Friday, December 29, 2017

Air Raid

Germany, 1944 in the late fall

The air raid sirens broke the peaceful silence of the cold cloudy night. For the third time this month momma was frantically bounding around the house getting the kids out of bed to go to the bomb shelter. Willy, the oldest, was not having any of it and remained steadfast calmly lying in bed.

“Willy, get up, we’ve got to go to the bomb shelter. Don’t you hear the sirens?”

“No, I’m not going tonight. I’m staying in bed.”

At ten years old he was the oldest of five children and was wildly more mature than his years. Growing up in World War II Germany would do that to a kid. The first time the air raid sirens went off was four months ago and it was very frightening causing the kids to scream and cry. By now the frequency of the siren brought a more mundane nuisance aspect to the bombing that is difficult to comprehend in peace time. Mother and the kids hopped to action, but not Willy, at least not tonight.

“Willy, we need to go now! We’ve got to go! Get out of bed, your brothers and sisters need you.”

“Momma, I’m not going. It’s cold tonight and I finally got this bed nice and warm, I’m not getting out. You go ahead, I’ll be fine.” He was stubborn, but as the oldest he was not to be trifled with.

The arguing carried on for only two minutes as she called out to the other four to get ready. She couldn’t continue expending valuable time on him any longer knowing it would be to no avail. The others were up and had their jackets as the protocol was by now ingrained in their young minds, and away they went running to the neighborhood shelter. Willy remained behind cool as a cucumber having secured this one-time reprieve.

The bomb shelter was tight, cold, dank and filled with neighbors. Huddled up in close confines for two hours breathing air that rapidly became more stale was a miserable experience, but they were safe with the sky full of Allied bombers. The Americans usually bombed during the day with their B-17s. A nighttime raid, Willy figured correctly, would be the British Lancasters. This raid would be conducted with a relatively light 80 bombers, a bomber sortie could easily consist of 150 or more. Tonight’s bombers were not loaded with the white phosphorus incendiary bombs that would soon eliminate Dresden. These aircraft each carried 14,000 pounds of general purpose bombs with a mix of delay fuses and instantaneous [nose-armed]. This was the bomb load specific to carpet-bombing an industrial target, as in tonight’s case, a city playing host to factories and many miles of railway.

Within ten minutes of his mother’s departure the skyward rumble could be heard along with the ‘ack ack’ of the German anti-aircraft guns. The explosions of the bombs were distant but their result was easily felt this far away. Willy lay in bed more upset at the nuisance and commotion than scared of a direct hit. Living through war since one’s earliest memories will alter that sentiment regarding the possibility of dying. When death seems ever present its ability to cause fright is diluted. War is hell, people are apt to say. Empty words, those, when delivered by someone who hasn’t lived it.

The explosions were steady and far enough away where the rumble yielded a soothing effect while he lay in bed. Industrial buildings and railway infrastructure were being decimated along with innumerable homes and citizens. An hour passed, the bombers passed, the fire fighting and emergency brigades were at work. Momma and the kids returned safely, tossed their jackets on the sofa and checked on their big brother. He had rolled over on his belly and was sound asleep!

[Inspired by Opa’s real life events.] 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Ant Moat

It was a land of miniature ants. Sure, such beasts are already minute, but these guys, these ants, were tinier than most. And quick, oh they were fast on those six sets of tiny ‘toes’. That, then, sets the stage for this trip to the Bahamas.

The waifish fellow was on vacation with his lovely fiancée. How he got her to commit to marriage was a question for which he was never fully sure he could answer, though grandly thankful he was. He tasked himself to suppress the surprise every time he thought of the forthcoming marital vows. But I digress. This fellow had a silly inclination of pilferage, as it pertained to food. An inclination is, admittedly, too delicate a term. A driving compulsion, however, was speaking in the proper measure.

The two were enjoying an all expenses paid vacation. Dining was at no additional charge regardless of how much he could stuff down his gullet. As each meal neared conclusion he would take his tertiary perusal of the food quadrants and scout out his pilferage options. Upon meal conclusion he made his final swoop, secured the chosen items, carefully wrapped them in a napkin and the two young beauties left the dining area. Returning to the room the food was placed on the countertop. They changed into their swim trunks and stepped out for a beachside read and swim. The weather was truly delightful.

Nearly two hours elapsed. They returned to the room where they promptly opened the window to soak in the sea breeze, turned on the ceiling fan, and she turned on the television to watch the baseball game. The month was October and her favorite ball team, the Cleveland Indians, was in the playoffs facing the Baltimore Orioles. She desperately hoped for an Indians’ victory and hopped on the bed hugging a pillow to watch the ballgame. She was always exquisite in her nervous pre-game jitters. Meanwhile, his top priority, check on the pilfered grub.

He was alarmed at the activity taking place where the food had been set. It resembled the surface of a fast moving river. Bending his torso closer to the countertop he saw that the motion was a sea of ants! Oh, so tiny. And fast, they moved so fast that he quickly stood up straight to put some distance between him and them. Despite the fright he successfully stifled a squeal of alarm. The ants had commandeered his two cookies, one of which he claimed was for his fiancée, but there existed vast amounts of doubt as to whether she would have actually received the cookie instead of him gluttonously consuming both.

Defeat, dammit! While the food acquisition had been a success, his care, custody and control had failed outright. He grabbed two squares of toilet paper, opened the front door, quickly snared the ant-laden cookies, and forthwith efficiently hurled them into a nearby garbage bin in the courtyard. He cleaned the countertop of intruders to the best of his ability and returned to watch the ball game. He sulked in silence and pondered the next day’s pilferage effort.

They awakened to another glorious day of light blue skies, two puffy pure white clouds and more limitless servings of food. They spent the morning with a several-mile beach walk, farther than he had anticipated but there was no stopping her. At lunch he again made his tertiary scouting trip to review the daily changing meals and dessert options. He found what he wanted, wrapped the items in a napkin and the two young beauties returned to their room where they would change into their swim trunks so that they might prance upon the beach. Late in the afternoon they would return to their room to throw open the windows to enjoy the sea breeze and watch his fiancée’s Cleveland Indians’ playoff baseball game. But first, he must administer care for his pilfered goods.

Twenty fours hours had passed since his last engagement with the ants. It was time well spent thinking through a crafty rebuttal. He started with a rectangular plastic tray. It was the size of a small tv tray with a short lip circumnavigating the entire perimeter. He filled a plastic cup with water and emptied it into the tray. ‘That’s a good start’ he thought and did it again. The tray was now a reservoir. He placed the unused ice bucket into the middle of the tray. His treasured food items, still wrapped in the napkin, were placed into the bucket, and the lid was then added as a final touch. A moat, an ant moat, this should work. Pleased with his work, he changed into his swim trunks and they engaged the beach and the sea.

Nearly two hours elapsed, they returned to the room, opened the window allowing in the wonderful sea breeze. She turned on the ceiling fun and ballgame, then hopped on the bed smiling with her pre-game jitters and got ready for the game’s broadcast. Her every motion was irresistible to him.

Before changing into his leisure shorts he scoped out the food. His protocols were deemed a success as there were no ants! The ant moat had worked! He offered one of the jumbo chocolate chip cookies to his soon-to-be-bride and they watched the ball game cheering her Tribe to victory.

[Based on true events on a trip to the Bahamas in 1997.]

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.