Thursday, January 22, 2009

It's Time For a Corporate Hug

Not long ago, I was in a CVS not far from my home in Alexandria, VA. When I went to check out, a receipt was not forthcoming. Turns out, the cashier had put her register tape in backwards. She appeared clueless as to what the problem was, unembarrassed, and worst of all, unapologetic. For the five plus minutes that I stood directly in front of her waiting for a more knowledgeable colleague to go to the office and print a receipt out from the store's main terminal, she never uttered a word of regret for the inconvenience she had caused.
Turns out, I had bought some items that upon returning home, I discovered that I did not really need. Rather than drive back to the location at which I had made my original purchase, which I patronized on that particular day because of its proximity to the library and other destinations on a planned route consolidated with fuel economy in mind, the next day I walked to the CVS closest to my home, armed with the "receipt" from the other store. At first, the clerk refused to accept it and do a return; her excuse was that it did not have a bar code printed on the bottom! Translation: the machine does the thinking; she could not. After I pressured her into phoning her manager, she finally reversed the charges to my credit card, but not before I had signed yet another receipt, reluctantly disclosed my unlisted/unpublished telephone number and in addition, at her autocratic insistence, provided my Driver's License information as well. Curiously, she never asked for my CVS card, on which identifying information is stored. I felt like a criminal, and left thinking that shoplifters probably got better treatment. So much for the "C" (customer) and "S" (service) in CVS!
Not long after, I received a promotion from Giant in my e-mail. Present my loyalty card at the register and receive a free recyclable tote bag. Since I am ecologically conscious, it sounded great to me. I printed out the e-mail and walked to the store closest to my home, in the same shopping center as the second CVS. The clerk at the register was clueless, even after I showed him the e-mail, and the person from the management office that he consulted with for help was argumentative and insisted that I needed to purchase something in order to get the freebie. Never mind that the tote bags were slung over one wall at each checkout cubicle; no one that I encountered at the store level seemed aware of the corporate promotion. At my insistence, the clerk finally did scan my Giant Card and the tote bag, and, voila, it worked! I left him the e-mail for future reference, since he at least seemed interested and curious.
Will I go back to CVS or Giant any time soon? I do, after all, have to eat and need food and basic sundries. Possibly, but most likely because of proximity and price, specifically advertised sales. I will assiduously avoid the less than competent and/or civil and/or knowledgeable staff and probably patronize a different location of each chain.
It is not news that we are in poor economic circumstances, where previous merger and acquisition activity has virtually ensured that goods sold by most competing stores in a category are fairly homogenous, sale and everyday low prices being equalizing. As pointed out by Dov Seidman in "How," the greatest point of competitive distinction then becomes corporate behavior as distilled down to the customer experience at the point of sale. Are the clerks friendly and helpful? Are the items sought in stock? Are the sale prices as advertised? In this climate where relatively long-standing establishments are going bankrupt and/or out of business, and others are shuttering underperforming outlets, it is a lesson that should be studied by those that remain if they want to endure. Sales services the debt left over from massive leverage and hubristic expansion. There is less choice in the marketplace, relative to the former overbuilt plethora, but not a lack thereof, and thanks to the Internet, bricks and mortar are never "the only game in town." Yet retailers increasingly seem to be adopting a "take it or leave it" attitude, risking that a shopper will do the latter. Yes, companies are in business to make money, but letting that be the overriding perception is counterproductive to success. "Rumors" of institutionalized "bad days" have a way of getting around; it would be disastrous to get to the point where it is more pleasant to do business online and interacting with a computer is the best we can do in terms of satisfying the need for the personal touch. That last statement should give us all pause and force us to consider the ramifications of its applicability beyond the realm of business. But I digress...
In this environment, the solution for survival is not for a consumer to feel a frosty chill upon entering a store, air conditioning notwithstanding, but to be greeted with service and a warm and welcoming smile. In today's economy, a shopper can easily choose to "leave it," or worse yet for retailers, not buy at all. It is in no company's interest to make that the easy choice. Corporations are dispensable; patrons are not. However unless transformation is initiated from within, it may be necessary to prod a change in the overall lack of civility, not only in business, but in society as a whole, one footstep out the door at a time. Before that happens, retailers should follow the new President's lead and start doling out corporate hugs, one customer at a time.

Karen Ann DeLuca
I don't have time for the pain. God don't have time for me. Harden my heart and sharpen my tongue. If I speak at all, all of his angels will fall. From the heavens. But there is no heaven for the lone wolf. Be careful what you say to me. I don’t have time for the pain. A sickness that comes in waves. Nauseating. This loneliness. A cosmic joke someone once said. A joke I can't get out of my head. I've hardened my heart and sharpened my tongue. Such a bitter course for one so young. If I speak at all, should such an occasion arise. Warning to you it is unwise to engage me at all. For if I speak all the angels will fall. GLO ©

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It is Time to Have No Fear

On 9/11, like most of the rest of the world, except those sympathetic to the perpetrators, I was profoundly
distressed at the carnage. But unlike just about every other American , I was not afraid of something similar occurring again, somewhere in the US, sometime soon.
What I was afraid of at that point in time was dying, but not of a terrorist attack. I had been ill, very ill - at
one point bedridden and unable to swallow - for at that point almost ten years with what the doctors had been
very slow to diagnose - and quick to classify for insurance purposes - as fibromyalgia. My marriage had been
rocky almost its the start in 1984 and I was convinced after eliminating layer after layer of what I thought could
possibly be making me so sick, that the originating root stressor was the toxic man I had invited into my life.
So on that crisp, clear fall day, I had a lot in common with "America the Abused." I was scared. Of a
premature death before I turned 50. And worse, of being a marital failure, and ending up infirmed and alone. But not of planes flying into buildings, or ubiquitous bombs, or anthrax in my mail, or any one of the myriad of "dangers" we were alerted to in subsequent years. No duct tape, hoarding Cipro, and '60s style air raid shelters for me.
Nevertheless, I did not let my fear cause me to be afraid of what had not yet happened, of what "might" occur, or of the "worst" unknown. The urgent and realistic threat in my life was not a foreign terrorist, but my own spouse who had been playing war games at home for years. The message of 9/11 to me was that life was too short and too precious to keep taking his s---. So roughly one month later, as a birthday present to myself, after one too many invalidating and verbally abusive encounters, I kicked my husband out. After years of alternating between ineffective attempts to reason with the irrational and unchangeable, or cowering in silent, internalized blame, it was liberating.
I cannot say that it hasn't been a rocky eight years, with a protracted legal battle filled with head games and maneuvers that would make Osama proud, but "disaster" never materialized. There is truth in "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." My health has dramatically improved; I am optimistic and thriving. No longer stressed and living with an eternal paranoid pessimist, no matter what life throws my way, in difficulty and challenges, I see opportunity, and openly wonder why I spent so many years in misery. My answer: it was what I came to know and I was afraid of the unknown and change. The abuser had left a psychological mark and a familiarity paralysis pattern had set in. I became "addicted" to being dispirited, in much the same way many of my fellow countrymen, eager to respond to outgoing President Bush's call for patriotism, overdid "the call to the mall," unfortunately, the one thing that they did not allow themselves to be convinced to be afraid of. "Shopping" is never an answer, but only a temporary "solution" that usually creates other, more serious, and longer term problems. I forgoed that indulgence, and as this nation was getting economically sicker, ironically, I was making an almost miraculous recovery. The juxtaposition of fates is curious, and wholly determined by choices made as a result of that fateful day.
So while the rest of the country has made 9/11 a national holiday fraught with undertones of fear and commercialism, the day the world changed forever, and for the worse, and has only recently hopefully awakened and emerged from its 7 year "Rambo and Run Up the Credit Card phase," I celebrate that day as the beginning catalyst for monumental and positive changes in my life. I only wish at the time that my fellow countrymen had used it as an opportunity for self examination in terms of the direction that they and our nation were going, that dare I say may have inspired such a despicable act, instead of inhaling and imbibing fear and hatred and continuing their indulgence in overt materialism. You attract what you focus on, maybe not exactly, but in one way, shape and form, and fear eradicates the ability to rationally and clearly think. We may have brought on the current economic crisis not only by taking our eye off that ball and not noticing what we should have been concerned about, but by attracting negativity in another form by holding on to 9/11 too long and too tight. Just look at the behavior that resulted from that preoccupation. I am not saying forget; I am saying "move on" from one unquestioning National Depression that may have beset an actual economic one. In his final public appearances, George Bush clearly used the events of that day as justification for much of the decisionmaking for the remainder of his presidency. "Most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11, but I never did." Need I say more - just look at the mess that tunnelvisioned focus got US in! Curiously, his closing comments came on the same day a US Air plane plunged into the Hudson River, not far from Ground Zero, and thanks to the heroic efforts of crew and ground personnel, there were no casualities. It is that selfess and fearless spirit, help without hatred, goodness without greed, that of the coming together of all who affected the rescue, perhaps coupled with that of those who perished on 9/11, that we want to be the enduring legacy of that day, not the US versus evil, black and white dichotomy that permeated the past seven plus years, to the extent that some became close to afraid of their own shadows.
This upcoming Inauguration Day is within 4 days of what would have been my 25th wedding anniversary.
I choose to put a positive spin on the day and have even incorporated my date of divorce, close to the 4th of
July, into my e-mail address as my own Independence Day. A butterfly set free. My hope is that with this new
administration, this country will be as successful in reframing 9/11 and the war and subsequent economic
difficulties in its aftermath, as I was in making lemons out of lemonade. The incoming president is an agent of
change, but he cannot do it alone. We voted him in; the question then becomes, as with an abused woman, do we really want to put the pity party to an end? At this important juncture in our history, we can choose to create a renascent version that rises victoriously out of the ashes, or we can wallow in self pity, point fingers and blame, and bury ourselves in nonsensical and irrational fear and continue to cling with lipservice deviation to the familiar course, not walking the talk, and Change.gov could easily become a huge letdown. For all women who are sitting at home thinking there is no way out, and for the country that is very uncertain where it is going right now, I am here to tell you yes, you may have been abused, but don't let that define you for life. It is time for our individual worlds, and the world, to change again. It is time to make another choice, to have "no fear."

MEAN GIRL GROWN UPS

Over the holidays, while I was catching up on my professional reading, a particular item drew my attention. It concerned a female judge who had been disciplined for violating judicial canons and basically being stereotypically "bitchy." It was the latter that caught my eye. The disciplinary court, after hearing thirty witnesses, found that she "routinely belittled, berated and badgered court staff." The opinion went on to state that she traumatized some so severely that they could no longer appear before her and that she acknowledged bias against certain attorneys which had resulted in issuing rulings against them. Stunning was the finding that the judge used court personnel, including her law clerk, as her personal servants - to clean her home, rake her yard, bubble wrap her packages and scrub her floors. But the most telling finding of all was that she had lodged a false complaint stating that a court administrator had grabbed an associate's arm and screamed at them. In true mean girl fashion, she fabricated situations that mirrored her behavior to deflect from her own. Her defense: that all of the witnesses were pressured to lie about her. Translation: they must have followed a more powerful mean girl's lead. What else could it be!
I would not have thought much of this, except that it came hot on the heels of my own experience with a mean girl judge. I will spare the detailed specifics, but suffice it to say that this woman outdid her male peers in the "disrespecting me" department, no small feat, as one had authorized the sale of the former marital residence without full disclosure and put a gag and eviction order on me to ensure that, another had characterized my ex's tax fraud to be the mere failure to file a piece of paper, and a third had held a significant hearing in the divorce matter knowing I had not received actual notice of it, was not present, and then authorized the disbursement of almost $80,000 from the aforementioned sale to the perpetrator of the fraud, my former husband! But this judge's bias against me was palpable, from the order in which she allowed me to speak, to the limited amount of time she allocated me, last and least, to her lack of familiarity with the case file and applicable law and her willingness to allow only opposing counsel - a male - fill in her knowledge gap. There was an exchange where she in essence told me to "get lost," and "take it up with (another court)." Of the one day hearing scheduled, I got ten minutes of less than an hour, mostly interrupted. You could feel her venom fill the room.
To say I was disappointed is an understatement. But what I at first couldn't figure out was why. Was she a mean girl grown up? I didn't think so. She wasn't that attractive - "plain Jane" comes to mind - short, straight, salt and pepper mannish hairdo and angular, unremarkable features. I strongly suspect she was not one of the pretty or popular girls in her younger years, which nixed that theory.
Had she been a victim of a mean girl in her youth, and because of that become a mean girl grown up, taking it out on anyone who remotely reminded her of someone who bullied or humiliated her in those dreadful middle school and teen years? Just my luck, I'm told I am "cute," have good hair (albeit short and salt and pepper as well, but with bounce) and look 15 years younger than we both probably are, courtesy of fibromyalgia taut, porcelain skin. However, I don't accentuate or flaunt my supposed pulchritude; no hair color, lipstick only, eyes hidden behind glasses, dress way down. I simply don't care, but apparently she did, still jealous of THAT despite all of her professional accomplishments, giving new meaning to "judging a book by its cover!" Very immature, but given women's propensity to have long memories for past slights, vindictive grudgeholding, and striking out at the most available target, that seemed a more plausible explanation.
Which begs the question, why, forty odd years after the women's movement supposedly liberated us to be all we are and can be, do we still (A) want to be like men, and outdo them routinely in emulating them at their worst, and (B) behave in a petty and non supportive manner toward our own as if they are some threat for some guy's attention/affection in some long ago schoolyard? Biologically neanderthal catty cats! Some of us may just be mean girls grown up who never changed, but could the rest be explained as mean girl grown ups shaped and spawned by youthful victimization? Are we unconsciously creating MORE mean girls? Will I now become a mean girl as a result of this experience? I hope not.
Does it make us feel superior to wield authority in this manner? Because it shouldn't. By acting so unkindly, have we in essence given up on "love" and "niceness" for "our sex is all about power?" I would hope we could achieve a balance there. We may say we've "come a long way baby," but deep down if we behave no differently than men or the mean girls of the childhood cliques and we make our name and feel good about ourselves by stepping on and over others, particularly women, rather than treating them as equals and helping them get a leg up, we've clung to the worst of our gender traits and adopted the most disagreeable and unpleasant of the opposite sex. That's not progress. That's something to be ashamed of. Revenge on the mean girls. I'm all for that - at the time the incident occurred, directed at the perpetrator. Pick on the mean girl that picked on you and get past it; don't pay it forward on the innocent. In so doing, that's one step backwards for you, and by multiplier effect, many steps back for the rest of us.
We live in a country that with the election of an African American president may finally rid that race of the internal violence affected upon it by generations of slavery. We shouldn't have to wait for a woman to be elected to that high office to eliminate the passing down the "mean girl effect." The time for that is now.

THE ELIOT SPITZERS NEXT DOOR

Much ink has been spilled on "Kristen," what it's like to be a highly paid hooker, and Mr. Spitzer and his conduct. Not much has been said about what it is like to be the wife in these situations, and what little is out there tends to suggest a spouse might not find the behavior all that objectionable. WRONG.

I went through something very similar to the Spitzer situation with my now ex-husband, who had a high level security clearance with the Defense Department (DIA). You know, the kind that sat at the table with Rummy. Married twenty years; he admitted under oath to spending at least half of that time with roughly biweekly "massage parlor girls," wasting thousands of our dollars along the way. It got bad when he turned 40; I kicked him out at 45. His employer looked the other way until the tax man ultimately - and quite recently - took him down on a tangentially related matter. The more he got away with, the more temerarious he became in all aspects of his life. The court system in Fairfax County, VA gave him a wink and a nod in the divorce proceedings in 2004, with the Special Commissioner minimizing the lengthy behavior, complete with documented social diseases, a health risk, equating it on fault grounds as tantamount to my fibromyalgia, which he seemed to imply in his report may have justified and provoked it. Despite my fervent opposition, the Trial Court judge, since retired, allowed my ex-husband to sell the marital residence, with its multitude of hidden problems, without full disclosure, at the top of the bubble real estate market, specifically ordering me gagged from truthtellling. In written opinions in two related tort cases, a colleague, still sitting on the bench, grossly mischaracterized the tax fraud as "...not taken steps related to income tax returns..." and "...not filed the necessary tax forms..." Affirmed by higher courts, including the Supremes, it is enough to give one pause as to the intellectual and common sense competency of the judiciary and casts doubt on whether a woman -more specifically, an ethnic New Yorker in a Southern courtroom; yes, they're still fighting the Civil War anytime and anyplace they can - can expect to get fair and equal treatment when a male jurist presides. I witnessed first hand an alacrity to truckle to and acceptance of mendacity under oath - much more common than you would imagine - rather than a willingness to ferret out veracity and do any independent thinking, completely subverting the legitimacy and purpose of the process. What can I say...boys will be boys and the boys' club - dominating as ever, that "glass ceiling" is real - finds a way to protect its own. STILL. I will be pleasantly surprised if Mr. Spitzer goes to jail.

I spent years hoping it was just a mid life crisis and that I could wait it out. And that my ex-husband would eventually stay in therapy long enough to get past the preoccupation. My feeling now is that shrinks don't work unless patients go for the right reason, and appeasing a spouse or because one's been caught doesn't qualify. While it may begin as a curiosity, or a choice, the behavior quickly becomes an addiction, and like all patterns, the longer it has gone on, the harder it is to break. My ex-husband, aside from losing a career that I had sacrificed years in helping him build, went on to remarry someone who spent much of the time between her marriages in liaisons, some with married men, to augment her paltry finances, splurging $30,000 of our savings on her in the first year alone. Those kind of women are out there as well, disrespectful and eager to tip and take advantage of tottering marriages and available for well compensated affairs. Not quite prostitution, but if you look at the dictionary definition, not far from it. Calculated, manipulative preying, one step up from a "pro." As far as I am concerned, my ex-husband got what he deserved, but it saddens me that despite my efforts to help him "rise above his raising," he sunk to THAT comfort level and allowed her to bring him further down. But I digress...

Watching Mrs. Spitzer was painful for me and compelled me to tell my story. And while she may never read this, I believe what occurred in her marriage on a national stage is a dirty little secret in many conjugal closets throughout the nation. It needs to be exposed, discussed and denounced. Responsibility for the betrayal should not be avoidable with "deals." There is no "deal" that can ever completely repair a wronged partner's intense heartache, although I suspect given the Spitzers' wealth, his wife will be paid handsomely to "stay" and live apart. Trust is almost impossible to rebuild in the aftermath and it takes time to heal. Contrary to how it is often cavalierly portrayed, it is not a victimless crime.

For quite a few years, I "knew," but "didn't know." Afraid to ask, scared of what I might hear. Above all else, keep it picture perfect on the outside and maintain the facade. I was as stunned as Mrs. Spitzer looked when my ex-husband started getting pimples on his penis and "butt crack" rashes. That was my wake up call. But through some warped logic and misplaced loyalty, stubbornly Italian Catholic, I blamed myself and attempted to hold the marriage together, enduring the emotional abuse -let's call it what it is - in addition to substantial verbal and some physical accompaniment - for another five years. So many women do that, when in fact the impulse is something we have no control over and has nothing to do with us. We stay silent and suffer, for "love," to preserve our investment of time, because inertia is easier, out of shame and embarrassment, convinced maybe somehow we "deserve it," in shell shocked denial. If we attempt to talk, we often find no one interested in listening, so we quickly clam up. "Stand by your man" is every woman's first instinct, but unless there is true remorse and a substantial effort (versus a promise) to change, it becomes nothing more than enabling.

Try as you might, you cannot "fix it." You cannot "do it" enough times or varied ways to appease the urge, which becomes the third wheel and rival in the marriage. Think Charles and Diana with a permanent but invisible Camilla. Your sexual performance will always be compared - unfavorably - to that of the hooker girls. My ex-husband's ubiquitous mantra was that I was not "a real woman." There is a popular misconception that these emotionally uninvolved encounters, as opposed to affairs, are less threatening and detrimental to the nuptial bond. The converse is actually the case, because in the pursuit of narcissistic pleasure, any crotch will do, the epitome of objectification. "Specialness" and "selectivity", those hallmarks of social "flings," are not necessary to satisfy this hard wired - think pedophilia or homosexuality - predilection. That is not said to diminish the effect that womanizing can have on relationships, but to distinguish it. Hookerville and Affairland are two very different places.


If there are children in the family, the oft cited reason for staying, it is poor role modeling for the next generation, girls and boys alike. With that, I am primarily referencing the male head of household, the blueprint for what manhood is for either sexed offspring. Fathers are the most important men in young girls' lives well into the teen years and beyond, viewed more or less as perfect. To have that image shattered on such a public stage must be devastating for the Spiter daughters. I found out my own father was "human" while in the same age bracket when I discovered he had won at the "numbers" in the pre legal lottery days. At almost 54 years of age, I still vividly recall the incident and it is stuck in my memory for life. And pales in comparison.

I became physically ill to the point of being bedridden and unable to work. The aforementioned fibromyalgia. I had my "Eat, Pray, Love" toilet bowel moment pre Elizabeth Gilbert when I concluded the situation had boiled down to "Divorce or Die." Despite my best efforts, and years of intensive expert therapy, including P/T, massage, acupuncture and rolfing, I was getting worse, not better. The tension in the household was so great that I could no longer urinate or have a bowel movement when my ex-husband was around and for a time had difficulty swallowing. I wonder how many other women being diagnosed with that trendy ailment of the moment, or other medical conditions, are just suffering a severe stress reaction to bad - no make it, unapologetically toxic - relationships with poisonous men. Almost four years post divorce, and I am virtually symptom free. I am happy. Ecstatic. Thriving. Grateful. And it has NOTHING to do with a man. Or Lyrica.

In writing this, my intention is to spark the conversation and educate others on what seems to be currently vastly misunderstood, given the public criticism of Mrs. Spitzer's presence by her husband's side at both news conferences. Appearances can be deceiving. It's complicated. Try to empathize.

In addition, I want to offer other women similarly situated hope and spur the rest to examine the details of their lives. If you feel something is wrong, it probably is. Don't stuff it down; don't play unconscious pretend. TALK, to someone, anyone. Find an ear who will listen. These men do not wear a sign announcing their proclivities. They hail from all walks of life and are generally not the "usual suspects." The propensity cannot be "educated" or "statused" out of them. It is what it is, in this era of disposable people and somewhat sociopathic behavior on the part of both sexes. I found out the hard way that the commitment expressed in wedding vows means (and meant) very little, uttered for the sake of userous convenience and expediency. Before they act, people need to begin to start to think about whether how they're behaving is how THEY would want to be treated in return. There is sadly little contemplation on that point around.

This is not a fairy tale. "Once upon a time" I had such a man in my bed. Look around; check yours. As I write this, it was disclosed that US Senator Stabenow's husband has been similarly compromised. For every "Bimbo eruption" you hear about, be assured there are many more you do not. This is not a phenomena confined to men in the public and/or political eye. They are truly the "guy next door."

Karen Ann DeLuca

Friday, January 9, 2009

---Great Deception---

By: Jose-Gabriel Almeida


New York City 1989

Carlos was a gifted saxophone player that captivated listeners. His unique timbre lit up the show, gathering a large crowd on the sidewalk. Under starry skies, he performed outside Mickey Mantle’s Bar on Central Park South. Night after night, delighted audiences applauded with enthusiasm. These people rewarded his effort with some pocket chance into his kitty, which lay set over the pavement. The young musician was destined for the ladder of success. At the bottom, stood this kid from El Barrio with dreams of glory; at the top, stood the world’s stage: if talent alone would’ve been the bridge between the gap.

His climb began back in 1977 when he was only nine years old. That year the Yankees reached the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The year before, the Bronx Bombers had been swept in four games in the best-of-seven-game-series by the Cincinnati Reds. And for fourteen years before that, no Yankee team had made the playoffs at all. So what were the fans to expect? The general feeling was that this new and talented bunch would play as never before, but eventually lose as always.

As a loyal Yankee fan, Carlos hoped with all his heart that they would win. He even asked his father Rodolfo to join him in prayer. Rodolfo was happy to oblige. Every morning during the days of the competition, they would pray together, seeking divine intervention for the sake of the Yankees. And for the final game seven, Rodolfo went one better. He bought a saxophone.

“Play tonight and they will win.”

“But dad, I don’t know how.”

“You’ll learn.”

That night, Yankee Stadium exploded with excitement, with the full capacity crowd screaming at the top of their lungs. While Carlos played his little heart out from the bleachers, the Yankees won in spectacular fashion on the field. The Bronx Bombers were finally once again World Champions. Convinced that his off-key toots had led them to victory, Carlos became hooked on his horn.

Rodolfo was glad at what he had accomplished. Raising a boy without a mother took some clever maneuvering and now he felt glad that he had cleverly given his son a new dream in life. He was a loyal father in the true sense. After the death of his wife getting marry again was never an option. No one will come between them. The best future for his little boy was all that mattered. Rodolfo’s parental clutch would prove his biggest asset and his fatal flaw in the years to come.

Ever since Carlos was born they lived on the second floor of a two story building in Spanish Harlem. Doña Esperanza occupied the ground floor. The old lady took a liking to the young single father and his infant son. That was a blessing. Rodolfo relied on her to watch over the baby while he was away at work. In those days, he drove a cab for a living. The money was good and he saved every nickel. But he dreaded the long hours that kept him away from his pride and joy.

When Doña Esperanza died suddenly, Rodolfo was devastated. Her passing was like loosing a second mother. On top of that, he had no one else to care for little Carlos. The kid was still only five. Rodolfo made the most out of bad situation. He tried talking to the landlord so he could rent out the apartment Doña Esperanza had left behind. Taking over that space was crucial for a plan he had in mind. But the greedy landlord who owned the property rejected his offer, citing that he could get more money for the apartment from an outside tenant. No words could convince the shifty little man. Then Rodolfo went one better. He bought the entire two-story unit.

Rodolfo backed the bloodsucking landlord into a corner by speaking to him with the only language he could not resist. He put a hefty offer on the table and practically snatched the property from the landlord when the shifty little man dove for the money like a hungry wolf and ran like a thief.

Making the dwelling his own, the cab driver dad became a stay-home father. He opened up a bodega on the ground floor. From there Rodolfo could make a nice living and watch over his son as he grew into manhood.

After that miracle night at Yankee Stadium, Carlos gave himself a mission. During the next twelve years he locked himself in, literally. He distanced himself without a backward glance from any distraction for his dream of becoming a saxophone tenor. Besides school he never went out anywhere else. After doing homework, he routinely came down to the bodega and helped out his father until closing time. Late at night, the rigors of a grueling day did not keep him from going back up to his room and practice with the saxophone. The young man and his music became so inseparable that he even slept with the saxophone by his side.

Carlos, now in his teens, knew he was overextending himself. Apparently Rodolfo thought so, too. He encouraged his son to get some fun out of life outside the goal he had set for himself. Going out on date with a nice girl would be a start. Only the ingenious young man had no clue how that worked. Rodolfo explained that by tradition it was the man’s place to initiate the encounter and not the other way around. The gentleman approach was to ask the lady for a date. Carlos had great admiration for his father and respected his good judgment, but this business about asking a girl on a date did not sit well with the teen-ager.

Since his youth Carlos had lived and breathed the lonely world, imaging himself with no one else but his father at his side. As far as girls, of course, there were feelings involved, but not now. Maybe later. His mission of turning out as a saxophone tenor took center stage above all else.

Because he wanted to be the best, Carlos practiced with the aid of musical sheets from the recordings of the great masters like Charlie Parker and Stan Getz. Carlos was determined to some day hit the perfect note. When he finally did at the age of twenty one --managed by years of effort that had completely isolated him from the outside world-- he was ready for the big time, but not for the raw of life. The blows came fast and hard when a new excitement came into his life.

That new excitement was called Adonay.

One night while walking the streets, Adonay bothered to stop by and watch Carlos play. Amid the crowd she stood out like a figure of glory, looking young, sweet and innocent. Her striking beauty captivated the young musician. At one instance they exchanged smiles. That was a big turning point from which Carlos would never returned; he felt madly in love, even though he had no idea what hit him or what to call it. All he knew is he felt different in a way he had never felt before.

Thrilled by the prospect of meeting Adonay, Carlos wrapped up his playing session quickly. He then approached the young goddess with a smile as she was leaving so he could speak to her, except he had no clue what to say.

Adonay tried to help get the words out. “You want date?”

This caught him off guard, taking the wind out of his smile. Carlos did not know how to respond. He was confused with disbelief. A girl asking a boy on a date was unheard of for him. In his world, the man was always supposed to make the first move. He felt flattered that such a beautiful woman would take interest in him. What man would not want to spend the rest of his with her, he wondered. Yet, she had chosen him. Adonay took his hand ready for the romantic flight, but Carlos hesitated.

The big question in his mind still eluded him – why should he be so lucky? Then he was confronted with a powerful revelation. When he asked her why she had come on to him so strongly, she explained that it was only a business transaction. Adonay, it turned out, was a prostitute. She worked the strip along Central Park South. Carlos felt as if a stampede of some wild animals had mowed him down. Horses, he figured, riding at full speed over him. The pain of jealousy pounded his chest. But his young heart was lost in the grips of love at first sight.

For the next several nights, Carlos put away his saxophone so he could follow her everywhere. Adonay would normally not entertain the advances of any man that was not willing to indulge. But she was amused by his innocence and felt bad for the wounded look in his eyes. Carlos liked her attention towards him, not caring about her past life, just as long as he could be next to her. The infatuated young man eventually asked her to marry him. Adonay accepted the proposal as a way to get rid of him. Carlos took her approval as a sign of love.

“I can’t wait to tell my father”

“Not your father.”

“Yes. My father.”
When Carlos told his father about the whole incident, Rodolfo became angry. The first thing that came to Rodolfo’s mind was that Adonay must be a snake on the prowl, hunting for some fresh meat. He yelled at Carlos that he would never accept such a woman and to get on with his music. For the first time Rodolfo had lost his temper towards his son. Scolding his boy annoyed him, but he was firm in his reaction. Only Carlos wouldn’t hear of it. He was not about to give up on Adonay, but he wanted to keep the common ground between himself and his father.

“Dad, you said I could date girls”

“I said a nice girl.”

“But she loves me, dad.”

“Carlos, she’s a prostitute.”

Carlos shut the words out off his mind. All he understood is that Adonay and he loved each other. What could be better? In his eyes, that was all that mattered. He burst out of the house against his father’s will, announcing that he was going for a walk and to please not to wait up for him. He didn’t want to hear more about the subject. When Carlos walked out, Rodolfo lowered his head, closing his eyes with disappointment. But he found comfort in the thought that his son will soon comeback home.

Carlos made all kinds of plans for himself and Adonay. They would get married, that was a must. A few years down the road they would have children. Meanwhile, he could work the bar scene playing the saxophone. Whatever little money he earned will sustain them through the lean times. But playing in bars was only a temporary gig until his promising career will flourish. Then the big pay off would come in. They will have money to burn. Some day he would build her a palace where they could live and grow old together.

At first, Adonay saw Carlos as nothing more than her ticket to a better life, the way out of the streets. In the course of a short time, however, she grew fond of his affection for her love and in turn started warming up to the possibility that she was capable of falling in love with him as well. He made her feel special, something no man had ever done before. She realized with enthusiasm that Carlos was gradually finding his way into her heart. Many times she had read stories about how people fall in love and the feelings involved. And yet, somehow, she had never imagined anything remotely like this. The tender butterflies of passion consumed her.

But just when Carlos thought Adonay was his, just when he thought that he had the woman of his dreams in the palm of his hand, she told him that it would never work out. Adonay said that in time he would have a change of heart about her pass. Once he would come to his senses, he would eventually walk out on her and leave her all alone and heartbroken.

In her young and rough existence, she had built the resilience to handle just about any kind of suffering. However, abandoned by the man she loved, she was all but certain, was not the kind of pain she could endure. With no other option, Adonay decided to go back to the streets; the only life she knew, where getting busted up inside had no major repercussions. On the streets, the skin thickens and the soul hardens. A loving heart is too fragile.

During moments of despair, she had always dreamed of a special light that would shine on her with hope. Perhaps one day that light will glow on her dark and dreadful world. For now, all she could do was buy herself time and keep dreaming for that day to finally arrive.

Carlos went to Rodolfo in tears. How could she not love him? Why did she prefer to be with all those men? He knew that this feeling for her was eating away at him, but without her, he felt excluded from the future.

“She’s not meant for you, son.”

But Carlos still wouldn’t see it that way. Like any kid in love for the first time, he had an aversion to being the rejected lover, refusing even to take into consideration the kind words of a loving father. When Rodolfo tried to offer him a warm embrace Carlos resisted him.

“Maybe you are not meant for me, dad.”

“You are all have.”

“Not anymore, dad.”

Carlos turned and left the room as he done before, only this time with no word if he was ever coming back. Rodolfo broke down in tears at the way his son was growing apart from him. What hurt the must this time was the uneasy feeling that possibly Carlos might not want to return home.

Meanwhile, Adonay had cleaned up her act. She was no longer walking the streets. In her quest to better herself, the former prostitute had landed a job as a waitress. Making an honest living gave her seriously eroding self-worth a boost. For the first time in her young life she felt a genuine sense of value as a person. This was an outlook she welcomed with open arms. Staring in the mirror didn’t hurt as much anymore.

With her new sense of purpose, the first thing that came to her mind was Carlos. Thinking about the whole scenario, it made sense. Carlos was willing to take her out of a life that she had been forced into, and in fact: he had offered her the prospect for a better one. Now she was willing to take the chance and go with him. The place didn’t matter. Just as long they could be together. Maybe Carlos was the light she was waiting for to shine on her dreadful world after all. Adonay dreamed about the day when she could finally be together with the love of her life. Sooner or later Carlos would find her, she was certain. But the light, as she would drastically find out, would shine ever so briefly.

During this time, Rodolfo was looking for Adonay as well. He got word that she lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights in upper Manhattan. Rodolfo went to see this woman. Reaching her doorstep, the angered father rang the bell. Adonay at that instance had just finished coming out of a shower. The bell was music to her ears. Thinking it was Carlos, she opened the door in her bathrobe with her hair still dripping wet. The sight of Rodolfo took her by surprise.

“Who are you?”

“I am Carlos’ Father.”

Adonay opened the door wider inviting him in. Rodolfo regretted her beauty and wanted to punish her for it. He was standing in front of the object of desire, the forbidden fruit that had alienated his son away from him. He walked in and got right to the point.

“My wife died giving birth to Carlos and I never married again, you follow,” he said with forward motion forcing her to retreat across the room. “I raised that kid all alone. He has never been around women. You are the first girl in his life. And you can’t let that cheap smile fool him.”

These were strong words that hurt even stronger. By now they were standing just outside the bedroom. Adonay was surprised that she had allowed herself to be backed away into a corner. Her street-bred temperament was well conditioned with reserves of stamina to wear down any man’s daring approach toward her. But she had noticed the strength of mind in Rodolfo’s eyes about keeping her away from Carlos and her stamina had buckled under his parental urging to reclaim his son. The words he had spoken kept recurring in her head, kept haunting her. A deep sense of terror overcame her delicate beauty. She felt Carlos was beginning to slip away from her hands. The trembling young woman regained her composure when she heard a familiar voice and the pounding on the door.

“Adonay,” called Carlos.

“Carlos,” responded Adonay.

Adonay ran to answer the door while Rodolfo sneaked out of sight into the bedroom. In Rodolfo’s thinking, he always identified the meeting point between what could possibly be achieved with words and what was certain to be accomplished with actions. As the situation remained, talking Carlos out of his desire for Adonay was a loosing battle. Another measure must be taken.

While hiding in the bedroom, Rodolfo waited for the right moment when he would make his move. He had a fifty-fifty chance of success. Like the pieces on a game board of chess --the right move meant victory, while the wrong one, meant absolute defeat. With what he had in mind, he was afraid the odds were against him. Deep in his heart, he was overwhelmed with the distinct notion that his plan could backfire and he would end up crushed by methods of his own device. But he felt compelled to make any desperate attempt that will bring his son back to him.

Meanwhile, Adonay opened the front door and Carlos burst in with the saxophone hanging from his back. They immediately fell in each other’s arms. Carlos enjoyed the scent of her wet hair and the feeling of her soft naked body under her damp robe. She felt completely protected in his arms. They loved one another; there was no doubt that they would’ve been happy together.

Suddenly, Carlos saw something that chilled his bones, a colossal horrific sight which brought down his world to pieces. He was staring at Rodolfo emerging from the bedroom with his bare chest exposed. Adonay understood right away what was happening and became shocked with fear. In her immediate reaction, she tried to plead with Carlos not be fooled. Her effort never got the chance. Carlos pushed her straight across the room, landing her on the couch. Looking into his eyes, Adonay realized in a moment of horrible certainty that nothing on earth would convince him otherwise. Her fate with him was sealed. The doomed young woman burst into tears.

All the while, Rodolfo had remained still outside the bedroom. It was nerve wrecking to be standing there. He had observed in complete silence Adonay’s downfall at the expense of his merciless act. For the first time he made a sound. Rodolfo let out a gasp of air; sweating out the moment, while he waited for his son to cast judgment on him.

Carlos turned slowly and locked eyes with his father. For a moment, Rodolfo almost came forward, but he stopped himself before even getting started. The hate in the eyes staring at him, he thought, was too powerful. This is precisely what Rodolfo had feared. He had executed his plan. The move, however, had backfired and now he was torn apart. The discouraged father remained back in place, looking straight at his son.

Then Carlos severed the last tied he had with the man who had been his hero all his life. He freed himself from the strap of the saxophone, letting the instrument slide off his back. The saxophone landed with a heavy thud on the floor.

Without any other gesture, Carlos walked out. The room was left in complete silence with Rodolfo frozen place and Adonay hunched over on the couch. She still seemed to be in shock while Rodolfo realized that this was more than what he had bargain for, saying, “He’ll never be back.”

These were prophetic words. Neither Adonay nor Rodolfo ever saw him again.
CUTTING PALOMINO HAIR
A story told in 4 parts

Heather Momyer teaches writing and literature. "I have work appearing or forthcoming in 'Exquisite Corpse,' 'Infinity's Kitchen,' 'Fiction at Work,' and 'The Southwestern Review."

We were actresses and well on our way to becoming superstars. When we weren't on stage, we drove school buses across the township every morning and every afternoon, with the occasional fieldtrip in between to the city theater. We cut hair and did facials; we practiced law; we nursed the elderly. These things we did on our own, but when summer began, we were there on the stage again.
We lined up in the theater, four of us, dark brunettes, with few others, amateur actors. We prepared for the audition of Drunken Nectar, a play written by a local playwright of up-and-coming talent. As we rehearsed the lines, a younger woman entered.
She picked up a copy of the script as we had, began memorizing the lines as we had. She did everything we did, but she was different. Her hair, the color of sunflowers, marigolds, the centers of daisies, it was strings of banana peels, centers of pineapple, colors we had never seen in human hair, yellow like the coat of an African cat, or a running stallion, a palomino in the southwest. We rehearsed the lines as she rehearsed the lines as we stood on our own section of the stage. As we rehearsed, a man entered.
He passed closely by each of us and wore jeans with a brown tweed jacket, suede elbow patches, and shiny black wingtips on his feet. He announced that he was conducting an audition for a commercial today and needed one woman.
"The audition is for a commercial for a new SUV. The part of the male has already been cast. Some of you may recognize him. His name is Carlos Juan Jerez." The auditorium gasped.
The four of us looked at each other.
"Carlos Juan Jerez," the stage hands and costume designers whispered. "The soap opera star, the Latin playboy."
We weren’t impressed. It wasn’t theater. It wasn’t art. It was capitalism and consumerism. But still, we each speculated as to which one of us would get the part.
We auditioned on stage, separately and together, for the play that would open its world premiere in our small town. On stage, we ran in circles; we pirouetted; we leapt through the air and dropped to the ground in anguish and despair. Our chances were good and afterwards, we auditioned for the commercial.
First was Eenie, then Meenie, then Miney, then Moe. Then was the woman from the southwest. She was last and her hair sparkled under the glow of the ceiling's light bulbs. She got the part.
We no longer cared about the play. And in our bitterness, we waited for the commercial to be filmed.
On the day of Carlos Juan Jerez's arrival, the town held a fair, a welcoming for the star. All but we chose to attend. Instead, we broke into the trailer near the site of filming. Resting in her chair, we found our young starlet, our marigold. We held her down, tied her up in ropes as Meenie took out her beautician shears, chopping at the mane, clipping close to the scalp. And when her hair was gone, we closed our eyes, blinded by the rays of the sun, a full spectrum of light. Ultra violet rays burned into our corneas as a rainbow grew from her scalp, radiating from her head.

THE COMMERCIAL

The camera zooms in on the girl's bald head while her scalp reflects the light like a halo. She never speaks, and neither does the dark man next to her.
Jump cut to the road, dirt. A vehicle moves past over the rocky terrain, uphill and into trees.
Inside the vehicle, the man steers and the woman looks ahead. The drive is neither adventurous nor liberating. The seats are cushioned and the suspension is good.
Next cut, outside of the vehicle. The trees block the sun. The woods are dark, eerie, ghostly. Inside the vehicle, the man clicks on the headlights.
The voice-over says words like "rugged," "explore," "freedom," and "Magellan" as the camera cuts back to another off-road angle.
Low-camera pointed up. We see the vehicle for one more brief moment before it disappears into the forest, the taillights of the vehicle smothered behind fall's leaves. He had gone, his concubine gone with him, with only the crown of light, the colors of flowers, golden autumn, to fill the camera's eye.

DRUNKEN NECTAR
A One Act Play


We centered ourselves on stage, the four of us, as pillars, stable, solid bodies of mass. We wore black to absorb the brightness of the stage lights as their heat pushed down on us.
We slumped closer to the ground, our bodies shriveled, slow, though we pushed and struggled to stand, tall, toward the light, to exert our energy like four six-volt batteries in a row.
Enter: A girl wearing white. Her legs strong, muscular, legs like a race horse. The stage light radiated. It lit our bodies, heating our skin. The girl in white carried, dragged, floated a ribbon of red currant, the nectar of a chrysanthemum. She looped it around us, one, then another, tighter, and tighter, connecting us. She became our resistance; a circuit board, live and electric, was formed.
Enter: A group of young girls. Boxes of planted orange and yellow marigolds sat on stage in front of us. We were bound and could not prevent these girls, these children, from eating them. The girls wore blossoms in their hair and ate the marigolds. The girl in white encouraged them to eat, devour petal after petal. Ravenously, they ate the aphrodisiacs, tossed the flowers from their hair, over their heads and behind them.
We watched as the heat of the lights began to ignite; sparks spat from our heels. The girl in white was set aflame. Our faces glimmered, drunk and glowing. We lit up as a string of pearly iridescent rays, a system of stars, a universe of our own.

A FUNERAL FOR MARIGOLDS

After the play, after the final curtain fell, after the death—the massacre— of several bouquets of marigolds, we decided to hold a funeral. They had been chomped, decapitated by the teeth of young virgin brides. Hues of yellow and orange, the greens of chlorophyll—all digested in the bellies of omnivores on their wedding days.
"What kind of arrangement should we bring?" asked Eenie.
"Should we have any flowers there at all?" Meenie asked in return.
We debated between carnations and chrysanthemums, but concluded on planting four new flats of marigolds under the trellis. Tall ones, Incas. "They would have wanted it that way," Miney murmured. Moe nodded.
We informed the community via newspaper ads as to the time and date of the funeral. There would be no viewings. We sent invitations, but no one came, not even the girl in white with the palomino hair. We thought that maybe they felt guilty, but most likely, we assumed, they were too comfortable lying between white linen sheets. We nodded again, as if we understood, as we secretly wanted to understand.
We held the funeral under the trellis in the cemetery. There we envisioned the souls of our annuals ascending the latticework to their heavens and to their gods.
We bowed our heads and said a prayer for the souls of the deceased. Religiously, we dug holes, placed the new plants into the soil of the earth, blessed them with water, their brightness illuminated by the sun. And before we left, we each plucked a head from the stems, savoring the textures, the skin of our mouths turned yellow.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Conquest

of love hearts and such. From east to west. North and south. Conquests of souls and hopes and dreams. Fully aware of what happens next. Vexing to me I haven’t seen her since. Good news though. We have the same mutual friends. And she sends her regards. When she comes north again reminiscing and all of that, schnapps and mimosas come morning. Conquests, before continental drift and deities are not just myth. A love as old as time. A lover as average as dime novel heroes. A tip of the hat to a lady. As simple, soothing as a pat on the back. A whisper on the epidermis, skin. To pores and flood the blood stream. It seems she has always loved him. GLO ©

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

THE COLD
by
Jeffrey Tischauser


The day started and it was cold. The wintry winds pound against the shutters, awaking even those whose hearts still sleep. At this hour only Franklin’s robotic tendencies curiously arise. Outlandishly fooling his body with promises of continued peace, his brain tries to find the cause of the racket. The blasted clanks; the dreaded bangs, awaken his darkest desire to remain under covers, free of work; free of cold.

Franklin lays in bed under three faded down covers and a reckless quilt, stained from years of smoking and sex, but also love. Stitched by his grandmother, the light green quilt is outlined with a narrow white line, accentuating the quilt’s patchwork. Several four leaf clovers, lined with yellow, dot his only heirloom that matters. His quilt helps him presuppose that life can be different, after all it once was.

Franklin has ambition, but always needs a push. Worst still, he has been plagued since birth with a terrific ability to analyze situations, people, and history. A born intellectual goaded by brilliant parents and siblings, he continually asks questions: “Why this? Why that?” But because there are usually no concrete answers, Franklin, since he first heard them on the playground, likes to use words fit for a sailor to express his displeasure.

After graduating college, nothing makes sense. All he has to look forward to is work for the next forty years and extending his apathetic mood is the morning cold. Of course there are other less prevalent pressures that cause him pain, but forging new ground in his intra-personal dilemmas is never a good way to start the morning, especially when Franklin realizes it’s snowing again. Franklin pokes his head above the window frame to get a better look. The wind is strong. All that is visible is a clutter of white. The wind, picking-up the snow already on the ground, violently flings it upwards, colliding it with snow Falling from the sky. Visibility, while driving to work, becomes something else to worry about.
Franklin prepares to dismount his bed, but stops. The feel of air early in the morning is his pet-peeve, an utter annoyance that is slowly destroying his life. Why should Franklin care about waking-up? But like a machine, he wakes up on-demand. Usually it’s the cacophony of a loud and persistent BEEP, but today it’s the determination of God – or so it seems.

Franklin asks, “The shutters, why do they bang against the house?”
But he knows the answer. It’s the weather. For two days, a sheet of ice and a blanket of snow fell outside his window. He went to bed and it was 5 degrees outside, with a negative 10 degree wind chill. Waking up, it was more of the same.
So, the weather is the culprit, Franklin thinks to himself. The blasted weather, with its inhumane treatment of humanity. Doesn’t the weather know it’s not natural for humans to live like this?

As a child, Franklin thought of developing a weather controlling device, complete with matching see-through eyeglasses, but funding fell through. The damn satellite cost 10 million dollars.

When he thought of this scheme he knew deep in his heart something more than weather was at work. By pondering the weather, Franklin was pondering faith. As a youth, he poured his energy into Christianity but was always open-minded. Faith is faith, he thought, whether worshiping God or the Sun – anything that helps calm the soul. When he was 13, Franklin developed an ingenious scheme to control people’s thoughts, thus controlling the weather.

He started this mission on a blustery winter evening. It was late October in Chicago, just before his 14th birthday. He asked himself, “Why does God hate me? It’s like for six months out of the year, I am shitted on continually. The wind is always cold and unbearable, the skies are always dreary and miserable. It’s fucking October! San Diego is straight right now, why not Chicago? What about a break, I’m turning 14, I just started high school. Broads are always easier in warm weather, you know what my Dad says…he says he learned it from you. I don’t know what to believe anymore, why the constant bad weather? Are you trying to ruin my life?”
“Don’t you know weather has a control over us,” Franklins says. “If we’re built in your image, doesn’t that make you subject to weather’s ruses. Snow, slush, and ice create assholes. I’m no exception. Are you? Waiting in traffic or lines, being accidentally shoved by someone on the street, and sitting through a boring class all create more drama in winter. I’m cold, my socks are wet, and I got Mr. Jackass talking to me about square roots. When do I need to know the square root of anything? Fuck that, fuck this…whoever or whatever controls the physical world, sure loves fucking with people…motherfuckers.”

Franklin shied away from Christianity after this realization, but his faith in something more than this world remained. His faith was piqued by the changing seasons. He got interested in nature and physics. But living in Chicago he only sees summer and winter.

Franklin states, “Sure it can be 70 degrees with no humidity in late April, which gives the plants a moment to bloom and time for trees to grow leaves. But within a day its muggy, humidity does its dance to human behavior, and I start sweating in the shade. Summers are bogus. Winters are cruel, barley long enough to appreciate the reds and oranges of the leaves and the glow of the Sun.”
Franklin thinks to himself, the Sun is incredible in the Fall. It leaves an awesome haze and reddish mark whatever it shines.

Because the world is moving through space, around the Sun, the Sun’s position in the sky changes, causing new seasons. Franklin loves to picture the Earth’s orbit in his head. Franklin likes the Sunlight in the Fall the best. It reminds him of the end of Shawshank Redemption when Red makes his way to the short rock fence under the tall oak tree and finds Andy’s letter. Franklin wishes he lived during this time, before computer technology was everywhere, back when Andy or Red would have taken him on a ride in a sailboat rather than a yacht. Not being able to enjoy the Fall pisses Franklin off. And it begs him to ask, “Why?”

“Why have a place in the world that only sees two extremes,” Franklin asked days before his 14th birthday? “Why do people seem to like it, I mean the city itself has 3 million Ice-fuckers in it. It’s not an accident. People are put in Chicago for a reason.” After a moment and a sigh, Franklin’s says his last thought on the matter, a thought that he always had but never could think because it was always beyond words, even as simple as the words are: “People are put here for a reason.”
Upon speaking these words, Franklin eyes’ perked up, a buzz began to surround his body, gently shocking his gut with slow and pulsating warmth. “Why make a place in the world with only two seasons if people are put here on purpose? We’re created out of the image of God. We’re effected by weather. God is effected by weather. Weather is the answer. Weather, weather, weather. Location is pointless for real estate. It’s about whether or not your property is going to get hit by a hurricane.” Franklin thinks to himself, Yeah! Yeah! That’s it!

“I’m gong to create a satellite that beams positive energy into the atmosphere. All I need is a device that allows me to transmit my voice to a satellite and back down anywhere in the world. My voice is part of my soul like my nose or ears and language is power, just like my eyes. That’s it then. I’m going to study computer science, develop a contraption that transmits voice without wires by using satellites to bounce my voice around the world. It’s going to be great. I can talk positively anywhere. Spreading my energy through the clouds to shed light, ha!”
The next day he watched Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell pull a machine off his belt, a machine that Zack used to talk to someone far away – a cell phone. Ok, thought Franklin, that probably costs something like $800. I’ll get a paper route. Now all I need is a satellite. Shouldn’t be too much.

With a hint of mad scientist in his eyes, Franklin scrambled to the yellow pages, looks up NASA, and dials the number.
“1,” click, “8,’ click click click click, “0,” click click click click click, “damn rotary phone. They’re so stupid,” Franklin says with petulance.
“7,” click click click, “finally.”
“You got NASA, how can I direct your call?”
“Oh hi. Can I get research and development,” Franklins asks?
“Here’ya’go.” The phone rings once and a friendly motherly voice answers.
“Hello, research and development, how can I direct your call?”
“Yeah, can you research how much it costs to build a satellite? I need one for a project.”

“Wait, hold on. What did you just say?”
“I need a satellite to change the world, I don’t know how to build one. How much do they cost?”
“Well, I don’t really know, I just answer the phones. Is this for a school project or something?”
“No, it’s a personal goal.”
“Oh, ok. Let’s see, I just pulled up the database on the units put into orbit last year,” the secretary says sarcastically, dropping her motherly tone for that of a whore. “The last two cost $10 mil each, that’s 9 zeros and a 1… or reach-arounds for life, depending on the channels you go through to procure your machine. You like the cock, huh? Kid, stop messing with me and get another goal.”
“Fine, fuck you too! I’ll just make one myself,” Franklin says while hanging up.
From that day forth, Franklin studied computer science, physics, and astronomy. He went to M.I.T. He failed out. He became to enamored in philosophy after taking a course in linguistics. He stopped talking and only used symbols to communicate, not a great way to pass the general education requirements.
He started talking thereafter and was accepted to UC Berkley as a philosophy major. Franklin studied the greats: Kant, Voltaire, Locke, Spinoza and got interested in human behavior. He read Freud; Marx. And fell in love with justice and happiness. “What is joy? What is freedom?” These questions still haunt him. For answers, he turned to the Frankfurt School, but doubt remained. “Marcuse, Habermas, and Fromm, where do I stand, why am I here,” he demanded after a binge of personal reflection. He just turned 21.

At 22, he graduated with accolades. “Terrific and insightful” is how his professor’s described him to his parents. His papers were always well thought-out and well sourced. But after graduating, he had no where to go. A void appeared. “How can I use my talents and get paid,” he asked his Father?
“Look for jobs in PR and marketing,” he was told. He looked on Craigslist with a cringe in his stomach.

“I don’t want to sell myself to a bullshit cause, I don’t wan to drive people to buy more shit. We have too much, while people around the world starve,” he cried.
“Son, work is work. You need to pay the bills,” answered his father.
He ended up finding a job as a research writer for an investment bank. He develops business plans and market research reports for his clients. He helps the rich stay rich. What makes it worse, he gets paid pennies compared to the people who crunched the numbers and assess value of a company or a stock – the analytical side of the business. Since getting this job, Franklin’s ambition has evaporated. The only thing that keeps him going is his unhappiness. It motivates him to try new things, but how can he leave a pretty easy job with an okay salary. The job market is fierce.
On that note, Franklin crawls back into bed.

The wait to get out of bed is the best part of Franklin’s day. Besides keeping him warm for a few more moments, it’s the only time when Franklin has full autonomy over his life. The mucky routine of going to work, grad school, running errands, paying bills, fixing dinner, going to bars, interacting with friends, family, strangers, becomes less of a hassle each time Franklin realizes he can stop anytime by not getting out of bed. He fights with himself each day. There are no right answers or wrong answers, just opinions versus experiences.
“Work sucks,” barks Franklin. “My boss treats me like I’m an idiot, But being broke sucks.”

With these thoughts steering the way, he delights himself with new reasons to stay in bed.
“Maybe if I shit myself it would be easier to call my boss and tell’em I’m sick. It’s gotta be hard to sound fake with a giant turd in my pants.” Yet, no matter what rationality he concocts, Franklin always chooses responsibility over madness.
Franklin eases himself out of bed, the cold air hits his chest sending a rush through his spine; his eyes blink frantically as he unconsciously tries to keep them moist in the dry air. Rushing to heat up the coffee, Franklin adjusts his posture, his nagging back, worse than his nagging mother, drives him crazy. Trying to remedy his pains his doctor urged better posture, but this takes work. He has no time to waste on old habits or gray lonely days when cares and feelings are at their remotest; often it’s on those days where Franklin is not mindful of his posture or health.

The kitchen is where Franklin spends the least time, evident by the stack of dirty plates and dirty laundry strewn about. His laundry, thrown onto his kitchen table in a caustic fury three days after his terrific accomplishment became moot, reminds Franklin of the cider made from moldy apples his Uncle used to give him as a child. The cider always caused Franklin to vomit profusely. Similar to the stench of his dirty clothes, Franklin never stopped his Uncle from fooling him, submitting himself to his Uncle’s static ruse year after year gave meaning to an otherwise pointless existence—what else was certain in life? The dirty cloths remain inert, just like his Uncle’s joke, nothing evolving or fixing the problem, just acceptance. Franklin looks at his job the same way.

After a shower and three cups of pumpkin spice coffee, Franklin finds himself at his mirror. The naked body gives way to memories. He remembers his coach during the big game, the way his cap finally fell to the ground after years of trying moments and uneasy anticipation. His hat always arched to the brim of his head finally let go as Franklin dodged three defenders to take state. He remembers his traveling days. Rekindling his wanderlust, he thinks of the red cottage near the river Spree. How he searched his way through Europe, from town to town, finally meeting eyes with the most distinguished looking home in his life. Perched atop a clearing at the end of a dirt road off of the river, the house stood at attention. A sprawling field of yellow and blue daffilods in its foreground accentuated its red charm. The rolling hills in the distance, layered with towering Ginkgos and Oaks, gave way to tremendous snow covered mountains. The reflection off the terrifyingly glisining river was unforgettable. The house looked glorious in the autumn air, Franklin’s favorite picture.

He stumbled upon the house by chance. Reading the map wrong, Franklin thought he was heading to a riverfront hotel. His initial reaction as he passed around the bend is unforgettable. He stopped, flung his arms into the air, quickly dropping them to his side with a violent twirl, screaming “holy shit,” to which another lost youth, standing under a tree at the side of the road, replied, “You should see it from the other side! I think...”
“How do I get there, where’s the bridge” Franklin interjects.
“Follow this road around the bend. It starts by that huge tree. A bridge made from rocks. The river is shallow enough to get across, just don’t get swept away by the current.”

“Where, I don’t see a bend,” says Franklin.
Pointing his life away, the youth stretches with such fury his bleach white arms turn dark red. Franklin notices the youth’s eyes don’t blink. For what seems like ten minutes, the traveler doesn’t move, but slowly he reveals a sinister grin, highlighting his grey and pointy teeth; black tar gums. The young man’s expression turns lifeless, his face drops, his eyes close, he breathes deep, gasping, as if these were his last breaths, he says, “What are you doing here anyway, this is a private road.”

The youth makes his way toward Franklin, a blackening aura, almost a mist, follows his footsteps as he eases closer to Franklin. The Sun is setting a harsh reddish glow across the young man’s grey skin, hollow eyes, and elongated arms.
“It’s amazing here, but over there is bar-none the best, you get to see the entire mountain range in the background. Are you headed to the Inn, if so I can walk you there?”
“I would rather not. Thanks for your help, but a Falling tree does not make a sound without anyone present.”
The youth looks curiously. As if begging himself to leave, his legs start to twitch; he grins. “You’re the one who talked to me first. You didn’t even give me a chance to explain who I am.” Walking briskly away, the youth turns his head in frustration, his eyes flaring red.
“By myself I am static,” Franklin responds, “relative to nothing, not even time. I will pass through myself. I mean no disrespect.”
Without turning around the youth shouts, “We will see about that....We will see about that!”

Franklin snaps out of his daze, coming to attention after knowing he can never have that type of freedom again. He looks in the mirror over his right shoulder into the closet thinking about what to wear today.

Jeffrey Tischauser teaches Speech and Mass Media at Triton College and work as a Freelance Business Writer.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Manufactured Armageddon

“They are manufacturing Armageddon,” he shouted loud. “Behind a shroud of wispy smoke, and stories passed on down through the ages.” I watched him talk and I watched the few who took notice. They kept their distance from the man, and moved on their way. But not me, I was fascinated, by him. He was draped in cardboard hanging from his shoulders by thin ropes. His megaphone had long since run out of batteries, but he held it to his mouth anyway for show. His voice was getting scratchy and horse from the yelling but the words continued to pour out ceaselessly.
“Rex Mundi walks, and twists the minds of the feeble sheep. He is the dark king that rules from the shadows,” he said. I noticed he had nothing to drink by him, or food to eat. He wore a beige button up with a pocket protector where his black markers and pens sat peeking out from behind the sandwich board. His trousers were black and faded and his loafers gave him the look of Sunday church. But it was Tuesday in Chicago, and the streets were a bustle and blur of sound and motion. He stood in the center of the passing crowds of pedestrians, who stepped aside from the plain preaching madman, as if h e were a beggar. He held out no hat for tips, nor asked for any.
I sat on a stone bench in front20of the old Marshall Field’s building eating lunch. I sat there every day at the same time. Today was different though with the arrival of the prophet. This prophet did not speak of religion like the others I have seen from time to time, preaching fire and brimstone, and eternal damnation to the sinners, no, this man was different. His cardboard bulletin had strange things written all over it like (The pretend end is nigh, or, I am sorry I was mislead but I was text messaging). He never noticed me looking. I don’t think he was here for attention. His eyes were so full of purpose that they demanded a listener though, but there were none who listened except for me.
“Fear feeds the fire and blood oils the cogs of the great wheel of history. We are doomed to repeat what we ignored the first times around. And, repeat we will, for we walk into it woefully ignorant. My fellow sheep stop and look at the sky for a moment. Do you notice that it is blue? Do you see the thunderclouds on the horizon? Look!” He pointed upward without looking. Instead he watched, as I did, the unreceptive, trudge on trapped in forward momentum. His eyes were sad and he bowed his head low, pausing his serm on for a moment. He looked like a statue in a dying garden. His head lifted and his lips pulled over his teeth in controlled fury. “These buildings you rush too are but dust in the cosmos, as are we. In t he river of time, do you think that any of this will be of any importance? No, I say, it will be washed away in a torrent of time’s infintesitude. Do you think the minutes you live by add up to a pile of gold? They are barely a breath.” He would not be beat by indifference, I noticed. He was not a slave to what people’s opinions of him were. He was a simple man with a bad dream.
I felt weird checking my watch right then, after what I had just heard, but I was already late caught up in the reverie of my musings. I stood up and dusted my pants and de-wrinkled. I walked towards my building and right past the man who sort of had his back turned towards me. As I passed him I connected eyes with him. It was as if a magnet was turned on inside my cells. His eyes locked on mine, as he continued to speak and I continued to walk, unable to look away.
“Remember my friends, my words today,” He spoke and I was walking slowly backwards listening. “They are manufacturing Armageddon to trap our minds. Fear is a fire kept behind glass. It is allowed enough air to breath, and enough fuel to last. It must not be allowed to spread for it burns down the house. And no one can live in a burned down home.”
He turned his eyes away, and continued to shout, as I made it to my building and went back in to work feeling empty. What did he mean by that last thing he said, No one can live in a burned down home?

Dwayne Hoover