My Great America – It Might Be Different From Yours

Date: 7-4-2016

I’m surrounded by the sounds of Independence Day as I sit down to write this. The skies are clear. The daylight heat has graciously acquiesced to the pleasant temperatures of evening. My windows are open. Pleasant breezes steal through the screens, carrying with them the full collection of bangs, sizzles, whistles, pops, whoops, and occasional big booms of July fourth.  I welcome them, revel in them. I have contributed a fair share of them during my seventy-three years. Well, seventy-two if you hold me to absolute accuracy. My birthday won’t be official until about three a.m. tomorrow morning. But we are accorded a certain leeway on such things as this when we reach a certain age, and I certainly have.

As I listen to the celebrations, and glance occasionally at the multicolored displays large enough to rise above the houses, I find myself reflecting on phrases that are of such particular import on this day, more than any other. Phrases, and the passionate beliefs behind them, that drove and formed the foundation of this ‘great experiment’ in Democracy of ours. I let them dance through my mind like a Cohan tune, with a hint of Gershwin as counterpoint. “When in the course of human events…We, the people…a  more perfect union…establish justice…promote the general welfare…all men are created equal…” They ring with as strong a resonance today as they did two hundred and fifty years ago in Philadelphia’s sweltering and tumultuous Independence Hall.

This year, I cannot help but think also of a more contemporary phrase that demands prominence during these clearly troubled times. Troubled times. If we but stop and think, I mean really think, we must face the fact of the matter, namely that most times in the history of man have been troubled. Man is a creature whose specialty, more perhaps than any other, seems to be predicated on creating trouble, then laboring mightily and bloodily in an effort to get out of it. Truth be told, man’s ‘good times’ are good primarily in the sense of being only somewhat less troubled than others. But I digress.

The other phrase that comes to mind is one we hear tossed about almost constantly in print and on the airwaves during this election year. Make America great again. As a sound bite, it’s a passionate call to patriotism. As a slogan, it’s irresistible. Undeniable. How can you, or I, or anyone who loves our country, argue against it? It dares you to disagree. If you question it, it slimes you with a coating of questionable patriotism. Any true American, any genuine patriot, any citizen who loves the U.S.A., wants our country, our America, to be great. Again.

The fly in the buttermilk here, as Sam Houston was wont to say, is the question of which great America we’re talking about?  The America of our founding fathers was certainly great. How could it not be? It achieved our independence from a non-resident and callous King who showed little concern for the rights and issues of his colony in the Americas, except when it came time to tax them. Even though our founders left intact the awful and despicable practice of slavery in the south, and the economies in the north which profited from it, out of a certainty that otherwise there would be no new America at all, they made their bargain with the Devil with all good intentions of addressing that problem at a more manageable later time. That issue would take almost a hundred years to reach a boiling point, but it was on the agenda. And overall, the American Revolution was indeed, a great and notable time for America.

What of those generations in between, then? Generations in which the country was settled, east to west and north to south. The immigrants and their children who built the country during that time faced hardships of weather and geography, and made enormous sacrifices as they expanded the country out of its little pocket on the Atlantic coast. The British attempted to put us back in our place, that being the King’s pocket, and the War of Eighteen-Twelve called upon our new country to raise its resolve once again, which it did, and again it prevailed, with a bit of help from the French. Native Americans, initially welcoming in most instances and later, unfortunately, a bit in the way, didn’t fare so well, but progress was, as it is today, a powerful force, sort of like making an omelet. And we know how that works.

One of our greatest Presidents, though reviled in his own time, like another President who would appear a hundred and fifty years or so later, finally resolved that slavery had to end. It was simply wrong and could no longer be tolerated. It’s difficult to think of anything as atrocious and violent and murderous as our Civil War, as being a great time in our history, but it did officially end slavery. The sacrifices made by hundreds of thousands of white, and black men, prevailed over hundreds of thousands of other white men, and did finally fulfill the phrase, “…all men are created equal.”  To be sure, it didn’t end racism against the black man and woman, and it certainly did little to alleviate the bigotry and hatred with which we seem to greet each new generation of immigrants not among the original bunch, or our own bunch. The Irish can tell you that, and the Chinese, and the Mexicans, and the Asians, and well, you get the idea.  But the buckets and box cars of blood and carcasses that defined the War between the States did establish, at last, that it was immoral and illegal to own another person, and that the government of this country would not tolerate it.

If we are looking for that ‘great’ America, the era from the end of the Civil War to the early twentieth century would surely be a good time to look. From the late eighteenth century to the turn of the twentieth, settlers swept forward in all directions. From the cities of the east to the Pacific Ocean and from the Canadian border to the Rio Grande,  across the fertile plains, the arid deserts, the broad rivers and towering mountains, the frontier was tamed, the west was won, commerce expanded, law and order was slowly established. Millions of hard working, long suffering people, good people mostly, looking for nothing grander than a better life, turned the vastness of America into a true country. It’s almost impossible not to look upon the westward expansion as a great era. Of course, Native Americans were the recipients of a bit of collateral damage called genocide, and much of the greatness of America was built upon land that had previously belonged to Mexico. But those were small things when looked at alongside the overall accomplishments and accumulating greatness. It was grand. Therefore it had to be great.

It’s probably safe to say that most Americans, when they speak of “…that time when America was great,” are most likely thinking of the era stretching from the burgeoning of the Industrial Revolution, or latter nineteenth century, through the two world wars, the time when the United States established itself as a formidable, respected, and feared international power. These decades also saw the growth of the American middle class and improvement of working and living conditions for the majority of its citizens.  The poor continued to be poor, of course, and those guilty of inadequate ambition moved mostly downward, but overall the twentieth century was a time when America was considered by the world, and therefore Americans, as a truly great country.  The Statue of Liberty attested to the fact, and immigrants looking for better lives flowed to our shores, where the ones who had arrived immediately before them whispered in their ears “Watch your back.”

Of course the twentieth century did give us those two world wars, and the Korean war, and the Vietnam war, though neither of the latter two were given the dignity of being called wars. Bigotry and racism still ruled, unofficially of course, in much of the country, especially in the deep south. Whites used one water fountain, the cleaner and better one, while blacks used the other, dirtier and not so good one. White folks ate and strolled wherever they wished, black folks wherever they were allowed. That was all finally forced to an end during the civil rights movement that raised itself up in the nineteen-sixties, and officially sanctioned racism was finally, again, rooted out of the south. Like all such things do, it merely went underground where the hate and bigotry festered, and continues to do so to this day. So when we look at the twentieth century, it’s more accurate to describe America’s greatness primarily as its performance in the two world wars, and the fearsomeness it built for itself. Here’s a point to consider. Out of all of the nuclear warheads existing in different countries since the mid-nineteen forties, out of all the thousands of them, only one nation has ever actually used the abominable weapon. America, twice. The bill for Pearl Harbor, paid in full.

We are barely into the twenty-first century, and we have spent virtually the whole of it at war, in one place and another. We live in fear of terrorists and our own neighbors. We still practice racism and bigotry across the land. Anyone who doesn’t realize it is not paying attention. We stand at a crossroads of whether this country can force its way back to a nation of government, or allow ourselves to make the final slide into a financial and corporate oligarchy. The poor are poorer than perhaps any time other than the Great Depression. The middle class teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, unable to afford a house, in some places unable to afford even an apartment.  Religious zealots are trying furiously to make the United States a version of the Middle East, where religion rules over reason. The country is facing some of its direst threats in history, and no, I’m not talking about ISIS.

So we come back to my original question, which of the ‘great’ Americas do we want to be, again?

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, of course, no matter how much I might want to. Mel Brooks told us “It’s good to be the King.” But I’m not one.  I’m just a mere commoner. My needs and wants are those of a commoner. The great America I want to see is no more, and no less, than the phrases in my head describe. An America where all men, and women, are equal; an America where justice is served for all; an America where your gender, your sexuality, the color of your skin and the shade of your religion, are no one’s business but your own. I want an America governed by reason, not by your religion or mine or anybody else’s. I crave an America where it’s not a crime to be an employee or a blue collar worker, punishable by poverty even if you work forty hard hours a week. I dream of an America where we are ready to fight to the death against terrorists and demigods and threats to our freedom , but understand that commonality of borders, or ancestry, or some book is not within itself proof of criminality. And I want an America great enough to lead, not follow, in the quest for environmental responsibility and humane treatment of all animals, including those destined to sacrifice their lives for us. I ask for a Lincoln’s America, “…of the people, by the people, for  the people…;” but I want add something to Abe’s quote. I want us to read it as I think he meant it,”…of all the people, by all the people, for all the people. And I dream of a nation that understands the people are inextricably linked to the land, the sky, the waters, and our fellow species.  Now that nation could change the world. That nation would be a truly great America.


Something Important called RACE

A quote from Charles Barkley has garnered attention recently. This is the quote:
  We as black people, we are never going to be successful, not because of you white people, but because of other black people. It’s a dirty dark secret. You know when there are young black kids doing well in school, the loser kids tell ’em, “Oh, you’re acting white.”
For some reason we are brainwashed to think if you’re not a thug or an idiot you are not black enough.
-Charles Barkley
It was posted on Facebook and immediately picked up by some right wingers who jumped on it is the be-all/end-all statement on the subject. They eagerly commented on it and used it as ammunition for an attack on left wingers and of course, yet another attack on President Obama. They were piling on like ants on a pile of sugar.  Of course they were off base in much of their vitriol, just as the left is frequently wrong in much of its generalized venom against the right. My thoughts, as they appeared in that comment threat, follow.
There is so much truth to what Charles says. I am also one that has long appreciated that he speaks his mind. I am VERY DISAPPOINTED, however, that so many of the extreme right wingers here have taken this as an opportunity to bash Democrats and particularly our President. You folks don’t know what you are talking about for one very large reason, and it’s the same reason so many of my Democratic friends don’t know what they are talking about either. The reason is this. It’s not a simple case of all this way or all the other way, people. There is ample blame to go around. And this is an issue that will NOT be resolved until BOTH sides of the political spectrum realize that the only true reason they want to lay ALL of the blame on the OTHER side is so they can avoid taking any responsibility at all for their OWN side’s contributions to the problem. It’s about three or four generations past time for people on BOTH sides to commit to COMING TOGETHER to find, if I may paraphrase the words of JFK, not the Democratic solution, and not the Republican solution, and not the white solution or the black solution, but the RIGHT solution. People who genuinely need help, need help, and those who are physically able need to also be offered, and expected to accept, education and training to help them improve their life. The radical white class needs to realize that they really have NO understanding of the genuine race-related problems black people face, nor any real knowledge or appreciation of the white race’s contribution to the black problem, while the radical black class needs to realize that all white people don’t hate them, stop crying foul every time it is suggested that they, and especially the black radical youth, have to start accepting their own responsibility to lift themselves up. This isn’t just a white problem, people, nor is it just a black problem. It’s not a Democrat problem or a Republican problem. It is ALL of that, and it is, first, foremost, and always, an AMERICAN problem. It will be addressed and solved as an AMERICAN problem or it will not be solved at all.

The Shortest Thirty Eight Chapter Murder Mystery In History -or- Murder, Deceit and Resolution in Seven Hunded and Forty Six Words

So many mystery, suspense and detective novels to read. So little time. I thought I’d share this one that you can finish in a few minutes.

Chapter 1: This was where it started. I knew it was trouble as soon as the dame 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 and told me to lay off. We talked wise for awhile. I was funnier.

Chapter 5: I told the dame 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.

Chapter 8: I talked to the guy’s friends and enemies. I didn’t get much. I met dame number two.

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

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

Chapter 11: 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 he dressed badly.

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

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

Chapter 15: 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 bought 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 gave me another warning. The female agent watched me. I watched her back.

Chapter 22: I looked at something I’d already looked at, but looked at it a different way. Son of a gun.

Chapter 23: I retraced the guy’s tracks again and found it. It was the evidence that broke the case.

Chapter 24: The phone rang. A nasty voice said they had dame number two. They said they’d trade.

Chapter 25: I phoned my buddy the good cop. 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.

Chapter 27: I watched them set the trap. Then I walked right into it. The good cop was part of it.

Chapter 28: My buddy cop turned gangster was surprised that I knew, but said it wouldn’t really matter.

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 and in a sweat.

Chapter 31: I was pretty sure where she’d be. I raced through the city’s street maze, the FBI behind me.

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

Chapter 33: I made a screeching left turn against a red light and got t-boned. I jumped out and ran.

Chapter 34: The police Captain was locking his front door when I rammed him into it from behind.

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

Chapter 36: I got his 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 FBI woman. She was carrying a six pack. I already had cigarettes.

The End.

To Sleep to Dream to Scream

Just a little thing I tossed off recently in response to a friend’s Facebook post about remembering the good old days of wooden screen doors. Thanks for the inspiration, Darrell!

How many times have you heard it. The phrase. Come on, you know it. “The stuff that dreams are made of.” Yeah, that’s the one. A new car, winning the lotto, getting that big inheritance, the stuff that dreams are made of. Well here’s a little head knocker for you. That stuff is all about the dreams you have . . . in the daytime.  It’s about stuff you run through your head while you’re working, or driving, or paying your bills. Day dreams. You make them up yourself. They’re your wish list.

The dreams that steal into your head all by themselves while you’re sleeping, now, that’s different. The ones that float through your subconscious whether you want them or not, those are the real McCoy.  Those are the ones you don’t want, and can’t turn off. They are the images and sounds and voices that reach out from the depths of darkness to pry open the inner chambers of your mind, to break through the locks guarding your deepest, darkest thoughts and fears and phobias and paranoia.  Those are the dreams that make you toss about in the night. They are the ones that jolt you awake with your eyes jerking open to swivel in the darkness, to take a moment, as you cringe under the sheet, to reassure yourself you really are in your own safe bed and it was only a dream. Yes, thank God, only a dream.

That small, deserted, dilapidated house you stopped in front of when your tire went flat. Only a dream. The old crookedly leaning homemade swing set with one seat missing, the other dangling from a single frayed rope, just a dream, no more real than the broken, one-eyed doll lying in the mostly grassless yard overtaken by weeds and dust that stirred gently when the breeze rose. It was all a manufactured figment born of an unsettled imagination due to a restless sleep.

None of it was any more real than the house itself, standing torturously in the deep dusk after another day of withering heat, laboring to draw in air through the hole in its one remaining glass window.  It was just a dream, an eerie, gauzy, ephemeral scene generated by a restive mind not yet willing to relax. None of it was real. Not the flat tire, or the swing, or the doll or the yard. Not the warm breeze. Not the house or the broken window or the screen door with its ripped fabric that slowly moved back and forth, banging against the door jamb, drifting open only to fall back again against the jamb, the soft slap of ruined wood against ruined wood creating a kind of slow dirge. Bang. Bang. Bang.

If it hadn’t been a dream you would never have been drawn by that door, pulled closer by the slow, steady, sadness of its beseeching monotonous call. In the real world you would not have crossed that dusty yard, the weeds scratching at your legs in the growing darkness. You wouldn’t have taken the single step up onto the small porch and moved carefully around its missing planks. You wouldn’t have heard the faint painful moaning of the breeze through that broken window. You would not have caught the edge of the swinging door, which hung crookedly now that you looked at it up close.

In the wakening world you surely wouldn’t have felt compelled to turn the rusty knob of the inner door, much less push against its resistance, the resistance of swollen wood and disjointed frame. You would not have forced the door open to a dusty, stifling hot  interior even darker than the outside, a

blinding, disorienting blackness within which you heard for the first time the plaintive, heart-breaking sobs of the softly crying child. You wouldn’t have taken that one step forward into the darkness that swallowed you as something grabbed your throat. You wouldn’t have screamed as you were pulled further into the dark eternity, arms flailing, feet scraping along the floor, trying desperately to pull you back .

But the suddenness with which you gasped awake was real. So was the pounding of your heart, the sweat that soaked your sheets, the desperate shaking relief of  your return to the waking world. And the self effacing almost hysterical laughter that celebrated your escape from the dream world, from the nightmare of your imagination . . . that was very real.

Throughout the day you paused in thought now and then, drawing up fleeting images of that excursion into the darkness beyond sleep. You reminded yourself that it was only a dream. A strange, compelling nightmare, so real, so clearly a product of the imagination.

Hours later, as you set off on your weekend trip, you were still chiding yourself for the scream with which you had awakened, still laughing in relief at the unreal grip the dream had on you, when you heard the pop of your tire being punctured, the hiss of the air escaping. You cursed mildly and slowed and pulled to the side of the road. You were lucky there was an open area well off the pavement you could use for changing the tire. A dusty open area in front of a dusty, weed infested yard with a broken swing set, and a broken one-eyed doll, and a deserted, dilapidated little house with a single broken window, and a desolate screen door with a long tear in its fabric, that swung in the breeze, banging into the jamb. Bang. Bang. Bang.

Books Are Not For Burning

I first published this post in June of 2015, under the title The Book Burners Are at it Again. I think it bears saying again. I was angry at the time. I always get angry whenever someone with a personal agenda tries to shut down the free expression of thoughts and ideas. The link within the piece is still active, at least as of 6/6/2016.

They’re at it again. Seems a young college student and her parents were so dismayed at the content in a college English class that they have taken it upon themselves to act as Inquisitors and Protectors on behalf of all college students everywhere. God forbid that anyone should think differently than they do. Here’s the URL (you know, link) so that you can read the entire story. Just cut and paste.

This kind of thing isn’t new, of course. Dictators and tyrants, ultra conservatives, religious zealots, the closed-minded, private interest groups, etc., have tried to control what everyone can see, hear and read for as long as seeing, hearing and reading have existed. We never have a shortage of people who want to eliminate from everyone -for the good of everyone, of course- anything they personally find offensive or damaging to their agenda.  For you mathematicians the formula tends to work like this. DNMS + IF2 x (FOC + DOTI + SOM)10 = VIOTH.  For the rest of us, that’s “Degree of Narrow Minded Syndrome + Ignorance Factor squared x the combination of Fear of Change, Degree of Thought Impairment, and Size of the Mouth to a factor of 10, equals the Volume and Intensity of the Harangue. You’re welcome.

To put it all a little more simply, Those who are small minded, fearful of change, or have an agenda of dominance for their own views, will always try to control the flow of thoughts and knowledge, experiences and feelings, of and between others. They will seek to control what is said or written. Sometimes these people really believe they mean well. Frequently, not so much. Historically, one of the first things that invading despots did was to kill the teachers in the conquered territory. American slave owners prohibited the education of their slaves. Today we see the attempted repression of and terrible violence visited upon teachers and their students by organizations like ISIS and the Taliban.

The student and her parents who have started this little campaign to shut down the content of a college course are probably shocked to see themselves mentioned in the same breath as those groups. What they do not realize, because they are focused only on themselves, is this. The exclusion of ideas, the repression of speech, almost always starts this simply. What follows is the response I wrote in Facebook as soon as I read the news story:

To all of you radical, frightened, in many cases bigoted, fanatic, religious zealots, etc., who are able to make your medieval, regressive, and let me emphasize this one, IGNORANT agendas considered in your local public schools, just please shut your loud mouths and closed minds when it comes to publications/books either offered or required on college campuses. One of the most vital and important aspects of a college education is to get one’s mind opened to a larger world, bigger ideas, more universal issues and possibilities; to create open thought and greater awareness. Your child is becoming an adult. He or she is not your baby any more. You may have closeted yourself in your own tight, shuttered, closed minded little world. You have no right to try to sentence your children to the same kind of exclusionary, idea-free, exploration-free, possibility-free existence. Just..stop. Who am I to say this? I’m a TEACHER!

That may sound harsh. But let’s be clear about this. Higher education isn’t about keeping things the way they are. It’s about opening minds. It’s about ideas and experiences and exchange of information. Sometimes it’s radical, because knowledge and thought must inevitably shake up the status quo. Never has this been more so than today, with the entire world now engaged in this process across every national border.

Take a look at just a few of the classic books that have been challenged or banned because someone didn’t like their ideas.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain); Beloved (Tony Morrison); The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger); The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck); Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell); The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Malcolm X and Alex Haley); Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury); Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Dee Brown).

Some of the most important human emotions, rights, dilemmas, and ideas are contained in those books.  They speak of the human condition. Their content cannot be marginalized by the reactions from the closed minded. Their voices must not be shut own. The more uncomfortable they make us, the more important are their ideas.

You send your child off to college to do more than learn math tables. A college university is far more than the thirteenth grade. Campuses of higher learning are just that, melting pots of people and ideas and experiences. They are laboratories of growth, incubators of critical thought and minds that seek instead of settle. You should settle no less for your child once they have left the safe and relatively conservative environs of your local public school.

If you want your child to succeed in the world, to cope, to contribute to it and expand both it and themselves for the better, you have to be prepared to let them go.  Here’s the rest of my response as it appeared on Facebook.

I understand your discomfort; however one of the things that students learn to do in college is to filter, and another is to become adept at dealing with unlikeable instructors and/or subject material they do not feel comfortable with or don’t think is relevant. If they feel that what a teacher introduces is both uncomfortable AND not particularly relevant, then they learn how to deal with that and still produce worthy work. And of course they have the counseling of their parents available, more so now than ever via phone and internet. The critical factor is they are moving forward in not just education, but in maturity, learning to make their own decisions, and discerning the good from the bad from the ugh. And parents almost always over-react to the kind of thing you describe. This is where parents develop also, in trusting their kids to process, and to make the right decisions on their own. Censorship has a place only in the rarest and most extreme of circumstances.

Counsel your child, but also trust your child. Understand that some of the ideas and content they will be exposed to on a college or university campus is not going to meet with your personal approval. Understand it and get over it. The world is home to many billions of people, the United States embraces over three hundred million. If I may paraphrase Shakespeare, there are more ideas, viewpoints, experiences, and issues out there than are dreamt of in your personal realm.

You can’t begin to eliminate everything your child is going to encounter, of which you do not approve. Why would you want to? You should be glad that there is a nurturing environment on a campus of higher learning in which she or he can  approach many of these things and reflect upon them. And remember this: your child is not the only one on that campus or in that classroom. A college or university does not, cannot devote itself to the personal preferences of Glen and Katheryn in Desloge, Missouri.  My parents would never have dreamed of wanting it that way.

Your kid is in college. Your kid is going to love a lot of it be ambivalent about a good deal of it, and moan and bitch about the rest. It’s all good. The bitching just shows that they’re thinking. That’s a good thing. Stay out of the way. It’s not your place to decide for everybody. Don’t make me get my flying monkeys.

The Abduction of Deuce O’Clock

Night Thieves

They came for  him in the middle of the  night, in that valley of time that nestles between late yesterday and early today. You know it, it’s the time when they tell us most people die. If  only I’d been awake, I might have been able to stop it. I might’ve been there waiting for them, the Colt .45 on my belt and my fist wrapped around a set of brass knuckles. They wouldn’t have been expecting me. They wouldn’t have wanted to meet up with me. They damn well didn’t want any part of me. They only wanted my friend.

But I wasn’t there for him. I’d been seduced by a shapely bottle of red wine with an inviting aroma and a sweet wet kiss. She had practically thrown herself into my arms and directed my eyes toward the corkscrew, then the pilsner glass. Yeah, I know, but I prefer not to drink my wine from one of those sissy glasses the debutantes like to use. Call me a real man. I’ll plead guilty.

Oh, we had a lovely time, Miss Rose and I. Her kisses started cool, then warmed on my lips and teased their way down my throat. The next thing I knew I was jolting awake in the darkness with a sense of alarm, a dread that something had happened and I hadn’t been there to stop it. I stumbled up and found the light switch, with no idea of how the lights had gone out to begin with.

It was quiet. Too quiet, like they say in the old movies. Rose was sleeping on the floor with the empty pilsner glass, the two of them curled up together next to the sofa where I’d spent the night. The cats blinked in the sudden light and looked to me for an explanation. I didn’t have one. I looked around the room. The clock on the wall told me it was quarter after two. My watch said the same thing. But something wasn’t right. My hackles raised in suspicion. I went through the apartment with a cautious haste. Bedroom, bathroom, kitchen. Everything was perfect. Except that it wasn’t. My sixth sense was turning in tight little circles of alarm. And then it hit me in the face like the slap of a washrag soaked in English Leather. My little inner voice said “Damn!”  Softly at first, then louder, and louder still, until it was a screaming thing inside my head.

I slowly sat back down on the sofa. I picked up my cell phone. I carefully, as carefully as if it were a ticking bomb and I was trying to disarm it, pushed the ‘on’ button. And there it was, staring me in my bleary eyed face. The time. Not two-twenty, but three-twenty.  I shook the phone and stared. The damn thing looked back at me and laughed at me. I knew it was right. It was always right, and it was smug about it.

Three-twenty. It had happened again. They had sneaked in with their sneakily quiet sneakers and sneaked back out with my friend, Two o’clock. Taken him from right under my nose. They had made away with him while I slept, the Colt and the brass knuckles stored away uselessly in the bedroom. They were scared of me, so they had sent Rose to distract me while they bundled my friend up and shipped him off to . . . somewhere. Some place I knew I would never find. I knew, because I had looked before, plenty of times. I cursed. The phone silently mocked me and ticked off another minute.

Now my friend is out there, somewhere, alone and lost and frightened. Oh, they’ll bring him back in a few months, as always. In the middle of the night again, as always. Dazed and confused and not knowing what happened during all those months in between, as always. And I’ll welcome him back, and check him for injuries. And I’ll open another bottle of wine, a Chianti, maybe, because I know now I can’t trust Rose. I’ll take the pilsner glass back off the shelf and fill it, and I’ll spend the night telling Deuce about all the things he missed. And I’ll promise him, again, that the next time I’ll be there to stop them. And he’ll know again, as I know, that there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.