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.

Did the NRA Try to Hijack the CNN Town Hall on the Parkland Shootings?

Most people aren’t really familiar with how radio and television works, and especially in the case of a ‘town hall’ broadcast.  Please allow me to do what teachers do, and explain.

You already know that all programming is allotted to certain time frames. You may not realize how tight that timing is on a national level. Live sporting events and breaking news coverage are essentially the ONLY types of broadcast that are allowed to go over a specifically allotted time, even by a second or two.

Please don’t let the words “scripted questions” throw you. ALL PROGRAMMING is essentially scripted. In the case of a town hall, this means the following, and it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. A certain amount of time is allowed for questions, and for answers. Members of the questioning group ALWAYS submit questions they want to ask. This ensures that two people don’t ask the same question, also that the questioners don’t embarrass themselves with bad grammar, perhaps foul language, and that the questions are succinct, that is, without rambling, which really skews the time factor and can cloud the focus of the question. It’s normal for the presenter, CNN in this case, to work with the questioners (who in most cases aren’t professional writers/speakers) in order to help them get the best phrasing. There is nothing wrong with this. It is still the question John Doe, or in this case Colton Haab, wanted to ask.

Questioners are not allowed to make speeches. If Colton Haab gets to make a thirty or forty or sixty second speech, then every other questioner has to be allotted the same opportunity, in the name of fairness.

I look at the email exchange, and I see a young man (assisted and influenced by his father, don’t forget that part) with a question which the network helped him phrase. No problem there. As I said, it’s standard procedure. I also see that the young man then wanted to make a bit of a speech, which is simply not going to work. I also see that a key phrase has been omitted from those emails by the father’s version, which he has advertised.

My conclusion is that the network is not at fault. This is the father trying to advance an agenda, and I have to wonder if perhaps someone else, most likely the NRA itself, was in the father’s ear. To me, this is the NRA and gun lobby attempting to hijack the town hall, and when not being allowed to do so, creating a very deceptive version of what actually transpired.

 

“Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!”

Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17

a short story — the SPELLBOUND GARDENS OF EPONYMOUS

 

What if you had a beautiful garden of all your favorite flowers, colorful blossoms of all variety delighting the eye, collective fragrances swirling and blending in aromatic delight? And what if each and every flower in that garden started changing color completely at random every few minutes? Imagine roses and carnations, daisies and chrysanthemums, gladioli, tulips, sunflowers, every bloom in your garden, presenting a living kaleidoscope of randomly changing colors.

Of course that’s impossible. Or is it? If you think so, you’ve never heard the legend of a little Missouri town named Eponymous, and what transpired a few hundred years ago, more or less. Of course all legends have to have a foundation. They have to be about something. And like all of the very best legends, this one is about young love. Make yourself comfortable now, and read the legend of a pleasant little village, a triangle of affection, and witchery.

Eponymous was a snug hamlet in a cozy glen in the southeastern part of the state, near the Mississippi river, but not too near.  It wasn’t very large, just a collection of thirty or forty families and small farms nestled in and around the glen. It sprouted in the same way most small towns and villages do, a family farm here, one there, another down the road a piece. Cows here, pigs over there, wheat across the road, corn and beans, peas and beets around the bend. Of course, everybody had chickens.          The village grew a little when someone moved in, or a newborn arrived. Got smaller when this person or that one died, or moved on looking for the excitement of a bigger town.

The people of Eponymous were content with the quiet peacefulness of the glen and the surrounding forests. They enjoyed the simple pleasures and the company of their neighbors, good people all, who were never quite close enough to each other to be much of a bother in any case. It’s fair to say that life the glen of Eponymous was about as sweet and harmonious as life shared between human beings could get.

The legend of the gardens began where most things do in small villages, at the church. That was where everyone gathered on Sundays to share the bible and sing hymns. It was also the social center of the community. A couple of Saturdays a month, regardless of the season or the weather, the pews were  moved aside for dancing, and the little church was filled with good hearted laughter and singing, lies about the size of fish and hogs, and clandestine kisses between young folk innocent enough to think everyone in the place didn’t know what they were doing.

Of course, all good things sooner or later come to a reckoning. Your grandma probably told you that. She might also have told you that a man loved by two women is a man wearing a bull’s-eye just waiting for an archer to come along.  And that takes us to the legend of the color changing gardens.

Now I should be clear here in the name of fairness. According to the scattered remnants of diaries and journals, and the newspaper account from a nearby town that actually had one, there was no proof that either of the young women actually was a witch. The first one to use the word was reportedly one Lilith Wainscott. Lilith was pretty, country wholesome pretty if you know what I mean. She was vivacious, that is to say energetic in the extreme, smart as a whip, and determined as a bee after honey. Lilith was possessed of sparkling blue eyes, and had just turned sixteen when these events began. She was also completely and breathlessly in love with young Jonathan Meershat Harriman Napoleon Ableton, who was almost exactly one year older than herself. Don’t worry about keeping his name straight. You can just think of him as bulls-eye Johnnie.

Jonathan and Lilith, along with their parents and the rest of Eponymous, were leaving the little church after services one agreeable Sunday morning in April, when a much worn but well cared for wagon arrived on the hardpack road that ran past the church and right on through the center of the glen. Mister Glenwood Scarsbrough looked over the folks in a friendly, noncommittal  way and held his hand up by way of a neighborly wave, while his daughter Amanda, who happened to be the same age as Lilith, charmed the congregation with a shy smile, and wiggled the fingers of one hand in greeting in the way young girls will do. No one could fail to notice the young woman’s beauty, nor her luxurious red hair, which seemed to shine as it drifted in soft waves over her shoulders and down her back. Lilith, meanwhile, took keen notice that when she turned to remark to Jonathan about the newcomers, he seemed to be watching Amanda like a man in a trance.  It took a good nudge with her elbow regain his attention.

William Scarsbrough directed his wagon to the side of the road and dismounted. Then he assisted his daughter as she stepped down, a movement the lithe young woman accomplished with natural grace. They were dressed for church. William Scarsbrough explained that there was no Mrs. Scarsbrough, she having passed away from influenza the previous year, and that he and Amanda planned to settle in the glen. They had hoped to arrive in time for the services, he said, and offered his disappointment at being late. The good and friendly folks of Eponymous opened their arms to their new neighbors. Sunday dinner arrangements were quickly altered, and a flurry of activity resulted in those self same dinners being retrieved and brought back to the church. The day became a welcoming feast that lasted into the twilight.

Once the primary eating and drinking were done — there would be trips back for leftovers throughout the evening — the affair divided as usual into three groups. The adults talked about adult things, the children ran and played among themselves, and the teens, thanks to the efforts of one David Marchy in retrieving his equipment from home, retired to the sizeable, flat grassy area at the side of the church to play pall mall.  It would be advisable at this point to clarify two semi-important bits of information. The first is that pall mall was a game played with mallets, round wooden balls and thin iron arches, which would go on to become known as croquet. The second is that David Marchy bears absolutely no importance to the rest of this story.

As they used to be fond of saying, a good time was had by everyone on that pleasant Sunday afternoon in April. Everyone, that is, save for Lilith Wainscott, who grew increasingly aware of — and progressively unhappy about — the attention directed toward her Jonathan, by winsome Amanda Scarsbrough. Matters were exacerbated by the fashion in which the young man appeared to go well out of his way to welcome the newcomer. Making matters worse, Amanda, her bright green eyes flashing and waves of long rich red hair flowing like a ballerina with each puff of breeze, floated about him like a humming bird hovering over a bowl of nectar. It was said that one of the women whispered to her husband a different analogy, one dealing with a spider and a fly.

The three of them became inseparable, which is by way of saying that Lilith, no matter what she tried, could not remove herself, and more especially Jonathan, from Amanda’s attentions.  To his detriment, Jonathan made no clear attempts to assist in the removal. An account preserved from a friend’s diary described young Lilith’s eyes as growing increasingly narrow and taking on a decidedly darker shade of blue, as the day progressed. A deep dark blue, described the entry, that seemed almost to gleam. The account described how Lilith’s jaw became ever more firmly set, her smile fading from friendly to pleasant, pleasant to strained, and finally disappearing entirely. The entry also said that afternoon was the first time Lilith Wainscott, in an aside, used the word witch, though the possibility must be noted that her whispered utterance might have been misunderstood.

There had of course been jealousies before in Eponymous. Even friends and neighbors will have occasional disagreements, and young people will be, well, young people. It has in fact been suggested that the Lord created children in order to keep adults from getting too settled. But this was decidedly different. The tension that arose beneath the mild April sun of that day would be followed by events that would spread twisting tendrils of unrest over the entire glen. More than one resident of Eponymous was of the opinion that it would not end well.

An uneasy peace settled upon the close knit folk of Eponymous Glen, as the days following that Sunday came and went, and came and went again, in a state of being best described as timorous peace. While the pot didn’t boil over during these weeks, neither did it cease to simmer. Nary a soul in the glen could fail to take notice of the three young people who seemed to move about, most always together, like a singularity looking for a place to erupt. To observe it was rare to see young Mr. Ableton out and about without the accompaniment of Lilith, or Amanda, and most frequently both, would qualify as an understatement of epic proportion.  The notable exception to the magma that bubbled beneath his very feet was the young man himself, who seemed possessed of an abnormally bright delight. He gave the impression, as one observant resident noted in her journal, of a happy mouse in the escort of two hungry cats, totally unaware of the delicacy of his situation.

As the days and weeks passed, life in the village achieved an imitation of normality. Glenwood Scarsbrough built a charming small house with the assistance of his neighbors, as was the custom in the glen. His daughter added those touches of feminine inspired decoration and sense of home that throughout the ages have redeemed the structures of men. Much of the time, Jonathan and  Lilith worked right along beside her. Those instances were known to inspire a subtle holding of breath by those close by. The other young folks found the whole all sort of exciting, while the adults watched, reserved their opinions, and kept smiled as if they meant it when encountering the cyclonic trio. To those who quietly expressed apprehension and sought heavenly guidance, the hamlet’s lay minister counseled that the Lord would help the youngsters work it all out for the best.  What the ‘best’ might be, was anyone’s guess.

The situation, described in one diary as “…tightly wound,” began to unravel soon after the completion of the Scarsbrough home. Midway through a bright Tuesday morning, Jonathan Ableton opened the front door to find himself stunned by the alluring sight of Amanda Scarsbrough carrying a beautiful  and lovingly prepared cake, delectable two layer vanilla cake with thick chocolate icing, layered and swirled with such artistic finesse that it seemed to almost reach out curled tendrils of tasty temptation. What the cake’s appearance and aroma promised, the concoction itself would eloquently provide, evidence of the young woman’s advanced culinary talents.  Glenwood Scarsbrough’s daughter was herself a vision of breathtaking beauty. Wearing a sparkling blue dress that perfectly complemented her red tresses, themselves more resplendent than usual, and her dancing green eyes, she was a sight worthy of an artist’s brush. Amanda presented the cake as a gift to the family, but there was no question that her attentions and her enthusiastic attention were for Jonathan himself. At this point, historically inclined readers may remember another instance from the same general time period in France, when cake did not bode well.

The very next morning, an equally attractive and appetizing cake was presented to the Ableton family. This one was a chocolate cake with endless swirls and peaks of frothy vanilla frosting, delivered by Lilith Wainscott, every inch as eloquently dressed, coiffed and beautiful as her antagonist.

This was the beginning of what would become known as the Kitchen Wars.          Cakes and pies, breads and rolls, cookies and brownies formed a steady march of baked goods from the Wainscott and  Scarsbrough houses to the Ableton front door. Little more than a day or two passed without something delicious arriving. On at least one occasion, the two young ladies passed each other on the road, one returning from a delivery while the other was headed forth to make one. These were of course always presented as though to the family, but there was no doubt they were clearly intended, along with increasing degrees of  enticingly prepped and primped young female splendor, to impress Jonathan.

Jonathan most certainly did take note. What red blooded young man could not? Young Ableton had, however, also discovered the downside of such devoted attention. When one or the other of the young women was not visiting or dragging him from his house, the other one was. Where one pulled him, the other showed up. His early delight started to wear heavily upon him. He began wishing to have an occasional bit of privacy and peace, and was starting to look strained and haggard. The discomfort of that bulls-eye grew daily more pronounced.

The good citizens of Eponymous began to collectively and ever so carefully exhale. Amanda and Lilith appeared dedicated to wooing Jonathan in customary, which is to say non-violent, fashion.

Then the strange things began to happen.  On a bright Saturday morning, Lilith was standing at Jonathan’s front door with a freshly baked cherry pie, and just as he opened the door, she felt the plate wiggle. Both of them looked down to see, not a scrumptious pie, but a plate full of large wriggling worms. They screamed together as the plate fell to the ground. After the initial shock, Lilith, her face set in determination as she glared at the plate, then at Jonathan, turned without a word and walked steadfastly homeward.

Two days later, a scream erupted from the kitchen of the Scarsbrough house when Amanda found a sizeable spider crawling on her shoulder, then turned to find that her plate of hot cookies had all turned into arachnids. It was said that she broke several pieces of dishware wielding her broom as a weapon that morning.

The events of what would be remembered as the war of the witches escalated quickly, though to give some small amount of credit of all involved, no deadly atrocities occurred. There was the Sunday that Lilith entered church beautifully dressed as usual, only to suddenly find herself wearing nothing but her underwear; the occasion when Amanda was walking along the road with Jonathan and began shrieking as her luxurious, freshly washed red hair started tying itself into knots, until there were precisely thirteen of them; the day that Lilith was doing the family laundry, only to have a tubful of wet clothes rise up, fly out the door and settle itself in the dirt; the morning that Amanda went to pick roses for a bouquet, and they all turned to poison ivy.

The people of the glen started to pick sides then, and things with clear consequences. One morning every family that favored Lilith awoke to find their house painted in multicolored polka dots, and all of the flowers in their yard the wrong colors. The next day, those who sympathized with Amanda found their houses painted in various colors of squares and triangles, the grass in their yards growing in every color but green. Making things woefully worse, the colors and patterns of all of the houses, yards and gardens periodically and randomly changed themselves. And that, as they say, was that.

The whole glen was called to the church, and both young ladies were brought before the pulpit. The good people of Eponymous made it clear that though they were not inclined to repeat the tragic mistakes of Salem, all witchery activities would come to a stop immediately. Or else. It was a very large or else. Amanda and Lilith protested their innocence -after all, no one would ever confess to such a thing- upon deaf ears. So the girls tearfully promised to cease and desist. Unfortunately, they steadfastly maintained that they knew not how to undo what they had already done.  Grumpily but with love in their hearts, the folk of the glen accepted that, and allowed as how theirs would at least be the most unique community in the vicinity. They did make one very clear additional stipulation. Both young women would stay away, far, far away, from Jonathan Ableton. The two glared at each other as they made the oath.

So the homes and gardens of Eponymous, Missouri continued to change colors, and the glen did in fact enjoy some prosperity as a result. You might even say the hamlet became the first tourist attraction west of the Mississippi. The residents got used to seeing the transformations and, truth be known, a bit proud at the special nature of their little community. Most of the houses are gone now of course, these two hundred years and some later, but the ones that remain still change colors, as do their flowers and yards, and are in fact kept in good condition as museum pieces. If you visit Eponymous, if you can find it don’t forget to take your camera. You might be able to get a tour.

By the bye, Amanda and Lilith did go on to find other beaus and build loving families, leaving the disgrace of their youthful transgressions behind them. They even became friends, and in their later years laughed as they told the stories. Most significantly, neither ever used magic again.

As for Jonathan Ableton, he of the bulls-eye Abletons, he found calmness and then love, in the Marchy family, with David’s sister Emily, who was a year older than Jonathan. Emily was a mousy, though not at all unattractive girl, quiet, and unassuming, who had been Jonathan’s friend since childhood.  He had found peace and comfort with Emily during the height of his despair, and love had followed naturally. Her beauty blossomed through their marriage. They  raised five children together in the glen, then helped raise eleven grandchildren and twenty-three grandchildren. They both lived to ripe old ages, Emily outliving Jonathan by a year to the day. On the day of her funeral, her youngest daughter, Carol Ann, leaned into the coffin to kiss Emily’s still attractive cheek, and to place between her folded hands her mother’s most treasured item, a plain wooden box, three inches wide, two inches tall, and eighteen inches in length. The box was held closed by a bright pink ribbon, which had never lost its brilliant shine, and which no one, however hard they tried, had ever been able to untie.

 

Donald Trump Second Most Admired? Really?

Donald Trump- 2nd Most Admired?

So Donald Trump was the second most admired man in America? That just doesn’t make sense. That’s crazy. Obviously he is nowhere near Barack Obama as a President or a man. But how does he even come in second? Or third? Or three hundred and seventy-eighth?
I mean, just think about it. Donald Trump coming in as America’s second most admired man renders the whole discussion pointless. Pitiable. An exercise in mockery, grotesquery. It would be bad enough if he showed up anywhere in the top eight hundred thousand or so. But no. This power hungry, ignorant, Hitler hopeful, dictator wannabe on the edge of dementia is SECOND???
Are you kidding me? Do you realize what that says about us as a nation? It makes me wonder who was third. Charles Manson?
North Korea at least has an excuse for Kim Jong In always winning. People who don’t vote for him disappear. But America? Selecting Donald Trump right behind Barack Obama? That’s nuts. That is beyond fathom.
And we call ourselves an intelligent nation? An enlightened nation? I’ve got a news flash for you. If Donald Trump is the second most admired man in America, it means this country has much bigger problems than North Korea.
If Donald Trump can come in a close second on this list, It means we have a huge schism between intelligence and ignorance, compassion and hatefulness, rationality and insanity.
It means hate, bigotry, racism, misogyny, greed, white supremacy and dangerously distorted religious cultism are as admired, and practiced, as their opposites. It means the republic of America is in dire straits.
If Donald Trump can be the second most admired man in America, someone had to have pushed the self destruct button. God. help. us. all.

Dear Christian Right Wing

Dear Religious Right Activists

Dear Christian right wing activists. You have the right to practice your cult beliefs in your own lives. It would be nice, however, if you stopped trying to claim that God is on your side, and murdering people you don’t like, on your behalf.
You have been trying to control how the rest of the world — you know, all of the millions and billions of the rest of us who don’t agree with your personal array of bigotries, racist intolerance and blind arrogance — for far too long now. Over the centuries, we have learned who you are. You are a cult of not very bright, closed minded, fearful people who want to think that you are the only ones in the entire universe who might, maybe, possibly, be deserving of God’s grace.
I’ve got some news for you. God is not your personal buddy. God does not care to cozy up with you on your sofa, munch popcorn, and guzzle Bud Light while watching Chuck Norris movies. God never suggested that your personal views and preferences of society, race, sexuality and a thousand other things should rule what he created. In fact, God never advised anyone, as far as I can tell, about his/her/its own gender, sexual preferences or favorite color. Period.
All of those wonderful folks in your Bible who claimed that this was bad, that was good, this other thing was somewhere in the middle? The ones who claimed to be “inspired” by God? They were just passing along the personal social rules and preferences of their time. That’s what the Bible is, more than anything, you see. It is a book of beautiful stories, uplifting thoughts and poetry, attempts to understand and explain events of the day, and — this is important, so pay attention — fear, and threats ‘in the name of God,’ to keep people in line according to what the authors of various bits of content believed was right. The laws of that day as the locals saw them.
The Bible you hug so tightly served to legitimize and make official the racist and sexual prejudices of its time. Today, cultists like yourselves use it to give legitimacy to your own racism and sexual bigotry. You shout out the biblical criminality of people who aren’t like you, and happily ignore every “rule” that you don’t like. Strange, isn’t it, how people do that.
God never said anything about sexuality, or race, or even morality, unless you accept the wisdom of Moses in the Ten Commandments. And how many of you fine “Christian” purists really pay attention to the ‘commandments’ that are too personally bothersome for you to obey? Hmmm?
God was not and is not an old fifty foot tall white man with a long beard. Jesus wasn’t a white boy from Arkansas. And Jesus never, ever, said homosexual or transgender or black or brown people were bad. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and he did NOT specify that they have the same skin or sexuality as us, or that they think exactly the same as us, or act just like we do. Those things were in the minds of the people who voiced their own bigotries and pretended that God told them so. And they got written down and became part of the Bible. What better way, after all, to make sure people obeyed than telling them the community leaders were, modestly of course, Inspired by God? Please. Do you know why there are so many different sects of Christianity itself? It’s because of people being “inspired by God” to see the Bible differently. Hell, half (or more) of the bloodshed that’s been committed on this earth was due to somebody thinking they were “inspired by God.” Boom.
But you say you were personally touched by God, or an angel, during a moment of crisis? Of course you could have been. The power that controls the universe is immense beyond measure. I once felt the presence of that power myself when I reached out for it. It spoke to me and reassured me and gave me strength when I was ready to abandon hope. But that reassurance, that presence, didn’t tell me to go forth and proclaim that those who liked chocolate ice cream would go to Hell. And thank God for that.
This is also a good time to remind you that the earth is not flat, the sun does not revolve around the earth, and the planet is a lot older than five thousand years or so. The earth, and humans, are also probably not the singular apple of God’s eye. We are but the most minute specks in the universe that surrounds us. There are likely three hundred billion or so star systems in our galaxy, likely three or four hundred billion galaxies in God’s universe, and quite likely forty or fifty thousand planets in our Milky Way Galaxy hosting life forms equal to humans in terms of development, some of them possibly far older and far more advanced, and I certainly hope much wiser than us. We don’t know of them only because of the vastness of the galaxy.
In case you wondered, I believe in God as much as you extreme right radicals. Probably more, because I discovered God for myself. I didn’t just read it in a book. But I discovered a God that is neither Baptist or Methodist, Catholic or Protestant, Islamic or Judaic. God is so much bigger and more amazing and powerful than you, or I, can begin to imagine. If God really showed up at your house, I imagine that simple act would wipe out life on this earth. And it wouldn’t mean that God the Creator was mad at anybody. It would just mean that the power and force of this entity we refer to as God is more than any measly human or piece of planetary real estate could survive up close.
You know, we humans are a pretty rotten bunch. As a species, we are the scurviest of the scurvy. We rape, torture and murder each other, and every other species on the planet. We kill other species for the sheer fun of it. Do you really think God supports you, or any of us, in that? And we are destroying the life giving qualities of the home we were given. I can tell you from personal observation that you on the extreme right excel in that department. So we don’t take care of ourselves, or other species, or the planet itself. And it seems to me those were probably the three biggest jobs we were given. Or do you really think homo sapiens were created to lie around naked under the trees for their entire lives playing backgammon with the snakes? Really? I mean, REALLY?
We all need to change our ways, and fast. And the best way to do that, actually the most meaningful way we can do that, is to come together. We, yes this means you, have to realize that God doesn’t have the slightest interest in our skin color or our genitals or who we marry or if we prefer the Patriots over the Raiders. I think God is unhappy about a lot of things. Number one on the list the way that we behave, toward each other and toward the planet we very likely were assigned to care for.
So again, Christian evangelicals and extreme right beasties, please just shut up. Look deep within yourselves and ask some very self critical questions. Go outside at night. Look up at the Stars. Think about how truly enormous all of this is, and how small you and I are. Your attempt to reserve the creator for yourselves alone and spread your personal bigotries and hypocrisies by blaming them on God has to be pretty high up there, too. God isn’t yours. God didn’t put you in charge. If you really want to do some good — which I doubt more every day — start by realizing that you are not God’s police, that everyone does not have to be like you, because that’s arrogant to the point of sickness. You are part of what God created. Quit trying to turn it around. You are not above it. And yes, God inspired me to tell you this.

From the Department of Regrets- So Why Aren’t I a Piano Player?

I can never watch Casablanca without feeling a personal sadness and lingering longing. I’m not talking about the tragedy of Rick and Ilsa’s lost love. They’ll always have Paris. And she did have to get on that plane, for the good of everyone who wasn’t a Nazi. And we were buoyed as her plane climbed into the night, by the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Rick and Louie as they strolled off into the fog to do their part in the battle against Hitler’s tyranny.

No, my melancholy reaction to the film is that I would have loved to be Sam, the piano player. Oh to tickle those ivories with “As Time Goes By.”  I could have, too. My parents gifted me with piano lessons. My teacher thought I had wonderful potential. But children can be a short-sighted lot, clueless as to what’s best for them and what they really want in life. And so I convinced my parents to let me abandon the piano lessons in favor of a irresistible new fad, Saturday morning television. I have regretted it countless times since, most especially when I hear that song. “A kiss is just a kiss…” could have been the kiss of my fingers on the ivories. Could have been. So many beautiful and memorable songs could have been mine to play. Could have been. So many times have I wished I had committed to studying, and mastering, that beautiful instrument. So many times I have failed to act upon the wish.

I grew up in the tail end of what I think of as the great piano age. From jazz to romance songs to classical music, from movie screens to radio, the piano was the sound of the soul. Oh the clarinet was that, too, and he coronet had some nice moments, softer and more mellow than its brash cousin the trumpet. So did the saxophone. The violin, the harp, and other string instruments sang from the heart as well. But everything revolved around the piano, with its incredible range, its ability to frame our dreams and loves and memories softly one moment and drive our excitement and impetuosity the next, to lightly tinkle like the drops of a gentle spring shower and in an eyelid’s blink crash with the thunder of a summer storm. The piano was both king and queen of music before the electric guitar mugged it, before rock and roll and its successors pushed it aside, before synthesizers stole and distorted the beauty of its sound, before heavy metal and gangsta rap dragged the beauty of music into the alley and choked the life out of it, replacing it with yelling and screeching and angry pounding not knowing where it wanted to go, but determined to get there as loudly and offensively as possible.

How I wish I had not abandoned that beautiful instrument. My sister played piano, (she still does), My parents urged me to continue my lessons. My teacher loved my long fingers, prophesized that I could be exceptional. I was proud. My mother beamed. My father was glad the money seemed well-spent. But the endless study of scales and mechanics and drawing (badly) notes on paper ultimately bored me. The simple, and old, songs that were my ‘curriculum’ did not excite. And then there was that television show. It was black and white and somewhat grainy, but it was a cowboy show and much more exciting than scales and paper notes and repetition of boring ‘beginning pieces.’ I was very young, very short-sighted with an attention span to match, undoubtedly somewhat stupid, so I convinced my parents to let me give up the lessons.

Now, please understand that my parents were wonderful, loving, considerate, and wanted more than anything for me to be happy. I have wished, though. countless times during the intervening years, that just once, one time in my young life, they had put their two pair of feet down very firmly, directly on my short-sighted and stupid little head if necessary. But they didn’t, and it would be wrong of me, wrong and petty and ungrateful, to blame them for trying to make me happy. The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in thy parents…..so on and so forth.

Sadly, I didn’t get any smarter as the years went by. I could have returned to study the piano at any time. Many people do. In my defense I can offer only the classic tepid explanations. I was too busy, or I didn’t want to spend the money. Or this. Or that. Even though I frequently, during my collegiate and young adult professional years found myself having a drink in a lounge, and being drawn to the sound of the piano playing softly in the background, or attending a party or other social gathering where someone sat down at the piano and immediately drew a crowd of appreciative listeners. In spite of wishing I had that skill, I never found the gumption, as my grandmother would have said, to follow through on the wish. Oh sure, I wanted to play, but I consistently found excuses to put aside the desire. Was I afraid, rather deep down, that I wouldn’t rise to the level of excellence I admired in others? Or was I making excuses for just not wanting to commit to the work? I would always circle back to remembering that I had attempted the task at a young age and not had the will to follow through with the effort and determination required. It’s a long journey from that first scale to the opening notes of a Gershwin piece. I had been given the opportunity once, and defaulted on the challenge. I would, the little voice whispered, likely do the same thing again. The surest way not to fail, is after all, not to begin.

Now the years have gone by. My fingers are not as supple as once they were, though they seem serviceable enough. I say to myself that the point of the whole thing has by now become lost, that even if I decided to take lessons, the long and uphill process would be doubly steep at this point in my life, so long a journey before I could begin to play well. And without being able to play well, without being able to play well enough that someone would start to sing, or maybe whisper, “… a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh…” there really would be no point at all. Chopsticks is fun I guess, but if you can’t play some Gershwin, why bother? I’d like to find someone to blame. I’d love to be able to write an indignant letter to the editor about the villain that cost me the beautiful experience of making lovely music on those keys. But I know too well who is to blame for my loss. I know him intimately. I wish him no ill, but I doubt that I will ever be able, quite, to forgive him. Our regrets, it seems, do indeed float beside us, taunting us, whispering their melancholy rebuke of our failure into our ear, as time goes by.