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

All Men Are Walter Mitty…with apologies to James Thurber and the movies

It’s true. We are. Deep in our hearts, all men are James Thurber’s creation. Well, not all. There those few who actually do incredibly brave and dangerous things. They are the police officers, soldiers, mountain climbers, firefighters, deep sea divers, and others like them, all of whom possess extraordinarily stout hearts and levels of courage. And let us not forget men with multiple mothers-in-law, and veterinarians who endeavor to clean a cat’s teeth without putting them to sleep first.

Most of we male specimens, though, regardless of how brave we talk and how hard we squint, are Mitty rather than intrepid gun toting, whip wielding, two fisted, and by the way brilliant archaeologists. We’re quite satisfied, we day to day average Joes, to derive our excitement vicariously, from our literary and especially, movie heroes. It’s sufficient that we can cheer those bigger than life fictional conquerors of evil, those champions of virtue who are chased by hordes of delirious beautiful women clearly unattainable by . . . well, us. The women who chase us, are usually throwing rocks. But in that darkened palace of celluloid dreams, we only have to manage our popcorn and soda, and let our screen counterparts do the hard part. They are us. We are them. Cue the deep throated growl.

Of course, we closeted saviors of the weak and helpless have to mask our fearless, unflinching, unshrinking, undaunted, bold, adventurous, indomitable,  and don’t forget gallant, heroism most of the time. I mean, those guys in the movies don’t have to worry about buying groceries, getting the oil changed, putting up with stupid bosses, or taking the kids to soccer and dance lessons. Still, in our minds and hearts, we know who we really are. Take me, for instance. I can go into my Mitty trance at any time, under the most innocent of circumstances.

For instance, I can be taking a casual walk on a lovely day. I reach the path where I’m going to turn the corner and suddenly I’m no longer me. I’m Kevin Kline, strolling easily, my left arm hanging casually, my right hand barely brushing the butt of my Colt revolver as I lean gently into the turn. On the far side of street, Linda Hunt, her name is Stella, cringes anxiously  beside a lamp post. Out of the corner of my left eye, further down the street, Brian Dennehy sits in a chair in front of the sheriff’s office, waiting. He sees me, gets up, and walks to the middle of the street.. My pace is steady, my pulse a calm sixty-eight. I don’t blink.

I stop twenty feet away from him. The brim of my hat shades my eyes, but not too much. Dennehy says, “Hello, Paden.” I say, “Hello Cobb.” He tells me what a waste it was, what a sweet deal we could’ve had. I say “Yeah, Bad luck.” A moment passes. Then I say, “Goodbye Cobb.” He says “Goodbye Paden.” He reaches for his gun. I reach for mine. My gun roars. He staggers. His gun drops from his hand. He drops to his knees, then to the dirt. Justice is served. I look at Linda Hunt. I still don’t blink. I never blink. Fadeout.

Of course, not all of my Mitty moments are long ones. They are often no more than a momentary diversion. My daughter sees a small spider and screeches. I rush over to find it. By now it’s in hiding, and Robert Shaw’s Quint almost says, “He’s under the boat! I think he’s gone under the boat! He’s under the boat.”

You may start to give something to me, and it falls out of our hands to the floor. You’re not even aware that you’ve instantly become Lee Marvin, and that my inner John Wayne is thinking, “You, Liberty. You pick it up.”  Ask me how I want something done. You’ll find yourself facing my Harrison Ford, in the desert, bloody from killing a Nazi soldier, grumbling, “I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.” That’s an especially good one, by the way. When I’m Indy, I can swim. And I can lie back against the sofa imagining Karen Allen dabbing at my wounds, blurting out, “Dammit Indy, is there any place that doesn’t hurt?” I pause for two seconds, then point to a spot on my face, then one on the corner of my mouth.

I have to confess that my Mitty movie personas also don’t respect gender lines. Sometimes when every possible thing has gone wrong, I close my eyes and I’m Vivien Leigh, crying and crumpled on that glorious curving stairway wondering, “Where’ll I go? What’ll I do?” But then I straighten, wipe my eyes, and exclaim “After all, tomorrow IS another day!.”

They also have (of course they do) their superhero moments. Let something go horribly wrong, and that’s Superman screaming to the sky “NOOOOOOOOO!”

Being an actor, some of my Mitty moments take me into more villainous territory. Actors love to play bad guys. I can be in a dreary conversation with someone who just insists on droning on about two or three hundred trivial things that don’t interest me in the least. With my eyes politely remaining open, my mind begins to gauze over until I’m Hugo Weaving’s wonderfully sinister Agent Smith, sitting across the desk from Keanu Reeves’ Neo. He’s panicking as his lips start to blend into each other until they become a smooth surface. I take snide pleasure in saying, “Tell me, Mister Anderson. What good is a telephone, if you cannot speak?”

Oh, I could go on and on, and in far greater detail, about my Mitty moments. As I said, all men have them, the realization of which was part of James Thurber’s greatness, that insight into the smallest tics of human idiosyncrasies. I think this tendency is more attributable to men than to women. Of course women have their own myriad of dreams and fantasies, but this need to be a dashing, swashbuckling, hero sort seems to me to be particularly male. We are stuck with it.

Now, there is the definite possibility that some of you started thinking, about two pages ago, what in the world this silliness has to do with, well, much of anything. And there I go again, fading, fading, becoming Clint Eastwood in a dusty saloon with Gene Hickman lying at my feet, growling, and I growl, “Deserving’s got nothing’ to do with it.”

But it does have a lot to do with movies and books. Consider it a gentle homage to the world of adventure fantasy, to the marvelous, gifted authors and actors who give us heroes to emulate, characters who take us out of our everyday world and into worldwide adventures. They vanquish the bad guys and always get the girl. And they make us think, even if we don’t admit it, ahhh, to be that guy. Colorful, strong, stalwart and heroic, they make us want to reach for the same qualities within ourselves. And that’s not a bad thing.

I’ll let you return to the mundane real world no, after leaving you with one last little Mittyism. It’s one that I think of a bit more now, as I grow older. I like to envision, in those quieter moments, that when the final frame of the credits fades to black, and the projection light winks out, Brandon Dewilde will be standing at the corner of Crafton’s store, calling out, “Shane!  Come back, Shane.” Err, I mean Barry.

 

 

 

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.

 

a short story — DARK RAINS AND HURT THINGS

4895

I damn near killed her. I’d been driving through a steady early autumn rain ever since leaving St. Louis and through the same kind of weather for most of three days before that. I’d left the Interstate an hour earlier and pointed the rental toward the old family homestead along an old state two-lane. It was the only way to get there.

The gloomy Missouri afternoon had grayed into premature dusk and was sinking toward early darkness. The wipers were on high and the headlights on dim for better visibility. I barely noticed the rhythmic thump-whump of the wiper blades. I was road tired and I knew it, so I was keeping my speed down. That’s what saved her life.

She was shuffling along right on the edge of the pavement. I didn’t see her until I was a hundred feet or so from hitting her. At forty miles an hour I had less than a second to react, even while noticing she was completely naked. Then she stumbled and veered to her left, right into the center path of my grill. I hit the brakes and jerked the wheel left at the same time. The rental didn’t like it. It skewed left and started to fishtail on the wet pavement. I steered into the skid, which took me sliding right back toward her. I felt the tires grab, released the brake and hit the accelerator. The skid marks formed a perfect upside down  question mark as I looped around her. Another hundred feet and I’d pulled off to stop on the muddy shoulder, which was mostly nonexistent. Probably the reason she was walking on the pavement.

In my review mirror she stood frozen in the middle of the road. I killed the engine, set the brake and ran back. She watched me without expression, without moving. As I got closer, I slowed down. I tried to avoid staring. I guessed her age at anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-five. Average height. Slender, not skinny. Long light hair darkened by the rain. She stood there shivering in the cold downfall, arms hanging at her sides, unsteady on her feet, seemingly oblivious to the rain and her nakedness. Her hair dragged across half of her face. Her glazed eyes watched me as if she didn’t really see me. I was ten feet away from her when I saw the gun for the first time. She was holding the .357 revolver straight down at her right side.  It glistened darkly in the rain as she raised it with a steady hand and centered it on my chest. I froze. She pulled the trigger.

We stood there less than ten feet apart like two statues in a rain globe, water dripping off us, she with her arm fully extended, nothing moving except the rain and her finger pulling the trigger over and over, the hammer rising and falling again and again. Every time it dropped It made a loud click that sounded to me like a kettle drum bouncing off the rain drops. Click. Click. Click. It slammed down on one empty chamber after another. Click. Click. Click. She was in shock, staring unblinking at me in the rain, the hammer rising, falling, clicking, the cylinder turning, one spent chamber following another under the firing pin. I carefully stepped closer. Even in the dimness and the rain I could see deep red rope marks around her wrists and arms.

When I got close enough I reached out slowly, put my hand around the revolver, eased it out of her hand. She didn’t resist. With the gun gone, she wrapped her arms around herself, over her breasts. Her eyes never wavered from mine. I spoke quietly.

“You’re safe. No one can hurt you now.” She didn’t react. I repeated it.

She blinked. Once. I kept my voice slow and calm. A father speaking to a hurt and frightened child.

“Let me help you. Let’s get you warm, and dry.” I stuffed the gun in my pants at the small of my back. Still slow. Still calm. Still keeping eye contact. I held my hand out to her.

“You are safe,” I said again. “You are okay now.” I knew I was lying. I doubted life would ever be okay for her again. I kept my hand out, palm up. I waited for her to take it.

Then in a blur she lunged forward, wrapping her arms around me, holding onto me, burying her head against my neck and shoulder. For a moment we just stood like that, letting the rain wash over us. I felt more than heard the sobs begin. I tried to turn us toward the side of the road. She held on tighter. I waited a few seconds. I tried again and she let me turn her enough so that we could walk to the car, shuffling sideways, two rain shrouded forms moving as one.

I opened the rear door, carefully pried her away from me to ease her inside. She held my hands in a ferocious grip. Her eyes stayed locked on mine, a visual embrace, her lifeline. Her breathing was shallow, shuddery.

I kept my voice slow, calm. “My name is Raymond. Raymond Chance. I will protect you. No one can hurt you. I won’t let them. Do you understand?” She looked at me as if she was trying to figure out the question, then nodded almost imperceptibly. Her eyes seemed to search my soul. She stopped sobbing, but tears continued to roll from her eyes, mixing with the rain drops, rolling down her face.

“I need to get a blanket for you from the trunk of the car. Can I do that?” Seconds passed. The rain picked up a little. I felt it soaking through my clothes. It didn’t matter. She nodded, but didn’t loosen her grip. I tried a smile.

“I need my hands. To get a blanket. We’ll cover you, get you warm. You can watch me through the window. Okay?” Another pause, another slow nod, still holding tight. Her grip finally relaxed enough that I was able to ease my hands away. I left the door open as I moved to the trunk. Her eyes stayed on me all the way. She turned sideways to keep me in sight through the rear window. I opened the trunk, rummaged through the duffel bag beside the two suitcases, found a blanket and a towel. When I stood back to close the trunk I almost jumped. She was standing right beside me, staring at me. As I turned her arms went back around me, her head back against my shoulder. I held the blanket and towel close to keep them dry while I got her back in the car. Then I wrapped the blanket around her as well as I could. She helped a little. That was a good sign. It also gave me a better look at the deep rope bruises on her wrists. Her eyes continued to follow every move I made. I gently dried her face with the towel. I smoothed her hair back, ran the towel over it. She let me do it, tilting her head back, watching me. I handed the towel to her. She took it.

I got in the driver’s seat and started the heater. I turned the dome light on and looked back at her. She blinked in the relative brightness. I didn’t let myself react to the bruises on her face.

“You’ll be warm in a minute.” I got another little nod. I turned the radio on and surfed until I found some music. I thought it might help her regain some normalcy. Yeah, right, I thought again. Normalcy. That word had disappeared from her vocabulary forever. She pulled the blanket tighter around herself, held the towel in her lap. Her eyes never left me.

“I’m going to call the police now.” Another expressionless nod. I couldn’t tell whether she even heard the music. The whole of her attention was focused on me as I made the call.

I reached the Highway Patrol, gave the officer my name and told him what had happened. She leaned back. Her eyes slowly closed.

I described the rope marks, the bruises I had seen on her face under the dome light. I told the trooper about the gun, that it would be lying on the dash. I answered his questions, told him who I was, what I thought had happened.

The trooper told me to keep the connection open. They’d use my directions and track my cell signal to get to us. Could be twenty or thirty minutes, due to the rain. He was putting the call out with his computer as we talked. I put the phone on speaker and laid it on the dash. When I turned back to check on the woman, she seemed asleep, breathing steadily, leaning into the driver’s side corner of the seat and the door. I shifted around so that I could reach over the seat.

I took hold of her shoulders as gently as I could and started to lay her down. She stiffened and her eyes popped wide open. It was like a slide show watching them change from terror to confusion to recognition. When she realized it was me she relaxed a little, but not much. I told her again that she was safe, that I wouldn’t let anyone hurt her, that the police were on their way, and that I was only laying her down so she could sleep. I asked her if that was okay. There was a long pause as her eyes reached into mine, questioning, processing. That her mind seemed able to do that was another good sign. After several seconds she did her little head nod, and let me ease her down on her side. She pulled the blanket closer around her, curled up under it and let her eyes close. She reached for my hand. I gave it to her, and watched her until I was sure she was sleeping again before gently sliding it free.

I checked my watch, took stock. Given the weather, it wasn’t reasonable to expect law enforcement in less than half an hour. Maybe there was a Sheriff’s unit closer than the Patrol. Maybe they’d get here in five minutes. Probably not.

God only knew how the woman had gotten away from whoever was holding her. And from whom? The bruises and rope marks attested to a violent attack and brutal restraint. Yet she had managed to break free, even to grab his gun and turn it on him. And she had probably hit him. I doubted she would have escaped, or reached the road otherwise. That led to another question. Was he dead? Badly wounded? Or was it possible he might just be wounded, maybe only grazed, still mobile, still out there, still able to come after her? One thing wasn’t a question at all. If he could come after her, he would. He’d have to do it. He would have to find her and finish what he had started. She was more than a victim now, more than a prize. She was a witness. If the guy was alive and able, he’d be coming.

So another Question. How far had she run?  How much time did we have? If he was coming, how far behind her would he be? Until the police arrived, a half hour or more, probably, I was the only thing standing between him and her. Maybe the police would get there first. I thought they wouldn’t. It wasn’t my nature to err on the side of optimism, and my gut told me she hadn’t run and walked and stumbled all that far.

And I was mad. Every time I looked at the woman under the blanket, I got a little madder. Every time her eyes reached into mine, every one of those little nods, every time I thought about those rope marks and bruises, thought about her standing naked in the rain, staring at me vacantly while pulling the empty revolver’s trigger over and over like a robot, like some unfeeling automation, pushed my anger higher. If the guy was looking for her, if he got there before the law, he’d be dealing with me instead of her. It would be the worst day of his life.

I checked again to make sure she was sleeping soundly. I opened the door very quietly and didn’t close it all the way. The rain continued to fall steadily, colder than before, the drops playing a toneless tune on the roof. I quietly opened the trunk. I leaned around to see if she had awakened. She hadn’t.

I pulled the Colt Defender from an inner pocket of the duffel. slid the clip home, jacked a shell into the chamber then took the clip out and replaced the round that now rested under the firing pin. That gave me eight shots. I didn’t plan on needing that many. I found the black waterproof jacket. The Colt went into the right hand pocket, an extra clip into the left, just in case. I pulled on the long-billed baseball cap to keep the rain out of my eyes.

I needed to be outside and mobile if the guy who belonged to the .357 got there first. That created a problem. I sure as hell wasn’t going to take her back out in the rain. But if she woke up and found me gone she could panic. That could get us both killed. I woke her as gently I could. Her eyes sprang open again. She started to bat my arm away, then realized it was me. She grabbed my hand. Grabbed it tight. Focused on me again with deep hazel eyes that could haunt me.

I spoke softly and slowly. I told her I was going outside for a couple of minutes. I promised her I’d be watching the car the whole time. It was the truth, just not the whole truth. For a moment I thought she wouldn’t let me go. Then I got another small nod. When I started to pull my hand away she held on awhile before laying back down. Her grip relaxed as her eyelids drifted shut. She was trusting me to keep her safe. I was damn well going to do it.

I turned the radio and engine off, then the dome light. Checked her again. She was breathing easily under the blanket. I exited the car quietly. This time I locked it. I crossed to the other side of the road, pulling the jacket’s collar up against the rain as I went. It wasn’t yet too dark to see through the rain and gloom, but it was getting there fast. I picked out a sizeable oak tree just off the shoulder, about twelve feet forward of the rear door. It gave me invisibility as well as cover from the rain. The country road was narrow, so I was less than thirty feet from the car, closer to twenty-five, with a good angle that would keep the woman out of the line of fire. I took the little tac flashlight off  my keychain, turned it backward and clipped it onto the bottom of the Colt’s barrel. I pushed the button and a small, bright red dot appeared on the car’s rear door. At this distance I was as good with the Colt as Davy Crockett, even in the rain. The laser made me better. It made me perfect. Now it was just me, the rain, and whoever showed up. A small part of my mind said it would be better if the police got there first. Justice by the letter of the law. But the bigger part of me, the part that got madder every time I thought of the woman, that seethed every time I looked into those intense staring eyes, saw the rope bruises on her arms, the  ones from his fists on her face, hoped the guy would beat them. Justice came in different forms. I felt a smile cross my face. It wasn’t a nice one.

A few minutes passed before a car drove by left to right, heading west, the direction the woman and I had come from. It kept going. More minutes ticked by. A van rattled by in the opposite direction. Neither vehicle had slowed down as they passed the rental. I stayed behind the oak. I was holding the Colt under the fold of the jacket. A couple of minutes later I saw another set of headlights approaching from the west.

It was an older model pickup truck, black or maybe dark blue, with a nasty dent on the front driver’s side fender. It went right on by without stopping, the driver a large dim form behind the wheel. He didn’t seem to notice the rental at all. Then the brake lights flared. The truck stopped, sat there for several seconds before the backup lights lit up. The driver angled his way onto the muddy shoulder and stopped bumper to bumper with the rental. He didn’t get out. I could see him look into his side mirror.

Maybe the guy was a good Samaritan.  Maybe he thought the rental was broken down and wanted to help. I didn’t think so. He was too nervous for a Samaritan. The way he sat there and kept looking down the road, then back the other direction through his side mirror told me that helping wasn’t his agenda. My gut talked to me again, told me he was the one. I started thinking along with him. He didn’t know if the deserted car meant anything. Had it broken down? Run out of gas? Was the driver farther down the road in the rain, walking along miserably, looking for a gas station? Or could she be in there?

The big guy was pretty sure she had reached the road, or he wouldn’t be out here in his pickup. He had likely seen her run in the direction of the road while he gathered himself, got past the panicked moments of diving for cover and realized how much trouble he was in if she escaped. So he had started driving and looking. There wouldn’t be much traffic in this weather, probably wasn’t that much anyway. So why hadn’t he found her yet? He had to be feeling pressure. The clock was running, time shrinking. If she’d already been picked up, he was too late. It was over. Simple as that. He’d have to cut his losses and run. But the deserted car was right there. If it was really deserted. On the off chance she could be in there, he needed to check it out. He had to look. He had to be sure.

He levered himself out of the truck. He was big, well over six feet tall, and heavy. He had on a short bulky jacket, blue jeans, a dark shirt, work boots. He had a full, heavy black beard. He was left handed. I knew that because his gun holster was on his left hip. It was empty, and big enough to hold the .357. A video started running in my mind of what had probably happened.

I was guessing he had just laid that heavy cannon of a revolver down somewhere handy once he had her secured. Mistake number one. And he hadn’t made a knot or two quite tight enough. Mistake number two. Maybe he had gone to the bathroom then, fixed a drink, made himself a nice sandwich while he anticipated what he was going to do to her, drawn pictures in his mind of the fun that was to come. But the woman had been stronger than he thought, with enough guts and determination and emotional reserves to keep fighting even after being beaten and tied, even while terrified, slipping into shock. And he had made those two little careless mistakes.

A .357 was God-awful loud, and all of a sudden it was thundering, throwing death at him, and he was scrambling for his life. She had hit him, too, at least grazed him. Twice. There was a thick white bandage with a sizeable red blotch wrapped around his head, partially covered by a baseball cap. Another one wound around his left leg just above the knee, seeping blood. It looked like he had cut and ripped the blue jeans off to get at the wound. His blood mingled with the rain running down through thick leg hair into the boot.

He limped as he got out of the car. I could hear him grunt painfully with the effort. Good for her. Beaten, weakened, half out of her mind with fear, the big revolver kicking back at her like a mule, she had still managed to hit him twice with those magnum bullets that were like little artillery shells. Flesh wounds they might be, but they had hurt him, dazed him, disoriented him, scared the living hell out of him, made him take time to do some serious first aid, put him out of action long enough for her to escape out into the rain and start running.

She had found the road and had run until she couldn’t run any more. Then she had just kept walking blindly along in the rain, disoriented, her mind shutting down a little more with each step, shock settling in deeper minute by minute, blanking out conscious thought. She had kept putting one foot in front of the other, not feeling the rain or her nakedness, going forward because it was the opposite of where she had been, the gun dangling from her hand, each step a little bit weaker than the last. Then I had come along and almost finished what he had started. She hadn’t known who I was, only that I was a large male, like him, so she had pulled the gun up and started squeezing the trigger again.  It was my dumb luck that she had already emptied all six chambers at the bastard.

Now that bastard stood in the rain, looking over the rental. I could almost hear him thinking about it. Was she in there? Maybe with someone else? Both of them lying low? There was only one way he was going to find out. He reached back into the pickup and came out with a shotgun, a big twelve gauge pump. Probably a Winchester or a Remington.

The guy limped slowly the length of the rental, staying five feet or so away from it, being careful, peering inside. I could see and hear every step exact a price. Good for her again. I hoped that he hurt like hell. He was going to hurt a lot more.

He paused and leaned forward when he saw his .357 lying on the dash. Then he stiffened when he saw her curled up in the back seat under the blanket, sleeping. He took a painful limp closer. He grabbed the rear door handle. When it wouldn’t open, he tried the driver’s handle. Same result.

He stood still for a minute, looked down the road again in both directions, toward the woods on either side. I could feel him weighing the situation. Where was the driver? Had he left the car unlocked and just trudged away before she came along?

Time. That was the sixty-four dollar question. How much of it did the bearded guy have? Were the police on their way? How long before they got there? I could almost hear him decide there was no point worrying about the driver. No time to spend doing it. The driver wasn’t a witness, not his problem. His problem was right there in front of him. Time was short and getting shorter. The guy turned back to the car. I eased the Colt out from under my jacket and stepped out from behind the tree. He had his back to me, no idea I was there in the near darkness. I laid the little red dot on his back, between the shoulders, took a quiet step closer, then another. Under twenty-five feet now.

The big bandaged head nodded a couple of times. He was deciding he didn’t even need to get the door open. Not with the big twelve gauge at hand. He hefted the shotgun. He could take her right through the window. One blast to do the job, one more for insurance, and maybe just for the fun of it, for the bitch daring to hurt him. Then one through the driver’s window. He’d grab the revolver and be gone. Two minutes. Less. A minute and a half, he’d be down the road, farther away every second. Free to heal, free to hunt again, and by God, the next woman wouldn’t be getting away, wouldn’t get a chance to hurt him.

I took another step closer. Twenty feet. The laser dot glowed and beckoned between his shoulder blades. I didn’t want to shoot him in the back. He racked the shotgun’s slide as he took a backward step. That was when everything went to hell.  A shotgun rack and load is loud and distinctive. Maybe the woman heard it even through the rain and closed car door. Maybe she somehow sensed him standing there, watching her through the glass. Maybe it was just Murphy’s Law.  Suddenly she was sitting straight up, still clutching the blanket around her, seeing him, her mouth open without any sound coming out. He started to raise the gun. I yelled at him, just as loud as I could.

“Over here, Stupid!”

If he’d been smart he might have lived. If he’d had the presence of mind to drop the shotgun right then, right in that tenth of a second when he heard my voice, throw his hands in the air, he might have been able to get himself a good lawyer and play the system for years while he ate prison food and watched prison television. But he wasn’t smart. He was just as dumb as I had hoped.

He spun around. trying to get the shotgun into firing position and find the threat at the same time. He stumbled on the bad leg she had given him. He never had a chance. He didn’t deserve one. And he’d wasted his tenth of a second. The shotgun never got close to level. His turn put my little red buddy right in the center of his chest the same instant I started squeezing the trigger. Four forty-five caliber jacketed hollow points tore into him right where the little dot asked for them. Four in the ten ring, four loud, overlapping little thunder claps making one big roar. The shotgun bellowed toward the sky and flew away when the first slug hammered into the guy. It was still in the air when the fourth one arrived. It bounced on the blacktop, barrel first, as the shots echoed and faded. The big bearded guy slammed back against the rental, rocking it, looking confused. He was already dead as he dropped face first onto the wet pavement. It would all have looked beautiful in slow  motion.

I checked the body. The bastard was as dead as dead got. I left the shotgun where it had fallen. The woman was still squeezed back into the far corner of the seat, holding the blanket wrapped tightly around her, staring at me with wide panicky eyes. I was sorry for that. It couldn’t be helped.

There were some flares in the trunk. I trudged through the rain to place them well behind the car, closing off the lane where the corpse and his shotgun lay.  I checked the body again. It was still dead, just wetter. I unlocked the car, cleared the Colt, pocketed the clip,  and laid the automatic on the dash next to the .357. Started the engine and turned on the heater and headlights and emergency flashers. Then the radio.. She watched me do it all. Our eyes connected as I slowly and gently slid into the back seat. I leaned against the door, keeping space between us.

“That was him.” I said. A statement, not a question. She nodded. I nodded too.

“It’s over. He can’t hurt you again. Not ever.”

She continued to stare, big hazel eyes searching my soul.  The panic had subsided, replaced by something I couldn’t quite fathom. I had no idea what was going on in her mind.  She stared while I told the trooper what had happened..  He had heard the shots. She watched me,  the big hazels more liquid than before, as I leaned back against the seat and closed my eyes.

A few seconds later I felt her move, bending over me, looking out the window.  A drop of warm liquid that wasn’t rain fell on my hand. Then I felt her lean back next to me and curl up against me, cocooned in the blanket, her head on my shoulder. I carefully and very gently put my arm around her. Seconds passed. Her breathing slowed, fell into a slow steady rhythm. I held her like that until the sirens came.

###

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.