Surviving the Trump Threat and Moving Forward

There is a question we no longer need to ask. You know what it is. It’s that question we asked Germans for decades after WWII. How did Germany allow themselves to succumb to Adolf Hitler?

We don’t need to ask any longer because we are seeing how it happened, as it happens right here. In America. In the 21st century. Trump is taking America down that same road, and all we do is watch.

Trump has a rabid core of supporters formed of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and fake ‘Christians’ who call themselves evangelicals. He has the support of a Republican party that has lost all sense of either ethics or morality. They are dismantling the core values of the Constitution. They have already made America a laughing stock on the world stage. Now Trump and his National Socialists are taking America from laughing stock to world terror.

And all we do is watch. Because, you see, we depend on our democratic underpinnings to save the day. First the mid-terms, then the ouster of Trump in 2020. Hopefully.

*Hopefully*

Just like all those Germans in the 1930’s who were sure reason would triumph before Hitler and his Nazis took over completely. Oh, and the hopeful ones were in the majority, too. Because, you see, their democracy had two fatal flaws. It was too democratic. It really had no built-in safeguards against a takeover by a charismatic psychopath. And there were insufficient restraints on the power of a single man.

Our own forefathers made exactly the same mistakes. There are no provisions in our Constitution to keep an immoral tyrant from seeking control. And there are roadblocks sufficient to stop a determined Hitler persona from doing whatever he (or she) wants, once in office? The Congress can serve that purpose only if the President’s own party doesn’t also control both houses. The Supreme Court holds no enforcement powers. The nation’s top law enforcement officials serve at the pleasure of the President and his party. The emoluments clause has as much real substance as a Marvel comic book hero. There is no Superman.

IF the United States does manage to survive Donald Trump, these failings need to corrected by Congressional action up to and including Constitutional amendment. It needs to be done with a sense of immediacy. Yes, I have suggestions. They may need to be refined, of course.

1. Psychiatric testing for all Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidate. This can be done by a panel made up of an equal number of psychiatrists from each party. They should also all be teaching level psychiatrists at respected Universities and medical schools, not just anybody with a shingle.

2. No party shall be allowed to control both houses of Congress. The easy fix is for the Supreme Court to allot ‘extra’ votes to the minority party in one of the houses. This is not unfair. Having a single group viewpoint in charge of both houses of Congress is unfair, and dangerous.

3. Abolish the Electoral College.

4. Give the Supreme Court enforcement powers.

5 Reduce the power of the President to make war. He/she should not be able to initiate military action alone except as a direct act of defense/retaliation against a specifically identified hostile force/country in response to a clear act of hostility against America itself. This must be limited to defensive action not to include American forces invading foreign nations. Anything other than this must be authorized by Congress.

6. Once justice department officials have been appointed, the President must not be able to fire them without the concurrence of both houses of Congress.

7. The emoluments clause must be re-written and given teeth. A majority of either house of Congress should be able to instigate the opening of an evaluation. The President’s cabinet, since they have been appointed by the President, can have no part in the process, other than opening an evaluation process by simple majority.

8. No individual who has ever lobbied for industry can be placed in charge of a government agency.

9. The Vice-President cannot serve as the tie breaker in a tied Senate vote. A tied vote must send the questionable legislation to a select committee made up of an equal number of Senators from each party to reach an equitable solution.

10. The President must not have the ability to single-handedly push the nuclear button. He/she must have the concurrence of the Chairperson of the Joint Chiefs. To this end, That individual’s office must be located in the White House instead of the Pentagon.

11. Congress must take immediate action on legislation which spells out clearly that the government shall have no connection whatsoever to any religion or religious body or group.

12. Citizens United must be revisited and overturned. Congress. must take corporate and lobbyist donations completely out of American elections.

13. Congress must review every area of Presidential executive authority and determine legislation to limit it.

Come Back Marshall Dillon

America, we have a problem. It’s sad but true. Police are out of control in many places in America. They use flimsy excuses to excuse bigotry while beating, maiming, falsely accusing, and killing. This has to be stopped.

Now understand, these unfit officers represent, hopefully, and we are told, a very small percentage of those who wear the uniform properly and proudly with humanity and distinction. But until that vast majority who truly protect and serve stop protecting the racist, bigoted beasts within their ranks; until that vast majority, and the departments themselves, take a stand for what’s right, they can’t complain about the negative spotlight cast upon all of them. John Q Public can’t waltz into a police department and clean it up. It must be the organizations themselves, purging and cleaning from within.

Make no mistake. I’m far from naive. Our police officers have the most difficult, dangerous moment by moment job in the country. They see and deal with the worst levels of our society. I respect them immensely. They face sights and situations and dangers the rest of us can most avoid, thanks to them. Their bravery is for the most part unquestioned. The simple traffic stop we take granted is, for them, never simple and never safe.

But here’s the deal. As tough as that job is, as dangerous, as discouraging, as scary, as thankless, if they cannot find a way to maintain their humanity and discard their prejudices, they shouldn’t be doing the job. For the vast majority of good cops out there, my heart goes out to you, for your bravery, your dedication, your humanity, and perhaps most of all, your resilience. You are the stellar examples we need. But when you protect those among you who shouldn’t be wearing the badge—and in most departments I’m sure those are well known—you do a disservice not only to those whom you have sworn to protect and serve, but more keenly to yourselves.

And yes, I’m fully aware that many if not most, of the excessive force and shoot first, ask questions later incidents are, more than anything, the result of fear, quiet insidious fear, that police officers live with every minute. It has to eat at even the strongest person in uniform. I can’t truly imagine, no matter how hard I try, what it’s like to feel that with every call, every traffic stop, and maintain one’s humanity and not prejudge and not give in to doing it to them before they can do it to you.  And yet, that’s exactly what we need our police to do.
I have an idea, for what it’s worth. It goes something like this. I recommend that every officer, particularly in the larger departments cities, be assigned to spend time every week, on the clock, in some activity to help counter the negatives they face. Group talk it out sessions, uplifting and positive activities with the community, things that do nothing but depressurize. Maybe that will help. Maybe you have a thought to make it a better idea. Go for it. Please.

But the bad apples have to go. Now. Immediately. Previously good officers who show signs of tending toward excessive violence may not even need to be fired.  There are probably plenty of honorable desk jobs that can to be filled, at full pay and benefits, by officers with severe signs of burnout. That seems to me to be the best way of ‘protecting our own.’

I grew up knowing officers. I grew up admiring and respecting police. I still do. But the incidents of brutality and killing of unarmed people, of policing with violence and brutality first, humanity and reason third or fourth, has to stop. The job itself is incredibly hard. There’s no doubt about that. But I also know this. A person with a badge a club a gun and the cover of authority, but lacking in humanity or possessed by racism and bigotry or just burned out, is far more frightening than reassuring. That isn’t the kind of policing we can live with in America.

We can’t accept policing our citizenry with Negans. Not even Dirty Harrys.  We need Reagans. We need Marshall Dillons, Reed and McCoys, Jon and Ponches  Joe Fridays. And we need officers who see humans rather than colors.

 

That Praying Bus Driver

I just read about a school bus driver in Minnesota who was relieved from his route due to leading students in prayer on his bus.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/school-bus-driver-fired-after-praying-with-students/ar-AAw9Sam?ocid=spartandhp

The article said he forced the students to pray with him. He denied that. But he did pray with them, and evidently, on occasion led them.Whether he forced them to pray with him or not isn’t the issue. He should not have been praying with them. Period. Removing him from school buses was entirely proper. It was necessary. The driver said his First Amendment rights were violated. He was wrong.

The action taken by the bus service here is entirely appropriate. Students have the right to pray individually or among themselves. However, the bus driver leading the prayer was in clear violation of the separation between church and state. This is a critical pillar of our Constitution that must be safeguarded at all costs, for the good of the entire citizenry. It had to be addressed, and was. The driver, by the way, was not fired.
During the forty years that I taught theatre, students frequently asked to hold prayer circles before play performances. I never advocated it. I never suggested it. But if they told me they wished to do it among themselves. I always allowed it. I never participated. I made clear to them I couldn’t do this, and I distanced myself. That is the way it must be handled.

Religion is perhaps the most acutely personal aspect of any human being. No particular faith has any right whatsoever to be endorsed by the government, or individuals in government positions, over any other. In the school setting, a teacher or school official must not participate in religious activities during, though it is acceptable in many places for clubs, initiated and conducted by the students themselves, to meet as an after school activity, with a student-requested staff member who agrees to be present for supervision only. The public schools cannot be, and must not, be in the business of advocating any particular religion over any other.

Christians who claim they are ‘under attack’ are crying wolf. Please. They are not in any way under attack. Do they still have the right to pray in their churches and homes? Yes they do. Have any Christian churches been closed down by city/county/state/federal agencies for practicing their religion? Of course they haven’t. Are Christians still free to “witness” for friends and others on behalf of their faith? Yes they are, as long as the people they are witnessing to agree to it. This claim of being attacked is based on one thing only, their not being allowed to enforce their own religions beliefs on others in a multi-cultural, multi-faith society. 

BUT 1: The state does not advocate for any particular religion. That is the only way the state can fairly represent all faiths. It is unreasonable, unethical, and improper for Christians to expect to be given preference.
BUT 2: Business owners operate under a state/local license that empowers them to offer their goods to the public. This means ALL the public. It does not give them the right to refuse service to those with whom they disagree, whose skin or nationality or sexuality is different from their own, who wears their hair oddly, etc. It’s a simple—and absolutely vital— matter of civil rights, which are guaranteed to all citizens. Baking a cake or making a pizza for someone who’s ‘different’ does not indicate agreement, comradeship or partnership with them. It’s nothing more than the matter of meeting the responsibility of being licensed to sell to the public. Anyone who thinks that refusing service to someone whose skin color or lifestyle is different from their own is one of their civil rights, is grossly mistaken. The buyer’s civil right to buy a cake, etc., easily overrides the business person’s assumed right to insert the prejudices of their personal religion into the public obligation which is part of their license. Again, the government doesn’t deal in religion. It deals in civil rights. These must be safeguarded for all of its citizens.
BUT 3: The First Amendment of the Constitution does not expressly give, nor does it imply, permission to violate the separation of church and state. It does not allow one person’s religion to eradicate the civil rights of another person. It does not make one person superior to another in the conduct of business due to their religion. Period.

The founding fathers of our country, who were mostly Christians, saw the danger of mixing government and religion. They did everything they could to prevent it.  Regardless of what Christian zealots like to think, the Constitution did not—and this was by design—establish the United States as a Christian nation. Our country is a country of many religions, just as it is a melting pot of many cultures and traditions. None has the privilege to enforce itself over others.

Christians who complain that they are “under attack” because they are, in actuality, seeking and being denied special treatment under 1, 2, or 3 above, are behaving like petulant and badly behaved children who don’t get their way. It’s time they realized that. Neither God nor Jesus ,at any time, gave them special permission to consider themselves any better than others. Otherwise, they make end up making their imagined “war on Christians” a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

A- Religion is personal, and cannot be enforced by one faith upon another.
B- Society is governed by laws and mores for the well-being, the “…life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” of all the people.

Never the twain shall meet. Amen.

Do NOT Call Donald Trump Stupid

Do NOT mistake or underestimate Donald Trump. He realizes damned well that informed Americans know this kind of tweet, and all the ones like it are bullshit. They are not intended for informed Americans. They are intended to keep his core supporters engaged and enraged. This is exactly what Trump’s angry,  poorly informed and analytically challenged supporters call “..talking like us.” He knows that the secret to his success is holding onto that rabid base, including racists, white supremacists, and the uneducated poor, then getting just enough others to cross the line because of various personal dissatisfactions, whether it be closet racism of Barack Obama, hatred of Hillary Clinton, or economic dissatisfaction. 
 
   Donald Trump is woefully ignorant in most of the ways that we judge as genuine intelligence and intellectual capacity. He is clearly narcissistic and psychotic, a veritable textbook sociopath. He is a serial liar, but one that can sell those lies like few in history.
   He is the granite statue of the con man who can sell ice in the Arctic and sand in the Sahara. He is the role model for ministers who live in million dollar mansions by taking the last dollars from already poor worshipers. If he had lived in the old west in the 1800’s, he would have lived in luxury while selling snake oil for fifty cents a bottle. If you believe in the antichrist, he will look and sound like Donald Trump.
   Donald Trump is brilliant in his understanding of how to manipulate the most vulnerable people around him in order to build and maintain a power base. His expertise is in doing this while preventing the people upon whom he preys (and depends) from seeing behind his curtain. He is then ruthless in ridding his personal power circle of anyone who disagrees with him.
  
   Calling Donald Trump stupid dismisses him without truly understanding the danger he represents. It creates a false sense of security. a comfortable sense of safety from him. It provides an illusion that he is mentally incompetent and therefore not really dangerous. It weakens resistance. It helps us to think it will all be okay because after all, he’s stupid.
 
That is the worst mistake we can make. Donald Trump is the most dangerous individual to surface since the end of WWII.
 
   Donald Trump is Adolf Hitler, right down the line, all the way to the last point of comparison. All that remains to be seen is if he has the same kind of world domination psychosis as did Hitler. He cannot be allowed to answer that question.

Meeting the Man Who Wasn’t There

I had an unsettling experience the other morning. It was Wednesday morning, and I was . . . wait. That’s wrong. It couldn’t have been Wednesday. I was at the dentist on Wednesday. No, it definitely wasn’t Wednesday. And it couldn’t have been Friday. I had a nagging headache Friday morning, the result of excessive imbibing with friends the night before. So it had to be Thursday.

Yes, Thursday it was. I was enjoying a pleasant late morning breakfast at my favorite little cafe only a few blocks from home. The name of this understated culinary oasis is Elmer and Fern’s by the way, should you care to look it up. I recommend it. The weather was delightful, exactly as a fall morning should be, so I had walked the six blocks from home. I find that walking to breakfast aids in establishing a happy anticipation of appetite, while walking back home helps to settle and arrange everything in a satisfactory manner.

I was in my usual chair at my customary corner table, taking my time in savoring an exquisite bacon and cheese omelet, with a side order of blueberry pancakes. I accompanied this delicate feast with the cafe’s locally renowned, ground-on-the-premises Bolivian coffee, while casually leafing through the morning paper. I had just swallowed a tasty morsel of pancake, and was reaching for my coffee cup when a pleasant voice addressed me from behind Wednesday night’s baseball scores.

“That omelet does look scrumptious.”

I was startled. I hadn’t noticed anyone approaching the table. I carefully lowered the paper and looked across at . . . no one. The chair was empty. There was no one there. I glanced discretely over my left shoulder, then my right. I was alone. I decided I must have imagined the voice, or perhaps picked up a parcel of conversation spoken overly loudly from nearby. I dismissed the moment, sipped my coffee, inserted a bite of fluffy omelet into my mouth, and returned to the scores.

“Ahhh, that coffee does have a delicious aroma. That wouldn’t by chance be Bolivian dark roast, would it?”

I lowered the newspaper very quickly. There was still no one there. I chewed carefully, looked around to make sure no one was turned in my direction, and leaned to look under the table. My feet sat on the linoleum by themselves. I raised up casually, hopeful that my behavior had not been noticed.

“It’s all right,” the voice said as politely as before. “No one ever sees me, you know.”

I paused before slowly folding my newspaper and laying it down. It occurred to me I was either having a delusion, or something exceedingly strange was occurring. I lifted my coffee cup toward my lips.

“Would you mind wafting a bit more of that aroma over here? I do love the fragrance of a full bodied Bolivian.”

After looking around to make sure no one was watching, I waved my free hand over my coffee, toward the empty chair across from me. I heard a deep intake of air. The voice sighed pleasantly.

“Ahhhh, that is lovely. Thank you.” Keeping my eyes focused on the vacant chair, I took a drink of coffee, then another.

“Pardon my asking,” I said, almost whispering, “but who are you? And why can’t I see you?”

“Oh, I am so sorry,” the voice said. “I should have introduced myself at the beginning. I’m the man who isn’t there.”

My hand stopped halfway back to the saucer. I looked around again. No one was watching, thank goodness.

“Looking for someone? Other than me, I mean?” the voice asked.

“I was making sure no one saw me talking to myself.” I whispered.

“Ahh. No worries on that count. Anyone who notices, will realize in an instant that you’re talking to me.”

“How’s that?”

“Why, they’ll see you talking into empty space, and realize immediately that you’re talking to a man who isn’t there. And that would be me.” I could hear a smile in the statement. I opened my mouth. No words came out I drained the rest of my cup. One thing was certain. I wasn’t going to get through whatever was happening to me without my hand-ground Bolivian. Agnes the waitress saw my gesture from across the room and hurried over to deliver a smile to me, and a refill of hot coffee to the empty cup, then returned in the direction of other customers.

“Look,” I said, “this is ridiculous. It’s impossible. To begin with, there’s no such thing as the man who isn’t there.” The voice clucked.

“But of course there is. You’ve even referred to me many times yourself.”

“Oh come now. How could I refer to you when I don’t even believe you exist.”

“The same way everyone does, of course.”

“And how, exactly is that?” I asked. It didn’t occur to me that I had actually settled into a conversation with an empty chair.

“By referring to me in the absent tense, of course. Like that time, let me see, you were six, as I recall, and you got a terrible scolding for eating the last two cookies your mother was saving for your father. You protested, and I quote — I have a very good memory you know — “But nobody told me I wasn’t supposed to!” I’m afraid that was me. I wasn’t there to tell you.”

I was mulling a reply to that when the voice coughed politely.

“Excuse me. I hate to be a bother, but could you, you know, while it’s hot?”

“Oh, certainly,” I said, now oblivious to the absurdity of the whole thing. I waved my hand over my fresh coffee in the direction of the voice.

“I hope that’s satisfactory.” Another satisfied sigh was my answer.

“But see here,” I began. “that’s a bit far-fetched, don’t you think? Just because I…”

“And don’t forget that algebra test in ninth grade. You were extremely upset that no one told you there would be one. That was also me, not being there. You got a ‘D’ as I recall. I’m very sorry about that. I was occupied not being somewhere else.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” not realizing I had fallen into a conversation with an invisible somebody who wasn’t even present. ” I wasn’t very good at Algebra, anyway. But I have to tell you, what you’re saying doesn’t make any sense. It’s impossible to not be somewhere.”

“Are you sure of that?” The voice became smug.

“Absolutely.”

“Then tell me this. While you sit here, what about all the places you aren’t?” I chewed my omelet more firmly.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well then, consider. Someone could be asking for you right now. In Paris, say, or Lisbon, or just across town. Do you know what the answer would be?”

“Well of course I do. The answer would be I’m not…”I clamped my mouth shut.

“There, you see?”

“Yes, but how does that apply to you? I could say the same, you know. Somewhere someone is asking about you, but you’re not there. And you’re not there, because you’re here?”

“Am I? Here? What do I look like? What color are my eyes? What am I wearing? Can you tell me anything about me, other than my voice? Can you point to me and call out, ‘Look here at this man?’ Go ahead. Try that. It should be fun.”

“Well then, listen here, whoever you are…”

“You can call me Noah, if you want. My friends do.”

“Noah, as in the flood?”

“Oh no. Noah as in no one at home.” I wiped up the coffee that had just jumped out of my cup.

“Well then, Noah, if you’ve been keeping track of me all my life, why didn’t you pitch in and help a little, now and then?”

“Oh, but I did. I’m hurt that you give me no credit.” Indeed, I could hear the disappointment in the voice. “March seventeenth, two thousand and eleven, at nine thirty-seven pm. Have you forgotten?”

I took a drink of coffee while I tried to place the day. I shook my head, setting the cup down. I remembered to waft some aroma across the table.

“No. I’m sorry. I don’t remember.” I heard another deep inhale.

“Thank you. And allow me to refresh your memory.” the voice said. “You were cruising down Fairchild Street that night, and failed to take note of the red light at Misthaven Avenue. You barreled right through the intersection, barely missing a delivery truck, whose driver braked urgently, honked extensively, and offered an obscene gesture as you fled. Yes siree, you owe me big time for that one.”

Now I remembered the event. It had scared me half to death and left me shaking. I had been driving more carefully ever since.

“I don’t know why I should. I don’t see where you helped me at all on that occasion.”

“Oh no?” the voice took on a self-satisfied tone. “What about the policeman you looked around for, and were relieved to see wasn’t there.” My cup froze on its way to my mouth. I wiped up the fresh spill.

“My God. That was you?”

“In the flesh. Well, you know what I mean.”

I nodded. I fed a forkful of now cooling omelet into my mouth while looking around to see if anyone had yet noticed my talking to myself.

“You have to excuse me if I’m a bit taken back by this whole thing.” I said. You must agree it’s most unusual.” The voice took on a smiling tone again.

“Oh, of course. For both of us, in fact. It’s not often that I let someone know I’m not there.”

“Do you mind if I ask some questions?”

“Absolutely not. Question away. But we do need to be brief. There’s someplace I need to not be in a few minutes.” I nodded.

“Very well then. And thank you. The first question, obviously, is back to my previous one. How can I be having a conversation with you if you aren’t here?” I heard a deep breath.

“Ahh, yes. That’s a good one. It’s complicated. To be totally honest, I don’t really have a handle on it myself. I’m sure you’ll understand it’s very difficult to figure something out how something happens when you’re not even there.”

He had me there. His logic was impeccable. I nodded.

“Yes, I do see your point. Well then, have you been following…” the voice clucked at me. I immediately realized my mistake. “…excuse me, not following me around, my whole life?”

“Off and on. You’re not the only one I’m not there for, you know. There are a great many people I don’t keep track of. The job is rather demanding, if I do say so. There really should be twice as many of us if we’re to not be there properly for everyone.”

“There are that many of you? Really?”

“Oh yes. Though as I said, the team really should be bigger. I’m not as young as I once wasn’t, either. I really should be thinking of retiring.”

I nibbled a corner of toast.

“How long have you been around then?” I sipped coffee while he thought that over.

The voice hummed a tuneless melody for several seconds before answering.

“Yes, that’s it, I’m sure of it. The first time I wasn’t there was not telling Caesar about the knives. Nasty business that.”

I gasped, hopefully not so loudly as to attract attention.

“But that would make you over two thousand years old!”

“Actually, we like to say un-old.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” I said. “Of course. Makes perfect sense. Still, we’re talking over two thousand years of being, I mean not being, around. That’s impressive.”

“Well, you’re an intelligent man. Surely you understand, not being there tends to be much easier on the body than the reverse.”

I nodded. His logic was irrefutable. We sat — at least I assumed he was sitting — quietly for a minute before. I directed some more Bolivian fragrance his way, then thought of another question.

“Was there ever a time you regretted not being there?” There was another slight pause, then an unhappy sigh.

“I have to admit I’m not proud of being absent and letting Mrs. O’Leary’s poor cow take the blame for the fire.” The voice took on a decidedly sad tone. “And I’ve long wished I could tell everyone what actually happened to Amelia Earhart. Everyone loved her so much. But, you know…” I nodded

“Of course. You weren’t there.” The voice took on a happy tone.

“You’ve got it, now. And I’m afraid the rules are very strict. If I’m not there…”

“Then you can’t tell. I understand completely.”

“Oh, the things I could tell you, otherwise.”

I nodded. As I was mulling my next question, Agnes came by with my check. She seemed perplexed.

“Sir, are you feeling well?” she asked. “You don’t seem quite yourself this morning.” I thought fast and brought up a laugh I hoped would be convincing.

“Oh. You mean…” I used my hand to indicate the empty chair and myself. “Just a little play acting, Agnes. I’m working on a new book, you see, and I’ve been practicing a bit of dialogue for it.”

Agnes was obviously relieved, and her normal smile returned.

“Oh,” she said, “so that’s how you writers do it. I always wondered. You must let me know how it comes along, now. Have a happy day.” With that she turned and headed for another table. I turned back to my conversation.

“Sorry about that. Tell me, has there been a time you were especially happy to not be there?”

I was answered by silence.

“Noah?” Still no response. More than that, now that I was more acutely attuned, I could sense a void, a clear absence. I was alone.

The man who isn’t there, wasn’t there.

I finished eating, paid my bill, and walked home, sipping coffee from a cardboard cup. I walked more thoughtfully and with a slower gait than usual, replaying the whole incident in my head. I stopped once or twice to listen carefully. Had I just heard a soft voice? No. I hadn’t. My new acquaintance was no more there than he had ever been.

I sat down when I got home and wrote out the entire episode, just as you see it here. As the weeks passed, I found myself thinking about the strange meeting—if it could indeed be called that—an inordinate amount of time. I might have convinced myself the encounter had never happened at all, except that every time I visit Elmer and Fern’s now, Agnes asks how my book is coming along. I smile and tell her it’s coming along fine, just fine. And I sit at a table in the farthest corner of the room now. Just in case.

I have reached a point now where I’m comfortable with the whole experience. I try not to over-think it. I have accepted it as one of the exceptional marvels of an amazing universe, more things in heaven and earth and all that. If I occasionally dismay those around me by turning suddenly silent and aloof as I listen to determine if a nearby voice is particularly familiar, that is their concern and not mine.

I did decide that a close friend, having witnessed one of these moments, was correct in suggesting I might benefit from more companionship. I now share my house with a handsome cat, attained at a nearby shelter. He’s what they call a polydactyl, a cat with extra toes, like thumbs, on his front paws. He is black and white, intelligent and affectionate, and almost always agreeable. He likes to curl up on my lap as I read. His name, of course, is Noah.

The Telephone

This is a short mood piece I played around with the other day. The style is 1940’s/50’s noir. The story is . . .

The telephone rang. The woman looked at it. The man looked out the window, pretended not to notice. It rang again. The sound was soft, melodic, not the loud silence shattering clanging you read about in novels. The woman stared at it. She guided a stray wisp of blonde hair back into place with a glossy red, newly manicured pinky finger. The man shifted position, leaned against the wall.

A third ring broke into the subdued jazz music. Glenn Miller’s orchestra playing ‘In the Mood.’ The man moved away from the wall, leaned back against it. The woman made a move as if to get up, changed her mind, sat back.

The instrument rang a fourth time. The man checked his watch. The woman lit a menthol cigarette with a small gold plated lighter. The clerk glided silently across the thick carpet, picked up the receiver. Said something inaudible. Listened. Said something else, laid the receiver soundlessly on the polished wood table, left the room. The woman watched him go. So did the man. Their eyes connected for half a second.

Glenn Miller faded out, replaced by Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra, ‘All the Things You Are.’ Outside the window, the faint rumble of distant thunder announced the approaching storm. The clerk returned, picked up the receiver, delivered a quiet message, placed the receiver back on the cradle with a hushed click, returned to the desk.

The man went to the window, studied the darkening sky. A couple entered the room, talking quietly. She was short. brunette, trim, black dress, spike heels, almost as pretty as the blonde. He was tall, athletic, gray Brooks Brothers, black shined loafers, not quite as handsome as the man. She laughed at something he said. A faint trace of expensive bourbon drifted from them. They went to the desk. The blonde casually studied the brunette, flicked ashes into a glass ashtray, smoothed the folds of her red satin skirt.

The black gilt trimmed phone rang again, stopped after one ring. The man turned from the window, studied the instrument briefly, returned to looking out as the first big drops drove themselves against the window. The woman stubbed out her cigarette, a single graceful movement. She looked back at the phone as it range again. Once. Twice. She stood up with the same elegant grace, crossed to the phone, picked up the receiver. She spoke a single word, listened, smiled, answered, replaced the handset..

The woman looked up to find the man watching her. Their eyes connected, held for a small moment. He smiled a crooked half smile. She also smiled, the smallest lifting of the corners of her mouth.  He nodded. So did she. She turned, walked from the room. The man watched until she was out of sight. The clerk approached, handed the man a glass containing exactly two fingers of aromatic amber liquid, smiled, replied to the man’s questioning look, “On the house.” The man smiled his wry smile, nodded his thanks. He turned back to watch the rain cascade against the glass.

 

The Shortest 38 Chapter Murder Mystery in History

For those who like a good hard-boiled noir mystery but like their crime succinct.

Chapter 1: This was where it started. I knew the dame was trouble as soon as she walked in the door.

Chapter 2: The guy was dead alright. He was an ugly sight. Death can do that to you.

Chapter 3: I smoked some cigarettes, drank some beer, talked to some people.

Chapter 4: Two goons showed up at my office and told me to lay off. We talked wise for awhile. I was wiser.

Chapter 5: I called the dame. I told her we needed to talk. She told me to come on over. I did.

Chapter 6: I drove to her apartment. She was dead. I called the cops. They weren’t happy.

Chapter 7: Bad cop said I must’ve done it. Good cop said he knew me. We talked wise for awhile. My wise was still better.

Chapter 8: I jumped in my jalopy. I talked to the guy’s friends and enemies. I didn’t get much. I met dame number two. She was sultry.

Chapter 9: I drank some beer, smoked some cigarettes. Nobody wanted to talk to me.

Chapter 10: The goons came back. We talked wise again. One took a punch. My punch was faster.

Chapter 11: I rolled up more miles on the jalopy. I managed to trace the guy’s recent actions. They didn’t seem like much.

Chapter 12: The cops called me in to talk. Bad cop still thought I did it. I told him his wife dressed him lousy.

Chapter 13: Dame number two called me and wanted to talk. I hoped she’d stay alive long enough.

Chapter 14: She was alive, all right. We talked awhile. Then we didn’t talk at all. I was smoking when I left.

Chapter 15: I sat in my office overlooking the city while I thought. I smoked some more. I was out of beer. Being a private detective is hell sometimes.

Chapter 16: The FBI came calling. They told me to lay off. I talked wise. They talked FBI.

Chapter 17: I followed up on what dame number two had told me.  I remembered to buy some beer.

Chapter 18: I found a clue. It was a big one and it made me mad. Took me eighteen damn chapters.

Chapter 19: I was smoking and drinking beer when the goons busted in with guns. Their mistake.

Chapter 20: The cops took the bodies away. Bad cop didn’t like it. We stared hard at each other.

Chapter 21: The FBI dropped in. They gave me another warning. The female agent watched me. I watched her back.

Chapter 22: I looked at something I’d already looked at. This time I looked at it from a different angle. Son of a gun. I stubbed out the cigarette and jumped in the jalopy.

Chapter 23: I retraced the guy’s tracks again and found it. It was the evidence that broke the case. I drove back to dame number two’s place. It was empty.

Chapter 24: The phone rang. A nasty voice said they had dame number two. They said they’d trade the dame for the evidence. I asked to hear her voice. They made her scream.

Chapter 25: I phoned my buddy the good cop. I laid out the details for the meet. He said they’d be there. I made another call.

Chapter 26: I knew it would be a trap, so I got to the meet early. Hours early. I hid and waited. It was cold and damp before it got warm and dry.

Chapter 27: I watched them set the trap. Then I walked right into it. The cops didn’t show. The good cop was part of the whole thing. 

Chapter 28: My friend the crooked cop was surprised that I knew, but said it wouldn’t really matter. They had me dead to rights. Soon I’d just be dead.

Chapter 29: They took my gun. It looked bad, but that was before the FBI sprang the trap on the trap.

Chapter 30: But the baddies hadn’t brought dame number two. Now I was short on time to find her before she joined dame number one. I was in a sweat. 

Chapter 31: I was pretty sure where she’d be. I raced through the city’s maze of streets. The FBI was right behind me.

Chapter 32: It was morning rush hour. Traffic was hell. Time was running out. I was pounding the steering wheel and cursing. 

Chapter 33: I found the right street. I made a screeching left turn against a red light and got t-boned. I jumped out and ran. There was a lot of cursing behind me.

Chapter 34: The police Captain was locking his front door. He didn’t know I was coming until I rammed him into it from behind. He went down with my hands on his throat.

Chapter 35: He reached for his gun but mine was out first. The Feebs arrived before I pulled the trigger. I ran into the house.

Chapter 36: The house was empty. I got the crooked Captain’s keys and opened the trunk of his car. Dame number two was there. She was alive.

Chapter 37: It took a couple of hours and a full chapter for me to explain all the details to the FBI.

Chapter 38: It was raining the day after. The doorbell rang. It was the female FBI agent. She was alone. She was carrying a saucy smile and asix pack. I already had cigarettes.

The End.