The editor in me

22 Oct

 

 

The editor in me

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

I find myself rewriting
righting
writhing in the pain of words selected;

I find myself detecting
objecting
projecting what I think should be elected;

I cannot keep my mind
in line
with what I find and not dissect it;

It is my call
to fall
on all I read and to reject it.

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 22 October, 2014

Sedgwick: Pizza

22 Oct

 

 

Pizza

By L. Stewart Marsden

They sat across from each other in one of the few booths. Most sat at tables. The diner was packed — a popular hangout for high schoolers and students from the nearby college. On a metal stand between them was balanced an aluminum pizza pie pan more than half filled with a pepperoni pie.

“So, what got you interested in working for the library?” Klerique asked, a large gooey drip of cheese dropping from her wedge of pizza.

“Books, of course. I literally grew up in that particular library,” Sedgwick answered, then explained how his mother had used it for free daycare.

“So, you were a guy kind of Matilda,” she said.

“Yeah, I guess. What about you? Why Duke for a school?”

“Why not Duke?”

“I didn’t think anyone around here liked Duke. You know, basketball and all. Mostly Carolina.”

“That’s ’cause no one around here can get into Duke. Or afford it,” she smiled.

“Plenty of kids around here with wealthy parents, though.”

“Yeah. But you can’t buy SAT scores — or GPAs.”

“Are you saying all rich kids are dumb?”

“Money don’t make you smart. I’m just sayin’ . . .”

“I dunno about that. Still, why Duke?”

“I get a diploma from there? I can go and do about anything I want.”

“True. What do you want, then?”

“Outta here.”

“You don’t have to go to Duke to get out of here,” he pointed out.

“I mean — out of this rut — this place of ‘you can’t do this because of this or that’ out of here.”

“Because you’re black?”

“Well, in my opinion, black has nothing to do with it. Black is just that big elephant that seems to get in everyone’s way — if you’re black, that is. I mean, yeah — there’re things we deal with that whites have no idea about. But, seems like we use that as an excuse not to do what we really could do.”

“So it’s not because we’ve kept you repressed and downtrodden all these years?” he said in a mocking sort of way.

“If that were the case, there would be no successful black people. So, no — that’s not it entirely. I mean it’s a part of the struggle, but who isn’t struggling these days?”

“You sound like Booker T. Washington. I thought he was considered a sell out.”

“Maybe he was to some degree. But the man did all right. I mean, you know about him today, right? Look, you know my brother Dayshon? He played on the basketball team when you were at Higdon.”

“I wasn’t the greatest sports fan then. I’m still not.”

“Anyway, Dayshon thought he was going to be the next Lebron.”

“If you say so,” he said with a blank look.

“You don’t know Lebron? Boy — where have you been?”

Sedgwick shrugged his shoulders and grinned.

“Anyway — that was his ticket outta here. And as far as he believed, his only ticket.”

“So it didn’t work out, I take it?”

“Dayshon jumped the gun. Actually, he bought himself a gun. He said it was for protection, but I knew better. So he got caught running with some other kids who robbed the Quick-N-Go over in Viewmont. They were all dressed in hoodies and ski masks. Stole beer. Beer! The security camera caught the whole thing. They got Dayshon right away because he is so tall and wears huge red Nikes.

“And here’s the thing: Dayshon is not stupid! He is smarter than I am. If he had wanted, if he had just thought it out — he could have crushed school!”

“So what happened to him? I remember now hearing about it at school.”

“Nothing. Because he had a gun, it was a felony. He served a little time. But nothing came of his dream. Basketball was not going to happen. And he quit school, and he couldn’t get a job, and so a bad situation just became worse and worse.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Yeah. It is. But it was his own fault. Nobody told him he had to go with those kids and rob that store. Nobody made him buy a gun. Nobody forced him to do any of that. But you know what?”

“What?”

“He still blames it on everybody else. He still believes the deck is stacked against him because he’s black.”

“And it’s not?”

“No. That’s what I’m trying to leave behind.”

The two talked and talked, divulging more about their lives and thoughts either had intended. A steady unseen vine of mutuality grew and began to wrap around the two individuals who had been strangers only hours before.

They nodded and laughed, listened to each other carefully, digesting and dissecting what the other said. The sharp contrasts of boy and girl, white and black and unknown strangers began to blur with each shared story, each bit of pizza and sip of cola. The familiar touching was nonphysical. It was the words and the moments that bridged the gaps and formed the bond. And while each was slightly aware of it occurring, neither felt uncomfortable. It was easy, like swinging in the park. Or like crossing a thick fallen log across a creek: exciting, titillating. It was a fresh zephyr breeze that interrupted their lives. It was, perhaps, destiny.

Finally, the pan was empty of pizza, and their colas diluted in color by melting ice.

“Well, I guess we did that pizza!” laughed Sedgwick, as their reverie began to fade, and the sounds of those around them and smells of the diner broke through the moment.

“Yeah. I guess we did. Thanks. I haven’t done this in a long while.”

“No, thank you. I’ve never done this.”

“Gone out? Or gone out with a black girl?” she smiled coyly.

“Neither.”

“We have to get you out more.”

As they slowly slid from the booth still talking,  a tall thin man at another table stood up and approached them. He wore a dark bow tie against a pinstriped shirt and adjusted his thick glasses and smiled.

“Well, Klerique! Imagine running into you here!”

She quickly glanced at Sedgwick and rolled her eyes.

“Mr. Ditter, hi,” she said without enthusiasm.

“Who’s your friend?” he asked, checking out Sedgwick.

“Oh, this is Sedgwick. He works at the library, and is helping me out with the extra credit research.”

“Nice to meet you, Sedgwick. What do you do there, restock books?”

“And other things,” he replied, looking slightly away.

“Well,” announced Klerique abruptly, “we gotta go, Mr. Ditter. I’ll see you Monday.”

She grabbed Sedgwick’s hand and led him out of the diner, Ditter following them with his eyes.

“Yes. I’ll see you Monday,” Ditter uttered under his breath.

 

* * * * *

Miss the first Sedgwick installment? Click here.

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 22 October, 2014

What NC politics and the NFL have in common

21 Oct

 

 

What NC Politics and the NFL have in common

by L. Stewart Marsden

This Sunday the Seattle Seahawks and the St. Louis Rams were in a heated neck-and-neck gridiron battle where the Rams surprisingly had their way with the hapless Seahawks. To everyone’s surprise, even the ESPN cameramen were taken in on a punt return where the Rams fooled the Seahawks along with everyone else in the stadium and the television audience. Two punt receivers for St. Louis awaited a Seahawk fourth down punt. Every special team’s player on the Rams moved in one direction, as if the punt was sailing in one direction, drawing the entire Seahawk team.

The punt, however, curved to the opposite side of the field, and the second punt receiver gathered in the ball and sprinted down the sideline for an uncontested touchdown.

Scullduggery! Trickery! Deception!

Later, hanging onto a 2-point lead late in the game, that same sly Ram organization, FAKED a 4th-down punt and the punter spiraled a pass to an all-alone receiver, who easily ran across the few yards to a first down. Game over!

On that same Sunday, at a predominantly black church in Fayetteville, NC, “pro-Kaye Hagan” fliers were distributed under the wipers of parked cars.

For those of you not familiar with what’s going on in North Carolina, Democrat Senator Kaye Hagan is fighting for her Washington political life against Republican candidate, Thom Tillis. The race, as with the Seahawk-Ram contest, seems neck-and-neck.

According to ABC Fayetteville television affiliate WTVD,

FAYETTEVILLE (WTVD) — An ugly period in America’s history is now taking center stage in the 2014 elections.

Churchgoers in Cumberland County were left shaken and disturbed when leaving services Sunday morning. They found fliers with images of a lynching plastered on their cars.

Fayetteville police say the fliers appear to be hate materials, and, because there is an implied threat to the president, it’s likely federal agents will now be involved.

The fliers state “Kay Hagan doesn’t win! Obama’s impeachment will begin.” The caption is over a disturbing photo of the lynching of three African-American men from 1920 in Duluth, Minnesota.

The fliers were left on vehicles parked at the Kingdom Impact Global Ministry church on Murchison Road, which has a large African-American congregation.

A church member told ABC11 that she is still upset.

“Truthfully, it reminded me of back in the 50s and 60s — hate mongering, intimidation, voter suppression,” said the woman.

NAACP officials said flyers were left on other vehicles of three other predominantly black churches Sunday. Local NAACP President James Buxton said he thinks the fliers are more partisan politics, than racist in nature.

Scullduggery? Trickery? Deception?

I unintentionally gave the NFL a bad rap by comparing them to NC politics. I apologize.

In one arena, American gladiators pummel each other senseless while the audience calls for “more blood.”

In the other, well-financed professional politicians seek to either break into or protect the paid pleasures of living in Washington and not having any accountability other than to misinformed and pliable and gullible constituents.

I spent quite some time trying to find an image of the flier. When I did, and I began to think about NC politics (which is a headache-inducing exercise), and here are some of the questions that came to mind:

  1. Why in the world did the Concerned Citizens of Cumberland County produce such an emotional piece?
  2. Did they in fact produce and distribute it?
  3. Was Kaye Hagan aware of the flier, and just when did she become aware of it? (Seems that’s the question everyone wants to know. When did you become aware of it? Trendy, don’t you think?)
  4. Could it be — now bear with me on this — could it possibly be that the flier was actually produced by Tillis supporters?
  5. OR, could it be Hagan supporters want to suggest the possibility of the piece originating from the Tillis camp?
  6. OR, could it be Tillis supporters want to suggest that Hagan supporters want to suggest it hies from the Tillis camp?
  7. OR . . . see what I mean?

There exists so much vitriol over politics in North Carolina that almost any state — even New Jersey — appears a pleasanter place to live than here. And this is the state where nothing could be finer! And, as Old Milwaukie said in their beer ads years ago, “Hit don’t git no better’n this!”

Andy! Aunt Bea! Opie! Barney! Gomer! Say it ain’t so!

So, right now, both my Carolina Panthers and my Carolina politics are disappointing. I believe each can improve, although I have more faith in the Panthers than I do the politics.

Just, please! Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly — do NOT go into politics!

Sedgwick: Klerique

21 Oct

Klerique

 

Klerique looked at the paper her teacher had seconds ago laid on her desk, and fought back anger and tears. No matter how many times she blinked, the grade circled in dark blue remained the same: 89. Eighty-nine! One lousy point away from a ninety and an A letter grade!

“Damn, girl! I’d give my right eye for an 89!” spouted Charmene, who sat in the next row. “And look — he done drawed you a smiley face, too!” Klerique doubted Charmene would trade anything for a better grade, much less an eye.

She turned the paper over and covered it with her arms and face. The tears were flowing. Now there was more to be embarrassed about.

None of her friends — especially Charmene — understood. Every point — every half-point — was critical to her future. Her momma always said, “What you sow, you reap.” And Charmene was about to reap a baby boy in the next three months. What did she know about grades?

“What can I do to make up that grade?” she asked Mr. Ditter at the end of class.

“Klerique — that was the highest grade on the test!”

“It’s not an A. I need an A! Could you curve the test?”

“You know I don’t believe in that. What you get, you earn.”

“What do I have to do, then?”

The English teacher looked up from where he sat at his desk. He was thin, and primly dressed, wearing a dark bow tie against a pinstriped shirt. He adjusted his thick glasses and smiled up at her.

“It’s Friday. Give me fifteen hundred words on — uh — any contemporary American writer of the last fifty years. Bring it in Monday. I’ll give you double the grade if it’s an A. And Klerique — I know it will be an A,” and patted her hand gently.

She hated when he did that. And he seemed to do that a lot with her. Put his hand on her shoulder as he walked up her aisle in class. On her arm in the hallway to ask her about something. On her head in poetry club when announcing she had won another recognition for her work.

It didn’t matter.

This was Honors English, and Ditter controlled the grades. Despite the rumors, Klerique knew some things were worse than being lightly fondled by skinny old Ditter.

Like staying in this town. Like not getting into Duke on scholarship. Like letting go of the dream she had cradled since a child.

“You gotta have a dream,” her mother sang, “If you don’t have a dream — how you gonna have a dream come true?”

It was from the musical “South Pacific.” None of her friends would know it, even though the Senior Class performed it her freshman year at Higdon High. She knew it. She knew the whole musical backwards and forwards. The LP was worn and scratched, even before she had selected it from a box of record albums she found at Goodwill. Mary Martin and Enzio Pinza starred in the broadway production. She played it ceaselessly at home on her mother’s old record player — blasting it at high volume to drown out the other “music” that reverberated through the housing complex.

“Turn that crap down!” screeched her neighbors, which she thought ironic. And she would twist the volume knob clockwise, especially on “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.”

Laden with her backpack crammed with books and notebooks, Klerique marched through the hallways at the end of the day, and carefully crossed the busy street bordering the campus. The library was a twisting five blocks away, and she wanted to get started on redeeming her grade right away. Never let the sun set on bad news, her mother would say.

To her, the library was sanctuary from everything she railed against each day. It was the keeper of truths awaiting discovery. It was canyons of knowledge that had been etched into tomes from the beginning of written time. It smelled of revelations to be released.

“I need to write something on a contemporary American writer, so I need some suggestions,” she asked at the library front desk.

“On what to write, or on the writer?” asked Sedgwick, turning to face Klerique from the other side of the desk.

“Hey, don’t I know you?” she asked, twisting her head and face a bit.

“Dunno. Probably seen me around. I live at Bailey’s Court.”

“You go to Higdon?”

“Graduated. 2011.”

“I’m a senior there.”

“Oh. Good for you. Well, there are lots of really good writers from the 60s and up. Steinbeck and Miller had just wrapped up, so to speak. Harper Lee was a breakout then. She wrote — “

“Yeah. Mockingbird. I know. Somebody else.”

“Any specific genre?”

“Not really. Hey, didn’t you hang out here a lot? Before working here, I mean.”

“Library’s my favorite place. What about Joseph Heller? You know, Catch-22? That’s where the phrase was coined. Great movie, if you haven’t seen it.”

“I don’t think so. Something else.”

“I personally like Vonnegut. He wrote this nice little sleeper — Jailbird — a satire on the Nixon Watergate thing.”

“Okay . . . that might be something Ditter could get into. I mean, he’s probably a sixties product.”

“You got Ditter for English? Honors. Nice. I heard he’s awfully handy — if you know what I mean.”

“He’s a creep. But I need to boost my grade.”

“Let me see if it’s in . . . it’s an easy read. But I probably have a copy of the Cliff Notes in the stacks, too.” He turned back to the computer monitor, and clicked onto the desk keyboard with nimble fingers.

“Yes, here it is. We have a copy. Two, actually. But then, you only need one copy,” he said, embarrassed at his obvious awkwardness.

“Great.”

“Want me to take you to it?”

“That’s all right. I know my way around a library okay.”

“Right — um,” he hesitated.

“Yeah?” she responded, sensing he was wrestling with a thought.

“Uh — look, my name is Sedgwick,” he announced, extending his hand across the desk.

“Klerique,” taking his hand in a fingers-only limp shake.

“Klerique. Okay — Klerique — when you’re finished with getting what you need, uh, want to grab a hamburger or something? My treat.”

“Um — ” Klerique wasn’t used to sudden come-ons, but thought, he looks harmless. And besides, he went to Higdon. “Okay. But I’ll get my own. I don’t do sudden dates.”

“Of course. I didn’t really mean for it to be a — well, uh. Well, great! I get off in an hour. I’ll meet you out front, okay?”

“Sure. Sedgwick? Right?”

“Yeah, Sedgwick.”

She would mosey over to the stacks where the Higdon High yearbooks were located, she thought to herself. Just to make sure. But he looked harmless.

“See you then. And, thanks for the help.”

“No problem. That’s why I’m here,” he grinned back sheepishly.

 

* * * * *

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 21 October, 2014

Miss the first Sedgwick installment? Click here.

For the next Sedgwick installment, click here.

The Autumn Burn

20 Oct

skipmars:

Inhale . . . exhale . . . inhale . . .

Originally posted on Writing Odds n Ends:

The Autumn Burn
by L. Stewart Marsden

Do you smell that?
That smarvelous smoldering smoke
of the burning leaves of autumn?
A funeral pyre to the soft days of summer —
A beacon to woo the wild winds of winter;
A pungent spice to sprinkle
on gourds and squash and pumpkins and mincemeats?
To nestle with in woolen socks and cosy Afghan blankets?

Do you smell that?

View original

Ah, Autumn!

20 Oct

skipmars:

It’s that time of year again . . .

Originally posted on Writing Odds n Ends:

Ah, Autumn!
by L. Stewart Marsden

The Snap! of cheek red’ning chill;
The Crackle! of gold and sable bills underfoot;
The Pop! of jeweled hills in the late day sun;
I love the first bowlful of Autumn,
Poured out and ready to be
Devoured.

View original

The Sedgwick installments

20 Oct

Sedgwick was a gay and carefree lad. At least he was certainly happier and less encumbered than others of his same age. Perhaps that was due to his being overly naïve, or more protected from the outer world. Nevertheless, he was who he was, and strongly encouraged by his mother to ignore those who were not as enlightened and confident as he.

Being of such composition, his worries and concerns were few. He cared little for the accoutrements of style or possessions. Those were unnecessary drags against his long-range goals, and merely weighed and mired others down in the common muck of life. In his opinion.

He was not aloof nor condescending in spite of his judgment of others. After all, they were who they were, too — and why should they care that he deemed them inferior? He, to them, was but a spot in their passing blurs of life.

He surmised that his impact on the lives of others was as inconsequential as theirs on his. And he felt no obligation to be anything more or less than what the gods had already ordained. He would live his life, and they theirs.

To that end Sedgwick employed all his talents and resources, the first which were many, the last which were few. Of the two he found talents more important not only when mined, but arduously developed.

His primary talent was thought. It was thought that quickly carried him from those life moments each one of us faces: pain, humiliation, self-doubt, loss, frustration, anger and more. When he found himself drawing toward the edges of such devouring eddies, he consciously triggered his thought process. Soon he was beyond the moment, and delighted in Elysian fields of comfort and rest. He was, after all, one of those chosen few — as his mother often told him.

In that conscious state of removal, Sedgwick not only endured, but prevailed and benefitted from each life crisis. He learned. He equipped himself. He grew stronger.

While he didn’t seek trouble out, he deeply understood the words “bring it on” uttered by countless heroes depicted in movies he watched.

And he watched a lot of movies.

And he read voraciously.

As a child the library was his primary home, and his home merely the location he ate and slept — and watched movies. His mother was grateful for his bookishness, for the library also served as her no-cost daycare when Sedgwick was younger. She would drop him off in the morning with a small backpack that contained a crinkled paper sack. In the sack was a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich, wrapped in waxed paper. Also a library card, and a note explaining how to contact her if anything should occur.

Nothing ever occurred. Odd as it was, Sedgwick had the ability to blend in among the book stacks, and in corner reading nooks. No librarian or other person ever noticed or bothered him.

At noon he would take a brief break and go outside to eat his sandwich, then carefully fold the waxed paper and insert it into the paper bag, which he stored in the back pack. On rainy and very cold days, Sedgwick would go into the men’s room and enter one of the toilet stalls, where he sat carefully balanced on the john and ate. He looked about and read the penciled and scratched graffiti that covered its walls.

His real food was the sumptuous diet of books he read. He devoured the classics: Stevenson and Kipling; Dickens and Hawthorne; Twain and Poe. He feasted on O’Henry. He coursed through Crane and Hemingway, Steinbeck and Kerouac. His desserts were Dahl and Silverstein. By the end of each day when his mother came to pick him up, he was temporarily sated. But he knew he would be mentally hungry again an hour later — like after eating take-out Chinese.

Back in the thin-walled apartment, Sedgwick sat hours in front of the bulky RCA television and plugged in  VCR cartridges. The TV was a holiday special from Goodwill. Hues were washed out, and the sound crackled at times, but it still served its purpose well.

Again, only the best movie fare: “Lord Jim,” “Bridge Over the River Kwai,” “Casablanca” and “The African Queen,” “Citizen Kane.” Nothing common. Nothing trite. No mere mortal actors. Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Ernest Borgnine, Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Elizabeth Taylor. Sedgwick’s film repasts were carefully selected and screened by his mother from what was available at the library and the various second-hand locations she frequented. Only rarely did she actually purchase a film in good condition, and then on sale at Kmart or Walmart.

Sedgwick never felt the pinch of poverty. Just the opposite. His was a life full of riches, in his own estimation. He pitied those around him who were unable to luxuriate in experiences like his. Who were tripped up by convention and fad and who had to appear as what they were unable to be. In his mind, they lived a perpetual Hallowe’en, dressed up in order to go through life tasting only the candies of life and not feast on real food.

And so Sedgwick passed each day, month and year. He grew tall and sinewy, and his mother old and bent. He slipped through public school uneventfully, and obtained his associate library science degree from the local community college. He went to work at the very library in which he passed so many days and months and years.

When his mother breathed out her last, Sedgwick entered his Elysian Fields, and drew upon the strength and sustenance of his books and his films until he felt the time to emerge had come.

Which it inevitably did.

 * * * * *

For the next Sedgwick installment click here.

Copyright ©  by Lawrence S. Marsden, 20 October, 2014

An experiment

18 Oct

The following is an experiment. It is meant to prompt thought, debate and response. If you have no interest, please skip over this.

If you would like to engage and be a part of the experiment, by all means be my guest.

This is an opening description of a fictitious character named Sedgwick. All you know is contained in the paragraph below. What you think and how you react to Sedgwick is purely you.

Instructions:

Read the paragraph several times. Then respond:

1. Tell me about Sedgwick. Where is he from? How old is he? What are his parent(s) like? What sets him apart so to have the personality he has? Anything else?

2. What words did you key onto in making your mental image of Sedgwick?

That’s it. If you would answer the above in the comment box (if you don’t see one, tap on the title An Experiment, and scroll down) you have my momentary appreciation. When I die, my appreciation goes with it, so you see it can never be the undying sort.

LSM

Here beginneth the experiment:

 

Sedgwick was a gay and carefree lad. At least he was certainly happier and less encumbered than others of his same age. Perhaps that was due to his being overly naive, or more protected from the outer world. Nevertheless, he was who he was, and was strongly encouraged by his mother to ignore those who were not as enlightened and confident as he.

The Apostate: the talk

11 Oct

 

The Apostate — Part II

the talk

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Sam Martin “came to” with a loud gasp as suddenly as he died. Everything around him was white-yellow bright, and he could see nothing discernible.

“Oh, there you are, Sam!” said a pleasant voice close by. “I was wondering when you’d see fit to join us again.”

Sitting up slowly, Martin gathered his senses. It was still very bright about him, but he could now see the shape of a man sitting beside him on what appeared to be a chaise lounge chair. Martin lay prone on a similar chair.

Large multi-color beach umbrellas with chaise chairs and sunning people dotted a snow-white beach all about him. Just beyond glistened an aqua sea, its waves braking softly onto the shore.

Martin turned to the man, who was dressed in all-white loose-fitting cotton pants and shirt, then sat fully upright. The man remained resting on his chaise and adjusted his sunglasses then tipped his broad-rimmed hat to shade his eyes.

“Am . . . I . . . “

“No,” interrupted the man, smiling and squinting due to the sun in his face. “You are not dead.”

“Alive?”

“Well, at the moment.”

“Is this heaven?”

“Barbados. Which, in my book, is a bit of heaven. Nice, don’t you think?”

A waiter clad in white cotton approached with a tray that held two very large pineapples. The tops were cut off, and Martin could see straws angling out of each. As the waiter bent between the two chaises and offered, “daiquiri?” Martin could see each pineapple held a pink concoction that smelled delicious.

“Please indulge, Sam,” instructed the man beside him. “It’s on me. Put it on my tab, please,” he said to the waiter, who bowed and smiled, then handed Martin and the man a pineapple drink.

Sam put the straw to his lips and sucked in. Strawberry ice cream! Coconut! And, rum? He put his drink on his knee and looked the man over carefully.

“Aren’t you supposed to look like Morgan Freeman?” he finally said.

“Ha! I hear that all the time! Actually, I tried that a few times, but you know, Freeman’s got so much mileage and money out of that gig! If he keeps it up, he and I are going to be mistaken by folks for eternity!”

Martin tipped his drink up, smelling the pineapple and coconut and strawberry as he drank deeply. When he put his drink back down, he looked over at the man.

“Whoa! What happened?”

The man was no longer a man, but a sleek and beautiful brunette, with skin that glistened with a deep tan. She wore a bikini, and stylish sunglasses, and her lips were painted bright red, as were her nails and toenails.

“I have many looks, Sam.”

“Can you please change into something else, then? It’s making me nervous thinking I’m lusting after God!”

“Oh, sorry.” And he changed into a very dark-skinned old man, with white curly hair, broad nose and plump lips. When he grinned, he revealed mostly pink gums. He wore white cloth wrapped about his waist and loins.

“Better?” he asked, with a decided foreign accent.

“How do you do that?” Martin queried.

“You know, I’m not exactly sure. It’s something I learned when I was younger and developed. Now I can do it pretty much without thinking. It’s like the horse of a different color in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Do you remember that movie, Sam?”

He then transformed into a small boy with bright red hair, blue eyes and freckles. He spoke with an Irish accent.

“So Sam, are you havin’ any misgivins’ ’bout yourrr life yet?”

Martin looked at the young boy and shook his head.

“So — this is what? A holy intervention? A wakeup call? A visitation of the three Christmas ghosts moment?”

The boy laughed, and as he laughed, transformed into an Indian woman, dressed in a colorful silk sari, her forehead marked with a bright red dot. She smiled and laughed heartily.

“You could call it that.”

“It’s because I’m agnostic, right?”

“It’s because I am afraid I am going to lose you, my son,” and with that, he turned into a Catholic priest in black cassock and white-collar.

“You already have.”

“And yet, here we are.”

“Yes. But in reality or in my head? Like Dickens said, ‘You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato . . . ‘”

“I just love that part. Scrooge was such a great doubter! Agnostic — as you say — to exponential powers! No. I’m not beef nor mustard nor cheese nor potato. I am who you think I am.”

“Why are we here? What happened to me? What’s going to happen?”

“Well, I thought it might be nice to have a little chat at this point in your life. As angry as you are about everything — “

“I’m NOT angry about everything!” Martin interrupted vehemently.

“Then, as introspective as you are — will that work for you? — I thought you might like to ask me some questions.”

“Really?

“Why not? As my son, you deserve the very least.”

“Your son?”

“You didn’t exactly create yourself, Sam. Finished your drink? Come, let’s go take a walk down by the water. I like the wet sand squishing between my toes. And I’ll answer any question you have to the best of my ability.”

A slight breeze from off the water cooled them, and the sun, despite shining down from what Martin thought was a high-noon position, did not beat down upon them. It was pleasant. Plus he still a bit tipsy from the daiquiri.

Along the way, his companion shape-shifted every couple of yards, rolling into a myriad of types of people, nationalities, costume and religion. “You see,” he explained,

“Mankind — is that politically correct? — was made in the image of God. Not the other way around.”

“So you embody all of us, but we do not embody all of you?” Martin asked.

“Close enough. You have only bits and pieces of what I’m really like.”

“And what is that? What are you really like?”

“Can’t show you that, Sam. You and the rest of the world are unable to stand in that kind of revelation. So! We’re not here about me exactly. We’re here about you. Ask away. What do you want to know, Sam?”

“So much to ask! I don’t know where to start.”

“Take your time. A simple question. Start with that.”

“Okay . . . creation. How’d that happen?”

“Wow! I say ‘simple,’ and you ask about creation!”

“You could say, Big Bang for short. I’d get that. Or, you could say the Biblical creation theory. I wouldn’t get that, so much.”

“Yeah. Okay, I need to use a Star Trek analogy here.”

“You’re a Trekkie?”

“Great show! Watched every episode, AND all of the movies. Any-way . . . remember the transporter?”

“Sure.”

“Creation began with my thoughts and ideas. Mulled them around for a couple of eons before I set things in motion. So, where the transporter analogy comes in is me, transporting those ideas out into space — which at that time was null and void.”

“Hard to imagine.”

“I know, right? So it wasn’t exactly a big bang, although things did pop a lot at the time. I mean, you can’t hear sound in space. Actually, I was the only one around to hear it — the old if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it sort of things. So, I set things in motion.”

“Then the deists have it right. You started the ball rolling and sat back and watched.”

“No! Nobody has it right. Only partially. Bits and pieces. Like this ginormous picture puzzle with a billion times a billion puzzle pieces. Glimpses.”

“Did you know how things were going to work out? I mean like the evolution of animals and things? Like why the dinosaurs? And why in god’s name the cockroach? Sorry.”

“No problem. Okay, so I learned. I really liked the dinosaurs. That’s the little boy in me, you know. And cockroaches? Really complex in the scheme of things. They get a bum rap — kind of like flies and mosquitos, in my opinion.”

“But then, your opinion means a lot! You’re God.”

“Sam — when was the last time you ever cared about God’s opinion?”

“Well, uh — I . . . “

“Sorry. Trick question. You can only know about me what others tell you. It isn’t like you and I go on these walks every day. And most everybody is so wrong!”

“What about evolution? Survival of the fittest?”

“Plagiarized. I thought of it before Darwin, but he still gets the credit. And he doesn’t let me forget that to this day!”

“And war? Why wars?”

“Not my idea.”

“But the Old Testament — “

“Old, schmold! Who asked me about those things?”

“But, Moses . . . “

“Look, Moses had his day. Did a few tricks. Frankly Penn and Teller amaze me more. But, as a result he kind of had the world by the balls.”

“So, you’re not for war?”

“You have two girls, Sam. They fight and argue continuously. Do you like it?”

“No.”

“Ex-actly! Nor do I.”

“So, in a war, do you pick sides?”

“Do you pick one daughter over the other? Love one more, or love one less?”

“No. But then I do have to punish every once-in-a-while.”

“Yep. Parenthood is not an easy thing.”

“You didn’t pick sides in WWII?”

“In WWII, I had to discipline.”

“Hitler?”

“Did anyone come out of that war unscathed?”

“I guess not.”

“It was a matter of the level of discipline.”

“So when a soldier gets killed, that’s part of your discipline?”
“I didn’t say that. You did. And others. And that goes for accidents, and illness, and all of the other bad things that happen to both good and bad people — despite what they say at Westboro Baptist.”

“So there are good people and bad people, then?”

“People are people. They are neither good nor bad. They do good or bad, however.”

“And those that do enough good — do you love them more? And those that do bad, less?”

“Again, I didn’t say that. When your girls accuse you of loving the other more, how do you respond?’

“Well, sometimes I . . .”

“No. That’s not love. That’s like. I don’t always like what my children do. But I always love them.”

“That’s hard.”

“I never promised you a rose garden.”

“Isn’t heaven a rose garden, so to speak? Aren’t we going to live forever? Aren’t we going to either heaven or hell?”

“What do you think?

“Until today I thought we all die, decay and add to the peat moss. Now, I’m not so certain.”

“Ex-actly! That’s my intent!”

“Peat moss?”

“Not knowing. Uncertainty.”

“Uncertainty is a good thing? How’s that?”

“A life of certainty is boring. It’s not motivated by anything. Everything is resolved for the person of certainty. Posh! Why would I foster that on anybody? My life isn’t full of certainty. And it’s plenty exciting as a result. Look, when I seeded earth with humanity, I had no idea how that experiment was going to turn out.”

“Hence the flood.”

“That was a local story blown up to mass proportions. I hate the media.”

“It didn’t happen?”

“It happened, but not on a world-wide scale. I didn’t wipe out the earth, otherwise how would there be so many flood stories in the various world cultures? Big, devastating flood? Yes. But all people and animals did not die.”

“But the Bible says . . . “

“People have their Bibles, their Qurans, their Books of Mormon and on and on and on. Doesn’t mean I had control over how they wrote or edited. I didn’t publish them. You don’t see my name on the copyrights.”

“True.”

“Besides, the Baptists are wrong.”

“How?”

“The King James Bible is not the original bible.”

“Everybody knows that . . . “

“. . . Except the Baptist!” they both said together, laughing.

“I don’t understand the religions part. Why did you do that?”

“Once again, religion is not my idea.”

“Yeah, but the Ten Commandments and all of the rules and regulations! Stoning and banishment and judgment and hell fire. That’s not you?”

“I kind of gave Moses a free hand there, but I think he overdid it. Look, early humans were a pretty rowdy bunch. They had to fend for themselves against all the animals and nature — and each other. It’s not like Roberts’ Rules of Order was the prevailing guide back then. So, Moses asked, and I said, ‘Okay.’ Actually he asked several times because I couldn’t understand him. He stuttered, you know.”

“It’s all thou shalt nots. Negative. Not very encouraging, if you ask me.”

“Yeah, well . . . nobody’s perfect.”

“I thought you were.”

“Look, Sam . . . laws and rules aren’t meant to harm anyone — just the opposite. They keep people from getting hurt — or worse.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery came about because Moses knew that if you went sneaking over to your neighbor’s house and had a little tryst with the wife when the husband was away, all hell was bound to break out when the guy found out! The same thing for murder, and theft and all those other things people were doing. So Moses thought, just don’t do it. The antithesis of Nike.

“What else you got?” he asked Martin.

“What’s the purpose of life?”

“The purpose of life. Don’t you mean what is your purpose?”

“I suppose.”

“Because, if everyone’s purpose in life is the same, that would be kind of disappointing, right?”

“I dunno.”

“What if everyone’s purpose is the same? What if it’s to get through life in the best way you can? To do the best you can with what you’ve got, and to make sure along the way you do no harm to anyone? What if it’s the Boy Scout motto: do a good turn daily? Help someone. Encourage someone. What if I told you that you make your own purpose daily — that the purpose of life in the larger sense is to come together with all that’s around you? To blend with every other creation in the world?”

“Then I’d get into the Lotus position and start humming ‘Ohmmm.’ Don’t go existential on me.”

“Okay, it’s not quite that bad. But close. There really is a larger picture. And guess who is in charge of that?”

“You?”

“If that’s true — and it is — then there’s got to be a level of trust. You’ve got to begin to trust me. Everybody needs to trust me. Instead, you’ve all got your heads down, and you focus on the small stuff. That’s what religion is — focusing on the small stuff. And like you, I hate religion.”

“But how can we trust a concept? Something we can’t see or actually hear?”

“You see me now. You hear me, right?”

“Sure, but are you telling me everyone is going to have to die to come to that point of trust? That you stay hidden until a heart attack occurs?”

“Not everyone needs a heart attack, Sam.”

“Oh yeah. Faith. The substance of what you can’t see.”

“Shall I remind you of electricity?”

“Right. Can’t see it — but you know it exists by turning on a light. That’s not what I mean. And there’s not exactly a God switch. You’re God, not an automatic current at my bidding.”

“Glad to hear you say it.”

“Ah. And that’s why you brought me here? So that I would say you’re God? To get me turned around in the correct direction? Notice I didn’t say ‘right direction.'”

“I brought you here to give you pause to think about things. Specifically about me. And us — you and me. I know you don’t disbelieve in me.”

“You’re right.”

“And, like I said earlier, I know you’re upset — about the religion thing.”

“I am.”

“And I understand that.”

“Good to know.”

“The upshot of all this is that I’m not the one responsible for your anger. Can you see that? Whatever the question is, the answer is much, much simpler than how mankind has come to see things. I’m not a complicated guy — really!”

“So, you aren’t responsible for all the religion crap?”

“Nope. Ask me what denomination I belong to.”

“What denomination do you belong to?”

“None of them. Now, ask me which religion I support?”

“Which religion do you support?”

“None of them. Now, ask me which people of faith I am for?”

“None of them, right?”

“See? Is that so complicated?”

“I guess not.”

“You look disappointed.”

“Confused, really.”

“Because . . . ?”

“The simplicity thing.”

“Hey, I’m not that complicated. And that’s what I want you to tell them.”

“Them who?”

“Everyone.”

“You mean like stand on a soapbox on the street corner kind of thing?”

“Not at all. Those who ask.”

“And why will they ask?”

“Because you almost died today. You have a story to tell.”

“Wait — all this so you can get your commercial out?”

“It’s not a commercial. It’s the truth.”

Sam Martin paused on the beach to ponder the implications. Foam from a broken wave eased up over his toes and stuck.

“So, I’m to be a kind of modern-day prophet?”

“I guess. Sure — why not? I officially knight you Sir Sam Martin, Prophet of the Truth.”

And with that, Martin heard the distant woo-wooing of an approaching fire truck, and the loud ‘ee-oo-ee-oo-ee-oo’ of an ambulance. And he crumpled to the pavement.

* * * * *

“That’s it?” asked Scratch.

“Yep. Pretty simple, huh?” responded his uncle.

“So, Martin is going to spread his experience in church? He’s going back to church? How the hell does that help The Cause?”

“Scratch, my fine boy — subtlety is the mark of a true deceiver. We don’t win through lies. Lies get exposed. We deal in half-truths, just like the politicians. Remember, ‘You will not surely die.'”

“Oh, yeah! That was pure genius!”

“Ex-actly!”

“But you passed yourself off as — you know — He who shall not be named.”

“I never did. Sam assumed who I was. I never said otherwise.”

“Ah!”

“Remember, the most destructive worms are those that hatch from within the body — not those that assault it from the outside. People are very protective and defensive. They hardly ever look at what’s going on inside them. Cancer cells are already inside a person’s body. They don’t enter in through the body cavities necessarily.”

“So, do you think I’m ready for this, then?”

“Patience, Scratch. Your time will come. Steep yourself in my wisdom a bit longer, and you will be among my elite soldiers. Now, tell me about our inductees for today.”

“It being Sunday, the numbers are high. All those who nodded and greeted others at church while lusting in their hearts at the time of their deaths.”

“Open the doors, then.”

Huge steel doors slowly opened, supported by thick strap hinges. A grating sound accompanied their movement. Outside a throng of countless individuals turned, beckoned by the opening doors, looks of awe and fear etched on their faces.

“WELCOME TO HELL, MY CHILDREN!”

* * * * *

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 11 October, 2014

The Apostate: the walk

8 Oct

 

The Apostate

Part One: the walk

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Sam Martin paused at the bottom of the steps that led from his second-floor apartment and tapped the bright purple icon on his smartphone. Within a few seconds the app opened to the first page of Record My Walk, and he pressed the oblong button at the bottom of the screen marked “Begin Workout.” A Siri-like voice instructed him, “Begin workout,” and Marten stepped onto the paved sidewalk.

Martin had begun this routine nearly three months before. Each morning he donned special athletic underwear, his exercise shorts and a short-sleeved T-shirt. He then slipped on an arch bandage over his foot, on account he suffered from plantar faciitis, and he didn’t want to go see a podiatrist. He was a pain self-management kind of guy.
Special socks ($10 a pair) as well as his Áh – dee – dás (one must know how to pronounce one’s footwear correctly) Boost walking shoes ($200), and a liberal application of muscle rub, (which made him stink like a giant breath mint) plus two ibuprofen completed his prep.

His walking route was a sidewalk that paralleled a main drag in his town on which his apartment complex was situated. The road was two lanes either way, plus a middle turning lane. It teemed with every type of motorized vehicle from early sunrise to sunset, and on Friday and Saturday nights as well.

Martin walked a little over four miles each day. He varied the walk only in the direction he took coming out of the complex. Some days he headed north where his destination was a convenient store and gas station about 3/4 miles away, then he retraced his steps and continued south to a main intersection where the sidewalk ended, some 1-1/4 miles in distance. Other days he headed south and back.

The reason for the exercise was a photo he saw of his profile, taken at his niece’s wedding earlier that summer.

“GAWD!” he gasped, viewing the photo. It was his motivation. His extended family gathered each year in July at the beach. “I am NOT going to the beach next year looking like that!” he said to himself, which he repeated to his youngest daughter, who told her older sister, “Dad’s not going to the beach next year.”

The app on his phone was a clever device operated by GPS, and depicted him on screen as a little blue balloon that traversed along the mapped route. It captured his overall distance, time, average time per mile and split information per mile. It also graphed the elevation of his walk, revealing the variance above sea level — in short, the hills and dales of his route. Plus, it calculated everything into totals. For example, the app estimated he had burned over 20,000 calories since he began the routine.

It also posted automatically to Facebook, and Martin enjoyed the ‘likes’ friends and family gave him in encouraging him to continue his regimen.

He particularly enjoyed his walks on Sunday, as the traffic along the road was sparse. Not that there was much danger to him, except at one or two streets he had to cross. He held that motorists — specifically of the female persuasion — did not realize that the pedestrian has the right of way, not the vehicle operator.

More than once he stepped onto a street to cross, and came inches from the fender of a turning car where a female driver looked surprised and mouthed “Sorry!” He never replied or signaled “That’s okay,” but stared long and hard, hoping to burn sense into the careless driver’s cellphone-occupied brain.

The upshot of those experiences was when he was driving, and was particularly wary of pedestrians and cyclists — which he thought a good thing.

Along his route were the temples, sanctuary’s — whatever religious abodes — that witnessed that his was a community of ardent religionists. On his side of the street was a Jewish temple, a Baptist church, two Presbyterian churches side-by-side (PCUSA and PCA — which his ex-wife could readily and accurately explain), a nondenominational evangelical church that met in the elementary school gymnasium, and a Christian Science reading room. On the opposite side of the road was a Church of the Latter Day Saints.

It was the gamut of American religion, minus Muslim, Hindu, 7th Day Adventist and a pot of other religious strains — including Catholic. But, if he walked far enough, he would encounter those as well.

On Sundays, the God-factor infringed on his thoughts. Normally Martin mentally thought-played a vast array of music to walk by. He avoided “Eye of the Tiger” and “Chariots of Fire.” They were too cliché. His selections ranged from Billy Joel (“Uptown Girl”) to the “Wizard of Oz,” and he imagined a thump-thump-thump pace. He also rearranged each tune to include violins and other instruments not normally associated with the song.

On Sundays, the songs were “God is Working His Purpose Out,” and “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and other songs he knew from watching too many TV evangelists when he was a kid. “And He Walks With Me” was a tune that repeated often.

Martin was agnostic, like his father. He hadn’t always been that way. In his late teens he got swept up in the Jesus Movement that flowed across the country. He loved the long-hair, flared pants and open-necked shirts that were bona-fide costumes of the Jesus Freaks. That he could somehow be remotely associated with the hippie movement in its counter-culture vanguard, and yet still relate to straight-laced Baptists, was a definite boon to him.

But, alas, as the maxim points out “everything that goes up, comes down,” so did his unbridled spiritual enthusiasm. Partly because the idealism of the Jesus Movement inevitably met the reality of any movement, and struggled with sustainment. Plus, its leadership not only failed — but sinned.

In the disillusioned wakes of Jimmy Swaggert and Jim Bakker, Martin began to see cracks in the feet of clay of the most prominent (and yes, wealthy) of the religious revolution.

And so he turned away.

Those who knew him were stunned, and pleaded continuously that he repent and come back. Others cared less.

Eventually, Martin came a philosophy o “do no harm,” or if harm was inevitable, try at least to make it less painful. Especially for himself.

So he rejected the idea of becoming part of any organized religion, joining any church, espousing any spiritual philosophy. Most, he thought, turned on narrow points of what he termed “law.” Laws that could not necessarily be proved — in his opinion.

“Once saved, always saved,” said the Baptists. Right. He heard Jesus Saves, but wasn’t sure at which bank. If he knew that, he would transfer his money there immediately, he would jest to downturned frowns and scowled eyebrows.

The Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, which some of the Presbyterians espoused, meant to him, “Why care or try? In the long run, it doesn’t matter!”

The Methodist view of God: God is a really nice guy (as his ex-wife often quipped). Then why all of the natural disasters, famine and disease? Why war? Surely Man is not behind all of these!

And the Catholics — ah, yes! A history of crusades, cruelty, hypocrisy. He had been told his family — way back when — had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

The health-and-wealth doctrines of independent evangelical conservative sects, promulgated to the end that little old widows gave up their last $500 as a seed-faith gift to fat-pocketed ministers. “Your seed-faith gift will be returned 10-fold!” promised the TV evangelists. That’s a pretty good return on the investment. But, not likely, he believed.

On and on.

Religion after religion.

Click. Click. Click.

Those were his dominant thoughts. Religion angered him, which fueled his pace. Sundays were his best times per mile.

In the midst of this religious reverie, on this particular Sunday, at just about midway through his daily distance, Sam Martin’s walk was interrupted, and he died.

 

* * * * *

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 8 October, 2014

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