A Human By Any Other Name (part 2)

Last time I promised a follow-up to my blog about race. And, I did write it, multiple times. See, I started running into a problem. That problem was that I was trying to choose my words carefully and make everything sound pretty, superficially at least. In doing so, what I was writing became disingenuous to my original goal of having an honest revelation of the conflictions that I have when it comes to my thoughts on race. Continue reading

Watch Out For Crumbs

Just as a quick update,  Owen Adams, and I have started a hilarious new podcast. We’re mostly focusing on pop culture, but we’ve already explored a few other topics.

Come join us for our Trans-Atlantic discussion of irreverent things.

The podcast is called Those Aren’t Biscuits

A Human By Any Other Name

You don’t need anyone to tell you this, especially not some random guy with no extra initials at the end of his name. It’s all over whatever preferred media consumption route you take. It’s troubling, it’s confusing, it’s frustrating and honestly, at times it’s annoying. As if it was on a schedule and refuses to be anything other than prompt, race once again has been thrust into the spotlight. For some, it never went away. Yet for others, I include myself in this group, it’s a topic that tends to go away after awhile. This time though, before it possibly fades away into the background, can we afford to ignore the opportunity to be honest with ourselves and really come to terms with our own opinions on race? Continue reading

Through Ring And Root A Task Is Done

I’ve come to believe that the motivation that drives me is one born from a desire to understand, as I’ve most likely stated here before. I suppose I’m not unique, it seems that at the essence of all things there’s a search for something that might answer a question or two. But, if one of those things can’t be found, perhaps an analogy or parable will suffice. It’s with great joy that I say that I might just have found that long sought after metaphor that can explain at the very least a splinter of these years. Continue reading

Good Boy (A Short Story)

“He’s a good boy.”

“Oh I sure he is.”

There were certain lines that were always spoken when people dropped their dogs off at Kara’s. She had been offering up her land and hours for dog sitting for a long time. It helped the retirement years pass by.

“”So where are you folks going?”

“My husband is taking us up north, a week on the lake.”

“Oh. They don’t allow dogs up there?”

“Ya know, I’m not really sure. He took care of everything. It’s kind of weird though, those two are normally joined at the hip. They have a bond.” The wife said, gesturing towards her car, husband and two children before motioning towards the dog.

Then, there were lines that were not so common.

“Well, you all have a good vacation, Lenny will have a great time here.”

The border collie sat patiently by Kara’s side, uninterested in pulling on his leather leash. His ears hung a little lower and small whimpers escaped with every third breath.

“Aw, it’ll be alright boy, they’ll be back before you know it.” Kara said.

The dog didn’t move right away after the leash had been removed. It took the temptation of a family of rabbits to bring movement back to the dog’s legs.

Lenny chased the rabbits. The dog’s long strides posed no threat to the small creatures, just a bit of a scare. There was glee though, even a bit of old fashioned American whimsey.

The agreed duration was to be one week. Kara had plenty of food, but was surprised at how much Lenny ate. She didn’t mind though, after just two days she had become used to the routine. A bowl in the morning, then an hour outside where Lenny would pick up the rabbit chase again. Another bowl in the afternoon then a nap in the sun. One more at night and then wrapping everything up with evening T.V. dramas.

The fourth day brought a change. After the morning chow Lenny made his way outside but remained on the large porch. The rabbits bounced in the yard, but their frolicking provoked no obvious reaction from the dog.

Kara watched as Lenny rested. He didn’t sleep, his eyes were wide and clear. They watched the rabbits. Each movement giving birth to a twitch in Lenny’s transfixed irises.

“Go play.” Kara urged.

The dog responded with only a guttural noise formed deep in his chest, like the noise that came from polished wood warping under strain.

The afternoon nap had lost it’s peacefulness by the fifth day. The gentle snores had been replaced by whimpers and frantic jerks in Lenny’s limbs. Kara had seen dogs do this before, she always assumed that they were fantasizing about running or chasing. Yet, after Lenny’s abandonment of this activity it felt more like he wasn’t experiencing his dreams but was being afflicted by them.

The sixth day had stolen the evening hours in front of the T.V. Kara took her place, but Lenny didn’t join her. He instead took position with a view outside.

Kara had long since grown bored of the sensations the night had to offer. Lenny though, was fascinated with what it had to offer. Every ghost, spectre, horrific intention and dark thought captivated the border collie. They invited him, with spindly fingers of bark.

The morning of Lenny’s final day came slowly on grey autumn skies. Kara called for him but heard no skittering of nails on the wooden floors. She didn’t search long before she discovered the open door leading to the porch.

There she became witness to the inevitable conclusion of the dog’s stay.

Laid out before her in an organized display was an offering she never dreamed of demanding. The family of rabbits, slain. Their bodies were torn in rigid strips. The insides remained intact save for the bits consumed not by hunger but by destruction.

Their heads were left undamaged. Their final expressions cemented in death. Their eyes glassy in pain and their mouths frozen in violent screams of betrayal.

Lenny laid nearby, unashamed of the blood still on his jowls and teeth. He stared at the fruits of his labor. Pride rose in his belly, with calm breaths.

The air was still and quiet. There was no rumble or a dust cloud of a coming family car. Kara knew that it would never come.

The demon now roamed up north, by a lake. But there, on Kara’s land, it’s soul rested in the yellowing grass.

Dedication (A Short Story)

radio

Dedication

The medium was on its way out. All the producers knew it, the technicians had foreseen it, the only ones who seemed to ignore the coming death were the disc jockeys and their faithful. It seemed like there was just no room for curation anymore. People wanted to forge their own paths and there were more than enough who couldn’t blame them.

There were a few voices left with the power to captivate. They were the horns calling out to the future, reminding it that there was indeed a past. Ronald Brown still had the numbers to justify a nationally broadcasted show. His listeners knew him as Ronnie Ricochet. He couldn’t remember when he started to hate the pseudonym, by his estimate it was around the time his career transformed from creating music to pushing the notes of others.

It was shaping up to be a passable show. Nothing exploded in the control room and the dead air was kept to a minimum. This wouldn’t have been anything of note had the standards for the night hadn’t been lowered to accommodate the unveiling of the “E-mail request system”.

Ronnie admittedly had been the one holding back the system for so long. He had watched some of the younger staff members use the internet and he wasn’t keen on having that vitriol spill in his studio. Eventually his levee was bypassed completely by the higher-ups and he was forced to prepare for the waters. He was surprised by how plain the first few requests were.

“This is James from Toledo, I’d really like to hear Grandfunk Railroad.”

“Patrick here, It’d be awesome if you could play Van Halen.”

Most of the requests were like that. Ronnie had figured that without the fear of hearing their own voice over the radio, the people would seize on the opportunity to be creative. After a dozen or so of those, he began to pray for the vulgarity, the slurs, the insults he had originally expected.

The final hour of the show had just begun when Ronnie decided to take another look at the screen in front of him.

“I don’t know how long it takes for these to get through, I hope I’m back on the road by then. I’m sitting in a truck stop outside of Cheyenne right now. There’s a waitress here. pouring coffee for the lonely, she hasn’t missed a single one, except herself. She wants out of here, I just know it. Here eyes keep drifting out towards the nearest exit. She wants that road more than anything. I’m afraid she’ll never hear this song, so I must be her ears. For her, please play Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen.”

Ronnie’s slouching eyelids found a new posture. His eyes ran through the request over and over again before he gave them a voice over the air. As the song played on and he prepared the next segment, he realized he knew that waitress. Except she wasn’t in Cheyenne. She tended to the late night travellers at a bar in Albany. She also never cared for Springsteen, Bob Seger was her chauffeur of choice.

A couple nights went by with no requests worthy of being remembered. Ronnie was beginning to fear that he had been struck by lightning that believed too much in old sayings, when another came in.

“First i want to thank you for fulfilling my request. I’m sure that waitress would thank you too if she ever heard it. I’m at a bit of a crossroads right now. I’ve made it to Carson City, and I have no idea where to go next. If I hadn’t forgotten why I started this trip I could probably figure it out. But I’ve seen so many yellow lines and green signs that I can’t remember now. Or I don’t want to. I’d like to think that I was desperate for freedom. That I wanted to capture whatever Kerouac did back then, just a taste. But, I don’t think that’s why I left home. Help me figure it out, please play A Day In The Life by The Beatles. Maybe I too can find a way to piece together everything into something coherent.”

The people at the radio station who didn’t put their voice to the microphone joked about this person’s sanity. On the thinnest shell that most saw, there was a bit of insanity to be seen. Yet Ronnie knew that this person had a perfectly fine grasp on reality. He had been at that intersection himself. His last release didn’t even come close to charting. The critics said he was rehashing everything he had already done. They made claims that he was going to ride out the rest of his life singing the same songs in venues less and less grand with every passing year. That outcome didn’t seem so bad, but the pride to make them all wrong was strong. He never performed again after taking his first radio gig.

The sun was beginning to rise when Ronnie reached his front door. The email request was still spinning around like a 45 set on 33 speed, as he pushed open the door. The royalties from his old career combined with his regular pay for the radio allowed him to live a little better than modest. The furniture was limited and cheap but, the memorabilia from a life in the music industry was vast.

Concert promotions covered his walls like Americana wallpaper. There was no real order to the way they were laid out. But having the advertisement for Stevie Ray Vaughan’s final show next to one for Woodstock ‘99 suggested he had a morbid streak. The genres and performers depicted spanned the entirety of music. The only one’s missing were his own. In fact, there were no pictures of himself at all in the house, except for one.

He shuffled his way to his bedroom. Next to his bed on the nightstand was a single picture. A polaroid he had framed. It looked silly sitting in there with enough space to add at least two more pictures. The photo depicted himself and his band after a particularly successful show. They were lined up along the counter of a diner. The ecstasy of making teenagers dance and fall in love mixed in their eyes with sleepiness and the wear of a long tour.

For the first time in a number of months Ronnie had lost track of, he grabbed the frame and looked at it’s contents. A small grin crept from the corner of his mouth as he took in his own youthfulness. He stifled a little laugh as he remembered what it was like to wear the clothes they were wearing without any sense of irony. Then his eyes moved to the upper right hand corner of the picture, like they always did.

She had no idea the photo was being taken. She was too wrapped up in pouring a cup of coffee for another unknown addition to the picture. Her hair was pulled back tightly and even though the picture didn’t capture it, Ronnie remembered the lightness of her makeup. Just enough to cover the bags under her eyes, at least to a casual observer.

Ronnie slumped into his chair as he played Baba O’Riley again.  He had memorized every note and break in the song decades before. Sometimes he’d still tell the story of how he jammed with Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle in Milwaukee once. But, he knew that the interns were just as tired of the story as he was of the song.

“Hey Ronnie, there’s another one of those requests from that maniac.” A voice said from behind the glass.

“I met a girl the other day. She wasn’t a waitress, she was a kindergarten teacher. She told me that she loved her job and the kids she taught. That didn’t explain why she was in Durango though. She asked me what had brought me here. I had remembered a few hundred miles ago, but I lied anyways. I told her that I was on vacation. The truth is I’ve never been more restless. I think she knew I wasn’t telling the truth, it might be why she spent the night with me, hoping to get something more out of me. Sorry, I’m rambling again. Can you play “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” By The Rolling Stones?”

Ronnie loaded up the song and prepared to tune out another song he was tired of.

“I finally admitted to why I’m on this trip, I knew I would, I just didn’t think it’d be in Arizona. She said she needed someone who had been farther than the outskirts of town. Someone who could tell stories of places she had never been to. She needed to have her imagination stoked. I never bothered to ask why she didn’t just go herself,or why she would need me to tell her about the world. I just left. There were times when I thought that I had seen enough, that I had more than enough to stoke her fire forever but I just kept going, to be safe. Eventually I guess I just forgot to go back at all. Now, I’m afraid it may be too late. Now I have stories I can’t tell her. I want to go home. I just don’t know if I have enough for her yet. Can you please play “As Long As I Can See The Light” by Creedence Clearwater Revival?”  

The people behind the studio glass shared looks as they listened to Ronnie read the request. Across the country his listeners raised eyebrows and shot glances towards their travelling companions. The casual listeners became active as the mystery man’s words were relayed.

Ronnie’s voice had begun to dip halfway through the request. It even bordered on mumbling through parts of it. He was no longer speaking to his audience but something beyond them. As if the low frequency he was offering could slip past the static of decades, past the progression of technology, past the fleeting moments, and beyond the walls of obligation and duty.

For the remainder of the show, the producers discussed contingency if Ronnie slipped again. A longing DJ, didn’t make for good radio. Their plans never saw the light of day though, he bounced back as if nothing had happened. The rest of the show was carried by his normal inflections and vocal tics.

The next day though, Ronnie never showed up for work. They still put a show together, piecing together clips from past shows. The day after that was the same and suddenly worry began to spread through the radio studio. Calls were made but were left unanswered. A quick replacement was found to finish up the week. He did surprisingly well.

Ronnie didn’t hear any of it though. He kept his radio off the whole trip to Albany.  

The Final Tidbits (9/3/2014)

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. Honestly, I’ve had these last stories finished for awhile now. I had some big ideas for them, yet as the days went on and I never could make good on my own plans these have become a burden. So, for the sake of starting fresh and drawing things to a close, here they are. In case this is your first visit here, these stories are the conclusion and epilogue of an ongoing series. The pieces of this tale were part of a feature called Tidbit Thursdays. the first part of this is here.

 

I Couldn’t Listen To It Again

There was no more anger, no more frustration. The questions were gone as well, whatever Peter could reveal just didn’t seem to matter anymore. Everything he knew was tainted by the one piece of information he didn’t have.

She was no longer impressed with the large stone room that led to Peter’s sanctuary. She remembered thinking about how much it looked like a cathedral that had been gutted of all it’s carved images and idols.  But now it was just hollow. Any similarity to something holy or spiritual had been replaced by thoughts of vanity and failure.

A man stood outside the large door that would lead to the person who held her quest within himself. His eyes were heavy, as if he had spent his entire life staring at the opposing entrance, waiting for any sort of visitor. She knew that in his mind, he had done just that. Yet, unlike someone else who had finally found purpose, his expression didn’t change when she approached.

“Hello.” He said.

“Hello.”

“My name is Craig, I imagine you’re here to see Peter.”

She nodded.

He turned and pressed his hands against the door that stretched all the way to the ceiling. She had hoped that just once, like everything else, this scenario would have been set somewhere else. If only to perhaps give Craig an easier portal to open. But this scene played out just like the other ones. She wondered why this room remained, while everything else was in flux.

Beyond the door was another massive room. A set of three stairs that ran the width of the room led up to a plateau. On the platform a solitary desk sat and behind that, another man.

The years, far more than possible, had taken some amount of a toll on his face. It was clear that he had been and in ways, still was, handsome. Sandy hair and a face covered in begging innocence. She felt as if she should apologize to him, as if he deserved it somehow. It was finally clear that this man had a power, a reason why the universe would bend around him. It wasn’t a coincidence or random set of events and decisions. He made it all happen.

“Welcome. I’m glad you’ve made it this far.” Peter said.

“You really have no idea.”

“Oh, I know you’ve come a long way. I also know you have questions for me.”

“Not as many as I used to.”

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry, that’s not true. I actually don’t have any questions for you, only accusations.”

Peter shifted on the old worn couch. His hands fell onto the scratchy flower print fabric. The yellow cord that was interwoven in a brass chain glowed under the light of the faux silver light fixture overhead.

She smiled at this, she hadn’t expected things to happen the way they were. Apparently Rhys had taken notice of the exchange. It wasn’t playing out the way it had before. It was a mistake and like all the other discrepancies he had discovered since Peter’s child created him, he set out to fix it.

Peter was oblivious to time warping around him, the walls shifting, growing, shrinking, and changing.  His movements were strange and uneasy as he attempted to interact with the world around him as if he had always been there. But it was changing too fast.

The couch slipped away into a wooden chair with an excess of lathework. The paneling on the walls twisted into tan swirls of plaster and peeled away wallpaper. The chandelier stretched and grew until it was a primitive piece, nothing but wrought iron and untreated wood, holding open flames.

“You can’t see it Peter. You’re blind to everything. It’s all in flux now and it’s all because of you. Not because your brother disappeared, he never existed in the first place. It’s easy to blame your son’s creation, the A.I. who became so powerful and so confused, but that’s just a byproduct of your failures. It was a response to a child’s loneliness, an eventuality that was forced into existence because the right choice wasn’t made.”

By the time she finished speaking, the sky had become exposed and flipped through at least twenty cycles. The atmosphere had changed composition just as many times.

“Then…I…must…be…changed.” Peter said, fighting through his rapidly changing consciousness.

“No, that doesn’t work either. I’ve tried. I destroyed lives that had the misfortune of playing rolls, large and small, in your life. It didn’t change anything.” She said.

The land continued to change, going farther than even she had seen. Visions of planes, whose details were without definitions yet would remain deep inside waiting to return to whatever dreamer remained after her final task was complete.

“What…will…you…do?”

“I’m going to give you a choice. One that never existed in your life and hope that you have the ability to choose a better way.  Even though you have proven to me time and again that you will do everything in your power to make this outcome happen, I have faith that you will succeed this one time.”

“Why…tell…me…this.”

She didn’t have an easy answer for Peter’s question. She herself had wondered why she wanted this final confrontation to happen. She couldn’t even convince herself completely that this version of Peter would still exist somewhere out there. Her best guess was vindictiveness. Even if he might not have much longer to exist, she wanted him to know that it was his fault and that he had been wrong so many times. She needed him to realize that his inability to see the faults in the webs he had woven had trapped her into seeing the end of the world play out in front of her in ways she didn’t realize was possible.

“I don’t know. Now, you might understand what it’s like to have your fate decided by someone who doesn’t know.”

She turned away and began to leave. She could hear Peter call out to her, asking more questions, trying to exact some sort of control in his final moments. He still didn’t seem to grasp the truth that he had control the entire time, he just never asserted it when it mattered.

She passed by Craig who seemed to be afflicted by the same shifting reality that Peter had been. As she laid her hands on the door that would lead to whatever world Rhys wanted his demise to occur in, she stopped and turned towards Craig.

“He loved you, I’m sure of it.” She said.

Her hand turned the knob and she walked into the midst of party goers, celebrating at the beach.

***

Epilogue

His Name, Her Choice, Their World

They were happy. The stereotype said that the smiles on their faces should’ve been painted on, but they were genuine. The laughter was full of warmth and used in appropriate quantities for the jokes being told. Other than its place in a series of events it couldn’t possibly know about, the seaside party was a joyful occasion.

As she passed by the attendees, her silver tray steady on her bent hand, she picked up bits of conversation. She wasn’t sure what she expected to hear, but what did reach her ears wasn’t it. There were no talks of corporate maneuvers that would increase profit margin yet destroy so many lives. Yachts, expensive cars, private schools, none of these subjects entered into the dialogue. They spoke of their families. They reminisced about times gone by yet still cherished.

“He’s already up there.” A familiar voice said.

She turned to find a detective, a creation, something artificial.

“Rhys.: She said.

“Did you not think I’d be here for this?”

“I was hoping you wouldn’t.”

“Don’t be afraid. I want you to finish this. The time has come, I tried and I failed.”

“It’s not your fault. You were just doing what you were programed to do. What his child wanted you to do: Fix it all.”

“I suppose you’re right. But I was doomed from the start. I could change realities, shuffle lives around the infinite span of time I just couldn’t change his heart. You can, or more specifically, what will be inside you.”

“So you know my plan. Will it work?”

“Time will tell.”

She turned and began her trek up the hill.

The house was nice. The same walls she had seen before. There were no chalk drawings this time though. Just plain concrete. They would be decorated eventually, hopefully by different images though.

The baby squirmed in her arms as she moved.

“Did you give him a name?” Rhys asked.

“No, why would I?”

“Regardless of the life your son will have after you’re gone, he’s still yours.”

She looked down at the infant. His cheeks pink and full, his eyes a mossy green.

“I’ll have to think about it. It’s hard enough to do this.”  

“Right, I’m sorry.”

She smiled at the A.I. she wasn’t sure if he’d understand the sentiment. He had shown the capacity for nuanced emotion, but the extent of his knowledge was unknown to her.

“When did you realize what I was?” Rhys asked.

“Shortly after meeting you at that bar. You showed your hand a little too much. It didn’t match up. It was as if everything was pieced together by something that thought it had a grasp on how to build a world.”

“I did get better at it.” Rhys said.

Rhys walked past her towards the door. It was then she noticed he held a basket in his hands. A basket that wasn’t there when their conversation began.

“You’ll need this.”

It was a woven creation. Just wicker and a few strands of string. Yet, she knew that he was right when he said that his ability to create things had improved.

“Did you ever wonder why you were tasked with this endeavor?” Rhys asked.

“I did at first. Then I decided that I was just some glitch in a spiraling randomness.”

“No, it was because I loved you.”

“What?”

“I have been in this chaos for far longer than you. Far longer than you could possibly comprehend. Don’t feel bad about that, it’s knowledge you wouldn’t want. But as I kept pulling at strings, there was something I noticed. No matter what sort of sky sprawled out above, no matter what events were current, humans found a way to love something. So, I decided that I would love as well.”

“I’m so-”

“Don’t be. It’s better this way. It’s more, romantic I suppose.”

“Rhys, you know this is the end right?”

“Of course. Now go.”

The garden had been planned and constructed. It was still a bit too early for the planting to begin, yet there was a beauty to the brown plots of dirt. She figured that it was possibility that gave the empty soil it’s appeal.

She heard the young woman approach from the base of the hill that led up to the plateau the garden was situated.

“Ms.-”

“Please, class is out, you can call me Lilith.”

“Lilith, um, I was wondering if there was anything I could do over spring break for extra credit.”

“Why? You have almost a perfect grade right now.”

“It’s just, I don’t know, thought maybe I’d get ahead.”

“Go. Have yourself an adventure, Do something crazy. That’s your assignment.”

“I’ve never really been good at crazy.”

“There will always be gardens. A thousand years in the future, something will still grow from the dirt. Which means you have plenty of time to study it. But the amount of time you have to grow that thing inside you that will allow you to make the right decision when the time comes is limited.”

“That, makes sense. Somehow, you must be a good mother.”

:Lilith looked at her student, an eyebrow raised.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I just assumed you had children.”

“It’s okay. Yes, I have a son.”

“What’s his name?”

“Rhys. Now go I think I saw some of your classmates still in your dorm’s parking lot.”

Lilith watched as her student walked away. She was curious if she would take her advice. Although, it most likely didn’t matter. By the next time Spring rolled around there’d be new chances to make the right decision.

Come next Spring.