The Protectorate

30 Dec

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The Protectorate was written in December 2015, and is particularly appropriate for Super Bowl Sunday. If you would like to read it and comment, please go to About Me and find my email address, then email me so. I’ll send you a PDF file of the story.

BTW: I don’t care who wins today’s Super Bowl as long as it’s not New England.

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Time –– It’s All Relative

19 Oct

Time –– It’s All Relative

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

I wrote a poem years ago entitled “All the Clocks Are Broken.” In its simplistic rhyme and meter, it playfully touches on time and how fickle it is. For example, in anticipation of a great event, like a birthday or Christmas, the clock slows down to a crawl, making your toenails itch.

Or, the opposite, during an exam, the hands fly about the circular clock face.

Anything requiring the passage of time can teeter or totter, almost arbitrarily. Turning old enough to be able to do something:

  1. Join a club, team, or participate in age-related extracurricular
  2. Drive a car
  3. Graduate high school
  4. Buy alcohol or cigarettes (although the latter isn’t as popular as it was in my day)
  5. Get a body piercing
  6. Get a tat
  7. Vote
  8. Go to college
  9. Graduate
  10. Go to post grad school
  11. Graduate
  12. Go for a PhD
  13. Graduate
  14. Get a job
  15. Get an apartment
  16. Lose the body piercing
  17. Get a J.O.B.
  18. Get another tat … and more piercings
  19. Get married
  20. Buy a house
  21. Have children
  22. Feed, house and clothe the kids
  23. Take them to clubs, teams, and other extracurricular
  24. Get them a car
  25. Go to their high school graduation
  26. Sign the permission form for their first body piercing
  27. Move them into their freshman dorm room
  28. Smile weakly in reaction to their first tat
  29. Offer them their first glass of wine
  30. Attend their college graduation
  31. Co-sign for their first apartment
  32. Attend their post college degree graduation
  33. Co-sign their student loan for their PhD
  34. Celebrate their first job
  35. Take them and their fiancé out to dinner for the first time
  36. Go over the budget for the wedding
  37. Cry at the wedding
  38. Go on a cruise
  39. Downsize to a condominium
  40. Take pictures of the first grandchild
  41. Announce your divorce
  42. Move to an apartment
  43. Retire
  44. Move to a senior living facility
  45. Meet with the lawyer and finalize the will

Numbers one through 14 pass slower than molasses going up hill on a 20 degree day with a 45 mile-per-hour headwind.

Fifteen through 45 happen quicker than the snap of a finger. The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate finger*.

After a bit of time had spilled down the drain, I noticed something. The years aren’t like some straight roadway that disappears in the desert at some unseen infinite point. The years are more like a Slinky, recurring coils where the four seasons have claimed a spot on the circumference of each coil. Depending on what is going on, the Slinky of time stretches and compresses. For the first million or so years of the planet, for example, the slinky is stretched nearly to its limit. As life developed and evolved, and as humankind (oxymoron) grew in number and impact, the coils compressed.

Today, the Time Slinky is tightly compressed, almost to the point of the annual coils melding into one another.

That’s comforting to some extent. It means even though Time is zipping along at breakneck speeds for me, we will make it through this particular phase of time, and perhaps the coils will then relax, and begin to stretch out again, the tension loosen.

I hope so.

*The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award was a commentary staple on a popular television comedy show that ran in the late 60s through the early 70s – Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. More like a pfft on the Time Slinky. I always thought the finger on the award should not have been the index finger, but one over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strange Fruit

13 Oct

 

Strange Fruit

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Today I went on a search for one thing, and found another, quite unexpectedly. It was a cold splash of reality against my white, Anglo-Saxon heritage. I was searching for that silly beer commercial where the stadium vender, hawking his lager, has been placed in venues like a living room or a bathroom, and at one point, a cemetery during a burial. Funny.

That’s what I want when I go – a beer stadium vender shouting out “Ice cold beer, here! Get your ice-cold beer!”

Oftentimes YouTube puts another video – usually an ad – before the video you want to watch. You can skip it after 3 to 5 seconds if you like. And, just as normal, I click <skip ad>.

The “ad” in front of the beer commercial began with a close-up of a beautiful black woman with a large Afroesque hairdo, dressed in a beautiful slip-like dress, holding a microphone and staring up toward light that lightly bathed her. All else was dark.

She began to sing. I couldn’t place the song in my head. It was like a combination of Billie Holiday’s Summertime with some kind of mourning tune: melancholic and haunting. As she sang, visuals of forests and trees and other less-appealing imagery filled the screen.

On she mourned, and as she continued, I finally realized what the song was about. It was past events I had no touchstone with at all. But she did, and she did not have to reach so very deeply to urge that link to the surface of her voice.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood on the root
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Every word, every phrase, every line, every stanza was delivered with that haunting voice. Then I looked up the song. It was first performed by Billie Holiday in 1939 from a poem written by Abel Meeropol published in 1937.

I did not know the poem.

I did not know the song.

I did not know the pain.

What I do know is this: an old white man can learn something new. I learned something new today – not that lynchings took place (I was aware of that), but something, finally, gripped my soul and squeezed. We (white culture) did that. Why?

The following is a link to that video, performed by Andra Day. There is also a version of Holiday’s performance of the song, as well as many more. Not too many are performed by white artists. Kathy Segal (Sons of Anarchy) did one. I don’t recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Profundity

3 Oct

Profundity

By L. Stewart Marsden

It’s been done before
Said before
Lost and even won before
Read before
Thought before
Sold and even bought before
Nothing you can say or do
Is unique or even new
Nor is this profound remark
For it’s been written down before, too.

 

Ecclesiastes 1:9
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. (KJV)

 

 

 

Either, Or

1 Oct



Either, Or

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

It’s either this, or that;
Black, or white;
My way, or the highway;
Door One, or Door Two;
Day, or night;
Right, or wrong;
God’s way, or Satan’s way;
True, or False;
Left, or Right;

And ne’er the twain shall meet –
Not here, not now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Binary Coding and Letter Writing

29 Sep

 

Binary Coding and Letter Writing

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

It’s probably just me. Dailey I text my children – or at least try to – in the morning. I’m a bit verbose. But then I am a writer, and words are my medium to express a myriad of thought and feelings.

Lately I’ve begun to think I’m talking to myself – or at best, to thin air. I blather on about all sorts of things.

My children, on the other hand, respond in cryptic one-word responses, like, LOL, IDK, LMAO, or Ha! Sometimes only with emojis. A picture and a thousand words sort of thing.

Because of the timing of responses, it’s difficult to figure out what part of my monologue a particular response is meant!

Like the classic, “Do you like your eggs fried, or scrambled?”

Yes. In this case, a thumbs up emoji.

Frankly, it’s the kind of thing I’m known by my kids to do habitually, so I suppose Karma is at work, and I shouldn’t complain.

The other nagging thought is my kids are so much on the fly that they don’t have time to stop and give a thoughtful response. Too busy.

A reverse Harry Chaplin thing.

Oh, yeah … we’ll have a fine time then.

I don’t mean to be self-absorbed. Well, maybe just a little. Okay, I’m damn-well feeling sorry for myself! Satisfied?

Sorry. (Insert sad imoji here)

Everything we do nowadays is driven by the binary system. Ohs and ones. Simplification. But translate this one for me, will ya (NASA computer engineers NOT eligible)?

01001000 01100101 01101100 01101100 01101111 00100001

01001101 01111001

01001110 01100001 01101101 01100101

01101001 01110011

01010011 01101011 01101001 01110000 00100001*

It was only a matter of time that writing would devolve into the merest of notations and scratches. Abbreviations. Short answers.

I have a T-shirt that illustrates this pretty well:

 

THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD:

1. THOSE WHO CAN EXTRAPOLATE FROM INSUFFICIENT INFORMATION;

 

Wait for it …

Music up: Age of Aquarius

Here’s how it went chronologically (really depends on what you mean by the word “it,” but in this case, “it” stands for devolution of writing):

  • Marks on a stick
  • Crude drawings on a cave wall
  • Stone tablets with hieroglyphics
  • Papyrus scrolls with hieroglyphics
  • Paper with hand-etched lettering
  • Block letters
  • Cursive
  • Written letters (e.g., Dear John …)
  • Books
  • Radio
  • TV
  • Computers
  • Memos
  • Sticky notes
  • Hand-held mobile phones
  • Cell phones
  • Text
  • Twitters
  • Abbreviations
  • Emojis

So, with one little pffft! in the very short timeline of communication, we have been sucked into a not-so-great eddy of simplification. That’s either because we have no more time left to communicate verbally or by written word, or, we have nothing to communicate.

Your choice.

* https://www.sciencefriday.com/educational-resources/write-your-name-in-binary-code/

Not for Naught

27 Sep

Not for Naught

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

It was not for naught
That we gathered against the storm
And fought the wind and the skin-stinging rain;
Wore on through dirt and mud again and again
In the blindness of night, in the starkness of day
When the light told our hurt and our fear and our pain;
When we stopped and looked back at the forests once there;
Denuded and bare; still we dared to declare
– Whether we should or whether we ought –
It was not for naught.

The Cabinet, or, Better Living Through Chemistry

18 Sep

The Cabinet

or

Better Living Through Chemistry

by L. Stewart Marsden

 

I know I put them in here … somewhere
Underneath the whitening tooth gel;
Crammed beside the fat-burning oil;
Above the No More Wrinkles, My Friend;
Or the Gradual Gray-Away Hair-Coloring Brush;
Between the Sleep Deep Tonight and the Stay-Awake capsules;
Or the Breathe Through the Night Guaranteed nose spray;
And the Psoriasis Cream; or the Pain Go Away hot and cold bags;
Near the Gas-Away tablets, and the Warts-No-More stick-ums;
The Breath-O’-Mint gargle, and the NuHair in the Morning rubbing salve;
The ear-wax drops and the nose-hair plucker;
The Intimate Hair Begone; and the No-Leaks, My Lady underwear pads;
The No Sweat – You Bet underarm roll-on; or the Flab-Away Arm and Leg Lotion.
Where the hell are they?
I know I put them in here … somewhere.

 

 

The Fourth Wall

15 Sep

The Fourth Wall*

 

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Charlie Dipple walks into the modest living room from his bedroom and stands in the middle of the space, just behind the large couch that forms the anchor for a seating area. Two comfy chairs are on either side of the couch and are perpendicular to it, framing three sides of the area. End tables with Tiffany lamps help define the seating area. An oval oriental rug with an ornately carved round coffee table forms the focus of the furniture.

Doors leading to his bedroom, a bathroom, the kitchen and a second bedroom are located on three of the four walls. The apartment door is on the far right wall, and has a peep-hole as well as several locks fastened to it. The fourth wall is comprised of two glass panels separated by a two-panel sliding glass door. The sitting area is oriented so that it faces that wall.

Dipple looks out the glassed wall at the skyline of Manhattan. He walks around the couch and one of the chairs and sits in that chair. He plucks a newspaper from the coffee table, switches on the lamp next to him, pulls out his black-frame half-lensed reading glasses and opens the newspaper with both hands, spreading it before him above his lap.

Then he hears it.

A cough.

Putting the newspaper down on his lap, his head cocked to one side, he says, “Miriam? Are you home from work?”

No answer. He shrugs and resumes reading the newspaper.

Again, a cough.

“Miriam? Sounds like you’re coming down with something, Dear,” he says, assuming Miriam has not heard him call to her, and that she is busy in the kitchen.

“Shall we have the leftover veal, or do you want to try the new French restaurant on West 64th, or would you rather go to Buvette? I don’t really have a preference. The veal would be fine, but I am in a bit of a French mood.”

No answer.

“Can you not hear me talking, Miriam?”

No answer. He puts the paper back on the table and gets up to walk into the kitchen, disappearing behind the mahogany swing door.

“Miriam?” His voice is muffled behind the door.

Dipple re enters the living room, a look of consternation on his face.

“That’s odd! I could have sworn Miriam coughed from one of the rooms!”

Cough.

“The bathroom!” He hurries to the bathroom door and knocks gently. “Miriam, are you in there? Is everything okay?”

No answer.

“Maybe the guest room,” he says, and crosses up to the guest bedroom door and exits, closing the door behind him.

He re enters and stands perplexed, scratching his head.

“You are losing it, Charlie Dipple!” He crosses to a wet bar buffet against the wall and pours himself a drink from a crystal decanter. “Bottoms up!” he toasts himself, and swigs the drink.

“Ahhh! Nothing like a smooth bourbon to calm my nerves. Really, everyone hears things that aren’t. And everyone talks to themselves, which is also normal and you don’t have to worry,” he said, crossing back to his chair. “Unless – unless you begin to talk to yourself in the process – which is EXACTLY WHAT I”M DOING!”

A wave of laughter.

He stands abruptly, and walks to the glass wall, looking out.

“Okay! THAT was NOT my imagination! THAT was someone laughing! Not just someone, but a whole shitload of someones laughing!”

More laughter. And a cough.

Dipple puts his nose against the glass wall, staring intently, his hands cupped on either side of his face in attempt to ward off the fading sunlight. His liquored breath steams the glass in a roundish pattern. Then he stands back, and moves upstage to his chair. He grabs the newspaper angrily, shaking it open, and begins to read.

Another cough. And a laugh.

He continues to read, gripping the newspaper tightly.

Silence.

A titter.

“I’m ignoring you,” he says through clenched teeth, still obscured behind the newspaper. Then, very slowly, he drops the newspaper on the fourth wall side, peering around the paper.

A low wave of laughter.

He jumps to his feet and storms back downstage to the window, crumpled newspaper in one hand.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”

More laughter.

“Are you SPYING on me? Are you the government, for God’s sake – ‘cause I pay my goddam taxes. Reluctantly, I will admit.”

More laughter.

“Who and where ARE you? You can’t be out in the air! We’re thirty-eight stories up!”

Titter.

He begins to feel the glass surface with his hands, rubbing as though cleaning it.

“No microphones. I don’t see any drones outside. What the effing-hell is going on here?”

Laughter.

“I’m warning you! Shut the eff up or I’m gonna do something really drastic – I mean it!”

More laughter.

He exits upstage to his bedroom and comes back in a moment with a handgun, which he frantically loads with a bullets.

“I am NOT kidding! I don’t know what the eff is going on, but it is NOT funny!”

More laughter.

He takes the gun with both hands, walks down to the glass wall, and draws the gun up level to his eyes, pointed at the window.

Laughter

“PLEASE! PLEASE STOP LAUGHING! DON’T MAKE ME DO THIS!”

Hysterical laughter.

He shoots six times until the revolver is spent, and only the click of the hammer is heard.

Silence.

Dipple drops his arms to his side, gun in one hand, and begins to sob.

Slow, crescendoing clapping.

Dipple looks up, and realizes the clapping is for him. He stands straight and tall, arms to the side, and bows deeply from the waist, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Bravo! Bravo! BRAVO!

He exits into the bedroom and shuts the door.

All the lights in the apartment dim to black.

A few moments later a loud bang is heard from the bedroom.

Silence.

A key rattles in the lock of the door to the apartment, and the door cracks open. A woman’s hand slips in through the crack and flicks the light switch on the wall next to the door.

The lights come up.

A dapper woman, attractive, enters, laden with several shopping bags.

She crosses toward the kitchen door.

“Charlie, I’m home! I’ve got some things to go with the leftover veal, but if you’d rather, we can go out. I’m kinda in the mood for Italian.” And exits into the kitchen, the swinging door flapping to a close behind her.

Laughter.

†††††

 

*All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players
;

– William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene vii

The Projects: Updated 09/14/2017

14 Sep

 

The Projects

Updated 09/14/2017

 

Click here.

 

 

 

 

The Projects – Updated 09/13/2017

13 Sep

 

The Projects

Updated 09/13/17

Click here.