Hotel in JOCY)
Burger Hut (across from the Elizabethton Airport)
Mid-City Grill (in JOCY across from the Farmer’s Market Pavilion)
Burger Bar (in Bristol, Va. not Bristol, Tenn.)
Sharp’s Deli (Market Street in downtown JOCY) closed

Rodie’s Parkway Restaurant, (Glendale Springs, N.C.)
One Acre Cafe (Walnut Street, JOCY)
Kosher Pickle (Bristol Highway, below Winged Deer Park, JOCY)
Eatz on Moore Street (Bristol, Va., next to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum updated 11/7/18)
Jack's Grill (north Roan St at the Mall, JOCY updated 1/4/19) closed
Southern Restaurant (Elk Avenue, Elizabethton update 5/18/19)
Clarence's Drive-In (currently in Unicoi moving to Erwin, Tenn. updated 1/5/19)
South Holston Ruritan Annual Bean Soup Dinner (last Saturday in January, since 1955, updated 1/27/19)
Cootie Brown's (north Roan, JOCY, updated 3/9/19)
Kiwanis Spaghetti Dinner Jonesborough Middle School (updated 3/9/19)

Local Italian (more than just pizza) and/or Mid-East:
Portobello’s (at Kroger’s east of campus)
Crazy Tomato (Princeton Road, other side of I-26 from the mall)
Johnnie Brusco’s (north JOCY, across from the mall)

Boonies (aka Davis Dock, on Boone Lake, Bluff City, Tenn.)
Limestone Ruritan (Limestone, Tenn.)
Harbor House (north Roan JOCY update 1/5/19)

Doughnuts / Bakery / Dedicated Breakfast:
Coffee Company (Elk Avenue, Elizabethton updated 5/18/19)
Zazzy's (200 block of East Main at Deadmore Street, Abingdon, Va. updated 3/18/19)
Sunshine Doughnuts (in JOCY near campus)
Blackbird Bakery (up the street from Burger Bar in Bristol, Va.)
Hale Community Ruritan (Hale Community, Tenn.)
Limestone Ruritan (Limestone, Tenn.) (the only duplicate listed)