Saturday, September 16, 2017

Off Hand

“Oops, hey, could you hand me that,” he said so calmly with the impeccable, intentional pun. The fellow industrial employee, donning a clever set of overalls, had a stricken look on his face. He bent over to retrieve the item that had landed on the metal grate-like 3-foot narrow suspended walkway. The item was the first’s severed hand.

Picking it up by the thumb, the only part not twitching, he handed it up to his short-handed colleague. It was a large hand with a surprisingly clean cut. The first guy, Woodward, grabbed the hand, politely said, “Thanks” then promptly passed out.

In his collapse he inadvertently propelled the loose hand in a regrettable trajectory landing directly into the now operable industrial compactor. He had been doing regularly scheduled maintenance on the machine and had it working perfectly a few moments too soon. It resulted in the hand being lopped off. In his vast experience-induced overconfidence he had neglected to follow proper lock-in-tag-out safety protocol. [Remove the key to disable the machine before maintenance starts, then install key once completed to restore functionality.] He’d been doing this work for years and felt an unnatural connection with the machinery thinking they would never harm him. Oh well, he won’t do that again.

He was delivered quickly to the hospital. The factory’s loss control manager had called in advance and provided every detail before the medical staff could even ask. The manager, like Woodward, also had vast experience. This kind, however, yielded a cool head and he performed at the top of his game. This exquisite efficiency commingled with the fantastical odds of a recent hand donor on hand [well, the hand, at least, the donor having expired only hours before] had the medical staff immediately prepared for a hand transplant procedure upon the handless gentleman’s arrival.

Woodward was groggy, but well understood the grim circumstances and gravity of the doctor’s query.

“We have a hand, just by chance, ready to be installed. You’re in luck, it is a right hand like the one you’re missing. Would you like us to go forward with the procedure? We can start right away.”

“Yes, yes, please. Thank you, doctor,” came his effusive reply. And so the trouble commenced.

Woodward was a 42-year old 240-pound athletic male. The hand donor had been a 16-year old female of slight build. After the transplant his left and right hands did not match. The two were in visible and glaring opposition. His hairy right forearm met his cute little hairless right hand with a line of demarcation as abrupt and distinct as a colored map designating the borders between two countries.

The first few months after the transplant he would hardly leave the house, aside from his therapy sessions, out of fear of having to explain the embarrassingly dissimilar appendages. There was a professional liability lawsuit against the doctor, naturally, but this was mere background noise to him and his new reality. Eventually, though, he had to get on with his life. Go on, yes, but with modifications.

He stopped shaking hands when greeting people, although his closest pals would insist upon a shake, and frequently. He good naturedly abided the close friends, all others would be met with hand in pocket. He changed from being right-handed to left-handed and, boy, was his new writing atrociously sloppy. He now wore his watch on his left wrist so he’d not have to look at that hand or the bottleneck of the forearm matching up with the tiny effeminate hand. He stopped playing softball because his ineffectively diminutive new hand had difficulty grasping the softball and winging it accurately across the baseball diamond from third base with any velocity.

Driving was another source of frustration. It bothered him to see his hands at 9 and 3 on the steering wheel with the painful difference between the two. He came to prefer wearing gloves while driving, but glove wearing came with its own set of problems. One glove was always too tight or too loose depending on the hand. The idea of buying two pairs of different sized gloves only to throw away one of each was even more infuriating.

Despite these mental drains there was some degree of upside to possessing a smaller hand. If he were to drop something in the car between the driver’s seat and center console, for example, the smaller right hand could more easily resolve the issue of fishing it out from the crevice. In the past this task had often rendered him, with his original pair of beefy hands, into an angry mess unsuccessfully trying to work his large hands into tight confines to no affect. Present day, a mere inconvenience with his slender right hand reaching the target without difficulty.

The one precious development was his infant daughter’s reaction to the new hand. She was in middle school and getting to be a ‘big girl.’ She wanted her independence and the days had become scarce when she willingly held Woodward’s hand walking to school. Since the hand transplant, though, his daughter took a renewed interest. ‘Give me your girl hand,’ she’d often say matter of factly on their approach to the school’s entrance. She liked the smaller, more comfortable hand than his oversized male hand that nearly envelope her own. The ‘girl hand’ was softer and more her size. He would give away nearly anything to reverse the effects of the accident, but this recurring hand-holding allowance rejuvenated his spirits and provided a momentary reprieve from the anguish. He’d walk back to the car with both hands seeing the light of day, not thinking that the girl hand should be quickly shoved into his pocket where nobody could see.

He came to treat it different than the left. The left hand was his brute force or filth hand. It was employed for such tasks as opening a tight jar of pickles, using a thumb nail as a flat head screw driver or reaching in to clean out the rain gutters. The right was his precision hand called into duty to remove a splinter in the absence of tweezers or to retrieve the desired pickle from above mentioned pickle jar.

His right hand remained softer and more delicate through the balance of his days. The malpractice lawsuit against the doctor raged on. He got on with his life.

Monday, August 28, 2017


The family of four had spent a three-day weekend up the coast. Hiking the blooming hills in the morning then seaglassing on the beach in the afternoons had been the focus. The car was packed and they sought a meal before the four-hour trek home. It took not long to find the quaint little breakfast shop two blocks off the town’s main road.

They were seated near the front window, the bright Sunday morning sunlight shown like a spotlight on their table. The waitress provided menus and water then returned shortly afterwards to retrieve meal orders. As the four made chit chat about the weekends’ highlights, he noticed movement on the rim of the small white ceramic condiment bowl in the center of the table. It would have been the cutest little thing, given different circumstances, but here, now, it was an ominous beckoning. An inchworm, tiny and the most refreshing light green of a new lawn or of a mossy Irish landscape adjacent to a chilly waterfall. Its back inching up and down as it moved along the rim around the entire bowl. It was a trip destined to have no end but the worm did not know this. Nor did it know that it had been spotted. Nor, also, that it had spoiled the meal’s enjoyment for the fellow.

He observed the worm, knew not by what means the worm had come to this precarious position and its perpetual circular course. The guy had instantly made the decision that he would not consume the jellies in the inchworm’s bowl. Additionally, with the cloud of uncleanliness cast at the existence of the worm, he needed to decide on a more serious issue. Would he dare test the untidiness of the syrup dispensers? Laughable idea, of course not, he'd eat the soon-to-arrive pancakes dry.

The meal arrived, looked delicious, and he commenced consumption plain. Affirmative, a plate of three hot cakes eaten with nothing. The options of syrup, compote and jams were all unflinchingly negated.

“Don’t you want syrup,” asked his Sweet Pea.

Wanting not to spoil everyone else’s dining experience he said, “No thanks” making no reference to the worm. Although, he found it difficult to understand how nobody else had seen it. It was right there!

The son, sensing something was askew based on his father’s odd, though not unprecedented, behavior also opted to eat his pancakes dry.

“I don’t know what’s up with you two,” she said at a loss. From the son’s perspective, neither did he. The father, he loved his bride very much. This is the one that made his world a delight.

The breakfast was tasty, the weather was just right and the early stretch of the drive home would have an ocean view. Not too shabby, despite the worm.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Unlikely Saviors

They had come from the outer reaches of outer space. They were small, the aliens, not at all physically intimidating. They were hairless creatures of an attractive forest green wearing no clothing, nor ornamentation. They were distinguishable from one another by shapes, sizes, facial features and blemishes on their bare exposed bodies. The dimensions of full grown aliens ranged from the size of a four-foot tall child to as small as a one-foot stuffed doll. They looked harmless, benign and seemingly content like a child occupied with the task of consuming a large chocolate chip milk shake.

There had been an initial stage of human trepidation upon the aliens’ arrival with much discussion about what to do about them. Nearly a year, in fact, of heated discussion raged about whether or not to fight and eradicate the aliens from the earth. Discussion continued until their gift unto the human race. At the height of the human argumentation the aliens revealed a new clean energy technology that was far more efficient than the best technology known to man. That’s when all talk of their annihilation ceased. Well, there remained a few outliers still calling for caution, but their voices were largely drowned out. It was not until the U.S. Presidential gala that the aliens’ true intent came to light.

During the ceremony’s practice dress walk-through the aliens took action. With no outward show of anger, no words spoken, no weapons visibly employed, the vaporization commenced. Most humans present were vaporized, not all of them, not the president, but many people, most, in fact.

The offensive lasted less than a minute. The president remained unscathed, but his aids and security, and numerous elected officials had been unceremoniously dispatched. Nothing remained of them. It was a very clean attack! The president was alone and shaken. What could compete with this kind of firepower? What kind of weapon was capable of such destruction without even visible hardware of a weapon?

In total disbelief and feeling of defeat, the president sought a quiet place to collect himself. He wanted to be able to convey the proper demeanor and message when a TV announcement would ultimately be required. He opened a door into a small study, he just wanted to sit for a few minutes out of sight. The room had dark wood panels lining the walls, curtains were drawn shut, a single low wattage lamp was alit on an end table. Three cats were leisurely strung out on a chair and sofa. They were unconcerned about the commotion. They looked almost pleased, if such a creature is capable of experiencing pleasure.

An alien entered the room, closed the door behind itself and was about to communicate with the president. The president turned to face his aggressor just in time to see the nearest cat jump, land on the alien and consume it whole! Astonishing! It had been one of the four-foot tall aliens, the lead alien, and was consumed in its entirety in a matter of seconds. It seemed the aliens had no bones, tendons, or anything, apparently, requiring chewing. Their density was deceptively overstated much like chocolate covered marshmallows. The president was baffled. Also confused, but mostly ecstatic with this development. He wasn’t sure what would happen next, but he liked the possibilities. Being a man of action he opened the door and issued a single sweeping motion with his arm for the felines to exit the room. The three felines entered the banquet hall with the eagerness of grade-school humans being offered an endless supply of ice cream. The cats went to town, so to speak. They were ravenous and insatiable in their consumption of the aliens, equally as clean as the aliens’ prior vaporization attack.

The cats were more numerous now as the president reentered the banquet hall, possibly local feral cats or domestics from neighboring abodes. There were dozens of cats now racing about in a feeding frenzy. They must have been somehow immune to the vaporizing experienced by the distinguished humans. The aliens were fleeing but their effort was entirely unsuccessful as they were fully incapable of hustle.

A few people were now peeking out from behind drapes, overturned tables, a bartender was filming the action from behind the bar with her mobile phone held up high over the counter top to record the decimation. A television news report was being broadcast from Asia showing cats on the attack and aliens on the losing end of their retreat. Cats had saved the world!

[Based on a dream that was definitely inspired by my daughter’s fondness for cats.]

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Political Thoughts

·      I believe in global climate change. After all, the climate’s been changing under its own volition since well before mankind started walking upright. I also believe we are in a global warming phase but do not subscribe to the related catastrophic fears. For millions of years the climate has cycled from hot to cold and back again. The idea that it’s now locked perpetually into a temperature increase illogically defies the pattern set over millions of years.

·      Inequality as a call to action is misguided. A successful war against inequality would merely lower the median toward the lowest common denominator, not raise it toward the highest. Instead, the goal should be to build wealth and let everyone buoy their position.

·      Capitalism, the free market economic system, is the greatest tool ever invented to build wealth for the masses. Around the world poverty rages where capitalism is not practiced.

·      A reliable source of energy is required to help poverty-stricken people grow beyond the bounds of poverty. This observation is easily substantiated by the fact that the poorest nations are often those where the citizens are without a reliable energy source.

·      Solar energy has its place in the 21st century. Its uses are currently limited because it is not yet reliable enough or potent enough for industrial-scale use like energizing a factory, hospital or a 21st century economy. It can, however, be a viable niche energy source for those people not connected to an energy grid.

·      I’ve come to terms in favor of gay marriage. Statistics indicate that marriage is good for males. With that in mind, I find it difficult to justify that those benefits be limited to only heterosexual males.

·      Free speech has been struggling recently due to protests on college campuses. If you think the other side is pitching a faulty idea, reason would suggest that it could be logically argued away and defeated. If, however, your own logic fails, maybe it’s not the opposition with the faulty train of thought. The losing side is the one that must shout down the opposing view because it cannot be beaten with words and reason.

·      The anti-nuclear environmentalists seem to be doing more harm than good to their cause. They are succeeding at shutting down nuclear power plants, but as nuclear plants are going offline around the globe they are often being replaced by coal power plants. The anti-nukes are winning on that front, but harming the environment by putting a dirtier source of reliable energy back into play. They need to decide. Is the goal to improve the environment or eliminate nuclear power plants? The two causes, at this point, appear to be counter productive.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Stash [continued]

He was a shoe hog. Dozens of sneakers stored in their original box, most of them still in near pristine condition due to his diligent post-wear maintenance protocol. The best pairs only stepping out for premier occasions like a wedding, the stadium to see a ball game or the office Christmas party. The upper reaches of his closet were easily laden with 20 boxes of kicks, mostly high-tops despite the utter lack of need for the high ankle support. One box housed the ‘found’ bands of $20 bills from that fabled hiking excursion not even a year ago.

When he got home from that hike he immediately, and sophomorically, dumped it out on the floor of his apartment. As an afterthought, he hastily closed the curtains, then just stood and stared. “What do I do now” thinking aloud.

He did not know this in the moment, but each band comprised 100 bills. He had stuffed 19 bands of $20s into his backpack. $38,000! Minus, of course, the incidental cash employed that same afternoon to purchase a tank of fuel for his hiking partner, lunch and a pair of milk shakes.

He counted it, peeled off five 20s for spending cash, put the rest in aforementioned shoe box, and returned it to the top shelf of the closet amongst the other boxes of shoes. Then he washed his hands. He had a hang up about handling cash, even visibly impeccable bills. He then retired to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal while he thought out the next course of action. The bite-size chocolate mini-wheat’s were just the thing to sort out his boisterous frame of mind.

First, he wrestled with greed: Dammit. $20 bills. Why couldn’t they have been hundreds? That would’ve been $190,000!

Second, he talked himself back to reason: Of course if they were $100s I’d be a lot more conspicuous every time I unloaded a $100 bill and asked for change. Local store owners would come to remember me. These $20s will keep me invisible. He wanted to avoid the employees’ behind-the-counter talk at the donut shop, for example, with their suspicious remarks. ‘Here comes the guy who always pays for the dozen donuts with a $100 bill. This is getting creepy, you take him this time.’

By the time the bowl was rinsed and placed in the bottom rack of the dishwasher his action plan was mostly settled and ready for implementation. He would engage cash commerce in a big way. Rent would continue being paid by check. He didn’t want to raise curiosity as the guy who always paid rent in cash. Credit card bills, naturally, would be inconvenient to pay by cash, same with the water bill, gas and electric. He had solid ideas for dissemination of the stash, ‘zero out’ as he liked to say. Gas stations. Going out to lunch. The occasional pub visit. Entertainment. Going forward, these would all become cash transactions. In fact, he put the plan into effect immediately by stepping out to buy a brand new pair of high-top sneakers.

That was ten months ago. The action plan remained strong with little need from varying this simplicity. He definitely could not make bank deposits, the bills might be marked in some way leading to his discovery. As mentioned, he did alter many of his prior credit card purchases. The savings from a vastly decreased credit card bill were used to boost his home down payment fund and max-out his 401k at work. He was pleased with himself, even if he felt a little dirty on account of the unknown origin of the cash.

He had studied Economics in college and was aware of opportunity cost. He realized he was losing 2-3% of purchasing power every year simply due to inflation. Not a major issue, he reasoned, since the acquisition cost was precisely $0. Nevertheless, he was aware of its devaluation and ruled it to be an acceptable loss. He was also aware that he was losing out on the 1% rebate from these cash purchases compared to a credit card transaction with the card’s rebate offer. Again, this was easily reasoned away given the acquisition circumstances. The goof simply could not block these financial quirks from his thoughts.

The shoe box still contained nearly $33,000 from the original $38k. He was not a big spender and had practically no expenditure increases despite the windfall. The exception was his monthly allocation for buying a new paper back book, his reward for having taken a chance, he justified. New book, yes, a tremendous extravagance to his prior habit of reading mostly library books or buying used books from eBay for no more than $4. His largest financial goal was saving his income and expecting to be ready for a home purchase within three years. This stash was helping to indirectly feed the fund.

That duffle bag, he thought often, what a tremendous find! But it carried an unquenchable mental burden. Who’s money had it been? Where’d it come from? Is someone looking for it? He wanted to zero out by the time he bought a home. He wanted to be able to cleanly turn the page on this episode as soon as he had his own digs. A new home with no question marks stowed away in the closet for some inconvenient accidental finding. “Hey Uncle Jimmy, what are these bundles of money for? I found them in the closet playing hide and seek. Can I have one, please, I’d like to buy some baseball cards.” Indeed, he must zero out before buying his home.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Stash

It was more cash than he’d ever seen in his life, at least to date. It was also more than he could abscond with and remain inconspicuous. He was presently equipped with only a pair of pockets and a backpack. It was imperative that he decide quickly and correctly.

He’d been hiking with one other in the nearby mountains, foothills as they were so referred by the locals. Trailhead was an hour’s drive from his current residence, a studio apartment, give or take the traffic variable. They had been off the main trail following an obscure path when he excused himself for a nature break. The morning Slurpee on the drive seemed to have unfavorably comingled with his breakfast bowl of Grape Nuts cereal. It was there, behind and partially covered by low-lying bushes and heavy tree canopy, that he saw it. A duffle bag, black, caked with dirt and signs of having absorbed a good deal of weather in its stint at this locale. What gives? There was no lock, the zipper, though rusty, remained intact sealing the contents. An irresistibly curious find. Of course he’d open it.

Bundles of cash! Twenty-dollar bills all banded together as if withdrawn from the bank in an orderly fashion. It was a medium sized duffle, not over stuffed, but absolutely more than he and his pal could handle. What now? Take what he could carry? Tell his cohort? Or just keep this secret and reduce the chance of anybody else finding out about the stash?

He decided to take a little taste for himself. Two bands of bills were removed from the duffle and placed in his backpack. If he was going to keep this secret he couldn’t and wouldn’t tell his pal. They weren’t really friends anyway, he justified in the moment, work acquaintances that liked talking football Monday mornings before the team meeting. These two ended up on today’s hike together merely because the third person, the mutual close friend who bound them together, was a last minute cancellation. He would not share the wealth he decided. ‘Keep it to myself and there’ll be no awkward questions at work. No rumors about the source of the money every time I pull out a $20 to pay for lunch,’ he thought to himself.

Before walking away he also decided he’d never return for the balance of the cash, that’d be too risky. He didn’t know from whence the duffle came, if the bills were marked or if someone would be looking for it. Maybe there’d be a transponder indicating the location of this stash and he wouldn’t want the transponder to lead to his apartment. Heck, ‘marked bills,’ he didn’t even know what that meant, just a term he heard in some movie. He was an office wonk, a guy who rocked a desk 40 hours per week. He wanted nothing to do with anyone who had anything to do with this bag ending up here.

He opened the duffle bag, removed another 16-20 bands and stuffed them deep into his backpack, closed the duffle, rubbed dirt on the zipper thinking it may jumble his fingerprints. He hastily returned to his hiking partner, having forgotten to take his ‘break,’ they hiked on. No mention of the find.

He had been feeling tired and worn-out, his knees and thighs aching for a rest. Understandable since this was a 12-mile hike with a 4,000-foot incline and 9,300-foot peak. He felt now only rejuvenation, plus a sense of being watched. The cash added only four pounds, but the increased volume made it an awkward load that now dug savagely into his shoulders. He liked the pain, though, and stubbornly showed no outward signs of physical discomfort.

They peaked, enjoyed the view, he ate a leisurely lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwich, soda pop, apple, and several fistfuls of candy. The sugar would fuel his downhill and distract him from the anticipated painful knees, feet and ankles.

They hiked back to the parking lot and drove down the hill. He offered to pay for fuel and lunch including milk shakes! “Thanks for driving today, my treat as a show of appreciation.” At inception he had peeled off a few bills and put them into his pocket for easy access. The two parted ways until Monday morning’s meeting at work.

He was delivered to his car in the public lot. Without taking another look inside his backpack he simply loaded it into the trunk of his car, changed shoes, pulled an unopened cold bottled water from the cooler and drove home. It had been a five-hour hike, a very profitable way to spend a sunny Saturday morning. He didn’t know where he was going to put this load of cash. He didn’t know what he was going to do with it. He knew only that he couldn’t simply roll into the bank for a deposit of $40,000 in cash. He’d have an hour’s drive home to come up with answers and an action plan by which the bills would be concealed and employed.

[to be continued . . .]